UKIT still appeals to Smith

March 28, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - If Tubby Smith had his way, his 2004-2005 schedule would include a revival of the once popular University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament.

"You can't play a tournament, but we could just have a doubleheader. I think that would go over big," said the Kentucky coach. "We could bring in another local team (from Kentucky) and bring in somebody to play both of us and then flip-flop the opponents the second night."

However, Smith knows as logical as it might sound to bring in a team like Eastern Kentucky or Morehead State to play in the UKIT, it probably will never happen.

"A lot of people don't want to give up two home games to play on the road," Smith said. "That's the problem with it today. People don't want to be away from home close to Christmas and they don't want to give up those home games."


Still, next year's Kentucky's schedule is going to have a different look. Series with Michigan State and Notre Dame both ended this year.

Ohio State and Missouri have both been contacted by UK but each said no-thanks to a series with the Wildcats. Smith has said he wouldn't mind playing a game with Tulsa, or any Missouri Valley Conference team, if a home-and-home contract was not involved.

"We need to find somebody that will start the series in Rupp Arena since we already are scheduled to play at Louisville and North Carolina and will be playing Indiana in Louisville," said Rob Mullens, UK's executive associate director of athletics.

Mullens works with UK assistant coach Dave Hobbs to put together a schedule that suits Smith and UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart.

"The schedule never lets up for Kentucky," Barnhart said. "There is an expectation level for the kind of schedule Kentucky will play and we will honor that. But the most important thing is setting us up to finish strong in February and March. Kentucky fans will like the schedule we put in place and will see some marquee matchups."

Like Duke or Kansas?

"I don't want to get into specific teams, but there is a certain marquee look people want for our program, and it serves us well," Barnhart said.

"We're hoping we can land a few big-name opponents," Smith said.

One or two of those big-name opponents could come in a season-opening Preseason NIT where Kentucky would get two home games and then be off to New York to play if it won both games in Rupp Arena.

"They always draw a quality field, so we would add at least a couple of quality opponents if we get to New York," Mullens said.

However, UK has to wait to make sure a court ruling from last year that would make it possible for the Cats to play in the Preseason NIT is not overturned.

"Everything we are hearing is that we'll be fine. But we have to wait and make sure," Mullens said.

Mullens also said scheduling is a little more difficult because both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Saturdays.

"TV tries to push the big games to Saturday, particularly CBS," Mullens said. "This year we had five straight Saturday TV games. Next year we lose those two Saturdays."

Mullens said he would not rule out UK playing on New Year's Day, but said Kentucky's preference would be not to play then, New Year's Eve, Christmas, or Christmas eve. He said Kentucky also would prefer not to have a non-conference game during Southeastern Conference play as UK had last season against Notre Dame.

Practice facility: Barnhart says everything continues on schedule for the new basketball practice facility.

"The biggest thing about a practice facility would be that it would give us a dedicated practice site for the men where we don't have to leave our facility, don't have to fight for court time and don't have to move off the floor," Barnhart said. "That happens on a regular basis for us and that is not where our program needs to be.

"We have ongoing scheduling issues in Memorial Coliseum, and that's only going to get worse. This is something we have to address and address now. We want players to know they have a facility then can use."

Barnhart sees numerous other programs adding new facilities and doesn't want Kentucky left behind.

"Does it help recruiting (to have a new facility)? Absolutely," Barnhart said. "If you look around the country at what other programs are putting in place to try and catch up to Kentucky, there's no way we can be left behind. We have a good thing here, but we want to make it even better."

Spring practice: Kentucky will hold practices Wednesday, Friday and Saturday before putting on the pads for the first time April 5 in spring practice.

Coach Rich Brooks' team tentatively has scrimmages scheduled for April 10 (11:30 a.m.) and April 17 (1:15 p.m.). The Blue-White Game that ends spring practice is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 24 at Commonwealth Stadium.

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