Coach: Tubby Smith (eighth season)
2003-04 Record: 27-5, 13-3 SEC
New Players (rankings from PrepStars)
|Patrick Sparks||6-1||Junior||Transfer, Western Ky|
Sparks is expected to take over point guard duties, but could be pressed hard by freshman Rondo, with Stockton (5-9) a third option. On the wings will be Kelena Azubuike (6-5) and another freshman, Crawford, with help from Ravi Moss (6-2), Josh Carrier (6-5), Sheray Thomas (6-7), Bobby Perry (6-7), and Bradley. Chuck Hayes (6-6 but nearly 250 lbs) will be at the high post and Morris at the low post, backed up by Obrzut (7-1) and Alleyne (7-3). Several of this group won't play much.
Sparks (13.3 ppg and 5.9 assists per game as a sophomore at Western Kentucky) and Azubuike are the only established outside scorers in this group, but Rondo, Crawford, and Perry may come along. All three freshman guards can go to the basket, as can Azubuike and Sparks. Inside, Morris is sure to be a scoring force from the beginning and Hayes will get his points.
Rebounding and Defense
Hayes and Morris will get the lion's share of the rebounds, with significant aid from Azubuike and Crawford. Morris will provide a shot-blocking presence and Obrzut will help, but Alleyne looks like a candidate for an early transfer. Team defense will have to develop, but there is tremendous quickness in all three freshman guards.
Will Coach Tubby Smith be able to mould an effective unit from a team with so little experience? The ability is there but many of the players who will see the most time are strangers to each other. Although there is a full complement of 13 scholarship players (plus walk-on Moss), depth is not guaranteed because Stockton, Carrier, Alleyne, Thomas, Perry, and Obrzut have not proved out in the past.
Overall Prospects for 2004-05
Kentucky came up with the top-rated freshman class in the country (according to PrepStars) and has a quality transfer player (Sparks) coming in. Tubby Smith is a very resourceful coach, at least until he gets into the NCAA tournament. Kentucky always has the mystique and winning attitude going for it. The Wildcats are likely to finish somewhere between first and third in the East, but second is the likeliest spot. Of course, as always, they will get to the Big Dance, but may not have the experience to go far.