“Kentucky’s future looks promising. But Kentucky is always going to be good. People wonder what has been wrong and they’ve lost what, two or three SEC games in two years? How many teams would like to be that bad?
“Tubby (Smith) has a great program and always will. I am a big fan of his and it amazes me the way some fans criticize hiim. It’s just a lot harder to win a national title than people either realize, or want to admit, especially in Kentucky.”
Graves understands the UK basketball mentality. His father was an architect involved in the Memorial Coliseum renovation. He once lived next to former UK coach Rick Pitino. Smith’s youngest son, Brian, played at Lexington Catholic and this summer Graves is working out with Saul Smith, the UK coach’s middle son.
“Tubby is a wonderful person and great teacher. I admire the coaching job he does,” said Graves, who played overseas and in the CBA last season. “I would never say anything bad about him. He’s a great coach, and a terrific person. Sometimes it amazes me that some Kentucky fans get upset with him. His teams just keep winning, but yet sometimes that’s not enough.”
Graves would not have turned down a chance to play at UK if he had been offered a scholarship, but he said despite his many ties to the Wildcats he was not a die-hard Kentucky fan.
“I loved Kentucky basketball and it has been such a big part of my life for a long time,” Graves said. “But I was not hell-bent on going to Kentucky. I thought it would be neat to be recruited by UK just to see if I was good enough to play at that level. They did recruit me hard at the end, but when Notre Dame came calling, that is where I wanted to go. I was not one of those guys just waiting for Kentucky to call.”
Morris, Crawford and Rondo may not have been, either, because they all signed during the late signing period. All are high school All-Americans, but Graves warns that even players that good will need time to adjust to the college game.
“No matter how good you are, it takes time to get used to playing in college. Guys are all so much better. I’m not saying freshmen can’t help, but there are not many freshmen that can step in and carry a team, especially at a school like Kentucky,” Graves said.
Looking ahead: Kentucky’s 2004-2005 basketball schedule has yet to be announced, but Virginia has already made unofficial inquiries about playing UK to open the 2006-2007 season.
Virginia will open a new basketball arena that season and would like to play Kentucky, which played the opening game in Virginia’s current arena 25 years ago.
“We are not in negotiations,” UK associate athletics director Rob Mullens said. “I bumped into them at the Final Four and they mentioned that kind of casually.”
Kentucky is going to Maui in 2006 and depending on the date of Virginia’s opening game, the Cats may well be in Maui.
“Normally you don’t work that far ahead in basketball scheduling except for something special,” Mullens said. “You might for a series with a team like North Carolina, Louisville or Indiana, but not for most contracts. We just don’t work that far ahead.”
Mullens did say he has managed to avoid having UK play games on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day next season even though both are on Saturday.
“So far we’ve avoided scheduling a game either day,” Mullens said. “We’re just hoping it can stay that way.”