Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes?

"I took off for a weekend last month, Just to try and recall the whole year. All of the faces and all of the places, Wonderin' where they all disappeared." - Jimmy Buffett. After Kentucky concluded last year with a subpar 22-13 record, Coach Tubby Smith indicated changes were coming. With Cameron Hill's replacement waiting in the wings, 12 roster changes and two new coaches show he was serious.

""One way or the other, changes are going to be made to get the right attitudes here," said Smith following the ‘Cats 87-83 loss to U Conn in the NCAA tournament. "We are not going through another season like this. I promise you that." Speculation revolved around whether the changes would include staff changes, or roster changes--or both, with Smith refusing to be more specific.

Strength and conditioning coach Tommy Boyd departed UK in January, but Smith said then that he would wait until after the season concluded to replace him. Enter coach Scott Holsopple, who was widely-praised at Marquette for his efforts with the Marquette team, having Coach Tom Crean call him the "MVP" for his work with the players. Cameron Hill told KSR's Larry Vaught in an exclusive interview Monday that Holsopple was already having an effect, and he expected UK to be much better next season--" It starts with the players' attitudes. They all recognize how significant this season will be. They have all really committed to improve. The new strength coach has done an unbelievable job. He's really made a huge impact in a short time," Hill said.

With Cameron Hill accepting the position of head coach of the U.S. Basketball Academy, there will be an additional open coaching slot, widely believed to be one held for former UK assistant Shawn Finney. Finney, who has more than twenty years of collegiate coaching experience, including nine years as an assistant under Smith and five years at Kentucky and five years as a head coach at Tulane, is expected to fill the position of Director of Basketball Operations, replacing Leon Smith, who may be reassigned to an administrative position in the athletic department. Finney is reputed to be a hard-worker, and a very organized, structured individual--areas that have been criticized in the past as weaknesses in the UK recruiting area.

Coaching staff changes aren't all the changes Kentucky will see next season. There were plenty of roster moves as well. Seniors Patrick Sparks, Brandon Stockton, Ravi Moss and Preston Lemaster were known departures, but Rajon Rondo (early departure to the NBA), and Adam Williams, Rekalin Sims and Shagari Alleyne (all to transfer) doubled the known number of departures. With incoming freshmen Derrick Jasper, Jodie Meeks, Perry Stevenson and Michael Porter--and the door not completely closed to '06 recruiting efforts--Kentucky will see a minimum of 12 roster changes from last year's team (eight departures, four newcomers).

Smith also discussed position changes during a summer teleconference with other SEC coaches. Joe Crawford, has enjoyed mixed results at the wing position at Kentucky, but Smith said that he would likely move Crawford to the shooting guard position. The move would have Kentucky playing a much bigger backcourt next season, with the 6-4 Crawford replacing the (barely) 6-0 Sparks at that position, and either 6-3 Ramel Bradley or 6-6 Jasper replacing 6-1 Rondo at the point.

How will Kentucky react to all of the changes in coaching staff members, the roster, and position changes? UK Coach Smith has lost eight players from a team before. At Georgia, Smith lost his top eight players from an NCAA Sweet Sixteen team in 1996. In 1997, replacing those eight players, Smith led the team to 24 wins--to put that in perspective, no Georgia team ever won more games before that time--or since.

The effort earned Smith many accolades, but perhaps more importantly, it also earned Smith the head coaching position at Kentucky when Rick Pitino departed for the Boston Celtics the following year.

"Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes." Will coaching staff members leaving, and new ones arriving, change the UK attitude Smith alluded to in March? Will the departure of players--some key players, and the arrival of new ones, have a positive change? Moving existing players to different positions? UK fans certainly hope the new faces will bring the team to new places next season.

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