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Basketball notebook: SEC men's basketball summer teleconference

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John Calipari joined the SEC coaches teleconference on Monday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) John Calipari joined the SEC coaches teleconference on Monday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky men's basketball Coach John Calipari took to the SEC men's basketball summer teleconference with his usual exuberance and candor on the latest topics in the sport. Calipari seems to, once again, be very happy with the incoming crop of freshman that will be joining a rather depleted team, but one full of guys that he is also satisfied with. Summer workouts and the new members of the conference were also hot topics throughout the teleconference, and Calipari had some interesting comments on those as well. 

Here are the most important items to take away from the teleconference to feed your summer basketball fix...

New additions strengthen SEC basketball

While athletic programs continue to adjust to the new landscape of college athletics, especially with regards to the sport of football, the SEC will welcome Missouri and Texas A&M this season. Though football is the main reason for the recent shuffling and movement, all sports competing in the Southeastern Conference are affected. 

Calipari sees the growth as a positive for the conference, but especially for men's basketball two NCAA Tournament-caliber teams and five new coaches are being welcomed to the league. But the changes have far reaching effects past just adding a couple more teams to the schedule.

"They're two programs, both in football and basketball, and their other sports, that are going to have a huge impact on what happens," said Calipari. "Now all of a sudden, the strength of our league schedule goes up. It affects how we schedule non-conference. We're talking two tournament teams in men's basketball. You know, you don't want to put your team in jeopardy just over scheduling."

This could potentially, and likely will, change the way that non-conference games will be scheduled in the future. Calipari won't shy away from tough opponents, but he will likely make sure that whatever changes are made are advantageous to Kentucky. In his eyes, a stronger conference will be a definite benefit for his team.

"You want the league to be as strong as ever," said Calipari. "I mean last year's league was really strong and prepared us to do what we did to win the national title. No question about it. Now they can say, 'Well, you won them all so it couldn't have been a good league.' No. We were just really good. You think about our league and the teams we had, now add Texas A&M and Missouri, think about what happens now."

The additions will make the conference more competitive, but it will also likely mean that more teams from the SEC make the NCAA Tournament. Calipari sees seven to eight teams per year reaching the field of 68, and "maybe more in some years."

But perhaps in the bigger picture, the SEC fingerprint has reached further west and given Kentucky and other schools access to those markets in terms of recruiting. In talent-rich areas like Missouri and Texas, the opportunity to play for Kentucky and also come home to play in front of a home crowd could be a huge card to play for Calipari in the future. 

In fact, Calipari ended the discussion on SEC expansion by saying that he would welcome two more teams if the opportunity presented itself. 

Starting all over (again)

Calipari has done it again, bringing in arguably the top recruiting class in the nation again with freshmen Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, and Willie Cauley-Stein joining the likes of transfers Ryan Harrow (North Carolina State) and Julius Mays (Wright State). Having to reload year after year is no easy task, but Calipari has made it look like a walk in the park, and this year is no different. Starting over with a "new team" is challenge that Calipari gladly accepts because he's no stranger to the concept. 

"For me to start all over every year, I'm going to be honest, is exciting," said Calipari. 

This will be the fourth season in a row since arriving to Kentucky that he will have to help create a new identity to a Wildcat basketball team. Even though he's repeatedly called to do away with the one-and-done rule, as long as it is in place, he will continue to do the best he can.

Spending some extra quality time

Thanks to a rule that allows basketball teams to spend some time in the gym while taking summer classes on campus, Calipari and his staff (and all schools across the country) are able to start installing their offense and defense as well as develop skills with their players.

The new NCAA provision passed in January allows coaches eight hours a week for eight weeks. Two hours of that time can be spent in the gym doing any type of basketball activity, whether that be full-out scrimmages or individual time with the players working on their skill sets. The other six hours are designated for weight lifting and conditioning. 

For programs like Kentucky where the most talented players in the country come to play, they also come and go quite frequently. So with fresh new faces joining the team every year expected to be key contributors from the onset of the season, this extra quality time with the coaches may be even more beneficial for Kentucky as they get early access to their incoming players. 

Calipari already likes what he sees in these workouts, despite another youth movement.

"You won't believe this, but we're going to be really young," said Calipari. "Probably end up starting at least three freshmen again, that would be the fourth straight year, and what we've been able to do for the first time is work out with our team, and I can tell you that I like my team."

The freshmen

As mentioned earlier, Calipari has gone out and brought in some of the top talent around the country to wear the blue and white in their collegiate careers. Though Calipari usually has a pretty good idea of the talent he is bringing in from year to year, even he has been surprised by the talent level so far in those summer workouts.

Noel, the consensus number one player in the 2012 recruiting class, along with Goodwin and Poythress have received much of the hype from the media outlets before even setting foot on campus. And rightfully so. They have had tremendous high school careers and made strong showings on the AAU circuit. 

Poythress and Goodwin will be major contributors on offense. While they play different positions from each other, both possess the ability to play multiple positions and bring diversity on the offensive end.

"They've both looked really good," said Calipari of Goodwin and Poythress. "Archie's a slasher/scorer. He can play one or two, both. He can play both positions, which is going to be vital because when we're not playing ten guys, we're playing seven or eight, we need guys to play multiple positions. And Alex is a beast. I mean Alex and Willie (Cauley-Stein), I don't think they still understand how good they both can be. He's 6-(foot)-7, long arms, and he plays bigger. He's going to be another wing that runs and can make plays, and can score the ball."

But the man who has been opening the most eyes is the aforementioned Cauley-Stein. Many have considered him to be a project that would need several years in the program to develop. However, in the short time he has been on campus, he has displayed great athleticism for a seven-footer. 

"And then we have Willie," said Calipari, "And I'm just blown away by him because I watched him, but he's gained... he weighed 215 pounds on his official visit. He's 230 pounds now, and he's loving it. He's one of those guys that just blossoms and blossoms."

So where many expected Cauley-Stein to spell Noel this season, it's very possible that they could use a "twin tower" set and have the biggest front line in basketball and the largest since DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton occasionally saw time together in Calipari's first season at the helm.

"But I do know that we can really play two big kids at the one time," said Calipari. "The seven-footer and the 6-11", we can do that if we choose to. We may not start that way, but we can go into a rotation and really have two huge guys on the floor."

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