With Jodie Meeks finally discovering his draft fate (41st to the Bucks), the question UK fans are now attempting to answer is: What will constitute a successful 2009-2010 Kentucky Wildcat basketball campaign? After talking with fellow 'Cat fans, and reading via the Internet the thoughts of the hard core UK faithful, I've come to the conclusion that there are wide-ranging expectations for this group of players: Some fans consider Meeks' departure a death knell to the talk of UK hanging banner No. 8, while others consider Meeks' early entry to be merely a hiccup on an otherwise positively pleasant outlook.
With UK coach John Calipari telling anyone in possession of a microphone (or UK gear) that this team has many obstacles to overcome before success can be tasted, Wildcat fans are left to ponder the possibility that their head honcho is either an accomplished spin doctor, or a man making valid points. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.
Me, I see both sides of the truth, and I do know this: In order for Kentucky to maximize its chance of bringing back The Boss and his Glory Days, UK must, through the course of the upcoming season, see the evolution of four question marks morph into four exclamation points.
For your summer perusal, and in no particular order, here are UK's four most riveting questions regarding the '09-'10 basketball season:
How can I have Patterson listed as a question? Well, it's certainly not because I question his talent, but, we have yet to see if the big fella can take and make, with consistency, the 15-foot jumper. With Patterson and Calipari both stating the focus of Patterson's offensive repertoire being on improving his outside game, I'm left wondering if he can be as successful scoring points from beyond the paint, as he is from inside 10 feet. I realize Patterson displaying the ability to score from a variety of spots on the floor increases his NBA value, and this may seem callous and uncaring, but in the end ...
... I couldn't care less. I, and most UK fans want optimum offensive and defensive production from each player as long as they're wearing "Kentucky" across their chests.
A second concern: Patterson has demonstrated an ability to make the mid-range jumper ... from time to time, but now he must make the shot while being guarded. Before, he made the shot out of the high-low offense, often-times while he was wide open. In the upcoming season, that will not be the case; he will be guarded one-on-one, either out of a match-up zone, or man-to-man defense.
Of course, I feel confident if Patterson is struggling with his shooting percentage from beyond 10 feet, Calipari will make the appropriate ADJUSTMENT. Calipari knows PPat's offensive production will be a determining factor in the success of the 2009-2010 season, a fact that is only magnified with the loss of Jodie Meeks. With so many youngsters playing major minutes, this team will need an experienced "go-to-guy" when the possession is a must-score.
And I like my "go-to-guys" shooting from within their range.
I don't care how heralded ... I don't care how highly sought after ... I don't care how much of a "sure thing" an incoming freshman is, we don't know what we have until we see them perform under the bright lights, and with Ashley in the house. And that fact is just a tad bit disconcerting to me.
The range of adjustments UK's youngsters face as they enter college is astounding: From the upgrade in academic requirements, to meshing with teammates, to becoming acclimated with a new coach, to dealing with student-body adulation, to adjusting to the increased speed of the game. All this done under the spotlight of an attendant media, and a curious fan base. Indeed, a tall and mighty task.
John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Jon Hood, Daniel Orton, DeMarcus Cousins and Darnell Dodson are all considered great prospects, but all six of the listed players are going to be counted on to provide meaningful minutes, and right quick. Minutes at the point guard spot, minutes at the "2" guard, and minutes in the low post aiding and abetting Patrick Patterson. Will they perform as advertised? If not, UK fans will be in for a monumentally disappointing season.
End of story.
The "2" Guard [s]
With Jodie Meeks leaving the Bluegrass for the green pastures of the NBA, UK is left with what has become the question of the summer: Who will replace his scoring, experience, and leadership at the shooting guard position?
The answer: No one.
The absolute best John Calipari and UK fans can hope for out of the shooting guard spot in '09-'10 is competent play. With the return of Darius Miller, plus the addition of JUCO Darnell Dodson, and freshman Jon Hood (all capable of playing the "2") Calipari should be able to field a player [s] who can competently shoot the three-pointer, and take his man off the dribble. Which should be enough to keep the defense from collapsing down to the block, rendering Patterson and his cohorts in no better position than the big men have been in over the last two seasons (i.e. double and triple teamed).
There has been talk of freshman Eric Bledsoe playing at the shooting guard spot, but I only recommend that move if Cal enjoys attempting to shoot opponents out of a zone, while absent three-point threats. Well, Bledsoe can take his man off the dribble, you say? He may be able to do as much, but where is he going to venture? The entire defense will be in the paint, awaiting his arrival.
Simply put, the loss of Meeks adds undo pressure on to the players left to replace him. They may not feel the pressure just yet, but ask Michael Porter how receptive Rupp Arena is to unsure, unseasoned play.
I'm counting on Calipari to coach-up his group of young guns, and game-plan effectively, which will hopefully offset the youth and inexperience of his shooting guards. Because make no mistake, UK's Final Four fortunes rest with the productivity of the "2" guards. So much of UK's offense will rely on keeping the opponent's defenses honest, and without at least the threat of a three-pointer, there will be no honesty to be had.
Adolph Rupp created IT, Joe B. Hall managed IT, Eddie Sutton was corrupted by IT, Rick Pitino thrived on IT, Tubby Smith, in the end, decided he didn't want IT, and Billy Gillispie had no idea how to deal with IT.
"IT" is the incumbent pressure to win. More pointedly, the pressure to win that comes with being the head basketball coach at Kentucky. It's not even July and Calipari has already said, more than once, that the fanatical nature of UK fans is much more acute than he ever imagined. As Eddie Sutton so astutely put it, when talking about the passion Kentucky fans have for the program, and the resulting pressure, "You think you know, but you have no idea." Words that have since been echoed by Cal.
Since taking over the program in April, Calipari has done as good a job as any of his predecessors (some say better) in glad-handing the boosters, and being as fan-friendly as possible. In that area of his coaching responsibilities, his behavior has obviously been finely calculated. But, after Gillispie clearly showed no interest in that aspect of the job, Cal was left with no choice.
Calipari's off-court demeanor and activities are not the source of my questioning his ability to do the job, though. My question lies in his ability to make the right decisions during games. Pressure can cause coaches to make erratic, erroneous, and mind-numbingly idiotic decisions ... often, at the worst possible time.
Will Cal succumb? I think not, but he's never coached at UK before. So the proof will come as his first season progresses.
Editor's Disclaimer: This post is meant to be a CRITICAL look at the questions the Kentucky basketball team faces this upcoming season. If you are unhappy with my stance, please refer all emails to our fearless leader, Tru :) KH
Happy sixth birthday to my oldest daughter, Alex! Trivial pursuits such as UK basketball pale in comparison to the meaning you bring to my life!
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!