If you are like me, when you watch Kentucky this year, you are left with a lot of questions. I often wonder whether Perry Stevenson will ever go on HGH, whether Mark Coury would start for my alma mater Transylvania and when the Member will just go ahead and shave his head totally and accept his future folicle fate. But more than all of these questions, I spend the greatest amount of time wondering “Why is AJ Stewart not playing?” On a team that is hurting in the areas of scoring on the low block, athleticism and ability to hit the open jumper, why not use the young freshman with a world of athletic ability and enough energy to power at least half of Breckenridge County. If this Kentucky team were getting solid play at each position every game, I could understand Stewart not getting in, a la Kelenna Azubuike on the 2003 Kentucky team. But that is not what we have here. We have the Coury Flurry and Perry Stevenson giving it their all, but both with severe limitations. Why not at least give AJ a shot?
I admit to being somewhat biased about AJ, dating back to his time in high school. AJ was one of a number of recruits last year that our show had great interactions with and Stewart actually first announced his commitment to UK on our podcast. However my questioning of his lack of playing time really isnt based solely on the fact I like the kid….if that were the case, I would have championed Woo playing 40 minutes a game. Rather, the reality of the situation this year requires some AJ playing time. At this point, the UK roster really only has three guys that are certain to be big time contributors for UK in the years to follow. Jodie Meeks, Derrick Jasper and Patrick Patterson all can start at UK throughout their career and have the ability to be difference makers during their time in Lexington. The other major players (Ramon Harris, the Member, Stevenson, Coury, Carter, Porter, etc) each could potentially be a role player, but none are likely to be a starter for a top 25 team. Enter AJ Stewart……AJ has the potential to be the 4th guy who can be an anchor for the future. He has the talent to contribute at UK going forward and there is no doubt that if he reaches his potential, he will be a major part of UK’s rebuilding over the next couple of years. But this can only happen if he gets some playing time….soon.
Coach Gillispie has been asked many times about AJ’s minutes and his answer is always generally the same…..he who earns minutes gets minutes. It is whispered that AJ is a bit aloof in practice and not as focused as some of the other players. In addition, he has had difficulty picking up many of Billy Clyde’s sets and is often said to be way behind defensively. However unlike many of the other players, AJ has deficiencies that can be fixed. Mark Coury will never become a super athlete….Perry Stevenson will never have hands that arent made of iron….Ramon Harris will never be a Globetrotter while dribbling the basketball. But if the problem is one of picking up the system and to a lesser extent, attitude….that is a fixable problem. I would rather watch AJ on the court, attempting to do something positive and making a mistake that can be used as a learning experience in the future, rather than watching the endless loop of mistakes caused by deficiencies that cant be corrected.
There may be no doubt that AJ Stewart is not ready to be a big-time player at UK. In fact, it may be the case that AJ is way behind where he should be or where the coaches had hoped he would reach. However on a team filled with errors and difficulties, why not let youth and inexperience be one? Stewart has the potential to be an important part of UK’s future, and I worry if he gets no playing time, his development will be hindered and he may even choose to look for greener pastures elsewhere, in the process taking away one of Kentucky’s better talents on the team. I continue to see marked improvement on this team and I really salute the effort many of these kids give. But even with that improvement and effort, I wonder “why not let AJ play?” As one fan so correctly said on my show the other day….”whats the worst that can happen….we lose to San Diego again?”