Roundball (still) reigns on this campus

20. Eric Quigley, tennis – Kentucky’s best high school tennis player ever is keeping his act in the Bluegrass. The four-time defending state champion will almost certainly become the face of the program and could put UK’s rising tennis team over the top.

19, 18. Natalie Smith and Molly Johnson, softball – The Cats are still struggling to catch up to their conference counterparts, but they’re closing the gap thanks to these two juniors.

17. Queen Nzenwa, volleyball – Has led the Cats to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history. Her return indicates UK could be headed for a fourth.

16, 15. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins, men’s basketball – The next chapter in UK’s storied basketball program. Nobody expects them to replace Joe Crawford or Ramel Bradley, but Miller, 2008’s Mr. Basketball for the state of Kentucky, and Liggins, a highly touted guard out of Chicago, will likely have to shoulder a large portion of the scoring load as freshmen.

14. Elvis Burrows, swimming – Who isn’t excited about swimming after watching that Phelps guy breeze through Olympic water? He might not carry the decorative hardware around his neck like Phelps, but Burrows did compete (for the Bahamas) among the world’s best in Beijing a couple of weeks ago.

13. Matthew Mitchell, women’s basketball – Despite losing two of his best players (Sarah Elliott and Carly Ormerod) for a good chunk of last season due to injuries, he still managed to lead the Cats to a deep National Invitation Tournament run. He’d like nothing more than to turn that into an NCAA Tournament this season.

12. Barry Rice, men’s soccer – Rice does it all. While he was busy earning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, he chipped in with a team-high seven goals.

11. Mallory Blackwelder, women’s golf – It’s no secret that Blackwelder has a promising career ahead of her – she received a special sponsor’s invitation to play in one of the LPGA’s majors last year and played extremely well – but she has one more season left to tear up the college tournaments before she embarks on her pro career.

10. Chris Rusin, baseball – The Bat Cats’ best pitcher in 2008 returns to Lexington for his final season. Rusin, UK’s first, first-team All-SEC pitcher since Scott Downs in 1997, will likely get the nod as the Sunday starter.

9. Carly Ormerod, women’s basketball – The Cats struggled to find a replacement for Ormerod when she went out for much of last season with a foot injury. A healthy Ormerod should cushion the blow of losing Elliott and Samantha Mahoney.

8, 7. Jeremy Jarmon and Trevard Lindley, football – Two of the most underrated defensive players in the SEC. Check that. In all of the country. Unlike previous seasons, UK’s defense will be its strength, and these two will almost certainly be a factor in its improvement. (Click here to see Rich Brooks talk about UK v. UofL)

6. Jodie Meeks, men’s basketball – If Meeks could have stayed on the court last season, we would have likely been talking about preseason All-Southeastern Conference honors. Preseason watch lists aside, he’s one of the best pure scorers in the conference and appears primed for a huge junior season.

5. Gary Henderson, baseball – The man that turned the program around, former head coach John Cohen, is gone to Mississippi State. Will he take UK’s recent success with him? Will we see a different ball club with a new identity? A lot of those questions will be answered on the shoulders of the new skipper.

4. Mike Hartline, football – Nobody has a tougher job at UK this year than this kid. Despite throwing just six career passes, he’ll face the daunting task of replacing the program’s most successful quarterback. Amid the pressure of replacing an All-SEC quarterback and the ugly saga that was Curtis Pulley, he’s said and done all the right things.

3. Rich Brooks, football – Move forward. Keep winning. That’s what Brooks will have to do without the centerpieces of UK’s back-to-back bowl wins. With the fate of the UK football program hanging in the balance, this could be the most defining year in his tenure at UK.

2. Patrick Patterson, men’s basketball – As good as advertised. It didn’t take long for 2-Pat to become the team’s best player and fan favorite. The offense will run through him again this year, but can he overcome the double- and triple-teams he’ll face on a nightly basis?

1. Billy Gillispie, men’s basketball – The honeymoon – or what little of a honeymoon it was – is over. Now that he’s had a year to put a stamp on his team, fans will expect improvements and results. They might be asking for a lot after just one season, but that’s the job you face when you’re the head coach of the most successful program in the all of college basketball. Buckle up for what should be another roller coaster of a season.

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Rich Brooks’ news conference before Louisville