With all of the hype and hoopla surrounding the football game yesterday, it was easy to forget that we also had a basketball open gym in Memorial Coliseum, where the 2008-2009 UK basketball team showcased itself to some members of the UK public. The crowd for the game was around 300…..a bit low in my view, but that likely had more to do with the football game tailgating than anything else. Three things stood out to me at the beginning:
— There are an amazing number of people on the team. I counted 24 guys on the bench and around the game. Some arent on the team and a couple were recruits, but there were a seriously large number of people there.
— The strength and conditioning program must be good as a lot of guys look bigger. Michael Porter, Ramon Harris and Jodie Meeks all look noticeably stronger. Still nothing on Perry Stevenson, but hey you cant be perfect.
— This will be a completely different UK team. Lots of athleticism and quickness, not a lot of outside shooting (outside of Jodie Meeks). Very different style than what we are used to.
The games were essentially quick games to 5, with the winners standing on court and other teams coming up. Most everyone got to play, although most of the secondary guys only played in one game. With all that said, the best way to break it down is to go player by player:
PATRICK PATTERSON: I will start with the guy who didnt play, but did come out on the court. Patterson watched about half of the proceedings, complete with his growing ‘fro. The loudest ovation of the night came when he walked out onto the floor….leading Jodie Meeks and Perry Stevenson to do a “we are not worthy” Wayne’s World bow to him. He is still the biggest star, no matter what.
MATTHEW PILGRIM: Without a doubt, the story of the day, bar none. Pilgrim is an impressive physical specimen, with Micah Johnson-esque arms and good lateral quickness. Knowing very little about him, I focused on him for most of his time on the court and his talent is immense. He is able to score with both hands around the basket and has a nice outside shot. He had a dunk towards the end of the session that brought the house down and his ability to rebound may be second only to Patterson on the team. I was a bit disappointed with the fact that he plays a bit weaker than he looks….he allowed guys like AJ Stewart to take the ball from him under the basket. But that is being a bit picky…..overall he was the second most impressive player on the court and he would start immediately on next year’s team. He does have a bit of an attitude, and it showed during the contest. But he is quite talented, that is for sure.
JODIE MEEKS: The best player on the court. Jodie is ready to take the step up in my view to be an all-SEC player. Still has a smooth jumper and is money on nearly every three point shot. When the ball leaves his hands, there is no reason to watch it….you know its going in. His athleticism looks back (which he didnt have last year) and he had a couple of nice dunks to show his explosiveness. If he is not the leading scorer on the team this year, I will be surprised.
RAMON HARRIS: In my view, Razor is the second biggest story of the game. His improvement is obvious, especially on his ball handling. He takes it to the basket against almost anyone and he locks down every player on defense. Most interesting part of the experience to me…..the winner stood in the games and Razor almost never left the court. His team won nearly every game. He is the clear vocal leader of the group and seems to be taking charge of the players. I think you will see great things from him this year.
PERRY STEVENSON: Didnt show a whole lot….got a couple of nice put-back dunks, but still doesnt attack the glass like a player of his height should. Is able to still block a lot of shots, but I always wish for more aggressiveness.
AJ STEWART: Looked similar to last year, but more comfortable on the court. He is very athletic and gets to a lot of loose balls. His jump shot looks better and he can rebound with the best of them. Still seems lost on defense but can get by a bit with his athleticism and length. This is a big year for AJ….talent and athleticism are not the issue, but the mental side of the game has got to improve.
MICHAEL PORTER: Not much different on the court (although he did hit some nice layups in traffic) but the kid has gotten JACKED UP. His biceps are Patrick Patterson-esque at this point. Certainly has to be a weight room warrior.
JARED CARTER: Poor guy. No points during the entire series…..missed about five layups, blocked a number of times and two air balls. What can you say?
DEANDRE LIGGINS/KEVIN GALLOWAY: I put these two together because at this point, they are almost a matched pair. They guarded each other in every game and you can tell there is a rivalry between the two of them. Liggins impressed me with his passing and a (surprising) jump shot that looked solid. Galloway is the more athletic of the two and is much taller in person (Liggins is shorter than listed). I see these two guys as a two-headed monster with Liggins more of a traditional point and Galloway as a more “take it to the basket”, long, athletic guy. They battle hard against each other and neither wants to give the other player anything. Watching these two is a treat and I bet their practice battles are interesting. Both played a bit better than I may have expected so I found that encouraging.
DARIUS MILLER: Really blended into the woodwork throughout the games. He doesnt seem to look for his shot and was very passive….as much as anyone in the game. Hard to get any real read from him as if you werent paying attention, you would not have known if he was playing. Still, I am a big fan of the kid, although I think those who believe he will start this year are mistaken.
JOSH HARRELLSON: The first thing you notice about Josh is how much weight he has lost….he is in great shape. I do worry about his ability around the basket. He usually was outrebounded and Matt Pilgrim simply physically dominated him down low. However he is a good interior passer and hit a couple of nice shots. I think he begins the season as a backup but will see time.
DONALD WILLIAMS: I was a little disappointed in Donald’s performance. His shooting was poor and not just in the missing shots realm, but in just how bad off he was on most jumpers. He got beat on nearly every possession by Jodie Meeks and Mark Krebs who really took him to task all day. He is new to the team and seemed very quiet, but it is clear that he has a lot of work to do.
MARK KREBS: Watch out for this kid….I really think he will see time this year. He shot the ball well all day, played better on defense than I would have thought and looked comfortable throughout. While most of the walk-ons only played spot games, Krebs was part of the regular rotation. I like his game and I think he plays for his outside shooting this year from time to time.
JON HOOD: If you were just watching the game and didnt know the guys, you would assume that Hood was already on the team. He has an obvious camraderie with the team and fits right in during the games. Hood can take the ball to the basket and is a great shooter. He scored often during the games, including a solid dunk at one point. Jon Hood is a player and UK fans will be glad to have him.
EVERYONE ELSE: LOTS of other guys there, including Adam Delph, Dwight Perry, Landon Slone, Matt Schnerbenske, Buddy “Turtle” Halcell, a kid who looked like Antoine Walker’s brother, a player for Pikeville (who was impressive) and some random guys that I had not seen before (the new Dusty Mills?). None really made an impression, although Dwight looks good, especially on the defensive end.
All in all after watching the proceedings, I came away very positive. I have seen situations like this at some point in the fall for the last five years or so and this team has more talent on it than I may have earlier thought. They are long and very athletic and have the potential to be a nightmare on defense. I still worry about the offense, but am now confident that between Liggins and Galloway, they can get some offensive production at the PG spot. Harris looks better and I do think his ability to become an offensive threat could be a key to the season. Based on what I saw and conversations with those around the program, the starting lineup as of today would look like this:
Coming off the bench (in order of PT)
Now by the time the season starts, you may see Williams and Harrellson go higher up the chart and potentially see a change between Liggins and Galloway. But at this early date, this looks to be a decent view of where everything stands. Either way, after watching the games I am more optimistic than before. Scoring will be an issue, but the team is deeper….and if one or two guys can step up, good things can happen.