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UK 2009-10: Empire Strikes Back

UK 2009-10: Empire Strikes Back

For Kentucky Basketball fans, the past decade has been unkind. The list of lowlights is considerable: seven seasons with double digit losses, multiple early round NCAA tournament flame-outs, ugly home losses to the likes of Gardner-Webb and VMI. And so on.

What’s infinitely worse to Cat fans, during this same period, nearly every hated rival and comparably prestigious college basketball program has tasted a bit of greatness. To wit, in the years since UK’s last appearance on college basketball’s grandest stage, Indiana, Louisville, UNC, Duke, UCLA, Kansas and Florida have all reached Final Fours or won the national championship. Needless to say, it’s been tough to stomach.

No more.

With the arrival of Coach John Calipari and one of the finest recruiting hauls any school has seen in recent memory, things look a whole lot different around the UK campus these days. In fact, given the program’s lofty standards, some might say things are starting to feel “normal” again. And for good reason: the cupboard is loaded in Lexington.

Calipari managed to sign 5 of the nation’s top 40 high school prospects, according to Rivals.com. The ridiculous haul includes the consensus No. 1 ranked player in America, John Wall, two of the highest rated big men in the nation in DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, a top 25 point guard, Eric Bledsoe, and the state of Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, Jon Hood. For good measure, Coach Cal also inked blue-chip JUCO talent Darnell Dodson, an ESPN top 100 recruit in 2007.

Signing the “Super Six” alone would be cause for much optimism at Kentucky this season, but the returning parts aren’t exactly chopped liver. UK retains five of its top six scorers from last season, led by All-American candidate Patrick Patterson and sophomore standout Darius Miller, who earned widespread praise this summer as a member of the gold medal winning Team USA in the Under 19 World Basketball Championships.

In short, the roster is deep and talented with a good mix of youth and experience. And the size, speed and overall athleticism of this team should be staggering. The big challenge for Cal will be to meld the prep star egos together and get this team to artfully subscribe to his dribble drive offense. If he’s able to do that, then the program’s longest Final Four drought in the past 60 years will meet its end in a blurry blue haze.

So what might stop the big blue freight train? There are a number of question marks entering the season—who will be the go-to scorer to replace Jodie Meeks, will the fresh faces adjust quickly to the college level, what will the starting five be?—but no issue looms bigger than the scrutiny of the head coach. Questions about Calipari’s past have been well documented, but one misstep at Kentucky and the powder keg of media and fan interest that surrounds this program could detonate, taking the players and lofty expectations with them.

All in all, the 2009-10 season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting years in Kentucky hoops history. Stay connected to all the action with the Big Blue Lowdown, a daily newsletter designed to give you one gem a day, representing the most important information you need to know as a fan of UK in particular and college hoops in general.

The Schedule at Last

The 2009-10 University of Kentucky basketball schedule was released today. You can download it here. In the coming days, we’ll be breaking down the schedule, as well as providing personnel profiles and short reviews of UK opponents. Stick around.

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UK Twitter

Kentucky freshman Charles Matthews is transferring, the school announced. Former ESPN 100 prospect. - via @ESPN App espn.go.com/espn/now?nowId…
1. This loss means nothing. UK lost a game on the road in bizarre circumstances vs a very good team. If anything,... fb.me/4rtUJiRSK
Time to put Texas A&M to bed and get tuned up for a high seed in the big dance.
Epic collapse by UK tonight. Still something not right with this team.
Tough loss over the weekend, but the Cats showed heart...they'll be back. fb.me/7EWsEFppx

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