By Les Dixon / Sports Editor
LEXINGTON — After leading the Kentucky Wildcat basketball program to a 38-2 record and its eighth National Championship, John Calipari’s 2012-13 version of the Wildcats will enter with high expectations once again.
Calipari will work his magic without players such as NBA draftees Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Marquis Teague, but the cupboard isn’t bare by any means.
He welcomes in the nation’s top recruiting class again with freshmen Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein leading the way. Calipari will also count on players such as sophomores Kyle Wiltjer and Ryan Harrow, too.
Noel will enter the season with the spotlight shining directly on him, but he seemed to be ready.
“I am looking forward to it and the season should be real fun,” he said. “Whatever coach Cal (Calipari) decides to do, and whoever he decides to put in, we will just go out there and try to ball.”
Calipari gave the media a few laughs during UK’s media day Thursday, but he got down to business, too.
“This is all exciting,” Calipari said. “I mean, think about it. It would be boring to have the same team every year, I think. We’re coming in and have no idea. I have in my mind things that I think will work, and they may or may not work.
“So there will be things that these guys show us,” he added. “We may do both elbows, two guys on the elbows. We may even open the court wide open and have both bigs on the baseline five feet off the block. So, now figure the court out. You’ve got wings wide. And now if you drive, if you help, we throw lobs. You’ve got both of them. You can throw a lob to either one. 7-feet, 6’11. It’s all kind of stuff you can try, but it’s what will work.”
Calipari admitted expectations are high, but the Wildcats might hit a few bumps along the way.
“It’s hard because you’re going to be experimenting against Maryland and Duke,” he said. “Can you go down twice, take two Ls and still be good? A couple years ago we lost a bunch of league games and everybody was in a full-blown panic. I kept saying I like my team, and we were a basket or two away from winning the national title in Houston.”
Even though Kentucky graduated the nucleus of last year’s national title team, Calipari said he’s excited to see what this year’s team can do.
“Well, what I’ve said to you guys before, if I had my choice between experience and talent, I’m going to take talent,” he said. “This is a talented group. I don’t know how talented until we start playing, but we’ve got good size. We’ve got length. We’ve got some slashers, got a couple shooters.
“We were worried about our toughness a year ago, and I would tell you, I’m a little worried about the toughness of this team based on the fact that you have a couple of guys, but we were worried about it last year,” he added. “I’m probably more worried this year.