Let’s have a little fun on this Taco Tuesday evening and get your opinion on how you’re feeling about the upcoming basketball season. We’d like to know which of the Wildcats you’re excited to see when basketball picks up in the fall, based not on how good you think they will be, but on your interest in seeing their abilities. We’ll save the “Who do you think will be best player on the team?” topic for another time. Tonight we want you to rank everyone by how interested you are in seeing what they can and will (or won’t) contribute. (I hope that makes sense.)
I’ll go first with mine and then you can submit yours at the bottom. I left Hamidou Diallo and Mohamed Bamba off for now, but they’d be my 1a and 1b if they were currently on the roster.
12. Dillon Pulliam/Jonny David
With all due respect to Dillon and Jonny, who I am sure are fine young men both on and off the court, I don’t have a lot of interest in seeing what kind of jump they each make from their sophomore to junior seasons. I hope to see them get a ton of playing time in 2017-18, because that means Kentucky is winning, but they’re the last two people I’m concerned about on the team. Sorry, guys. I still like you.
11. Brad Calipari
I don’t know if there is anyone in the world who puts in more late-night work than Brad Calipari. And if there is, they sure don’t post it as often as he does on Instagram. For those of you who follow Brad on his various social media apps, you know he hasn’t taken a day off since joining the team. Whenever he’s not posing in the latest pair of shoes or with some backpack I can’t afford with two paychecks, he is getting shots up and relentlessly working on his game. He takes the “earned not given” mantra to heart and he is trying to earn all of the opportunities he can get. Go Brad.
10. Tai Wynyard
The Lumberjack could find himself anywhere in the rotation inside. If Kentucky gets Mohamed Bamba, Tai Wynyard is probably going to be doing a lot of watching from the sidelines. But if the big man options are only Sacha Killeya-Jones, Nick Richards and Wynyard, he’ll be in the hunt for playing time with those two, likely as the backup option at best. But he’ll be in the hunt nonetheless, especially if Calipari needs someone to get in there and bully it up with some physicality, which he can do. Unfortunately I think his playing time is ultimately up to if Killeya-Jones and Richards live up to expectations, and whether or not Bamba is on the team.
9. Jemarl Baker
Jemarl Baker was a need when he committed to Kentucky in early April. The UK backcourt saw five departures (maybe six with Hamidou Diallo) since the season ended and there simply weren’t enough bodies moving forward. Above that, Calipari desperately needed a shooter on the team, which, though still important, isn’t quite as important now that Kevin Knox is on the team. Baker may prove to be a great scorer from outside, but I question how much they will really need him in a serious role, especially if Diallo returns to take the shooting guard job or Cam Johnson commits.
8. Quade Green
Here’s the first of many times you will question my rankings. I have Quade Green at No. 8 because I’m pretty sure I already know what he is going to bring, having traveled all the way to see him in Philadelphia and followed him in all of the high school all-star games. Green is going to be a poor man’s Tyler Ulis — an undersized, pass-first guard who is the loudest guy on the floor. He will command the offense with his vocal leadership and get the four guys around him the best looks. Defensively he will be a mismatch, but that same mismatch earned Tyler Ulis the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in his sophomore season. I’m not saying Green will be anywhere near that, but I do see lots of similarities in the two and expect Green to be a lot like Ulis was in his first season, although he doesn’t have an Andrew Harrison in front of him to lead the way.
7. Nick Richards
Coming in at No. 7 on my list, I have Nick Richards, the long and athletic center out of New Jersey. It’s presumed Richards will be the starting center if the season started today, and while I agree, I do have several concerns regarding Richards’ game. The time I flew to New Jersey to watch him go up against Moses Brown, the top center in the 2018 class, Richards was in constant foul trouble and eventually fouled out. I saw flashes of his athleticism in what little time he played, but I also saw a lot of work to be done offensively. Defensively, he’ll probably be pretty good right away, if the foul trouble isn’t an ongoing problem. Everything else, we’ll see. His combo of size and athleticism is pretty rare, though. Tons of potential and definitely a player you want on your side.
6. P.J. Washington
Like many of his future teammates, P.J. Washington looked good in the spring all-star games, highlighted by his MVP honors in the inaugural classic. I’m looking forward to seeing how that adapts at the next level when he’s going against bigger and stronger competition inside.
5. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Is he ready to go? Is he a long-term project? Can he challenge Quade Green for the point guard spot? I don’t know what Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is, to be honest with you. When he first signed, I assumed he would be more of a long-termer, but he had quite the spring in which he earned the Derby Classic MVP, defended the USA guys well in the Nike Hoop Summit, and got bumped up to a five-star prospect. Once an afterthought in talking about Cal’s next great class, now there’s potential he’s an immediate star. Can’t wait to see what he does.
4. Wenyen Gabriel
Wenyen Gabriel disappeared toward the end of last season and I’m of the belief it was mostly mental due to some, um, off-the-court things going around. From what I’ve seen, he has been living in the gym since the season ended and I expect him to be twice as good as he was during his best games last year. So consider me on Team Wenyen in 2017-18 and put me down for a prediction for a big season from the sophomore forward. After all, he is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder and assister and shot blocker and stealer and three-point shooter and everything else.
3. Sacha Killeya-Jones
Curveball! I’m sure many of you, if not all of you, will have Sacha Killeya-Jones much further back than No. 3 in your Power Rankings. But let me explain myself here for the surprise pick: I’m interested to see the jump Killeya-Jones makes from his freshman to his sophomore season. I’m interested to see if he puts in the work this spring and summer to become a good player. The physical tools are there, but he’s gotta work to make that next step. I don’t know what happened to him last year. Nobody does. The Killeya-Jones I saw in the early fall practice looked like a guy who was going to contribute a lot. Obviously that didn’t happen and now I’m ready to see what Year 2 Sacha Killeya-Jones looks like. Can he progress like Willie Cauley-Stein? They’re of the same mold. If he can really makes waves this summer, he could be playing over Nick Richards. Or he could also remain the same and disappear to the end of the bench for yet another season. Either way, my eyes are on what’s next for Sacha Killeya-Jones.
2. Jarred Vanderbilt
Jarred Vanderbilt is No. 2 on my list because I have no idea if he has a serious foot injury or no foot injury or if they amputated his entire right leg or if he has any legs at all. If he is good to go when he gets to UK this summer, where will he fit in now that Knox is in the mix for the small forward spot? They’re the two best small forwards in the class and it will be a battle in practice each and every day. I’m excited to see how good Vanderbilt really is (assuming he has a healthy right food) and what it will do to the makeup of the team if he and Knox are comparable pieces.
1. Kevin Knox
I still can’t believe he committed. LETSGOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Now give us your Power Rankings. Remember, it’s not who you think will be best and worst; it’s who you are excited and interested to see, whether it be how they perform at the college level or how they improve from the year before.