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Coach Cal turning to Noel's example to bring best out of Cats

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Nerlens Noel had 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block in his regular-season home debut. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Nerlens Noel had 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block in his regular-season home debut. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Throughout Kentucky's national championship season, John Calipari had a player he could point to as a paragon of hustle and effort.

Whenever Darius Miller's motor ran low, Terrence Jones wasn't going one hundred percent or Doron Lamb took a few plays off, a mention of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's name was sure to follow. The freshman swingman known by his initials was unwavering in his intensity, always pushing himself to the limit, and by extension, his teammates.

Nerlens Noel has long been talked about as the heir to Anthony Davis' shot-blocking throne, but it appears the void he's actually filling is MKG's.

"The guy's diving on the floor, playing with energy," Calipari said. "Would the rest of you please look at him and try to do what he's doing or do you think just let him do that and you're not going to do it?"

Coach Cal comments came in the wake of an offensive onslaught by UK. The Wildcats (2-1) dominated Lafayette (1-2) in their home opener by a final of 101-49. Kyle Wiltjer poured in 23 points, including a career-high seven 3-pointers. Alex Poythress needed just 10 shots to score 22 points in just 23 minutes. Julius Mays dished out 10 assists and didn't commit a single turnover. At one point in the second half, the Cats reeled off an incredible 39-2 run.

Sure, UK may have shot the highest percentage - 64.5 on 40-of-62 shooting - in the Calipari era, but he wasn't particularly interested in talking about any of that. His topic of choice was Noel, the player who came in ranked as the nation's No. 1 freshman but plays with the fervor of a player trying to make varsity for the first time.

"I was telling the team, give him a hand," Calipari said.

Noel ended with a stat line reminiscent of one of Kidd-Gilchrist's. He got his points, scoring 15 on 6-of-8 shooting, but left no other column unfilled. He added seven rebounds, four assists and a block to along with a team-leading four steals. If floor burns were an official category, he would have led the team there too.

"I've always been relatively high energy," Noel said. "Since I'm at a high level  I think I've got to bring it every night, that energy, and just always being active for my team and just really making opportunities for the fast-break and just getting steals on the floor and throwing it out so my teammates can get going."

Getting his teammates going is exactly what Calipari is looking for out of Noel, in both the short and long term. Eventually, players will either become inspired to follow Noel's lead at all times or they'll tire of being the player not hustling by comparison.

"I told Nerlens, 'Just keep doing it, and they'll get it,' " Calipari said. "Because it becomes embarrassing when he's diving and you're jogging or you're standing straight up and get beat on the back door, and this kid's diving on the floor."

Wiltjer was Calipari's target for improvement following the loss against Duke in which the sophomore forward managed only five shots from the field. With Wiltjer having responded by hitting seven of UK's 11 treys, Coach Cal set his sights on Poythress and Archie Goodwin.

Both freshmen had relatively impressive statistical games, Poythress with his efficiency from the field and Goodwin with his 13 points and two 3-pointers, but Calipari once again wasn't interested in discussing those parts of the box score.

"We had Alex and Archie and Kyle combined for one rebound at halftime," Calipari said. "What are you doing? Why is that? You think you're just the offensive machine and everybody else should dive on the floor and rebound and not you?"

Poythress responded by showing a little more aggressiveness on the boards, but still not enough for Coach Cal's liking.

"Alex goes 9 for 10, and he played about 60 percent of the game," Calipari said. "The rest of the game, he kind of jogged around and looked around. Look at Nerlens, play like him, and you become ridiculous.  That's hard."

He realizes that saying a player who has scored at least 20 points in back-to-back games isn't doing enough seems crazy, but it speaks to the potential Calipari sees in him. Poythress understands that.

"He expects more out of me," Poythress said. "He sees more in me. So I think that's a great compliment."

Goodwin is in the same boat.

Averaging 15 points a game through the first three games of a college career would be nice for a normal player. The thing is, Calipari doesn't think Goodwin is normal.

"Why wouldn't you end up with ten rebounds a game?" Calipari said. "Ten rebounds a game. Now what do you become as a player? Scoring, assists, speed, ten rebounds, what do you become? You're the best guard in the country."

Calipari doesn't think his team is normal either.

For Poythress, Goodwin and really his entire team, Calipari has a vision, one of a team that maximizes its potential in all areas. The Cats either don't believe how good they can be or haven't bought into doing what it will take to get it done, but Coach Cal is confident they'll get there.

"It's all stuff that we're capable of doing that I'm looking at these guys saying I want the best version of you, and the best version of our team," Calipari said. "Right now...I'm dragging guys. But that's okay. It's early."

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