For the third straight year coach John Calipari introduced the nation's best recruiting class at Big Blue Madness. The group includes the top-ranked point guard (6'2" Marquis Teague), the top-ranked small forward (6'7" Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), the top-ranked power forward (6'10" Anthony Davis, the No. 1 recruit in the country) and the fifth-ranked power forward (6'9" Kyle Wiltjer). But unlike their forefrosh, these youngsters won't be expected to bear the burden of Big Blue Nation's title lust alone. Three vital pieces from last year's Final Four squad—6'8" senior swingman Darius Miller and sophomores Doron Lamb, a 6'4" guard, and Terrence Jones, a 6'9" forward—are back to provide guidance. Will the mix of dazzling new talent and deep March experience yield Calipari's first NCAA title and the Wildcats' first since 1998?
Jones believes so. A likely lottery pick who averaged 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks last year, he passed on the NBA draft in part because the 56--55 loss to Connecticut in last year's national semifinals "really hurt," he says. "I wanted to get our team all the way there this year. With the guys that came back and the freshmen who are stepping up, we feel we have a real good chance of doing it."
After skipping a tryout for USA Basketball's under-19 team to attend summer school and work out, Jones is stronger, bigger—he has added about 12 pounds to reach 252—and bristling with intensity at practice. "He's in the best shape of his life," says Calipari. "He finishes first on all the running stuff. He has improved his shooting. He has improved his right hand. [A natural righty, Jones grew up favoring his left hand because former NBA guard Damon Stoudamire, a relative by marriage, is a lefty.] He's a much better player."
Jones's increased heft will be critical to a front line that has no true center, and his improved shooting will play into Calipari's plans to rely more on the pick-and-roll. "This may be my first team in a while that I'm comfortable using it," says Calipari, who learned tweaks to the play while coaching the Dominican Republic national team this summer. "When you have bigs who can really shoot and a point guard who's a pit bull, that's not a bad pick-and-roll team."
When you have NBA talent at every position, that's not a bad team, period.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH John Calipari (3rd season)
2010--11 RECORD 29--9 SEC 10--6 (2nd, East)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Final Four
*High school stats
239 BLOCKED SHOTS for the Wildcats last season, best in the country. That number should rise with the additions of Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer.
The young Wildcats live up to the hype and gel into an unstoppable force, shattering school records for blocks and three-pointers on the way to the NCAA title.
Too many lottery picks, not enough balls. Players bicker about playing time, infighting begins and Kentucky is bounced in the Sweet 16 of the tournament.
TERRENCE JONES The forward's increased bulk and improved shooting will be key for a talent-rich team that has no true center.