During the first half of the UT-South Carolina game, I got to sit down with Kenny Walker and chat about the UK team and a lot of the criticism he has taken for his Gillispie comments:
Question: Since Patrick Patterson got hurt, what do you think has been the key to the Cats playing so well?
Walker: My first thought was Crawford and Bradley will have to do more and they have to a certain extent. But I think the biggest key has been the play of the real #34 Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson and to a certain extent, Jasper. Collectively between those three guys, they have somewhat made up for Patterson. I have to give Gillispie credit for getting a little more out of those three guys.
Question: Ramon wears the old #34 like one Kenny Walker. What do you think of his improvement?
Walker: I left a little magic in there. HE has improved a ton and is doing within his game and his limits. HE isnt trying to score 25 a night, he is just trying to get 10 or 12 and that is what you want from him. HE is stepping it up on both ends of the floor and the fact that he is getting a few more scoring opportunities and has gotten a lot of confidence. A lot of people who joked a bit about him early in the year are being shown how much he has really improved.
Question: You took a lot of criticism for your criticism of Gillispie. What was your rationale for some of the comments you made at the time?
Walker: You are who you are. I think a lot of fans probably thought I was being too harsh or not optimistic enough with the basketball club. I dont think that was the case. I was just talking about what was going on at the time. In November and December they were a bad team…no chemistry and nobody believed in the team. I got criticized for saying that. But thats ok becasue I am man enough to say that in the last few weeks they have turned things around and have given them a ton of praise. And people dont talk about me saying that stuff. People before I thought I was against UK. But people forget I am the second all time scorer and I love the team and the program. I believe Gillispie has turned it around completely and I dont think people recognize that I have changed my opinion as the team has played better.
Question: How do you think the Cats are going to do in this tournament and then the NCAA Tournament?
Walker: I got mixed emotions about this tournament….either I want them to win it all and then rise as high as a #7 seed, but if that scenario doesnt happen, you almost pull for htem to win one game and then not win so they can stay #11 or #12 seed….if they win two games, then they may be an #8 or #9 and you get a #1 seed in the second round. The toughest game for them will be the second one against a team like Mississippi State….win that game and then i think they can win the Championship game on a neutral court. The fans will be huge….they dont call it CAtlanta for nothing.
Question: Looking towards next year, what do you the keys for next years team to replace the Seniors and be successful?
Walker: The positives are that the returning guys all have a year in Gillispie’s system and there is no transition period….so no more slow start. Then you got to look at the health of mainly Meeks….I think Jasper has shown that he should be 100%. I think Meeks is the big question mark for replacing Joe and Ramel scoring. Perry Stevenson is really coming around to play with Patrick Patterson. You need somebody however who can pick up that scoring slot. Jodie can provide a lot of scoring for them next year. I dont mean to put a lot of pressure on him but a lot depends on Meeks’ injury. If you have him, there isnt a lot of work to do. If you dont have Meeks you have a lot of work to do because you have to find a lot of offense.