Mental toughness. The phrase that plagued the Cats throughout 2012-2013, the supposedly uncoachable factor, a trait potentially to blame for losses to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and other teams the Cats faced this season. Fans could understandably be nervous about next year’s crop of incoming freshmen- after all, we learned firsthand that talent isn’t enough to win games, much less titles. Could the same malady bite Kentucky again next year?
Not if Julius Randle has anything to do with it. Last year, our Julius acted as an uncle to his younger teammates, steadying them in times of crisis. This year’s Julius will be quite the opposite- he’ll look to ignite his teammates through his play rather than calm them down.
Don’t let that smile fool you. Throughout yesterday’s interviews, Randle was consistently mentioned as one of the most competitive individuals to take the court, a trait that has already spread among his future teammates. Marcus Lee spoke of the “refuse to lose” mentality that the team would take into every practice. Dakari Johnson straight up said, “I’m a competitor. I like to win.” Andrew Harrison warned his teammates, “If you don’t come to play, you’re going to get killed. I just want everyone to keep that in mind” (looking at you, Poythress). No one on this team next year is going into practice to goof around and play dodgeball (although really, who among us wouldn’t be excited to see that dodgeball game?). No, they’re all ready to enter the Craft Center as if they’re walking onto Rupp Arena’s court against Louisville. Sure, a cynic would say that it’s all still talk at this point. But look into Randle’s eyes as he throws down a dunk and tell me you don’t see a stone-cold killer in there.
The class of the future has heard and seen firsthand about last year’s shortcomings; they aren’t jaded about the expectations or what it takes to win a national championship, and they know that it won’t be handed to them on a silver platter, despite what fans would have them think. And that love of competition and readiness to go into battle every day in practice- that will be the x-factor when comparing Kentucky 2012 vs Kentucky 2013.