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Former Wildcats, current NBA stars offer advice for John Calipari's next UK team

John Calipari and seven former Wildcats, including six NBA first-round picks, pose with campers Wednesday. (Photo by Jon Hale)

John Calipari and seven former Wildcats, including six NBA first-round picks, pose with campers Wednesday. (Photo by Jon Hale)


Every fall a new group of UK men’s basketball players learns one cannot quite understand what to expect from being a Wildcat until he experiences it first hand.


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Still, several former Cats in town this week for John Calipari’s annual ProCamp have advise for the new UK freshmen.


“Every time they play a team, even the underdogs, the team that’s not that good, they’re going to try to come at them,” said New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis. “They’ve got to prepare for that and continue to work hard.”


Davis knows a thing or two about expectations.


He arrived on campus in Calipari’s third consecutive No. 1 recruiting class to join a team that featured two returning McDonald’s All-Americans and a four-year part-time starter. Davis even exceeded those expectations, earning National Player of the Year honors and helping lead the Cats to a national championship before being selected No. 1 overall in the NBA draft.


Davis’ former teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was drafted with the No. 2 pick in 2012, also looks back fondly on his year at UK after one season in the NBA.


“In college it was a brotherhood,” he said. “Now it’s just like — I don’t know — it’s just grown men all around me. I’m just growing up fast.”


Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist experienced as much success as any player could hope for in one season of college basketball. Now Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel and Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin, who were selected in the first round of June’s NBA draft, did not, as the Cats missed the NCAA Tournament and suffered a first-round NIT loss to Robert Morris in their season in Lexington.


Those players faced the task of following the national championship team. They have advice for the newest group of Cats, who are ranked No. 1 in many preseason polls despite last season’s finish.


“Be prepared and just listen to Coach Cal,” Noel said. “He has everybody’s best interest. And establishing team chemistry early on in the year and make sure a leader steps up, because a young team like that, they’re especially going to need a leader that’s always going to keep them like a rock-solid team and always keep those guys composed.”


“My biggest advice would be to listen to what Coach Cal says and not how he says it,” Goodwin said. “I feel like last year we had a couple guys that, when he said things, the way he said it really put guys down because they’re not used to the way he coaches.”


Asked which of the new Cats have stood out in summer workouts, the current UK pros who have been around the team this summer almost universally pointed to forward Julius Randle. Kidd-Gilchrist also noted he was impressed by center Dakari Johnson. Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe said he was impressed by guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison.


Noel has first-hand experience against many of the newest Cats as he was originally scheduled to graduate from high school in 2013 before reclassifying to the 2012 graduating class.


“They’re really talented players, (have) great work ethics, and they really have the fire,” he said.


If the new group of Cats can handle the pressure of preseason expectations, fans could be in store for a special season.


At least one former Cat is confident that will be the case.


“From what I’ve seen, they’ve got all the talent in the world,” said 2012-13 senior Julius Mays. “Like I told them: If they can all check their egos at the door and — I know once Coach Cal gets his hands on all of them and gets them playing together like a team — they’re going to be real dangerous.”

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