Goodbye, Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, Orton and Patterson. Hello, Knight, Kanter, Jones, Lamb, Poole and Vargas. As daunting as it would be for any team to lose five players early to the NBA Draft, John Calipari once again pulled off a masterful job in landing the best recruiting class in the country.
Of course, one of those in-coming freshmen has still not been cleared to play this season. The NCAA is looking into reports that Enes Kanter took money from a professional team in his native Turkey which would obviously affect his collegiate eligibility. Kanter is an extremely talented 6-10 player who more than likely will be a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft. His presence on the floor will be crucial to any hopes Kentucky has of making a deep run to the NCAA Tournament.
Without Kanter, there is still plenty of talent just not a whole lot of depth in the frontcourt. Terrence Jones was a late signee who could be another one-and-done. He has the body to bang around down low, but also the ability to step out on the perimeter and take defenders off the dribble. Former Florida Gator Eloy Vargas transferred in after spending a year at Miami-Dade Community College and will provide some muscle off the bench. Josh Harrellson barely saw the floor last year playing behind Cousins and Orton, but will have to be a contributor this season especially until the Kanter situation gets resolved.
Faceing the dubious challenge of replacing John Wall is Brandon Knight, who becomes next in the lineage of talented freshman point guards to play for Calipari. There is not a true point guard to serve as Knight's backup, but freshman Jarrod Polson is a deadly shooter who could fill some minutes at the one. Polson originally joined the Wildcats as a walk-on but was awarded a scholarship.
Kentucky's most experienced position is on the wing where juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins will be asked to provide some leadership for this young team. Both players are solid on the defensive end and versatile enough to play anywhere from the two to the four with the possibility of them even having to run the point at times this year. Jon Hood rode the bench as a freshman but figures to scratch the rotation due to his three-point shooting which was an area of weakness for the Wildcats last season.
There will be even more competition on the wing with freshmen Doron Lamb and Stacey Poole figuring into the mix. Lamb will likely start at the two and may be forced to play some point as well. Poole is slasher who adds even more versatility.
We know that Kentucky will be good this year. Just how good depends Kanter's status, and if this talented recruiting class can replace what last year's freshmen brought to the table.
Player to Watch: Brandon Knight, PG
Knight possesses some of the same qualities that Wall does which is why he is considered a top prospect for the 2011 NBA Draft. Besides looking like Lil' Wayne before cutting his braids, Knight is explosive in the open floor and happens to be a tremendous playmaker. He is a better perimeter scorer than Wall, but does not have the extraordinary court vision and passing ability. Last season, Calipari had the luxury of playing either Wall or Bledsoe at the point. This year, he will lean heavily on Knight who is the only true point guard on the roster.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/22 vs. Oklahoma (Maui Invitational)
11/23 vs. Virginia/Washington (Maui Invitational)
11/24 vs. Michigan State/Chaminade/UConn/Wichita State (Maui Invitational)