Dez Wells had Kentucky Coach John Calipari raving during a teleconference for Friday’s Barclays Center Classic, high praise from the coach of the defending national champion. After all, the Wildcats were, at one point, in the race for Wells’s services.
“People don’t understand what Dez does for their team,” Calipari said. “I’m happy for Mark but I’m more happy for Dez. This changes their team. They go from a team that was going to be good to a team that can say, ‘Who in the ACC can’t we compete with?’”
That Wells was granted an eligibility waiver by the NCAA on Wednesday certainly boosts Maryland’s prospects for the upcoming season, and for making some noise in Friday’s season opener in Brooklyn, N.Y. Terps Coach Mark Turgeon said he had concerns that the appeals process would extend into the season, but Maryland lobbied the NCAA hard to get it done as soon as possible.
“I don’t think they could have gotten it done any earlier,” Turgeon said. “They really expedited it for us at the end.”
Having Wells around, Turgeon said, will help take the scoring burden off Nick Faust’s shoulders. Faust, a sophomore like Wells, has retooled his jumper but would have been expected to carry a substantial load, especially through early games while Maryland’s freshmen get used to the rigors of college basketball. With Wells, an absurdly athletic wing, in the mix, Faust’s role certainly won’t be diminished, but at the very least it will contain much less pressure.
Calipari’s not buying the hype
Kentucky enters the season ranked third nationally in both the AP and USA Today coaches polls, behind No. 1 Indiana and second-ranked Louisville. Losing top talent is nothing new for the Wildcats, who routinely ship freshmen on a one-way express train to the NBA, but this season’s young roster has Calipari tempering his expectations early.
“Now, I could start four freshmen tomorrow night,” he said. “And you goofballs are saying we’re in the top five in the country. Are you crazy? We don’t know what we’re going to be. I like my team. We just don’t know what we’re going to be right now. They work hard, they’re good kids, they do well in school, they know they need to focus in practice every day.”
Six Wildcats got drafted in 2012. Even Darius Miller, Kentucky’s sixth man, started and played 22 minutes for the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night.
“They all had to leave,” Calipari said. “I could have tried to have kept a couple guys here to make sure my program’s okay, but you try to do what’s right for them. What’s left, we’ll deal with.”
Most coaches would be thrilled to deal with the leftovers, which include Nerlens Noel, the nation’s top prospect by many recruiting services, and 7-foot forward Willie Cauley-Stein. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress are both freshmen and could very well start against the Terps.
“What’s the word beyond scratch?” Calipari said. “That’s what this is. But I’m going to tell you. It’s not risk. I recruit good players from good homes who understand why they’re coming here.”
Maryland’s youth and inexperience will come off the bench, with four freshmen likely to see solid minutes moving forward. Kentucky’s, however, could be thrust into the lineup right away. The difference? “Kentucky’s still rolling out players we couldn’t even get involved with,” Turgeon said.
>> Kentucky guards Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays both missed Wednesday’s practice with undisclosed injuries. “Hopefully those guys will be able to go Friday,” Calipari said. Missing Harrow, a sophomore transfer from North Carolina State expected to be Kentucky’s starting point guard, would be a huge blow to the back court. Mays, who suffered a right leg sprain in the Wildcats’ most recent exhibition, is a transfer from Wright State and could provide solid minutes if healthy.
>> Calipari expects to play Noel and Cauley-Stein together, calling them “the twin towers.”
>> Turgeon has spoken at length about his friendship with Calipari, who called Turgeon to schedule this Brooklyn game just minutes after Turgeon stepped off the plane in Maryland. Calipari was a graduate assistant while Turgeon played at Kansas, and inspired his future opponent with his confidence and vocal leadership.
“He showed me some moves to relieve pressure,” Turgeon said. “He was just constantly coaching. Never said you’re not going to make it. Behind me 100 percent, and he coaches that way. Obviously he wasn’t as vocal then as he was now, because Coach [Larry] Brown was our coach, but he wasn’t afraid to give his opinion. I’ll remember that.”
>> Asked about branding college basketball programs, and the overwhelming success Kentucky has had in doing so, Calipari responded with the morning’s greatest quote: “We fell into the Twitter. I didn’t even know what it was.” Granted, this was preceded by a discussion about Calipari’s marketing major and the importance of branding, and was followed by Calipari explaining that he has hired social media experts to run his personal Web site and Twitter account. Still, pretty awesome.
>> Calipari is hopeful that the Wildcats will present a check for nearly $1 million before the game on Friday to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy. Kentucky held an hour-long telethon on a local television station that raised over $200,000, and the figure has only grown since then. “You tell [your players], use what you’ve been given, pass it along, be thankful every day,” Calipari said.