Don't count out the Cats this early, analysts advise

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 6, 2012 

  • Saturday

    Portland at Kentucky

    When: Noon

    TV: ESPN2

Calling this a "transition year" for Kentucky, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla saw "Camp Cal" as a sign of Coach John Calipari's relentess effort to make the most of the 2012-13 season.

"John will push and prod this team till the last second of the last game of the season," Fraschilla said. "Then everybody in the Commonwealth will be excited about what's coming next year."

Next season already bursts with expectations given a much-ballyhooed class of freshmen set to arrive next fall: the Harrison twins, James Young, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis. Upon similar foundations the last three seasons, Calipari reintroduced the dominance that had been synonymous with the program.

This season?

Questions about experience, depth and point guard play contribute to UK's 5-3 win-loss record so far, Fraschilla said.

After attributing a middling second half against Samford on Tuesday to poor conditioning, Calipari announced an upcoming three-week period devoted to fitness. This time period, which Calipari dubbed "Camp Cal," got a different label from Fraschilla.

"Crisis management," he called it. "... It's the perfect time for Cal to teach some of these young players that they don't know what they don't know."

Fraschilla divided all players into three categories: Those who know how to approach basketball, those who don't and those who don't know that they don't know.

"You can coach the second kind," he said.

In that context, Camp Cal is a re-education camp designed to make the UK players more aware of what it will take to be successful.

Another ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas, saw Kentucky's start to this season as a reflection of college basketball's present dependence on freshmen. Fluctuations are to be expected.

"This is not some sort of odd situation," he said. "(Calipari) had an odd situation the last three years. It's remarkable what those teams did. ...

"So having a team go through some growing pains seems unusual given what he's done, but it's not unusual. It's going on everywhere."

In a sense, Kentucky is a victim of its own success, Fraschilla said. So many one-and-done players left UK relatively depleted.

"Kentucky lost so many draft picks, even John couldn't keep up with filling the cupboard," he said.

Camp Cal can help make guards Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin more productive, Fraschilla said. Alex Poythress, whom the ESPN analyst likened to former Alabama star Antonio McDyess, and Nerlens Noel can become better.

"You don't have to be a savant to figure all this out," Fraschilla said.

Given UK's scarcity of veteran leadership, Fraschilla saw Calipari having to fill the roles of coach and captain. Presumably, being director of Camp Cal adds another duty.

"The hardest part of coaching a young team," Fraschilla said of Calipari being coach and captain. "Oftentimes, you coach through your veterans."

A leader in the mold of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has not yet emerged. So, Fraschilla noted, "all the leadership has to come through (Calipari). That's very draining."

Fraschilla and Bilas saw Kentucky capable of making a significant splash this season.

"This team isn't a lost cause," Bilas said "They have really good players and good talent.

"And there's no great team out there, so there's time for them to continue to get better. I don't count them out."

Neither does Fraschilla, who termed the Southeastern Conference as no more than "four quality teams and a whole lot of mediocrity."

Fraschilla speculated Kentucky could be a contender for the SEC championship and possibly advance as far as the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.

"A minor blip," he called such a destiny for Kentucky this season, "and the rest is history."

The rest would begin in 2013-14 with Kentucky again a dominant team.

"I don't see the train slowing down," Fraschilla said.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog:

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