Vaught's Views: UK fans have high hopes for hoops

August 29, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky's highly-touted freshman basketball recruiting class got its first exposure to Big Blue Madness Thursday.

That's when UK allowed various media outlets to take pictures for upcoming special sections and stories.

While senior Chuck Hayes certainly is Kentucky's leader and best returning player, he did not get as much attention from the photographers as freshmen Randolph Morris, Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford.

Neither did Kelenna Azubuike, a junior who could be the rising star the Wildcats need this year to make a bid for another Southeastern Conference championship.

Of course, none of this is a real surprise. There might be more excitement about this basketball season already than any at Kentucky since the 1995-96 national championship season.


Kentucky fans openly are talking about this team making the Final Four and wondering how many freshmen Tubby Smith will start since Rondo, Crawford and Morris were all McDonald's All-Americans and some recruiting analysts think Bradley is as good, or better, than any of them. That's why every photographer inside Memorial Coliseum Thursday made getting pictures of that group a higher priority than pictures of any other player or coach.

"...They are all good people"

"The good thing about these kids (freshmen) is that they are all good people," said Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs. "We have not seen any selfishness from any of them yet. It could change, but we've not seen that in the setting we have been operating in."

Earlier this summer Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart raved about the way the freshmen had taken academics so seriously that they had not missed class or tutoring sessions during summer school.

The Fab Four did not show off their basketball skills to the photographers Thursday. The normal dunking exhibition apparently was nixed this year.

Kentucky could start individual workouts with every player this week because classes have started. However, Smith is not going to rush his freshmen, or any returning player, into scheduled workouts too soon.

"We tend not to jump in right away and start the individual workouts," Hobbs said. "Take the freshmen. They were taking two classes in the summer. Now they are taking five or six. They have study hall. All the students are back.

"We tend to give everyone a couple of weeks to get adjusted to normal college life again. Plus, once you start, it is a long haul until the end of the season. We would like to be playing (in the Final Four) in April. If you start workouts in late August, it's a long time. We don't want to wear players out early because once we start to work, we expect them all to work at a certain pace."

Especially this year when team that will be relying on four freshman along with transfer Patrick Sparks is being portrayed as a Final Four contender.

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