SEC Preview: Kentucky

Kentucky basketball is expected to return to national prominence under first-year head coach John Calipari and here is a look at the Wildcats heading into the 2009-10 campaign.

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 and overall league titles. 

 

 

By Stephen John

Kentucky Sports Report

 

John Calipari’s biggest job this season may be to temper expectations as he tries to find the right blend of veteran and freshman talent. Calipari has tweeted the Big Blue nation into an absolute frenzy. When the season begins, some will wonder whether Calipari coached his first game or staged his first riot. Still, Calipari urges fans to be patient.

  

“We are not going to be great in November,” Calipari said. “We may not be great in December. We may have people questioning us because we will be turning it over, taking bad shots and arguing and learning. There will be questioning of me and them. The point of it is that things don’t happen overnight.”

   

Calipari seems unconcerned. From a certain perspective it’s easy to understand why.

 

Coaches Joe B. Hall, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith all had big shoes to fill when taking over from their predecessors. Calipari, on the other hand, steps in for one Billy Clyde Gillispie, a profoundly unlovable coach at Kentucky who managed to totally alienate players and fans alike in just two short years.

  

“This Kentucky program always had a swagger,” said Calipari. “People saw it. The players knew it. It had a swagger about itself. The other team knew it. The officials knew. Everybody knew it. You walked in and there it was. We have to get that swagger back.”

  

One of Calipari’s first acts as a head coach was to clear the bench of players he felt would not work in his dribble-drive offensive system. Additionally, hot-shooting Jodie Meeks left for the NBA.

 

As a result, the former Memphis coach has only a few veterans who are expected to make an impact this season. Of the players who do return, power forward Patrick Patterson, small forward Darius Miller, forward-center Perry Stevenson and point guard DeAndre Liggins are expected to thrive in the fast-paced system Calipari brings to the table.

  

Patterson, in particular, should provide the Cats with plenty of muscle and scoring punch down low. The 6-9 big man will be a preseason first-team All-SEC pick and All-America candidate.

 

Liggins came to Kentucky with a huge reputation from high school but stalled in Gillispie’s system. Some believed the 6-6 guard had a bad attitude but most believed that Gillispie simply didn’t use him right. Calipari has been impressed early on with Liggins, particularly with his athleticism and size.

  

“I could guard a small forward. Plug me into any position and I will play. I can play three spots. Defensively, I am a willing defender,” Liggins said. “I can be the best on the team. They (the coaches) know I have the right attitude now. I was always a good defensive player in high school.”

  

Veterans aside, the real story for Kentucky basketball this season will surround arguably the best incoming freshman class in Kentucky basketball history, highlighted by 6-10 DeMarcus Cousins and the No. 1 recruit in the nation, 6-3 guard John Wall.

 

Wall averaged 22.1 points, 5.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game last year for Word of God. He played in the USA Nike Hoop Summit where he set a game record with 12 assists and the Jordan Brand All-American Game.

  

Wall is elated to be playing alongside such a talented group of players, which he believes works well with his pass-first mentality.

 

“I would rather make a great pass and then score later,” Wall said. “I used to score a lot because I didn’t have many people on my team that could score. My AAU coaches taught me to pass. When I started passing the ball my game blossomed.”

  

Cousins developed into a premier player in Alabama, averaging 24.1 points, 13.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.2 blocked shots and 5.1 steals per game last year. He earned Parade and McDonald’s All-American honors.

  

“He is really good. He is big and strong and uses his body really well,” sophomore Darius Miller said. “He is not just one of those players you stick on the block and is not mobile. He can really move for his size. I think he will really be successful in this offense.”

 

SEC Predicted Order of Finish

 

SEC East

1. Kentucky

2. Tennessee

3. Florida

4. South Carolina

5. Vanderbilt

6. Georgia

 

SEC West

1. Mississippi State

2. Ole Miss

3. LSU

4. Alabama

5. Arkansas

6. Auburn

 

Overall League Champion: Kentucky

 


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