The 2011-12 chapter of Kentucky basketball closed on April 17, when all five of its starters appeared at a joint press conference in matching blue polo shirts, and announced they were turning pro. The only player comment that drew a rise out of coach John Calipari, who was sitting among them in a black suit, came from Anthony Davis, the 6-foot-11 freshman who was the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player and also swept every national player of the year award. When Davis humbly thanked the coaching staff for "helping me become the great player that I am," Calipari interjected and said, half-incredulously, "Did you just say
It may have been presumptuous -- Davis did shoot 1-of-10 in the title game and has plenty of room for offensive development -- but my most indelible memories from this season will be of him making great, not-of-this-world plays. I suspect that in 10 or 20 years, what the Wildcats did will be remembered almost exclusively as the "one-and-done" championship. Their freshmen were their most memorable players, and they made a historic breakthrough, establishing a new model for title-team construction. The narrative will probably exclude the fact that Kentucky's title wasn't possible without two key sophomore returnees. Power forward Terrence Jones, who could have been a first-rounder in the 2011 draft, was a wildly underrated defender -- and the highest possession-user in the nation's second-most efficient offense. Shooting guard Doron Lamb's floor-stretching ability took the Wildcats' offense to another level, and he was their leading scorer (with 30 points) in the championship game. An all-freshman team would have been fun to watch, but it would not have been cutting down nets in New Orleans.
I also suspect that sophomore returnees will be playing an even more prominent role in next year's championship picture. Kentucky has two good ones in seventh man Kyle Wiltjer (a stretch four-man) and N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow (a point guard), but the five who figure to be the biggest factors play for other schools, and (in most cases) had to make hard decisions about passing on this June's NBA draft: