UK Men's Basketball

Mended Meeks shows his confidence is back

Of the questions surrounding Kentucky basketball going into this season, the exhibition games conclusively answered at least one: Jodie Meeks is healthy.

No UK player scored more points (25 a game) nor played more minutes (28 a game) than Meeks in the victories over Missouri-St. Louis and Ouachita Baptist. That seemed to blow away questions about his health coming off surgery to repair a sports hernia. It also served as an answer to prayer.

"I hoped and prayed to come back this strong," Meeks said after Kentucky beat Ouachita Baptist on Friday. "The off-season was tough with rehab and, of course, you have a little bit of doubt.

"Once I got in shape, I think I got pretty strong. At the end of the summer, when I didn't have any more aches and pains or setbacks, my confidence came back and doubts went away."

Meeks played aggressively and effectively in the exhibitions. He made 16 of 36 shots, including eight of 17 from three-point range. He made all 10 of his free-throw attempts.

When a reporter's question on Friday implied that Meeks might be shooting too much, UK Coach Billy Gillispie defended the junior guard.

"He's playing great," said Gillispie, who noted that Meeks had taken 17 shots against Ouachita Baptist. "I wish he'd shoot that many times or more. When you say 'hunting shots,' that means not playing in the framework of the team. Everything he's doing is within the framework of the team.

"I couldn't care less if he shot 30 times, especially the way he's shooting and the aggressive nature (with which) he is playing."

Meeks did not blanch at the thought of taking 30 shots in a game.

"It's OK if it's in the offense," he said. "Sounds good."

As a junior guard and the only proven perimeter scorer, Meeks figures to have a prominent role. He expects to shoulder a load this season in complementing big man Patrick Patterson.

"Coach and I talked about it and he said we're taking good shots and (Gillispie) wants me to shoot the ball when I'm open (and) to look for Patrick in the middle," Meeks said. "I just have to play smart. I think as a veteran on the team, I have a little more freedom and I'm going to take the opportunity to take more shots."

Meeks was expected to fill a prominent role last season. But injuries limited him to 11 games. A misdiagnosis of the sports hernia prevented a more timely repair. But the belated surgery in the off-season set him on the path to a full recovery.

"I feel pretty good," Meeks said. "I think I'm playing hard like Coach wants me to play. I just have to continue to take smarter shots and make smart choices on the floor."

As well as he played in the exhibitions, Meeks cited areas he needs to improve. Specifically, he mentioned defense away from the ball and rebounding.

That can-do-better spirit mimicked Gillispie's never-satisfied persona. As the Cats start a second season for Gillispie, they're familiar with the impossibility of satisfying their coach.

"Coach is never satisfied and that's what we like about him," Meeks said. "If you get 45 points, he's still going to tell you what you need to correct. And that's how you get better."