A season to savor: Mark Story previews the state's new golden age of hoops

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 6, 2013 

The last five seasons have been something of a modern Golden Age for college basketball in Kentucky. As you'll see below, there is every reason to think 2013-14 can continue the glory.

History in Rupp

When 2013 NCAA men's basketball champion Louisville invades Rupp Arena on Dec. 28 to face 2012 champ Kentucky, it will be historic. It will be the first time Kentucky has played in a game in Lexington featuring the two most recent NCAA champions.

Overall, UK has played in such a matchup only two other times in its illustrious history: In December of the 1948-49 season, Kentucky (the 1948 champ) went on the road and beat Holy Cross (the '47 champs) 51-48. During the 1997-98 season's Maui Invitational, Arizona ('97 national title) beat Kentucky ('96 victor) 89-74.

Kevin's comeback

The most famous 4.5 points-a-game scorer in college basketball has to be Louisville's Kevin Ware.

U of L's junior guard became a national folk hero last season after suffering a gruesome fracture of his right leg, the severity of which devastated his teammates and coaches during the Cardinals' NCAA Tournament round-of-eight victory over Duke.

Ware handled the aftermath with such grace, the nation embraced him. He wound up reading a Top Ten List on Letterman and going to the White House Correspondents' Dinner as a guest of CNN. Ware got so much mail from people that U of L had to designate an employee to take charge of it.

This season, curiosity will be high to see whether the 6-foot-2 Ware can bounce back and regain a prominent place in Rick Pitino's crowded guard rotation. If last spring is any indication, many people will be pulling for him.

A trio of transfers

Louisville's Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason, earned Most Outstanding Player last season in the Final Four. This year, here are three transfers, in alphabetical order, who bear watching.

1.) Brent Arrington, Morehead State. A 6-3 sophomore guard, Arrington sat out last season after coming with MSU head man Sean Woods from his previous coaching stop, Mississippi Valley State. Two seasons ago, MVSU went into the Dean Dome and true freshman Arrington lit up North Carolina, hitting 12 of 18 shots, on the way to a 33-point performance.

2.) Chris Jones, Louisville. The junior-college transfer from Northwest Florida State College (21.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.1 assists, 3 steals) is being counted on to replace Peyton Siva as Rick Pitino's point guard.

3.) T.J. Sapp, Murray State. Steve Prohm must replace all-everything guard Isaiah Canaan. At mid-semester, the Racers will have Sapp, a 6-3 guard who started the first seven games last season at Clemson, to boost those efforts.

Three not to miss: Men

The three men's basketball games involving teams from Kentucky you absolutely, positively cannot miss.

1.) Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 28. See above.

2.) Kentucky vs. Michigan State, Nov. 12, United Center, Chicago. Many are ranking UK and U of L Nos. 1 and 2 to start the season. The team given the best chance to knock our state's titans from the top is Tom Izzo's Spartans.

3.) Western Kentucky at Wichita State, Nov. 12 (at midnight). The two-time defending Sun Belt Conference Tournament champions visit the team that came achingly close to derailing Louisville's 2013 NCAA title drive in the national semifinals.

Madison Central heroes

Star players who captivated Rupp Arena fans last season while leading Madison Central to the boys' high school state title are spread around Kentucky college basketball this season:

1.) Ken-Jah Bosley, Kentucky Wesleyan. The guard whose fall-away jumper beat Ballard in the state championship game will be trying to help new KWC head man Happy Osborne get off to a fast start.

2.) Dominique Hawkins, Kentucky. At the time Kentucky's 2013 Mr. Basketball signed with UK, John Calipari said he expected Hawkins to achieve the same things with the Cats that another Kentucky high school hero, Darius Miller, did. Miller, you'll recall, scored more than 1,000 points (1,248), played on an NCAA title team and was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft.

(Forward Quan Taylor was expected to join Georgetown College as Coach Chris Briggs and the Tigers launch a defense of the 2013 NAIA Division I national title. However, shortly before the season, Briggs said Taylor was no longer on the Georgetown roster).

Under the radar

One men's player and one women's player you might not have seen play but should:

Glenn Cosey, Eastern Kentucky. The junior-college transfer from Flint, Mich., won OVC Newcomer of the Week six times last season and shot over 40 percent from three-point range. The 6-foot guard is one of four starters back on an EKU team that should be favored to win the OVC.

Alexis Govan, Western Kentucky. The 5-10 junior guard from San Antonio had a 40-point game last season (in a two-point win over North Texas) and finished the season averaging 20.3 ppg, 15th best in the country.

Family ties

1.) Cierra Drake, Eastern Kentucky. The 6-4 freshman center is the younger sister of Kentucky senior center Samantha Drake.

2.) Chris Harrison-Docks, Western Kentucky. The son of early-1990s era Kentucky guard Chris Harrison was a Michigan high school star (23 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals a game as a senior) who signed with Butler but never played for the Bulldogs. He'll be eligible in the second semester.

3.) Jeff Martin Jr., Murray State. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Martin Sr. is MSU's all-time leading scorer (2,484 points from 1985-89). His son is a 5-10 freshman guard walking on at Murray.

Three not to miss: Women

The three women's basketball games involving teams from Kentucky you absolutely, positively cannot miss.

1. Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 1. In what should be a matchup of top-10 teams, Jeff Walz's Cardinals look for revenge after UK won a thriller last season in the KFC Yum Center.

2. Duke at Kentucky, Dec. 22, Rupp Arena. Could this be the first women's basketball sellout in Rupp history? It should be.

3. Connecticut at Louisville, March 3. The two programs that have met twice in the past five seasons in national title games meet for the final time in the regular season as members of the same conference.

Points of interest

Two point guards who will visit the commonwealth this winter should be of special interest.

1.) Ryan Harrow, Georgia State. Last season's point guard for UK transferred home to Atlanta and, due to a stroke suffered by his father, got a hardship waiver for immediate eligibility from the NCAA. Harrow will be back in Kentucky on Jan. 9 when Georgia State visits WKU.

2.) Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast. The daring point guard, who made "Dunk City" go during last season's Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament, will lead visiting FGCU against Northern Kentucky on March 1.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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