Mark Story

A number that should give Kentucky basketball fans optimism for 2019-20

Nick Richards feels like one thing has been holding the Kentucky center back

Kentucky center Nick Richards said he needs to improve in one area after a frustrating freshman season. He believes he already sees improvement.
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Kentucky center Nick Richards said he needs to improve in one area after a frustrating freshman season. He believes he already sees improvement.

The paradox of the one-and-done era in Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball has been the vital role experienced players have played on the most successful teams.

For all the attention on the one-year players that John Calipari has sent from Kentucky to the NBA, the best UK teams of the current era have had quality veterans.

When big men Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery announced their intentions last week to remove their names from 2019 NBA Draft consideration to remain at Kentucky, it assured that next season’s Cats will feature a significant veteran core.

A 6-foot-11 junior-to-be, Richards has made 40 career starts at UK. Graduate transfer Nate Sestina, a forward, made 32 starts at Bucknell.

Point guard Ashton Hagans started 30 games last season for Kentucky, while Montgomery made 10 starts and guard Immanuel Quickley seven.

With those five players, Kentucky will begin 2019-20 with 119 career starts on its roster.

That will put next season’s Cats in the top half of Calipari-era UK teams in terms of experience. As you will see below, that factor should be a source of optimism for Kentucky fans:

2009-10

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 158

The rundown: Patrick Patterson 59 career starts; Ramon Harris 53; Perry Stevenson 41; Josh Harrellson two; Darius Miller two; De’Andre Liggins one.

Final record: 35-3, lost in NCAA Tournament round of eight

The skinny: After Calipari’s initial recruiting effort yielded freshmen stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, only Patterson and Miller among the holdover veterans were in the regular rotation.

Patrick Patterson.JPG
Patrick Patterson brought 59 career starts into the 2009-10 season.

2010-11

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 37

The rundown: Darius Miller 34; Josh Harrellson two; DeAndre Liggins one.

Final record: 29-9, lost in NCAA Tournament Final Four

The skinny: Senior Harrellson and juniors Liggins and Miller helped this team reach the proverbial “next level” late in the season when their improved play took pressure off freshmen stars Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.

Darius Miller
Entering the 2010-11 season, ex-Mason County star Darius Miller, right, was the most experienced player on the Kentucky Wildcats roster. Mark Cornelison Staff File Photo

2011-12

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 125

The rundown: Darius Miller 71; Terrence Jones 35; Doron Lamb 14; Twany Beckham five (at Mississippi State).

Final record: 38-2, won NCAA championship

The skinny: The perfect blend of one-and-done star power with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague joining veterans Miller, Jones and Lamb.

Doron Lamb
Kentucky guard Doron Lamb (20) entered the 2011-12 season having made 14 career starts. Herald-Leader

2012-13

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 49.

The rundown: Julius Mays 34 (six at North Carolina State; 28 at Wright State); Ryan Harrow 10 (at North Carolina State); Twany Beckham five (at Mississippi State).

Final record: 21-12, lost in NIT first round

The skinny: Team that entered season without a single player who had ever started a game for Kentucky ended up in the NIT (though that may not have happened absent a season-ending injury to freshman star Nerlens Noel).

NAOwv.So.79.jpeg
Graduate transfer Julius Mays had his Senior Day at Kentucky but had previously started games for both North Carolina State and Wright State during his college career. Herald-Leader

2013-14

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 46

The rundown: Alex Poythress 31; Willie Cauley-Stein 14; Jarrod Polson 1.

Final record: 29-11, lost in NCAA Tournament championship game

The skinny: After struggling all season, team starting five true freshmen put together one of the most unexpected NCAA Tournament runs in UK history.

Jarrod Polson
Entering Kentucky's 2013-14 season, Jarrod Polson was one of only three players on the Wildcats roster who had previously started a college basketball game.

2014-15

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 164

The rundown: Aaron Harrison 40; Andrew Harrison 39; Willie Cauley-Stein 32; Alex Poythress 31; Dakari Johnson 18; Marcus Lee four.

Final record: 38-1, lost in NCAA Tournament Final Four

The skinny: The most experienced UK team of the one-and-done era by career starts came agonizingly close to producing a perfect season.

5EQuW.So.79.jpeg
Andrew Harrison (5) entered Kentucky's 2014-15 season having made 39 starts the year before. Herald-Leader

2015-16

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 52

The rundown: Alex Poythress 39; Dominique Hawkins nine; Marcus Lee four.

Final record: 27-9, lost in NCAA Tournament round of 32.

The skinny: Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis entered year with no career starts but had been a vital part of the proceeding season’s 38-1 team in a platoon role.

Alex Poythress
Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) entered his senior season in 2015-16 have made 39 total starts in the first three seasons of his UK career. Mark Cornelison mcornelison@herald-leader.com

2016-17

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 54

The rundown: Isaiah Briscoe 33; Derek Willis 11; Dominique Hawkins nine; Isaac Humphries one.

Final record: 32-6, lost in NCAA Tournament round of eight

The skinny: Mix of freshman star power (Bam Adebayo, De’Aron Fox, Malik Monk) and veteran presence (Briscoe, Hawkins, Willis) hit a good balance.

Willis.jpg
In terms of career starts, Derek Willis (35) entered the 2016-17 season as the second-most experienced player on the Kentucky roster with 11. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

2017-18

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 23

The rundown: Wenyen Gabriel 23.

Final record: 26-11, lost in NCAA Tournament round of 16.

The skinny: In surprise NCAA tourney loss to Kansas State, the inexperience of the youngest roster of UK’s one-and-done era showed.

Wenyen Gabriel
Entering Kentucky's 2017-18 season, sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel (32) was the only player on the Wildcats roster who had ever before started a college basketball game. Mark Mahan

2018-19

Career college starts by players on the roster entering the season: 162

The rundown: Reid Travis 82 (at Stanford); Nick Richards 37; PJ Washington 30; Quade Green 13.

Final record: 30-7, lost in NCAA Tournament round of eight.

The skinny: Kentucky’s experience was in its frontcourt. The UK season ended because Kentucky’s all-freshmen backcourt was mauled in the Midwest Region finals by Auburn’s veteran guards.

Reid Travis
As a graduate transfer, Reid Travis (22) came to Kentucky from Stanford having made 82 career starts for the Cardinal. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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