kentucky basketball outlook, 1979-80
After apparently solving two major weaknesses of 1979-lack of experience and depth-the Kentucky Wildcats can be expected to return to their accustomed level of championship caliber.
The Wildcats return six of nine lettermen and all were solid performers who started at least seven games last season as coach Joe B. Hall solved the experience deficiency by careful distribution of playing time.
And it was Hall again who solved the depth problem by recruiting five freshmen who were named the nation's finest.
The youthful Wildcats finished 19-12, but won 13 of their last 18 games, including a surprising second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and secured their second NIT bid in four years.
Four returnees generally regarded as starters are led by 6-foot-3 senior All-American guard Kyle Macy, who led team scoring with 15.2 ppg and include 6-3 sophomore guard Dwight Anderson, 13.3, 6-7 senior forward LaVon Williams, 11.5 and 6-8 junior forward-center Fred Cowan, 9.4. Of 31 games Williams started 31, Macy 30, Cowan 24 and Anderson 15.
The two other lettermen, 6-1 senior guard Jay Shidler, 6.3, made seven starts and rugged 6-6 sophomore forward Chuck Verderber, 6.1, had 10 starts.
The prized freshmen include Hall's first seven-footer in eight years at Kentucky-7-1 center Sam Bowie, 28.7, who was named the nation's top prep player, and three other consensus prep All-Americans, 6-6 forward Derrick Hord, 26.7, 6-6 power forward Charles Hurt, 22.9 and 6-3 guard Dirk Minniefield, 18.1. The fifth signee is 6-8 forward Tom Heitz, 27.4, a first team Indiana All-Stater.
The Wildcats lost senior guard co-captains Truman Claytor and Dwane Casey and Clarence Tillman, who transferred following his freshman year. Claytor, a starter with Macy, scored 8.7 ppg, while Casey and Tillman averaged 0.9 ppg and 3.3 ppg respectively.
While the Cats appear loaded on paper, it's an undeniable fact that youth will figure heavily in Hall's overall plans as it did last year, which could mean early trouble with an extremely tough schedule.
"We are a little similar to last year's start except we have more players with game experience," said Hall. "Last year, Wiliams and Cowan had gained very little experience during our championship year (1978) and Anderson and Verderber were only freshmen. But they all played regularly and gained starting positions during the year, so that gives us an edge right now."
What Hall likes most about this squad is an abundance of quality athletes that gives him an edge called versatility. No less than six players can play dual roles. Anderson proved his swingman value last year when he led the Cats in free throw attempts by a wide margin, while Williams, Cowan and Verderber all interchanged on the frontline. Two newcomers are expected to double-up if the need arises —Bowie, with spectacular outside shooting, can swing to forward, while Hord's overall talent and defensive solidity will allow him to play big guard as well as inside.
Rounding out the 13-man squad are 6-2 junior guard Chris Gettelfinger, who played in eight games last year, and 6-1 sophomore guard Bo Lanter, who sat out last year after transferring from Midwestern State University where he scored 19 ppg in '78. Both are on scholarship.
The five newcomers have made a deep impression on Hall with their intensity and hard work habits through the tough conditioning program and on into practice.
"Our freshmen are going to be very important to us this year, just as they were last year," he said. "This group seems extremely ready to play —they are physically ready and they have the ability to make a solid contribution this year. We're definitely going to have the needs of people like Sam Bowie and well, all of our freshmen, but noticeably a center with the qualities of Bowie."
What Hall is saying, of course, is that the Wildcats suffered last year without a true center. While Cowan, a natural forward at 6-8 played very well at center, he couldn't cope with the league's larger centers. After signing Bowie, Hall toyed with the idea of playing him at forward, but current plans have the skyscraper at center.
"We definitely will play him at center," said Hall. "We feel he has corner potential and can move to the corner if need be, but he is a good defensive player who is a shot blocker and