As the University of Kentucky has been adding more and more players to its men’s basketball roster, the ‘P’ word started making its way into the conversation pretty quickly.
That ‘P’ word was ‘platoon.’ The last time that phrase was used with UK basketball was in 2014-15. That was the 38-1 season when John Calipari had a roster so stuffed with talent at so many positions that he ran substitution patterns with five players at a time through at least a third of that season.
That method helped give as many talented players as much run as possible within a framework of players averaging no more than 25 minutes a game.
UK could definitely use the total-balance approach with both minutes and scoring this season. It didn’t take long for fans to wonder if Calipari would go the platoon route again, at least early, before settling on rotations as the season goes along.
If you’re looking for an early guess on who might be the Blue team (starters) early and who’s the White team, here are some possibilities. Remember, Calipari will look at a number of combinations depending on if he wants three guards and two bigs, or a big lineup with two guards.
Starters could be TyTy Washington at point guard, CJ Fredrick at shooting guard, Oscar Tshiebwe at center, with Keion Brooks and Daimion Collins at forwards.
The second group could have Sahvir Wheeler at point guard, Davion Mintz and Kellan Grady at the wings, with Jacob Toppin at forward and Kofi Cockburn at center.
Dontaie Allen would be another shooting guard option. Lance Ware, at 6-foot-9, could be a power forward. Bryce Hopkins is a 6-7 freshman who was a No. 30 recruit in 2021.
The backcourt was already crowded and talented, especially after Mintz announced he was returning to school for a sixth season. Georgia transfer Wheeler and top-level freshman Washington are the expected point guards.
Calipari added shooting guard transfers in Fredrick (Iowa) and Grady (Davidson), who were both noted as strong 3-point shooters. Grady put up 2,002 points for Davidson in four years, averaging 17.4 points per game for his career.
For comparison, Dan Issel (2,138), Kenny Walker (2,080) and Jack Givens (2,038) are the top three scorers in UK history.
Grady hit at least 50 three-point baskets in each of his four years at Davidson and he shot 36.6% from behind the arc in his four-year career there.
They will be on the wings along with Allen, a noted high school scorer in Kentucky who was able to show he was an elite shooter who could catch fire as soon as he entered a game last season.
There is a variety of skills, size and athletic ability on the interior as well.
That group is led by West Virginia transfer Tshiebwe, a 6-9, 260-pound sophomore who has already been making his presence felt in summer practice and workout sessions at Kentucky.
“Definitely big Oscar,” Mintz said when asked who he was looking forward to seeing on the floor this coming season for Kentucky. “He will be a big presence on the inside, someone setting hard screens, getting guards off of us as we try to free ourselves and get to the basket.
“Running into his screens hurt, honestly. It will be fun to see opposing teams go through that.”
Tshiebwe practiced with UK from February to the end of the season in the SEC Tournament.
He is joined in the frontcourt rotation by five-star freshman Collins, returning forwards Brooks, Ware and Toppin, and freshman wing Bryce Hopkins.
Former Illinois star Cockburn withdrew from the NBA Draft last week and the speculation is strong that he will land at UK. Top-ranked recruit Jalen Duren, who is expected to reclassify to play this season or go pro, will play for either UK, Memphis or Miami if he does a year of college basketball.
Cockburn is a 7-foot, 285-pound center, who helped Illinois win a Big Ten Tournament title and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this past season.
Calipari will have to work through potential problems with playing time and chemistry, but he knows especially after last season that it’s better to have too many chess pieces than too few.
Calipari had been able to get through seasons before when there were holes in the lineup, but it simply didn’t work in the COVID-19 season of 2020-21.
In guarding against that happening again after a historically bad 9-16 record, UK has made sure it’s got two players for every spot on the floor.
The possibilities might not be endless, but they are tantalizing.