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JAMIE H. VAUGHT: Basketball Wildcats Won't Look Same Next Season


By Jamie H. Vaught

Editor

When the next basketball season of 2015-16 rolls around, UK will look drastically different.

That's because at least 10 players, including three senior walk-ons, are gone from this past season's memorable 38-1 Final Four team which become the third program to win an NCAA record 38 games in a single season.

But Kentucky's leading returnees -- former McDonald's All-Americans Alex Poythress, Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee -- are ready to take charge and help the Cats continue their winning ways along with incoming freshman superstars.

While UK won't enjoy its once-a-lifetime depth like it did this past winter, the Wildcats still are expected to be a serious threat on the floor -- a likely Top 10 club -- even though their 2015-16 roster is not completely done yet.

"I think we'll be fine," said senior-to-be Poythress in a media gathering last week. "We have a lot of talent coming in. We have a lot of talent already."

A 6-8, 235-pounder from Clarksville, Tenn., Poythress, who sat out most of last season due to a knee injury, will become UK's first four-year player averaging more than 10 minutes per game over his career since Darius Miller in the 2011-12 season.

Before suffering a torn ACL in left knee during a mid-December practice, Poythress was averaging 5.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 20.3 minutes in eight starts..

Poythress added that coach John Calipari has demanded him to do more next season.

"He just wants me to step up and be a leader of this team," he said. "He wants me to run practice.”

Poythress added that he is still recovering from his injury but will be ready by the time practice begins in October.

"I’m jogging right now," he said. "I’ll probably start some single leg jumps and stuff soon. I’m progressing. It’s been a struggle and a journey. That’s how it is with ACL injuries. It’ll all be worth it when I finish rehab and everything. I’ll be fine for the preseason."

Like Poythress, 5-9 guard Ulis is also expected to provide crucial leadership for the Wildcats.

“Yeah, I feel like he (Calipari) wants me to lead the team and especially as a point guard," said Ulis, a member of SEC All-Freshman team. "So I have to step up and do a lot more than I did last year.

"I have to lead more and be more of a leader on and off the court. I will probably play more minutes than last year. I won’t be behind the (Harrison) twins. They took a lot off of our shoulders this year and I just have to be able to step up more."

Ulis played a key role in UK's success in 2014-15, hitting clutch three-pointers late in the NCAA tournament victories over Notre Dame and Cincinnati. The Lima, Ohio native also led the team in three-point shooting percentage (.429) on 33 of 77 downtown jumpers (behind Devin Booker's 41.1 percent) while posting a 135-to-38 assist-to-turnover ratio.