LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s John Calipari said the Wildcats are so deep it feels like he is coaching two teams.
Besides returning six regulars from last year’s NCAA runner-up squad, the Wildcats added four high school All-Americans and begin another season with expectations of another championship.
Their frontcourt returns 7-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson, along with forwards Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress.
Twin 6-6 guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison are back with their length, scoring and floor leadership in the backcourt. Add in recruits Karl-Anthony Towns (6-11), Trey Lyles (6-10), Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, and the Wildcats could have a 12-player rotation.
With so much depth, Calipari vows to employ a platoon system to get the most out of players.
“We’ve got a lot of learning to do and I’m not convinced of what the groups will look like,” Calipari said during Thursday’s media day session. “Yesterday or two days ago I changed the groups a little bit, I didn’t like them and I went back.
“We may change some big guys and switch them on different teams to see what that looks like because at the end of the day I’m coaching two teams. …. The best teams that I’ve coached, I’ve coached six guys. That being said, I’m doing it twice now.”
Whether Calipari’s five-for-five strategy works and for how long during the season remains to be seen. If nothing else, Kentucky’s attempt should even more intrigue to a season in which the Wildcats have already sparked huge expectations.
“This year it’s more the outside influences that will affect these guys and how strong they are,” Calipari added. “The only expectations I have, again (is) making this work for all these kids. If we do that, they’ll drag this where it’s supposed to go.”
The Wildcats’ spotlight figures to grow after they were voted No. 1 in the preseason USA Today coaches poll announced Thursday. And they’re less than a week removed from a Calipari-organized combine before scouts from all 30 NBA teams.
Considering the Wildcats’ roster makeup and 5-1 record during a summer exhibition tour in The Bahamas, it’s not surprising that Calipari is intent on platooning players. Even Wildcats players who initially had little understanding of the concept are eager to make it work.
“I feel like, it worked in the Bahamas, so why can’t it work during the season?” Johnson said. “Just knowing that you can go all out for spurts and knowing that someone can back you up, it’ll be OK as long as you go out and play your hardest and play your game.”
Obviously, the strategy wouldn’t have been possible had more Wildcats entered the NBA draft last spring following their 60-54 title game loss to Connecticut. But when only forward Julius Randle and guard James Young turned pro after one season, Calipari’s mindset changed.
Surprising the coach most with their decisions to return were Cauley-Stein and the Harrisons. Cauley-Stein’s absence the final three games with an ankle injury fueled his comeback; the Harrisons cited unfinished business from the championship game along with boosting their draft stock.
It left Kentucky with a problem any coach would like to have.
Andrew Harrison said he’s all in, that he wants to help the Wildcats succeed no matter what the rotation is.
“I just want to win,” the point guard said. “I’m trying to do what the coach tells me to do.”
Kentucky’s fervent fan base will get its first glimpse at the talent-laded roster during Friday night’s Big Blue Madness exhibition at Rupp Arena.
After that, it’ll be all business for the Wildcats, whose goal of winning a ninth championship trumps the desire for a lot of minutes.
“That’s what you expect when you come to Kentucky and it’s why you come to Kentucky,” the 6-6 Booker said. “I think this (platooning) can last. I think it’ll help us out and keep fresh bodies coming in and out. That’s what Cal wants, so I feel like it’ll be best for us.”
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