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Incoming Kentucky freshmen confident they can repeat as national champs

Apr 13, 2012, 10:45 AM EDT

nerlens-noel

Kentucky is one of those programs that reloads as opposed to rebuilding, with the 2011-12 group hanging the program’s eighth national title banner.

And the incoming class isn’t backing away from the expectations that come with putting on the Kentucky jersey.

If anything, based on what their three representatives at the Jordan Brand Classic had to say to the Sporting News the freshmen will embrace the challenge.

Three of John Calipari’s incoming freshmen are five-star recruits: Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress, with 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein completing the group (right now).

“You’re following in the footsteps,” Poythress said. “They’re setting the standard high, so you’ve got big shoes to fill. And I feel that we can fill them.”

Noel noted that one of the biggest factors in his decision to choose Kentucky was the success that this past season’s young team experienced, providing a clear signal to other blue-chip prospects that a quick stop in college can also include a national title.

“Just the success they had with younger players going out there and winning a national championship, that’s not easy with five or six freshmen,” Noel said. “Just seeing what they did with that, and what coach Calipari does is real successful, and I think I can go there with Archie and Alex and Willie and be successful the same way there were.”

But the one key aspect of the national championship team that this incoming group will need to replicate is their team chemistry.

It’s been believed that having so many players who seem focused on getting to the NBA quickly can lead to individual agendas usurping the team goal, but that never happened with Calipari’s 38-2 squad.

“We’re going to be able to work together,” Goodwin said. “I know we are because (Noel is) a team player and I’m a team player and Alex is a team player and Willie’s a team player. There are going to be a lot of amazing things that happen.”

There’s still room for more talent in Lexington, and with that in mind both Goodwin and Poythress began to work on uncommitted forward Anthony Bennett following Noel’s decision.

Land Bennett and Kentucky will have more than enough talent to make a run at a ninth national title. But as their eighth national champion displayed, chemistry is just as important as skill.

Photo credit: Mark L. Baer/US Presswire

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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