LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Like any good salesman, John Calipari
knows it's important to under-promise and over-deliver.
One problem. It's not an option at Kentucky.
So while Calipari will tell anyone who listens his second year
with the Wildcats won't be like the first - a watershed season in
which he revitalized the foundering program with one of the
greatest recruiting classes ever - he can't exactly do it with a
"We're not going to be what you think, no high expectations,"
Then, pausing for a brief second for effect, he added, "this
year I really mean it."
Good luck with that.
While Calipari calls last year's freshman crop that included
point guard John Wall, center DeMarcus Cousins and guard Eric
Bledsoe - all now playing in the NBA - a "once in a lifetime
group," he knows all he's done is set the bar almost impossibly
high for his latest batch of budding stars.
"I hope there are lessons from last year this team looks at,
but the reality of it is this is a totally different team,"
One whose destiny could be determined by what happens off the
court, not on it.
For all the promise surrounding freshman point guard Brandon
Knight and forward Terrence Jones, Kentucky's ability to match last
year's 35-3 season may rely on the eligibility of freshman Enes
The 6-foot-11 center's amateur status is being reviewed by the
NCAA, which is trying to determine how much money Kanter received
while playing for a Turkish club. If the NCAA decides Kanter
received extraordinary benefits during his stay with the club, he
could be ruled ineligible.
Calipari believes Kanter is still an amateur, but has no idea
which way the NCAA will go.
"They're just trying to get it right," Calipari said.
So the Wildcats, ranked 11th in the preseason poll, wait. And so
does Kanter, who has become a folk hero in the Bluegrass before
ever scoring a basket.
"Free Enes" T-shirts are a hot commodity on campus, and a
popular blog shows fans holding "Free Enes" signs everywhere from
the steps of the U.S. Congress to Fenway Park.
The only one who wants Kanter to play more than the fans may be
his potential teammates. Kanter dominated practice at times before
the NCAA barred him from participating in team activities until his
status is resolved, and he's the one player capable of filling the
massive shoes left by Cousins.
"We want Enes to play, we really do," said freshman forward
Stacey Poole. "That's our brother. He's a good kid and a hard
worker. Right now, if he doesn't play we'll just have to deal with
what we have. We have a good team but we really want Enes to
The Wildcats will almost certainly need him if they want to
battle Florida and Tennessee for the SEC East crown. If Kanter
can't play, Kentucky will have to rely on the 6-8 Jones and 6-11
junior college transfer Eloy Vargas to patrol the middle.
Jones is skinny. Vargas is raw. Neither are Cousins. Kanter can
"Once (Kanter) is added to the team if he is, it'll just give
us a new dimension as a team," said backup center Josh Harrellson.
"If he can play, he'll be like another DeMarcus Cousins from last
Without Kanter, the onus falls squarely on Knight, the latest
high-profile point guard recruited by Calipari. The coach is loathe
to compare Knight to Wall, Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans.
Knight isn't as fast as Wall. Not quite as athletic as Rose. Not
nearly as long as Evans. But he may be a better shooter than all of
them. He'll likely have to be if the Wildcats go with the
four-guard lineup they featured during a recent exhibition win over
That's fine by Knight, who has impressed Calipari with his
decision-making and ability to switch gears with ease.
"At times I'm going to just let him go," Calipari said. "If
no one else wants to do it, go do it all."
Knight is also happy to try and share the load. During a summer
exhibition trip to Canada, he had 25 assists against just four
turnovers in three games.
"I think I can get everyone involved," Knight said. "I just
want to do whatever it takes to win."
Good thing, because that's all that matters at Kentucky.
Despite the shot of adrenaline Calipari's arrival provided last
season, the Wildcats still fell a game short of making the Final
Four after being upset by West Virginia in the regional final.
Calipari cautions a daunting nonconference schedule that
includes a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational and
nonconference games against North Carolina, Indiana and Louisville
means there's little chance his young team will rip off 19 straight
wins to open the season as the Wildcats did a year ago.
But this group of Wildcats think they can do the one thing last
year's edition couldn't: Get the program back to the promised land.
"I think our team is just as talented but in a different way,
it's different players," said junior forward Darius Miller, now
one of the team's elder statesmen. "There aren't too many DeMarcus
Cousins or John Walls running around. I think Brandon and everybody
else will get it done, just in a different way."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)