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John Calipari stresses defense being key for these Kentucky Wildcats

By the time March rolls around, these Wildcats should be one of the best defensive teams in America.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Media Day Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

With the college basketball season closing in, John Calipari has done his annual Q&A session to preview his newest team.

The 2016-17 Kentucky Wildcats will once again be among the nation’s most talented and deep teams, enough so that many believe they’ll be playing in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona.

Among the themes of this year’s version of Kentucky Basketball is defense. All five positions have great defenders who can be among the best in college hoops at defending their respective positions.

That’s why Calipari is stressing defense being key to this team becoming a truly special one capable of cutting down lots of nets.

“Because I think that’s going to be what this team’s – what we are,” Cal said. “You have shot blocking, you have size, you have some strength, you have guards that can really – De’Aaron Fox should be, when you start talking those three (Fox, Monk and Briscoe) and Dom (Hawkins) as a four, Mychal (Mulder) would be more of a shooter, maybe a rebounder because he’s a little bit bigger than those guys, but those four will just maul you.

“De’Aaron Fox is going nose-to-nose right now with Malik Monk, but they went at each other. De’Aaron stole the ball from him twice. You just have guys that can maul people, and I think we’ll have some shot blocking. Derek Willis has gotten better.”

Even senior forward Derek Willis is taking his defense to a new level.

“Derek Willis has been on a great path right now,” Cal said. “He’s gotta sustain it. He can’t have a game and then say my body is breaking down. Just play the season. Go do what you did in the middle (of last season). That’s who you are now. Be that guy.”

Calipari is also expecting big things from his big Australian. Isaac Humphries showed flashes of being a good defensive center last year, but now that he has a full year of college under his belt, Humphries is primed for a big step forward this season.

“Been great. He was good yesterday, wow. Seven-foot tall, he’s got good skills,” Cal said. “With his size to be able to pick-and-roll or pick-and-short-roll, find pocket passes for shots that he can make. He was always pretty good in pick-and-roll defense.

“Yesterday was funny because De’Aaron Fox was going at him and kind of made him look bad, but if you can guard the guards we’re coming at you with, you can guard anybody we’re playing against.

“But he’s in great shape. I watched him in high school, literally everything was below the rim. Everything. That’s why I said he might be Josh Harrellson. When we first got Josh and then Josh started dunking balls, well that’s what this kid is doing now.

“Like, he does not lay any balls in. He’s trying to dunk every ball. He’s physically able to run. And the crazy thing is he’ll still be one of the youngest players in college basketball. So basically he’s a freshman. He got an extra year last year because of his age.”

It won’t be long until we get to see all of this on display.