College Basketball is a phenomenon that I’ve never had a fond sentiment for. After all, don’t we all love the superstar aspect of the NBA, since there’s nothing comparable to watching the greatest talents in the sport go head-to-head in the playoffs?
Well, for some, NCAA is the heart of their sports world. Most of those folks reside in Kentucky, where college basketball has grown each year. It’s not a sport in this state. It’s a lifestyle.
Here’s my mindset: Perhaps the ones with the most knowledge about these college teams, especially the Kentucky Wildcats, are their crazed fans. Come on, don’t they watch every single game these young kids play?
Thus, I decided to connect with the most die-hard Kentucky fanatic I know, Michael DeWilde, to grasp exactly what we need to know about this upcoming 2014-15 Kentucky roster.
You can follow Michael on Twitter, @M_Dewilde1. Enjoy:
Young: Hello Michael,
As one of the most invested fans of Kentucky sports in general (and being a local resident), what has your initial reactions been towards their overseas journey this week?
We understand the team has taken on three teams from various countries, and they’ve won each game. What stands out immediately?
DeWilde: I was a little hesitant on how well the team would be playing after only having 10 practices before they left for the Bahamas and two of their key big men, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, being out with leg injuries. But, they have impressed me already with their play.
There are several things that stand out to me that I was not expecting coming into this season. First, the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, have came into this season completely changed players. They both put in work in the offseason getting in better shape and getting better on the defensive side of the ball.
Aaron still has his deadly 3 point shot and Andrew is pushing the ball up the court and is the team’s vocal leader.
Young: Yeah, I didn’t even know this Bahama trip was scheduled, but it’s already frightening what they’re doing without two key big men. Cauley-Stein is their defensive anchor, while Lyles is supposed to be this stretch power forward that has the complete offensive arsenal.
It’s probably safe to say Aaron Harrison is more comfortable beyond the 3-point line this upcoming year, since he stormed through the NCAA Tournament on the most exciting clutch run I’ve ever witnessed. Who wouldn’t have their confidence shooting through the roof after those huge buckets?
From an athleticism standpoint, is there anyone in particular that’s just catching your eye?
DeWilde: I really enjoyed seeing the play of junior Alex Poythress. He has been a beast on the boards and is the most athletic and explosive player on the floor at all times.
He has been the teams second leading scorer so far on the trip and is expecting to have a breakout season. Once he improves his jumpshot and ball handling skills, he will be nearly unstoppable.
Young: Poythress took a weird turn last season, I’d say. After coming in as a freshman in 2012-13, he averaged 11.2 points and shot an absurd 58.1 percent from the field, and 42.4 percent from the outside. That’s special to have out of a freshman, and he looked to be on his way to building his resume. That, of course, was with the team of Nerlens Noel, Ryan Harrow, and Archie Goodwin. Don’t want to remind you of that group.
Then — with Julius Randle, James Young, and the 2013-14 Wildcats — Poythress took a step back, playing 7.4 less minutes per night. He dropped to just under six points per game, and all of his numbers (including field goal percentage) took a dip.
One thing has remained constant with Poythress though: He always remains active on defense, contesting shots and staying in front of the top wing threats on the court. Calipari eats that up, and rewards those type of defenders with minutes.
However, this 2014-15 team is all about the new freshmen. I understand there are two specific freshmen that you are ecstatic for, and already have been evaluating them in this Bahama trip?
DeWilde: Without a doubt. The two players I have been most impressed by have been freshmen Karl Towns and Tyler Ulis.
Towns is a very skilled big man who can rebound, score from anywhere on the court, and passes the ball extremely well. I believe he will end up starting at power forward and dominate every player he goes up against offensively and defensively.
Tyler Ulis will be my favorite player on this team. Standing at only 5’9 he is the smartest basketball player I have ever seen. He will be a great backup guard to the Harrisons. He is an unbelievable passer, pushes the tempo, and can knock down jumpshots if the defense gives him space.
The thing I like most about him is how he gets after it on defense. He will get into everyone he defends, frustrating them and making it tough for them to get the offense started.
This team is talented enough to win a National Championship this year and go down as one of the greatest teams in UK history along with Davis’ 2012 National Championship team.
Young: Earlier, I thought it was intriguing that you brought up the Harrison twins and their physical ability. I truly didn’t believe they were “out of shape” or anything of that nature last season or during the tournament. But, I guess working out all summer long can build up their endurance and make them bulkier in the upper body.
Yeah, I’ve been aware of your fandom for Ulis since last week, when you described him as the most underrated recruit Calipari signed. The smartest player you’ve ever seen in a Kentucky jersey? Come on, that’s not a little bit of a stretch?
He did perform well off pick-and-rolls and made guys suffer if they went under screens. Once the defender goes under, his small size gives him a shorter amount of time to get a quality shot off, but he does it without a problem.
I guess the question we all have for Ulis would be … how does his minutes fit in this rotation? Just a sixth man for Calipari to use for 20+ minutes a night?
DeWilde: He’ll probably get anywhere from 10-20 minutes a game depending on foul trouble, injuries, and pace of play. I believe he should always be the first guard off the bench because of his abilities and the team’s personnel.
You can bring him in for Andrew and he will run the offense effectively. Or you can even bring him in for Aaron and take Andrew off the ball and let him use his cutting ability to bully the other team’s shooting guard. Ulis gives Calipari he chance to experiment with his guard play and find the perfect mix.
Young: Absolutely, they interviewed him during the game Tuesday and he said he’s not worried about being the focal point of anything. Stating that it’s Andrew’s team in terms of being the point guard, he’ll be fine coming off the bench for his first year. You believe, however, that Ulis will stick around for two to three years and be the future option once the Harrison twins are in the NBA.
For Kentucky, I clearly see Cauley-Stein, Towns, the Harrison Twins, Poythress, and possibly Lyles taking their talents to the next level once this year is finished. Is that where you stand, with those six?
DeWilde: Yes I believe Ulis will be at UK for at least 2-3 years if not all four.
On the Cats leaving for the draft, I see the twins, Cauley-Stein, and Towns all as 100% going to the NBA no matter the outcome of the year.
Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson, in my opinion, are both strong NBA leans but bad seasons or stacked draft class could bring them back to UK, but it is highly doubtful they stay.
Trey Lyles is a tough one for me. No one really knows the seriousness of the injury even though Cal says he will be ready to go by the he start of the season. Depending on how many minutes he gets he could be the one guy that might come back for a second year in Lexington so I’m 50-50 on him.
Which reminds me: Boogie Cousins publicly said last month that he would put the 2010 Kentucky squad over ANY of Calipari’s teams thus far.
Obviously, it comes down to 2012 (Davis), 2013 (Randle and Harrisons), or 2014 (stacked). Brandon Knight‘s 2011 team didn’t have enough power in the middle to be in the conversation. Which team would be the best head-to-head? I actually feel that Cousins has a point — nobody would take down Wall and company at their best.
DeWilde: Would have to agree with you and Big Cousins on this one. The 2010 team was loaded with talent. With Cousins and Patrick Patterson down low, the Cats were always ahead in the rebounding battle and outscoring their opponents in the paint.
Also, there will probably never be a more explosive backcourt than Wall and Eric Bledsoe (even though Bledsoe has been better as a pro than college player). I would rank Davis’ 2012 team at close second. Overall, they were the better team because they came together so quickly and outperformed the 2010 team by winning the National Championship.
This year’s team will rank third on my list, but they have the deepest team and are just as unselfish, if not more than, the 2012 team was at sharing the ball. These, without a doubt, are Kentucky’s best teams.
Young: So, it’s sounding pretty evident that I need to switch some of my attention to the NCAA atmosphere this year. It was nice discussing these Wildcats with you, have a great remainder of the offseason, Michael. Peace.
We hope you have enjoyed another installment of the HoopsHabit Conversation series. We have huge plans for the next one!