Freshmen look forward to season

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 22, 2013
Kentucky's freshmen fell short of expectations in a disappointing season, and those returning are looking forward to using their experience to help the next crop of highly touted Wildcats avoid suffering the same fate. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress said Monday they're looking forward to fulfilling their potential, and helping others do the same. Despite promising rookie moments, neither came close to leading Kentucky to another NCAA title. So after some soul-searching that included meetings with coach John Calipari, Cauley-Stein and Poythress delayed their pro plans and returned to school, providing experience and depth for a Wildcats team that lacked both during a 21-12 season that ended with a first-round NIT loss at Robert Morris. Both want to provide leadership to an incoming class considered the best in Kentucky history. ''Last year just left a bad taste in your mouth and I feel like something's empty,'' Cauley-Stein said. ''I want to fill it. Next year, we're going to have a great opportunity to do that.'' Poythress, Cauley-Stein, Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin arrived last fall as coach John Calipari's latest No. 1 recruiting class, one that was expected to follow up Kentucky's national championship led by All-American freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. All were also expected to depart for the NBA after their rookie seasons. This group of young Wildcats quickly discovered that how difficult it is to duplicate that magic without six players now in the NBA. The learning curve seemed steep for all but Noel, who established himself as the nation's top shot-blocker with 4.4 per game despite suffering a season-ending torn left ACL on Feb. 12. But Kentucky struggled even with the 6-foot-10 forward and went 4-5 without him, missing the NCAA tournament and losing 59-57 to Robert Morris as the NIT's top overall seed. Noel announced last week that he will enter the NBA draft and could be the No. 1 overall pick while rehabilitating his knee. Goodwin earlier threw his name into the draft pool. Surprisingly, 7-footer Cauley-Stein and Poythress chose to return for their sophomore seasons. ''I just wanted to get better, work on my skill set and improve as player,'' said Poythress, who averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds last season. ''When your season ends so early and you're just watching games, it's kind of sickening because you're not playing anymore. I didn't want to leave on a bad note with a bad taste in my mouth. It was a tough loss for us, and you don't want to end your career like that.'' Poythress also acknowledged that there was plenty of room for improvement in his game and particularly his enthusiasm, which made him a target of criticism by Calipari and Big Blue Nation. But the coach also gushed about the 6-7 forward's potential with more seasoning, and Poythress said there's lots of video to learn from. ''A loss like that hurts, you know?'' Poythress added, ''and you can use it for motivation. Anytime you get the court rushed (by fans), it's just a bad feeling walking off with a loss. You got to work from that and fix it.'' Cauley-Stein said the plan of being ''one and done'' was never set in stone despite projections of being a possible first-round NBA pick. Playing mostly behind Noel until the injury, he finished with averages of 8.3 points. 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks and made the Southeastern Conference's rookie squad along with his fellow Kentucky freshmen. But he knew his game needed improvement even before Calipari expressed his wish for him to also be a more vocal leader. Those facts plus the Kansas native's love of the college experience was more attractive than adult responsibilities such as paying income taxes on a pro contract. ''They'd survived this far without whatever I was going to make in the pros, so what's another year or two?'' Cauley-Stein said of his family's input. ''I'm not trying to pay for taxes, for one. I'm still a kid. ... Here, you're that one guy that it's kind of like, everybody knows you. You go to the pros (it's like), `Oh, you can tell he's a pro but who is he?' I like it around here where people know my name. That's just fun.'' As both seek to hone their games, they'll also be trying to ease the transition for what could be the Wildcats' best recruiting class ever. Last week's signings of 6-9 Julius Randle and 6-10 Dakari Johnson adds two more McDonald's All-Americans to a stocked Kentucky roster including guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, forward Marcus Lee and guard/forward James Young. Add in Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer, who will return for his junior year, and the Wildcats have eight McDonald's selections on board. That means another year of sky-high championship expectations for Kentucky. But the presence of Cauley-Stein, Poythress and Wiltjer offers the potential for guidance similar to what senior Darius Miller and sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones provided for the Wildcats' last title squad -- and hopefully, the same results. ''I'm excited for them to get here,'' Poythress said. ''It's going to be hard work, but once we get here and get things clicking, I'm real excited for what we can do. It's time for me to step up, Willie and Kyle, we just got to step up and do what our team needs us to do.''
The Worst - NFL Week 3: Steve Smith, Odell Beckham & of course the Browns
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Sixers rookie Ben Simmons has fracture in foot

Olympic wrestler turned ISIS recruit killed in U.S. drone strike

Report: Jamaal Charles to play Sunday against Steelers

Dez Bryant says he will not play Sunday against 49ers

Bill O’Brien officially rules J.J. Watt out for season


Report: Eric Decker out Sunday with partial tear in rotator cuff

Report: Browns planning to part ways with Josh Gordon

Noah skips dinner at West Point because he's anti-war

Giants could use wide receiver at safety against Vikings

Ryan Tannehill does not mince words regarding offense

Russell Wilson on playing Sunday against Jets: ‘No doubt’

WATCH: Is it time for the Jaguars to fire Gus Bradley?

Combing through the crowded 2016 MLB MVP races

The Blue Jays and the meaning of a late season freefall

CFB Crash Course: Week 5 - Less one Les

Box Score: 9/30 - Dolphins, Popovich and MLB umps

Seven most absurd stats heading into NFL Week 4

Antonio Brown to honor Arnold Palmer with custom cleats

The best and worst from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

Players Jurgen Klinsmann may call up for USMNT friendlies

Byron Scott has no relationship with D’Angelo Russell

Steve Kerr favors shorter NBA preseason to limit back-to-backs

Flaws of MLB replay system exposed in Cardinals’ victory

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

WATCH: Is it time for the Jaguars to fire Gus Bradley?

Combing through the crowded 2016 MLB MVP races

The Blue Jays and the meaning of a late season freefall

CFB Crash Course: Week 5 - Less one Les

NBA winners and losers: Gregg Popovich as a voice of reason

WATCH: Will LSU have to sell its soul to find its next head coach?

The clubhouse leaders for MLB Rookies of the Year

Goodbye, Ted: 20 years of highs and lows at Turner Field

Forza Horizon 3 review: Going Top Gear

NFL Kickoff Week 4: Guess what? The NFL is dying again

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker