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SEC Media Day: Chasing Kentucky

Kevin Stallings will withhold his assessment
of the Kentucky Wildcats until, say, February.
The Vanderbilt coach is plenty familiar with star forward
Terrence Jones and probably knows a good bit about Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, too. No assessment of John Calipari's Wildcats is
ever complete without taking the full measure of those ballyhooed
freshmen that annually parade into Lexington and often become
instant stars before turning into NBA millionaires.
"I don't know anything about his team, they're all freshmen,"
Stallings said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media day. "Or
a lot of them are freshmen. I know Terrence Jones is good. All
those guys coming back from his team a year ago are good. The other
guys, I don't want to know about them yet. I'll know about them
when we have to start preparing for them."
Those could be quite the showdowns Feb. 11 and Feb. 25 if
preseason projections pan out. Kentucky is favored to win the SEC
title after making a Final Four run last season. The Commodores and
Florida also might just find themselves in the top 10, and teams
such as Alabama and Mississippi State figure to be pretty good,
too.
However, the Wildcats are no longer what qualify as
"underdogs" in Lexington. The Gators lived up to their top
billing in winning last season's title and were among the final
eight teams standing in the NCAA tournament.
Now, Kentucky opens as the team to beat.
"This is its own team. Last year's team, we had a whole
different role than we have this year," said Jones, who averaged
15.7 points and a league-high 8.8 rebounds as a freshman. "Last
year, us being more of an underdog, (we had to) go out and prove
what we had to do every game and tournament.
"I think this year's team will be one of the top dog teams and
are expected to win, and go out there and get it. It's going to be
two different teams with two different situations, but we'll have
to go out there and get the wins the same way."
That formula includes, of course, a hotshot point guard recruit
in Marquis Teague, a much-hyped big man in Anthony Davis - the
nation's consensus top prospect - and other top recruits Michael
Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer.
Calipari is once again bringing along the youngsters with his
knack for nurturing and maybe even humbling. He had three seniors
on one team in Wednesday night's preseason scrimmage, and three
freshmen on the other.
Jones had 52 points and 16 rebounds. Calipari said the 6-foot-9
Jones and the 6-10 Davis have yet to share the court on the same
side in what might be a fearsome frontcourt pairing.
"I'm trying to keep them playing against each other to
compete," Calipari said. "The reason Darius Miller has improved
so much is he's going every day against Michael Gilchrist. If you
don't show up for practice, you'll get dunked on, and so will
Michael."
Calipari said Jones, the preseason player of the year, has
packed on 15 pounds of muscle and is displaying "viciousness" and
maturity in the post. Jones opted to return to the team while
freshman point guard Brandon Knight, the NBA draft's No. 8 pick by
the Detroit Pistons, and junior second-rounder DeAndre Liggins
turned pro.
Jones withdrew his name from draft consideration on deadline day
to return to school and evidently came back determined to get even
better.
"He's in the best shape of his life," Calipari said. "He's in
the best shape of anybody on my team. He's the first one out to
practice; last year he was the last one out to practice. If you try
to play on his left hand now, he will take you right and try to
dunk on you. He finishes first on every run. He finished last on
every run a year ago."
Stallings will field a different kind of team than the Wildcats.
The Commodores return all five starters, including three who opted
to postpone NBA careers and return for their senior seasons.
John Jenkins is back after leading the SEC in scoring (19.5
points per game) and 3-pointers made (100).
"He's got NBA-level players on that team and they're seniors,
too," Calipari said of Stallings. "It's unusual. Not only does he
have good players, he's a terrific coach and they're veterans."
Stallings said having five seniors could be a downside if
they're focusing on the NBA or careers outside of basketball. He
doesn't have that concern for his team.
"I just don't think our guys were made up that way," he said.
"Our team really gets it. This team gets it as much as any team
that I've ever coached. They get it on the floor, they get it off
the floor. They bust their butts in practice every day, and they're
poised to do things that we've not done yet.
"They deserve to have that happen for them because of their
character and because of their work ethic."
The Gators present a contrast in style to the Wildcats' imposing
frontcourt. They have returning guards Erving Walker and Kenny
Boynton joined by touted freshman Brad Beal and transfer Mike
Rosario, who averaged 16.2 and 16.7 points in two seasons at
Rutgers.
That could mean a different look for the Gators. They lost big
men Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and SEC player of the year Chandler
Parsons- along with their combined 32 points and 19.4 rebounds.
"As a fast paced team, we want to create a lot of havoc for
people," Walker said. "I think this is a Coach Donovan-style
team. Get up and press, run, shoot, you know, and just be a good
passing team and have fun playing with each other."
Donovan said the Gators shoot the 3-pointer "really, really
well."
"Much, much better than we have the last couple of years," he
said.


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