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The perfect blend? Next year's basketball team has both experience, youth

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Doron Lamb, who averaged 12.3 points as a freshman, will be counted on even more in 2011-12 from John Calipari, even at point guard. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Doron Lamb, who averaged 12.3 points as a freshman, will be counted on even more in 2011-12 from John Calipari, even at point guard. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- Even by today's college basketball standards, John Calipari's first two Kentucky basketball teams were young.

Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson were at Calipari's disposal in his first year, but that team was built largely around the talents of freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, in addition to Patrick Patterson. Last year's Final Four team was led by three freshmen scorers in Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.

Now, for the first time since coming to Kentucky, Calipari will have a team that is mixed with youth, talent and experience.

"The best thing you can have is experienced players who are really talented," Calipari said Thursday at Christian Academy of Louisville, one of his many pit-stops this week in his weeklong satellite camp tour. "It just doesn't happen right now with the rules the way they are. Your option is to have talent or experience."

In 2011-12, Calipari will have both. It's the most experience and largest point production Kentucky has returned since Calipari landed in the commonwealth, a big reason why UK will be one of the favorites to win next year's national championship.

"We've got a good team coming back," Calipari admitted. "We're going to be good. You can sit here and downplay it, but we're going to be good. Everybody knows it. I wish we had a little more this or a little more of that, but the reality of it is we're going to be better, we're going to be deeper."

If Calipari wants to get picky, he could point out that Jones and Lamb are only going to be sophomores, but judging by the last two teams and how well the freshmen performed, sophomores might as well be veterans.

UK will lose Josh Harrellson to graduation and Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins to the draft, but Kentucky appears to have the pieces in place to cushion the blows, particularly at the defensive end.

"I still haven't figured out if all my guys hate me and that's why they leave," Calipari said, jokingly.

Make of it what you will when it comes to experience - some people think it's overrated, others think it's crucial to win a national title - but there certainly seems to be an advantage to having key players who have been to a Final Four.

"I'm older and more wise in knowing what to expect," Jones said last week. "As a freshman, you're just about being in college and having the whole experience for the first time, but the second time you know everything to expect."

If nothing else, next season's team will have depth, a stark contrast from last year's six-man rotations. That means the veterans won't be able to rest on their laurels.

"Be careful because, (as) you're looking over your shoulder, those (new) guys are running," Calipari said. "It's not a year ago. We're not playing six guys. All of a sudden we have six, seven, eight, nine guys we can play. We don't have a program that's based on 'my turn.' "

Calipari emphasized that point in an interview with Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated earlier in the week in which he said no one is guaranteed a starting spot next year.

"Everybody's starting in the same spot," Calipari told Dawson.

Even so, if Kentucky is to build and improve on its Final Four run of a year ago, Calipari said it will be on the backs of the so-called veterans.

"Our returning players, if we are going to reach our potential, Darius (Miller), Terrence and Doron must be better than they were a year ago," Calipari said. "They must be stronger, they must be more aggressive and they must be more skilled. If not, we're not going to reach the potential that this team has."

Calipari used Lamb and the point guard position as an example. As talented as Teague is and as likely as he is to start, UK doesn't have a bona fide backup.

It will be up to Lamb, Calipari said, to get tougher, stronger and improve his ball handling to play some minutes at the point.

"He's capable of it," Calipari said. "Obviously, he came a long way. We tried that in Hawaii and it wasn't real good. It wasn't a very good experiment. He's got some things he's got to get better at, but he is a terrific talent. In the Final Four, in the game against Connecticut, he was the one guy that just played. He had no fear. He just played. But you can't say one game. What are you going to do this summer to get better? If it's playing off last year's game, you'll get passed up."

The call for improvement is not just relegated to the returning starters. If seldom-used players like Eloy Vargas, Jon Hood and Stacey Poole want to see the floor next year, Calipari said they would be wise to take note of the transformations Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins underwent last season.

"Change," Calipari said. "Change your skills, change your attitude toward basketball, and all of a sudden your body changes and all of a sudden you're a different player and you're playing more. Doing the same things over and over again and expecting to play is not going to happen."

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1 Comment

I can hardly wait !!!

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