Vaught's Views: Moss' play no surprise to Jackson

January 06, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Others were praising him for everything he did to help Kentucky beat North Carolina 61-56 Saturday, but Ravi Moss knew there would be at least one person who would know his performance was not perfect.

"Coach Jackson is going to talk about the free throw that I missed, which I am still thinking about and can't believe I missed. Other than that, he'll say I played all right," said Moss, a walk-on sophomore at Kentucky.

Coach Jackson is current Lincoln County coach Jeff Jackson. He was Moss' coach at University Heights in Hopkinsville. Jackson's son was Moss' friend, and teammates and the families stay in touch even though they are now miles apart.

Jackson only got to see about half of Saturday's UK game. He listened to the second half when Moss excelled while he was driving to a Lincoln freshman game.


What Jackson could tell even by listening to Tom Leach, the play-by-play voice of the UK Radio Network, was that Moss was doing what he does best. Moss had four points on 2-for-2 shooting, three rebounds and one assist in 10 minutes, 15 seconds of play. He did not have a turnover. But he did miss a free throw.

"He's right. He should have made that free throw," Jackson said. "He was a 75 percent shooter for his career in high school. He shouldn't miss free throws. He missed a couple earlier in the year and I called him. I told him if he makes the effort to get to the foul line, he needs to take advantage of those chances."

Moss should get more chances to play based on what he did against North Carolina. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said to expect to see "more" of Moss after Saturday's game before backing off a little Monday and saying that Moss, like any other player, would have to earn his playing time at practice.

Jackson doesn't expect that to be a problem.

"He's a good player, and he really works hard in practice," the Lincoln coach said. "He's just a super kid. He's thrilled to be there and he won't let success spoil him. His family instilled good work habits in him. If anything, the success he had Saturday will only make him hungrier and make him want to increase his minutes."

Teammates agree.

"Ravi works harder than anybody," senior point guard Cliff Hawkins said. "He just hasn't had the opportunities yet to show what he can do. Now that he's got the opportunity, he'll work even harder to keep playing."

Moss' contributions were not complicated. He just played the aggressive, physical defense that Smith wanted and took care of the basketball. He didn't force shots, either.

He had an open look from 3-point range with UK clinging to a lead in the final two minutes. Rather than shoot, he passed.

"I thought about shooting, but then I remembered coach Smith talking about protecting the lead, working the clock and getting only high percentage shots. I didn't think that was the shot he would want us to take," Moss said.

Jackson says Moss simply understands winning and what it takes to win.

"He's a very smart player," Jackson said. "He will give the contributions defensively that coach Smith wants. He will do things the coach wants done and not worry about scoring. He'll do the little things it takes to give the team a spark.

"He knows what he can do. Coach Smith stresses defense, and Ravi is a pretty good defensive player. He's gotten a lot stronger in college. He was extremely young when he graduated and I always knew his best basketball was ahead of him."

Still, Moss was overwhelmed with college choices. He says Notre Dame and Tennessee sent letters, but Centre College coach Greg Mason pursued him harder than anyone. Transylvania wanted Moss. Jackson says Centre and Transylvania were basically the only two schools that seriously recruited Moss, and they were both Division III teams.

Jackson knew Moss could play at a higher level. Jackson had seen Greg Buckner, another University Heights graduate, take his only offer from Clemson and blossom into not only a college star, but a productive NBA player who now has a long-term contract with Philadelphia.

"Ravi is not as bad a shooter as he jokes about being, either. He averaged 21 points per game as a senior and scored well over 1,000 points in high school," Jackson said. "He still needs to work on his shooting and ballhandling, but he'll get better and he won't make mistakes."

Moss deserves to be the first player off the UK bench Saturday when the Cats host Vanderbilt. He gave the team a lift that sixth man Antwain Barbour has not provided all year. Moss was better defensively than Barbour has been, took care of the ball far better and fit into the offense easier than Barbour has.

"It's up to coach Smith how much I play," Moss said. "I'm not taking anything for granted. What he wants, that's what I will try to do. It's not a complicated formula."

Now if he can just make a free throw to keep his high school coach happy, too.

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