LAST SEASON: 32-4; lost to LSU in NCAA final eight.
GOODBYE TO: Center/forward Kenny Walker (20.0 ppg); guard Roger Harden; forward Winston Bennett (redshirted after knee surgery).
SUPPORTING CAST: Guards James Blackmon and Ed Davender; 6'9" center Cedric Jenkins; 6'7" forward Richard (Master Blaster) Madison.
INTRODUCING: Freshmen guard Rex Chapman and swingman Derrick Miller.
SEE YOU IN THE SUPERDOME IF: The Cats can survive the loss of Bennett and Chapman is as good as his schoolboy rep suggests he'll be.
Eddie Sutton is real happy about the arrival of his new homegrown trigger man, Rex Chapman of Owensboro. "If we hadn't signed him, the state might have declared a day of mourning," says Sutton.
Instead it could be a new day dawning for Kentucky basketball. Maybe. Chapman is only a freshman, remember, but you can be sure you're talking about a future record-book denizen when the experts tell you that the only part of his game that Chapman can improve is defense. Defense? Isn't that the bailiwick of "smart" (read: middling-talent) players?
With senior forward Winston Bennett redshirted because of a preseason knee injury, Sutton's new worry is that Kentucky fans will expect too much from his 6'5" prize recruit. That's understandable. Chapman has been measured jumping 39 inches straight up, and his shooting range extends well beyond the three-point line. Of course he's a passer, too, and people have already started calling him "the white Oscar Robertson." He also commands a comprehensive knowledge of basketball, gleaned from his dad, Wayne, a former ABA journeyman who is now the coach at Kentucky Wesleyan.
So here is how fretful Sutton low-keys his young Jumpin' Jack Flash: "He's the best guard coming into college basketball. I've had five guards go into pro ball [one was Sydney Moncrief, when Sutton coached at Arkansas], and Rex can be as good as any of them. He has a chance to be one of the great players to play for Kentucky."
Chapman isn't exactly low-key himself. He wears two gold chains around his neck, one of them heavy enough to support a huge, clanking bauble that spells out CHAPMAN. In hoops-mad Kentucky, however, Rex Chapman hanging a gold name tag around his neck would be like Ronald Reagan wearing an ID badge.