BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Billy Gillispie's first Kentucky team has two seniors, enough injured players for a starting lineup and a sixth man, and of course the high expectations that greet the Wildcats every season.
Don't feel too sorry for him, though.
``I'm not looking for any excuses, believe me,'' Gillispie said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days. ``And our team isn't either. The only thing that's been tough for us has been the injuries. Whoever plays for us, we're expected to win, and no one expects to win more than our players or me.
``We're not looking for any sympathy from anybody.''
That's good, because they're unlikely to get any. Certainly not from his peers in the SEC East, who have mentioned Gillispie's Wildcats as league title contenders, maybe even the favorites.
They point to the returning guards, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, and incoming freshman forward Patrick Patterson, a McDonald's All-American and one of the nation's top recruits.
``I think they're the team to beat in the SEC East,'' said Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, whose team was actually picked to win the league. ``I think it's going to be Kentucky. Their backcourt is terrific. It is deep, it is experienced. The frontcourt is young but Patrick Patterson has a chance to be the newcomer of the year in our league.''
Adds Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings: ``I would say Tennessee's the favorite but those of us who have been around the league long enough, none of us would be surprised if Kentucky did what Kentucky has done a lot of times and that's figure out a way to win a championship.''
Gillispie is more interested in figuring out a way to get healthy at the moment. Crawford, guard Derrick Jasper and center Jared Carter all had offseason surgery and have missed some practice time.
Guard Michael Porter is recovering from a concussion and Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris both broke their noses during practice.
No wonder Gillispie deflected a question about his likely starting five with the Wildcats' first exhibition game upcoming next Wednesday.
``We're just trying to get five guys that can practice,'' he said. ``We have not had one day that we didn't have four guys miss since we started. That's been the most difficult part of being able to figure out any kind of rotation. It's way too early to be trying to figure out all those things. I'm way more concerned about finishers than I am about starters.''
Gillispie does expect the 6-foot-9 Patterson to make an immediate impact. The Wildcats are having to replace starting forwards Randolph Morris and Bobby Perry.
``He should make a major difference in our team,'' Gillispie said. ``Even though I want everyone to give him a chance to breathe, we're going to expect a lot out of him right from the word go. He should have a great career, I would think.''
M coach replaced Tubby Smith, who left to take over the Minnesota program. Smith's departure after leading the team to the second round of the NCAA tournament is evidence of the kind of high-pressure job Gillispie has undertaken.
``I would think it's the best position in the world,'' Bradley said. ``Everyone loves you when you win. It's like you're a big rock star. But at the same time he's definitely under a microscope. He has to watch every little thing he does. He has to be perfect.
``Every time we lose, they're going to blame it on the head coach. I think it's the best thing in the world and I think it can be the toughest thing in the world.''
Gillispie's timing has been good in one sense, at least. The Wildcats 14th-ranked football team has grabbed some of the spotlight for a change.
``I think that helps Coach out a lot, not only Coach but it helps us out a lot,'' Bradley said. ``Wherever we go now, it's not only basketball.''
Gillispie still comes into a division where rivals include two-time defending national champion Florida and four teams that went to the NCAA tournament last season.
None of that seems to faze Gillispie, though.
``If you spend a lot of time worrying about things you can't control, you're wasting energy,'' he said. ``And we don't have any energy to be wasting.
``Expectations don't scare me.''
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