Five questions, five answers about Kentucky's incoming recruiting class

Five questions, five answers about Kentucky's incoming recruiting class

broberts@herald-leader.comJune 16, 2013 

The Kentucky Wildcats ended things on a disappointing note last season, no doubt about it.

A loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT was a tough pill to swallow for a team considered to be among the top five in the country when the season started.

Expectations will be even loftier this time around.

A recruiting class that is being discussed as possibly the best of all time coupled with a solid group of returning players has UK fans dreaming of a ninth national championship banner in Rupp Arena.

"BBN" is being egged on by national pundits, the vast majority of whom have already placed UK at No. 1 in their pre-season rankings.

But no team is perfect, and the intrasquad dynamics of next season's Wildcats won't become clear until they actually step on the court.

Until then, here are five questions about the incoming recruits and their immediate future in Lexington ...

Is one basketball enough for this roster full of superstars?

It'll have to be, obviously, but just how John Calipari manages to find enough touches for this group will be interesting to watch early in the season.

UK's roster will boast eight McDonald's All-Americans — a list that does not include projected NBA lottery pick Willie Cauley-Stein.

The job of spreading the wealth will primarily belong to starting point guard Andrew Harrison, and he knows it.

"A lot of people say we have too many pieces. But I feel like that's my job, to make everybody happy," he told the Herald-Leader this spring. "I like to get my teammates involved."

Harrison has grown accustomed to relying on his talented twin brother Aaron to pick up the scoring load throughout his basketball career. Now that he has so much more talent around him, Andrew will have to adjust to looking in other directions for that first pass.

Can Dakari Johnson challenge Willie Cauley-Stein for a starting spot?

It's not out of the question. Johnson is regarded as the top center in the class of 2013 and showed great improvement in several areas over the final months of his senior season.

Cauley-Stein is the favorite to start at center going into the season, but Johnson will certainly push him in practice with his physical play and dominant rebounding ability.

One person who wouldn't be surprised to see the freshman crack UK's starting lineup is Kevin Boyle, who was Johnson's head coach for the past three seasons.

Last November, Boyle told the Herald-Leader that he thought Johnson would be the Cats' starting center if he played for UK then. And that was when possible No. 1 draft pick Nerlens Noel was on the roster.

"(Noel) is a more athletic player, but Dakari's definitely further along in his basketball IQ," Boyle said. "If he was at Kentucky now, he'd be getting very good numbers as a freshman."

How much will the Kentucky kids play?

There will be four Kentucky natives on scholarship next season, but they probably won't get much playing time in close games.

Senior Jarrod Polson saw plenty of action last season at the point guard position, and he and freshman Dominique Hawkins will be right behind Andrew Harrison on the depth chart. But it's more likely that Aaron Harrison will be the "backup" point guard, moving over from the '2' position if Andrew gets in foul trouble or needs a rest.

Freshman forward Derek Willis has said that he's coming to Lexington to battle for a starting spot. That's the right attitude, but he'll face frontcourt competition from a bevy of players who could be playing in the NBA in 2014.

Senior Jon Hood struggled to get on the court last season on a team that was far less talented.

The good news: There could be lots of opportunities for second-half playing time if the Cats blow out as many teams as they're expected to.

Who will stick around for more than one season?

There have been 11 one-and-dones in four years under Calipari, and that number is sure to grow in 2014.

Julius Randle and both Harrison twins are widely projected to be lottery picks in next year's draft. DraftExpress.com currently has Randle at No. 2, Andrew Harrison at No. 6 and Aaron Harrison at No. 10.

It would be a surprise if any of those three returned for a sophomore season at Kentucky.

Johnson and James Young have also been discussed as possible one-and-done candidates. Both players are likely to come off the bench as freshmen, but they should also get plenty of playing time and ample opportunity to prove themselves as NBA prospects.

As has been the case in each of the past four seasons, there are bound to be multiple "Will-he-or-won't-he-go-pro" discussions next spring.

Is 40-0 a possibility?

Anything's possible, but the realistic answer is "No." The Cats could very well start the season as the No. 1 team in the country, but a tough non-conference schedule and improved conference foes should provide at least a couple of stumbles along the way.

The debate could be shelved early, when UK faces Michigan State in Chicago on Nov. 12. The Spartans are considered national championship contenders and will welcome back a veteran group of players, while the young Wildcats might still be trying to find their way going into the third game of the season.

If UK conquers Sparty, the rest of the pre-Southeastern Conference schedule includes a road trip to North Carolina, a virtual road game against Baylor and a home matchup with defending national champion Louisville.

You can also throw in (at least) two games against a bolstered Florida squad, the SEC Tournament and the Big Dance itself.

There's been a lot of 40-0 talk by fans, media and even the players, but no team has gone undefeated since Indiana in 1976. It probably won't happen in 2014.

Of course, a couple of losses and a ninth banner would probably be just fine with those in Blue.

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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