Brooks: UK win would offset negative press

November 26, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - While a win over Tennessee wouldn't necessarily help Kentucky's recruiting, UK coach Rich Brooks knows it would do one thing.

"The main thing it would do is overcome a little bit of the negative media coverage of our season," said Brooks. "It has not been a problem yet, but it will be when we go into (recruits') homes."

Kentucky is 4-7 going into Saturday's season finale against No. 7 Tennessee.

Brooks and his coaching staff have been criticized often this year for failing to maintain the momentum of last year's 7-5 finish. The coach has read or heard where the offense has been too restrictive, that he's not related well to players and that he's been outcoached. He's even seen individual players, especially quarterback Jared Lorenzen, criticized.

"I think some articles are off base, even factually," Brooks said. "I have never complained about being criticized when it was due, and certainly there have been times this year when it was due.


"There have been some things written that were a little bit personal or mean-spirited, attacking the transition of the coaching staff, which I had nothing to do with, but somebody's agenda was to wear that one out for some reason.

"I think it followed over with some criticism of some of the players that I think is totally unwarranted. I know everybody has made a big thing out about whether I connected with this team or not. I think I have connected with this team.

"I have never been critical of bad press when it was warranted. And certainly when you play a game like we did against Vanderbilt, strap it on because it's warranted. Some of the other things, are they warranted? I obviously don't think they have been."

Kentucky has 13 verbal commitments for its 2004 recruiting class. However, three of those commitments - running back Rafael Little of South Carolina, linebacker Gabe Wallace of Fort Campbell and receiver Mario Urrutia of Fern Creek - have all indicated they plan to take official visits to other schools. Another commitment, running back Joe Casey of Paducah Tilghman, is likely to end up at a junior college because of academic concerns.

"It's not necessarily the perception of what you do on the field, but what people are saying you are doing that can make a difference in an 18-year-old's mind," Brooks said.

The Kentucky coach said it would not stun him if the Wildcats lose one or more of the "soft" commitments before signing day in February.

"Recruiting is going well, but would I be shocked if we lost one or two? Probably not," Brooks said. "But I am convinced this will be one of the best recruiting classes Kentucky has ever had, and that being said, we will be competitive in the conference in a few years."

Tennessee (9-2) is one of those teams Kentucky continues to chase. The Volunteers have dominated the series against Kentucky and have won 18 straight since the Wildcats prevailed 17-12 in 1984. Kentucky, which has lost three straight games, hasn't beaten a top 10 team since 1977.

"It's hard to find a weakness," Brooks said. "Their offensive line is as good as Georgia's. (Casey) Clausen is a real force at quarterback. Their receivers are comparable to what we saw at Georgia. Defensively, they are outstanding."

Two of Kentucky's best seniors, receiver Derek Abney and offensive tackle Antonio Hall, are both questionable for their final game. Abney has 197 career receptions, second on UK's all-time list, and needs just one punt return yard to become the first NCAA Division I-A player to record 2,000 yards receiving, 2,000 yards in kickoff returns and 1,000 yards in punt returns.

He's been slowed by foot and toe injuries, while Hall suffered a concussion in last week's loss at Georgia.

"I'm acutely aware of the return deal," Brooks said. "It would be a pretty good milestone for a young man to leave his college career with."

Center Nick Seitze, another senior who will be playing his final game, intends to make sure Hall and Abney play.

"I don't care about their injuries. I don't care if they have casts on," Seitze said. "I'm going to put them on my shoulders and take them out on the field myself. We've been together for all these years. It would be a big disappointment if they couldn't go.

"I'll put them on my shoulders, around my waist or I'll wear them on my uniform. I don't care as long as they are out there with me."

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