picture by Josh Fields
On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, with its football team a mere four hours away from playing an in-state rival and the sight of scores of beautiful women from around the state tailgating their little hearts away, 800 or so UK fans nevertheless packed into a gym to watch pickup basketball. Nothing shows the love this state has for the roundball sport or the reason this is the best program in the country more than that sight in Memorial Coliseum. I was in attendance, along with the Turkey Hunter, Hubby and the Fake Gimel, all watching the action as the UK 2008-2009 team (official motto: “The Team with 500 players”) took to the court for some action for the masses.
While the scene was impressive, the play was actually quite sloppy and somewhat disappointing. Whereas the game a few weeks ago showcased a team with some explosive playmaking ability and some surprising outside shooters, this game was a bit more akin to a regular pickup display, poor shot selection, a lack of passing and lots of cherry picking (I am looking at you random Vincennes JC player). Still yet, there was a lot to be entertained about….the return of Patrick Patterson, a new nickname for Razor Ramon and a guy with a neck beard and a shirt that looked like it came out of my laundry hamper in 1989. Good fun for all. A rundown:
Patrick Patterson: The biggest ovation of the day went to the man with the biggest hair on the team, as Patterson made his first public debut since his injury. What we saw from Patrick is what is going to be a treat to watch this year. He was everywhere on the court, taking the ball to the basket, scoring on nearly every touch and shooting the worst three pointer in history. Still yet, he looked like the future lottery pick that he is and was by far the dominant figure on the court. As with last year, the Cat teammates did not get him the ball enough, but when they did, he showed he still has his explosiveness and knack for getting the ball in the basket. I expect the single best season for UK since Mercer in 1997.
Donald Williams: Kudos to the man who was a complete no-show in the first game, but came to play today. With a look that was described by one viewer as “shades of a 1980s rap artist”, Williams was much more active today and shot the ball very well. I spoke with a staff member who told me that between Donald Williams and Mark Krebs, they hope to have Jodie Meeks’ backup role taken care of. Williams showed that he can compete for that role by hitting a number of long jumpers. He does however have the Kevin McHale “every shot is a fall away” quality, but as long as it goes in, you cant complain too much. Still very much a work in progress on defense (Meeks takes him whenever he wants), but a good day for the Donald.
Josh Harrellson: I liked what I saw today from the man we call Jorts. While many will focus on his three point shooting (which was solid all day), I was much more impressed with his defense. He defended Matthew Pilgrim MUCH BETTER than last time and even had a good run against Patterson. Harrellson’s shooting is something that UK really needs to utilize, but they can only do it if he isnt a complete defensive liability. Saturday showed some improvement in that regard.
Michael Porter: Very few people not named Jared Carter have received more ribbing on this site than our man Porter. But on Saturday, the kid looked quite good. Hit a couple of nice outside jumpers (the key to him finding playing time), made some good passes and didnt get killed by Liggins off the dribble. The backup point guard position will be a battle between Porter and Galloway and with Galloway likely to see a lot of time at the forward positions, I think the staff would like to see Porter step up. Today he showed some of the ability that he will need to do just that.
Jon Hood: Folks, this kid can play and UK is going to love having him here in a year. For the second straight open gym, Hood looked better than many players currently on the team and completely at home with the fan attention and heightened level of play. He shoots the ball well, takes it to the basket and OWNS AJ Stewart in pre-game Horse. All the while, putting on a many show before the game starts in a dunking exhibition. While the Turkey Hunter opined that he “sure looks like he should be playing for Duke”, his heart is all UK and his game is top-notch.
Matthew Pilgrim: I almost put Pilgrim in the top category, but he slips just a bit because he got worked over by Patterson on the defensive end. Still yet, he is a talent on offense, forcing his way to the basket and hitting the outside jumper. His battle with Patterson was great and I assume their duels in practice have to be the stuff of legends. An inadvertent elbow bloodied Patrick’s nose and from then, the game was on. Pilgrim showed that he has work to do on defense, but then again he wont face too many big men as good as Patrick. Another solid performance from a guy that sure would help this season.
Razor Palin: From his first outside jumper, the Turkey Hunter began calling Razor Ramon, Razor Palin, due to his connection to the VPILF from the 50th state. His performance was somewhat mixed today as he continued playing great defense, but looked a little shaky with the ball. Still, Razor is the leader of this team and it shows…..unlike last time, his team did lose a couple of games, but he still was impressive, including a highlight reel dunk to finish the final game. Mark him as one of three guaranteed starters for next year.
Jodie Meeks: You hate to criticize Jodie, because he is the best shooter on the team and the guy who you know will bring it from day one. But he didnt play quite as well as last time and missed some more shots than usual. Still yet, he is on a different plane than the other perimeter players and has All-SEC written all over him. He did however miss a wide-open two-hand dunk that I think Dwight Perry is still making fun of him about at this very moment.
The New Guys: DeAndre, Darius and Kevin were almost nonexistent for much of the pickup session and continue to be somewhat less assertive than I would have thought at this stage. I still love everything I see with Liggins and think he will be a star before he is done. Galloway is such an impressive athlete and in my view, is the 6th man from day one, who can backup nearly four positions. Darius is still a mystery…..both from watching and talking with folks, it is clear that he is a step behind where they want him to be. We shall see if that develops as the year goes on.
Random Guys and Neck Beard: There were a lot of random recruits at the game that played fairly well, including a point guard from Vincennes JC that looked quite good. But as one guy told me, “there are 7 or 8 of these guys here every weekend, so dont get excited.” But I did like the guy who played with a neck beard and an old UK shirt from the Richard Madison era. He hit one three pointer, picked Meeks’ pocket and overall looked like he would fight anyone that dared to say that Johnson County Central wasnt gonna “kick some tail” this weekend. Dont know who he is, but he needs to be better known.
Perry Stevenson: When he didnt have a great day last week, I shrugged it off, but watching Perry on Saturday, it becomes clear that the guy has some work to do this fall. I still think he is a likely starter, but his offensive game is still limited and he continues to be one step slow on defense. Still yet, he can block shots with the best of them, but when you compare him to Patterson and Pilgrim, he is lacking. Hopefully things get better as we get closer to Midnight Madness.
Jared Carter: Poor Jared. Last week he was 0-9 during the course of the open gym. This week, I had faith in the O’Charley’s man and bet the Turkey Hunter a drink at Harry’s versus a bowl of loaded potato soup from O Charley’s that he would score. I lost. He went 0-7, to cap an 0-16 two-day performance that has been difficult to watch. Jared seems to find ways to miss, including a wide-open layup off of a Donald Williams’ gorgeous pass that let out the loudest groan of the day from the crowd. Poor Jared.
Mark Krebs: Not a great day for my man Mark. Missed a number of three pointers, and at times he didnt look completely comfortable. Still a step slow on defense, but for those who dont believe he will play this year, I offer you this. The way the games work, the rotation players play a lot and the walk-ons only play once during the whole affair. Krebs is in the rotation, and played more than Williams, Carter and Porter. IF he can shoot better, which we know he can, as he did last week, he is fighting for the role backing up Meeks.
AJ Stewart: AJ is maybe my favorite guy on the team from a personality standpoint. He is funny, engaging and always has a smile on his face. But I just havent seen him get better yet. He guarded Patrick and Harrellson through much of the game and both had big performances. AJ is still shooting poorly, although he does run the floor well. This is a big year for AJ….I hope he steps it up.
So there you go. A good event yet again and a great idea by the UK folks. The crowd was great and it has to be quite an experience for a high school or JC recruit to see this type of event for a pickup game. We will now wait to see the guys at Midnight Madness (and our trademark Midnight Madness blog) in two weeks.
Tomorrow at noon, we announce the finalists in the Who Wants to be a Blogger contest. Stay tuned…..