Vaught's Views: No more 'babying' UK frosh

December 14, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky coach Tubby Smith is not running out of patience with his young team, but he's ready to see more consistent play.

Smith was as animated for Saturday's game against Indiana as he has been at any time since taking over the UK program in 1997. He's likely to be just as hyper this week as his team prepares for this Saturday's Bluegrass Showdown against rival Louisville.

"Tubby has tried to convey to our guys that the growth spurt we need to have is over now," said Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs. "He basically told them, 'We are not babying you any more. We are not holding your hand any more. It is time to get out there and perform.'"

Kentucky's four highly touted freshmen - Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley and Randolph Morris - have been trying to learn Smith's system. They tried to grasp the ball-line defensive principles as well as what shots they should, and shouldn't, take. All four would probably be surprised to learn that there would be no more "babying" because of the expectations Smith, and UK fans, have for them.


Hobbs says the process has been a little more difficult because of the lack of veteran players. Chuck Hayes is the only senior starter and Kelenna Azubuike is the only other player among UK's top eight performers with more than one year of experience in Smith's system.

"The past couple of years we had a lot of juniors and seniors so the new guys could just sit back and watch and learn that way," Hobbs said. "We don't have that luxury this year because we have nine guys in their first or second year here.

"There are some things you can only learn in games. Obviously, they learn things in practice and you hope they carry over to the game. But at the same time, some things you can only learn in battle. You just can't put things in at practice and assume they have learned it. You have to take what you learn in practice and put it to use under fire. That's one reason we tried to put games together the way we did so that we could nurture these guys and just not throw them into the limelight right away."

So is that why Smith decided to put the freshmen off limits to the media once the season started? Hobbs said Smith worried that the freshmen would be distracted easily by everything from people watching practice to talking to media members.

"Older guys can have tunnel vision and concentrate between the lines," Hobbs said. "Young guys are not to that point yet. Everything is a distraction to them. They don't know yet how to talk to the press and not give something that an opponent can use. That's a process, too.

"To be fair to Tubby, he knows what the spotlight at Kentucky is. Just like you would a young child, you try to shelter them from some things. You want to get them to where they can grow, but you have to get there first."

They continue to accept coaching

Hobbs says the best thing about Kentucky's young players is that they continue to accept coaching.

"They have been very receptive to learning and taking what we give them and trying to do it," Hobbs said.

Assistant Reggie Hanson says the freshmen all are getting better.

"We get on them, push them hard and it's always, 'Yes sir. Tell me what I need to do.' They will try to do it. They may not always be successful with it because they are still learning, but they are making progress and that's all we can ask," Hanson said.

Hobbs says it might be several more weeks before roles are fully set. A player like sophomore center Shagari Alleyne didn't factor heavily into UK's plans in October when Smith was even considering redshirting him. Now he's become a sometimes dominant inside player.

"A lot of things need to happen the next two or three weeks for us to get to where we need to be," Hobbs said. "But the good thing is the players know that and understand Tubby is expecting more every day. That raises the bar a little for everyone and in the long run makes a team get better."

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