Vaught's Views: Wait to judge UK class

May 13, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - It seemed like such a simple question, one that Kentucky coach Tubby Smith surely would have no trouble answering.

Is this his most talented recruiting class?

The class includes three players - center Randolph Morris, two guard Joe Crawford and point guard Rajon Rondo - whom most recruiting analysts consider either the best at their position or the second-best among high school players who did not declare for the NBA draft. All are McDonald's All-Americans.

Smith's banner class also includes combination guard Ramel Bradley and point guard Patrick Sparks, who has a year in the UK system after transferring from Western Kentucky.

So, Tubby, this has to be not only the nation's best class, but also your best recruiting class, doesn't it? "I don't know. Ask me that in four years. I might be able to answer that then," said Smith.


Smith wasn't being coy, either. He simply knows that star recruiting classes don't always translate into championship teams. He still remembers that Hugh Durham had the nation's top-rated class at Georgia only a few years before he was forced out and Smith took over.

Maybe Smith was also trying to make sure that the pressure to win a national championship next season is at least partially kept in perspective the next few months.

Kentucky has won 59 games and two Southeastern Conference championships in the last two years. For most schools, that would be reason to celebrate. But not Kentucky.

The Wildcats didn't make the Final Four either year despite entering NCAA play as the No. 1 overall seed. Last season they didn't even make the Sweet Sixteen.

That's why Smith was a bit miffed at his press conference Tuesday when asked if he felt a certain urgency to win big with these recruits before some might bolt early for the NBA.

"We've had pressure the last two years," Smith said. "Expectations have been the same in my book every year. It's always been to win the SEC, which we've done a pretty good job of, and go as deep as we can in the NCAA Tournament.

"Nobody is guaranteed anything - championships, national championships, the Final Four. Yeah, we need to get to the Final Four, and I'm getting pretty antsy about not being there for the last couple of years, especially because I felt like we had a team that was capable.

"I don't think we reached our expectations. I don't know that we ever have except in 1998."

That was Smith's first year at Kentucky and the last time the Cats won a national title, or made the Final Four.

Smith has to know expectations have soared because of his recruiting class even though UK lost four of its top six players off last year's 27-5 team. In Kentucky, logic never gets in the way of expectations for the Big Blue faithful.

Fans are already speculating on possible lineups or strategy changes Smith might make next year because of the influx of talent. However, as good as Smith's talent looks, the coach knows a lofty recruiting class does not necessarily translate into a national title, especially the next year.

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