I know, I know… This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard that this year’s Kentucky basketball team has a chance to be really, really special. It might not even be the first time you’ve heard it today, or even this week. With that said though, it’s hard to ignore the fact that even more public knowledge and juicy and exciting tidbits have been wafting through Lexington at a more rapid pace this week. The players are all on campus, and the stories and the eye witness accounts of just how special things could truly be are starting to be told across the Big Blue Nation. Many of the things we hoped to hear, we are hearing. Any of the negative things we had hoped not to hear, we haven’t been hearing. These first few encounters and impressions of the guys on campus are exactly what everyone would have hoped for if they were dreaming up a scenario.
Based on what people have been saying, observations from coaches comments, etc… there’s plenty of reason to be excited heading into the weeks before Big Blue Madness. The hoopla and hysteria are right around the corner. Admittedly, it’ s early. Not even just early, but awfully early– especially considering the youth on this Kentucky team. But there’s no reason to pretend that big things aren’t happening in Lexington right now. Here are 5 awfully early reasons to think this year could be special:
1) Cal can hardly contain his own excitement
Sometimes John Calipari is hesitant to pin any type of expectations on his relatively young basketball teams before the season starts. Although Calipari openly admits that the success of this team will depend directly on how well they buy into the “players first” mentality and the “brothers keeper” motto, he still can’t completely withhold that he’s excited about this team. Calipari has a certain pep to his step when he knows Kentucky is on the brink of a potentially special season. Cal’s demeanor and way in which he talks about the upcoming season are both eerily similar to the time before the 2012 season. And we all know how that ended.
2) Everyone, and I mean everyone, has big time positive things to say about Julius Randle
The Kentucky folks are saying great things about Julius Randle. People around the program who have a little bit of access to seeing the players play pick up are saying nothing but great things about Julius Randle. The former Kentucky players, most of whom are NBA caliber players (who currently play against the best of the best in the league), have nothing but great things to say about Julius Randle. And now, even the national media members (guys like Jay Bilas) are letting the cat out of the bag. Julius Randle is going to be an absolute beast, and that notion seems to be universal among people who know how to judge such things.
3) Early bond that is evident between players/how they deal with being part of the hoopla
The current Kentucky players were finally on display this week to a massive amount of people during the Alumni Game weekend/Fantasy Camp weekend. People finally got to see the players interacting with one another, and dealing with the fans and the hoopla that surrounds being a Kentucky basketball player. The scene isn’t fit for everyone. A few of the guys from last year’s team didn’t warm up quite as easily to the whole scene. That doesn’t appear to be a problem with this year’s bunch. The players are very engaging as individuals and as a group. The guys are embracing the attention, but also giving off great impressions to everyone who has been interacting with them. The team seems to have an evident early bond with each other as well. As Matt said on the radio show this morning, he hasn’t seen a team that appears to be this close since the first year with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins’ group.
4) Talent AND Depth
Again, this isn’t anything earth shattering or new… but every time I see a team/group picture of this year’s team, I’m reminded of just how much talent is on the roster. And it’s not just player 1-5 or even player 1-6/7. The depth on this roster goes 9-10 players deep, with a few potential surprises and sleepers who could wind up (either this year or in the future) being solid contributors. Calipari has often had as much talent as he has with this year’s Kentucky team, but not as many players. Kentucky has had the #1 recruiting class year after year, and this year’s class is no exception. The 2013 class as a whole was one of the most loaded in recent memory. Not only did Kentucky get a great class, but they got the best class from a tremendous overall pool of talent– unlike a less talented pool (ex: 2012 recruiting class).
5) A few surprises
Aaron Harrison. a top 10 recruit, can hardly be called a surprise. With that said, some of the players who went a bit under the radar in this class have apparently been impressive early. Word on the street is that Aaron Harrison might be much better than anyone expected, and should not be considered much of a second fiddle to his twin brother, the more heralded point guard Andrew Harrison. Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson are two others who weren’t given quite as much spotlight as guys like Andrew Harrison, James Young and Julius Randle. Dominique Hawkins has also turned some heads during the summer.