It’s not a top-10 matchup or even the Maui Classic, but ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes says there are plenty of reasons for him to be excited about being at Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness on Friday.
“I think every season of the college basketball season has a newness and excitement about it. There is a level of anticipation about wanting to get questions answered and I am excited about getting out just to see teams practice,” said Dykes, a former Kentucky assistant coach under Eddie Sutton. “The start of practice is when you know it is time to go as a player, coach, analyst. I’m really excited to be coming to Rupp Arena for the third year in a row for Madness.”
“There’s no question they can be good again,” Dykes said. “The first thing that really jumps out at you is how good John Calipari and his staff are at zeroing in not only on elite talent, which is not as easy as people think. A coach has to trust his own eyes, own instincts. But more importantly, he’s got a bunch that does not come in with a me-first mentality and agenda separate from winning games.
“That team last year would not have won the championship if one guy had an agenda that he was more important than the team. That starts with recruiting. I do not see one selfish kid in this group. That’s hard to identify in recruiting. You shouldn’t miss on talent. There’s no excuse for that. But when you can miss is when it comes to a kid’s love for the game, is he a self-starter, is he selfish on the court. You can miss on those things unless you dig deep.”
Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein is one player Dykes has not seen, and can’t wait to see. “I know about Goodwin, Poythress, Nerlens, (Kyle) Wiltjer, (Jon) Hood,” Dykes said. “Willie is a guy I have not seen and continue to hear high praise about. He probably was not rated as high as he should have been. I am anxious to see how good he looks and how he can potentially be.”
He’s already seen enough of Noel to be impressed with the freshman center.
“If you projecting 10 years from now, he has a chance to be a NBA all-star because of his size and how quick he gets off the floor. He has a unique combination in that he is tall, long and quick off the floor. It’s easy to project him as an all-NBA defensive guy,” Dykes said. “Now it is a matter of how good he becomes offensively before you can project a great overall NBA career.
“You want to see how hard he wants to work. All the great players at Kentucky that came in with a lot of hype under Calipari have gone to work once they stepped foot on campus. I am anxious to see if Nerlens is one of those guys. I won’t know until I watch him. All the things I hear point in that direction. But I want to see how hungry and humble he is. That’s what Calipari’s last three teams have all had. They have all been humble and hungry.”
Poythress and Goodwin should both be difference-makers in Southeastern Conference play for UK.
“With Poythress, I love how he uses his size and strength. He is very aggressively offensively,” Dykes said. “He needs to shoot better, but he has the ability to get the ball off the backboard and make plays off the rim. He’s built to be a very good defender.
“Goodwin is the closest player to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as far as being a warrior and attacking the basket. Goodwin might be the guy that sets the bar for the rest of the Kentucky players in terms of having an edge and mean streak about him. That needs to be infectious and transfer to everyone.”
He believes senior guard Julius Mays, a transfer from Wright State, was also a valuable addition for the Wildcats.
“He is a good combo guard with good size. He’s more than a reliable 3-point shooter. He’s an older kid that could be a vocal voice on the team even though he is going through everything for the first time,” Dykes said. “I think Calipari can lean on him to be a voice of experience if he proves to be trustworthy. He’s a guard that can score and shoot, and Kentucky needed a shooter to go with Kyle.”
Dykes gives Kentucky only a “slight edge” as the best team in the SEC based on the team’s overall talent.
“I look at Florida that has really good talent and experience. Kentucky is talented but not quite as experienced,” he said. “I think Tennessee is right there below Kentucky and Florida. They have got a lot of guys back. Missouri will make a quick transition and will be one of the top two or three teams in the SEC this year. They will have no problem fitting in and battling for the SEC title. Then you have Alabama and Arkansas.”