Florida's Young warns Kentucky freshmen road to victory won't be easy
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Florida big man Patric Young isn't dazzled by all the hype surrounding Kentucky's latest crop of hotshot NBA prospects.
The Wildcats are the favorites to win the Southeastern Conference with eight signees, including six McDonald's All-Americans. The freshmen will have to earn the brawny Young's respect — and all those projected victories.
"I hope they think they can just walk on the court and they're going to beat everybody," Young said Thursday at SEC media days. "I hope that's what they think.
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"As soon as they play a real top team, they're going to see it's not just a walk in the park. One and done is not for everybody."
The defending SEC champion Gators might have the best shot at challenging the Wildcats for the title after three consecutive trips to the regional finals in the NCAA tournament.
They have seven players returning from a 29-8 team, including currently suspended guard Scottie Wilbekin, who will miss some games to start the season.
They've also added transfer forwards Damontre Harris (South Carolina) and Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), though four players are not currently practicing because of injuries or illness.
Despite all that, it's the Wildcats and all those newcomers with fabulous high school pedigrees who are getting much of the attention. Freshman forward Julius Randle is the league's preseason player of the year.
All those expectations are just fine with Kentucky coach John Calipari. He said 40 NBA scouts have already visited Lexington the past couple of weeks.
"Look, we've got a talented group of young kids that wanted to be there together," Calipari said. "One of the scouts said, 'How do you get them to buy in?' Because you can see they're buying in already. Part of it is they know each other, they like each other, they wanted to play together. The other part of it is they trust us as a staff and me as the head coach, 'I've got your back.'"
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, whose team won at Rupp Arena last season, is especially familiar with Texas products Randle and brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
"John's team this year is going to be probably the best team I've ever coached against," Kennedy said, whose Murray State team played national runner-up Butler a few years ago. "They have that ability. Now, they're not there yet, and they'll tell you that. I know the three Texas kids, and I love them. They're really good players."
Florida coach Billy Donovan raves about Randle, who he coached to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 tournament this summer. Donovan called him "one of the nicest kids I've ever been around."
Not to mention the basketball skills that have him regarded as a potential NBA lottery pick.
"Oh, I love him," Donovan said. "First, he's got a really, really high basketball IQ. I think he's a pass-first guy. He's very unselfish. I think maybe the best skill that he's got is passing the basketball. He's got great vision.
"I think the other thing for him is his size. He's as quick of a 6-9, 240 guy as I've ever seen with the ball in his hands. He's got great handling and passing skills. I think his jump shot has gotten better. I think his whole post game has gotten better. But he is an incredible player on his feet."
Still, SEC coaches say it's quite a challenge for Calipari to build a championship team around so many newcomers, along with returnees Alex Poythress and 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein.
"He doesn't have an easy task, because you've got all those different personalities," Missouri's Frank Haith said. "You're grooming a team from scratch every year but they're super-talented. I guess we sort of did that last year, huh? But maybe not as talented as this team. It's not an easy task, I tell you that. I applaud what he's doing and they're going to be a talented ball club. I think all the teams in this league understand that."
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said he isn't paying much attention to the outside expectations for either his team or Kentucky. The Volunteers are picked to finish third behind Kentucky and Florida and have guard Jordan McRae and forward Jarnell Stokes back.
"I don't consume myself with that," Martin said. "We recruit, we develop basketball players, we win games. Congratulations to Kentucky for recruiting those guys, but at the end of the day you have to win games. That's the most important thing. The game has to be played at some point."