UK freshmen are Big Macs no longer

October 24, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Recruiting high-profile players certainly increases a team's talent level. However, blending that young talent into a team concept can sometimes present its own challenge.

Kentucky has perhaps the nation's most highly-touted freshman class in center Randolph Morris and guards Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. All but Bradley were McDonald's All-Americans last season, and he was not eligible because he attended a prep school.

But can Kentucky coach Tubby Smith change them from Big Macs to Big Cats?

"These four can compete and will figure out ways to succeed," Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs said. "If you take the collection of them, it's hard to think anybody can be any better as a group. They are all pretty good, and there's a chance they can be really, really good.

"The good thing about all four is they each have an offensive game to bring to the table. If you have got that, we want to refine that. We can teach you to play defense. As long as you are athletically able to do what we ask and willing to put out daily, we can teach defense in a short period of time. What is tough is if a player has flaws on offense. If he can't shoot or make good decisions, it takes longer to get him in position to play. These guys all have an offensive game."


Still, Hobbs, a former head coach at Alabama, knows not every talented player can quickly accept playing a role on a team with many other talented players. The transition from marquee high school player to filling a role on a team with other players just as talented can be difficult for some.

"One reason we've been successful the last two years, and won more games (59) than anybody in the county, is because guys have settled into roles," Hobbs said. "Everybody is not trying to be everything. That's important. They all give up something for the betterment of the team.

"It's one thing for a coach to say this is your role to play. It's another thing for a kid to do it. First, he's got to be able to fulfill the role. Second, he's got to be willing to do it. High-profile guys have certain expectations of themselves. That's what makes it difficult because you never know who will, or won't, settle into the role that the team needs.

"They have all been stars. Now you are asking them to settle into something less than a starring role. They've got to become guys that help the team, not carry the team. They have got to see, understand and accept that."

Hobbs thinks the freshmen's offensive talents will enable them to provide immediate help and adjust to roles the team needs. Here's his early analysis of each freshman:

* Crawford.

"His biggest asset that gives him a chance to play early is he is so strong," Hobbs said. "He gets high on his jump shot. He's not afraid to take tough shots. He has a confidence about his game I like. Some freshmen can get neutralized if they are being physically manhandled, but that won't happen with him. If he does the other things Tubby wants, he's going to have a chance to play a lot early."

* Rondo.

"He can do everything offensively that you want from a point guard," Hobbs said. "He can handle the ball, pass the ball, know when to pass the ball and make good decisions in transition."

* Morris.

"His biggest weakness is that he didn't have to bring his best game all the time in high school," Hobbs said. "He's got to learn to play hard all the time. He got to play against Nazr (Mohammed) in the summer. Woo (Lukasz Obrzut) made him work in the summer. He may not always do the right thing, but he's physical and he runs the floor.

"He can catch the ball, has good strengths, demands a presence inside, puts the ball on the floor well and can shoot the mid-range jump shot. A lot of kids can't do the things he can."

* Bradley.

"He is a good player. He's confident. He's strong, too. He's got that New York game both on and off the court," Hobbs said. "He may border on being brash at times, but he's someone who was overlooked by a lot of the recruiting ratings. He's really, really good."

Hobbs likes one other thing about Kentucky's talented foursome.

"They are all good kids. I have not seen any selfishness yet. That could change, but I don't think so," Hobbs said.

Senior Chuck Hayes thinks the four freshmen will fit into Smith's system without any problems even though they are a little different from some previous players he's seen come to Kentucky.

"This group is really interesting," Hayes said. "I really haven't figured them out yet. What I really like about them is that they are so competitive. They love to play the game. This group could be very special.

"They are definitely a fun-loving group. They are always smiling. You will never really see this group down. This group is more freelance than some freshmen. They are just out there having fun. Maybe it's that I am older now, but they seem more carefree, too. They don't let stuff get to them."

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