Holdovers carry Kentucky basketball's title hopes

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Holdovers carry Kentucky basketball's title hopes

Post  BestdamnUKfanperiod on Sat May 14, 2011 7:04 pm

Holdovers carry Kentucky basketball's title hopes

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Darius Miller is aware of the lofty expectations and early offseason rankings being bestowed on his University of Kentucky basketball team.

The Wildcats' senior-to-be knows that being labeled one of the favorites to win the 2012 NCAA championship will put a target on his team's back.

Miller shrugs it off.

“We know teams are going to come out ready to play us (next season),” Miller said this week. “But we feel like they were going to come ready to play us anyway, since we're Kentucky.”

The Cats have reclaimed a center-stage profile in two seasons under John Calipari, and that doesn't figure to change in 2011-12.

Freshman Brandon Knight and junior DeAndre Liggins are headed to the NBA draft, but UK returns two full-time starters in Miller and Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year Terrence Jones — who declared himself draft-eligible then withdrew to return for his sophomore season — along with a part-time starter in guard Doron Lamb.

Jones, Lamb and Miller were the second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers on a Kentucky team that finished 29-9 and reached the NCAA Final Four, losing to Connecticut in a national semifinal.

To that core, UK will add the nation's top-ranked incoming freshman class, featuring guard Marquis Teague and forwards Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer — all McDonald's All Americans.

“They all love the game, and they're all gym rats,” Calipari said last month of his incoming class. “We've had one or two guys at 11 o'clock at night that are in (the Joe Craft Center working on their games). Now we may add five or six.”

Teague, a 6-foot-2 Indianapolis native, is the latest in a line of highly touted point guards to sign with Calipari. Gilchrist, a 6-6 swingman, is a “vicious competitor,” Calipari said, and provides the sort of perimeter defensive presence UK is losing in Liggins.

Wiltjer is a sharp-shooting 6-9 forward with three-point range. Davis is a 6-10 shot-blocker whose game resembles that of NBA veteran Marcus Camby, whom Calipari coached at Massachusetts.

“We're playing for Cal, so I'm pretty sure we'll put a lot of focus on defense,” Miller said. “I feel like (offensively) we'll have so many weapons, it's going to be hard to guard us.”

An influx of new talent has become commonplace under Calipari — this will be his third straight No. 1-ranked recruiting class — but next season's Cats will feature his most talented collection of returning players yet.

That's a welcome change for Miller, a 6-7 guard from Maysville, Ky., who's seen significant roster rollover in each of the past two seasons. He's glad to have Jones and Lamb, who averaged a combined 28 points per game in 2010-11, back to help provide veteran leadership.

“It'll be real nice,” Miller said. “We built chemistry playing together, and hopefully that'll carry over into next season, too. I think it'll be fun, especially with the talent that's coming in.”

Much is expected of that combination of experience and incoming talent., and rank UK second behind North Carolina in early preseason polls.

And after coming so close in 2011, Miller said the Cats will kick off next season with an NCAA title as their stated goal.

That's nothing new, he said.

“That's been the goal every year,” Miller said. “We want that to still be the goal, to win the national championship. I think we have a good chance of doing it, but we can't pay attention to what everybody says. We've got to try to be the best team we can.”

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