UK Notebook: Freshmen know about rivalry

December 17, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Since he played and coached in the Kentucky-Louisville series, Reggie Hanson knows a lot about the in-state rivalry. However, he says experience isn't necessary to understand the significance of this game.

That's why Hanson says Kentucky's three out-of-state freshmen - Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley - won't have any trouble being ready for Saturday's game against No. 13 Louisville in Freedom Hall.

"Those guys know what Kentucky-Louisville game is all about. In terms of preparing these guys mentally and physically, that won't be a problem or something we have to discuss," said Hanson. "We just have to make sure we stay focused on the X's and O's in terms of trying to beat Louisville. But those guys won't have a problem being ready."

Kentucky's other freshman, Rajon Rondo, is from Louisville. He initially wanted to go to Louisville before Louisville coach Rick Pitino quit recruiting him when he signed Sebastian Telfair, who went to the NBA instead of coming to Louisville. Now Pitino admits it was a mistake to quit recruiting Rondo.


"I still hear all the time about not going to Louisville," Rondo said before the season started. "I felt I had to make the best decision for me, so Kentucky was the best decision. A lot of people back home still wish I had gone to Louisville, but I am glad I came to Kentucky."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith isn't worried about Rondo playing against his hometown team.

"I don't anticipate any problems. He's a pretty mature young man," Smith said.

Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs says playing at Louisville will be another needed learning experience for Rondo and all his teammates.

"It is not a make or break game, but it certainly is a quality opponent in a charged atmosphere. That helps you get a pretty good idea of where you are at this point," Hobbs said.

Kentucky beat Indiana in Freedom Hall last week when tickets were split equally between the two schools. The Cats have also dominated that series recently. Louisville, though, has two straight wins over UK, including one at Rupp Arena last year.

"Obviously, this (game with Louisville) has been the more competitive series lately," Hobbs said. "Plus, all the fans are going to be for Louisville. Against Indiana, you had enough people that were going to make noise for you when things were going well. This game, it's you and the people on your bench."

Guarding Garcia: Kentucky junior Kelenna Azubuike said Thursday that he hopes he is matched against Francisco Garcia, Louisville's top player.

"He's a good player. You can't let him get easy shots or an open looks," Azubuike said. "I would like to guard him. I hope I get to. It would be a challenge and make me a better defensive player."

Smith wouldn't say who would guard Garcia or how many different players he might use on him.

"He's such a complete player," Smith said. "Even at 6-7, he has the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive by you. He has the ability to shoot over you. He reminds me a lot of (former UK star) Tayshaun Prince because he can make others better. He's also a very aggressive defender on the other end."

Dressing Thomas: Smith said it was possible that sophomore Sheray Thomas, who has not been in uniform this season because of an undisclosed preseason surgery, could be in uniform Saturday.

Smith said he wanted to see Thomas again in practice Thursday before making a decision.

Would he be available to play?

"I'm still even trying to decide if he'll be in uniform," Smith joked. "If he's not in uniform, he can't play."

Shagari Safari: Kentucky sophomore center Shagari Alleyne not only has been UK's most surprising player this season with his inside play, but he's also become a fan favorite.

Fans Conley and Wes Harrington have even started a Web site promoting Alleyne. It's called

"My whole reason for the site is to support and help build confidence for the big fellow," Conley Harrington said. "It's a free site and always will be. I don't want to make money on the site. It's just for fans to show their support for Shagari. The safari comes from the adventure that Shagari will lead Kentucky on to its eighth national championship."

About 400 Kentucky fans visited the site within four hours of Harrington's appearance with Jim Tirey on his nightly radio sports talk show on WLAP in Lexington.

He's had some "Shagari Safari" T-shirts made and was with several family members and friends wearing them at the UK-Indiana game. However, the T-shirts are not for sale because that would violate NCAA rules.

Harrington believed in Alleyne's skills last year when most others wondered if the 7-3 center would ever help Kentucky.

"I just knew it took time for big men to develop and that coach Smith was great at developing big men," Harrington said.

Now he's hoping Alleyne can help the Cats win Saturday.

"Almost everyone else in my family is a Louisville fan," Harrington, a marketing assistant in Louisville, said. "A win over Louisville would really mean a lot to me."

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