DES MOINES — John Calipari didn’t let a tough loss to Indiana keep him down during his postgame press conference Saturday night.
“The big picture for us is, we’re fine,” he said.
Kentucky’s annual crop of superstar freshmen is headed for Lexington this summer, and it might be a cut above the other classes Calipari has corralled.
“We got a heck of a group coming in,” he said. “Maybe the best ever that I’ve had.”
There will, once again, be plenty of talent headed out the door. Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere are expected to join Alex Poythress in the NBA draft pool, and several other players — Isaiah Briscoe included — will likely be testing the draft waters.
As Calipari indicated, though, it’s time to focus on the 2016-17 lineup. Here’s who the Wildcats will be working with this autumn:
Kentucky’s 2016-2017 lineup (projected)
De’Aaron Fox, PG, Fr.: Perhaps the best recruit in the country, Fox will step into Ulis’ point-guard role without another suitable replacement on the roster. The 6-foot-4 lefty from Texas will combine with the Wildcats’ new shooting guard to potentially form a better scoring combo than Ulis and Murray.
Malik Monk, G, Fr.: The nation’s best combo guard is expected to make fans forget about Murray in a hurry. He’s a potential triple-double threat who can make teams pay for leaving him open behind the 3-point arc. Monk, a Bentonville, Ark., native, upset Arkansas fans when he chose Kentucky over the Razorbacks.
Wenyen Gabriel, F, Fr.: A late bloomer, Gabriel went from unranked recruit to the country’s top 10 after a phenomenal summer that showcased his ability to dominate anywhere inside the perimeter. Able to both drain jumpers and mix it up down low, he’ll create plenty of matchup problems for opponents.
Sacha Killeya-Jones, F, Fr.: Set to fill the offensive role that Labissiere created over the second half of the season, Killeya-Jones is a strong shooter who mostly operates from the high post. A slender body at 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds, he will remind fans of the Haitian forward leaving town.
Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, F, Fr.: “Bam” (6-foot-9, 230 pounds) will look to use his elite blend of strength and athleticism in the low block, and he’s also impressed talent evaluators with improving his ball handling and comfort in the high post. His jumper is not there yet, but that’s not really a problem given the rest of the lineup’s ability to let it fly.
Derek Willis, Sixth man, Sr.: He became a valuable offensive threat for the Wildcats from the outset of this past season. The lineup should be flexible enough for Willis to sub in for any of the three starting big men.
Rotation guys: Isaac Humphries (So.), Tai Wynyard (R-Fr.), Dominique Hawkins (Jr.). Humphries (Australia) and Wynyard (New Zealand) will make quite the South Pacific tandem. The latter player got a head start on his learning curve by enrolling early. Hawkins will likely be the first guard off the bench, though Fox and Monk won’t sit much if they can play at an elite level.
Benchwarmers: Mychal Mulder (Sr.), EJ Floreal (Sr.), Dillon Pulliam (Jr.), Brad Calipari (Fr.)
Notes: This lineup assumes that Briscoe, Marcus Lee and Charles Matthews will decide to join Ulis, Murray and Labissiere in the draft. Any of that first trio could actually return in 2016, with Briscoe’s presence potentially creating another three-guard starting lineup.