LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Kentucky coach John Calipari believes his overhauled roster can do something "crazy" like last season's one-loss squad — once they finally get together.
The new Wildcats have a tough act to follow after last year's group went 38-1 before a Final Four loss to Wisconsin that derailed unbeaten championship hopes. Calipari concedes he never thought that talented team would ever lose and still laments the what-ifs of the 71-64 loss.
"We didn't play as well, but Wisconsin played great," the coach said on Thursday.
Calipari now faces the challenge of filling the void created after his top seven scorers entered the NBA draft, including four possible lottery picks. Though turnover isn't new for Calipari, he must figure out where offense and leadership will emerge from his returning veterans and newcomers.
"I'm excited about just how I'm learning more about them, seeing how good this team could be," said Calipari, looking relaxed in a brown plaid shirt. "When we have the team that I think we'll have, it would be again like, 'What could we do? Where could we go?'
"Like last year, they started thinking this could be crazy and at the end of the day it was."
Calipari will get better acquainted with his latest highly touted recruiting class in the coming weeks as 6-foot-4 junior college guard Mychal Mulder, freshmen Isaiah Briscoe (6-3), Skal Labissiere (6-11) and Charles Matthews (6-5) arrive on campus. Briscoe could come in later after trying out for USA Basketball's Under-19 squad.
Those newcomers will join several veterans, including 6-9 junior forward Marcus Lee, 5-9 sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and 6-8 senior forward Alex Poythress, whom Calipari said is making a steady recovery after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament in December. Reserve forward Derek Willis and guard Dominique Hawkins, both juniors, also return.
Kentucky's rotation will be more conventional this fall after Calipari scrapped the platoon system used last season to give his nine-deep squad enough minutes to make everyone happy. The Wildcats broke numerous school records and chased a 40-0 season with the strategy, but he noted that the process wasn't easy and acknowledged that rival coaches used their success to sway several top-notch recruits elsewhere.
Not that he's apologizing for an approach that turned 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns into the potential No. 1 overall pick in the June 25 NBA draft.
"I do know this: We got better with the way we did it," Calipari said, pointing out how reserves shooting guard Devin Booker has also become a possible lottery choice. "So, I don't think anybody was hurt by it and our program obviously wasn't hurt by it. ... A little bit short of what we wanted to do, but still a historic team."
Calipari isn't promising anything close next season and said developing this year's squad will be challenging. But he likes the potential this Wildcats squad could offer as they try to remain a national championship contender.
"This may be one of those multiple pick-and-roll teams," he said, "and could more of a dribble-drive team than I've had here in a while. We have a little bit of everything, and there's no one like anyone else on the team. ... It's exciting because we're still gonna be good."
Calipari will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. Kentucky opens the season with back-to-back games Nov. 13-14 against Albany and NJIT respectively.