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UK head coach John Calipari has recruited an abundance of five-star talent during his career. From Derrick Rose to John Wall to Anthony Davis, he’s had some guys that have been able to physically outplay the opposition, simply with innate ability.
This year, as hard as it is to believe, Calipari may have his finest athletes yet, the best of which could be freshmen centers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Noel (6-foot-10) and Cauley-Stein (7-foot) bring a unique set of skills to the table. The quickness and coordination each possesses is rare for players of their height.
“They have such great length, offensively and defensively,” sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “If we can get those guys on the court together and learn how to play together, it will be tough to defend.”
It has been one of the more popular questions leading up to the start of the season: How dominant could a defense anchored by two near 7-footers be?
“Not too many shots would get up in the paint,” Noel said when asked about playing with Cauley-Stein. “Willie has come a long way with himself, and I think it will be a great duo. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Cats’ defense could be their most clearly defined asset this season. There is quickness at every position, but it’s what happens in the paint that dictates how the opposing offense attacks the basket. Having two players who can realistically block four shots per game and alter countless others is unprecedented.
But, with such expectations come comparisons. Particularly, comparisons have arisen between Noel, Cauley-Stein and Davis. While it seems unfair to compare freshmen with no game experience to a guy who won every college award he could last season, it’s logical given their physically similarities.
“Everybody’s acting like (Noel) is Anthony, and he’s going to come out and he’s not going to be Anthony,” Calipari said. “The same thing with (Cauley-Stein). He’s not the basketball player Anthony was, neither one of those guys (are). Comparing this team to that team in March is not fair.”
It’s a challenge for Noel and Cauley-Stein to put that behind them. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, but it’s important that they forge their own identity to maximize their abilities.
“We can’t compare ourselves to them,” Cauley-Stein said. “We just need to keep going out there and doing whatever Coach Cal tells us to do and being effective about it.”
Calipari has himself two rare talents in the frontcourt. They are unique players who, if utilized properly, could become a dominant force on both sides of the court. But, for now, they are just two athletic 7-footers trying to get better, develop their games and co-exist with each other.