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8 > Image 8 of Basketball, 1996

Part of University of Kentucky Basketball Media Guides (Men)

1395 96 Outlook here have long been two main attractions for following sports in the Bluegrass State horse racing and University of Kentucky basketball The two are quite similar. To he successful in either, great material, superh conditioning and a top-notch manager are essential. And a little luck, whether it's in the scheduling or the draw, is a must. When fans measure success in horse racing, many are quick to reel off Kentucky Derhy winners with "Rig Red," Secretariat, the odds-on favorite. But when University of Kentucky basketball fans measure success, they review the excellent history and tradition of the program. And they also recall the last four seasons under Coach Rick Pitino four Southeastern Conference Tournament titles, one SEC Championship, a Final Four appearance and two Final Eight finishes. Rut the hopes of the upcoming season are always prevalent. For the 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team, hopes for unmatched success on the hardwood are running rampant. Pitino enters his seventh season at Kentucky with a stable of top-quality athletes. On paper, it's the most talent he's ever coached at the collegiate level. His latest edition returns nine lettermen from a year ago, including three starters, as well as four other Wildcats who have at least two starts on their stats sheets. And even more importantly, there are four experienced seniors to provide leadership. Is this the makeup of a championship team, a team that could bring home the roses? "You don't know that until you see them on the basketball court," Pitino said. "If it's a track ^ race or a jumping contest or a combination i. Tony Oelk of ath- letic events, then certainly it is. But is it the best basketball team? You don't know." This year's talent combines great athletic ability with superb basketball talent. Add a coach with a track record spanning 13 years and whose stats sheet shows that he's won more than 70 percent of his games, and Kentucky is capable of winning its sixth national title. But molding the talents of this Kentucky squad may be one of the biggest challenges Pitino has faced. "Are we going to be one ball and 10 people uniting and coming together to be a great team," asked the 43-year-old coach, "or are we going to need three or four basketballs? That's the biggest question mark right now. Can this team blend into a cohesive unit without egos standing in the way of this team improving and reaching its potential?" The Strengths_ While talent and experience are the obvious strengths, Pitino says that great teams are made defensively. "I think we'll develop into a good defensive team," Pitino said. "I think we'll be a big time steal team. We should be very active in our point production too. We'll score a lot of points." The Cats have averaged 87.0 points per game since the New York