Fitch wants to be remembered for title

March 05, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - While he knows Senior Day will be emotional for him and his teammates, Gerald Fitch really isn't ready to focus on the end of his career at the University of Kentucky.

"I want to be remembered as one of the guys who led this team to a championship his senior year," said Fitch. "That's how I want to be remembered."

Fitch and UK teammates Cliff Hawkins, Erik Daniels, Antwain Barbour and Matt Heissenbuttel will play their final game in Rupp Arena Sunday when No. 9 Kentucky hosts Florida.

Fitch was not a high-profile recruit when he came to UK from Macon, Ga. However, he quickly worked his way into the lineup as a freshman because of his defense and rebounding - even though he was recruited as a shooter.


"When you come to a place like Kentucky, there are a lot of other great players here," Fitch said. "You can't come here thinking you are just a shooter if you want to play. I started out just trying to do anything to get on the floor. I just became a scrappy player and everything evolved from there."

Fitch is now one of the best 3-point shooters in the Southeastern Conference - he's shooting 43 percent from 3-point range - and leads UK in scoring at 15.1 points per game. Yet when he hurt his hand and had to miss three games, he volunteered to keep coming off the bench rather than returning to the starting lineup because the Wildcats were playing so well.

"I've matured a lot and seen a lot of things here," Fitch said. "I've seen the business part of college basketball. I've got a lot smarter. People think you just come here to play, but there is a business side to college basketball. Being under coach (Tubby) Smith four years, he's shown me that.

"My four years have been fast and a lot of fun. I have a lot of memories. I had fun doing everything from playing to hanging out with my teammates to just meeting fans."

Fitch says he'll miss the Kentucky fans more than anything because of their support of the Wildcats.

"From being around a lot of college players and talking to them and seeing how their program and fans are, I'll definitely miss our fans the most," Fitch said. "Everybody knows that Kentucky fans are very different and very special. There is no other place where you get the same treatment from the fans."

Smith's treatment has been beneficial. Not only has he developed Fitch's talent to the point that he can think about a professional career as well as helping UK win a national title, the coach has helped him mature. Fitch was involved in several off-court incidents his sophomore year when he was suspended three times. Rather than put him off the team, Smith gave him a chance to stay.

"I'm still the same person, but I look at things differently now," Fitch said. "I look at the bad and good when I have choices to make. Back then, I made some bad decisions.

"The lowest point was my sophomore year when I had a couple of incidents. You guys (in the media) got control of it and put it in the paper. That's not a good feeling to have."

Incidents helped Smith and Fitch forge special relationship

Those incidents helped Smith and Fitch forge a special relationship. Smith said he's tried to be a "father-like figure" for Fitch and gave him almost daily advice.

"I'm not just going to leave and not communicate with him," said Fitch, who had 16 points in Wednesday's win at South Carolina. "I'm still going to keep in contact with him, so we will still be close. We are extremely close, especially with all I've gone through here. From the arguments we've had to the playful communication, we've gotten extremely close. That's the type of person I am. I'm a lovable person, so that didn't surprise me at all."

Smith laughed when told of Fitch describing himself as "lovable." So did teammate Chuck Hayes.

"No, Gerald is more of a jokester. The guy is funny. You can't take him seriously, except when he's playing and then he always wants to win," Hayes said.

"Everybody is lovable," Fitch said. "I am kind-hearted. I wouldn't want to be described as lovable on the court. I want all the crazy words to be used when I'm playing."

Fitch admits he might be emotional during the pregame ceremony. "My mom thinks I am a big baby. I probably will get emotional," Fitch said.

But once the emotion ends, Fitch knows beating Florida is important. Thanks to recent losses by Duke, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State, the Cats are back in position to possibly earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they extend their five-game win streak to nine by winning the SEC Tournament.

"I want people to say I was a hard-working player. Off the court, I want them to remember I was someone who would always sign autographs. I want people to remember good things, and to do that, we have to make sure we win this last home game," Fitch said.

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