While there likely are a few Kentucky fans still basking in the glory of the school’s eighth national title, with practice beginning on Friday the focus for many turns to what John Calipari’s team can do for an encore.
Stars such as Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Doron Lamb (just to name three) are now in the NBA, but the Wildcats’ ability to reload on the recruiting trail has folks thinking that a repeat is possible.
And with that in mind, artist Henry Ogirri recorded the anthem for this year’s team, “Drive for 9.”
And while there’s definitely a high level of excitement for what Kentucky can accomplish next year with the Harrison twins committing, the Wildcats have the talent necessary to pick up another title this season.
Freshman center Nerlens Noel (don’t compare him to Anthony Davis) leads the way along with classmates Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, and sophomores Ryan Harrow (NC State transfer) and Kyle Wiltjer will also factor into the rotation.
Kentucky doesn’t have much in the way of experience (Wright State transfer Julius Mays and Twany Beckham are the lone Wildcats in their final year of eligibility) but that didn’t stop them last season.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.