LEXINGTON – I join what I’m sure is a large club of University of Kentucky basketball fans thrilled to see the season coming around in light of the disappointment of the football season.
That said, it felt like something was amiss as I looked out on the court at the Wildcats’ annual Blue-White game Wednesday night at Rupp Arena and did not see Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
I understand my discomfort is not fair to John Calipari’s 2012-13 bunch. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are perhaps once-a-generation players.
There is considerable reason to believe that Cal’s current team will grow on the fans and draw a bigger reaction than they got Wednesday in front of an announced crowd of 12,016 (Comment: I thought that crowd was a little disappointing coming off a national championship, but maybe it’s just a reflection of being spoiled under Calipari).
Anyway, here’s my impressions of most of the Wildcats, who host Northwood in an exhibition game next Thursday (7 p.m. on Fox South).
The Blue team beat the White team, 89-88, by the way, but that doesn’t mean anything since players switched teams at halftime.
Nerlens Noel, freshman: The critically acclaimed Noel, a 6-foot-10, 228-pounder, didn’t seem inspired by the Blue-White affair but still managed some Anthony Davis-like numbers: Seven blocked shots, eight rebounds and nine points.
I feel a little sorry for Noel because he’ll probably spend all of this season being compared to Davis (and hey, I plead guilty!).
The projection is Noel will be one-and-done, but he needs to get stronger and maybe a little more aggressive.
Willie Cauley-Stein, freshman: A nice surprise on this night. As a backup center, the 7-foot, 244-pound Stein looks to be closer to Daniel Orton than Eloy Vargas - Kentucky’s two most recent back up post guys.
Cauley-Stein had 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots Wednesday. He’s a little raw but sure seems to be pretty strong for a freshman. And he plays hard. He took the battle to Noel.
Ryan Harrow, sophomore: It’s funny. I hardly noticed when the 6-2, 170-pound Harrow was on the court, but he finished with 20 points, six assists, two steals and two turnovers in 40 minutes. An unspectacular, but solid debut for the transfer from North Carolina State.
“He played okay,” Calipari said of Harrow, however. “He needs to be more aggressive and more vocal.”
Archie Goodwin, freshman: I realize a scrimmage like this is barely a snapshot of an impression, but the 6-4 1/2 Goodwin reminds me of a more aggressive version of Doron Lamb.
Goodwin has a lot of savvy on the court and could become a lights-out shooter. He also goes to the basket well. Goodwin finished with a game-high 32 points (11 of 22 shooting) and nine rebounds.
He’ll be a crowd pleaser, both for his production and his attitude, though Calipari was angry with Goodwin afterward because he passed up a wide open Mays on a fast break at one point. He also says Goodwin has a ways to go defensively.
Alex Poythress, freshman: The 6-7, 239-pound Poythress played a little tentative in the first half of this scrimmage, as if he was a little nervous, but he came on to tally 25 points and six rebounds.
He seems unselfish. He’ll fit in nicely on the front line with the likes of Noel, Kyle Wiltjer and Cauley-Stein.
Kyle Wiltjer, sophomore: The 6-10 Wiltjer scored 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds and looked light years ahead of where he was at this point a year ago. At least offensively.
I believe Wiltjer’s skills offensively could get him into the NBA after this season, though Calipari says Wiltjer still has a long way to go defensively.
“Kyle is going to have to defend better,” Calipari said. “Jon Hood had his way with Kyle.”
Well, okay, that is a bit disconcerting.
Julius Mays, graduate student: The 6-2 Mays came to UK from Wright State, where he was known as a steady guard with a sharp-shooting eye.
That begged the question: Could Mays play that way on a stage like Kentucky?
It appears so. Mays scored 13 points on five of eight shooting (two of four from three-point range) and added five rebounds and five assists Wednesday. Calipari likens Mays to Darius Miller.
“He’s really strong, really heady,” Calipari says of Mays. “He’ll make an open shot. Darius was bigger, but he (Mays) brings the same kind of stuff.”
Jon Hood, junior: The 6-7 Hood looks to have matured into a valuable role player. Hood had 17 points on 8 of 15 shooting, along with five assists, three rebounds and three turnovers. “That is the best Jon can play,” Calipari said. “He knows what his game is now. He’ll run and do the things he can do.”
Jarrod Polson, junior: The 6-2 Polson, Kentucky’s little engine that could, longs to get more than mop up minutes. I’m still not sure about that, but Polson did have 13 points, six rebounds, three assists, two turnovers and one steal in this scrimmage.
Note: Twany Beckham and Tod Lanter also played in the Blue-White scrimmage but more data is needed to assess what they can do.