A Kentucky roster bulging with tested veterans and heralded freshmen led a reporter to ask a perfectly logical question: Might this unusual abundance of talent and experience enable this season's Wildcats to better handle the program's customary hyperbole? That is to say, the seemingly inevitable resurrection of the 40-0 talk that crowded out perspective and placed a shroud of pressure on the entire enterprise last season.
"You're more prepared for a lot of stuff," UK Coach John Calipari said last month.
As evidence, he noted Kentucky's August exhibition games in the Bahamas.
"We looked like a team," Calipari said. "That's a big part of these guys coming back. Handling all that. Knowing the anxiety. Knowing why they're training the way they are. It's made it all easy."
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With nine McDonald's All-Americans, Kentucky has supersized its team and its ambition. Calipari, no stranger to showy exaggeration, tweeted last month about the possibility of a "watershed moment" in the 2014-15 season.
Walk-on Tod Lanter, who sits at the opposite end of the bench, noted not only the experience this Kentucky team possesses, but how high-quality that experience is. Six players competed in the national championship game last April: Dakari Johnson, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Dominique Hawkins.
Calipari had all but installed a revolving door at the Joe Craft Center in his first five seasons as UK coach: 13 separate cases of one-and-done (or as Calipari prefers, Succeed-and-Proceed). That meant largely starting over each season.
"We haven't had guys who played in the national championship game (and) come back in a long time," Lanter said.
Actually, it last happened in significant numbers in 1998, when Kentucky had seven players who had logged significant minutes in national championship games of 1997 and/or 1996: Wayne Turner, Jeff Sheppard, Scott Padgett, Nazr Mohammed, Cameron Mills, Jamaal Magloire and Allen Edwards.
Kentucky's 2012 national championship team included four players who played in the 2011 Final Four semifinal loss to Connecticut: Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Eloy Vargas.
Each time, Kentucky — ahem — won the national championship.
But now the veterans — Willie Cauley-Stein, plus Johnson, Lee, Poythress, Hawkins and the twins — arguably possess even more experience than those celebrated predecessors. Three seasons' worth in one school year: (1) the outsized expectations of the last preseason, (2) the multiple stumbles November through early March that led to ridicule and (3) a Final Four run wholly unexpected and exhilarating and, maybe most importantly, instructive.
"They understand this isn't going to be easy," Lanter said of this season's veterans. "And this is going to take a lot of work and there's no possessions off, even in practice. and they've been able to instill that mindset in these young guys and we're more driven than ever to get this thing done."
Calipari spoke of last season as a lesson learned.
"They know they need each other because they went through it last year where you start and you're more into your own stuff," he said. "You look and it's not going so good. You start worrying about everybody else, and your stuff gets better."
In theory, the veterans and freshmen complement and enhance each other. The veterans show the way, explain Calipari's moods and shoulder a telling amount of the responsibility.
Of the freshmen, Calipari said, "They'll probably be able to play looser because they know it's not going to be on them."
This season's star freshmen — McDonald's All-Americans Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis — help the veterans ... ?
Besides bringing highly regarded skill to the mix, the freshmen "give Kentucky an incredible opportunity to create competition that most teams will never see in their practices," said Fran Fraschilla, an ESPN college basketball analyst.
Fraschilla dialed his memory back 40 years to find analogous depth on a college basketball team.
"This reminds me of the great UCLA teams in the John Wooden era," he said, "Who had guys like Swen Nater, who were backups essentially their whole UCLA careers and went on and had a very productive NBA career."
At the annual Tip-Off Luncheon in Louisville this week, Calipari said he had 12 players who deserved meaningful playing time. But is there a transcendent player like, say, Anthony Davis in 2012?
Calipari said it was not fair to make Davis or, say, John Wall, the standard. "Do you have somebody better than anybody else in the country?" the UK coach asked. "I don't care if it's better than what I had in 2012. I just need to know if it's better than anybody in 2014-15."
Does Kentucky have such a player? "I don't know," Calipari said.
At this stage, that unknown barely registers.
"The best thing about this team is that we have so much talent. We ain't losing, and that's the biggest thing," Towns said.
A 40-0 record, anyone?
"We just go in every day looking to win every game," Towns said. "That's really all we do. We don't really go with the mindset we'll go 40-0. If we do, if we go 40-0, that'll be pretty impressive."