Wildcats will host Wesleyan

May 27, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

It has been almost 20 years since Ray Harper was on the basketball coaching staff at Virginia Commonwealth with Tubby Smith. However, Harper says Smith has changed little in that time.

"Tubby just does not change," said Harper, now the head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan. "He's always been a better person than coach. He's a tireless recruiter. He expects the best from his team."

Harper will see first-hand what Smith expects from his next Kentucky team because Wesleyan will play the Wildcats in an exhibition game Nov. 9 in Rupp Arena.

"It's just going to be great for our program," Harper said. "It gives us recognition all across the state. We're really excited about this opportunity and appreciate Kentucky giving us this chance."


Wesleyan and Northern Kentucky, which will also play an exhibition game against UK, are both Division II schools. A new NCAA rule that goes into effect next season allows Division I teams to charge admission for exhibition games against only Division II, Division III or NAIA teams. No longer can Division I teams play all-star teams or foreign teams if tickets are sold.

While Kentucky has won seven national championships, Wesleyan has won eight. Still, Harper has no false illusions about the talent level of the two teams.

"Tubby is not going to be worried about beating us," Harper said. "He's signed some good players. I know he has one of the best point guards in the country in Patrick Sparks.

"The biggest difference on our level is the big kid in the middle. We are accustomed to maybe playing against 6-8 kids. (Randolph) Morris will present a lot of problems for us."

Harper and Sparks are from Muhlenberg County

Harper is a native of Muhlenberg County. That's where Sparks, a transfer from Western Kentucky, is from.

"I've known for a long time that he can play," Harper said. "Kentucky fans are really going to like him."

Morris, a 6-11 center from Atlanta, is part of Smith's highly-regarded recruiting class that could propel the Cats into the top 10 in preseason rankings.

"We are an up-tempo team and we are not going to change that because we are playing Kentucky," Harper said. "We want to make it a fun game for the fans. We only return four players, including our top scorer and point guard. We have signed six new players. But this is an important opportunity for our program.

"I just hope it will be beneficial for Kentucky, too, and that they won't beat us too bad. I hope it helps them some."

$15,000 guarantee will benefit his team

Harper says there's no doubt the exposure - along with the $15,000 guarantee Wesleyan will receive - will benefit his team.

"The opportunity to play one of the premier programs in the country has to help us," Harper said. "This new rule helps smaller schools. We can play three of these exhibition games each year. It will help get our players' attention ever earlier because they will not want to get embarrassed because we are going to be playing a team that will expose all our weaknesses. But this should only make us better."

Harper says his team would welcome a chance to play Louisville, too.

"We would love that," he said. "We would like to get two more high majors on our schedule."

Louisville assistant coach Scott Davenport was also an assistant at VCU with Harper.

"Maybe that will help us get a game with Louisville," Harper said. "But we have the game with Kentucky, and for our program, that's really big."

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