Hold your horses. I’m no Jerry Tipton but I’m already a wee bit worried about this year’s version of the UK Basketball Wildcats. Before you go booking travel arrangements for The Final Four in Phoenix next April, just think back to Tubby’s Team Turmoil or—or even more recently, Cal’s NIT team. I’m not predicting any losses to Robert Morris with this bunch of Cats, but if recent history proves correct, it’ll take time for this team to morph into a championship caliber unit.
Before anyone accuses me of being too much of a naysayer, let me just say I’m simply looking out for the team’s best interest. This is Kentucky Basketball and we all know it’s held to a much higher standard than our football brethren. We’re talking national championships–not bowl eligibility, undefeated seasons—not breaking .500, Bam—not Boom! We want to dominate Duke and crush Carolina. There’s simply no time to fiddle with shot mechanics or fragile psyches along the way.
The recent 108-51 exhibition game victory against Clarion did little to dampen the hopes of BBN. This team is fast and long and athletic. Get ready for fast breaks and flying dunks. All initial reports indicate that team chemistry is solid and the players understand the pressures of playing for such a tradition rich program and its crazy fans. However, every team has a weakness and for this team I see not one Achilles heel, but two. The first is outside shooting. If Derek Willis’ corner jumper isn’t falling, who else is going to be the zone buster? Cal says Michael Mulder has been “shooting the pee out of the ball” in practice, but remember you’re talking about PRACTICE. When the lights of the new scoreboard come on, some players have been known to soil their pants. If the Cats want to bring home Championship #9, either Dom or Malik will need to step up and find their shooter’s eye on a consistent basis.
The second potential weakness of this team is that it may be too nice. Yes, you heard me right. Every single player I interviewed during Media Day was engaging, eloquent and endearing. They were all likable enough to sing in the church choir or marry my daughter. However, if that type of congenial demeanor is displayed while on the basketball court, then this team will be like Caspar Milquetoast with no killer instinct whatsoever. I’m not saying we need a team made up of Grayson Allens, but a dose of Winston Bennett or a dash of Jamaal Magloire wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
I’m hopeful that this team will eventually find its shooting rhythm and develop the needed toughness to compete for a national title. After all, that’s why we pay Cal the big bucks and he’s been up to the challenge so far. Just realize that it may take a little longer with this team for all the pieces to come together. I’m willing to wait at least a day or two. Until then, how ‘bout them Football Cats?
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.