Usually most teams have to wait until the summer to get their freshmen on campus so they can get to know each other and start developing some chemistry. For the University of Kentucky, with eight incoming freshmen, that period will be critical, but thanks to the the annual All Star games, Kentucky is getting a head start on the process. Six of the eight freshmen are participating in both the McDonald’s All American game and the Jordan Brand Classic and they are getting familiar with each other:
“We’re trying to get chemistry,” said Andrew Harrison, a speedy point guard whose pass-first mantra will likely buy him a lot of minutes early on. “Everybody knows what we each can do, so I think we’re past that stage. I think they’ll like playing with me because I give up the ball and make sure everybody gets involved. Aaron and I, we committed first, so it means the other guys wouldn’t mind playing with us – and we won’t mind playing with them.”
Oddly enough, the future Wildcats are already trudging through the infant stages of meshing thanks to the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic.
“Most teams don’t get all their recruits together at the same time during an all-star game,” Lee said. “Luckily enough, we’ve gotten to do this twice together.”
Added Johnson: “It’s going to help a lot because then we’ll be able to get used to each other. It was a little weird at first, but (coming together) started at the McDonald’s game. All week, we’re hanging out and playing with each other.”
Learning about each other’s tendencies and capabilities will be a major factor in the coming months, but for now, the group is enjoying a newly formed bond.
“They’re all goofballs. They’re all really funny,” Young laughed. “We all just clicked and are becoming friends really quickly. But we’re going to have to work hard and do what we have to do. We’ll keep the rotation going, but really we’ll just do whatever it takes to win a national championship.”
One of the benefits of these All Star games is sometimes you get a glimpse of the future as the lineups gel and sometimes it’s just all Wildcats working together. In a pay ESPN Insider piece, Adam Finkelstein shares with us possibly a sign of things to come for UK:
The final portion of the two-hour practice included brief intersquad scrimmages for both teams, and there was about a six-minute spurt when Kentucky fans would have loved the opportunity to be a fly on the wall as the Harrisons, Randle and Wiggins were on the floor together for the East, along with Walker.
It was a promising start for those hoping to see Wiggins in Kentucky blue as Andrew Harrison made a strong drive to the rim and a beautifully timed wraparound pass just as Wiggins came flying in to finish the play. Unfortunately, though, it was all downhill from there.
The Harrisons began to dominate the ball in the backcourt, and as they started to force some lower-percentage shots, so did Randle. The sum total for Wiggins was that he touched the ball in only one of his team’s final seven possessions. Ironically, his play was to drive into the teeth of the defense and attempt to set up Aaron Harrison for a corner 3.
Ultimately, the likelihood that this six-minute segment resonates with Wiggins as he approaches his college decision is unlikely. However, if nothing else, it does call attention to the realization that for all the talent Kentucky has assembled for next season — with or without Wiggins — the development of team chemistry is going to be a definite process.
John Calipari is going to have to convince each of these tremendously talented players to make individual sacrifices if the team is going to achieve the collective success that so many are already predicting.
Regardless, thee hype is very real for this 2013-14 team. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in the hype and forget what happened last year. UK was ranked #3 in the nation preseason, and well yea …. But I can write for days how this team will be different and the returning of two future first round draft picks sets a strong argument. Gary Parrish tells us that well, there really is no way NOT to rank Kentucky number one in the preseason:
The other six are five-star recruits — among them the nation’s top-ranked point guard (Andrew Harrison), top-ranked shooting guard (Aaron Harrison), top-ranked power forward (Julius Randle) and top-ranked center (Dakari Johnson). The Wildcats also enroll the nation’s second-ranked center (Marcus Lee) and third-ranked small forward (James Young), meaning this class is historically special regardless of whether it later includes the nation’s best prospect, Andrew Wiggins. It is no exaggeration to suggest there will be at least eight future first-round picks wearing UK uniforms next season. DraftExpress.com currently projects five of them (Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Cauley-Stein and Poythress, in that order) to be among the first 16 picks in 2014.
So I ask: How could anybody not rank Kentucky No. 1?
The Wildcats have experience, depth, the most talent by a wide margin and a coach who has proved capable of guiding a team to a title. So laugh at the projections, if you must. And keep bringing up that NIT. But next season’s team isn’t going to be anything like this season’s team. I mean, the question isn’t whether UK is capable of winning it all as much as it’s if UK has a chance at completing a season without losing at all.