Decisions, Decisions. . .and How They Impact UK Basketball

The declaration to stay or go is almost always a heart-wrenching decision, regardless of how much money lies at the end of the NBA rainbow.  Leaving behind friends, teammates, coaches, the college life, and an adoring fan base has to be tough.  But living a successful, happy life is about making the right decisions, especially decisions which have such an incredible impact on one’s life.

In the case of the three Kentucky initial “declarers,” freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and junior DeAndre Liggins, the decisions each arrived at is a testament to their collective ability to analyze a situation and choose the option best suited to further their basketball careers.

For Knight, being projected as a Top-5 draft pick, along with the positive feedback he received at the John Calipari-generated “Kentucky Combine,” really left him with no other option than to keep his name in the draft.  Always concerned with his academic standing, Knight, if he chose to come back to UK and finish his degree over the summer months, could conceivably graduate BEFORE his class.  Simply amazing!

For Liggins, considering he now has a family to support, and the fact that his draft standing may never be higher, was left to ponder whether to strike while the interest was hot, or hold on for another year and hope his stock stayed high even though next year’s NBA Draft looks to be much deeper than 2011’s.

And finally, Terrence Jones and his decision to return.  Faced with the enviable position of being a Top-12-18 selection in the NBA Draft, Jones chose to stay at UK to help the ‘Cats bring title No. 8 to Lexington, something he is to be commended for.  Also, the possibility of a protracted NBA lockout likely played a key role, possibly making his decision a bit easier.

All three are to be congratulated for their decisions, and given thanks and appreciation by UK fans for the incredible strides each displayed during the course of last season, and the contributions each made to Kentucky’s first Final Four appearance in 13 years.  And in Liggins’ case, going from the dog house to the penthouse — in record time — due to an improved attitude, a dedication to playing lock-down defense, and evolving into a leader by example, all the while keying UK’s late-season turnaround.

What it Means for the Future of Kentucky Basketball

Now that the decisions have been made, exactly how will the 2011-2012 version of the ‘Cats be effected by Knight and Liggins continuing their careers as professionals, and Jones opting to return to Lexington for his sophomore year?  Let’s take a much too early, quick look at some possible scenarios:

Point Guard: The “1” guard spot will be manned by incoming freshman Marquis Teague, about that there can be little doubt.  Even if Knight had decided to return for his second year, Teague would have been handed the keys to the car, so in that sense Knight leaving has very little effect on who starts at the all-important position.  But what the loss of Knight does do is thin the perimeter personnel, leaving Doron Lamb, Jarrod Polson, and possibly Darius Miller as backup options at the point, at least until Mississippi State (and former Ballard HS star) transfer Twany Beckham becomes eligible the second semester.

Shooting Guard: Doron Lamb would seem to be secure as the “2” guard most likely to see the most minutes.  Lamb’s backup, though, is still to be determined, but there are a couple of intriguing possibilities — Madisonville native Jon Hood, who came on at the end of the year and gave the ‘Cats some very solid play, seems positioned to garner more minutes in 2011-2012.  A solid shooter with the ability to drive, Hood just needs to work on his defense and most importantly, his confidence.  Hood has to realize he belongs — Incoming 6’9″ freshman Kyle Wiltjer, he of the sweet jumper (and a developing hook shot), could be a player Cal inserts at the “2” if needed, although with his size Wiltjer is more likely to play some small or power forward.  Finally, sophomore Stacey Poole will be given an opportunity to earn playing time at the off-guard.

Small Forward: Senior Darius Miller obviously brings the most experience to the UK roster at the “3,” but 6’7″ freshman Michael Gilchrist, who some consider the best high school player in the nation, will surely push Miller for floor time.  But, there is nothing like experience, and in Miller Cal has experience and talent.  Miller also is possibly the most versatile ‘Cat, capable of playing the shooting guard, small forward, or power forward (a position he played late last year quite effectively), which will open up the “3” spot for Gilchrist to showcase his wares along with his Secretariat-sized motor.  Look for both players to see significant playing time.

Power Forward: Terrence Jones’ return ensures UK has in its fold one of the leading rebounders in the SEC, a player with the ability to dribble-drive (all important in Cal’s offense), or stop and pop from beyond the arc.  The versatility Jones brings within the context of his position makes him invaluable to what Cal’s ‘Cats will be trying to accomplish next season.  Also capable of playing the “4” will be 6’10” freshman Anthony Davis (who some consider the best high school player in the country … I sense a developing trend here), Darius Miller, or maybe even Gilchrist.

Center: Although Davis, who grew about eight inches in under 18 months, has the skill set to play the “4,” look for him to man the Wildcat middle.  Already a tremendous defender (and shot blocker) in possession of a wide wingspan, Davis’ offensive game is still developing, leaving his “ceiling” sky high.  Providing depth at the “5” spot is Eloy Vargas, a player who displayed great improvement as the 2011 season progressed.  Not to be written off as a 10 minute-per-game player, Vargas’ potential became evident the more he played, leaving open the possibility for serious playing time next year if he is able to increase his upper body strength.

Rest assured ‘Cat fans, as evidenced above, there will be an abundance of talent gracing the Rupp Arena hardwood this fall and winter.  As the off-season progresses we’ll begin to take a closer look at the possibilities John Calipari and staff will be happily contemplating for the 2011-2012 season.