2012-2013 UK basketball squad much different



By Les Johns | @KernelJohns

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Fans are rabid in anticipation for the start of the season and the pursuit of a ninth national championship, ready to make a return trip to the Final Four — this year in Catlanta.

John Calipari’s first title was widely regarded to be a validation of his “players first” system of recruiting top talent, with many of those being one-and-done players.

Here’s the dirty little secret — although still a young team in relation to the rest of the country, it was the mix of fresh top recruits with experienced and talented returning players that led the Cats to their first title in 14 years.

The Cats do not have that mix this year. For the first time at UK, Calipari will not have a top-five scorer or regular starter returning.

That doesn’t mean this year’s team doesn’t have a chance to be special — it will just be different.

This team should only disappoint if fan expectations are set unbelievably high. Cal’s latest Cats are not going to finish the season mere points away from perfection like last year’s national championship incarnation.

“Comparing this team to that team (last year) is not fair. We’re going to turn it over, we are going to get pushed around, defensively we’re going to have breakdowns,” Calipari said. “It’s part of the process we are going to have to go through.”

Calipari has pointed out numerous times that with the season starting with neutral site games against Maryland and Duke, the Cats could begin the season 0-2 and still have a fine season.

Among the biggest differences for the Cats is the lack of returning experience.

Last year, Cal returned 4,909 UK career minutes. This year’s team returns 830 UK career minutes played.

Last year’s group of returnees that included Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller accounted for 3,933 minutes played in 2010-­11, for 103.5 minutes played and 41.2 points per game.

This year’s squad returns 567 minutes from 2011-12, for 14.2 minutes played and 5.2 points per game.

In addition to another top-rated recruiting class, Calipari has added three transfers to the roster to add experience and depth.

Guards Ryan Harrow and Twany Beckham have spent a year in the Calipari system, practicing daily against current NBA players Lamb, Miller and Marquis Teague.

Harrow is expected to be the opening-game point guard.

“He is ahead of the game because he was here last year,” Calipari said. “He is skilled and fast — pretty good athlete. He can score the ball and is skilled like Brandon (Knight).”

Julius Mays brings his second-team All Horizon league performance from his final year at Wright State, leading the Raiders in scoring at 14.1 points-per-game.

This will be the first time at UK Calipari will lean so heavily on transfers, with Harrow slated to be the starting point guard and Mays figuring to be part of the seven-to-eight player rotation.

The mix of another top-rated recruiting class, three transfers and one key returnee from last year’s championship team (Kyle Wiltjer) could work, but the ride may be bumpy at times.

The good news for Cats fans? This team doesn’t have to be better than last year’s championship team. That is a nearly impossible task.

They just merely have to be better than the other 344 Division I teams for six games in March. That’s possible.

“I like what they’ll look like in March in my mind,” Calipari said. “That is the only thing I can live with right now. I have a vision of what they’ll be in March and that is what I will try to drive them to.”