**After sorting through hundreds of thousands of contestants interested in being a blogger at Kentucky Sports Radio (now approved by the Sporting News!), we’ve picked some finalists that we think would be a nice addition to our team. Now, it’s up to you, sweet readers, to determine who deserves to carry Matt Jones’ tray in the cafeteria and occasionally pick up his dry-cleaning. Each day this week, we’ll give you two entries and the opinions of our judges. Let us know what you think of each contestant in the comments.
Name: Paul Mattingly (Senior at UK)
Favorite KSR moments: Tomlin’s posts, especially Need-to-Know Wednesday videos, Woo’s appearances on radio (especially talking about U of L), I’m not sure if this started at KSR or somewhere else, but the “Welcome to Camp” video has been on KSR at one time and it’s an all-time classic.
Also: My friend getting a massive nosebleed at the open scrimmage Saturday and drawing a “Dude, are you OK?” from Matt Jones.
Favorite UK player of all time: Derek Anderson
Close second: Rashad Carruth (joke)
Some things unique about me:
I’m a ginger and left-handed
2008-2009 UK Basketball Preview: Return of the King?
The excitement is building on UK’s campus. The evidence can be found in the massive number of tents that were set up for the Big Blue Madness ticket distribution, the rapid nature of the distribution itself, and the hundreds of fans who showed up for a pickup game on a Saturday afternoon, probably caring more about the game than the players themselves. No team in college basketball can match the fan support or the tradition of UK.
As the days wind down until Big Blue Madness and the reports start coming from boot camp, the talk will start to shift. Sure, a UK win in Tuscaloosa could stem the tide (no pun intended) a little bit, but talk will still gravitate toward basketball. That is because basketball is king in Kentucky, and Kentucky is college basketball’s King.
With that said, three straight double-digit loss seasons and first weekend NCAA tournament exits, combined with no Final Fours since 1998, have diminished the King’s aura. The Cats don’t quite sweep the streets they used to own, but it’s time for college basketball’s King to return to the throne. Is this the year?
One reason for optimism is that Billy Gillispie’s teams have a tendency to improve rapidly early in his tenure. In his first stop, at UTEP, he took a team that went 6-24 in his first year to a 24-8 record and an NCAA tournament appearance. At Texas A&M, he inherited a team that went 7-21 the year before he arrived, and promptly led them to a 21-10 record the next year. That team also went 8-8 in the Big 12, after going 0-16 the prior year. At UK, his first team started 6-7 in non-conference play, punctuated by a blowout home loss to Gardner Webb. The second half of the season saw a completely different UK team, even after losing Patrick Patterson to an injury late in the season. And unlike last year, most of this team knows what to expect from Gillispie.
Unfortunately, Kevin Galloway, Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller and Donald Williams do not. Hopefully those who have been through Gillispie’s boot camp before will help the newcomers, because a big part of last year’s turnaround was the way the team gelled. Last year’s UK team was probably the closest I have seen in my time as a fan. Gillispie’s teams have a history of gelling well, and this year’s team needs to as well. That brings us to leadership.
The leadership roles filled by Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford were instrumental in last year’s turnaround, and someone will have to step up and lead this year’s team. No one on the corner had swagger like a Smooth-led UK team. Jared Carter is the only scholarship senior on UK’s roster, and he seems too quiet and laid back to be the emotional leader that UK needs. Though just a sophomore, Patterson (whose UK nickname is Beans) demonstrated maturity and some leadership qualities last season. He might be the prime candidate to step up. Ramon Harris and Michael Porter both seem to be highly respected by their teammates, and could lead by example. Though he plays little, Dwight Perry could shoulder some of the leadership load as well. Leadership will probably have to come from many different sources this year.
Bradley and Crawford were also two of the team’s top three scorers last year, combining for nearly 34 points per game. They leave behind gaping holes in the scoring and outside shooting departments. A healthy Jodie Meeks should help fill those voids, but UK will still need to find a reliable third option to take pressure off of him and Patterson. Harrellson shoots well for a big man, and could help fill the outside shooting void. Williams also could help, though he is largely an unknown at this point. Miller also can shoot from the outside. Perry Stevenson (or “P” as is his UK athletics nickname, creative) supposedly worked hard on his outside shot over the summer, but most fans are probably hopeful that he will not have to be relied on as an outside scoring option.
Though this team may lack proven scorers, it does feature a significant upgrade in athleticism. Gillispie’s system is designed for long, athletic players who can play solid defense, rebound, and generally cause matchup problems on both ends of the floor. Liggins, Galloway, Harris, Miller, Stevenson, Patterson, and Stewart all fit the long and athletic description. Williams and Meeks are both athletic. Carter is just long.
UK Athletics Nickname: KG
Skinny: Opinions are all across the board on Galloway. What seems to be known is that he is a very long and athletic player who likes to pass first and is not particularly comfortable shooting from the outside.
Expectations: He figures to spend time at both point guard and small forward this season, and could fill a sixth man role for the Cats.
Nicknames: Big White, Big Nasty, Too Tall, Fatboi
Skinny: Big White may be the worst nickname ever. He might as well be called Mop. Harrellson is probably the Cats best shooting big man, and has lost significant weight over the summer. He is not going to overwhelm with his athleticism, but is a good inside/outside scoring threat who likes to mix it up in the paint.
Expectations: He should battle Stevenson for the starting frontcourt spot opposite Patterson. That may be the starting battle to watch over the coming weeks/months.
Nickname: Big Ticket
Skinny: Liggins is another long, athletic, pass first player, though he may be a slightly better scorer than Galloway. Liggins was considered by some to be the best high school player in Chicago prior to attending prep school in Nevada last year, and could be the most highly touted of the newcomers.
Expectations: If Liggins can be a quick study and learn what Gillispie wants out of his point guards, he could have the inside track to be the starting point guard. Like Galloway, he will probably see time at both point guard and small forward this season.
No crazy nickname
Skinny: Miller has the tools to be a great college player. He can score from the inside or the outside, and has drawn comparisons to Jamal Mashburn. However, word is that he has not stood out in the preseason pickup games, and has the tendency to be passive and fade into the background. Once he gets some experience and learns to take charge a little more, Miller will probably be a very good college player. Whether or not that happens this year remains to be seen.
Expectations: Miller will probably play primarily at small forward, though he is probably the best suited of the small forwards to move to power forward if the team is in a bind.
Generic nickname: D-Will (better not go by this, I’ve heard T-Will too much)
Skinny: Williams is largely an unknown at this point. Reports have said that he is athletic but not a great shooter. Other reports have said that he is a shooter, but not a great athlete. In Saturday’s open scrimmage, he hit several outside jumpers, most of them while fading away. However, his shot doesn’t exactly bring back memories of Scott Padgett.
Expectations: Williams is expected to try to fill the backup shooting guard spot behind Meeks. He could also turn out to be one of UK’s best outside shooters.
Bradley and Crawford (graduated): Both will be sorely missed, and hopefully both will make a good living playing for pay.
Derrick Jasper (transfer): Would probably have started at point guard this year.
Mike Williams (transfer): Opened up a scholarship.
Mark Coury (transfer): Will miss his integrity, hard work, and general goofiness. Probably won’t miss him too much on the court.
Alex Legion (mom): One of the more bizarre stories to come out of UK in some time. May God be with Bruce Weber. On a side note, Jerry Tipton is never relevant. Never. But he actually backed into relevancy with his article about Legion’s mom and her crazy beliefs. When that article was written, everyone wanted to know why it was relevant. But after the transfer saga, Tipton’s article suddenly was prophetic (pun intended).
Dusty Mills (couldn’t keep a straight face): Good luck Dusty. The article about Mills’s departure showed the bad side of Tipton.
Kerry Benson (quit): Quitter.
Keys to the Season:
Contributions of Newcomers/Inexperience: UK may struggle early, though hopefully not as much last year. The departures of Bradley and Crawford mean that UK’s rotation will be more inexperienced than last year, though with more experience under Gillispie. For UK to succeed this year, the newcomers will have to step up. Michael Porter can play some minutes at point guard, but ultimately Liggins or Galloway needs to fill that role for UK to compete at the highest level. Harrellson must give UK quality minutes in the frontcourt. Miller must assert himself and give UK another scorer. All of the newcomers must buy into Gillispie’s system and learn to play suffocating man-to-man defense.
Patterson and Meeks: This has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best, one-two punches in the SEC. But Meeks has never been counted on as a second scoring option. He was hurt most of last year, and was a complementary scorer as a freshman. Though it didn’t seem possible, Patterson surpassed the enormous expectations set for him as a freshman. This year he must be UK’s best player, and probably first-team All-SEC for UK to be an elite team.
Other scorers: Last year proved that scoring is much easier with a balanced offense. The team’s offense struggled with Patterson healthy, and was desperate when Patterson went out. Bradley and Crawford constantly were swarmed. UK needs a legit third scorer on this team, and probably a fourth option to be successful. Stevenson had several good games late in the year and Harrellson has the potential to put up some points. Harris, Miller, or Liggins will likely need to step up to provide balance.
It’s way too early to make predictions for the upcoming season, but I’ll try anyway. I think that UK will struggle early, though not as badly as last year, while gaining experience, gelling, and learning Gillispie’s system. But this is a very talented, athletic team, and one that I think will be very good on the defensive end. I think that late in the year, once the new guys are no longer playing like new guys and Meeks has established himself as a big-time scorer, this team will be tough to beat.. I think UK will enter the top 25 in the latter part of January and stay there until the end of the year. No one will want to play UK in the NCAA tournament.
Record: 23-8 in the regular season, 10-6 in SEC play
SEC Tournament Champions, with a win over UT in the final
NCAA Tournament: 4 seed, will advance to Sweet 16
Patterson wins SEC player of the year and is Second Team All-American
Meeks is Second Team All-SEC
Liggins is on the All-SEC Freshman team
If these predictions come true, then UK won’t reclaim the college basketball throne, but the nation will be put on alert. I also will predict that UK will get Daniel Orton in November, and the nation will know that UK must once again be considered as one of the truly elite schools in college basketball.
P.S. Since I can’t fit this in the 2008-2009 preview (unless Matt Pilgrim is suddenly granted a waiver or something), Pilgrim’s nickname is Mayy P. Brilliant.
Beisner: Whoa. Formatting that was a chore, so I can only imagine how much effort went into writing it. Like Tomlin and Evan (who actually did their review before me, even though I’m posting over them) I agree that this was loooong. But, it was really well written and a very good preview of the basketball team. I read every single word and I think you did a great job giving info and entertainment. But, if I was at work and just ALT+TAB’ing away, I’m not sure if I would have read the whole thing. Also, I was ready to call you a worthless, plagiaraizing S.O.B. for copying this off of me, until I realized that you submitted this a night before I posted my piece. That just means you’re a very smart man. If you’re lucky, you’re also this handsome. Overall, good stuff – especially since it was a survive-and-advance format. In an ideal world, you could have broken all of this good stuff up into a couple of posts. Plus, I must give props to anyone who spends hour upon hour at the Grehan Building.
Tomlin: Wow. Now that’s comprehensive. Kudos for that. You left no stone unturned, rounded ’em all, and appear to be the only person left on earth who remembers Kerry Benson. Nice job. The only problem I saw is that it was a little long. This could’ve been three distinct pieces, probably. But I can’t fault you for that, since this is your chance to shine, and you threw everything you could at the wall. It’s weird reading about the upcoming game in Tuscaloosa. That’s like watching the Sixth Sense again when you know how it ends. But I’ll say this: you certainly brought the Straight Talk Express to team previews. You didn’t try to silly it up (and when you did have jokes, they were fairly solid), and you definitely did your homework. Way to bring it, brother. You definitely showed you have some chops when it comes to analysis, and backed almost everything you said up. It’s nice to see speculation with background. You seem like the type of guy who, over a few beers, doesn’t stop talking about the team, ever — and while I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but for these purposes we’ll call it “good.” Now that we’ve seen you all-encompass the team, I’d like to see you break it down on a specific player if you make it to the next round. You seem like the type who could tell me the name of Donald Williams’ dog. And that’s the type of information the masses are craving here. I’d push you through to the next round just on general know-your-sh*ttedness alone. But that’s just one man’s opinion. One man who just spent 55 minutes reading a blog post. I think I’m atrophying. Nice work.
Evan: I’m not reading that entire post, and you’re just going to have to deal with that. I read Tomlin’s critique instead, so I think I’ve gotten the gist of it all. You sir, are a spewing fountain of UK basketball knowledge. However, it appears that your post is overflowing with information, and given the current format of the blog, makes it almost impossible to read. Filter it out a bit, and you’ve got yourself a winner!…of a blog post, not of this contest. Good work, and good luck if you move on.
Mosley: I actually didn’t mind the length (TWSS), but I suspect others might, so you should recognize that if a reader frequents this site, they likely have the attention span of Sharpay from High School Musical. Also, I am fully aware that I sound hypocritical because Know Your Enemy is regularly longer than a Joyce novel. Now, having said all that, I thought it was a well-though-out, thorough review of what to expect for this year’s team. The analysis was realistic and you stayed within your talents by not trying to out-funny the other contestants. The opening paragraph was well-meaning, but sounded a little herky-jerky and forced to me, like you were trying too hard to grab your readers’ attention. All in all, a very nice preview that provided a fan’s perspective of what we hope this year will become and didn’t stretch to make the piece controversial.
Matt Jones: I actually thought this was very good….a bit long, but my posts have been known to go long as well. The info was there, the comedy was pretty good and your take was a bit unique….all things that make a good blogger. For my vote, you move on to the next round.