If you’ve heard John Calipari speak over the last month or so, you’d know he’s excited about this 2018-19 group. It’s easily the most excited he’s been about a team in the preseason since the 2014-15 and 2011-12 years.
Kentucky saw two of their top-five leading scorers return from last year, added a two-time Pac-12 All-American transfer in Reid Travis, signed four All-American freshmen, and managed to get the No. 1 point guard in 2019 to reclassify and sign on the dotted line. If Nick Richards can take a step up as a sophomore, Kentucky will be two-deep at every position with virtually zero flaws.
Seth Davis, a college basketball expert and columnist with The Athletic, got the chance to interview Coach Cal and investigated the upcoming Wildcat roster, where he came away with one conclusion: No. 9 is not only possible, it should be expected.
He started by talking about the massive change in experience from last year to the 2018-19 team. The lack of veteran leadership cost them against Kansas State in the Sweet 16 last year, but that won’t be a problem this season.
As has been coach John Calipari’s custom, the rotation for the 2018-19 Kentucky Wildcats will feature mostly underclassmen. This team, however, will be a bunch of graybeards compared to the program’s recent past. Last season, Calipari deployed not only the youngest team in the country according to KenPom.com, but also the youngest team ever measured in the 17-year history of the website. That cost the Wildcats in March, when they bowed out in the Sweet 16 against a Kansas State team that had far less talent but far more experience.
The season was followed by the usual mass exodus of freshmen to the NBA, but two of the Wildcats’ top five scorers are returning as sophomores, as will a valuable backup center. Then in the spring, Kentucky added a fifth-year graduate transfer who will log major minutes as the starting power forward. The Cats got older and better in one fell swoop.
Calipari said that he is spending more time with this team than any other he has had in the past, believing they can “do something special” if they go all-in.
“I just want to be around this team right now more than I have in the past,” Calipari said. “With all the noise they hear, with all the crazy stuff on social media, you realize as a head coach that relationships aren’t transferred to you. If I’m going to help these kids build the confidence they need to do something special, they have to have total faith in what I’m doing and why.”
Simply put: Coach Cal, the staff, and the entire Kentucky roster have every right to be confident this season.
Every team has questions at this time of year. Very few have as many answers as Kentucky does. If the Wildcats can stay healthy and make the right improvements, they have every reason to believe they will be the last team standing next April.
For the rest of the article, you’ll have to break out the credit card and head to The Athletic here.