Wildcats will play exhibition game against Northern Kentucky

May 21, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

When Northern Kentucky plays Kentucky in an exhibition basketball game Nov. 3, coach Dave Bezold anticipates one potential problem.

"Hopefully half of our team will not wear Kentucky shirts to the game," said Bezold. "We are big Kentucky fans. That is the team we root for. At least half our team probably is die-hard Kentucky fans."

Still, Bezold knows what a treat it will be for his players - as well as a financial windfall for Northern Kentucky - if a deal to play Kentucky is finalized as he thinks it will be.

A new NCAA rule prohibits schools from playing all-star or international teams in exhibition games as they have in past years if tickets are sold. Instead, Division I teams can now play Division II, Division III or NAIA teams in exhibition games and still sell tickets.


Northern apparently will play not only Kentucky, but also Ohio State to put an extra $30,000 in the basketball budget next season.

"We are getting some nice guarantees that will allow us to do things for our program that we can't normally do," Bezold said. "It's something we had to do. There's no way we could turn down the opportunity."

"Preparation-wise, there was no way we could ever have gotten anything like this for our regular season," Bezold said.

Northern Kentucky, which plays in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, went 16-15 last season.

Bezold said his athletics director was playing golf with Rob Mullens, UK's executive associate director of athletics, when the two discussed a possible exhibition game.

"The next day Kentucky called and we said we would be interested," Bezold said. "There was no way we were going to turn this down."

Bezold knows his team will be overmatched, but maybe not as much as some might think.

"We have signed some good players," Bezold said. "We started playing UC (Cincinnati) three years ago and they could have beat us as bad as they wanted. Last year we were even at halftime and down eight with the ball with three minutes to go.

"We'll just play as hard as we can and hope we can make it a quality game. A lot will depend on how good Kentucky is, and I know they had a great recruiting class. I know Kentucky is at a different level from us. But if this game does happen, and I think it will, we'll just do the best we can to make sure Kentucky gets something out of it, too, because I know just coming to Rupp Arena will be special for our guys."

It really could be for former UK tight end Derek Smith. He left Kentucky after his junior year in hopes of playing in the NFL. After failing to land a roster spot the last two years, Smith is now planning to enroll at Northern this summer and playing basketball for one year if he passes courses to make himself eligible.

"We are recruiting him and hoping for the best," Bezold said. "That's all I can say."

Graduation: Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart says UK is now graduating about 86 percent of its student-athletes, but wants to do better.

"We want to get to 90 percent," he said. "It's important to get an education. We expect our athletes to go to class."

He also explained how the football team's grade point average has steadily climbed since coach Rich Brooks' arrival. It has gone from a 2.4 overall when Brooks arrived to 2.5 to 2.6 to 2.69 this last semester. But even that's not enough for Barnhart.

"We want our cumulative GPA for all athletes to be above 3.0," Barnhart said. "We want every team to be above 3.0."

Is that far too optimistic?

"I don't think so. It's not a difficult goal when you consider all the resources we have to offer athletes," Barnhart said.

Game time set: Kentucky and Louisville will start the football season Sept. 5 at 3:30 p.m. in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

The game will be shown on ESPN, not ESPN2 as originally announced. ESPN2 will be airing Tennessee-UNLV later that same night.

This will be the third consecutive year that the game will be on live national or regional television and the seventh time since the series was renewed in 1994.

Basketball recruiting: Another Atlanta high school player likes what he's seen of the UK basketball program.

Rashad Chase, a 6-7 forward, has scholarship offers from at least three Southeastern Conference schools and is now also hearing from Kentucky, Georgia, Georgia Tech and others.

"I don't have a favorite right now," Chase told's Jeff Drummond. "I'm trying to look at all the schools who have shown interest in me. But I'm probably more favorable to Kentucky as anyone because of the relationship I have with coach Smith.

"My dad played for Tubby Smith back when he was in high school in Maryland, so we've had a relationship with him for a long time. "I've always been interested in Kentucky since he's been there. I went up there with my dad to Tubby Smith's camp when I was in the eighth grade. I had a lot of fun there, and I've always been a fan."

Kentucky now has at least three highly rated forwards - Tasmin Mitchell of Louisiana, Tyler Hansbrough of Missouri and Chase - on its recruiting list.

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