When John Calipari is upbeat in the months before a college basketball season, that usually means good things are ahead for the University of Kentucky.
Calipari seemed to be in a good mood when met with a small group of sports reporters last Sunday to talk about the upcoming season.
There is considerable hype, mixed with the usual doses of uncertainty that always seem to surround the start of every Calipari team reconstruction job.
There is a mix of experienced players coming back and a very talented group of new backcourt and wing players who have BBN and many national observers thinking the formula is right for a Final Four run.
"We've got good guards, we've got good big men," Calipari said last week. "They want to get better."
UK doesn't usually end up with new players who aren't coachable, and this group wants to work, according to Calipari.
Having a core group of players who've been in the program longer than one season should help from the team teaching aspect.
UK will have experienced guards in Ashton Hagans, who started 30 games and was one of the best defensive players in the SEC. Immaunel Quickley is also back for a sophomore season in the backcourt.
"Immanuel is shooting way better," Calipari said. "Ashton needs to be a better layup shooter, and he is better than he was."
The backcourt should be very talented and versatile, with an assortment of options at the regular guard spots and the wings.
Tyrese Maxey was one of the top high school players in the nation last season, and he has become the focal point for how much success UK might have this season.
"Ashton and Tyrese, we had them together (in a recent practice), and whoa, they were good," Calipari said. "I kind of like playing with guards like we had in the past, where either one of them can be the point."
Maxey is 6-3, 185 pounds so he can be physical. He's fast, explosive to the basket, and is an excellent outside shooter as well. He is also a skilled passer whose all-around game has been well noted.
Maxey has been compared to both Jamal Murray and De'Aaron Fox, a pair of dynamic scorers at UK who are finding considerable success early in the NBA.
"He can really score, you would compare him more to Jamal, who can play both positions," Calipari said. "You can put him under the basket and let him play basketball, you can let him have the ball and make basketball plays, he can do both.
"Jamal played with two other real point guards, they all played together, didn't have any effect but a positive one on Jamal. I would say the same will be true for Tyrese. There may be times when he's solely the point guard, there may be times we need you to score, get off the ball, there are times he and Ashton are together."
If projections for Maxey hold, and he does emerge as the leader for UK, he may be having a meeting with Calipari mid-season.
"I told his father, at some point he'll have to do what De'Aaron did, which is take over," Calipari said. "I can remember calling (Fox) in the office in late January and told him, kid, it's time, this is your team."
There are plenty of options if UK wants to play small, or positionless, basketball. Calipari said he was comfortable playing without Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery or Nate Sestina, or some combination of those big men.
Keion Brooks Jr. is a 6-7 forward, while Kahlil Whitney is a 6-6 forward. They would be options if UK played with only one big man.
"Keion can be a four with his size, even Kahlil can be a stretch four," Calipari said. "Physically, he's that guy who can fight and guard."
Calipari always has his list of players who are better than he thought they'd be early at UK. Johnny Juzang, another 6-6 guard, is in that group.
"Johnny is way better than I thought," Calipari said. "Johnny can really shoot the ball. What we need is your ability to make shots, don't get away from that."
Juzang's impact potential has been compared to what Tyler Herro became in his lone season at UK. Getting Herro to drive the ball was a key in his development, and Calipari can see the same things with Juzang.
"We're making him drive the ball, making him get in the lane," Calipari said of Juzang, who has guard experience from high school.
Following a break of a little over a week, Calipari and the team will continue to work on further developing what this season may look like.