With Jay Bilas

Q & A

October 29, 2004

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas offers these insights into Kentucky's season in a question-and-answer session with sports editor Larry Vaught:

1. Can Kentucky realistically expect its incoming freshmen class to offset the loss of Gerald Fitch, Cliff Hawkins, Erik Daniels and Antwain Barbour?

Bilas: "There is no way to duplicate the experience and mature toughness of Fitch, Hawkins, Daniels and Barbour, but Tubby Smith has a terrific group of freshmen to blend in with Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike. Rajon Rondo is an outstanding prospect that I thought was better that (NBA first-round draft pick) Sebastian Telfair in high school. Joe Crawford is talented, tough and versatile. Randolph Morris is a future pro. Ramel Bradley will wind up being one of the better defenders in the league before he's done. For those who question Tubby's recruiting, wait until you get a load of these guys."

2. What impact would you expect Patrick Sparks to make this year?


Bilas: "Sparks brings an experienced primary ball-handler into the fold, and he'll be reliable from day one. Sparks is a good handler and passer, and he can push the ball upcourt quickly. He also has deep range on his shot, and hits open shots consistently. Plus, he plays with intensity. He may list as a newcomer, but he's a veteran."

3. Of UK's freshmen, which one do you think has to play the biggest role to make Kentucky a possible Final Four contender?

Bilas: "Rondo and Crawford. Morris may be the best pro prospect over time, but Rondo and Crawford have the ability and versatility to be really special. They are just freshmen, and 18-year-old kids mature at different rates, but I think they will be big contributors in their rookie years. Rondo could be the best guard in the country before he's through at Kentucky."

4. What does Chuck Hayes do best and what does he have to do even better this year?

Bilas: "Chuck Hayes is a winner. I watched him play up at the Nike camp in Indianapolis (in June), and there were a lot of things you could pick on him over. He's not big enough, he's not a great shooter, he's not a great athlete ... things like that are said all the time. But you know what? His team always won. All that kid does is win. Hayes is tough, plays his tail off, and he's a great teammate. If I want to have a guy that makes you shake your head with flash, I take someone else. If I want to win, I take Chuck Hayes."

5. Does Azubuike have to emerge as a consistent scorer and big-time player for Kentucky to be a national title contender?

Bilas: "I'm not sure it is imperative, but I think he has to be a threat to score when he has the ball, and he has to make others better this year. More than scoring, leadership will be important from Azubuike, Hayes and Sparks.

"This will be a fun Kentucky team to watch. They will play hard, they will defend, and they will get up and down the floor. I'm looking forward to getting to Lexington to see them in action."

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