Obrzut pushes himself in Big Blue debut

October 27, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - This was not exactly the way that Lukasz Obrzut wanted to debut his skills for the University of Kentucky basketball fans.

The 7-1 freshman has been the buzz around the UK basketball scene since arriving this summer. Even though he was headed for Fordham before a coaching change there led him to Kentucky, word of his overall play spread quickly.

While no one was expecting Obrzut to get Kentucky to a Final Four by himself, it seemed like he certainly could help solve UK's need for a big presence inside.

So what did he do in the Blue-White scrimmage Saturday night? He was about as unproductive as the Kentucky football team's offense was earlier in the day during the first half of an eventual 42-17 win over Mississippi State.


Obrzut did not take a shot the first half and had only three defensive rebounds in almost 14 minutes of play. He finished 1-for-6 from the field and 3-for-4 from the foul line. He had five rebounds and three turnovers in 28 minutes of play.

"I don't know what happened," said Obrzut. "I just lost my energy. I not do too well on the court. Everybody has a best and worst day. Today was my worst."

That amused Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.

"Give me a break," Smith told Obrzut. "You don't know what a worst day is."

Smith might not, either, this year. The Blue-White Game ended in a 77-77 tie because Smith wanted everyone to leave on a "high note" rather than go to overtime.

The Cats got the expected double-double - 22 points, 10 rebounds - from Chuck Hayes as well as a standard performance - 23 points, seven assists - from Gerald Fitch.

"Chuck and Gerald have been through the wars. They know what it takes to play," Smith said.

Smith's only disappointment might be that transfer Patrick Sparks can't play this year. He had 23 points and was 5-for-9 from 3-point range. He also showed both his fearlessness and court savvy with five steals.

"It's not like we did not think he could play," Smith said of Sparks, who transferred to UK from Western.

Shagari Alleyne, UK's other 7-foot center, outplayed Obrzut. He had 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and 10 rebounds. However, Obrzut never quit pushing himself, even when he was at less than 100 percent efficiency in his mind.

He obviously is a team player

The big guy obviously is a team player. He worked tirelessly on developing a hook shot during the summer. It's not unusual for him to spend time in the UK basketball office having a coach diagram something he doesn't understand.

He's as happy trying to take a charge or altering a shot as he is taking a shot.

"I don't know how good I'll be," Obrzut said. "I guess we'll see as the season goes on. I'm just trying to do my best. I don't just want the ball to shoot. I want to win.

"Right now everything is still hard for me. All the plays come so quick. I have not had enough time to even learn all the drills."

Kentucky fans have quickly learned to like him. Shouts of "Woo" echoed around Memorial Coliseum when he was introduced.

"I kind of liked that," Obrzut said.

He's not been overwhelmed by the Kentucky mystique even though he didn't come to this country from Poland until last year, when he went to a prep school in Maine to improve his basketball skills in hopes of landing a Division I scholarship.

"I've not counted all the autograph requests I've got. I'm just happy people ask for it," Obrzut said. "I'm surprised there is so much interest. Everybody wants to know where you're going and what you are doing. It's a little crazy, but that's fine.

"I was thinking at halftime that I should run up and down the court harder not for myself, but for the fans. I don't know what was wrong. I tried to run hard, but my legs would not work with me. I just think it was not my best day and why I wish I could have done more."

Smith wasn't about to complain about the way Obrzut or Alleyne played. He knows he needs to be patient with both freshmen centers. However, he may well have that luxury because of the experience and competitiveness of the older Wildcats.

While this was not a tense Southeastern Conference battle or an NCAA Tournament game, the players did show far more enthusiasm than one might expect for an intrasquad scrimmage.

The Blue team got down by 16 points in the first half, but rather than play out the game it fought back behind Hayes and Fitch and made the game so entertaining that the fans were clamoring for more at the end.

"What I like most is that the guys really competed," Smith said. "The team did not give up. That's a good way to measure a team."

BLUE (77)

Brandon Stockton 1-5 0-0 5, Gerald Fitch 8-19 5-6 23, Preston LeMaster 0-1 0-0 0, Bernard Cote 0-1 0-0 0, Bobby Perry 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Heissenbuttel 0-1 0-0 0, Shagari Alleyne 6-9 3-6 15, Kelenna Azubuike 6-11 0-0 14, Chuck Hayes 10-14 2-3 22. Totals 21-61 10-15 77.

WHITE (77)

Cliff Hawkins 6-15 1-2 13, Ravi Moss 2-2 0-2 6, Josh Carrier 1-5 3, Lukasz Obrzut 1-6 3-4 5, Erik Daniels 6-12 0-0 12, Patrick Sparks 9-14 0-0 23, Sheray Thomas 1-5 0-0 2, Antwain Barbour 6-10 0-2 13. Totals 32-69 4-10 77.

Halftime-White 40, Blue 24. 3-point goals-Blue 5-15 (Stockton 1-3, Fitch 2-7, Cote 0-1, Heissenbuttel 0-1, Azubuike 2-3), White 9-24 (Hawkins 0-4, Moss 2-2, Carrier 1-4, Obrzut 0-1, Daniels 0-1, Sparks 5-9, Barbour 1-3). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Blue 42 (Alleyne 10), White 32 (Daniels 8). Assists-Blue 17 (Fitch 7), White 16 (Hawkins 5). Total fouls-Blue 11, White 11. A-5,381.

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