The young players that make up the Kentucky Wildcats this season, and what some may call Cal’s dream team (without the exception of Andrew Wiggins), possesses an array of talent that no one can deny. The size and athleticism combined seemingly makes this team unstoppable, or so we assume. The outcome of last year’s team along with the preseason assumptions played out quite differently than what many had expected. In all actuality, I’m sure no one predicted that the defending champions would not make the NCAA Tournament, lose first round in the NIT, and still produce a top 10 draft pick. Statistically, I do not know the odds of that happening again, but I hope it’s somewhere between 1 and never.
Does the amount of immense talent the team possesses this upcoming season outweigh the fact that they are so young? Take into consideration that only two players, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress (some may include Jarrod Polson), on the 2014 team has seen consistent playing time at a collegiate level thus far. Not many great starting lineups consist of mostly freshmen; and rarely do you ever see any great “second teams” consisting of all freshmen coming off the bench. Will the youthfulness of this team be another challenge for Coach Cal? Here’s some reasons to consider why the youth of the players should not be a concern this season.
Last year’s team possessed three McDonalds All-American’s with Kyle Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. Now with this year’s team, double that number, add one, and triple the talent. Yes, triple it. With returning McDonald’s All-American Alex Poythress, and incoming freshmen Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and James Young, it looks like we are going to have ourselves some fun games to watch this year. The amount of talent and height combined, that Cal has brought in is going to be a lethal weapon in college basketball this season. Let’s start off by talking about the potential 2014 NBA number one draft prospect, according to Jeff Goodman anyways.
Julius Randle, forward, standing at 6’9, looks to be a 225 pound unstoppable force that not many teams can match, whether he’s posting up or on the perimeter. His explosive athleticism and ability to get to the rim is going to be a challenge most teams won’t want to face. For his size and power, he is a skilled ball handler with great body control and can make his way around opponents with ease finishing through contact. His ability to knock down mid-range jumpers is a rarity for someone of his size. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up the USA Today’s Sports 2013-2014 College Basketball Preview Magazine yet, the Cats are USA Today’s preseason No. 1 team in America with of course, our one and only, Julius Randle, receiving the First Team All-American Honors. Coach Cal, doing what he does best, picked up a rare gem in this recruiting class, as Julius has been compared to LeBron James by multiple basketball analysts. Does Julius Randle have the potential to be the next best player since LeBron James? He certainly has the skill and athleticism to be, but for now, he’s another one of Coach Cal’s one-and-done players as a projected 2014 first round draft pick.
With six of the incoming freshmen being McDonald’s All-Americans they had the opportunity to play with, and against, some of the best talent in their class, like Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), and Jabari Parker (Duke). The amount of talent our freshmen possess individually, along with their height, is astonishing. Eleven players this year are 6’5 or taller for the Cats. Louisville only has 12 players on their team all together this year, with only seven of them 6’5 or taller. The Cats outmatch opponents in height; throw in their athleticism and they should be almost impossible to stop. This is the very reason they’re the nation’s top recruiting class.
With the first practice report coming out just days ago, it’s apparent that some of the Cats have exceeded their expectations already. That’s nice to hear considering some players didn’t quite live up to the expectations that were placed on them in the 2012-13 season. The differences in practices between this year’s team and last year’s team is immeasurable. Last year’s starting five would compete in practice daily against guys like Jon Hood, Sam Malone, Brian Long, Tod Lanter and Jarrod Polson. Now there’s nothing against those guys as I’m sure they’re each wonderful individuals. But, their talent doesn’t match up to the amount of talent that this year’s team is facing in practice. Our second team coming off the bench will be more athletic and talented then some other team’s starting five this season. Therefore, our starting five practices daily against opponents that are, if not almost, equally as talented as themselves. This helps simulate what going up against a real opponent in conference play will feel like. The benefit that comes along with going head-to-head in practice with more talented individuals should increase their physicality and endurance throughout the season.
With Coach Cal’s team being the nation’s top recruiting class, the youthfulness of this team should not pose a problem for the Cats this season. They should dominate individually in ranks of talent, height, and athleticism. Put all these stars on the same court, and they should be unstoppable.