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April 22, 2013There's a freshman class coming that's the talk of college basketball. There are soaring expectations and whispers of an undefeated season.
Every indication is that Kentucky basketball will return to powerhouse status next season, a team with the potential on paper to be as good as any John Calipari has coached.
And Willie Cauley-Stein has heard some of this before.
"Potential is exactly that," Cauley-Stein said Monday. "We had the potential this year and didn't capitalize on it, so it could easily be (that) we have the best recruiting class coming in and not doing anything with it. It's that simple. If you don't come together and do things right, then you're just a bunch of talented kids that didn't get anything accomplished."
That's where Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer come into play. Cauley-Stein and Poythress met with reporters Monday - Wiltjer was ill and didn't attend as scheduled - to talk about their decisions to the Wildcats as sophomores, and their roles on a 2013-14 team that will try to erase the bad taste of this season's first-round NIT loss.
The Wildcats are set to add at least eight new players - twin guards Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison, forwards Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis guards James Young and Dominique Hawkins and center Dakari Johnson - to next season's roster. Kentucky still is pursuing McDonald's All-American Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 prospect in the high school class of 2013.
The Harrisons, Randle, Lee, Young and Johnson all were McDonald's All-Americans. They join a roster that returns 40 percent of its scoring from this season.
"The potential is unlimited," Poythress said. "We can do so good. Whatever we want to do is what we can do. The skyís the limit."
The influx of new talent is crucial to reaching that potential. So too is the return of players like Cauley-Stein, Poythress and Wiltjer, who have started games and played meaningful minutes for Kentucky.
"I think that's exactly what we missed this year: a guy that played a lot of minutes as a freshman, decided to come back and take on the role of a leader," Cauley-Stein said. "We didn't have that this year. Kyle was that kind of guy, but he still didn't play big minutes his freshman year."
Cauley-Stein, Poythress and Wiltjer played a combined 2,319 minutes last season and averaged a combined 29.7 points and 16.4 rebounds per game.
Wiltjer, a junior-to-be, and Cauley-Stein and Poythress, both sophomores-to-be, all were parts of top-ranked recruiting classes. All have stayed in school as other classmates have moved on to the NBA.
The result is, on paper, the best combination of talent, experience and depth Calipari has had at Kentucky. That should make for highly competitive practices, another element UK lacked in finishing 21-12 this season.
"Honestly, for me, I think that's going to be the best thing to come out of next year because you're going against pros every day," Cauley-Stein said. "This year was like that until Nerlens (Noel) got hurt and then we was going against Brian Long. You know, Brian Long and Sam Malone. You're not getting better. You're going to dominate in practice and get to a game and struggle."
The season often was a struggle for Kentucky, and perhaps the greatest value of veterans is in helping newcomers avoid the same pitfalls.
Asked what he'll tell his freshman teammates when they arrive on campus, Poythress said, "That it's hard."
"They're going to have to go through the same freshman year we did and it's tough," Cauley-Stein said. "It's a tough road to go down."
In some ways, 2013-14 will be tougher.
The veterans will demand more of their freshman teammates. Calipari will demand more of everyone.
"Coach doesn't want the same thing that happened this year to happen next year, so he's going to change a bunch of things so that doesn't happen," Cauley-Stein said. "The intensity is going to pick up, the level of how we're going to play is going to go up tremendously."
The result, Cauley-Stein said, is that the program "will be back where Kentucky is supposed to be at."
But it's not there yet.
"We havenít won anything yet," Poythress said. "So we still got to prove ourselves."
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