LEXINGTON, Ky. — Karl-Anthony Towns had a busy weekend back at the University of Kentucky. He sounded off on race relations and Donald J. Trump, scored 33 points in the Wildcats’ alumni game and then went and got fans all excited about the 2017-18 team.
“I got a chance to see them. I think they’re going to be very good and I think they’re one of the best fast-break teams I’ve ever seen from a Kentucky team,” said Towns, who played on a 38-1 UK team in 2014-15 before becoming the No. 1 overall pick and NBA Rookie of the Year. “They have so much athleticism that’s just pure. That’s not even understanding how to truly use their bodies fully — just so much athleticism.”
These Cats will be coach John Calipari’s youngest team yet with three sophomores and eight freshmen among their 11 scholarship players. But they will not lack for length or talent. There are eight former 5-star recruits and seven players who are at least 6-foot-8 with wingspans of 6-11 or longer.
“So this Cats team, it’s going to be very high-flying,” Towns said. “They have that kind of athleticism — but not just jumping high; they all all could run down the court at extremely high speed and be able to finish through contact.”
Towns isn’t the first NBA star to say so. Redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo and true freshman center Nick Richards were back home in New York earlier this summer and joined a pick-up game that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant among several other pros. The kids held their own.
“They were, whew, bouncy,” Durant told Bill Simmons. “Played hard, too. They were balling, man.”
Just don’t ask Towns to join in praising any individual Kentucky players. Local reporters tried after Saturday night’s alumni game, but he wasn’t biting.
“That’s the thing: We always get caught up in seeing players, but with our team, we never talked about players to watch. We were a team to watch,” he said. “They just have to be a team. They’ve got to understand that this game is not high school anymore. This is the next level, and the next level requires even more team basketball. One-on-ones don’t work the same way.”
Towns’ team reached the Final Four undefeated, in part because a team legitimately 10-deep with future NBA draft picks was willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Those Wildcats platooned most of the season and guys like Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, a future SEC Player of the Year and lottery pick, respectively, gladly came off the bench.
So Towns’ advice to the 2017-18 team is simple: “If they can come together, put egos aside, put the ‘I’m the man’ mentality aside — that each of them have, because they all were the man in their respective high school programs — they could be something truly special and something we could be talking about for years and years to come.”
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