Saturday, March 24, 2001

UK wonders if Prince, Bogans will stay

The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

        PHILADELPHIA — The season is over. Let the conjecture begin.

        One big question: Will junior forward Tayshaun Prince and sophomore guard Keith Bogans stay or turn pro?

        And even bigger than that: Will coach Tubby Smith sign that new contract extension he and athletic director Larry Ivy have said is in the offing, or will Smith turn his attention to the National Basketball Association as well?

        He received several overtures from NBA teams last spring, and last fall - after coaching NBA players as an assistant with the U.S. Olympic team - he said he couldn't rule out the possibility that he would one day work in the league.

        Last month, however, Smith said he was excited about the prospect of signing a new contract and staying in Lexington for many years.

        Amid the speculation, this is clear: If Prince and Bogans return, Kentucky will be one of the nation's most-loaded teams.

        “There's no doubt we can be a top-five team,” said freshman guard Gerald Fitch.

        “This is going to be a very good basketball team no matter what happens,” Prince said. “If me and Keith were to stay, it would be even better. It would be a great basketball team, and we would expect the best out of it. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.”

        Point guard Saul Smith was the only senior this season. Twelve scholarship players could return, including two who were redshirted: guard Todd Tackett and forward Jules Camara. Add in signees Rashaad Carruth, Josh Carrier and Chuck Hayes and the Cats have 15 scholarship players, two over the maximum allowed by NCAA rules.

        But a lot can change between now and the start of the school year in August. Two backup post players, Marvin Stone and Marquis Estill, said at different points during the season that they were concerned about their playing time and/or roles with the team.

        Both now say they're content to remain and battle for playing time. But with the 6-foot-11 Camara coming off a one-year suspension and the way 6-7 freshman Jason Parker played against Southern California (career-high 22 points, 13 rebounds), minutes will be even harder to come by next season.

        Prince, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, said after Thursday's loss that he will sit down soon with his parents and weigh the merits of declaring for the NBA draft. Bogans said immediately after the game that the draft wasn't on his mind, but in the past he made little effort to hide his enthusiasm for a swift jump to the pros.

        A player has until May 13 to declare for early entry into the draft. He can participate in predraft camps and meet with NBA personnel to test his draft worthiness, yet still retain his college eligibility, as long as he doesn't hire an agent to represent him. Former Kentucky center Jamaal Magloire did just that two years ago; he eventually withdrew his name from the draft and played his senior year.

        Bogans finished the season as Kentucky's leading scorer with a 17.0 average. Prince, held to just six points in the loss to USC, finished at 16.9. The two carried the Cats often as Tubby Smith nurtured a young team through a rough beginning (five losses in their first eight games, by a total of 14 points). They won their third SEC regular-season championship and third SEC Tournament title in Smith's four years.

        Losing Prince, Bogans or both would seriously change the makeup of next season's team. But even if both leave, the Cats will be strong. They'll just be very young - again.

        When Parker signed in August, there was speculation that he might stay just one year before turning pro. He said Thursday night that he'll definitely return.

        “Tonight I think I gave people a little preview of what I'll be doing next year,” he said. “People should expect that every game.”

        Another current freshman who will be counted on heavily is point guard Cliff Hawkins. Although he was erratic as Saul Smith's backup (54 assists and 59 turnovers while averaging 11 minutes a game), Hawkins did well enough to earn his coach's full blessing.

        “When he comes back next year, he has to be the quarterback and run this team for us,” Smith said on his radio show two weeks ago.

        Kentucky failed for the third consecutive season to reach the Final Four after three straight trips, but Smith still considered it a highly-successful season.

        “I'm really proud of this team,” he said earlier this week. “This team has done more and had to overcome more than any team I've been associated with.”

        After the USC game, Smith also thanked his lone senior and middle son for his contributions. Although both were criticized often by fans and media - Saul for his sometimes spotty play and Tubby for handing the reigns to him - Saul called the last four years “the greatest of my 21.”

        He saved one of his best games for his last, hitting five three-pointers and scoring 17 points, one shy of his career best. He finished the season with a better than 2-1 ratio of assists to turnovers (134-62) and played in 143 career games, tied with Jared Prickett for third-most in school history.

        “It's been a real blessing for me,” Tubby Smith said of coaching his son. “It's a dream come true for Saul and for me. Watching him develop into a mature young man, I know I'm fortunate and know how blessed I am. We're going to miss Saul.”

        “The opportunity to play for my father is something I'll remember for the rest of my life because it's been the highlight of my life so far,” Saul said. “How many times do kids even have a father, let alone get the privilege to play for them?

        “Not only is he my father, but he's also the best coach in America, so that's double icing on the cake. When you can play for a great person who happens to be your father, it's definitely special.”


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