We can't help it. It's in our nature. We know that something will go wrong - Green will get away with a walk, Bennett will catch an inexplicable celebration flag, Murray State will hit a ridiculous jumper that we have to see every March for the rest of time. So in the interest of inoculating us against the worst possible calamity, I decided to take a look at our worst-case scenario for next year, in which we lose more or less everyone that could reasonably go (short of unforeseen injury). It's not pretty, at first glance, but upon review it may not be as bad as it looks.
First up, Andre Walker. This is a young man who is on track to graduate in May - and who lost a parent during his college years. The person who recovers from that sort of tragedy often isn't the same person to whom it happened. Couple that with all the injury and illness problems he's suffered this season, and it wouldn't be surprising for Andre to decide to take his diploma and move on with his life. Under the circumstances, I couldn't fault him at all, and if he chooses to go, well, God bless him and thanks for a great career as a Commodore.
...the Big Three, the consensus NBA prospects. Right now, I'd say the most likely to go is actually Festus Ezili - you can't coach 6-foot-11, and what you can coach, he has shown the ability to learn, and fast. Consider what it was like watching him go to the free throw line a year ago, versus down the stretch Saturday against South Carolina. Now I realize that the NBA is no longer in the draft-a-big-body-and-hope-for-the-best mode of years past, but even so, Skynet has so much potential upside that someone will take a flyer on him if he chooses to come out.
As for John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor, I suspect they could both use another year's seasoning - Jenkins to work on his defense and continue improving inside, and Taylor just to get straightened out and find his killer instinct again. But it's not inconceivable they could turn pro and take a chance on the draft - they're certainly no worse prospects than AJ Ogilvy was at this time last year. I don't think they would go, but remember, this is the worst case scenario, so off they go and please let the Warriors get at least one of them.
As for the guys who aren't part of the current rotation: Meriweather and Duffy are done, although I expect to be reading Fluffy's column at ESPN.com in a year or two. Darshawn McClellan has a year left after his surprise redshirt, but he too is on track to graduate and rumblings are that he will use the NCAA transfer rule to attend grad school elsewhere and play his final year. So all told, we could see seven guys take a hike come April - again, this is the worst case scenario.
So what does this mean for next year?
For one thing, it seriously depletes the bodycount in the frontcourt - that's our entire opening-day starting front three, representing an average total of 31 points, 18 rebounds, 3 blocks and 76 man-minutes per game. And JJ23 has averaged 19 points in 34 minutes per game - so that's 50 points a game, gone. (46 without Andre Walker, just to acknowledge that he hasn't been around that much. No point in lying - the worst-case scenario is devastating for next year.
We do have three new talents coming on board. Dai-Jon Parker isn't quite on the level of John Jenkins coming out of school, but he already has a name and a reputation. His only weakness is the ability to move over to point guard - and with the arrival of Kedren Johnson, that might not be an issue. Johnson has size for a PG (6-4) and is a known good defender, as is Parker. And to them, add Shelby Moats, a 6-7 forward with good passing skills and a cerebral approach on the court (sound familiar?) We also get to activate current redshirts Josh Henderson (6-11) and James Siakam (6-6), who presumably have as much practice time as Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller - and after Saturday, it's starting to look like Rod Odom is clicking.
Right now, though, the worst case scenario for 2011-12 looks a lot like 2008-09: size, youth, and a lot of reloading for the next year or two to come. Five first-year players might make things a little too exciting, and not in a good way, but 2013 and 2014 have the potential to look a lot like the last couple of seasons as a whole bunch of guys get to spend a lot of years together gelling as a team. And let's not forget we (presumably) still have Steve, Lance and Brad to be the senior leadership on next year's squad.
The practical upshot of all this is: we have reloaded with this year's class, enough that the train will continue to run. I don't think I really appreciated Kevin Stallings as a recruiter until I went through this little exercise, but make no mistake, we have the talent to keep this run going for some time. Yes, the future is still now - but it'll be there next year and the year after, too.
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