Smith hides any worries

October 20, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - If Tubby Smith is worried about how this year's University of Kentucky basketball team will do, he certainly didn't let it show here Friday night.

Smith unveiled his 2003-2004 team at UK's annual Big Blue Madness, which again had a capacity crowd of almost 9,000 in Memorial Coliseum that included high-profile recruits Randolph Morris of Georgia and Joe Crawford of Detroit.

The theme of this year's Big Blue Madness was "The Future of Kentucky Basketball" as the program began its 101st season.

Kentucky went undefeated in Southeastern Conference play last year, won the SEC Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Midwest Region final before losing to Marquette. However, the Cats lost leading scorer Keith Bogans off that 32-4 team as well as big men Marquis Estill and Jules Camara.


"I tell the team all the time that no one person can make or break a team. I have an analogy I tell them, to put your hand in a bucket of water and take it out. Do you see any water missing?" said Smith. "We lost Tayshaun Prince and then still went out and won 32 games last year.

"We are certainly going to miss Keith, Marquis and Jules. Those guys meant a lot to this program. I'm glad we could share in part of their dreams of playing college basketball at the highest level and I hope they are better people for having been a part of this program."

Smith made it clear that he expects junior forward Chuck Hayes, who made the Pan American Games team last summer, to become this year's leader.

"He was the glue to our success last year and to our future," Smith said. "He is a natural leader with great instincts and ability to lead by example."

"Chuck's an overachiever because he can do so many different things. He does all the little things to help you win. He sets screens and hits the offensive boards. He's a must for us to be successful."

The coach said senior guard Gerald Fitch, the team's top returning scorer, had fully recovered from a hernia injury that kept him off the Pan An Games team.

"Gerald had a tough break this summer with having to have (hernia) surgery because he was playing very well," Smith said. "But he's recovered completely and has been outstanding in conditioning and individual workouts."

Smith also said that sophomore forward-center Bernard Cote's back injury has improved. He was able to work out with the team at Big Blue Madness and was also scheduled to participate in Saturday's regular practice session.

"He has been getting treatments on his back and has been recuperating well," Smith said.

Smith indicated that freshmen centers Shagari Alleyne and Lukasz Obrzut could fill the void created by the departures of Estill and Camara. Kentucky returns Hayes, Fitch, Cliff Hawkins, Erik Daniels and Antwain Barbour off last year's team, but lacks an inside presence that Smith hopes the two 7-foot freshmen can provide.

"They both run extremely well, are athletic and have good hands," the Kentucky coach said. "I don't know about their basketball IQ yet, but both have a strong work ethic and have done everything we've asked them to do thus far, both on and off the court."

Smith says those two along with forwards Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas give him a strong freshman class.

"We're excited about this freshman class," Smith said. "As long as they can satisfy our needs and help us accomplish what we're trying to accomplish, that's all we can ask of them. They're a very talented group and will provide a lot of competition at every position."

Smith didn't set any lofty expectations for the Big Blue Madness workout, which included drills, shooting contest and a brief scrimmage.

"We just want to have fun. There isn't a lot you can get accomplished at 12:01 a.m.," Smith said. "We want to get through with no injuries and get everyone excited about the season."

Apparently new women's coach Mickie DeMoss, an assistant coach at Tennessee the previous 18 years, got the message.

"I came from the school down the road that wears a lot of orange and they just thought they had a Midnight Madness," DeMoss told the crowd. "This is the real Midnight Madness here. I'm real excited to be here and real excited about this team. How could you not get excited about basketball in Kentucky?"

Smith's team starts play against Team Nike in an exhibition game on Nov. 4.

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