Smith has more options, so UK may not have set lineup

October 26, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Unlike the last two years when Kentucky depended on a set lineup for most of the season, coach Tubby Smith says more options could lead to him using a variety of starting lineups this season.

"I probably will use more lineups," Smith said. "We have a lot of guys who can do different things."

Senior forward Chuck Hayes and junior guard-forward Kelenna Azubuike, UK's two returning starters, are set in their roles again going into the season.

The one other player who seems to have a set spot in Smith's rotation is junior point guard Patrick Sparks, who practiced with the Wildcats last year after transferring from Western Kentucky where he was a two-year starter.

"Patrick is probably solid in his minutes if we played today," Smith said. "His basketball IQ is going to be important. It's been a key to our success the last few years."


That "basketball IQ" enabled Erik Daniels, Gerald Fitch and Cliff Hawkins to help Kentucky rise to the No. 1 seed going into the last two NCAA Tournaments.

"Our system is based on teamwork, not individualism," Smith said. "It's all about winning championships. But it takes some time for chemistry to develop. Our players the last couple of years were not perceived to be as talented, so they felt they had more to prove and overachieved."

Smith says daily practice competition will determine his early-season playing rotation for all his players, including talented freshmen Randolph Morris, Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford.

"None of the freshmen are very good defensively now, but they will be great," Smith said. "They have all the athleticism and physical tools to be great defensive players.

"Rajon plays defense well. He has very deceptive quickness and a long reach. He can create problems for opponents with his quickness. Joe probably is ahead of them all defensively. His high school coach did a good job teaching him how to defend. He's also probably our best jump shooter. He's going to give us real depth in the backcourt."

The frontcourt is where Smith has more concerns, especially with sophomore Sheray Thomas' return remaining in doubt. Thomas had major surgery earlier this month, and Smith recently said it might be the first of the year at the earliest before he's back to full strength. By the end of last year Thomas had developed into a frontcourt reserve that Smith trusted in key situations.

"Now we have to find out if Randolph is ready to play the five (center)," Smith said. "I would like to use Chuck at the three (small forward). That's where he played when we won 32 games (two years ago). But can Woo (Lukasz Obrzut) and Shagari (Alleyne) give us what we need at center."

Smith will experiment with sophomore Bobby Perry, a natural small forward, at power forward with Thomas hurting.

"That might not be my best position, but I just want to play and help the team," Perry said. "We all do. We have a lot of versatile players. Wherever coach Smith needs us, that's where we will play."

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