Talent has never been a concern with the 2016-17 edition of Kentucky Basketball. No one (worth mentioning) is debating this team's potential to be one of the best in college hoops next season.
But what's going to make this a special season is the burning desire for greatness this team has already shown. In the midst of a summer when most are enjoying the warm weather, on vacation, or just enjoying some form of relaxation, these Cats are hitting the gym at any hour of the day.
These Wildcats have been waking up early and staying up late to get in the best shape possible in preparation for the upcoming season. That's one of many observations made by KSTV's T.J. Beisner, who did a fantastic piece on the dedication to greatness this team is already showing in summer workouts.
These have been largely led by the elder statesmen like Isaiah Briscoe, but the incoming freshman are accepting it and embracing the failures needed to reach success.
And while the break will bring some much needed recovery time for the guys, it also marks the end of, from what I’ve been told, one of the most inspiring summer sessions under John Calipari. Not only was the entire team on campus together, the now legendary workout schedule has really set the tone for a season of accountability and expectations.
The now-famous late-night workouts last well-past midnight, which seem difficult enough, but the guys are back up and working out together at 6:00am. Then they have classes and tutoring…and then back in the gym. They break for a while…then the late-night workouts again.
It’s been grueling, especially for the freshmen, who have not been challenged physically to this degree, but it’s also established a sense of ownership and accountability. They’ve struggled, but it’s been together. They’ve had success…and it’s been together.
These workouts are setting a high bar for what will be accepted in terms of attitude and effort and it’s all been driven by the veterans on the team, which is exactly how John Calipari wants it to be.
That's the kind of dedication demanded of a team hoping to be cutting down the nets when the season ends. But hard work can take a team so far. Having experience against high-caliber opponents is something we typically see title-contending teams have.
Whether it's upperclassman who've gone through the wars, or players who've simply been able to practice against elite competition, players need to face elite competition to grow into elite players themselves. That's not a problem for the NBA factory that UK has become, as an influx of All-Stars and budding superstars are on campus every offseason.
And when you're drawing praise from the likes of Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, that speaks to the potential for greatness this team has.
Karl Towns, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, DeAndre Liggins and Alex Poythress have all suited up and gone at this young group. And in my conversations with each of those guys, they’ve all said the same thing: This team can play. The Cats battle, refuse to back down and welcome the challenge of proving themselves against the players who have already taken the steps they’re trying to take this season.
This all falls in line with a familiar theme that's been evident since the day these Cats came together: There've been many talented teams come through Lexington during John Calipari's seven-year run, but this has easily been one of, if not the team most committed to becoming great.