Vaught's Views: Recruit can help Kentucky in 2 sports

June 23, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Long before Tayshaun Prince helped the Detroit Pistons win an NBA championship, Lonnell Dewalt was already a believer in Kentucky coach Tubby Smith's defensive philosophy.

"I like him because he's a defensive coach. You don't have to score to impress him. You can play a key role for him without scoring because he values defense and rebounding," Dewalt said.

That's almost the same philosophy former UK standout Prince and his teammates used to stun the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. It's also why Dewalt, a Kentucky football signee and possibly a significant contributor at receiver next season, plans to join the basketball team as a walk-on.

"Coach Smith likes football players on his team. Whatever he wants me to do, I'll do. I just want to play," Dewalt said. "He's a defensive coach and I am a defensive player."


Smith had football players on his teams at Tulsa and Georgia. He was open to letting Dennis Johnson and Derek Smith, both high school standouts, also play basketball at Kentucky, but then-UK football coach Hal Mumme eventually vetoed their participation.

Dewalt says Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks wasn't overly enamored with the idea of him playing both sports, either, when he first mentioned the idea.

"He bit into the idea after some time, and now he's fine with it," Dewalt said.

He should be. Dewalt proved in the state basketball tournament that he could be a defensive stopper. He proved in the Derby Classic that he could play with the nation's elite players.

"I can help both teams," Dewalt said. "I've been doing it since middle school. I don't see why I can't keep doing it in college. I can help both teams. I know it."

If he's right, think of the extra exposure the Kentucky football team will get. Every Kentucky basketball game will be on TV because of the highly-touted recruiting class Smith has. If Dewalt gets in a game, his status as a football player will be mentioned. If he gets in a game and makes a significant contribution, his football connection will be exposed even more. That national publicity can only help Brooks' program.

What if Dewalt doesn't contribute to Smith's team? It doesn't hurt because he's on a football scholarship, and it's rare to find a player who can contribute in both sports. But if he does succeed, maybe other players with the same talent - and dream - will be a tad more interested in listening to Brooks' recruiting pitch.

"I hadn't really thought about that aspect of it," Dewalt said. "All I know is that I think I can help both teams and that's what I want to do."

Dewalt even uses a basketball mentality to help him on the football field.

"I always catch the ball just like I go after a rebound. I go as high as I can and get the ball. Any ball in the air should be mine," Dewalt said.

He already has hit summer schedule set. After spending last week with the Kentucky all-star football team, he's now devoting his full attention to UK. He's lifting weights each morning, running pass routes in the afternoon and trying to play pickup basketball games with his future teammates at night.

"But once school starts, I'll be strictly football," he said.

That's because he thinks he can work his way into the playing rotation. Despite dropping two passes in the all-star game, Dewalt normally makes big plays. He did during his career at Warren East, and he hopes his size and physical play will be a plus for the Wildcats.

"You could say I am a physical receiver," Dewalt said. "I ain't scared of contact.

"Coach Brooks has already told me he doesn't care what grade you are in. If you can play and help the team, you play. All I want is a chance to play."

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