With the news that Derrick Jasper will at last be granted his release (reported by Tru below), and the possibility that DeAndre Liggins will not qualify (he has two more chances), I feel it is time to evaluate UK's "lead" guard possibilities for the '08-'09 season. Taking a glass half-empty stance; assuming Liggins does not qualify, Billy Gillispie is left with two, maybe three viable "lead" guard options:
Porter would seem to be the most obvious answer to the "lead" guard question, but how affective an answer is certainly debatable. Last year Porter played in twenty-five games, starting nine. In those twenty-five games he averaged 15.4 minutes. He shot only 31% from the field, but he did make 42% of his three-point attempts. Offensively, the biggest problem area that I see with Porter is his assist to turnover ratio, which last year was 27 assists to 39 turnovers. Clearly not numbers that lead a team to success.
Porter did improve last year as the season progressed. He played meaningful minutes late in the season, and proved more capable of holding on to the ball. He even made some big shots in late game situations. Of course he was only playing a few minutes at a time, not extended stretches, where his weaknesses are more likely to be exposed. But the kid has a serious motor, which Gillispie covets, and he's all-hustle all the time.
Defensively I think Porter will struggle. He simply isn't quick enough to guard most athletic points. And we know Gillispie won't resort to playing zone, except for short stretches. He plays as hard defensively as he does offensively, but will merely playing hard be enough to lead a young team to victories. He's in possession of a giant heart; will it be enough?
The 6-7 Galloway posted impressive numbers last year at Southern Idaho: In 21.6 minutes per game, Galloway averaged 8.6 assists, 3.6 turnovers, 2.4 steals, and 4.1 rebounds. In his 32 games played he took an average of only 6.3 shots per game, but he took advantage of his scoring opportunities by making 52% of his shots, 45% of his three-point shots (14-31). Southern Idaho posted a sparkling 30-2 record. Under Galloway's point guard leadership SIJC averaged 111 points per game, while winning by an average of 35 points.
The most revealing stat from all of the above listed numbers is Galloway's minutes per game. Considering he played only 21.6 minutes per game, his numbers suddenly appear much more impressive than they already are. Dishing out nine dimes in 21 minutes played is exceptional, I don't care who one's competition might be. UNLESS one looks closely at that competition: in the six closest games Southern Idaho played last year Galloway's once mighty stat line changed considerably. In those six games he averaged 23 minutes per game, dishing out 5.3 assists, and turning it over 4.6 times per game. Not quite the 2.3-1 ratio he sports for the entire season.
Looking at SIJC's schedule is quite a treat, if your name is Paul Westhead. Cartoon-like scores. I can only imagine how challenging the competition was. Galloway certainly cannot do anything about SIJC"s schedule, all he could do was play. And play he did. Let's hope his game translates.
I am not meaning to demean the young man's talent, only to temper the enthusiasm and expectations one might hold for the JC transfer. At 6-7 he certainly poses a "Jasper-like" match up nightmare, and his ability to pass the basketball has never been questioned. My concern is the speed of the game at the major college level, as opposed to the JC level. His decisions have to come quicker, and be more precise.
His athleticism is undoubtedly a tangible attribute. He's quick with the ball, and penetrates well versus coverage; athletically he's golden. My question is can he perform versus elite talent night-in-and-night-out?
We've suffered through some pretty poor on-court decision-making over the last few years, if Galloway can master the system, and if the game slows down in his head, he could prove to be a major impact player-- How's that for tempering enthusiasm?
The third, less attractive possibility, would be to employ a lead-guard-by-committee. One would assume that if neither Porter nor Galloway proves capable of handling the minutes, that a combination of the two, plus Jodie Meeks, might prove affective. Meeks would provide some stability at the position, and a clear understanding of Gillispie's offensive and defensive sets. Although Meek's is clearly a shooting guard, necessity may insist the he play some lead during the year ... maybe a lot.
The problem is filling Meek's two-guard spot. Landon Slone would seem to be a real candidate to perform that role (some feel Darius Miller is a two, I am not one of them). The 6-4 (some say 6-3) shooting guard certainly cannot be mistaken for a passive player. Slone scored over 2,900 points in his prep career at Paintsville High School. This past year Slone shot 61.8% from the field, and made 45.7% of his three-point shots. Can anyone say "PURE SHOOTER?" He was 1st Team All-State and his legendary high school coach Bill Mike Runyon said that Slone was "probably the best offensive player I've ever coached. For him to put up the numbers he has put up is a tribute to how hard he worked. He has a God-given ability to score the basketball." This from a man who coached John Pelfrey and JR VanHoose.
If Slone has the talent to spell Meeks so he can man the "lead", that would be a surprisingly helpful turn of events. I'm probably being overly optimistic, but I have a feeling about this kid. But for the time being, I'll put those feelings aside, and assume he will struggle as most freshman do.
Hopefully, Porter or Galloway will win the job with solid play, because pulling Meeks off of his natural position is not the most advantageous move for the team, but Gillispie may have no choice. I'm preaching to the choir, I know, but we must realize that there have been very few highly successful teams that didn't have an exceptional point guard. We must be prepared for the possiblility of witnessing some ugliness early in the year. Never pleasant, but seldom fatal.
I think Gillispie likes to take chances when he feels the team will win out in the long run. That points me in the direction of Galloway, but experience in the system is a decided advantage for Porter. The '08-'09 Kentucky season is hanging in the balance, waiting for someone to step up.