Kentucky Basketball: Cautious Optimism


Right now, the 2014-15 edition of the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team is in the midst of a six game exhibition run down in the Bahamas. The competition has been good, but not great. And that’s alright because starting in October and November, the games will count and the stakes will be much higher.

The 2013-14 was hyped, some would say overhyped, in the preseason and it almost led to the implosion of the team before Coach John Calipari “tweaked” his approach and the Wildcats went on a magical run to the NCAA title game.  When the Harrison twins returned to Lexington, along with Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, the Big Blue Nation got excited. When another loaded recruiting class was finalized, the BBN got even more excited. But with the memory of the infamous “40-0” T-shirts still fresh on our collective minds, we didn’t want to get too excited.

And then, last week, Coach Cal opened up a few practices for media members. When even the most stoic scribes started tweeting and writing about how good this year’s team looked, the Big Blue Nation really got excited. For the first time in a long time, Calipari has a returning point guard in Andrew Harrison. The Cats have TWO juniors in the rotation in Cauley-Stein and Poythress. There’s Johnson and Lee and Dominique Hawkins coming back with the experience of a deep NCAA Tournament run. The writers that cover the Cats have done nothing to lower expectations for this year’s team.

On last Sunday, the Cats tipped off in the Bahamas. Now, it’s hard to keep a lid on the excitement. The Harrisons have picked up where they left off in Dallas. Aaron seems to have added a midrange jumper to his arsenal. Andrew is making the same decisions that he was making in route to the Final Four. Alex Poythress is showing that he is ready to be in “attack mode” this season. Lee and Johnson are showing off more polished low post moves and much more awareness on defense. Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis may end up being the 11th and 12th men on this team and they could very well start for at least 75% of Division I teams.

Then there are the freshmen: Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyler Ulis. The most glaring thing about these three guys are that they are obviously ready for primetime. They have fully embraced what it means to be a Wildcat.  One point that continually gets overlooked about John Calipari is the character of the guys that he brings into the program, and this year’s group appears to be no different. With Towns joining an already talented frontcourt, Booker joining the backcourt and Ulis causing havoc all over… just like the Pointer Sisters, “I’m So Excited.”

And Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Trey Lyles aren’t playing in the Bahamas.

The Big Blue Nation has learned not to get ahead of themselves, but so far these Wildcats have done nothing to temper expectations. In fact, they’ve only got the fans even more excited for the regular season. They may not go 40-0, but this season is shaping up to be another fun ride. Let’s hope we can all enjoy it, even as we remain cautiously optimistic.