A look at events and goings-on with the Kentucky Wildcats basketball program ...
Head man's games
Head coach Tubby Smith took some time off from spring recruiting this month to join fellow coaches in Kuwait to conduct youth basketball clinics and coach for troops stationed in the region in what was dubbed Operation Hardwood II.
Smith was joined by other big name D-1 coaches like Tom Izzo (Michigan St.), Mark Gottfried (Alabama), Indiana's Kelvin Sampson, and Rick Barnes (Texas), among others.
It's just the sort of selfless community-driven action UK fans have come to expect from Tubby, who spends far more time in such endeavors than he does hocking his program on ESPN or in Amex ads. This isn't to say that he should discontinue this tack to his non-coaching duties, though he might find his recruiting easier if he had a little more free media.
Tubby's team in Kuwait, the Camp Arifjan "Heat," actually won the exhibition slate with a 54-44 victory over South Carolina's Dave Odom and his team in the finals.
Smith could probably coach the Iran All-Stars to the finals against a team of trained Europeans, which is why it's so doubly frustrating that he seems stuck in neutral at Kentucky right now. The guy just needs to recapture that love for coaching he exhibited during the 2003 win streak, when the squad fed off his enthusiasm and stifled opponent after opponent.
For every fan out there fretting over the Cats' lack of potential offensive punch this upcoming season, remember that the best UK teams are defense focused. Maybe some of that losing will harden the returning Cats' noses a little. Clearly, there wasn't much motivation needed to harden US troops' senses, and understandably so ...
Keeping them in the seats
Despite this past season's disappointing results, the Cats returned to their rightful place atop the NCAA basketball attendance ladder, outpacing annual rival Syracuse in fans per game.
A few things jump out at me: (1) That Kentucky played fewer home games than any of the other top 4 draws, meaning they played more away/neutral games, (2) that the big crowds at home didn't necessarily extend to a true home court advantage, since the team itself dropped 5 games at home.
Still, nice to see that the fans keep the faith, despite what a few loudmouth message board mavens would have one believe.
1. Kentucky (15 games, 341,445 total, 22,763 avg.); 2. Syracuse (19, 410,153, 21,587); 3. N. Carolina (17, 344,071, 20,239); 4. Louisville (22, 402,963, 18,316); 5. Tennessee (15, 269,310, 17,954).
REALLY big man on campus?
Word from media sources is that UK sophomore center Jared Carter is taking his offseason seriously. Though paperwork issues with his passport deep-sixed a trip to South America to play on an SEC "all-star" team coached by Kyle Macy, Carter will apparently attend Pete Newell's big man camp in August. This is great news, as the Newell camp is roundly praised as among the best in the world for emerging centers.
Carter wants to play more, and he is by all accounts hitting the weights and the buffet table, bulking up to a much more formidable 250 pounds and living in the Seaton Center weight room. A starting-capable Carter could completely alter the Cats' season, enabling them to shelve the Obzut starting experiment, sliding Randolph Morris to the power forward spot, where his deft shooting but soft rebounding could play to a better advantage. It would also give Bobby Perry more leeway as a three, and put Joe Crawford in the shooting guard spot, where he should have been all along.
No hyperbole intended, Carter's development could mean the difference between a top 3 SEC finish and an SEC outright crown.
Conflicting reports have world's biggest pinata Shagari Alleyne either out the door due to grades issues or simply misunderstood. The media has latched onto the story from the "here we go again" direction, though Tubby's overseas trip has kept a lid on any real information.
Alleyne has missed games in each of the past two seasons for academic discplinary issues, but maintained until recently that he was attending classes and eligible.
Shagari has apparently not been dismissed from school, but could miss time during the season is he is, in fact, ineligible. No word yet from Tubby & Co. about where Alleyne will be come Midnight Madness, though it's not hard to imagine them wanting to move on with what is clearly a doomed basketball prospect.
Extra duCats ...
- Expect to see Perry's cousin in a UK uniform next season, as Dwight Perry, a 6'2" Durham shooting guard, is expected to walk on for the fall.
- Don't expect to see big man Phil Jones in blue and white. Despite some unclear signs, Jones has apparently chosen IU over the Cats. It remains uncertain whether Jones will be (a) eligible and (b) any good. Still, he was a big body (6'10", 250+) and a late bloomer, by all accounts.
- Do look forward to no more questionable timeout calls -- hello, ACC refs at Cameron Indoor! -- as a player goes hurtling out of bounds. The NCAA decided on a rules change for the upcoming season Tuesday. Players can no longer go airborne while falling out of bounds or over into the backcourt and still get credit for a timeout called. The Kentucky head man didn't seem too worried about it: "I really didn't have a problem with the old rule, but we'll adjust ... Some people felt strongly about it. I didn't think it was a big deal."