A New Big Blue Adventure

Every year in the John Calipari era is like starting all over again. Again. Every day is the same. But different.

The clock radio clicks on with the same Sonny and Cher tune. You look out the window onto the same quiet neighborhood. You have the same idle chitchat about the weather in the hallway of your B&B.

And yet, everything is new. Brandon Knight is holding the ball John Wall once held. And then, it’s Marquis Teague. Archie Goodwin. Andrew Harrison. Tyler Ulis.

That was DeMarcus Cousins blotting out the sun. Only now it’s Terrence Jones. Then Anthony Davis. Nerlens Noel. Willie Cauley-Stein. Julius Randle. Karl-Anthony Towns. Skal Labissière.

Once again, April brings the news of defections to the NBA. Jamal Murray has already declared. Watch for Tyler Ulis to follow. And Skal.

Isaiah Briscoe? Marcus Lee? Derek Willis? Who knows? New rules have made it possible for anyone to declare. A more-relaxed timetable allows everyone to throw his hat into the ring and then pull it back if there’s insufficient interest.

And, once again, April brings the promise of another powerful recruiting class to Lexington. Not for the first time, observers declare this a historically superior group of freshmen. Maybe Cal’s best ever.

That’s saying something. Wall/Cousins/Bledsoe/Dodson/Orton/Hood was pretty good in 2009. Knight/Jones/Kanter/Lamb/Poole in 2010.

Davis/Teague/Wiltsher/Kidd-Gilchrist in 2011.

Goodwin/Noel/Poythress/Mays/Cauley-Stein in 2012.

Then there was the astounding class of 2013 – Randle/Johnson/Young/Willis/Hawkins/Lee/the Harrisons – that had everyone twittering 40-0.

And the 2014 group – Towns/Lyles/Booker/Ulis – that almost did get to 40-0.

Finally, there was Calipari’s 2015 effort that brought in the highly prized Labissière, plus Murray, Briscoe, Matthews, Humphries, Mulder and Wynyard.

But this 2016 class has put the tingle back in a down-in-the-dumps Big Blue Nation. It is driven by three main impulses: (1.) to wipe away the bad taste of a premature exit from the NCAA tournament; (2.) to replace what looks like another defection of key players from this year’s team; and (3.) because, on paper, it looks really, really good.

Of course, the optimism has to be tempered. Really good on paper doesn’t always translate to really good on the court. You only have to think of Skal. Or Darnell Dodson. Stacey Poole. Ryan Harrow. Or, through no fault of his own, Enes Kanter.

But let’s, for the moment, concentrate on the ridiculous promise of it all.

There’s Edrice Adabayo – intriguingly nicknamed “Bam” – from North Carolina, who reportedly earned his nickname when he picked up the family’s coffee table. At a year old.

“The Flintstones” was playing on television at the time, so the story goes, ergo, Bamm-Bamm, later shortened to Bam.

But his nickname was about the only thing that got smaller. Edrice grew to 6-foot-9, 260 pounds. Muscles. Broad shoulders. Nobody’s going to kick sand in this frontcourt’s face next winter.

There’s Wenyen Gabriel from New Hampshire – also 6-foot-9 – and 6-foot-10 Sacha Killeya-Jones from North Carolina. They’re skinnier than Adabayo, which will mean sessions in the weight room once they hit the Wildcat Lodge, but they’re already strong enough to tote around all those stars they’ve been given by Scout, Rivals and the other rating services.

There’s De’Aron Fox from Texas, anointed the latest in the Calipari tree of great point guards. People looking at him think “John Wall.” If only. But then again: Why not?

And there’s Malik Monk from Bentonville, Arkansas but really from tiny Lepanto, Arkansas. His story was charmingly told on a Bleacher Report video. (Go to aseaofblue.com and check out Jason Marcum’s post, “Awesome feature on Malik Monk, his upbringing and rise to stardom.”)

Great family. Great story. Great observations from his brother, Marcus Monk. Think the Chris and Cliff Paul ads from State Farm, except that Marcus is a former All-SEC wide receiver. Also, great dunking videos.

And Cal may not be finished. He still has his sights on big men Marques Bolden and Jarrett Allen. Both uncommitted as of this writing. Both from Texas. Why don’t all those Texas universities have more national championships?

Word was the UK recruits were trying to work their magic on Bolden during the recent McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago. What kind of magic? Fox offered to break Bolden’s kneecap if he didn’t declare for UK. The others concurred. Of course, they were smiling the whole time.

That, by the way, is what really impressed me about these kids. Not the threat of violence – the incessant good humor and happy togetherness they all showed for one another, heading into their Big Blue adventure.

That, and some ridiculous basketball skills.

Did someone say 40-0? Wasn’t me! VT