Smith - UK recruits' 'potential is great'

May 13, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - He did his best to downplay the rising expectations for his star-studded recruiting class, but Kentucky coach Tubby Smith still couldn't hide his excitement.

"This is a great group. Obviously, they have a lot of work to do and they have to grow up. But the potential is great," said Smith Tuesday.

Those were the first public comments Smith has had made signing guards Rajon Rondo and Joe Crawford in April and center Randolph Morris last week to go with November signee Ramel Bradley and transfer Patrick Sparks.

Kentucky's recruiting class has been ranked from first to third nationally since Smith added Morris, a 7-foot center from Atlanta.

"We really didn't have a shot blocker last year," Smith said. "In Shagari (Alleyne) and Lukasz (Obrzut), they are getting better. But Randolph is just a very good athlete. He runs and jumps and has great hands, great size. He has all the physical tools to play right away. That's probably the difference in he and the players we have in our program right now."


Yet Smith noted that Crawford, a two guard from Detroit, might be the player Kentucky needed the most because of his scoring ability.

"Joe Crawford is probably the guy we have as much need for as at any position," Smith said.

The coach noted that the Cats lost leading scorer Gerald Fitch and swingman Antwain Barbour to graduation and that Crawford can help offset their departures.

"Rajon is truly a point guard, but he can also score. Ramel is a combo-type player as well," Smith said. "It's going to be interesting to see how we decide where they are most effective."

However, Smith left little doubt that the three incoming freshmen along with Sparks, a two-year starter at Western Kentucky before transferring to UK, could help change Kentucky's style of play next season.

"I think it will help us in our pressing and defending," Smith said. "We have been a good scoring team, but I think we will be able to put more points on the board and keep more pressure on the ball with the type of players we have in the backcourt."

Rondo and Sparks seem likely to compete for the starting point guard position vacated by Cliff Hawkins. Bradley and junior Brandon Stockton could also vie for playing time at the point.

"Rajon has the ability to penetrate and break people down off the dribble and distribute the ball," Smith said. "Plus he is athletic as he can be for his size. He has great hands, great vision. He's got to develop into the type of defender we know he's capable of being."

Smith did note that Sparks "leadership" would be invaluable on such a young team and that he had improved steadily last year while practicing with the Wildcats.

"All those guys bring a new type of energy and enthusiasm to the program," Smith said.

However, Smith's three recent signees have made no secret of their desire to play in the NBA and possibly leaving college early to pursue a professional career.

"Every one of them thinks they are pros long before they are pros, even the ones in the past," Smith said. "Past, present, future. That's the one thing I try not to even discuss. I don't necessarily avoid it, but we recognize they are not ready and try to help them understand it takes a while to be ready."

He hopes recruits look at how recent UK players Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans benefited from playing four years at Kentucky before going to the NBA and that few players are ready to leave college early for the NBA.

"I just recruit the best athletes and ones that fit our system and fit our needs," Smith said. "Outside of that, it's never been a discussion, especially with a kid like Morris who is the only one with the potential to leave early if he wanted to if he develops into the type of player I know he's capable of doing. That's something we would sit down and discuss at that time."

Notes: Smith said sophomore forward-center Sheray Thomas will play for the Canadian Junior National Team this summer. ... Even though UK has granted sophomore Bernard Cote his release so he can transfer to another school, Smith said the "door is still open" for him to return. ... If Kentucky is not able to play in the Preseason NIT, Smith said the Cats would look to play in another tournament or possibly even host some type of tournament of their own to start the season. ...Alleyne, a 7-3 sophomore center, might be redshirted next season with Morris' arrival. "That's something we were looking at last year and looking back, it's something we probably should have done. There is potential for that this year." ... The UK coach also said he would not be surprised if Morris' brother, who was a manager on Georgia Tech's Final Four team last year, transferred to UK and that he would be "welcomed" at Kentucky.

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