Vaught's Views: NCAA ruling helps UK's numbers problem

April 21, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Once again Tubby Smith has shown that his instincts for being able to make numbers work when it comes to recruiting are right.

For several months it has been impossible to figure out how Kentucky was going to cope with the NCAA's "5-8" rule that limits teams to signing no more than five players in any one year or any more than eight in a two-year period.

Since Kentucky signed four players last year, it seemed the Cats could not add but four this year. However, UK had two players - Adam Williams and Ramel Bradley - sign in November and another player - Patrick Sparks - already on the roster who had been promised a scholarship next season. So when Rajon Rondo and Joe Crawford both announced they would sign with Kentucky, which they have done, the Cats had a problem.

It seemed like a huge problem considering that Smith never backed off his recruitment of Atlanta center Randolph Morris, who still has not decided between UK and Georgia Tech.


Having Williams decide to go to prep school for a year before coming to UK helped Smith's numbers. However, the Kentucky coach got an even bigger assist Monday when the NCAA Division I Management Council voted unanimously to repeal the rule on scholarship limits and replace it with one that rewards teams for overall academic performance.

The proposal still has to be approved by the NCAA Board of Directors to become effective for next year, but that's considered a formality and will clear the way for UK to add Morris if he picks the Cats.

Of course, Smith would have to free a scholarship since adding Morris would make 14 players - or one over the NCAA maximum - scheduled to be on scholarship next season. But there's no doubt either a player will transfer or someone will voluntarily become a walk-on to clear a spot for the talented Morris and make the numbers work once again.

Already busy on 2005 recruiting

Smith also is already busy on 2005 recruiting. One of the nation's best players, Missouri forward Tyler Hansbrough, visited last weekend and apparently liked everything about his trip from going to Keeneland to playing a pickup game with current players to being hosted by Sparks.

Smith envisions Hansbrough, a consensus top 10 junior in the recruiting rankings, filling a role much like Tayshaun Prince did.

It was a bit interesting that Smith picked Sparks, a Western Kentucky transfer who was overlooked by UK coming out of high school, to host Hansbrough. It only confirms how comfortable the Kentucky coach has become with Sparks, who consistently drew praise from teammates for the way he pushed point guard Cliff Hawkins in practice last season.

Hansbrough is a blue-chip recruit. That's why he's got offers from all the major schools and is having trouble picking only five big-time schools to visit. Yet Smith let a player who has never played a game for the Wildcats be his official host.

Obviously, there could have been a lot of reasons why Smith picked Sparks. But if Smith didn't totally trust Sparks, he would not have put him in charge of such a valuable recruit.

Don't be surprised if Smith doesn't confirm that trust again in November when he makes Sparks his starting point guard. Forget all the hype about Rondo. He had a sensational season at Oak Hill Academy, but Sparks has proven himself two years at Western and had last season to learn Smith's system. That experience is invaluable and will give the comfort zone he likes with his point guard.

But that's looking too far ahead. Smith first has to finalize Morris' recruiting and, if he lands the big man the Cats obviously need, then find a way once again to make the numbers work like he always seems to do.

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