Vaught's Views: UK fans ready for Madness

September 29, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

The Big Blue Madness is almost ready to begin. No, not the Big Blue Madness that officially opens Kentucky basketball practice at midnight Oct. 15. That's only the beginning of the real Big Blue Madness for UK fans who are openly talking about a Final Four contender despite losing four of the top six players off last year's team and going into this season depending heavily on five newcomers.

Yet there might not have been so much hype about a recruiting class at Kentucky since the 1974-75 class of James Lee, Rick Robey, Jack Givens and Mike Phillips. They helped UK reach the 1975 Final Four and then led the Wildcats to the 1978 national championship.

Coach Tubby Smith's incoming freshmen - guards Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford along with center Randolph Morris - are considered either the nation's best or second best recruiting class by most college basketball analysts. Throw in guard Patrick Sparks, who had last year to learn Smith's system after transferring from Western Kentucky, and the Cats could have their own new Fab Five this season.


Smith naturally has been downplaying the role his new players will play. He's made it clear that he expects senior Chuck Hayes to be the team leader and that junior Kelenna Azubuike has to be a more dominant player this year. No argument on either point.

But the coach can talk all he wants about the improvement of Sheray Thomas, Bobby Perry, Lukasz Obrzut, Josh Carrier, Brandon Stockton and others and no one is going to pay attention. Instead, it's the new players that have most Big Blue fans looking forward to this season.

Magazine has feature on Rondo, Morris and Crawford

Slam, a basketball magazine, has a feature on Rondo, Morris and Crawford in its current issue. Analyst Dick Vitale has UK as a Final Four contender in his preseason rankings because of the freshmen.

Expect an overflow crowd at Memorial Coliseum for Big Blue Madness (tickets will be available either at Memorial Coliseum or via the Internet starting Oct. 9 at 7 a.m.). But if you really want to get an early feel for how talented the new players are, go to the Blue-White Game on Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. Tickets, priced at $5, go on sale Friday either at Memorial Coliseum or at

While Big Blue Madness gets much more hype, you'll see much more of the Kentucky players in a scrimmage. Last year it was obvious Sparks was the best shooter on the team just from watching him in the scrimmage.

This year you'll be able to get a much better feel for how Rondo can direct the offense or how Morris will run the court or how athletic Crawford is or how physical Bradley can be if you watch the scrimmage. Smith scrutinizes every move in the Blue-White Game and players know if they want to impress the coach, they better play well in the scrimmage.

The guess here is that once the scrimmage ends, Kentucky fans are going to be even more convinced that this team could make the Final Four. Sure, that will be unrealistic. But logic never interferes with the optimism of a Kentucky basketball fan and it certainly won't this year, either.

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