Jonathan mentioned it earlier in the Sunday Morning Links, but below is Slam Online’s notes on players who stood out at Big Blue Madness, along with commentary from yours truly:
Note: you’ll have to click here to view Slam’s video mixtape of the event. It’s awesome, but I don’t know why it’s not showing up properly here.
Kyle Wilter, 6-9, Power Forward, Sophomore
After a solid freshman season for UK’s National Championship team, Wiltjer appears to be turning the corner with the impact that he’ll provide for the Wildcats. Leading everyone with 19 points, Wiltjer was a nasty pick and pop threat, had a reverse dunk in transition, and busted out a filthy behind the back fake that brought the crowd to their feet. Pencil Wiltjer in as the starting power forward this year, as well as a guy who could really surprise NBA scouts.
Given the lack of defense, it’s hard to tell much from an offensive outburst in a Big Blue Madness scrimmage. In Wiltjer’s case though, it was great to see him attack the basket with confidence and continue to nail down his outside shot. A year ago, Wiltjer stood back and let his superstar teammates put on a show at Madness. This year, Wiltjer was the show himself. It’s easy to tell his confidence has gone way up. He’s also faster and stronger, and I agree with Slam Online that he will end up starting for Kentucky this season.
Ryan Harrow, 6-2, Point Guard, Sophomore
A YouTube sensation, Ryan Harrow gave UK fans their first glimpse of his electric style of play after sitting out last season following a transfer from North Carolina State. Noticeably bulked up, the sophomore did a great job getting in the lane and quickly getting the ball up on the glass before shot-blockers had a chance to rotate. Many feel that Harrow has no choice but to enter the NBA Draft at the conclusion of this season with the arrival of Andrew Harrison. Regardless if he stays or leaves, the keys to the Wildcats will be Harrow’s for this year.
Harrow reportedly outplayed Marquis Teague at times last season in practice, and he has always had an impressive skill-set, but is he ready to lead the team when the lights turn on and the games count? It won’t take too long to find out with Maryland and Duke being the first two games on the schedule. I disagree with Slam Online, however, that he has no choice but to leave for the NBA at the end of the season. If he’s not ready to make the jump after this season, he may take a step back in his role, but Calipari will make it work with Harrow if he would come back for 2013-14 (see Darius Miller).
Nerlens Noel, 6-11, Center, Freshman
The top player in the Class of 2012 definitely got the biggest pop out of the crowd. With the UK logo etched in the back of his high top, it was evident that Noel is going to be the next fan favorite for the Wildcats. He didn’t do much offensively, but had an outstanding block on a Willie Cauley-Stein jumper that showed everyone why he is on the conversation for top pick of next year’s NBA Draft.
Noel still has a ways to go offensively, but has had the least amount of practice time in Lexington. In those first two big games, Noel will need to make his impact defensively. The offense will come around, but in order to beat Duke and/or Maryland, he’s going to have to make a major defensive impact.
Willie Cauley-Stein, 7-1, Center, Freshman
The 7-1 center has been a work in progress since he was a 6-11 freshman in high school, but has made some serious strides in the right direction since we last saw him at adidas Nations. His dunk on Nerlens Noel was the play of the night, and he showed off an improved offensive game. With the combination of size and mobility that the Kansas native offers, expect him to see some nice burn this season.
I think we can all agree that there are not 39 college freshman in the country better than Willie Cauley-Stein, the first “steal” that John Calipari has had on the Kentucky recruiting trails. What is most exciting about Cauley-Stein is that he may have a number of years at Kentucky to continue to improve. The former high school football star has usually been catching touchdown passes this time of year, and not working on his hoops game. Imagine his potential with a constant, year-round focus on basketball under John Calipari?
Alex Poythress, 6-8, Small Forward/Power Forward, Freshman
A top-10 recruit in the country, Alex Poythress came into Kentucky as a guy who many feel could bounce to the League after one season. At 6-8 and 230 pounds with freakish athleticism, he certainly fits the bill physically and showed that last night. During Big Blue Madness, Poythress had a number of crazy tip dunks and showed the emerging perimeter skills that he has that make many feel that he could ultimately become a small forward at the next level.
Poythress certainly showed “the look” of a big-time scorer on Friday night, but will he be UK’s big-time scorer? Will UK even have a primary scorer? Poythress could be a go-to guy for UK, or it could be Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin (not mentioned in the Slam Online piece), or a combination of others on given nights. It will be interesting to see if Poythress emerges as the guy UK counts on for major scoring when needed. Last year’s team didn’t need one guy to take over games and score a lot of points, but this team might at times.