If he wasn’t already preparing a new message for next season, John Calipari better get busy now.
It seems like every season at Kentucky he’s had to remind Kentucky fans that his “young” team needed time to blend tother and that having the “youngest team” in the nation always meant UK would reach its peak starting in February.
That theory won’t work this season with the “old” team that Calipari has put together because he easily has the most experienced team he’s had in his 13 years at Kentucky. If anything, Kentucky might go from annually having one of the nation’s youngest teams to having one of the oldest teams.
Here’s the roster as of today: Davion Mintz (sixth year), Kellan Grady (fifth year), CJ Frederick (redshirt junior), Sahvir Wheeler (junior), Oscar Tshiebwe (junior), Jacob Toppin (junior), Keion Brooks (junior), Dontaie Allen (redshirt sophomore, Lance Ware (sophomore), Daimion Collins (freshman), TyTy Washington (freshman) and Bryce Hopkins (freshman).
It would not be shocking to see Kentucky open the season without a true freshman in the lineup unless Jalen Duren, currently the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class, does reclassify and sign with Kentucky as many think he could. If he does, Calipari would find a way to start him.
Duren cut his list of options to five last week. It includes Kentucky, Memphis and Miami along with two professional options — the G-League and the NBL.
But if Duren is not a Cat, it’s easy to see a scenario where Washington, Collins and Hopkins are all coming off the bench due to the talent and experience ahead of them.
There’s also the possible scenario of former Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, a seven-footer who averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last year during his sophomore season, joining the Cats. He has declared for the NBA draft but last week also put his name in the transfer portal. Two of his coaches at Illinois — Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman — are not on the Kentucky staff.
When was the last time Kentucky didn’t have a freshman in the starting lineup? I could not remember a time when John Calipari didn’t start at least one true freshman in his 12 seasons and Corey Price, the stats guru for UK athletics, confirmed that. He noted the last time UK didn’t start a freshman was Nov. 14, 2008, when the Cats lost 111-103 to VMI in Billy Gillispie’s final season.
The starting lineup that game was junior Ramon Harris, junior Jodie Meeks, sophomore Patrick Patterson, junior Michael Porter and junior Perry Stevenson. Meeks had 39 points in that game.
Price also said that since 1972-73 there have only been nine seasons (1972-73, 1973-74, 1977-78, 1981-82, 1985-86, 1993-94, 200203, 2003-94 and 2005-06) when Kentucky went all season without a true freshman starting.
Could that happen again this season depending on what Duren eventually does?
“Yes, on opening night it would not surprise me if there is not a freshman in the starting lineup but I have not seen any practices yet this summer,” said former UK All-American Mike Pratt, the analyst for the UK Radio Network.
“I could see a freshman starting sometime during the season.There are always freshmen with talent that the ‘light’ goes on about what it takes to start and away they go.”