As the Ryder Cup glow fades into the sunset, it is time to set our sights on the beginning of basketball practice in three weeks. We havent seen many of these basketball players since the last shot went astray against Marquette, and thus now is a good time to update the buzz around the UK basketball team.
What follows is a look at how the players have been playing this summer and fall and what improvement (or lack thereof) has been seen. This represents an accumulation of a variety of different sources, each of which have some insight into the team and its preparations. As with all such information, its relevance to what will happen on the court in the season is debateable, but it is interesting fall fodder nonetheless.
--- The most important person on the team and the most popular man on campus (as seen by the "Hey, I have psychology with Patrick!!!!" emails I get), Patterson has had a tough summer. His injury rehabilitation has been the majority of his summer work, but all indications are that he will be 100% by the time the season begins and that his progress has exceeded all expectations. His actual on-court activity has been limited and he has just recently been playing pickup games with the team. But when healthy, we know what Patrick can do.....and it looks as if he will be healthy.
--- While Patrick is the heart and soul of this team, I expect a HUGE year from Jodie Meeks and believe he will likely be the team's leading scorer. He too has rehabbed fully from injury, but more importantly, he has found the offensive aggressiveness that we saw in such huge doses his Freshman year. He is the leader in scoring in nearly every game involving the team and is considered by one long-time observer of UK sports to be "one of the best 5 shooters we have had in here in the last 20 years." Not bad at all.
--- We all root for Jared Carter....really we do. And the summer started out well for Jared. His tour of Africa went well and he played with some aggression on tour, scoring in double digits on multiple occasions. However after returning to the states, we have seen some more of the same. On two occasions when I have watched games with the team for over an hour, I have yet to see him score more than 1 basket. He is consistently outrebounded by smaller players and still has difficulty being a defensive force. I feel bad for Jared as those I trust tell me that his injury a couple of years ago derailed a promising career. Lets hope he gets something positive this year.
--- No player on the team provides more mixed reports than Perry. You talk to one person, and they tell you that Perry is continuing to improve and will be an offensive force this year. The next person focuses on his lack of body development and still thinks he is nothing but a substitute in SEC play. From what I have seen of Perry, I expect more of the same. Some good nights of offense, a force at shot blocking, but a guy whose basketball IQ still is not where it needs to be. Will likely start on opening night, but may or may not by the end of the year.
--- No one who is around this guy has anything but praise to say for the Razor's summer. Harris was one of the leaders of the African tour and since returning has become potentially the vocal leader of this team. A coach told me this Spring that Harris was one of "three guaranteed starters" (presumably incluidng Patterson and Meeks) and was "by far the best defensive player on the team." His shooting ability is still lacking, but his ability to take the ball to the basket gets better every day. I sense another improving year and Harris becoming a rock on this team.
--- Probably the player with the least amount of buzz, positive or negative, on the team has been Stewart. Often overlooked in overviews of the team, Stewart has been a guy who most agree has matured off the court, but few have much opinion of one way or the other on the court. He still is a high energy guy and seems to be able to find his nose around the basketball. His biggest weakness was basketball IQ and it is hard to judge that in the offseason. This is a big year for AJ and it will be interesting to see how the next few weeks play out for him.
--- Another guy that it is hard to get a read on is Porter. Many wrote him off after last year, which is a bit unfair. His physical stature is amazing and the first "Wow" moment of the year will be when people see his biceps at Midnight Madness. BUT, while many praise his workout ritual and his role on the team, I have heard little improvement on the actual court. One person told me his shot had improved, but his shot wasnt bad last year.....it was just getting open and not turning the ball over. The coaches would still like to use him at the point....we shall see if his ball-handling has improved enough to make that possible.
--- The most pleasant surprise of the summer for me has been Liggins. I always knew he was talented and I also believed he was a great fit for Billy Clyde's system. But I did have questions about whether he could run a top-level team as a point guard his Freshman year. What I have seen this summer suggests to me that not only he can, but he will, be the starter on opening night at the position. Liggins can pass, take it to the basket and play defense. His shot isnt great, but is better than what I have seen in the past in AAU. I like Liggins a lot and think he will be the breakout performer of the new guys.
--- Kevin is likely the most intriguing player for me coming into this year. I have no idea what will happen with Galloway and think it could be anything between great and a disappointment. There is no doubt that he is physically impressive. He is long, plays great defense and gets in passing lanes as well as anyone. He might be the best on the team at getting the ball to the basket, especially for his height, but he isnt the best finisher. More importantly however, his passing isnt good and it isnt clear what type of outside shot he may have for a team that struggles in that area. The beginning of the season will be huge for Galloway....have early success, his confidence rises and he could push for a spot in the starting lineup. If the opposite happens, we could have an Antwain Barbour situation. Galloway will be fascinating to watch.
--- Most people I speak with are a bit surprised about the summer and fall for Darius. I expected him to be the breakout star of the Freshman class, but he hasnt really done that up to this point. He has really blended a bit into the woodwork on the team and hasnt yet been assertive. Physically he is still very impressive and his offensive scoring ability isnt questioned. I still see Darius as a four-year guy who plays every season, gets better every year and is a great asset to your program. It may just be a bit slower than some fans initially expect.
--- The goofiest guy on the team, and thus our favorite, is none other than Mr. Harrellson. Josh has had a great summer in terms of getting in shape, losing around 30 pounds since stepping on campus. He is now physically ready for Division I play and still may be the third best three point shooter on the team (behind Meeks and Krebs). But, he is still a step slow and not a great defender. He can overcome the first, but he needs to improve the second in order to win playing time at the other big man slot opposite Patterson.
--- The mysterious new addition to the team remains a bit of a mystery. I have seen him play only once and he did little during the game. Those who have seen a bit more than I have say that they see little distinguishable about his game at this point. BUT the one person that I trust more than anyone on player capabilities still tells me that Williams has been impressive behind closed doors and will be an asset. We likely will know very little about Donald until the season begins, if then.
--- I add Mark Krebs at the end, only because I firmly believe he will see some time this year. He is still shooting the ball tremendously and is a "scorer in every game the guys play." He has improved his defense and his matchups with Jodie Meeks are apparently very good. He will be a spot player, likely finding time depending on the matchup. But he will get PT this year and I think fans will know the young man well by the end of the season.
So there you go....the mid-September rundown. Expect more all day, including the SEC slant and a couple of other tidbits. Thanks to all the "Who Wants to be a Blogger" entries....we had over 100 and now are narrowing them down to the ten finalists. More later....