By Jon Rothstein
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John Calipari has made Kentucky a basketball empire.
The Wildcats have annually landed the nation’s top recruits since Calipari’s arrival in 2009 and it looks like their 2013 class could be the best in college basketball history.
Calipari has brought in a slew of first-round picks during his three-year tenure in the Commonwealth, but no true freshman may have surprised Kentucky’s coach more than Willie Cauley-Stein.
“He is surprising,” Calipari said of the 7-foot Cauley-Stein, who is currently a freshman for the Wildcats. “What we ended up getting was a kid who never fully committed to playing basketball because he was always playing other sports. Willie’s a great athlete, he was a wide receiver when he played football. When he came here, he fully committed to hoops. He’s gained weight and strength.”
The emergence of Cauley-Stein along with the arrival of shot blocking phenom Nerlens Noel presents an interesting situation for Calipari. Since he’s been at Kentucky, the Wildcats haven’t traditionally played two true big men together at the same time — but that will likely change this season.
“There’s going to be at least eight to ten minutes a game where those two guys play together,” Calipari said of Noel and Cauley-Stein. “Willie has made me think about a number of different things. He’s longer than Nerlens. There’s also Kyle Wiltjer who’s 6-10 and one of our most skilled guys. Do we play zone? If we did, that’s 7-feet, 6-11, and 6-10 across our front line.”
Those three along with 6-7 freshman forward Alex Poythress, whom Calipari said “will play like Patrick Patterson” give Kentucky a potentially devastating baseline in terms of overall length.
Still, Poythress, Noel, and Wiltjer were all expected to have integral roles in the Wildcats success this season — Cauley-Stein wasn’t, at least not initially. But if early indications are anything to take into account, he most certainly will.
“Willie’s not done yet,” Calipari said. “He’s still not completely sure of himself yet. We’ve got to give him a post game as well as some other things. I’m anxious to see how and he and Nerlens mesh together. Nerlens is going to allow us to really get after things when we guard pick and rolls. He just has to define his offensive game and learn to play every possession. We don’t know what we are yet as a team but I like the pieces we have, especially up front.”
Your thoughts on Cauley-Stein’s potential impact? Be heard in the comments below!