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Looking to the future ...

There is not much more to say about the Kentucky loss to UCONN on Sunday that hasn't been summed up in the papers (here, here, here and here, for instance). And much as Tubby Smith turned his postgame presser immediately into a stepping stone to next year's Wildcats squad, we at SoB are inclined to do the same. After a 22-13 season marred by inconsistency, bickering, incessant (even if warranted) fan whining and rumors of all shades, what more would one want to focus on about the 2005-2006 UK hoops team?

Here is our very early look at the shape of the 06-07 Wildcats as we see it now ...

The Probable Starters

(SF) Bobby Perry, Sr.
No one -- not even Patrick Sparks -- showed more heart and game in the Cats' NCAA tournament run than Mr. Perry. Much maligned throughout the season, the senior-to-be proved a capable scorer and deft positional rebounder in the two games in Philly. He averaged a team-high 22.5 points and 7 boards, and laid claim to the mantle of senior leader that every successful Tubby Smith team has had. There were even times when Perry resembled a poor man's Tayshaun Prince, especially in blocking a Rudy Gay drive to the hoop to force a shot clock violation late in the game. If Perry can return to his natural small forward position, this team will only benefit. Projected stats: 10.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 48% FG

(SG) Joe Crawford, Jr.
I'm conveniently ignoring two things: (1) Crawford's flameout in the NCAA games, and (2) any chance he'll transfer. Joe C has no desire to spend another year not playing basketball, and it wouldn't do his pro stock any wonders either. Plus, with Sparks and Ravi Moss now gone, there shouldn't be any reason for Crawford not to start at the 2, a much better spot for his game. This is, of course, speculation. But Crawford wants the game on his shoulders, and with Sparks in the way, that wasn't going to happen. The Detroit native really needs to spend his summer focusing on his conditioning, agility and mid-range game, not just hoisting up three-pointers. I think Crawford can lead the Cats in scoring, especially if he is dedicated to the program. Projected stats: 15.3 ppg, 5 rpg, 41% 3PG

(PF/C) Randolph Morris, Jr.
The big man got such a late start on the season, he never really seemed to catch up. Despite flashes of brilliance, Morris tired visibly in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, and his foul troubles returned in due course. Still, if Morris remembers his coach's lessons and returns for his junior season, there is little stopping him from being a first-team All-SEC performer except himself. With a plethora of giant men on the bench, and the possiblity of even more entering the program, it would be interesting to see an occasional lineup with Morris at the 4. We saw this briefly in the UCONN loss, as Shagari Alleyne manned the middle and Morris floated around the paint. Given Morris' scoring abilities, this could be useful -- but only if the centers in question can honestly provide valuable minutes without hindering the offense. Morris must dedicate himself to rebounding and conditioning. Projected stats: 16.1 ppg, 7 rpb, 1.7 bpg, 61% FG

(PF) Rekalin Sims, Sr.
We'll never really know how much effect Sims' back problems had on his playing time and his development. One thing Sims knows is offense, and he expressed immediately after the UCONN loss his dedication to the Tubby way of life (defense). As of now, Sims as a senior seems most likely to start the season as the annointed starter. That is, if he isn't run out of town or buried on the bench. Rekalin had to lead the team in charges, despite 1/4 the minutes. Such off-the-ball play will earn him more time, and he knows this. I see a healthy, focused Sims as a big surprise with a year under his belt. Projected stats: 8 ppg, 4 rpg, lots of charges taken

The Major Contributors/Potential Starters

(G) Ramel Bradley, Jr.
'Smoov' really struggled in limited minutes down the stretch, perhaps as a result of his nagging hand injury, or more likely as a result of his continual attempts to impress upon Tubby and the coaches that he should play more. Ramel is an offensive weapon, and in the postgame preached his allegiance to the UK team and to bettering himself for next year. The most likely to benefit from Rajon Rondo heading to the NBA, Bradley could start at most any other SEC school, and he knows this. Some have speculated he may be waiting to see what Rondo does, and a transfer isn't out of the question. I'd hate to see him go, as Smoov has the cojones and the game (offensively) to help UK reach the next level. Bradley's attitude is often questionable, but one wonders how much of it stemmed from playing behind Sparks, even when the senior was shooting blanks and throwing the ball away. Projected stats: 9 ppg, 3 apg, 39% 3FG

(PF) Perry Stevenson, Fr.
The so-called "third choice" among freshmen power forwards after Thad Young and Brandan Wright chose other schools, Stevenson is an interesting possibility as a starter. Despite being rail-thin (his coach estimates Perry is now over 200 lbs. on a 6'9" frame), the Louisiana native averaged a triple double this season (11 ppg, 10 rpg, 11 blocks!) for the state title winners. Given his penchant for defense and the potential he brings, some have wondered if Stevenson might be like another hidden La. gem, LSU's Tyrus Thomas. Thomas burst onto the scene with blocks and putback dunks, not offensive skills, and no less than recruiting guru Dave Telep hinted at such a comparison. Whatever Stevenson brings, he brings something Coach Smith loves: defense. That means, like Chuck Hayes his first year, Stevenson could be a surprise starter alongside Morris and B. Perry in the frountcourt. Projected stats: 3 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.8 bpg

(C) Jared Carter, So.
Tubby effused praise on the gangly freshman, despite never playing him down the stretch. And Carter brushed off rumors of his transferring several times in recent weeks. This means little, of course, especially if Tubby lands another freshman big man -- and he's still actively looking at a few. But for now, Carter claims he's here to stay, and that he's geared up to train and contribute. A new Strength & Conditioning coach could do wonders for Carter, who clearly has better hands, footwork and potential than either Alleyne or fellow Sr. stiff-to-be Lukasz Obrzut. A 'twin towers' approach with Carter and Morris would be intriguing, and could provide matchup nightmares for teams lacking multiple big men. Then again, we saw so little of Carter , he could become the biggest cheerleader in the SEC again. Projected stats: 4 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.2 bpg

The Unknowns

(F) Sheray Thomas, Sr.
It might seem strange to post Thomas -- who has started a few games in his three-year career -- as an unknown, but that's exactly what he still is. As prone to getting beaten on defense and missing shots as he is to scoring 10 in a single half, Thomas is maddeningly unathletic and slow for his position, and it's hard to see him competing with uber-athletic Stevenson defensively. Thomas has the advantage of experience, and that could help him gain minutes. But much like fellow juniors Woo and Shagari, I see Thomas' minutes dwindling as Carter, Stevenson and Morris' minutes increase. I could be wrong ... but I hope I'm not. Projected stats: 4 ppg, 3 rpg, 16 min.pg

(PG) Derrick Jasper, Fr.
The highest-rated of Tubby's new recruits, Jasper is a tall (6'5") point with a quiet resilience who led his team further than it had ever been. Also recruited heavily by Memphis and Illinois, Jasper's role in '07 could run the gamut from spot player to starter. However he fits, Jasper is a genuine talent who should have been a McDonald's All-American. Projected stats: 6 ppg, 2 rpg, 2 apg

(G) Jodie Meeks, Fr.
A scoring machine from Georgia, Meeks has mettle and game, and could be a Vinny Johnson type offensive weapon off the bench. Having played a cadre of high-profile games this season, Meeks showed big-game skills, leading his team in scoring nearly every game along a state-title run. I forsee some defensive struggles initially, but Meeks has a man's physique. A solid option off the bench to spell Bradley and Crawford, Meeks could be a surprise .. and a very pleasant one. Projected stats: 7 ppg, 36% 3FG

(C) Shagari Alleyne, Sr.
Out of nowhere, Alleyne seemed to recapture some of the fire (and playing time) he had lost over the course of the season. Maybe the most disappointing player on an underachieving team, Alleyne squandered the chance to earn minutes in Morris' long absence with a combo of off-the-court issues and on-the-court struggles. As a senior, a competent 7'3" Shag could be a bit actor in an award-winning play, or another extra playing "big guy number 4" in the background. Projected stats: 3 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.8 bpg

The Cheering Section

(PG) Michael Porter, Fr.
Count me as one who believes Porter will get some minutes as a freshman in the non-conference season. I believe that the preponderance of guards on the roster will trim those minutes as the SEC season wears on, however. Contrary to C.W., Porter can and will be a fantastic player at Kentucky. It just won't be next year. Projected role: Backup PG, finisher of blowouts.

(C) Lukasz Obrzut, Sr.
It was telling that despite starting nearly half of UK's games this season (16), Woo didn't see the floor in either of the Cats' NCAA games. A big man whose best skill is setting picks can only help so much. Woo loses time to Alleyne, Carter and Sims next year. Projected role: Huge, Polish guy on the bench

(G/F) Adam Williams, So.
Adam's time simply hasn't come yet. But it will. Every kid at Kentucky has the game in his career, and A-Will has one coming. Playing against new guards Meeks, Jasper and Porter will tell Tubby exactly how good or bad Williams can be. Projected role: Practice star, guy who benefits most from being UK player with girls at parties.

The X-Factors

(PG) Rajon Rondo, Jr. (or NBA rookie)
He's saying the right things now, but word behind the scenes and behind the headlines is that Rondo is looking to move on. This isn't unexpected, and despite what some UK fans would have you believe, Rondo is a coveted NBA player. No, his shot isn't good, but that never stopped many NBA teams from drafting on potential. I truly believe that Rondo suffered most from the caliber of his big men. The number of times he had to wait for Thomas, Woo, Alleyne or whomever to catch up means he's already outside his game. Note how good Rondo looked with now-NBAer Chuck Hayes running the floor? It seems both probable and smart that Rajon will test the waters. He should. Whether Rondo stays in the draft may very well depend on two things: Tubby's future and individual workout buzz. Probable location in '07: Boston Celtics

(C) Phil Jones, Fr.
A huge, developing big man prospect, Jones is by all accounts a hidden gem. After dropping weight a la Nazr Mohammed, Jones sparked interest in recruiting circles. He's a test score away from making a decision, and UK is high on his list (though don't believe any of those who say it's a done deal ... recruiting is NEVER a done deal). If he comes, some scholarship juggling will be in order, and Woo will spend even more time next to Bill Keightley. Probable location in '07: Too soon to tell

(SF) Tyler Smith, Fr.
A prep school recruit, Smith has UK on his final list of schools. He visited for the UF debacle on senior day, and he still has to take a trip to Memphis -- a potential Final Four team with a more freewheeling style and in his home state of Tennessee. I see UK as a long shot in this, and like Jones, his coming may be contingent on some scholarships opening via academics, transfers or pro defections. Still, a dynamic scoring prospect in the frontcourt wherever he lands. Probable location in '07: Too soon to tell

(Head Coach) Tubby Smith
Though he increasingly sounds like a man determined to see things through, Smith will get offers. And he should listen, for his own sake. I doubt he takes any of the offers, but stranger things have happened. A Tubby move to the NBA would change the UK program, but could mean a jolt of excitement similar to when Smith arrived. A Tubby bolt to another school -- however unlikely -- could rip the program apart, as any number of his loyal players or recruits could follow him ... leaving UK fans to stare in the mirror at what they had, and what could be. Probable location in '07: Screaming at Kentucky players to play better defense