BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — After enduring a coaching change and a season basically lost to injury in his short college career, Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks could look at 2008-09 as a chance for personal redemption.
But, no. In his soft-spoken, matter-of-fact way, Meeks maintained his team-first approach at the Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday. No matter the compelling reasons for putting a personal context on this coming season, he steered the conversation toward UK's ambitions.
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His personal goals for this season?
"Have a strong year just to help the team out," he said before adding, "In order for us to have a special season, I feel I need to have a strong season."
Meeks noted the need to increase his scoring, especially with Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley no longer on the team. That's about as close as he came to injecting a first-person tone into the conversation.
Not that Meeks lacks a healthy self- esteem. After noting how Meeks got no mention on the media's pre-season All-SEC team, a reporter asked Meeks if he felt he had all-league ability.
"I definitely think that," he said. "You have to think that. If you don't, you really don't have confidence."
Until the multiple injuries of last season, Meeks seemed headed toward all-SEC status. In 2006-07, Tubby Smith's last season as coach, Meeks gave fans a reason to believe better days were ahead.
Then after scoring 34 points in an exhibition game against Pikeville College this time last year, Meeks seemed poised to form a productive inside-outside combination with Patrick Patterson.
Alas, it did not happen. A sports hernia, initially diagnosed as a stress fracture in his pelvis, and a hip flexor injury limited Meeks to 11 games.
"It was very frustrating for the simple fact of knowing I couldn't play," Meeks said. "Not doing things I was used to doing. Just having to wake up every morning knowing I couldn't play."
Meeks credited his parents with helping him deal with the frustration.
Ironically, Meeks felt the low point came in the game at LSU, one of the few times he made a contribution. He made a couple shots that helped Kentucky win.
But the realization that the pain in his lower abdomen would not go away dulled the excitement.
"It set in that my season was done," he said. "I just wanted to get it fixed as soon as possible. I was still hurting pretty bad in the game I played in. I tried to suck it up and help the team. But it came to the point I couldn't do it anymore."
When asked whether he regarded 2007-08 as a lost season, Meeks protested.
"I wouldn't call it a lost season, but it was pretty frustrating," he said. "I try not to think about it as a lost season."
After the season, doctors correctly diagnosed a sports hernia. The surgery corrected the problem and Meeks pronounces himself 100 percent recovered.
"I think I'm back to where I was before I got hurt," he said. "I just feel healthy again, and feeling in good shape. Hopefully, I can keep it up."
This would sound like music to the ears of Kentucky fans.
"I'm the player I was," Meeks said. "I'm back in great shape and ready to go have a strong season."