As Cats await Morris' word, Cote departs

May 06, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky hopes to add a center tonight when Atlanta prep standout Randolph Morris announces whether he'll sign with Kentucky or Georgia Tech or possibly put his name into the NBA draft.

The Wildcats already know, though, that they are losing an interior player because Bernard Cote announced Wednesday that he was leaving Kentucky. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said Cote, a 6-9 sophomore forward-center who played in 52 games, had been granted a release from his scholarship.

"Bernard's decision certainly came as a surprise to us, and we're sorry to see him go," Smith said in a statement released by UK. "We certainly support Bernard's decision to do what he feels is in his best interest. We honor his wishes and are happy we were able to have him as part of our team through two great seasons."

Cote, who is from Quebec, had a career-high seven points on 3-for-5 shooting against Vanderbilt in January. The 6-9 Cote averaged 1.4 points and 0.4 rebounds per game in limited play lasts season and 0.8 points and 0.9 rebounds as a freshman. He played just 274 minutes in 52 games, an average of about 5.4 minutes per outing.


"It's been a very tough decision for me to make, but I've decided it's in my best interest to explore other options as far as my basketball career is concerned," Cote said. "I've had an amazing time at Kentucky and have been a part of two truly special teams.

"I will always look back on my time here as something special, but I'm looking forward to a new beginning. I will definitely miss the coaching staff, fans, and most of all, my teammates."

As Kentucky's recruitment of Morris intensified, rumors of Cote's departure swirled. He would not comment on possibly leaving Kentucky during the NCAA Tournament when two teammates - freshman center Shagari Alleyne and sophomore point guard Brandon Stockton - said they definitely intended to be back at UK after also being the subject or transfer rumors.

Kentucky returns 10 lettermen

Kentucky returns 10 lettermen next season, including starters Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike, and has already signed three talented guards: Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford and Rajon Rondo. Transfer guard Patrick Sparks also becomes eligible next season.

However, if Morris does not sign with Kentucky, or if he signs with Kentucky and still bolts for the NBA, the Cats will not have many options at center to replace Erik Daniels.

Alleyne, who is 7-3, played just 59 minutes in 18 games last year. UK's other 7-foot freshman, Lukasz Obrzut, played in 31 games, but averaged just 1.2 points, .8 rebounds and 6.5 minutes per game. He had more fouls (50) than rebounds (26), points (36) or blocked shots (six).

Kentucky used Erik Daniels, a converted forward, at center last year with Hayes at power forward. Freshman Sheray Thomas played more late in the year backing up both Daniels and Hayes and if Morris doesn't come to UK, he could compete with Obrzut for Daniels' starting position.

A Kentucky spokesman said Cote and his family would have no other comments on his decision. Smith was also unavailable for comment.

Morris is scheduled to make his announcement at 6 p.m. today. Lexington radio station WLAP-AM (630) plans to carry the press conference from Atlanta.

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