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Kentucky Basketball: Big Blue Madness Is Getting Very Near

Is Terrence Jones bigger and better than last year?
Is Terrence Jones bigger and better than last year?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, the madness is coming fast.  In a little over 17 days, the 2011 Kentucky Wildcats will be introduced to the Big Blue Nation, and the world.  Twelve days later will be the Blue-White scrimmage, and the following week on November 2nd, the team will open its exhibition schedule of two games.

There is recent word that Anthony Davis has put on about 20# over the summer, and if true, this is very good news indeed.  Terrence Jones is said to have hit the weights hard this off-season, and turned himself into a mountain of muscle and bone.  In addition, both Jones and Davis have been added to the Blue Ribbon pre-season All-America teams.

I have no idea about Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, but we know Miller has been competing internationally and Lamb has presumably been working on his game.

I'm very excited to see this year's team in action, it seems like forever since we last heard Fatboy Slim's "Right Here, Right Now" blaring over the Rupp Arena sound system.  It seems that every Kentucky fan is holding their breath for the first introduction of "YOUR Kentucky Wildcats!"

There is no doubt that this is the most anticipated Kentucky team in many years, probably since the 1996 team.  For me, it's a little hard to fathom how far we have come in only three years, from an NIT appearance in which we didn't even get to the final weekend of the tournament to two Elite Eight and one Final Four appearances.  Something that we sometimes overlook is that fast turnarounds like that are possible in basketball, unlike in football.  Just another reason, in my view, to love college basketball.

How much better will the returners be from last year?  Since Calipari came to coach Kentucky, this will be our very first experience with members of his recruiting classes actually returning for a second year.  It happens so rarely nowadays in college basketball, but no doubt mostly due to the NBA lockout (which may be finally seeing signs of progress), there are many players who would normally have declared last year returning for another shot at NCAA glory.

So for now, lets forget, just for a while, about the struggles of the football team, about conference realignment, about Rick Pitino taking shots at the ACC, about all that stuff.  Let's breathe deep of the aroma of impending victory -- many of them.  Let's allow the pure awesomeness of the team that Coach Calipari has put together permeate our Big Blue souls.  It feels good, doesn't it?  Three straight number-one recruiting classes, and I am still holding out for number four.

The biggest drama UK fans will have to deal with come basketball season (barring injuries), is who gets the starting nod, Darius Miller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  My money is still on Miller due to his versatility and the fact that Gilchrist is more of a front-court player than a wing, but as I say -- drama.

We've all heard about Anthony Davis, but many have never seen him compete.  Those who haven't are in for a rare treat.  There may be no basketball player since Jamal Mashburn to come into the Kentucky front court with a set of skills like Davis, and Davis has several inches in height and who knows how much length on the Monster Mash.  This kid is going to be no less special than Mashburn was.  Here's a taste:

Does anyone remember how good Jeff Teague was at Wake Forest?  I do, and I think Marquis is going to be even better than Jeff was, and that's really saying a mouthful.  Jeff has a stronger, bulkier body than Jeff did, and athletically, there isn't a hair of difference between them.  Just on the off chance that maybe some of you don't remember, or never knew how good Jeff was, here's some of that:

Now that you've seen Jeff, here is Marquis:


Same sick crossover, same freak athleticism, a little less of a scorer and more of a passer.  I think Cal did good on this one.

Then there is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the warrior.  I didn't give him that moniker, Calipari did:

"When you look up the definition of ‘warrior’ in the dictionary, there is a picture of Michael there," said Calipari. "No one plays harder or is more competitive. He has a tremendous burning desire to win, that will drive practice and elevate everyone within the program."

Here's what he means:

Finally, there's Kyle Wiltjer.  Yes, he's the least-ballyhood of the class, but this kid is all class.  He's a bit of a throwback player, and he can get lost among the super-athletes, but he has the kind of game that sneaks up on people:


So there we go.  Just in case you weren't excited already or the football doldrums were getting you down, I hope, in some small way I was able to pump you up just a touch and get you even more ready for what promises to be an absolutely epic season.