Despite the loss of All-American Dan Issel, who set or tied 23 individual season records and 18 individual career records, and Mike Pratt, a two-time All-Southeastern Conference forward, Coach Adolph Rupp's Wildcats still are favorites to capture their fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Championship.
Giving the nation's winningest coach (836 victories, 177 losses) reason to smile is a returning corps of lettermen, who last year helped set or tie 17 team season records, and some fine prospects from the '70 freshman team.
Since the guard corps of Terry Mills, Jim Dinwiddie, Kent Hollenbeck and Stan Key returns intact, the big job is to fill the vacancies left by Issel and Pratt.
A prime candidate for the center position is Mark Soderberg, a 6-8 letterman who played in relief of Issel last season. When Issel fouled out with over 10 minutes left against Jacksonville in the final of the NCAA Mid-East regional, Soderberg came in and gave a fine performance to lead the Wildcats from an 1 1-point deficit to a chance to win before Jacksonville iced it in the last 30 seconds.
Challenging the big Californian will be Jim Andrews, 6-11, who averaged 28.4 points and 13.8 rebounds per game for last year's freshman team. The big native of Lima, Ohio, hit 55.5 per cent of his field goal attempts.
Also eligible for competition is Tom Payne, a 7-foot high school All-American who averaged 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Lexington AAU team last season and was selected the league's most valuable player.
Lexington Coach Scotty Baesler, a former UK captain, said, "Tom is the greatest clutch performer I have seen on the basketball court and he's only 19."
The center position is apparently a three-way battle. So is the forward post vacated by Pratt, who averaged 19.3 points and 9.4 rebounds. Returning after being named SEC "Sophomore of the Year" is Tom Parker, a 6-6 southpaw who came off the bench in early February and started against Mississippi after roommate Larry Steele received a wrist injury in practice. Parker, who had played sparingly to that point, averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds in a starting role, averaged 50.4 per cent from the field and finished as the team's third high scorer with 260 points, an average of 1 0.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Steele never regained his starting berth, but recovered from the injury and played well in the NCAA. He finished with 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds a game and won the team free throw trophy, hitting 45 of 49 for 91.8 per cent, a UK record.
The squad also will be strengthened by the return of Mike Casey, a two-time All-SEC performer who missed last season after receiving a broken leg in an auto accident in the summer of 1969. Casey, starting guard on the 1968-69 Wildcat NCAA squads, is 16th on the list of top all-time Kentucky scorers with an average of 19.9 points a game.  He also holds the UK assists record of 129 in a single season.
Moving into the varsity ranks with Andrews are two other Lima nativesSteve Penhorwood, a 6-4 guard, and Dan Perry, a 6-8 forwardand Larry Stamper, a 6-5 forward from Beattyville, Ky.
Stamper was the second leading scorer (15.2) and rebounder (12.0) on the 1969-70 Frosh squad. Perry averaged 9.7 points and 6.0 rebounds. Penhorwood 9.2 points and 4.9 rebounds.
The 1968-69 and 1969-70 squads were the highest scoring combinations ever at UK and left a big challenge for the 1970-71 squad. Records set last season included most points (2709), highest scoring average (96.8), most field goals made (1099), highest field goal percentage (49.8) and most conference victories (17).