LEXINGTON, Ky. – First, the disclaimers: We can only take so much from fourth-ranked Kentucky basketball’s 108-51 exhibition rout of Division II Clarion. And it’s fair to say Golden Eagles coach Marcess Williams, whose team opens the regular season against Fairmont State, doesn’t see a lot of Division I national title contenders in person.
With all of that out of the way, it’s at least interesting to hear what Williams, the first opposing coach to face these 2016-17 Wildcats, thinks of their potential after the blowout.
“Well, they’re as good as advertised,” he said Sunday night at Rupp Arena. “They’re really long and really athletic … really warranted all the hype.”
MORE CATS COVERAGE:
- What John Calipari had to say after Kentucky’s win over Clarion.
- Three Points: What we learned from the Cats’ exhibition opener.
- Gabriel has ‘a big heart’ and ‘the whole team feeds off that energy.’
Williams’ team didn’t see it much, but when Kentucky coach John Calipari went briefly to the three-guard lineup many expect him to use heavily this season – featuring former 5-stars De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe in the same backcourt – it was devastating.
“I was expecting Monk to start,” Williams said. “I’d seen in the preseason that they were going back to the dribble-drive, so I knew right away he felt comfortable with his guards. They’re explosive. I mean, they really get out and challenge you a little bit more than they have been since John (Wall), (Eric) Bledsoe and those guys. They’re tough. Those three guys on the floor, I think they’re all three first-round picks.”
Calipari has yet another retooled team after losing two transfers, three NBA draft picks and one senior from last year’s team, replacing them with five scholarship freshmen – all of whom were top-25 recruits nationally. Those five combined for 61 points, 24 rebounds, 13 assists and 7 steals Sunday night.
Kentucky’s talent trumps its inexperience, at least in Williams’ opinion.
“They’re ready to play,” he said. “If the SEC started tomorrow, you know they’re going to be able to compete for a championship.”
But in Lexington, no one is satisfied with a mere league title. They crave the program’s ninth national championship. That’s not an unreasonable goal for this group, the way Clarion’s coach sees it.
“I always kind of look at championship teams as being able to play in different ways,” Williams said, noting that Calipari can go guard-heavy or with big, long lineups. “He really has the opportunity to play any kind of way against any style in the country. I mean, the sky’s the limit for Kentucky basketball right now. You’ll probably see them at the Final Four this year.”