By Haley O’Shaughnessy–
When Dana O’Neil, an ESPN college basketball analyst, said, “John Calipari is a great salesman, but it’s an easy sale,” she was referring to UK fans and the rest of the basketball-watching world being sold on the upcoming season living up to the past one.
The Big Blue Nation’s favorite time of the year has come again, and UK sports fans have come out of hibernation to cheer for their basketball team. This year, like every year, it seems like instead of the “Big Blue Nation,” the Cats should be deemed the “Big New Nation.”
Like always, Calipari has a brand new set of players on the court – something the BBN has become accustomed to. Coach Cal lost his five top scorers from the previous year to the NBA draft: Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, Anthony Davis and Marcus Teague. His projected starting five for this season consists of two sophomores, Kyle Wiltjer and Ryan Harrow, and three freshmen, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin.
Leading the new dogs – er, Cats, is 6’2” point guard Ryan Harrow. Harrow is a sophomore transfer from NC State, making this Calipari’s first non-freshman point guard in six years. The transfer practiced with UK last year, which allowed him to get used to the way Calipari does things, and also let him compete against Marcus Teague.
Last fall, Calipari said, “Harrow should be in the best position of any point guard I coached in that he’s got a year to be tutored without the pressure of having to play.”
Now, Harrow does have the pressure, but he also has a team behind him to divide its weight. Starting alongside Harrow is freshman Archie Goodwin, who is expected to be UK’s leading scorer this season.
Next to Goodwin is another freshman – the number one recruit in the country, Nerlens Noel. The 17 year-old center is a serious threat defensively, from standout shot blocking to quick defensive recovery. With more muscle and experience, Noel’s offensive instinct will catch up to what he has shown on the other end of the court. He is not exactly lacking there, either. Noel scored 17 points in the first UK exhibition and 15 in the second, and he is constantly improving.
“The guy that’s working the hardest in our practices right now, in my opinion right now, is Nerlens. Is it showing? It’s showing. He’s excited about being coached this way, (being) challenged and pushed,” Calipari said after the exhibition game.
Even with Noel and the rest of the team’s hard work, the road to March will be bumpier for the Cats than last year. But coach Calipari is ready. He said, “And now, I just got to get a team full of guys accepting the fact that you got to let us define your game a little bit.”
[use pic of pitino and UK background)
Photo: Nathan Gardner/The Louisville Cardinal