I waited until the fourth and final part of our series (Parts I, II, and III) on the incoming freshmen (I'm not going to be covering walk-on Mark Coury, sorry) to talk about my favorite of the newbies, and with good reason. I feel he is the first-year man with possibly the most upside, but also the most growing to do. Folks, meet Louisiana native Perry Stevenson.
While early returns have shown flahes of the other freshmen's strengths: Derrick Jasper's mature court demeanor, Micheal Porter's shooting and Jodie Meeks' flash scoring ability, Stevenson looks to be more of a mystery. While he showed some surprising shooting ability at Big Blue Madness, the Blue-White game proved how much Stevenson has to do to be competitive against even passable SEC big men (read: Woo).
Perry comes to Kentucky after completing a stellar prep career that saw him average a triple double -- a mind-boggling 10 blocks a game -- as a senior. His Lafayette (La.) Northside squad took the state title, as much on Stevenson's defense as on anything else. Games in the 50s and 60s scoring-wise were common, as the Vikings did enough on offense to win, then watched as their Thin-forcer swatted away shots and grabbed missed ones with abandon.
Like his fellow frosh, Stevenson is a Tubby Smith type of recruit if there ever was one: late bloomer, defensively gifted, "under the radar." But, interestingly, he wasn't Smith's first choice. Of second choice. Or maybe even third. It was supposed to be Brandan Wright (North Carolina), or Thaddeus Young (Georgia Tech) or Deon Thompson (also North Carolina) suiting up in Blue and White.
But don't for a second think that means Kentucky got jobbed, or that Stevenson will be the second coming of Shagari Alleyne. While it's true that P-Steve has more raw potential than polished game, it's also true that his eyes are on the now, on the college he chose, and not on figuring out how long he has to wait to shake NBA commish David Stern's hand. Perry may need work, but it's work that Kentucky offers him, not the Pacers or Celtics, and that means something down the road.
So what does Stevenson bring, and what needs so much work? First things first, Stevenson is skinny. Not "Needs to bulk up" skinny, but actually rail thin. UK strength coach Scott Holsopple has already reportedly added 20+ pounds to Stevenson's frame, but much more is needed. Wiry strong is one thing; Can't hold position is another.
Offensively, Stevenson is still tentative. He dunks anything close to the rim, but his back to the basket game is raw at best. Like many uber-athletic high school stars, Stevenson simply didn't have to do much to score against his opponents except turn around and dunk. He's finding out already that won't fly at this level. Still, as noted above, the scrimmages thus far have already opened this observer's eyes, as Stevenson drained a 17-footer and looked more comfortable than many thought possible in the early going.
What does the future hold for Stevenson, then? The easy comparisons are to former UK jumping jack Andre Riddick, who never developed an offensive game but was effective, and to former LSU star (and current Chicago Bull) Tyrus Thomas, another late blooming Louisiana kid whose wizardry on defense and explosiveness on offense helped lead the Tigers to a Final Four. In the short term, we'd take Riddick. In the long term, being Thomas would be nice. Perhaps, though, we will get Perry Stevenson ... the new, improved 2.0 version.
On a personal note, any fan who follows college recruiting closely often finds himself secretly rooting for certain players to sign with your team. Sometimes it's a top-10 dream recruit, other times it's a lesser recruit whose upside for whatever reason excites and intrigues you.
For me, that player from first mention was Stevenson. While I wouldn't be sitting here complaining if Wright had decided to join the Cats, Stevenson was a player I admired from first read, both for his defense and his quietly effective work ethic.
He lacks some polish at this point, but that's fine with me. He'll learn, soak up Tubby's defensive schemes, eat a few thousand burgers and develop. By the time he finishes at Kentucky, I honestly feel fans will talk in reverent tones about P-Steve's career, about his dedication to his coach and team, about how Tubby grabbed a gem from out of nowhere. And, what's more, he wants to be in Lexington.
So enough talk about who didn't want to be here, fans. This is your team ... love it and praise it. Welcome to the newest Wildcats, who have only the faintest idea what it is they've gotten themselves into.