Vaught's Views: True may walk on with Cats

January 14, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

STANFORD - If there's one thing Jeff Jackson has shown he can do, it would be to develop and evaluate high school basketball talent.

The current Lincoln County boys coach had a plethora of players that played for him at University Heights go on to successful college careers.

Now he thinks he may have another rising star in 6-10 center Jonathan True, who may well wind up as a walk-on player at the University of Kentucky next year. He's already been offered a chance to join UK as a preferred walk-on player by coach Tubby Smith, and it is an opportunity that certainly seems to appeal to True.

The Lincoln senior attended Saturday's Kentucky-Vanderbilt game and had hoped to be back in Rupp Arena this Saturday when the Wildcats host Georgia. However, he now says he'll probably skip the Georgia game to concentrate on his team's game that night against South Laurel.


"It was the first time I had attended a Kentucky game, and the chance to play with those guys would be incredible," said True.

True is averaging 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game this year while shooting 57.5 percent from the field against defenses designed to stop him.

"He can shoot the ball from the outside, too. He might be our second-best 3-point shooter if I let him play outside," Jackson said.

"He needs to get more aggressive and stronger. But he's really got a bright future ahead of him. He's only going to be 17 years old when he graduates, and he can pack a lot more weight on that frame. His best basketball is definitely ahead of him when he gets into a weight room, ups his conditioning and gets a lot of individual instruction."

Jackson already has one former player, walk-on Ravi Moss, playing at Kentucky. The coach also sent Isiah Victor to Tennessee, Lamont Barnes to Temple, Harold Swanagan to Notre Dame and Greg Buckner to Clemson on scholarships. Another former player, Andre Buckner, spent four years as a Duke walk-on.

True had a chance to sign with Morehead State during the early signing period in November.

"I was pretty serious about Morehead early, but I decided to wait to make my college choice because I thought I could improve my game," True, who can be a dominating defensive presence now, said. "I feel good about that decision because I have to do what is best for me."

He's also interested in Eastern Kentucky and Georgetown, along with several out-of-state schools. However, there seems little doubt that joining the Kentucky program is what excites him more than anything else.

Smith obviously likes True's long-term potential. He almost certainly would be redshirted his first year if he goes to Kentucky and then have four years left to try and earn a spot in the playing rotation like Moss has this year.

"If he goes to a school and really pushes himself, gets the coaching he needs and gets stronger, he could play and help a Division I team," Jackson said.

Jackson still remembers when Greg Buckner, who was also only 17 when he graduated from high school, took the only Division I offer he had. Buckner is still playing in the NBA and has a long-term deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Greg has done pretty well for himself. I'm not saying Jonathan will be the next Greg Buckner, but when kids graduate young they have a big upside for college," Jackson said.

True wisely is in no rush to make a decision. He can decide to become a Kentucky walk-on at any time and should wait until the April signing period to see if an even more attractive college offer comes his way.

"Figuring out where to go is a tough decision," True said. "My parents and my coach will help me a lot. Coach Jackson has sent a lot of kids to school. He knows what it takes."

True would actually be the second walk-on player from Lincoln to play at Kentucky. Brad Lawless, a starter on Lincoln's 1975 12th Region championship team, played for Joe Hall. However, Lawless didn't have the college options that True will because he was not 6-10.

Jackson won't make the college decision for True. He's too smart to make that mistake. However, he's also smart enough to understand why a Kentucky boy can't help but be intrigued by UK's offer.

"The contacts you make and the job opportunities that might open up if you do something like that are tremendous," Jackson said. "Jonathan is going to have a lot of college options and he's trying to think what is best for him long term."

Just don't be surprised if that best long-term option for True turns out to be playing for Kentucky.

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