Kentucky is losing five underclassman to the NBA draft, and they’ve two seniors are graduating. That means seven players in Kentucky’s eight man rotation are headed to the next level, leaving the Wildcats with quite a few open roster spots to fill. There’s not much left at Kentucky, but there’s certainly not nothing.
The Cats will only have one player from this year’s rotation returning. That’s Kyle Wiltjer, a young man whose minutes seemed to roller-coaster throughout the year, depending on the game, matchups, or some other mysterious factors. He finished the season averaging 11.6 minutes per game, but rarely broke 10 minutes a game in Kentucky’s biggest games of the year, and never played more than 8 minutes in the Cats’ tournament run. That leaves roughly 190 minutes per contest that coach John Calipari is going to have to fill with replacement talent. In other words, 95% of the minutes on the court in the 2011-2012 season are gone.
Kyle Wiltjer is no slouch, and will almost certainly be seeing major minutes next year. He needed an extras dose of strength and quickness to become a more significant contributor this season. The strength will come as he ages and has time to build his frame, while the lack of quickness can be overcome with preparation and intelligent play. He’ll be more competition-ready by the time next season starts, and should become a vital piece of the Kentucky puzzle in 2012-2013. Wiltjer is 6’9″, and when that is combined with his absurdly high accuracy from behind the arc, he becomes a matchup nightmare that can put up big numbers in no time.
Outside of Wiltjer, none of the remaining Cats saw significant minutes in any major games, and will likely be relegated to the same positions on the bench next year. Twany Beckham has considerable SEC experience, and may be able to serve a backup role depending on the depth in Kentucky’s back-court. Jon Hood will be returning from an injury, and though he’s played in 50 games in his career, it still seems unlikely he becomes anything more than a foul-trouble substitution. Kentucky’s walk-ons and deep-benchers are unlikely to move into a playing-time position. Polson, Long, and Malone were important practice pieces this year, and will probably be exactly that next year too.
The one player earning a championship ring this year that may play the most minutes next season is transfer point guard Ryan Harrow. He was sitting out for his transfer time this season, but was a top 25 in his 2010 class and Kentucky’s only true point guard option at this time. The 2012 high school class was particularly weak on point guards, and Calipari had enough foresight to snatch Harrow in case he needed a point guard next year. Teague declared for the draft, and Harrow remains. Ryan averaged almost 10 points per game, along with 3 assists and 2 rebounds during his year at NC State. He’s a talented and experienced player that should be able to jump in and fill one of Kentucky’s biggest holes.
And of course, Calipari was able to reload with the nation’s best recruiting class once again, enabling Kentucky to start exactly where they left off. Nerlens Noel is high school’s best player, and he’ll be joined by Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley. They are each strong players that have a lot to add to an empty roster. Between the new pieces that will be added, and the pieces that are left standing after Kentucky’s mass exodus yesterday, the Cats are still in good shape.
One or two more pieces would help complete the puzzle, but you can already make out the image. It’s a 2012 national championship banner.
Filed Under: Basketball
About the Author: Corey Tincher is a lifelong Kentucky fan and professional writer who couldn't keep the two worlds apart. He is the lead contributor for StraitCats.com and literally wrote the book on the 2012 NCAA Tournament Championship run, Big Blue Articles: Kentucky Basketball in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Follow @Corey_Tincher on Twitter for more Kentucky news and discussion.