When college basketball pre-season practice is just weeks away —UK’s Big Blue Madness tips off on Friday, Oct. 12 — it means more hoops stories, including yearbooks, are coming in your way.
Over 30 years ago, beginning when I was a college student, I anxiously looked forward to reading the pre-season college basketball publications, especially the highly-acclaimed Street & Smith’s yearbook, around this time of the year.
I sure was like an excited kid in a candy store when I purchased one of the yearbooks, and the different magazines often featured UK players on the front cover. I even still have the old Street & Smith’s copies with Wildcat greats Kyle Macy and Sam Bowie (twice) on the cover. And I still get pretty enthused with the pre-season yearbooks today.
While Street & Smith’s is no longer around, we still can look forward to the other fine periodicals.
Lindy’s Sports is the first one to hit the stores this fall and the Birmingham-based yearbook, as expected, is predicting a very good year for John Calipari’s Cats. And Nashville-based Athlon Sports feels the same way about the Wildcats, too.
Lindy’s, which has Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng on its regional cover, has the Wildcats at No. 5 in its Top 25 pre-season poll, while Athlon, featuring Calipari on its regional cover, has UK at No. 3.
UK rivals — Louisville and Indiana — are placed at either No. 1 or No. 2, according to both colorful publications. Lindy’s has U of L at No. 1 (with IU at No. 2) while Athlon has IU at the top spot (with U of L at No. 2).
Calipari agrees. He told Lindy’s that if he had the pre-season vote, he’d “probably say 1-2 would be Indiana, Louisville” because of experience.
Unlike its national title season of 2011-12 (when UK already had Final Four experience from the previous year among Terrence Jones, Deron Lamb and Darius Miller), this year’s Cats won’t have much experience.
Only Wiltjer, a 6-10 sophomore forward from Portland, Ore., has significant experience from last season’s memorable campaign when he averaged 11.6 minutes in 40 games. He also ranked second in three-point field goal shooting, hitting 35 of 81 downtown jumpers for 43.2 percent last winter.
The team’s lack of Final Four experience could be a disadvantage when the baby Cats play in the NCAA tournament in March.
Still, Calipari may have enough horses like freshman superstars Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress, to name a few, and sophomore newcomer Ryan Harrow (a transfer from N.C. State) to make a serious run for another Final Four journey, especially if his “depthless” Wildcats can stay healthy.
Can Kentucky, which went 16-0 against conference foes last year, go undefeated in SEC action again? Can the Wildcats come up with a similar record like last season’s 38-2 performance?
It won’t be easy, even though the Wildcats will still be plenty tough. The road to the second straight title is often tougher than the first.
We’ll find out during March Madness and hopefully Kentucky will march on to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, the site of 2013 Final Four.
Jamie H. Vaught, whose syndicated sports column currently appears in Kentucky newspapers, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.