Yesterday the 2015 Kentucky basketball team continued to make history, even though their season had ended. An unprecedented seven players announced their intentions to declare for the NBA draft (the last team to do this was the 2010 Kentucky squad who had six leave). As all seven rose, I'm sure I was like many of you and similar thoughts came to mind. After I got over the initial shock, thoughts of how that press conference went three years ago in 2012 and how the season after that went. We all know that 2013 was a year that every Kentucky fan wants to forget. But, Kentucky did lose their best player to a season-ending ACL tear. Despite that devastating injury, the team still was probably a win away from receiving a bid into the NCAA tournament. But, what fans remember is the loss in the first round of the NIT and that's not exactly a part of the winning tradition at UK.
So, my initial thoughts were, "oh my gosh, this is going to be 2013 all over again." But, after frantically texting my dad and not being able to think clearly for a couple minutes, I finally started to understand why 2015-16 isn't going to be like 2013.
To start, we have a point guard. And not just any point guard, we have Tyler Ulis.
Ulis definitely made a name for himself sharing the point position with Andrew Harrison this year. He hit plenty of clutch three point shots and then you add in his tenacious defense. We all love his tendency to never back down from someone no matter their size. And let's be real, a good portion of college basketball is bigger than him.
In 2013, Kentucky's point guard Ryan Harrow averaged just 9.9 points per game while playing 27.1 minutes per game. While Ulis averaged just over five and played only four minutes less on average this season than Harrow did, you have to remember that he also shared minutes at the point with Andrew and had 3.8 assists per game. He showed repeatedly that he knows how to feed the ball and is willing to sacrifice for the better play. Coach Cal told Ulis this week, that this is his basketball team now. This Kentucky basketball team is in great hands with Tyler Ulis as their leader.
We also have Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee.
One of the biggest problems with the 2013 group was that after their best player, Nerlens Noel suffered a season-ending ACL tear they really didn't have any depth in their front court. This year, the athleticism of Poythress and the energy of Lee will combine wonderfully below the basket like they did during the 2014 team's run to the championship.
The experience of Poythress and Lee merged with next year's potential class, will be fantastic.
One of the biggest problems with the 2013 team was that none of them had any experience. Really the only returning players from the 2012 team were Kyle Wiltjer, Jarrod Polson, Sam Malone, Brian Long and Jon Hood. Wiltjer was the only member who got significant minutes during that 2012 national championship run.
In 2016, both Poythress and Lee will have been to two Final Fours and one national championship. They will be experienced and will be strong leaders among a team that will be mostly composed of freshman. Of those freshman, the three that are committed to Kentucky currently are Isiah Briscoe, Skal Labissiere and Charles Matthews (all three top 50 recruits). Briscoe and Matthews will both join the back court with Ulis and Labissiere will join Poythress and Lee up front.
Along with those three, there are several top 25 recruits that are still not committed to schools and are considering Kentucky, most notably Stephen Zimmerman and Malik Newman.
Basically, with Ulis, Lee and Poythress returning, along with what is sure to be another momentous recruiting class for Cal and Kentucky, history should not rear it's ugly head on Kentucky and repeat a 2013 season.