Alleyne keeps improving

December 16, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Almost every game this season, sophomore center Shagari Alleyne has shown another skill that he didn't have last year when he was a seldom-used reserve at Kentucky.

It has ranged from a drop-step dunk to a left-handed shot to a hook shot to blocking a shot 15 feet from the basket.

So is there still more he can show even as the Cats prepare for Saturday's game at Louisville?

"I guess we will just have to see. Whatever happens, happens," said Alleyne. "If there is more, I guess I will show it. I really am not that aware of doing new things in a game. I just try to do my best. This is a new year and I have to be better."

He has been better, way better.

Going into the game against the Cardinals, he's averaging 6.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 15.3 minutes per game. He also has a team-high 18 blocked shots - an average of one for every five minutes he's played.


"He is going after every ball," teammate Bobby Perry said. "Let someone feed it inside. If somebody tries to take him one on one, they are not getting that shot up. He thinks he can block every shot. Even if a guy has jumping ability, he's already up there with his hands up. You can't go up higher than he can."

UK staff happy with his progress

Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs says Alleyne's progress has pleased the UK coaching staff as well as helped Alleyne's confidence.

"He has known how we want him to play. It was just a question of whether he could do it," Hobbs said. "He's concentrating on the things we need like getting to the glass, scoring in the post and passing out of the post. He's really progressed a lot, but he has a lot left to go, too. What we are looking for now is for him to play well consistently in big games.

"You can't teach 7-3. He's done a better job this year of using his size. It's one thing to be big. It's another thing to play big. But now he's keeping the ball up. He's challenging shots. A lot of times last year he would just watch people shoot. He's doing a better job of trying to impact play. Before he didn't always bring his best energy level every day. That effort is key in practice because you don't just turn it on and off in a game. He's learned that now."

Teammates feel Alleyne has benefited also from the way fans have enjoyed his play.

"When something positive happens, he feeds off that. He likes that energy," Chuck Hayes said. "Your freshmen year, you live and learn. I think he learned a lot and found out it is a whole new game when it comes to college because he's sure a whole new player this year."

"I really don't hear the fans, but people tell me about them all the time," Alleyne said. "I am just glad to see that Kentucky fans appreciate basketball the same way I do."

He felt the same way last year when he wasn't playing well, or often. Yet when he went out, fans still knew who he was.

"It didn't bother me at all," Alleyne said. "God blessed me with this height, and I'm glad he did. I like the attention. It comes with the territory. I am part of the University of Kentucky basketball team and all the fan support and admiration that comes with that. I have to deal with that."

Not easy for him last year

Smith knows it wasn't easy for Alleyne last year. Alleyne had thought of coming to Kentucky, but then appeared to change his mind and was ready to stay closer to his New York home and play for Rutgers. But another change of heart in the spring brought him to the Bluegrass.

Alleyne had few shining moments last year. But Smith knew big men need more time to develop than smaller players.

"Imagine having to carry those big limbs around," Smith said. "We can't understand what it is like to be that big, or the time it takes a bigger guy just to move up and down the court.

"Shagari can take three, four or five strides and be at the other end of the court, but sometimes there are nine guys in his way. He's had to learn to change directions. People look at big guys and see they are gifted and blessed with size and talent, but it doesn't just happen overnight for them. It just takes a little more patience with a big guy than it does with others."

Alleyne never lost his patience, not even when he had to adapt to the slower paced life in the Bluegrass.

"The people in New York are not as friendly. When I got here, people were so much more personable," Alleyne said. "Usually if someone in New York acts like that, it's like, 'What are you trying to get from me.' I had to readjust my mindset here, but it's cool."

His teammates have helped

Alleyne's progress wasn't a fluke. He put on about 10 pounds of muscle during the summer by lifting weights with teammate Lukasz Obrzut.

"I focused on that because I knew I needed to be stronger. Once I started noticing a difference in my strength, I knew the work was paying off. Guys couldn't push me off the block like they could last year," Alleyne said.

The two also ate together often.

"We ate everything under the sun," Alleyne said. "Anything from McDonald's to Subway to a buffet. We ate four or five meals every day. We devoured everything."

Alleyne spent the end of last season staying 30 to 45 minutes after practice with Patrick Sparks to work on his offensive skills.

"Patrick helped me a lot last year with my positioning. He told me a lot of little things to help my game," Alleyne said.

His teammates certainly aren't complaining about what he's done this year.

"I'm not really surprised at what he has done," Kelenna Azubuike said. "He's more of a gamer. I knew he could dunk and block shots, but he's doing a lot more now. He's an intimidating presence inside now and a guy that is an integral part of our team."

"I love playing with Shagari," Perry said. "He plays so hard. Everything that comes in there is his. That's his mentality now. Now that he has that confidence, he won't let down."

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