The last time BBN bid adieu to a mass amount of players it was 2012 and the Cats had just come off of winning a national championship. In a joint press conference similar to the one the most recent Cats held, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Marquis Teague all declared for the NBA draft. Darius Miller was a senior, so John Calipari lost six players in one sitting.
He lost seven this go ‘round. Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Trey Lyles, and Devin Booker all put their names in the draft. I am sure there is some worry out there amongst the Big Blue Nation, but I am here to tell you to worry not. This will not be a repeat of 2013 when the Boys in Blue ended their season in demoralizing fashion in the first round of the NIT.
The 2016 season will be completely different, and here are five reasons why:
1. Tyler Ulis is no Ryan Harrow- This is no disrespect to Ryan Harrow, but he never quite fit in with what John Calipari wanted to do. He was erratic, lacked confidence at times, and missed a chunk of the season due to undisclosed reasons that may or may not had to do with an ailing father. Harrow was a transfer from NC State, which meant that he was able to practice with the team in 2012 but he wasn't allowed to play. No one really knew what Harrow could do on the court, all we could do was speculate about reports we heard from practice. We know what we are getting with Ulis. He is a tough nosed, pass first, playmaking point guard that is in complete control of the offense and can win games on his own if called upon to do so. Remember the Louisville game? That was his coming out party. From then on, Tyler's minutes increased and he was on the court during crunch time because of his decision making ability and his defensive prowess. This is Tyler's team now and we should all feel secure in that fact.
2. Veterans Will Make a Difference- The lone veteran contributor that was left over in 2013 was Kyle Wiltjer. He was a sophomore that had limited game time experience. His role was to come in and loosen up the defense from the perimeter. He averaged less than ten minutes per game. This isn't the case with returning players such as Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, and Tyler Ulis. Poythress will be a senior leader that has been through more ups and downs than anyone on the team. Marcus Lee will be a junior that has been to two Final Fours and a national title game. Tyler Ulis was part of a historic run that ended in a Final Four. All three are winners and they will be the unquestioned leaders.
3. Alex Poythress has Something to Prove- It had to hurt Alex as he watched classmate Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins declare for the draft. If he had been healthy he would have been with them. If he had been healthy the Cats may indeed have won their ninth title. Alex's overt athleticism, size, and speed make him a match up problem on both sides of the court. Kentucky missed his lockdown defense in the Final Four and his ability to outmuscle rebounds in a crowd. Poythress has NBA size and ability and this will be his final chance to prove it. If he plays up to his potential, this Kentucky team will be very potent and he could see his name called in the first round on draft day.
4. The Recruiting Class is Elite and will get Better- John Calipari already has the number one recruiting class in the nation with overall number one recruit Skal Labissiere, top ranked point guard Isiah Briscoe, and four star player Charles Matthews. Now that the mass exodus has occurred, expect Calipari to add more elite names to the list. Who to watch out for: top rated shooting guard Malik Newman is rumored to be ready to commit, he was just waiting to see which guards from Kentucky declared for the draft. With the exit of Towns, Cauley-Stein, and Dakari Johnson, spots have opened up for big men Stephen Zimmerman and Cheick Diallo. Top small forward and number two overall recruit Jaylen Brown is also high on Kentucky. Look for two or more of these guys to commit to the ‘Cats. Check out the highlights of the guys already committed to the Cats:
5. John Calipari Won't Get Fooled Again- If you all remember after 2013, John Calipari was at the end of his rope. He promised that he would never let a season like that happen again; that he would always recruit enough players and those players would be guys that would buy into the system in place. He hasn't let us down since. Cal has proven that he can take a large group of elite talent, get them to buy in and play together, make a deep run in March, and get the majority of those players drafted. Kentucky is the hottest name in college basketball and John Calipari is the hottest coach. He will reload like never before and he again has veteran players to back him up.
Like Aaron Rodgers said, R-E-L-A-X. Our Cats will be fine and primed for another run at number nine. If Cal can get the guys he wants, this will be a very fun team to watch.