The long-awaited debut of the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats finally arrived as UK took on Puerto Rico in the first of six games to be played in the Bahamas. I had been so anxious to get my first look at this exceptionally talented team, I was able to (mostly) overlook those hideous uniforms. While I understand this is very early, I saw much to be excited about for the upcoming season. Here I list my top 5 takeaways from game 1 of the Big Blue Bahamas Tour:
- The Harrison twins are the players we expected to see at the beginning of last season, only much, much better. Aaron and Andrew both provided very steady play. Aaron’s shooting seemed to be in good form and Andrew’s passing was crisp. Beyond that, what I saw that stuck with me was how patient both of them seemed to be. That year of experience seems to have taught them to let the game come to them instead of trying to force things. They both have a distinct air of quiet confidence unlike the uncertainty and confusion that marked portions of their freshman seasons.
- Dakari is still Dakari, only better. His smile is just as bright and his on court energy is a constant. He does seem to be quicker this season and he was very active defensively. He is an absolute beast around the basket and shows no fear. I expect Johnson to be a vocal leader this season. I also predict he will improve leaps and bounds over the course of the season and could be a key player in our quest for number 9.
- Our other returnees all look very sharp for this early in the season. Poythress wasted no time in going into beast mode and maintained that level for a sustained period of time. Lee seemed much more in tune with his role defensively and also seems to be much more sure when catching passes. Willis and Hawkins both bring high energy, solid defense and good shooting to the floor when they enter the game. The experience these players have gained during their time at UK is evident and should pay huge dividends over the course of the season.
- The freshman class appears to be every bit as talented as advertised. Towns was much better than I anticipated. He had some very impressive moves in the post and seems to have a great court awareness. Ulis is just freakishly quick. I absolutely marveled at his play, proving you can be well under six feet tall and still be a great basketball player. Booker’s defensive effort is what stood out most to me. He wasn’t afraid to go after his man, and go after him hard. Solid defensive efforts were displayed by all the freshmen and I think that is an excellent sign.
- The seemingly endless player combinations for this team should be a scary thought for all our future opponents. There was a joke making the rounds shortly after all the players made their decisions to stay or go that, this season, the top 2 teams in the nation would be UK and UK’s second five. From what I saw today, however, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility. Should the returning players not backslide at all in terms of work ethic and attitude, and should the freshmen embrace what Cal asks them to do, the sky is the limit for this team. I don’t expect an undefeated season. I don’t expect a road without a few bumps along the way. But I do expect one massively talented team clicking on all cylinders when March arrives.
Not a bad list of positives to draw from one game. But the biggest positive may have been knowing that we haven’t yet gotten a true glimpse of what we can be by the end of the season. Having Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles sitting on the sidelines adds a whole new dimension to the options Cal will have during games. Add in having the benefit of this international tour for the team to get to know one another and get a jump start on the actual season could be the intangible that makes all the difference when the NCAA Tournament arrives.
Yes, it’s one game. Yes, it’s early. But everything I’m seeing from this opening game of the Big Blue Bahamas Tour is our future is so bright, I gotta wear shades. My Big Blue shades.