A look at the Kentucky Wildcats

The Kentucky Wildcats' second-year coach has had a busy, productive summer. Billy Gillispie came to Kentucky with a solid reputation for an insatiable work ethic on the recruiting trail and that reputation has proven to be well-deserved.

Note: Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division titles. Here is a look at the Kentucky Wildcats.

 

By Stephen M. John

Kentucky Sports Report

 

Billy Gillispie and his staff have tirelessly laid a foundation for the next few years by signing some of the top players in the classes of 2009, 2010 and even 2011.

  

For 2008, however, his challenge was different. Gillispie replaced Tubby Smith at a time when the Wildcats’ 2008 recruiting was already winding down with few success stories. And the former Texas A&M coach already had his hands full with an under-sized, injury riddled, inconsistent team that would lose two top players to graduation and two more to transfer, taking a total of nearly 45 points per game with them.

  

That is not to say that the Wildcats did not reload the pipeline with talent.  It goes without saying, however, that this season’s bench will include a significant number of talented players acquired from unconventional and rather creative sources.

  

Kentucky brings back a small, but significant core of veteran players that should allow the Wildcats to remain competitive in the SEC.  Patrick Patterson was enjoying a tremendous inaugural season before going down to a season ending injury against Ole Miss in February. The 6-8, 240-pound sophomore is now 100 percent and should lead the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding. Patterson will be competing for All-SEC honors if not All-America honors if he remains healthy.

  

“Last year (Patrick) was a rookie coming in and I knew he was a good player, but his confidence level this year compared to last year is tenfold,” Gillispie said. “He always worked hard, but he has taken it to another level."

  

Jodie Meeks was a superstar in the making coming off a solid freshman season two years ago. Last season, however, injuries kept Meeks from playing very much. And in mid-February, his season ended. Meeks, when healthy, has an entire arsenal at his disposal. He can handle the ball, shoot from long range, rebound, defend and finish on the break. Fans were thrilled to hear Meeks say he was finally healthy this summer.

  

"He has been by far three, four or five times better than I have ever seen him,” Gillispie said. “He is very fast, very athletic. He is shooting well and running the floor. He is another guy that has started to accept leadership responsibility. He will be a very special player for us. I think that is what everyone has been expecting and he can show everyone what he can do. He appears be pretty hungry."

  

When Patterson was lost for the season, no one benefitted more than Perry Stevenson. The 6-9 shot-blocker stepped up his game in a major way and it should pay dividends for the Wildcats. In his first game replacing Patterson, Stevenson scored 13 points and pulled down 14 rebounds against Tennessee and helped the Cats come within a whisper of knocking off the No.1 team in the nation on the road.

  

“Perry has been fantastic. I guess that is what confidence does for you,” Gillispie noted. “He is a totally different person. He is very confident. He is very vocal. He has always had talent and ability.”

  

The Wildcats also have some solid role players returning to the lineup. Ramon Harris and Michael Porter should play significant minutes early on. However, if the Cats are to make any noise this season, a few of the newcomers will have to step up and contribute in a major way.

  

Coming to the Wildcats are true freshmen DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller. Liggins was ranked the No. 5 point guard in his class by Scout.com. He is a tall, incredibly gifted athlete who should crack the Wildcats’ starting lineup early.  Miller is a 6-7 wing player who will compete for playing time early too.

  

Gillispie also brought in a couple of the nation’s top junior college transfers in an effort to add some experienced talent to the roster. Kevin Galloway is a 6-6 point guard who originally committed to Southern California before heading to Southern Idaho Junior College, where he led the junior college ranks in assists. Josh Harrelson is a late-blooming  6-9, 255-pound big man with a soft, accurate medium-jumper. Both transfers will get opportunities to compete for playing time.

  

The Wildcats should be good enough to challenge for one of the top two spots in the SEC East, but much will depend on how well the newcomers fit into the lineup and whether the Cats can stay healthy.

 

 

Predicted Order of Finish

 

SEC East

1. Tennessee

2. Florida

3. Kentucky

4. Vanderbilt

5. South Carolina

6. Georgia

 

SEC West

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Ole Miss

4. Mississippi State

5. Arkansas

6. Auburn


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