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Everyone in Big Blue Nation had already scripted their fate.
Billy Gillispie had been replaced by John Calipari. Coach Cal had brought a number of his recruits with him to Lexington, landing one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory. Then Cal managed to convince a potential lottery pick in Patrick Patterson to come back to school.
All that was left to do was to wait for Jodie Meeks to come to his senses and pull out of the draft, setting up the Wildcats with the inside track to their eighth national title.
It a bit of a surprising move yesterday, Meeks decided to remain in the draft.
Now I know what you are thinking: "Meeks was an All-American guard that averaged 23.7 points per game in the SEC. Should I really be surprised that he went pro in this day and age?"
Yes, considering where he is being projected by NBA scouts.
Meeks is far from a first-round lock, and there is even some talk that he could go undrafted (which, in my opinion, is highly unlikely. Why can't he be the next Michael Redd?). There is no question that Meeks is an outstanding shooter that can bury some tough jumpers, but what about the rest of his game?
He is a bit on the small side for a two guard (6'4"), and while he is strong enough to play in the league, he is not an NBA-level athlete. He is not all that quick or explosive, and he doesn't have enough length to make up for it.
Think J.J. Redick or Trajan Langdan.
So Meeks is leaving Kentucky, most likely without a first-round guarantee. He is leaving behind a chance to be a pre-season All-America and the face of the No. 1 team in the country (who also has the most rabid fan base). With the talent on this Wildcat roster, if Cal had kept Meeks on campus, there would not have been a single writer in the country that did not have UK winning it all.
Tell me again, why did Meeks make a good decision?
Because this was a career move. There is no denying that this is a weak draft class. With the number of potential first rounders that went back to school (Patterson, Cole Aldrich, Al-Farouq Aminu, Craig Brackins, the list goes on and on), and the strength of next season's freshman class (John Wall, Derrick Favors, John Henson, Avery Bradley), Meeks was almost assured to fall (or stay) out of the first round.
Hell, there are three, possibly four, players on the UK roster (Wall, Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton) that would likely be selected higher than Meeks in the 2010 draft.
With all the talent, all the bravado, and the I-need-more-shots mentality that will be inhabiting the UK roster next year, there was no chance Meeks would have been able to put up the numbers he did last season. His draft stock could probably never be higher than it is right now, which is perfect given the weak draft class this year.
As much as you may enjoy watching these "amateurs," the one thing that needs to be kept in mind is that these kids are developing a skill that they are going to use to make a living. If your best chance at earning a guaranteed, seven-figure contract is to enter the draft early—even if it means leaving behind titles and All-American honors—then by all means, do it.
What's the saying? Strike while the iron is hot?
But this is a college basketball blog, so we are more worried about...college basketball. Losing Meeks will hurt Kentucky a lot more than you think. For starters, the Wildcats will now have a backcourt rotation almost entirely made up of newcomers. As good as Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and Darnell Dodson may be, senior leadership is important, especially when so many freshman are involved.
There is a bigger issue. The past two seasons, one of the biggest knocks on Coach Cal's Memphis teams has been the inability to consistently knock down perimeter shots. Yes, Cal runs the Dribble-Drive Motion offense, which is predicated on the ability of the perimeter players to break down a defender.
But the Wildcats have a ton of size inside and two electric freshman point guards. How many times per game will the combination of Wall and Bledsoe beat their defenders and get into the lane? The defense is either going to rotate correctly, which will result in open looks from deep, or try to prevent the three from happening by staying home on the shooters, thus opening up passing lanes to the big guys.
Wouldn't have it been nice having Meeks, a 23.7 points-per-games corer and All-America, out beyond the three-point line, lining up open look after open look?
Now, this isn't to say that Kentucky won't be good this season. They probably still have the talent to be a top-five team.
But would UNC have been the unanimous preseason favorite in 2008-09 if Wayne Ellington had stayed in the draft?