A mix of highly touted freshmen and some talented veterans. A return to high expectations after a fallow period. The biggest (only?) hindrance perceived as disunity of purpose.
It's back to the future for Kentucky Coach John Calipari, who suggests that his 2013-14 team shares that profile with his first UK team.
Speaking on a SEC teleconference Monday, Calipari said that next season's UK team will resemble the group of players that enabled him to make a splashy debut as Kentucky coach. In 2009-10, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe joined veterans like Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Perry Stevenson.
Calipari's first UK team compiled a 35-3 record and never fell lower than No. 5 in the rankings. With the proud program coming off an embarrassing appearance in the National Invitation Tournament (sound familiar?), Kentucky rolled deep into March. A 4-for-32 shooting night from three-point range against West Virgina in the Elite Eight helped to prematurely end the joyride.
Now, the veterans include Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. The reprise of Wall-Cousins-Bledsoe has been expanded upon. UK supersized its roster for 2013-14 by adding six McDonald's All-Americans.
"It's a team that probably won't be a great, great execution team because of so many new guys," Calipari said of the 2013-14 Cats. Like the 2009-10 team, UK can compensate. The Cats can "physically do things" to beat opponents, he said.
Calipari was on a Southeastern Conference teleconference a few hours before it was announced that Kyle Wiltjer is likely transferring.
Calipari noted that great talent provides a chance for great success. Teams without great talent are all but doomed to second-class status, he said.
"I hear all the comments about our incoming freshmen," he said. "They're this and they're that. ... At the end of the day, if you want to do anything special, you have to be a terrific team."
Calipari touted unity, work ethic and leadership as the keys to achievement on the highest level. Calipari welcomed the kind of competition created by the stellar freshman class joining the veterans.
"All of a sudden, they've elevated their games," Calipari said of the urgency created by competition. "You can make excuses but you're sitting. ... All of a sudden, they're on a mission like some of my best teams have been on."
Calipari dismissed any possible concern about three of the incoming freshmen not being on campus yet. He suggested that the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, and James Young were simply finishing the classroom work required to secure athletic eligibility.
"They're fine," he said.