Let UK’s youth movement begin

Billy Gillispie’s first-born Kentucky basketball team looked premature on paper.

Two seniors, one junior, 15 freshmen and sophomores. It’s going to be that way all season, and after last night, it won’t be a surprise.

But if the season-opening scrimmage was any indication, the team’s youth might not be such a bad thing.

Sophomore guard Jodie Meeks looked like the player every fan expects him to be. So did freshman forward Patrick Patterson.

Sophomore forwards Perry Stevenson and Mark Coury showed everyone what Tubby Smith saw in them.

And as a result, the Gillispie era got off to a bang. The baby Cats accounted for 69 percent of UK’s points and sent Pikeville College back to Eastern Kentucky as 99-64 losers.

Before this goes any further, it must be emphasized that the Cats played Pikeville. They’re an NAIA team. The Bears were supposed to lose by 35. They did, which means the Cats did their job, and they can be lauded for that.

Now that the caveat is out of the way, let’s talk about how the Cats were finer than caviar.

UK’s starting lineup was young enough to go trick-or-treating after the game.

Sophomore forward Ramon Harris, Stevenson, Coury and Meeks started alongside Ramel Bradley. That’s a senior and four sophomores.

Meeks was on fire all night. He made 7-of-9 3-point field goals in the first half and finished with 34 points.

“He was hotter than a match,” said Pikeville head coach Kelly Wells.

Meeks obviously didn’t do it alone.

Patterson was a force around the basket both scoring and rebounding. He finished with 21 points and nine rebounds.

Freshman forward A.J. Stewart was diving on the floor all night. Sophomore guard Michael Porter was effective pressuring the ball.

Even sophomore guard Dwight Perry played in the first half and made a 3-point basket late in the game.

“I thought they played really well,” Bradley said. “I think they’re still learning, and if they continue to work as hard as they do, they’re going to improve and continue to improve.”

That’s really encouraging for the Cats when you think that two of last night’s starters aren’t going to be in the first five for very long.

Senior Joe Crawford will be back in the starting lineup when he fully recovers from offseason knee surgery (but he sure looked good at less than 100 percent and with 20 less pounds on him).

Patterson will almost certainly start down low when he completely heals from an upper-respiratory infection.

After that, it’s up in the air. Stevenson? Harris? Coury? Derrick Jasper? Alex Legion? Sophomore, sophomore, sophomore, sophomore, freshman.

Talk about a youth movement. And that’s not at all a bad thing.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected]