As the Kentucky Wildcats enjoy an abbreviated Christmas holiday, relaxing with their families and catching up with old friends, it's time to review a list of stocking stuffers each player most needs to unwrap on Christmas morning.
For each of Kentucky's talented team members, my stocking stuffers Christmas wish list:
To Julius Randle -- For UK's man-child power forward, game tapes of former Kentucky big men DeMarcus Cousins and Winston Bennett. While on the court, both Cousins and Bennett displayed a certain nastiness, surliness if one will, as neither player took any garbage off of anyone, and both players knew fully well how and when to assert themselves and take over a ball game. Something Randle desperately needs to learn in order for the 'Cats to become an elite team.
To Aaron Harrison -- A magic pill or potion which will enable him to continue to play as he has over the last few weeks, which is akin to an All-American. In UK's last five contests, Harrison is delivering an average of 18.0 points per game on 37-of-70 overall shooting from the field (52.9 percent), 9-of-24 3-point accuracy (37.5 percent), and 25-of-31 free throw shooting (80.6 percent), all while snagging 4.2 rebounds and delivering 3.3 assists per game.
Furthermore, over the last couple of weeks Harrison has been UK's most efficient 2-point scorer (not named Willie Cauley-Stein), nailing 60.9 percent of his shots from inside the arc (28-46). If UK is to reach its ceiling-less potential, Harrison has to continue to rip the nets and loosen zones, all the while becoming UK's latest, greatest, triple-threat.
To Andrew Harrison -- As he continues his on-the-job-training, a dose of confidence and patience with himself. Something that is difficult to maintain, under the best of circumstances for any freshman point guard, because without question the one-guard spot is the most difficult basketball position to master. Although Cal is notorious for being hard on his point guards, the Kentucky coach is also highly successful in putting his lead guards in a position to succeed at the professional level, a fact Harrison needs to keep in his thoughts.
Harrison has so far endured the Big Blue Nation's contemporary rite of passage of being overly critical of the Wildcats' most important player, and hopefully his endurance, along with the prescribed confidence boost, will enable Harrison to fulfill the promise he has shown since pre-adolescence.
To James Young -- A consistent jump shot, because offensively, he possesses everything else. In baseball, Young would be tagged a four-tool player -- instead of the optimal five-tool guy -- and here is what is keeping the 'Cats most athletic player from reaching his considerable offensive potential: 2-of-5, 1-of-6, 3-of-11, 1-of-6, 5-of-10, 1-of-4, 0-of-6, 3-of-4, 4-of-7, 4-of-11, 2-of-6, -0-of-2. Whew, it makes me weary just reading those roller coaster numbers, numbers which represent Young's 3-point tries and makes over the course of the season.
Whatever it is keeping Young from being consistently good from long-range -- not squaring his body, not going up straight, not being confident in his shot, not enough 3-point practice -- here's hoping Santa has mercy on Young, Cal, and the BBN, and grants the Michigan-native a consistent 3-point stroke.
To Willie Cauley-Stein -- More plays run through him. One look at WCS's numbers -- 64.4 percent field goal shooting -- and then a gander at the number of shots he's taken -- 73 through 12 games (6.1 attempts per contest) -- and it becomes obvious that Cauley-Stein needs to have more lobs and entry passes tossed in his general direction, along with a steady diet of pick-and-roll opportunities. All designed to get Cauley-Stein the ball in scoring position.
In only two games this season has WCS taken double-digit shots, and in those two tilts, UK's shot-swatting center connected on 14-of-22 attempts (63.6 percent). He, along with Randle, more than any other UK players, holds the answer to loosening the ubiquitous zone defenses the Wildcats face night after night.
To Alex Poythress -- More playing time. Talk about time and experience changing a person ... . Last season I rode Poythress like a pony for his lack of consistent focus and hustle. One game he played like an All-American, the next like a player who would rather be anywhere but on the hardwood. This season, though, Poythress has displayed great effort and passion, and although he doesn't shoot the basketball as often as he should, he has become a key player as UK's young steads learn as they go.
To Dakari Johnson -- Armani shades. Although not the recipient of bountiful playing time at the moment, the physically gifted Johnson will continue to learn and grow as a center under the expert tutelage of the nation's top developer of big men, Kenny Payne, rendering his basketball future ultra-bright.
To Marcus Lee -- A continuously developing offensive game to compliment his outstanding attitude, hustle, and rebounding. Lee, a still developing offensive threat, brings great enthusiasm and effort to the floor, and will, once he grasps the intricacies of scoring while away from the basket, become a vital factor in the success of UK basketball.
To Jarrod Polson -- Another ring to put on his energetic fingers. Although limited on the defensive end of the floor, when Polson is in the game for the 'Cats the West Jessamine-product runs the point with great aplomb. Due to his four years of experience in Cal's system, Polson understands what it means to get the club into its offensive sets, he knows what it means to be a distributor, he knows what it means to play with passion and desire.
Other than Cameron Mills and Junior Braddy, no other recent UK walk-on has contributed as much to the UK basketball program than Polson, and if any player is deserving of dual rings, it's UK's pin-up point guard.
To Dominique Hawkins -- The ability to pass along to his teammates his ability to play spirited defense. Not the most physically blessed of the Wildcats, Hawkins more than compensates for his limitations by playing with great energy and yes, passion, on the defensive end of the floor, something woefully lacking in most of the other Wildcats.
If UK's other neophyte ballers performed their defensive assignments as meticulously and passionately as Hawkins, UK's 9-3 record would most likely be spotless. Because a team as physically "talented" as this UK team is, the potential to be a dominant defensive ball club is clearly evident, and would make the 'Cats' offensive possibilities that much more exciting.
To Jon Hood -- Health. Between the knee injuries, and this season, a concussion, Hood has had more than his share of bad luck, which has all but robbed him of his collegiate career. And one can't help but sympathize with the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball who's basketball future once seemed so promising.
Regardless of his unfortunate circumstance, the Madisonville native has worked hard rehabbing, accepted his fate, and most importantly, been a good teammate as he has carried on like a player who loves being a Kentucky Wildcat. No one deserves a triumphant end to his UK career more than Hood.
C'mon Santa, deliver the good stuff for Jon Hood.
To Derek Willis -- Scott Padgett's career arc. It wasn't too awfully long ago that a Kentucky-bred big man matriculated to Kentucky, absorbed a tough first few years in the Wildcat den, then exploded onto the big time college basketball scene, leading his squad to an unlikely NCAA title. After his five year Kentucky career ended, Padgett was then selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, where he played for nearly a decade.
Willis, similar to Padgett in geographical homeland, size, and basketball attributes -- a keen 3-point shooter in a power forward's body -- is the type of four year player Calipari needs on the UK roster in order to take full advantage of the one-and-done uber-athletes he brings to Lexington. Padgett's path, which led him from being a role player to being a shot-making star player, seems like the perfect gift for Willis, and also serves to brighten the future of Kentucky basketball.
To Orlando Antigua -- The quickness to get between Cal and whichever official he happens to be berating at the moment, before the Kentucky coach receives the dreaded "T."
To John Calipari -- Banners. Enough said.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays to the Big Blue Nation.