Last year, Kentucky disproved the (now-antiquated) notion that freshmen can’t win it all. The Fab Five had tried before, they said, and if Michigan couldn’t do it, no team that young can. Well, “they” can eat it. Davis and Co. may or may not have changed the way Calipari’s teams function, or the way that schools nationwide recruit, but it certainly validated the idea that you go for talent first, experience second.
While the championship has likely affected the attitudes of coaches and pundits everywhere, it’s also visibly affected the goals of incoming recruits. Our incoming guys now make it very clear that their main goal is to win a national championship of their own, and I think that’s great. Particularly the Nerlens Noel “Gotta get #9” tweets. Take that, Jay Bilas.
But the increase in excitement for these kids, and more importantly the precedent set for them, has also put a world of pressure on them as well. Is it too much? We are still talking about current high school seniors, after all.
ESPN’s Dana O’Neil has noticed the increase in expectation, and says the bar now, for Kentucky, is not that freshmen “can” win it all, but “should” win it all.
O’Neil also had a line about how last year’s team “joined forces like The Avengers,” which, while I appreciate the reference, implies that Anthony Davis and MKG had a knockdown brawl in a forest somewhere, which I don’t think is true at all. And she may have outkicked her coverage on a few of her other statements, especially one noting that John Wall and a number of other young stars “dazzled during their six months on campus.” I’m sure she knows that Wall, at least, finished the entire year, and wasn’t trying to be an instigator (hopefully). But she raises good points on how the standard for freshmen has been drastically changed, and schools like Kentucky and UCLA now can fairly be whipped into a frenzy with incoming classes like the ones on tap.
But here’s why I bring all of this up: I absolutely think that next year’s Cats can win it all, but it’s not fair to think that failure to do so is a disappointment. We’re a little spoiled right now with all the success (or at least I am), and while that’s a great feeling, it can skew our rationality. The bar has been raised, for sure, but we should be careful not to raise it too high. Next year’s Cats have a distinct challenge in that they are substantially younger than even their 2012 counterparts. Does that mean we should count them out? Certainly not. But it does mean that, once again, these guys will have to learn and progress at an alarming rate as the season goes on.
A championship “freshman” team is possible, but it is unbelievably difficult. Freshmen shouldn’t be expected to win it all, but a title shouldn’t be discounted because of their age either. Age is just a number, but maturity is what counts. From what I’ve seen, these new guys are pretty mature. And while we can’t expect a title from them, because that sort of expectation is unfair on almost any team, we can expect to have a great season.
Pressure be darned.