Tuesday, March 16, 1999

Padgett lives dream playing UK's hero

Senior's versatility carrying Wildcats

USA Today

Scott Padgett shoots the game-tying three-pointer against Kansas
| ZOOM |
        NEW ORLEANS - The hero's role is nothing new to Kentucky's Scott Padgett. After all, he had rehearsed the part so many times before.

        It was his three-pointer with 20 seconds left in regulation that forced overtime in the Wildcats' 92-88 win against Kansas in the second round of the Midwest Regional.

        He also had a career-high 29 points.

        But he had done it so many times before — in his land of make-believe.

        As a child growing up in Louisville, the life-long Kentucky fan played those fantasy backyard games in which he pretended to be former Wildcat greats Rex Chapman and Jamal Mashburn.

        “I was always a certain player from Kentucky, and I was hitting the last-second shot,” he said.

        The dream games have become real life for Padgett, as the Wildcats' quest to defend their national title moves on to the Sweet 16 against upset-minded Miami on Friday in St.Louis.

        “Kentucky's the winningest program in college basketball,” he said. “To me, I always think of Kentucky as being on top. We'd like to try to keep it that way.”

        The Wildcats are a third of the way from their goal. If someone can get them there, it's Padgett.

        The team's leading scorer (12.5 points a game) and re bounder (six a game) provides Kentucky with multiple skills, because he's not the conventional 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward.

        “He can go out on the perimeter and play inside with his size,” Coach Tubby Smith said. “You can't put a big man on him and you can't play him with a small guy, because it puts you in jeopardy.”

        Padgett said his versatility was developed out of necessity.

        As a high school freshman, he was 6-1 and played guard. But during the summer, he stretched to 6-7 and was moved to the front court his sophomore year.

        “That's why I've been able to play the perimeter a lot, because I had guard skills before,” he said. “I had to learn how to play the post.”

        It's ironic that Padgett almost threw away the dream.

        As a freshman, his minutes were limited because he played behind Walter McCarty and Antoine Walker, now both in the NBA. He was discouraged, and it affected his grades. He flunked out of school.

        “With me, in high school I was the type of person who got good grades because I wanted to be eligible to play basketball,” he said. “When basketball fell apart my freshman year, other things followed in line.”

        But he got the chance to redeem himself.

        After missing the first semester of the 1996-97 season to regain his eligibility, Padgett helped the United States win the gold medal in the World University Games in the summer of 1997.

        He's made the dean's list and earned Southeastern Conference academic honors since becoming eligible.

        It's a story Padgett isn't ashamed of passing on to kids.

        “That's one of the things I let them know,” he said. “I almost missed out on my opportunity because of that. Sometimes I wonder how I was so lucky to get a second chance.”


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- Padgett lives dream playing UK's hero
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