Walk-on players understand the work it takes to succeed

November 02, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

While others might think being a walk-on player on the Kentucky basketball team is a nice perk, three UK walk-ons have a different view.

First, they all believe they have talents that could allow them to contribute to Kentucky's success.

Second, they all three learned just how much hard work it takes to play for the Wildcats whether you are on scholarship or join the team as a walk-on like in-state players Preston LeMaster, Ravi Moss and Matt Heissenbuttel did.

"It would be great to end my career in the Final Four," said Heissenbuttel, a senior guard. "I think every player dreams about something like that.

"But I'm already part of the No. 1 program in the country. With that comes a certain responsibility. You work just as hard as the scholarship players. It's my job in practice to make the starters have to go as hard as they can to get prepared for games. If I do that, then I am contributing to the success."


Moss, a sophomore, is considered the most athletic of the three walk-on players. However, he spent most of his summer working to become a more consistent outside shooter.

"Shooting and handling the ball are my biggest weaknesses," Moss said. "That became obvious last year. (Assistant) coach (David) Hobbs has helped fix my shot and I feel a lot better now.

"Just going against guys like Cliff (Hawkins) and Gerald (Fitch) in practice every day makes you a better player."

LeMaster's name was familiar to UK fans because his father, Jim, played for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky. The sophomore guard turned down chances to play other places after averaging 25.6 points per game his senior year at Bourbon County.

"The offseason is when you spend time working on your game and getting better," LeMaster said. "I have no false illusions about my role here. But I would love to develop into a player who could come off the bench and make worthwhile contributions."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith values the contributions the walk-on players make. He praised their play several times late last season.

"There will always be a spot on my team for guys who want to play their hearts out and be part of a team," Smith said. "Take Matt Heissenbuttel. He's been a four-year walk-on player. You don't hear about walk-ons doing something like that. But he's done all we've asked and is one of our team leaders.

"Ravi and Preston battled every day in practice last year and gave our veterans some spirited workouts. We expect both of them to be even better this year. Ravi has really gotten stronger and if he continues to improve the way I think he will, his playing time is going to come."

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