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Lookin' at the Hardwood Wildcats

Matt jones at KSR had a good post the other day from a third party who filed a report with him.  Based partially on that and partially on my own observations and perception, here's how I see the team shaking out this year, more psychologically than skill-wise, player by player.  Keep in mind that this is just my opinion and perception of their public comments and play that I have seen so, and isn't based on any insider knowledge.  I reserve the right to change any of these as more information becomes available to me.

Ramel Bradley

Nominally the leader of the team on the floor.  Hopefully, Ramel has learned to temper his brash emotionalism with some maturity and focus.  Last year, Ramel tried really hard to lead, but got some things wrong.  His idea of leadership was taking over when he felt the team needed him.  But the more important part is helping your teammates elevate themselves to a higher level, and Ramel needs to figure that out by the time we tip off for the first counting game of the season.

Bradley has all the tools to lead this team -- a burning desire for success, fearlessness, a good understanding of the game and the respect that comes with being a 4-year player on one of college basketball's elite teams.  But Ramel has always had a problem seeing the forest for the trees, and this year he absolutely must learn to focus on the big picture if he is to lead this team.

I haven't seen much of Ramel's game this year, but I expect it is largely a more polished version of his game last year.  I expect that Gillispie will insist that he improve his shot selection and be more willing to get others involved.  If he does that, I think he will provide the leadership we need.

Joe Crawford

I think Joe has had the same problem since he came to Kentucky -- an inflated perception of what his role on the team should be.  From the attempted transfer to some of the games last year where he put his head down and drove to the basket every play to the game that he ran down and dunked a breakaway with a teammate standing under the rim the whole time, Crawford has been more about himself than about the team.  He sees himself as the go-to scorer, but he has never really been able to deliver on that potential because go-to scorers do more than just score -- they also act as decoys to allow teammates to get easy shots, set hard screens, and do the little things to facilitate their game.

That will have to change this year.  Joe is talented and smart, but he is also unwilling to adapt to a role that is best suited to team success.  He sees himself as a star, but until he is able to forget about his numbers and do what it takes to win, he will never reach his potential.  Hopefully, we will see a new and improved Joe Crawford this year, because if we don't, his minutes will likely go elsewhere.

Jodie Meeks

Jodie Meeks is going to be a star on this team, this year.  He is "living in the moment", something that is hard to do with all the distractions around you as a Kentucky player.  Meeks has the work ethic, the brains and the skills to be an all-American at Kentucky, and has always been coachable and focused.

Jodie's role this year is likely to be the glue guy, the man that holds the team together.  He is developing into a leader, and should act as a bridge between Ramel's demonstrative leadership and Patrick Patterson's tough-mindedness.  He will help keep the team on an even keel, keep them calm in times of stress, and act as the foil for the coach's demonstrations (note:  every team needs a guy who can handle getting yelled at, because some players simply can't -- see Hayes, Chuck for an example of a player that could take it.).  It says here that Jodie needs to improve his rebounding, but the bottom line is, he needs to become more physical overall.  He has the tools, he needs to use them.

Patrick Patterson

This guy will quickly become this team's leader -- not this year, maybe not next year but certainly by his third year.  Jodie Meeks will work with him in this capacity, but make no mistake -- Patrick Patterson is a born leader, much more so that Jodie is.  He has a forceful personality and is already willing to submit his personal success to the success of the team.  Not only that, he will not settle for failure and won't allow his teammates to do so, either.  Patterson is a winner, he knows it, and he will spread that around.  His emotion and determination will really help his less confident front-court mates, and don't be surprised to see him and Ramel butt heads -- Patterson is fearless, and if he sees Ramel slipping, he will fill that void.

Patrick is athletic, fearless, and determined.  Foul difficulty will probably be his bugaboo this year, but effort never will.

Mark Coury

This man will be a significant contributor to Kentucky's success, not only this year but in future years.  He is limited athletically, but he is extraordinarily intelligent and knows how to use his brains to make up for his lack of speed and quickness.  Coury is strong, and doesn't mind getting physical.  Look for he and Patterson to have some rough and tumble practices that will make both players better.

Many fans blanch at the thought of a slow walk-on like Coury being a major contributor, and will say things like "If he is a contributor, we are going to be worse than I thought".  This mentality is an unfortunate form of athletic bias that has crept into basketball fans, primarily due to the athleticism of the NBA and the pace the game is played at there.  College is a much different game, and people who have no chance to ever play in the NBA can be significant contributors in college. 

Look for Coury to take on a front court role similar to what Ravi Moss did for Tubby Smith on the wings.  He will give us depth, is developing a midrange game and already has significant post skills.  His biggest problem will be defending the more athletic players in the SEC, but as I have noted, he is smart -- he knows what his limitations are and, with coaching, will learn to hide or minimize them.

Ramon Harris

I simply haven't seen enough of Ramon to make an evaluation of his role this year.  He is athletic, I know that much.  He also seems very determined to make an impact, and has confidence in his ability to do so.  Beyond that, I really cannot say.

Perry Stevenson

Perry is the quiet type, and a classic follower.  Perry doesn't really want to lead like Pat and Ramel, he wants to fill a role to the best of his ability and lead by example.  That is a laudable attitude -- the old saying goes "Too many cooks spoil the broth," and Perry understands this concept, and embraces it.

Perry will be the single biggest beneficiary of Patrick Patterson's presence this year.  Patrick will help him become a confident player, and help him define his role on the front line.  You may think it odd that the freshman will lead the sophomore, but that is likely to be how it will go.  I look for Stevenson to be among the most improved players this year, and as his confidence increases, he will make a bigger and bigger positive impact on the team.

Alex Legion

Alex is also a player who hasn't had to do much leading.  Brandon Jennings was the leader on Oak Hill's team last year, and Legion is more of a glue guy.  Some may see him as a specialist, but I don't think so at all.  Despite his sweet jump shot, Legion has decent athleticism and is a bit stronger than he looks.  Where he will have difficulty is learning that great shooters don't necessarily become great players.  You have to get your teammates involved, and pass the ball.  Unfortunately, basketballs that find their way into Alex's hands normally don't wind up touching another offensive player unless it's via an offensive rebound.

Gillispie will coach the "my 15 footers are layups" out of Legion, and help him understand that one man, however skilled, cannot win by himself in college basketball.  Alex must learn what Joe Crawford has so far failed to learn -- that becoming "the man" is a process, not an act of will, and it never comes without a price.  Joe has so far been unwilling to pay that price.  If Alex is, he could garner some of Joe's minutes if Crawford remains recalcitrant.  That could be an interesting dynamic to watch, with both players being from the Michigan area.

Derrick Jasper

Derrick Jasper is going to be a star at Kentucky.  I feel this more than I can point to it statistically.  Derrick has always been willing to make sacrifices for the team since the day he arrived on campus, and as talented as he is, that is really saying something.

Derrick is a classic "quiet leader".  He doesn't lead demonstrably like Patterson will, or with Ramel's brash bravado.  Instead, he will lead by quiet encouragement, gentle but unrelenting pressure and will help Jodie keep the team's spirits up when they hit a rough patch.  Jasper is the guy who has no overwhelming egotistical desire to be the star -- he will play whatever role it takes for the team to win.  He is even-tempered but competitive.  They say that "Still waters run deep" and this is the best description of Derrick Jasper.

Jared Carter

I think Jared is a young man who wants desperately to contribute, and is willing to make great sacrifices in order to do so.  He just doesn't want to be left out, he wants to get in the game, to compete, to win.  So far, that has been denied him almost completely.

I think Jared Carter has an incredible competitive fire burning in him, one that has had to burn low due to injury and youth.  It amazes me, really, that Jared has had the patience to do what he has done, and speaks highly of his character.  If he is able to return, Jared will develop into the "hustle" guy, the man that makes plays with his heart and desire.  Carter sees that time is rapidly getting away from him, and this will spur him harder.  His 3 years of maturity will greatly aid his success if he is physically able to compete.

I have no idea how high Jared Carter's ceiling is, or if we will ever find out.  I just feel that this kid really wants to contribute, and that is important.

Mike Willaims

Mike is another guy that I have a very limited read on.  I feel like he is a bit of a quirky character, but that he also has a very strong competitive fire burning in his belly.  We'll know more about him after he plays a bit.

A.J. Stewart

Unlike Williams, I have a pretty good idea of what A.J. is like.  A.J. is a bit of a free spirit, the life of the party, a non-stop fun-loving guy with a motor like a Mercedes.  I think Billy Gillispie said it best when he said A.J. was "trying to figure out where he is supposed to be."  A.J. strikes me as a guy who just needs coaching to become a very good player, especially defensively.

A.J.'s biggest challenge this year will be keeping his focus, and not allowing himself to get too emotionally caught up in the moment.  Unlike a lot of players, A.J. truly "lives in the moment", often to the exclusion of everything else.

I think A.J. is one of those guys who has gotten by mostly on his freakish athleticism and has never really tried to understand the game of basketball, so it will take a bit of time before he is able to do more than contribute situationally.  Give A.J. a year to learn the game, and if he applies himself, his ceiling could be pretty high.

Michael Porter

I think Michael Porter can be described in one word:  Competitor.  That's what he does, and he does it pretty well.

Michael must know by now that this level of basketball will constantly challenge his athletic skills, and they will never be good enough for him to get by on them.  Michael has to find ways to hide or minimize his athletic deficiencies, and maximize what he does well, which are shooting, judgment, and a fearless desire to compete.

Porter showed several flashes of brilliance last year for a freshman, not only fearless but skillful shooting the ball and running the team.  Where he had difficulty was on defense -- he tended to be uncommitted a lot.  Offensively, he has to work on his ballhandling.  He can't rely on speed and quickness to prevent getting stripped of the ball like many SEC points do.

Michael will play whatever role he must to compete and win, and he accepts coaching as well as any other member of the team.  He has a long way to go, but he has the ability and desire to get there.