UK Notebook: Early-morning starts help UK

February 29, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Practicing at 6 a.m. is designed to not only improve Kentucky's fundamental play, but to also sharpen the Wildcats' focus.

While the early workouts have helped the No. 9 Wildcats win nine straight games going into today's game at LSU, they can take a toll on both players and coaches.

"Going at 6 a.m. is tough on me," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith Friday. "Some days I feel good, some days I don't. It hit me hard today."

That's when Smith joked that he would have preferred to have been working - or napping - instead of conducting his normal pregame press conference.


"We definitely hate getting up," senior guard Gerald Fitch said. "Once we get up, it's fun. But waking up at 5:30 is tough.

"I think we would be the ones who need a nap. Coach Smith is usually just walking around and talking. We run. We can't ease up. He can."

Freshman Sheray Thomas said he had never got up before 6 a.m. to practice basketball and some days still needs a late morning nap to compensate for his early start.

"I might have been up at 7 or 8, but never by 6," Thomas said. "It's an experience to get us focused solely on basketball. At 6 in the morning, you don't want to do anything but he (Smith) has you going."

Smith apparently is not as tired early in the morning as he was Friday afternoon.

"From my four years here, you always know he'll be more hyper at this time of year," Fitch said. "At the 6 a.m. workout, he was shooting jump shots while we were yawning out there. He's more energetic at this time of year. After being around him four years, you can see it in his expression and the way he carries himself.

"He gets more hyper. It kind of rubs off on us, too, especially at 6 a.m. when you see him out there taking jump shots. You can tell he's ready to play."

Thomas said he also noticed Smith stretching and then shooting at the early workout Friday.

"I've seen him knock down some shots, too," Thomas said. "He can shoot. He is knocking down some balls."

Junior Chuck Hayes thinks Thomas must have been wide awake when he watched Smith shoot.

"He didn't shoot. I think he missed like two jumpers and he quit," Hayes said. "Those other guys are being nice. He won't shoot. He gets the ball, misses a couple and calls it a day."

Still, Thomas would not admit that Smith couldn't shoot.

"I've got to be smart with my answers," Thomas said. "But he knows what he's doing. If you don't go to class and do all the things you are supposed to do, there are going to be consequences. It could be running or just having to wake up earlier. I don't want to get up any earlier. I know he's already taught me to appreciate anybody who has to get up that early every day to go to work. I know what they are going through, and it's not easy."

Fitch still is not sure what made him sick before Wednesday's game against Tennessee and limited him to just 35 seconds of play.

"I don't know for sure what it was," Fitch said. "They said it could be food poisoning or a stomach virus. I just know I was throwing up a lot before the game."

Smith said after the game it was food poisoning. The coach also said Friday it was not from anything Fitch ate at the pregame meal with the other Wildcats.

"He had gone somewhere and got some food and that's what made him sick," Smith said.

"They told me not to name the food and make nobody mad, but I am not going back there again," Fitch said. "I was throwing up a lot and I'm not used to that. I'm just glad we won so easy because as much as I wanted to play, I just didn't really feel like playing."

Strong finish: Kentucky plays at South Carolina and then hosts Florida one week from today to complete regular-season play. That means the Cats' last three games are all against teams that have been ranked in the top 25 and are hoping to be in the NCAA Tournament.

"If we could change it, I would like to play people I know we could beat," Smith said. "This is the time of year to focus on the team you are playing, but also to focus what you have to do to make sure you are healthy and playing to your maximum potential. There are not a lot of changes to make between now and Sunday or South Carolina and Florida.

"There are not any magical formulas for playing tougher teams. I would like to have all three at home, but we can't do that."

Future centers: Sophomore Bernard Cote and freshman Lukasz Obrzut are playing only a limited role for Kentucky now, but Smith insists both will eventually play much bigger roles.

"Bernard is probably more suited to play on the perimeter," Smith said. "He's similar to Erik (Daniels). He's more finesse. He is a guy that could very well be a starter. He just needs to get stronger. He missed six months in the offseason because of his back. But Bernard is a guy we are going to eventually need to do a lot more.

"Lukasz is still learning how to play inside. Sometimes he gets lost on offense. Defense isn't his problem. It's offense. In the future, we may set plays where he can get outside. Now we need him to learn the American style of being more physical inside. But I love his attitude and he's going to be a very good player for us."

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