Kentucky coach John Calipari is “excited” having familiar faces on the Wildcats roster next season.
It hasn’t happened that often during his tenure in Lexington.
But the Wildcats return six regulars from last year’s NCAA runner-up squad, and as usual will be in a cadre of high school All-Americans (four in this class). That’s different from the usual pattern of Kentucky freshmen leaving for the NBA, but the stability also has Calipari looking forward to this fall.
“For the first time I’ve had players return that had their chance to put their names in the draft, so we’re in a unique situation where we have veterans now,” Calipari said during this week’s Southeastern Conference teleconference. “Granted, those veterans are sophomores and two are juniors, which is kind of unusual for us. I’m excited about it.
“The returning players and the freshmen are getting along well, so it’s all good.”
Twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, forward Marcus Lee and center Dakari Johnson bypassed the NBA draft to return for sophomore seasons. Center Willie Cauley-Stein and forward Alex Poythress both return as juniors, giving Kentucky more returning depth than usual.
The Harrisons’ decisions to return were considered the most important for Kentucky after playing key roles in last spring’s amazing postseason run. The 6-foot-6 duo provides size, shooting and ball-handling for a backcourt that includes reserve Dominique Hawkins and welcomes 6-5 Devin Booker and 5-8 Tyler Ulis.
Kentucky’s frontcourt will feature 7-footers Cauley-Stein — a return that surprised Calipari, given projections of him being a midfirst round draft choice — and Johnson, along with Poythress and Lee. The program also landed 7-0 forward Karl Towns Jr. and 6-10 Trey Lyles.
The Wildcats’ first competition together comes during exhibitions in The Bahamas in August, when they face teams from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and France. Those squads feature older veterans, which Calipari noted will “be hard games for us to win.”