By Gary B. Graves
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LEXINGTON, Ky. _ Kentucky coach John Calipari is prepared for his latest talented freshman class to come together later than sooner.
He still expects some initial results from a Wildcats roster expected again to contend for a national championship.
“Believe me, these guys know where we are,” Calipari said. “They know the hype of this program sometimes. They know. They all know we have to fight.”
While the Hall of Fame coach acknowledges that they aren’t ready for a title fight at the moment, his Kentucky roster appears to have filled the voids left by seven players who began their NBA careers this week. The Wildcats return senior Alex Poythress and junior Marcus Lee in the frontcourt, along with sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis from last year’s record-setting squad that began 38-0 before losing in the Final Four.
That trio must blend with another talented freshman class including 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere, 7-footer Isaac Humphries and trio of tall guards: 6-3 Isaiah Briscoe, 6-6 Charles Matthews and 6-4 Jamal Murray. Kentucky also signed junior transfer Mychal Mulder (6-4) from Vincennes (Indiana) University.
Calipari believes there’s enough returning experience and height to carry the Wildcats deep into post-season _ once they get through transitional growing pains.
“We’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to play, who we’re going to play,” he said. “We need to get better or I end up playing five or six guys.”
Helping that process is the 5-9 Ulis, who takes over the point and is already being mentioned as one of the nation’s top floor leaders. Unafraid to drive the lane against bigger defenders, he also has perimeter range along with a keen awareness of his teammates’ presence.
His new backcourt mates possess similar skills, providing Calipari the option of using a three-guard alignment to utilize their skills.
“I have never been on a team where we can play three point guards,” Lee said. “They all see things that we don’t and their minds are all going at the same time. It’s very different playing with three guards, but it’s also very fun.”
Here are some other things to watch as Kentucky opens with back-to-back games Nov. 13-14 against Albany and NJIT:
POYTHRESS’ PROGRESS: There was an anxious moment during Tuesday night’s scrimmage when Poythress fell hard to the floor before he was lifted up and shot free throws. He seemed none the worse for wear, good news considering he’s returning from a season-ending tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament. Poythress said his explosiveness comes and goes, but added, “it’s coming and every day I’m just getting better with it.”
INTERNATIONAL Flavour: Nearly a third of Kentucky’s roster is from outside of the U.S.: Murray and Mulder are from Ontario, Canada; Labissiere is a native of Haiti who left after the devastating earthquake in 2010. And Humphries is from Australia.
YOUNG ISAAC: To see Humphries’ aggressive blocks and perimeter jumpers, it’s easy to forget he’s just 17. And that’s why Calipari isn’t expecting too much of Humphries _ yet. There’s lot of room for growth, but the coach has compared Humphries’ inside physicality to predecessor Karl-Anthony Towns. Humphries got that from playing rugby. “I’m not one of those people that tackle people in the post,” he said. “I just like to make it tough for them.”
MEET THE PRESS? Teaching defence has often been Calipari’s toughest task with his string of offence-minded short-timers, and he hasn’t often talked about using a full-court press _ until now. “I’ve been messing around with my press that I used in my past years,” he said. “With some players it looks good. There are a couple players I said, ‘Guys, if we press you’re not playing.’ So if we’re pressing half the game, uh oh, that’s 20 minutes you’re not playing unless you figure out how to do this.”
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