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March 21, 2013
Cats expect return to prominence next season
John Calipari was sowing seeds for 2013-14, laying out his Big Blueprint for the future of Kentucky basketball.MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. - Even as this season was winding down,
"We have talks as a team, and he's already told us he's cracking down next year," guard Archie Goodwin said after the Wildcats bowed out of the NIT with a 59-57 loss at Robert Morris on Tuesday. "He felt like he let us slip up this year and he was too light on us. He said he's never letting that happen again."
Calipari's fresh start will come with a revamped roster constructed with a national championship in mind. Just how it will look remains uncertain. Four Kentucky freshmen - Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and injured Nerlens Noel - will have NBA decisions to make before the April deadline for entering the league's draft.
Goodwin, Poythress and Cauley-Stein said with varying degrees of certainty on Tuesday that they'll return, but those decisions can change with distance from a season finale.
Regardless, a recruiting class that already consists of twin guards Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison, swingman James Young and forwards Julius Randle, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and Derek Willis sets up Kentucky to reload for an NCAA title run.
Kentucky may not be finished signing players. And if key veterans return, Calipari is set up to have the deepest team of his UK tenure.
"We may have three teams, so 15 guys that can play," Calipari said. "Let's go. It's what we need, kind of like my first year when we had all those players. We're gonna be a little young, but with guys coming back we'll still have some veteran guys."
There are complications with such a roster.
The most pressing may be working out a scholarship crunch. The NCAA allows men's basketball programs to have 13 players on scholarship.
In the unlikely event that no player on the current roster leaves, for the NBA or elsewhere, Kentucky would have 15 scholarship players next season: the Harrison twins, Randle, Young, Lee, Johnson, Willis, Noel, Goodwin, Poythress, Cauley-Stein, Ryan Harrow, Kyle Wiltjer, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson.
Scholarships are renewed on an annual basis, however, and are not guaranteed for four years. Some attrition or changes in statues could lead to open scholarships.
Polson, for example, came to UK as a walk-on, and his scholarship has been awarded on a yearly basis because Calipari has had scholarships available.
Though Hood has said he plans to return next season, he is a fourth-year player on track to graduate this spring and would have the option of transferring to another Division I school and playing next season if he earns his degree.
And after a tumultuous season in which he missed four games due to a never-disclosed illness and an undisclosed family issue, then struggled to find consistency, Harrow was unclear Tuesday as to whether he'll be welcomed back, though he spoke like a man who intended to return.
"If I can come back, then I'll come back," Harrow said. "If I can't, then I just have to make decisions, really."
Johnson has not yet signed a national letter of intent with Kentucky, but has given no public indication that he'd consider any other school.
Beyond making the scholarship numbers work, Calipari could face a difficult challenge in distributing minutes and shot attempts on a roster potentially so stocked.
Goodwin said he won't let the prospect of a stacked team scare him into a jump to the NBA.
"I'm not scared to compete with anybody," he said. "Those guys are great players, but at the same time, I can play too. So I'm going to compete with them and we're just going to battle out. Whatever happens happens from there, but I'm not scared. I fear no one on the court."
Goodwin saw only positives in stocking the Cats' cupboard with talent.
"We're going to have great guard play and we're going to have a couple more athletic guys on the wings and down low," Goodwin said. "It's definitely going to help us out in areas we need, and we're going to have very competitive practices every day. That's going to help us out a lot."
A loaded team also would give Calipari an opportunity he said he regretted not having this season: sending players to the bench in order to teach them lessons about their play.
"The best thing that's going to happen to us next year is we're going to have unbelievable competition at every spot," Calipari said. "So there's no one here that's promised, 'OK, I played 30 minutes a game.' You may play five, but you will change. The stuff I had to accept this year, the program almost got hijacked. Never in my career have I surrendered in any way to any team, and I did at times this year. To try to save guys, to try to help guys, and it never works."
And even as Calipari looks to the future, Goodwin said Kentucky can take lessons from its recent past. The path to the 2012 NCAA title, he noted, started after the Cats reached the 2011 Final Four.
"If you recall, the only one that left was Brandon Knight - and Enes Kanter, but he didn't play," Goodwin said. "The other guys came back, and they got a championship out of it. Hopefully we can do the same thing with this group."