New Players (rankings from PrepStars)
Shagari Alleyne 7-2 Freshman #52 ranked
Lukasz Obrzut 7-1 Freshman Unranked
Bobby Perry 6-7 Freshman #102 ranked
Sheray Thomas 6-8 Freshman #158 ranked
1. Tradition and mystique. Kentucky players, fans, and coaches all expect to win. They go into each game with an attitude of superiority and confidence, and have done so for many years. Their fans turn out in large numbers even on distant foreign courts. All of this is a tremendous psychological advantage, especially when they play the SEC teams that they have so long dominated.
2. Experienced players from a highly successful team. Four Wildcats return who played a major role in last season's 32-4 success (16-0 in conference play). They are 6-3 Gerald Fitch, 6-6 Chuck Hayes, 6-8 Erik Daniels, and 6-1 Cliff Hawkins. In addition, five others are back, namely Antwain Barbour, Kelenna Azubuike, Josh Carrier (all three 6-5), 6-9 Bernard Cote, and 5-9 Brandon Stockton. Hawkins will be the point guard, Fitch on one wing and either Barbour or Azubuike on the other, Hayes at the high post, and Daniels at low post. Stockton will be Hawkins's backup, Carrier will be available to play outside, and Cote can play high post or on a wing. These players should allow Kentucky to continue to play the suffocating defense that they used last season.
3. Intriguing newcomers. Kentucky recruited two seven footers. Both of them may be, to some extent, projects, but their great height could be an immediate factor in team defense. According to Tubby Smith, Obrzut (from Poland, name pronounced "WOO-kosh ORB-zoot) is "a very good athlete..(and) has good hands and good footwork." Alleyne "really gives us an inside presence and shot-blocking ability that we can put to good use." The other recruits, Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas, may not make an immediate impact, but Perry is reputed to be a fine outside shooter and Thomas is a strong 220-pounder.
4. Coach Tubby Smith. After the turmoil that plagued his team in 2001-02, Smith got his players together and functioning as a precision machine in 2002-03. Smith has a lot of experience and has had much success. He seems to have decided to no longer recruit temperamental superstars and concentrate on obtaining team players. With Kentucky's reputation, he should be able to get excellent talent even with this restriction.
1. Outside shooting. Three-point shooting has been a Kentucky problem for several years now. Last year Keith Bogans and Gerald Fitch hit their outside shots and other players gave them minimal aid (Hawkins hit a good percentage, but didn't shoot much). With Bogans gone, Fitch is the only established outside shooter, but Azubuike has shown signs of being able to fill this gap. Josh Carrier was recruited as an outside bomber, but has been a disappointment. Bobby Perry may help.
2. Post play. Freshmen Alleyne and Obrzut must make an immediate impact for the Wildcats to have the intimidating inside presence that Estill and Camara gave them.
Overall Prospects for 2003-04
Although the Kentucky Wildcats may have had their confidence shaken a bit by the thrashing they received from Marquette in the NCAA tournament, they have the talent and experience to lead the Eastern Division once again. Whereas the equally talented Florida Gators often fade in the stretch, Kentucky almost always comes on strong late in the season. The safe bet is to pick Kentucky over Florida.