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Kentucky can overcome personnel losses, not loss of John Calipari

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas – We got our seven months of Julius Randle and James Young, and now that's over.

It could be over for Andrew and Aaron Harrison too.

And while it wasn't seven months, we probably saw the last of Willie Cauley-Stein as well.

The curtains have closed on the 2013-14 version of the Kentucky Wildcats, and now it's time for a new cast of characters to take center stage. It's an annual occurrence for the Wildcats under John Calipari, and while he has had success doing it since taking over in Lexington, there's always the added mystery that comes with so many newcomers and departures on a yearly basis.

But we'll get to that in a second.

The biggest character in the show is the one that needs to come back. He's bigger than any player or prospect that wears a uniform; it's obviously Calipari.

Prior to Monday night, there wouldn't have been much question regarding whether Calipari would be back on the Kentucky sideline next season. But then former Kentucky star Rex Chapman tweeted that he heard Calipari was going to be the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers next season.

Fortunately, he doesn't seem all that interested in the rumors.

“The Lakers have a basketball coach,” Calipari said after the game. “Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I'm not going to even dignify that stuff.”

That's the one thing Kentucky wouldn't be able to overcome. Calipari is the guy who molds an entirely new team every year, and might be the only coach in college basketball to do what he does annually.

And next year, he has to do it all over again. Assuming the Harrison twins leave – and while that's not a done deal, we'll roll with it for now – that would mean Calipari has to replace his five best players. Four starters and the sixth man, all gone early to the NBA.

This time, though, he doesn't have a ready-made starting lineup of top-10 prospects to step in and fill shoes. With that said, Calipari certainly has talent entering the fold.

Trey Lyles will be the best of the bunch. He's a complete offensive player who should be the leading scorer for the Wildcats next season, given his ability to score in different ways inside the arc. Fellow five-star big man Karl Towns will also get his opportunities on the offensive end, but he might have to toughen up to really get going early. Throw in the fact that Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson are likely both returning to Lexington, and Calipari will be loaded up front.

The biggest questions reside in the backcourt. Tyler Ulis is a terrific point guard, but he's a four-year player – not a one-and-done future NBA star like Calipari has steadily recruited at that position in recent years. He will play alongside freshman Devin Booker, a knockdown shooter. Dominique Hawkins will also see an increase in minutes after surprising some people as a newcomer.

There are certainly plenty of questions about the 2014-15 Kentucky team – and they won't be fully answered for a few weeks.

“I kind of stay out of the decision making,” Calipari said of his potential NBA draft entrants. “I just get them information. So we'll see. I have no idea because I haven't talked to them and none of us have talked about that. We were playing to win the National Championship.

“But now that the season's over, it is about the players. It's no longer about the program. It's no longer about the team. It's about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other now, for our team and our program and our school. Season's over. Now it's about them. And we'll sit down with each of them and they will make decisions for themselves.”

The biggest decision, though, comes from Calipari. If the NBA comes calling – and it's not clear if that's even an option – would he consider leaving Lexington?

Kentucky has been able to replace lottery picks and NBA stars without too many hiccups in Calipari's tenure. What they wouldn't be able to replace is the man who makes it all happen.

 
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