NCAA March Madness 2015: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Kentucky’s Challenge to ‘Live Up to the Hype’

The basketball legend talks to ABC News’ Rick Klein and ESPN’s Andy Katz.

ByRick Klein, andy Katz And Jordyn Phelps
March 18, 2015, 1:08 PM

— -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar knows something about the challenge confronting the Kentucky Wildcats.

As the greatest player on some of the greatest college basketball teams of all time, at UCLA, he confronted the unique burden of entering an NCAA tournament as the heavy favorite.

But in a tournament known for its Cinderella stories, Kentucky’s quest for an undefeated season is a high-order for the first-seeded team.

“When everyone expects you to win it takes a little bit from you in that you can't overcome expectations you can only equal it,” he said. “All you can do is live up to the hype and people will discount what you did because they say that well you're supposed to win because you have all that talent.”

In an interview with ABC News’ Rick Klein and ESPN’s Andy Katz on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the former NBA star described the tournament in political terms – dubbing Kentucky and Wisconsin the frontrunners that will have to fend off dark-horse challengers.

“I see Kentucky and Wisconsin really being the two strong choices,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “They played great all year, they've improved and I think that they should be the frontrunners. But, you know, there's always the dark horses that come out of nowhere and you never know who they’re going to be until the tournament starts.”

But playing in Kentucky’s favor, he said, is that the freshman-heavy team has the potential of 3 to 4 year streak. “They're a very talented team that can even improve more than they have been this year. So you know they could be on a three or four year run, you never know,” he said.

One of Kentucky’s biggest strategic advantages, Abdul-Jabbar observed, is the sheer size of its athletes.

“They really followed their game plan to play tough defense and to play in an up-tempo game with a really tough defensive team that makes it hard to beat,” he said.

Among the tallest and top ranked players in the country, there are two who are competing for the Center of the Year Award that bears Abdul-Jabbar’s name: The University of Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky – nicknamed “Frank the Tank”—and Duke University’s Jahlil Okafor.

“Kaminsky, he's everywhere on the court he gets--posts up points. He gets points from the perimeter, difficult person to match up with, and Okafor is just a monster on the defensive end, blocks shots, rebounds, intimidation those types of things -- those are the things that win ball games for you. ” Abdul-Jamar said when asked what’s impressed him about the two players.

Check out this video for more NCAA tournament talk with Abdul-Jabbar and to hear about his new book.

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