It has been an exciting two days around the Big Blue Nation (thankfully since our Card friends are marching towards a title), as we have essentially figured out the roster for next season. The three players looking at the NBA Draft made their decisions, while the rest of college basketball shivered in the background at the thought of what is to come. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the 2013-2014 roster and how it has shaped up:
1.Kyle Wiltjer: The internet was abuzz for a few weeks about a potential transfer by Kyle to Gonzaga, likely because of its proximity to his home. However as we often stated, Kyle seems to like it here, could be needed on the team next year (due to his valuable three point shooting) and has a lot of personal/family reasons for being in Lexington (never underestimate the girlfriend factor). It is important that Kyle realizes what is coming in however, and that he spend the summer working to improve. He can be valuable, but only if he wants it.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein: The most important decision for next year’s team was from WCS, who immediately made UK the best frontcourt group in the nation when he said he would return to Lexington. His length, athleticism and quickness will be invaluable next year and I expect a huge jump for him offensively. He has the makings of a Top 7 pick in next year’s draft and I think people will be amazed with the steps he takes.
3. Alex Poythress: No player helped himself more by making a decision to return than Alex. There was a time earlier this year when he was talked about as a potential #1 overall pick. But his play during the SEC dropped him out of the lottery and the prospects for his career were worrisome. He simply has to work harder/become more aggressive and really want to take the extra step to become the player he can be. The competition of next season can do that and I think Alex will be the biggest winner of all concerning what team hits the floor next year.
4. Jon Hood: Today Hood announced he would return for his Senior year and expects to be on scholarship. Hood improved exponentially over the course of the year and deserves another run at a national title. I am not sure what the future holds for him in terms of playing time, but he will finish his UK career having played with more NBA players than anyone in the history of college basketball.
5. Andrew Harrison: The point guard John Calipari wanted this entire season. You will be impressed with his “tough as nails” attitude, his ability to get to the basket and his leadership. The only knock on him has been whether he will share the ball enough, but with this roster and John Calipari, I don’t expect it to be a problem. Point guard under Calipari has never been an issue until this year. I don’t expect it to be a problem again any time soon.
6. Aaron Harrison: Drew Franklin gave us the best way to tell the Twins apart (“Two A’s in the name, plays the 2 guard”) and Aaron is finding a way to make a name for himself this Spring. He is a great shooter, who loves playing with his brother and off the ball. He is a bit of an unknown in terms of production, but as you will see this evening, he is quick and has a great release. He will be a big time scorer and the beneficiary of a surplus of athletes all around.
7. Julius Randle: The best High School/AAU game I have ever seen was last summer at the Peach Jam when Randle/Wiggins faced off. In that game, we saw what Julius Randle is. He plays like Terrence Jones, but is quicker and more athletic. He can get to the rim, finish and a very good defender. Depending on the final makeup of the lineup, he will contend for First Team All America, even in this crowded lineup.
8. James Young: Lots of people sleep on Young because of the rest of the talent on the roster, but we must remember that he is ranked as one of the ten best players in America. He can score at will and could put up 25 plus in any game next season. The only question I had with him this summer was his jump shot, but I am told it improved immensely during this season. He can lift and finish at the rim as well as anyone in America.
9. Marcus Lee: If I were to pick the sleeper choice for UK fan favorite next season, it would be young Mr. Lee. Not only does he sport a great “fro hawk”, but he also is a workhorse under the basket. He gets to every ball, rebounds as well as anyone in America and is also an effective scorer. Talked about infrequently, UK fans will love this guy next season as he does the work that this team needed so often during last season.
10. Dakari Johnson: I thought Johnson was a player who might not see a ton of time next year. That was until we saw what he has done this week. He has been the revelation of the McDonald’s AA practices and Julius Randle himself said the big man has been a great surprise. He will come off the bench, go against Willie Cauley-Stein in practice and be a huge contributor…and oh yeah, he is still a Top 15 guy this year.
11. Derek Willis: The often forgotten member of the class is a building block for the future that I do think people have slept on too often. He has athleticism, can pass well and is a good defender. He won’t see a lot of time next year, but after working with Calipari and the great talent over the next few years, I do expect him to compete for playing time soon after. A good, solid four-year pickup.
12. Dominique Hawkins (expected): It isn’t finalized yet, but I can’t imagine Dominique not getting an offer. He is a football player in mentality in a great basketball body. He is tough, hard-nosed and can do whatever you want as a point guard, all the while being a great floor general and leader. Think a little quicker Anthony Epps, and you have a player who will ensure that UK never again has problems at the PG position.
STILL TO COME (one may be #13):
Jarrod Polson: No official word has yet been said about Polson, who could graduate and either (a) play right away elsewhere, (b) stop playing basketball or (c) return and be a valuable reserve next year. I am not sure if no news means a return, but I would hope so as he is a great kid that can provide valuable experience next season. Until someone says otherwise, I would assume he is #13, unless Wiggins comes at which point he goes back to walk on status.
Andrew Wiggins: To me, the best since Lebron in high school. If he comes to Kentucky, it will be the greatest collection of talent that we will ever see at the University…period. That doesn’t mean they will be the best team, but there will never be more talent in one place at one time. I have no idea what he will do…but if he comes here…look out.
Nerlens Noel: Hasn’t made his draft plans official yet as he continues to rehab. One assumes he will go as he may be the first pick. He is a great kid with a great future…if he were to somehow miraculously come back…well I can’t think about that right now.
Archie Goodwin: I personally thought Archie should have returned as I think he could benefit from another year and he is only 18 years old. But I can’t criticize a kid who is pursuing his dreams and trying to better his life. Goodwin works very hard and that is why I think he will make it. The reality is that he has 2-3 years to impress and being a first round pick would be huge for him. Archie’s best quality is his desire and I hope he carries that to NBA success. He is the one player UK could afford to lose however because of their depth this season.
Ryan Harrow: Ryan’s leaving was the best thing for both parties. His time at UK was not the best and he isn’t a good fit for Kentucky. Ryan is a good kid and one that I personally like a great deal. But the reality is that he was a distraction this year and his transfer to Georgia State was the best thing that could have happened for both him, and the team.
Kentucky is going to be really good next year…I hope you are as ready as I am.