After losing five players who became first-round picks, it was clear that Kentucky was going to use some talented freshman to replace them. Two of them chose to play for John Calipari over Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.
Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb will help lead the No. 8 Wildcats into their Maui Invitational opener Monday when they take on the Sooners.
Kentucky (2-0) will face its first major competition in this event, and it should be a terrific test for its freshmen. Three of them are in the lineup - Jones, Lamb and point guard Brandon Knight.
Jones was one of the more heavily recruited players in the country, and opted to join the Wildcats. The 6-foot-9 forward got to play in his hometown when Kentucky scheduled a game Friday at Portland.
Although Kentucky won easily 79-48, Jones missed 9 of 14 shots and had 12 points and five boards. He had 25 and 12 in his debut in an 88-65 victory over East Tennessee State on Nov. 12.
“Terrence played well, but I want him to be great,” Calipari said. “He has to be more physical. He can’t accept that a guy is going to body him… and he can’t settle for jumpers.”
Jones said he agreed with everything Calipari had to say.
“That’s one reason I came here,” Jones said. “Whatever he says I feel is right.”
Jones and Lamb both visited Oklahoma (3-0), but didn’t choose to play for Capel. The Sooners coach knows what he’s up against Monday.
“We have a really tough challenge early in our first game against Kentucky,” Capel said. “Obviously, we know and respect the history of their program. They have a lot of talented guys; two of which we had here on official visits last year and who I know are very talented and playing extremely well for them.
“The team is athletic and well coached, so we know this will be a challenge. But we are up for it, we are ready for it and excited about it.”
Kentucky is making its fifth appearance in Maui, winning the tournament in 1993 in its first one and is 8-4 overall. Oklahoma is making its fourth appearance, and is 5-4 - 1-2 in 2006 in Capel’s first season.
“Maui, historically, has always been a premiere event as far as teams in college basketball,” Capel said. “This year the field is probably as good as it has ever been. We are excited about the opportunity. We went there my first year and hopefully we will fare a little bit better this year.”
Seven of Oklahoma’s top eight scorers are in their first or second season. Sophomore Steven Pledger leads the way with his 16.7 scoring average.
The Sooners are feeling positive about their unbeaten start, which has come against Coppin State, North Carolina Central and Texas Southern. They lost their final nine games last season to finish 13-18 for their first losing campaign under Capel.
Kentucky leads the series 2-0, winning in 1947 and 1987.
The winner will face No. 17 Washington or Virginia in Monday’s semifinals.