Julius Mays told Larry Vaught something yesterday that got my attention:
"It was the same things that happened all year. No fight, no toughness. Soft, just playing scared, not thinking about the team, just thinking about ourselves," Mays said. "It is the same thing that happened all year. You would like to change it, but it’s just maturity. I think these guys have more years of college so they can learn now to fight and how to be coached and learn how to be more tougher."
It never occurred to me that you had to "learn ... to be coached," but you know what, that's a really terrific point by Mays, and it helps explain what went wrong this year.
I understand that kids often don't carry practice over to games -- that just takes time. But it seems that Kentucky's problems went deeper than that. Mays suggests that they simply didn't accept coaching well at all, despite the losses and the struggles. When the season was over and Calipari explained that he'd have to change the way he recruited, and I wonder if this was also part of what he meant. Probably. It seems a foregone conclusion that Nerlens Noel was not included in Mays analysis.
When it comes to toughness, though, the fingers can point in every direction. This team never finished through contact. I can't remember how many and-1's were not made during the season because of a failure to finish through contact.
Will it be different next year? I expect that it will, although I can't say for absolute certain. I know that Randle is anything but soft. He actively seeks contact, and will absolutely not back down from physicality. Whether he knows how to be coached or not is something I cannot judge from game videos.
Having seen the Harrison twins play several games, it looks to me like they were as merciless as players that young can be. They finish through contact and don't seem to mind when players try to get up in them. There is a big difference, though, between a college player getting up in your face, and a high school kid. But there's also this, from a Rivals.com article:
Particularly when they are matched against other highly ranked guards, the Harrison twins are known as defensive stoppers who will use their strength to bully other players; they also aren't afraid to talk a little trash.
I think we can safely say that "toughness" isn't going to be a real problem with these guys, and at 6'5" and 210#, they have powerful bodies to back up their menacing demeanor and high-level games.
Marcus Lee looks like a multi-year player to me. He reminds me of a more talented Perry Stevenson. He's long and quick off the floor, but he's nowhere near as quick as Nerlens Noel (but then again, who is?), although he has a somewhat similar body type.
James Young reminds me of Jack Givens with the smoothness of his shot. He has a very natural and smooth release, and a similar player in the SEC is Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They are mirror-images of each other.
But one thing about Young that people don't really know is that he isn't just a shooter, but a guy that knows the game and has a serious competitive streak. Consistency is a bit of an issue, but he seems to have none of the "feel for the game" problems we saw so often this year out of Alex Poythress.
Young is very left-handed though, like former UK player Terrence Jones, but that's a bit less of a problem for a perimeter player like him than an interior player or a guy who gets most of his points off the bounce, like Goodwin. Still, he'd do well to focus hard this summer on his right hand.
It will be very interesting to see who comes back. If Goodwin and Poythress do, they will be competing for their spots for the first time, and that could make one heck of a difference in their play -- that, and the fact that they have a whole six months to work on their game, and learn "how to be coached." Willie Cauley-Stein just needs another year to learn the game he barely knows, although he's such a gifted athlete for a big guy, it may be impossible for the pros to lay off him. If WCS does come back, I expect him to be the only player from this year who starts early in the season.
Dakari Johnson is known as a powerful rebounder and low-post scorer somewhat reminiscent of Jared Sullinger. He has the big backside, the lower-body and upper-body strength to compete immediately for playing time. Johnson is not a quick player, but he is a strong space-eater and an excellent rebounder.
Folks, from where I sit, we are looking good. I think this 2013 class addresses all our weaknesses from last year -- depth (assuming we have some returnees), toughness, rebounding, and shooting. If Andrew Wiggins decides to join, we add a skilled, freak athlete in the mold of Kobe Bryant.
Next year is going to be all the fun that this year wasn't.