Chemistry is big key for Cats

November 03, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - A lack of talent should not be a problem for Tubby Smith's team this season.

Four talented freshmen, a veteran transfer in point guard Patrick Sparks and two proven returning starters in Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike have Smith admitting that talent and depth should not be problems this year.

However, Smith has to find a way to mesh freshmen Ramel Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford with his returning players, including four sophomores who all hope to play more this year.

That's why Smith says it's equally important for new players to accept their roles and veteran players to adapt to what their new roles might be.


"It might be more important for the returning players to accept what may be new roles," the Kentucky coach said. "They understand, they've been here. Whether their role diminishes or playing time increases, they have to adjust.

"That's why we bring in good kids. They understand it is a team game and that they all contribute to our success or failure."

Smith will have a chance to evaluate just how that chemistry is developing tonight when the Cats face Northern Kentucky, a Division II team, in their first exhibition game. Next week Kentucky will take on Kentucky Wesleyan in its other exhibition contest.

The Kentucky coach says he's anxious to see how his freshmen play in a team setting tonight.

"Execution. Staying within the system," Smith said of things he wants to evaluate. "I know their athleticism and that they are capable of creating their own shot. They've got to play together, play unselfish, make the extra pass, be in the right spot defensively."

Azubuike, a junior, says not to read too much into how the new players play tonight.

"It's a great experience to play your first time in Rupp Arena," Azubuike said. "It was for me and will be for them, too. I just hope they deal with it and enjoy it. They are learning every day. We need them to contribute.

"We can be a good team again. We've got good freshmen as well as returning players that are good. We've got good experience to go with good talent. We just have to make sure it all works together the way it should. Everybody just has to adapt to whatever roles they might have."

Sparks as anxious as the freshmen

Sparks, who started two years at Western Kentucky before transferring to Kentucky, has not played a game in a year. He's as anxious as the freshmen to play tonight, but he also has a better idea about how important it is to have good team chemistry.

"I don't know if there really is a day that team chemistry starts," Sparks said. "It takes time to evolve, but it is important that we have the right chemistry."

Ravi Moss, a junior walk-on, played well in limited opportunities last season. However, with the arrival of three freshmen guards and Sparks, his playing time could be more limited this year.

"It's going to be a challenge with four freshmen, but that's just the way it is," Ravi Moss said. "I am just a walk-on player. But I know what I can do and I hope the coaches do, too.

"It's all about meshing together. New players have to accept roles they are given and older players have to accept whatever the coaches want them to do. We just have to find out what works best."

Smith did not make his freshmen players available to the media Tuesday. However, he noted that Crawford and Rondo were the "two best freshmen defensive players he's had in a long time" and that Bradley had "shot better than anticipated." He also called Morris a "real force inside" in practice.

"It's not like we got to throw the freshmen out there right away," Smith said. "That's the best thing about this group. Our freshmen are very exceptional, but we have good older players, too. The type of players and weapons we have make it fun to be a coach."

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