Even though it is September 19th and even though our football team is playing relatively well, I can’t help myself. We are less than one month from Midnight Madness, and folks….my mind is on basketball. And why is that you say? You say, “Matt, Kentucky wasnt very good last year and lost its most talented and most clutch players at the end of the season? How can you be excited about a new season, with a team with so many question marks?” Why you ask? Because we are going to be good.
I know it is trendy nowadays to surmise that the Kentucky program is headed downhill on a freefall, descending rapidly into mediocrity as the UK Neros watch the empire burn. But I am not buying it. While there are areas that must be covered for the future (such as 07 recruiting), this team is going to be significantly better this coming season.
The Kentucky starting lineup next season will include a “Top 4” that is as talented as all but 4 or 5 teams in the country. Yes read that again…..I said it, and its true. Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley and Bobby Perry form a nucleus to this team that outside of a certain set of Gators and Tar Heels, I will put up against any in the country.
Randolph Morris is one of a dying breed….a traditional big man with low post skills whose talent does not just come from freakish athletic ability. I expect him to have a HUGE year and to provide the best single season big man presence for UK since Jamal Magloire (if not better). Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford are two super talents who are waiting to break out and each will show marked improvement this year. The two guards are the best of friends and with each finally getting to play in a position comfortable to them (Bradley as team leader and Crawford as a two guard instead of a small forward), both are ready to flourish. An excited, invigorated Ramel Bradley is the BEST thing for Joe Crawford and his confidence and the two will rise together. And finally, Bobby Perry, the often-maligned new member of the UK Athletic Board of Directors, will provide stability that every good team must have. Perry will not consistently provide the scoring he did in the NCAA Tournament, but he will feel more at home in his regular position (at small forward) and will provide a rock on defense, a solid rebounder, and a threatening shooter….all the while representing the university in the best possible way.
Add to those four, an exciting group of freshman of whom much will be expected and much will be provided. In my view, the first to show himself will be Jodie Meeks, who is headed for a Gerald Fitch-like UK career. Meeks is a scorer and a great defender….much like Keith Bogans, using his physicality to score. He will play a lot this year and will put points up, while learing the Tubby system. Derrick Jasper will also see time, some at the point and some as Bobby Perry’s backup, and will show the poise and stature that will make him the new team rock in the mold of Tayshaun Prince, Chuck Hayes and Bobby Perry. Add to that the potential of Perry Stevenson and Michael Porter and it can be confidently said that we are adding more to the roster than we lost.
But even with this confidence, there comes realism. Kentucky MUST….absolutely MUST find one consistent player out of the threesome of Sheray Thomas, Woo and Jared Carter. None of the freshman are at positions where they will start (Stevenson is not ready)….thus one of these three must provide enough stability to allow a solid starting five. All three have glaring weaknesses and none have showed consistency. Each of the three will get their chances and it is imperative that one or two of them step up. Tubby’s tendency will be to go with Sheray mostly…..Woo when post defense is a priority and Carter when offense needs to be generated. One of these three must step up, and I believe they will.
Finally, Tubby is motivated….I mean truly motivated. He could have taken the season last year as an indication that it was time to move on or he could have decided to prove his critics wrong. He has taken the latter approach. His new-found vigor has shown in his pursuit on the recruiting trail and players have commented that a new enthusiasm exists around the program. The addition of Scott Holsopple will make the team in its best shape since the Rock Oliver days and many of the players look visibly stronger than at this point last year.
What will this all mean? Well those of you who have read this blog for a long time know that I think tournament success is unpredictable. However success over a season is not. Kentucky will be better next year, winning more games, being competitive in ALL games and producing a team similar to that of the Chuck Hayes senior year. I see Kentucky as being behind Florida in the SEC (but pulling off the shocker in Rupp) and in a battle with Tennessee for second place in the conference….a battle they will win. For all those for whom Kentucky basketball was painful last year, perk up. This team will be good…..