Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Just in time, UK gets more from Magloire


Center predicts Final Four trip

BY RUSTY HAMPTON
Louisville Courier-Journal

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jamaal Magloire was at it again Tuesday, and for those who believe in premonitions, his latest prediction bodes well for Kentucky.

        With the NCAA Tournament about to begin, Magloire broke out his Ouija board and came to this conclusion: A late-March trip to Florida is in Kentucky's future. “I see this team being in the Final Four,” said Magloire, the Wildcats' backup center.

        Magloire has a history with prognostications.

        He predicted early last season the Wildcats would win the 1998 national title, which they did. Early this season, he all but guaranteed a victory before the Wildcats romped on Maryland.

        He stopped short of forecasting another national title.

        “I'll have to talk to you guys a little later as to where we'll go from there,” Magloire told reporters after predicting a fourth consecutive Final Four appearance. “But this team is finally getting it together. We're doing a good job, and we're going to make a good run in this tournament.”

        If the Wildcats go far, chances are Magloire will be a key figure.

        The 6-foot-11 junior played more minutes, scored more points and blocked more shots than starting center Michael Bradley during Kentucky's three-game run to the South eastern Conference Tournament title last week in Atlanta.

        He was an arm-waving, shot-swatting, trash-talking defensive demon for most of the tournament. As a bonus, he averaged 10 points a game, exhibiting an improved drop step and a soft touch on baby hook shots with either hand.

        “When you get in tournament play, defense is the key,” said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, explaining Magloire's expanded role. “Defense wins championships and that's what he does best is defend in the post and block shots and rebound.”

        Kentucky (25-8) opens defense of its championship Friday night against New Mexico State (23-9) in a first-round Midwest Regional game in New Orleans. The Wildcats enter the tournament as one of the nation's top teams in field goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to 37.7 percent shooting. That's slightly better than last year's mark (38.2 percent), which was Kentucky's best in 36 seasons.

        At the Georgia Dome, Mississippi, Auburn and Arkansas shot a combined 33.5 percent against the Wildcats' sagging man-to-man and multiple zones.

        Magloire blocked seven shots in the three games. He averaged 5.6 rebounds and did it, said Smith, with “fire and energy.”

        That hasn't always been the case this season for Magloire. He has played like a can't-miss candidate for the NBA in spurts but also has exhibited poor judgment off the court and suspect skills on it.

        He started the season on suspension because of off-the-court troubles, then Smith suspended him for another game at midseason after he received a technical foul in a game and then missed curfew a day later.

        Magloire said his troubles are behind him.

        “As time goes on and the season goes on, you realize your role a lot better than in the beginning of the season,” Magloire said. “I'm content with the playing time I'm getting, and the consistency comes from all the hard work on my own. At this point, I'm playing OK and helping the team a lot more than I did at the beginning.”

        Magloire said he's improved his offense with extra hours of shooting practice, often alone. He said he spent two hours during this week's offday (Monday) shooting free throws and hook shots.

        “There's nights when my teammates are sleeping and I'm over here shooting,” Magloire said. “It's personal a little bit, but it's for the team more than anything else because I want to go back to the Final Four.”

        Senior forward Scott Padgett said he sees a difference in Magloire now that March has arrived. “He's the Jamaal who's been there every tournament since he's been here,” Padgett said. “He's peaking and playing his best ball of the year.”

        During games, Magloire is constantly talking, challenging a player to shoot over him or drive past him.

        “I try to psychologically throw my man off his game,” Magloire said. “That's part of doing the little things that will help this team win. Let's face it, Division I basketball is tough. There aren't any bad players. Everybody knows how to play the game and is experienced. Sometimes it takes those smaller things that you might not see to win games.”

       



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