Spotlight no problem for UK freshmen

October 28, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Not every player that comes to Kentucky to play basketball enjoys the Big Blue spotlight created by intense fan and media interest.

Kentucky's four highly-touted freshmen not only seem to embrace the pressure, but relish it as they prepare to embark on what they openly suggest could be a national championship season.

"There is a lot of pressure on us right now," guard Joe Crawford said. "We want to prove ourselves, and we want to do it together.

"It's not been hard to adjust to the expectations. We know we have to work harder because everyone is expecting a lot out of us, but we all want to live up to, or exceed, those expectations. Personally, I like expectations. I have had high expectations on me since the day I started playing high school basketball. We all have. It's rough at first, but in the long run those ex-pectations help you because you work harder. That's why we are going to be successful."


Crawford and fellow freshman guards Rajon Rondo and Ramel Bradley along with center Randolph Mor-ris could develop into Kentucky's Fab Four just as Michigan's stellar recruiting class led by Chris Webber became known as the Fab Five.

"I was real young when they were playing," said Crawford, who is from Detroit. "I looked up to them. I know what they did. We talk about making our mark here and accomplishing the same kind of things they did.

"All of us want to be part of a winning program. That's one reason I like it here. But it's not pressure. We expect it. We came here to be national champion. Nothing less."

Crawford, Morris and Rondo were all McDonald's All-Americans last season. Bradley, a New York native, played at a prep school in Florida and was not eligible for the McDonald's team. However, as talented as they are, each also has his unique side.

Ramel Bradley

His grandmother made sure that he knew about more than basketball during his early years in New York.

"Our church was right next door to my home," he said. "The church doors were always open, so I spent a great deal of time there every day with here.

"What can you dislike about being close to God? It helped me out a lot knowing that I had somebody praying for me all the time. It definitely helped me. I had a lot of friends I would meet later that didn't go to church. I tried to instill God in their lives and they mostly all looked up to me because they knew I had God in my life. It worked out well for everyone."

Despite spending last year in Florida and now being in Kentucky, he remains close to his grandmother.

"We are real close. I try to talk to her about once a week just to have her pray for me," Bradley said. "I will call her before practice to let her pray so I can do good in practice. She always wants to know what is going on in my life, so I talk to her a lot."

Some teammates have already started referring to Bradley as the "team clown," a label he denies.

"I'm not the team clown. Now I do like to have fun and I can be kind of animated about things, but I am not the team clown," he said.

He might be as fashion conscious as any teammate, though.

"Ramel is smooth. He loves to shop and dress," freshman walk-on Eric Allen said. "Ramel will go in and put on a different outfit just to go out and eat. I don't know how he even gets all his laundry done."

Bradley is also having to adjust to the slower lifestyle in Kentucky.

"Kentucky is so quiet and so slow about everything," he said. "I went for breakfast in the student center the other day and the chef was fixing one meal at a time. In the city, we all go fast. The chef would have been fixing at least 10 meals at once. I guess I'll get used to it, but it is definitely different."

Joe Crawford

Crawford may not have a meaningful weakness on the basketball court, but he has one off the court. He loves Michael Jordan tennis shoes.

"Who told you that? Randolph? It would be true," Crawford said. "I love Michael Jordan and I love his shoes. That definitely would be my weakness. I do buy too many."

Bradley quickly found that out on a trip to a Lexington shopping mall with Crawford.

"He spent $200 on a pair of those tennis shoes," Bradley said. "Then we left the store and he went and bought another pair for $200. I thought that was kind of outrageous. That was too much. I like Jordan and I have a $200 pair myself, but I never remember buying two pair of Air Jordans in the same day.

"He loves his shoes. Maybe I can go to his room and he'll let me borrow a pair. He has too many. What can he do with them all?"

He might need numerous pairs of basketball shoes because of his true passion - playing basketball.

"When I am not playing basketball, I probably am thinking about basketball and what I can do to get better," Crawford said. "There are other things I like to do. I like going to the movies and stuff like that, but the majority of my life is spent either playing basketball or thinking about playing basketball.

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