Injury won't 'stop' Azubuike

November 19, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - It will be awkward, but Kelenna Azubuike says a torn tendon in the pinky finger on his left hand will not impact his play.

The University of Kentucky sophomore forward still expects to be in the starting lineup Friday when the Wildcats open their season by hosting Winthrop.

"It just feels like a jammed finger," said Azubuike Tuesday. "It will be awkward, but at least it is not on my shooting hand. I don't use my left pinky that much when I shoot. I should be able to get used to it and be fine. I don't think it will have that much of an impact. It won't stop me from playing."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith downplayed the injury. He said Azubuike will have to wear a soft splint on the finger to keep it straight for up to six weeks. That's the only way to make sure the tendon heals fully and doesn't split across the knuckle.


"Once his finger drops, it won't come back up," Smith said. "The splint will have a hard bottom to protect the finger. It's painful. He's not even sure how he did it."

Azubuike thinks it might have been injured when he shot a lay-up during Monday's practice.

"I was going up for a shot and somebody swiped at the ball and hit my pinky," Azubuike said. "Or at least that's when I think it happened. But as long as I keep the finger straight for a few weeks, it will be fine."

Azubuike averaged 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in UK's two exhibition wins. He went into the season battling Antwain Barbour for UK's fifth starting spot. Barbour, who missed games early last season when he broke his hand, will return from his three-game suspension when Kentucky hosts Tennessee Tech Nov. 28.

"This is not an injury that is going to keep me from playing," Azubuike said. "It might be a little painful, but it's not anything that I can't play with."

Miracle cure: Smith did have better news about sophomore center Bernard Cote, who played just seven minutes in the two exhibition games because of a bulging disk in his back. He's been to Birmingham, Ala., to receive treatment and apparently it worked.

"He's not having any problems now," Smith said. "It's a miracle. He's been healed. He got treatment in Birmingham and has been healed."

Seen, not heard: Smith's son, Saul, a former point guard at Kentucky, is working with the UK basketball team as a manager this season. However, the coach is not open to strategy suggestions from his son.

"He's just a manager. He'll not have anything to say," the UK coach said. "He wants to talk all the time. He'll just keep the same type of stats that (former UK player) Allen (Edwards) kept (last year). He'll pass it on to an assistant coach who will pass it on to me.

"He'll know better than to talk. He's pretty astute. I see him down there talking (on the bench). As long as I can't hear him, that's fine."

No 3-pointers: Kentucky 7-foot freshman Lukasz Obrzut came to Kentucky with better perimeter skills than interior skills because of the way basketball is played in Europe.

Smith and his staff are teaching him to play inside even though his background might make him better suited to play on the perimeter. However, he won't be shooting any 3-pointers like he did in Poland.

"I don't think we will run any plays for him to shoot the 3 any time soon," Smith said. "We don't have any plays like that in yet."

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