Friday, October 08, 1999

Tubby asks UK fans to have patience

'Cats full of talent - but young

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Tubby Smith came to town Thursday night selling excitement but pleading patience. Kentucky's basketball coach knows nothing if not his audience. “I know you all are kind of spoiled, but bear with us, OK?” he said, drawing knowing laughs. “We'll be back in the (national) championship game again, maybe sooner than you think.”

        Smith spoke at a Greater Cincinnati UK Alumni Association dinner at Embassy Suites Hotel in Blue Ash, sharing stories from the summer and his hopes for a wondrous winter. With Midnight Madness a week away, Smith is increas ingly eager to see what his team has to offer.

        “I'm pretty excited,” he said. “We've got a good group, a very athletic team. Even though we're young, I think it's as talented a group as I've ever been around.”

        When practice begins, most of the curiousity will center around new faces. Last year there were five freshmen; this year there are four newcomers — freshmen Keith Bogans, Marvin Stone and Marquis Estill, and junior-college transfer Nate Knight. The concern is the dramatic loss of experience, as four start ers (five players overall) departed after last season. Just two seniors, Jamaal Magloire and seldom-used Steve Masiello, and one junior, Saul Smith, returned. “People thought we wouldn't be able to do anything after the national championship year (1998) either, when we lost four strong players,” Smith said. “Our kids will be ready to respond.” Smith has his own batteries recharged. He and Purdue coach Gene Keady this summer served as assistants under Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown for the U.S. national team, which competed in an Olympic qualifying tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Smith then did a whirlwind of coaching clinics, then made 10 home visits during the Sept.9-26 recruiting period.

        Glad to be back with his own team, Smith has penciled in a probable starting lineup:

        Magloire is the center, backed up by Stone. Sophomore Jules Camara is the power forward, though Smith said Knight will challenge for that spot. Sophomore Tayshaun Prince is the small forward. Sophomore Desmond Allison, the only returning starter, will get the early nod at shooting guard but will be pushed by Bogans. Saul Smith, the coach's son, starts at point guard with J.P. Blevins backing him.

        Since UK didn't recruit a point guard, Saul could face a lot of criticism if UK struggles. But one man Thursday told the coach that fans were behind Saul, which everyone in the room applauded.

        “Saul and Jamaal are this team's natural leaders,” Smith said. “They have been already, off the court and in the locker room.”

        Other notes of interest:

        • Estill's appearance at Midnight Madness will be only ceremonial. Recovering from surgery on both knees, he will redshirt.

        • Smith has just three scholarships to fill for next season. He said Thursday he had just received a verbal commitment from a player he wouldn't identify.

        • For this season, Masiello — previously a walk-on — has been placed on scholarship.

        • Smith couldn't yet say if Highlands grad Derek Smith, the UK freshman tight end, will join the team this winter.

        “Derek needs to concentrate on football now,” he said. “Whether or not he plays basketball is up to him and (football) coach (Hal) Mumme after their season is over.”


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