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Every Kentucky basketball fan's Christmas wishlist

Aaron Torres12/24/20

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Article written by:On3 imageAaron Torres
There is no sugarcoating it: Things are not going well for Kentucky basketball right now. You know it. I know it. The big guy upstairs (living in the attic of KSBar) knows it. Kentucky basketball stinks. P-U. Yes, there's the 1-5 record, but really, it's more than that. It's literally everything about this team right now. It's the shooting. And the turnovers. The coaching. The starters. The bench. The attitudes. The rotations. The toughness. Foul trouble. Right now it's hard to think of a single thing that Kentucky basketball does well (well, other than blow early-game leads). So yeah, it's bad. At the same time, if there is ever a time to cleanse all that's wrong and make things right, it's now. It's Christmas. A time where we reflect and appreciate what we've got, while also hoping that Santa leaves that magic present under the tree to make the future that much brighter. So with Santa making his way around the globe right now, what should ever UK fan hope is under their trees? Santa, get ready: The list is pretty long. A healthy Keion Brooks First off, let me say: I might have been the only person in America that had no issue with Keion Brooks doing the postgame press conference following the UNC game the other day. While some saw it as a move that showed how soft the rest of the team was, what it showed to me was that Brooks is the closest thing to the leader this team has right now. And as a leader, he was doing what he could to help his teammates out in a time of crisis. It also showed me just how important it is to get Brooks back on the court healthy. At this point, it isn't really what he can bring to the team statistically, but instead, emotionally on the court. Yes, this team needs points, rebounds and assists, but it also needs toughness and belief. It needs a guy to grab everyone else when they're down, and say "it's going to be OK." It needs a guy who will look his teammates in the eye and say "We got this" when things get bad in the second half. More than anything, that is what this team has been lacking. Just about every game this season has been close late, and every single game Kentucky crumbled because they didn't have the mental toughness or leadership on the court. Brooks brings both, and Kentucky needs both right now. They need Keion Brooks to get healthy. A consistent Olivier Sarr Look, I take as much blame as anyone for overhyping this Kentucky team. And I overhyped them in large part because I overhyped Olivier Sarr. He was the guy who I spent all spring proclaiming to be the best transfer on the market. Right now, I'm not even sure he's been the best transfer at Kentucky this season. So if anything, I deserve coal in my stocking for that one. And more than anything, it's been the consistency that's been lacking for Sarr. One game (Notre Dame), he's great. The next game he's terrible. The game after that, he barely plays because he's in foul trouble. I know he's still new to Kentucky, but that level of up-and-down play is inexcusable for a guy who has played so much college basketball. So are the unnecessary fouls. So more than anything, what Santa needs to bring for Sarr is consistency: If he's going to consistently be the guy against Notre Dame, that would be great. But if he's also going to consistently be the guy that he was against North Carolina, John Calipari and his staff need to know that too, so that they can adjust accordingly. The one thing he can't be is really high one game, and really low the next. He needs to be consistent. And hopefully consistently better for UK to reach its potential. BJ Boston to hit open three-pointers First off, let me say that this isn't a knock on Boston specifically. When Kentucky as a team is shooting 24 percent from beyond the arc, it means that no one is hitting threes. It isn't just about one guy. At the same time, there was only one guy on this roster who was billed as "the best pure scorer in high school basketball last year" and that was Boston. Instead, he's shooting just 17 percent from behind the three-point arc. That is the lowest percentage for anyone on the team who has attempted a three-pointer. And it's got to be better. Look, in Boston's defense, he isn't the first Kentucky freshman to struggle. It's a rite of passage. And at a certain point, those shots will start falling. This kid is just too good, to miss so many wide open threes. Still, this is also kind of like what I said about Sarr above: The team does need Boston to pick things up. We all could've predicted a lot of things in the preseason, but the one that none of us could've predicted was that Boston would struggle to make wide open three-pointers. It would be one thing for Devin Askew or Davion Mintz to struggle, that was sort of expected. But Boston? No one could have seen this coming. And like Sarr, Kentucky won't get back on track until Boston gets back on track. An easy game against a bad out of conference team  Admittedly, I truly believe that part of Kentucky's problems this year were simply the scheduling component of this specific season. If the Wildcats had the normal schedule that started with the Champion's Classic, then was followed by a bunch of games against bad teams and directional schools, this whole season could be different. Get a few of those games and Kentucky (hopefully) gets a few wins and everyone is more confident. Unfortunately that didn't happen and instead, the Wildcats were forced to play the hand they were dealt. A hand which included Morehead State, immediately followed by Richmond and then an all-Power 5 schedule from there. Still, they were served a lifeline from the scheduling Gods on Wednesday, when it was announced that South Carolina would be unavailable for the Wildcats' SEC opener next week. And as soon as that happened, I had one thought: Kentucky needs to schedule the worst possible team they can find to play a game. https://twitter.com/Aaron_Torres/status/1341811808470933504 To the staff's credit, it seems as though they're thinking what I'm thinking, as Matt Jones is reporting that Bellarmine could be added to the schedule. Which makes sense. They are close and can get on a bus, limiting the risk of catching coronavirus on a plane or in a hotel. Good stuff. Except here's the thing: They're not bad enough. Kentucky needs someone worse. Sure, Bellarmine isn't good, but this is still a program that has had recent success at the DII level. They are also a team that played Duke tough at Cameron Indoor (they trailed by just 10 at halftime) and Notre Dame the other day. Playing them is too much of a risk. They're too good. When I'm talking about scheduling the worst possible team, I'm talking the worst possible team. Like the Bad New Bears of basketball. If their star center isn't walking off the bus smoking a cigarette with a Double Whopper in the other hand, I want nothing to do with them. Since that above scenario seems unlikely (it's been a while since I saw a college basketball player taking a drag from a Marlboro during a commercial break) here are some suggestions: How about Mississippi Valley State. They are 0-8 and lost to Arkansas by 80 earlier this year? Or South Carolina State which is 0-6, which includes a 66 point loss to that powerhouse Furman. Maybe Idaho. They just lost by 38 at Utah the other night. Whatever you have to pay them to get on a bus, drive through the night and show up to the arena 10 minutes before tip-off, you do it. Again, Kentucky was just sent a golden parachute by the basketball Gods to find a bad opponent and beat their brains in. They can't blow this chance. Lance Ware to play like he did against North Carolina You all saw the North Carolina game like I did: Ware was a warrior, finishing with four points and seven boards in 21 minutes of play before fouling out. Ware got a chance and he delivered. And Kentucky needs that guy going forward. Speaking of getting a chance... A real shot for Dontaie Allen Earlier this week I had Jack Pilgrim on my podcast (the episode is embedded below if you want to listen), and we spent a ton of time on what's wrong with Kentucky. One of the main things that both he and I are frustrated by is that John Calipari seemingly never gives his role players a real shot. We all know the list by now, but in no particular order, Charles Matthews, Jemarl Baker and Johnny Juzang are among those who have all struggled to get off the bench at Kentucky and transferred, only to thrive at other Power 5 schools. These aren't guys that are transferring to some DII school here. If they can carve out productive minutes at Michigan, Arizona and UCLA, they could have found them at Kentucky too. It also kind of turns Kentucky basketball into a self-fulfilling prophecy: Kentucky needs older, more experienced guys to help the young guys in this program. But if you don't give those guys a chance in the first place, they aren't going to stay in the program to become older, more experienced guys. Which is why Calipari's complaints about "having to start over every year" are beginning to feel hollow. You wouldn't have to start over every year if you gave your bench guys more of a shot. Plus, in this specific season, it's not as though the starters are helping you win games anyway. Which is why it is time to give Dontaie Allen a serious shot going forward. No one is saying you need to play him 40 minutes a game. And no one is saying he will be the next Jamal Murray or Tyler Herro. But the guy does have the one skill this team desperately needs (shooting). Furthermore, this year more than ever we have seen the value of having veterans in college basketball. Sure, it's heightened to a degree because of the limitations on teams. But it also isn't a coincidence that when you look at the top of the polls, it's teams like Gonzaga, Baylor, Iowa and Creighton (teams that which returned largely intact from last year) that are at the top, with those like Duke and Kentucky (with a bunch of roster turnover) struggling. Well the only way that Kentucky can eventually get those second, third and fourth year players as contributors is to give them a shot now. Ware got his last game, and Allen needs his going forward. Oh, and one more thing... Get Cam'Ron Fletcher back on the team  So this is going to sound crazy, but I truly believe getting Cam Fletcher back on this team is important. To be clear, it isn't about what he's done on the court so far this season, but instead, symbolic of what it would mean for this team going forward. It's no secret that John Calipari threw down the gauntlet pretty hard earlier in the week. Love or hate what Calipari did, it was pretty clear Fletcher wasn't meeting expectations, wasn't handling the "non-negotiables" (as Calipari calls them) and wasn't being a productive member of the team. That's also why I think it would be so important to get him back. Not because he's going to score a bunch of points, or grab boards, or give you 40 minutes a night. But because it proves whatever issues there were previously are in the past, that he's bought in and ready to move forward. And if Fletcher is ready to move forward, and Calipari is ready to move forward with him, it means the team is ready to move forward too. As we head into the Louisville game and then 2021, that's exactly what everyone needs: To put the first six games in the past and move forward. (To listen to my full interview with Jack Pilgrim, click below)

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2023-01-30