Kentucky bases its modus operandi this season on improvement: From freshman-dependent team in November to national contender in March.
With perhaps that first-things-first perspective in mind, Kentucky plays Maryland Friday night to begin the 2012-13 season.
"It's just about winning and learning," UK Coach John Calipari said Thursday of this first step. "It can't be about winning and losing."
Because of circumstance, Kentucky might learn about its guard depth. Calipari said that presumed point guard starter Ryan Harrow missed Wednesday's practice because of flu-like symptoms. Another guard, Julius Mays, also missed the practice as a precaution after crumpling to the floor and grabbing his right knee in pain during Monday's exhibition game. "Nothing's structurally wrong," the UK coach said.
Freshman Archie Goodwin, who shot a team-high 21 times in the exhibition games, and lightly experienced junior Jarrod Polson would be next in line to play point guard, Calipari said.
"We have enough," the UK coach said. "It's not like we don't have enough."
But depth might come into question, especially in what figures to be an emotional opener in Brooklyn's new Barclays Centers.
"It's starting to get down to numbers," Calipari said of the backcourt depth. "... You can't play 40 minutes. It's just a numbers game."Calipari voiced confidence in Polson, who played in only 11 games last season and averaged 2.8 minutes.
"We're all comfortable ... if he has to come in and play minutes, play significant minutes," Calipari said of Polson. "... He's not going to be a guy trying to get 30 points. But he's got some size and he's got some toughness. He can make the open shot. I think he's dying for the opportunity, which is what you want."
Maryland figures to test Kentucky's front line, too, Calipari said. The Terps added three freshmen 6-foot-8 or taller. They join holdover veterans like 7-1 Alex Len (from Ukraine) and 6-8 senior James Padgett (from Brooklyn).
"They're a team that likes to post the ball," Calipari said. "... I'd imagine the first five (or) six times down the court, the ball's getting posted. Bang, bang, bang, post the ball.
"We're going to find out where we truly are in post defense."
Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon questioned whether his big men will have their way with Kentucky's mostly freshman front line.
"We'll see," he said. "I like my 'bigs.' They're good. But they struggled the other night."
Len and Padgett combined for 12 points and 10 rebounds in Maryland's 73-61 exhibition victory over Indiana University (Pa.) last week.
"Kentucky makes it so hard to score around the rim," Turgeon said. "That's a big concern of mine. How are we going to score around the rim?"
Maryland got good news Wednesday when the NCAA announced that wing Dez Wells would not have to sit out for the season as a transfer.
Calipari applauded the decision as reflecting the intention to put a player's interest ahead of bureaucratic order or strict rules compliance.
"Give the benefit of the doubt to the kid," he said. "If you care about the kid, if we're all in this because of them ... It's good for the kid. It's really good for Maryland. He will make Maryland legitimately one of those teams."
Turgeon said he was "pleasantly surprised" that the NCAA made its decision before the season began.
"He makes us better offensively because he has a feel for basketball," the Maryland coach said of Wells. "He knows when to shoot. He knows when to pass."
Calipari hopes to start knowing things about his Kentucky team beginning with the Maryland game.
To put it mildly, UK is starting from scratch. Or as Calipari put it, "What's the word beyond scratch?"
Rather than "mush minds" with various strategies crammed into his players' minds, Calipari said he's content with learning in the early weeks of the season.
"Here's where we are, here's where we're not," he said. "Don't go crazy. ... We'll see if we're ready to beat a basketball team. I'm just not sure. They're going to have to show me."