Under John Calipari the equation’s been a relatively simple one for Kentucky: after one highly regarded freshman class completes its season, another rolls in with the expectation of immediately competing for a national title. This year’s group, in spite of some struggles over the course of the season, nearly accomplished that goal before losing to UConn 60-54.
Now the question of who returns to Lexington and who decides to enter the NBA Draft hangs over the program, with Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein both being seen as lottery picks by Draft Express. But what about the Harrison twins? Will their improved play during the NCAA tournament result in the twins deciding that it’s time to get paid as opposed to spending another season in Lexington? James Young will have the same dilemma to address, with the NCAA’s withdrawal deadline less than two weeks away.
But if anything has been learned during Calipari’s tenure, it’s that with the notable exception of the 2012-13 campaign the Wildcats don’t rebuild so much as reload. And with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes heading to Lexington this summer, that may very well be the case.
While big men Trey Lyles and Karl Towns will help Kentucky address the possible departures of Randle and Cauley-Stein, it can be argued that the backcourt tandem of point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker will be the freshmen whose performances have the greatest impact on Kentucky’s 2014-15 title hopes.
Can Ulis be the distributor this group that should be loaded with front court talent needs in order to punish teams in the paint? Can Booker live up to his reputation of being a dead-eye shooter, thus punishing teams who choose to double the post? Those will be two important questions to answer, but if anything was learned from the 2013-14 edition it’s that those answers aren’t guaranteed to come immediately.
Another question to consider: how much better will Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee Dakari Johnson be with another offseason of work? Johnson emerged as a consistent starter as the season wore on, Lee was productive when given a specific task (see his performance in Kentucky’s win over Michigan) and when aggressive Poythress can be an impact player. However that’s the issue with Poythress, as he doesn’t always bring the effort that makes him an even tougher player for opposing teams to account for. If that changes, Kentucky becomes a tougher team to slow down.
As with any offseason there are a number of questions for Kentucky to answer, beginning with those regarding the players considering making the jump to the professional ranks. And with the season now completed, the focus for Calipari goes from the team to each individual player, with the idea being to help them make the best and most-informed decision they can make.
“I’ll sit down with each young man individually, probably have their family either with us or on a speaker phone and get them information and say, ‘If I can help you with anything, let me know,'” Calipari said following Monday’s loss. “‘Tell me what you want to do; what do I need to do to help you?’
“I kind of stay out of the decision-making. I just get them information. So we’ll see.”