UK Notebook: Mills impressed with UK recruits

July 18, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

During his career at the University of Kentucky, Cameron Mills played with a plethora of talent.

He was there when the Wildcats won national titles in 1996 and 1998 and finished second in the 1997 NCAA Tournament. He played with Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Tony Delk, Wayne Turner and Jeff Sheppard on the perimeter as well as interior players Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Nazr Mohammed and Jamal Magloire.

All those players have played, or at still playing, professional basketball. That's why when Mills says he's impressed by UK's incoming freshman class, he should know what he's talking about.

"We've got a special recruiting class," Mills said. "We are loaded at the guard position. It's phenomenal to see all those guys play so well. They are playing like veterans. It will be fun to see them all play together because they are really, really good."


Kentucky's recruiting class includes guards Joe Crawford, Rajon Rondo and Ramel Bradley as well as center Randolph Morris. Western Kentucky transfer Patrick Sparks also becomes eligible this season.

Mills has seen the players participate in summer camp games against Kentucky's returning players. He especially liked what he saw from Crawford, a McDonald's All-American from Detroit.

"I have never seen anyone get so much rise on a 3-point jump shot like Joe Crawford does," said Mills. "His shot seems like it would be impossible to block when he's shooting outside because he gets up so high. He jumps so much higher on his jump shot than most players do. You just have to see it to believe it."

Mills also noticed one other potentially important thing about UK's highly-rated recruiting class.

"They have all come in with a lot of confidence, which can be a bad thing because they could be in for a rude awakening when the real basketball starts in October," Mills said. "But with these new guys, it's almost like they already belong here.

"They still have a lot to prove, but from what I've seen, not only are they as good as advertised, but they look like they believe they can help right away, too."

He's convinced Sparks will, too. He got to occassionally watch him in practice last year when he was ineligible to play. He also has heard what other players have said about the junior point guard.

"First of all, he seems to be a leader," Mills said. "He came here and had to sit out a year, but from what I was told he was a leader from the first day. His attitude was not that he was sitting out a year on a new team and that he should just sit back and observe. He was already looking ahead to next year.

"His attitude was he had nothing to lose because he wasn't playing, so he was going to push guys as much as he could. Obviously, he's a great talent. But more importantly, he's a great leader. He's kind of taken the team by the reins, even last year before he could play."

Mills said it's no surprise that senior Chuck Hayes has taken a leadership role organizing summer workouts. But he said Sparks has been just as assertive setting pickup game times and making sure everyone is there to play.

"They have taken that role because the coaches can't be out there. Chuck is the natural person to be doing that, but you also look to your point guard because he's the one on the court calling the plays and providing the leadership you need," Mills said. "Patrick is showing right now he has that ability, and that could be a big, big factor next year because coach (Tubby) Smith really likes an experienced point guard."

Offensive analyst: Former UK receiver Derek Abney got to play for three distinctive offenses at Kentucky under football coaches Hal Mumme, Guy Morriss and Rich Brooks.

"It seems like each program got more difficult to learn," said Abney, who hopes to make the Baltimore Ravens roster. "Mumme's offense was kind of straight-up, draw-it-in-the-dirt, but it worked and I am not slighting it.

"(Offensive coordinator Brent) Pease tried to stay with a lot of Mumme's things and keep a wide-open passing game for coach Morriss. With coach Hudson you really have to know not only your position, but also other positions. You've got to be able to make a lot more reads."

So which did he like best?

"You scored the most points and had the most fun with Mumme, but as a coach he was up only for the offense," Abney said. "As a receiver, that offense was obviously the best, but it may not have been best for the team.

"I am glad I was in the situation where I had to know what to do in different offenses and learn to recognize different coverages. Each year got tougher to understand and more complicated, but it made me better and could help my NFL career."

Looking: Kentucky offensive coordinator Ron Hudson plans to use numerous two tight-end sets to take advantage of UK's expected depth at tight end this season.

But could he find himself depending on one tight end as a pass catching specialist and another as a blocking specialist in key situations?

"I am not sure we just have a catching tight end right now," Hudson said. "We have some kids that can run around and catch the ball OK, but we don't think we have a kid that can get vertically up the field speed-wise. I think they are all equal in terms of catching and getting better in terms of blocking.

"Will one emerge? I don't know. I hope so, but if not, we still should be a lot better overall than we were last year."

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