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Operation Big Blue Freedom

In searching for ever more coverage of a game I listened to, wrote about and read about everywhere, I was pointed to this story from Jerry Tipton at the Herald-Leader that previewed the Lindsey Wilson game.

One section struck me as particularly interesting.

"I see a different side of Tubby now," said Perry, a senior. "He's more laid back. He gives us a little more freedom. I think he does that more so than any other year since I've been here. The freedom to make decisions. What's a good shot? What's not a good shot? Sometimes even when it's a bad shot or a questionable shot, he doesn't really say anything. He lets us keep playing."

Perry saw that as a reflection of Smith trusting a more mature team.

"He's not necessarily always coaching us or babying us or telling us exactly what to do every single time," Perry said.

Crawford suggested that the Cats are less likely to second-guess a shot or look to the bench to see whether Smith is second-guessing a shot: "The biggest thing for a shooter is not to have a conscience."

At first glance, that would seem to be a rather frank assessment of his coach by a senior to the rabid Kentucky hoops media throng. But upon closer inspection, it strikes me as a thoroughly telling insight into the differences internally between a collection of players and a team, coach included.

We as fans tend to regard every assemblage of players in uniform as a team. Then, when said group either gels into a cohesive unit or runs around aimlessly, we blame players, coaches, searching frantically for an answer as to why the group of individuals doesn't seem to feel comfortable playing the game they are clearly all exceptionally good at.

There is little argument that Tubby Smith is a coach's coach more than a player's coach. And that's fine. Plenty of coach's coaches succeed and plenty of player's coaches fail. But one thing that has troubled myself and other observers in the past is Smith's penchant for the quick hook.

Few things seem to make Tubby more irate than ill-timed or 'bad' shots. But players miss shots. And some players take a while to find their rhythm and shooting eye. Joe Crawford seems to fit this vein, as did Keith Bogans. But Smith's short leash can have a deleterious effect at times.

When players start staring back at the coach -- and how many dozens of times did you see Rajon Rondo or Crawford looking frightfully at the bench after a clanked shot last season -- it can have a snowball effect. The player gets tense, starts to short-arm shots. The coach gets even more angry and yanks the player completely. His replacement, in many cases, is less talented or even more afraid to miss because he is finally on the floor. And pretty soon, no one is shooting 'good' shots.

So while Perry's words might seem like a criticism of a veteran coach, on another level, they are a form of praise.

If a coach's greatest compliment to a player is to let him play his way out of trouble, then a player's greatest compliment is to feel comfortable enough to talk to the media about it.