UK's 'project' wants to show he can play

November 18, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Normally Shagari Alleyne is as serious off the basketball court as he is on it.

The 7-3 freshman center understands his improvement could be a determining factor in Kentucky's success this season and prefers to maintain his focus on basketball. However, there is one way to make him smile. Just mention how recruiting analysts referred to him as a "project" when he signed with the Wildcats last spring even though he averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds and five assists per game last season.

"The term project is so funny," said Alleyne between laughs. "People have their own opinions, and that's fine. I'm not mad at that. I can't stop them from saying what they have to say about me. People are always going to say things. I just use it as motivation to get better.

"Every day I have that thought in the back of my mind. 'OK, I'm a project. I am going to prove you wrong.' I tell myself that every day. That is what I am trying to do and people are finally beginning to see that I am not a project. I can play basketball."


He's heard the same things said about fellow 7-foot freshman Lukasz "Woo" Obrzut.

"He can play basketball, too. We do have skills," Alleyne said. "Don't count us out when it comes to Kentucky basketball."

Obrzut was thought to be the 7-foot freshman most likely to help UK the quickest based on what UK players said during the summer. However, he's been slowed by a back injury and Alleyne has played more and been the most productive in UK's two exhibition games.

"When I first saw him, I thought he had a lot of learning to do," Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch said of Alleyne. "But at the same time, I noticed that he picks things up quick. That is what is special about him. He can adjust very quick and then be doing what he's supposed to do.

"He's been able to settle down, not force things and look for open teammates. I don't think you will find too many big, young guys that are as calm in the game as he is and stay within the team concept rather than forcing problems."

Alleyne knows UK doesn't need him to be a big scorer. He's content to use his size to rebound and provide needed post defense.

"The exhibition games help you apply what you are doing in practice," Alleyne said. "That's what I've been able to do. That has really helped me out. The repetition allows me to do things off instinct rather than thinking about what I am going to do."

Working to perfect a hook

Alleyne said in mid-October that he has been working to perfect a hook. He even tried a left-handed hook against EA Sports, something he says is not that difficult because he's ambidextrous.

"I feel comfortable with that shot now because (assistant) coach (Dave) Hobbs has been working so hard with me in individual workouts," Alleyne said. "Coach (Reggie) Hanson has been helping, too. They have both really helped me because I've worked on that move so many times. I can go to that move with confidence in a game now."

He's just as confident playing with smaller, quicker players.

"I am used to playing with quick guys as well as strong guys. People must think we don't have quick players in New York," Alleyne said. "New York is known for quick guards. That's what it is no problem for me to play with the quick players we have here."

Still, he appreciates the slow way coach Tubby Smith plans to bring him along this year. Smith will start a smaller lineup featuring forwards Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes inside while Alleyne and Obrzut get more time to develop.

"We are freshmen. Any freshman, unless he's just super talented, should be brought along slow," Alleyne said. "I am just taking things as they come. Guys like Chuck are really helping me. Even Woo is helping me get better every day because of how he pushes me in practice."

Now Alleyne is anxious to see what Rupp Arena will be like Friday night when the Cats open their season against Winthrop.

"When the crowd got loud in our exhibition games, I couldn't hear myself then," Alleyne said. "I can just imagine what it will be like when 23,000 or more people get in there and are screaming and cheering for the Wildcats. I can't wait for that."

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