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June 21, 2011

At UK, experience is no PT guarantee

Terrence Jones passed on the NBA Draft. Doron Lamb came off the bench for much of his freshman season. Darius Miller is a veteran with 72 career starts to his credit.

None of that matters much to John Calipari. At least not when it comes to projecting playing time for Kentucky's upcoming basketball season.

As Calipari's team spends the summer readying for a 2011-12 season high on hype, Calipari has cautioned his returning players that nothing is promised as the Wildcats welcome the nation's top-ranked recruiting class for a third straight season.

"In our program there never has been, anywhere I've coached, (a sense of) 'It's my turn,'" Calipari said. "There's no such thing as 'It's my turn.' Everybody's starting in the same spot and let's go."

So while Calipari returns his strongest set of veterans as the UK coach - Jones, Lamb and Miller combined to average 38.9 points per game in 2010-11 - it doesn't give the returnees a leg up on newcomers Marquis Teague, Michael Gilcrhist, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer.

And Calipari made that clear to Jones, Lamb and Miller.

Jones likely wouldn't have dropped below the 17th pick in the NBA Draft, Calipari said. He might have been drafted as high as 13th.

"He pretty much told me, 'You know where you'll go (in the draft), and if that's OK with you, you should leave and don't let anybody stop you,'" Jones said.

That wasn't good enough for Jones, who has designs on being drafted in the top three. Nor was a probable second-round slot appealing enough for Lamb, who said he wasn't ready for the NBA leap.

" I told them both, 'You do not come back unless you're really trying to improve yourself…,'" Calipari said. "If you're not trying to improve on that, don't come back. If you're not trying to be the No. 1 player in the country, do not come back. Doron Lamb, if you're not trying to be a lottery pick, do not come back."

To Miller, Calipari stressed the importance of hard work and leadership this summer. With so much competition for minutes, Calipari said, Miller can't rest on three seasons of laurels. It's his job to teach UK's newcomers what it takes to thrive in Calipari's program.

"What I told him is, 'If you're not dragging them, they're going to run by you,'" Calipari said.

Most offseason projections list Jones, Lamb and Miller as probable starters.

In Calipari's world, there's no such thing.

"If you ask me right now, I have no idea who'd be starting," Calipari said. "I don't know what the team looks like."

And though Lamb said "it really doesn't matter" who starts, Miller suggested that players will work harder in the summer and into fall practice in attempts to secure starting positions.

"Nobody has a position," Miller said. "We're all going to be fighting for it, and I think that's going to be better for the team."


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