Jodie Meeks: Exceeding Expectations
I was going to start this column with some kind of witty, creative statement...something along the lines of Jodie Meeks certainly isn't meek, or Meeks is making opponents weak... something like that.
But to get too wordy or creative might have taken away from what the main focus is...namely that Jodie Meeks is pretty freakin' good.
The UK junior put up a career high 46 points Saturday against Appalachian State, the 3rd time this season he has scored more than 35 points. Through 11 games, Meeks is averaging 24 points per game, and six times this season, he has hit at least three 3-pointers in a game, including the school-record tying nine he drained against Appalachian State.
Want some more stats? According to the UK Media Relations Department, the 46 points was the most points scored by an SEC player since some guy named Shaquille O'Neal was roaming the baselines for LSU and scored 53 in 1990. It was also the most points scored by a UK player since Dan Issel dropped 47 in a 1970 game, and it was the most points ever scored by a UK player at Freedom Hall.
But beyond the stats, perhaps what is most impressive about Meeks this season is that no one was totally sure what he was capable of doing. He had a solid freshman season, coming on incredibly strong at the end to put together six straight games with double figures. He looked to be a terrific athlete who could get his own shot at any time, and Cats fans were anxious to see how he would develop as a sophomore.
Then, plans changed a bit. Riddled by nagging injuries, Meeks played in only 11 games as a sophomore, and never more than three in a row. He did drop 21 points in December games against both Houston and Florida International, but hit double figures only once the rest of the season, and didn't play after Feb. 16. He put together unimpressive stat lines like the 1-6 from the field in a loss to Florida, a game in which he also fouled out of. In his last five games, he would go 9-34 from the field and average just 6.4 points per game. Meeks' talent was never questioned, but some began to wonder if these injuries were going to constantly nag him through his UK career.
With seniors Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley graduated, and classmate Derrick Jasper transferring, Meeks knew he would be counted on heavily to shore up an inexperienced backcourt. Coming into the season, UK fans knew they had a rock in the post in Patrick Patterson, and figured if they could get some consistency from a healthy Meeks on the perimeter, they would have a pretty good 1-2 punch.
Needless to say, they've been pleased so far. Meeks has reminded fans that when he's healthy, he's nearly unguardable. A ridiculous athlete, Meeks gets terrific hangtime on his jump shot, and when combined with his quick release, it's nearly impossible to block. He also has the strength to take hits driving to the basket and still finish, and he plays with a ton of energy when he's on the floor...bouncing around like a pinball and turning broken offensive sets into made baskets for the Cats. He's also carried that energy over to the defensive end, where he's averaging nearly two steals per game. He still gambles too much on occasion, but when the guy is making string music on the offensive end, he can be forgiven for a few defensive errors.
He's shooting 46% from the field and 40% from 3-point range, pretty solid numbers for a guy who has arms that look like they belong on a linebacker. In fact, if you take away the absurdly poor shooting performances against UNC (5-20), and Miami (4-17) - games in which the entire team played poorly - Meeks is shooting a robust 52% from the field. When you add that to the 68% Patterson is shooting from the field, you've got a 1-2 punch that's as effective as any in the nation.
Of course, there will be some that point out Meeks' 46 points came against a lowly Appalachian State team, or that his worst two shooting performances have come against arguably the best two teams on their schedule thus far. Of course, many of these same people couldn't score 46 points if they were locked in a gym by themselves for a week, and they wouldn't know a jump stop from a bus stop, so their opinions amount to very little. Scoring 46 points in a game, at any level, takes incredible skill and is a feat that recent UK greats like Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, Gerald Fitch, Antoine Walker and Jamal Mashburn never accomplished. Furthermore, averaging 24 points a game, even when teams are gunning to stop you, just shows Meeks isn't going to sit back and pat himself on the back after a couple good games, and that his scoring outbursts aren't flukes.
So the fact remains that Meeks has exceeded expectations for even the most optimistic of UK fans so far this season. For a guy who hadn't had any live game action in eight months, for a guy who was suddenly thrust from role player to star because of roster upheaval, he's been great. And he doesn't look to be slowing down in the least.
So I'll keep working on some kind of creative one-liners to describe Meeks. The rest of you can just sit back and enjoy the show.