Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Kentucky basketball preview


ROSTER
Player Pos. Height Class Hometown/school
Cliff Hawkins G 6-1 So. Dumfries, Va/Oak Hill (Va.)
Rashaad Carruth G 6-3 Fr. College Park, Ga./Oak Hill (Va.)
J.P. Blevins G 6-2 Sr. Edmonton, Ky./Metcalfe Co.
Gerald Fitch G 6-3 So. Macon, Ga./Westside
Josh Carrier G 6-5 Fr. Bowling Green, Ky./Bowling Green
Keith Bogans G 6-5 Jr. Alexandria Va./DeMatha
Erik Daniels F 6-7 So. Cincinnati/Princeton
Matt Heissenbuttel G 6-4 So. Lexington/Lexington Catholic
Tayshaun Prince F 6-9 Sr. Compton, Calif./Dominguez
Adam Chiles G 6-0 Fr. Louisville/Ballard
Marvin Stone F/C 6-10 Jr. Huntsville, Ala./Grissom
Cory Sears G/F 6-6 So. Corbin, Ky./Corbin/Hargrave
Jules Camara F/C 6-11 Jr. Dakar, Senegal/Oak Hill (Va.)
Jason Parker F/C 6-8 So. Charlotte, N.C./Fork Union
Chuck Hayes F 6-7 Fr. Modesto, Calif./Christian
Marquis Estill F 6-9 Jr. Richmond, Ky./Madison Central

Frontcourt

     Tayshaun Prince, a preseason All-American, is the marquee player here. He finished last season just behind guard Keith Bogans in scoring, with 16.9 ppg, and shouldered the load for the Cats in the last half of the season.

     Prince withdrew his name from the NBA draft, a move that, combined with Bogans' decision to return for his junior season, earned UK plenty of preseason accolades, including a No. 4 ranking.

     Prince's versatility is key. At 6 feet 9, he's a mismatch for most power forwards thanks to his ability to score from long range. He made 35.8 of his 3-pointers last season (64-of-179) and could end his UK career in the school's top 10 in scoring and rebounding and in the top five in blocked shots.

     Last season, freshman Jason Parker started at center, but he has been lost this year following a second knee surgery. Parker, who will redshirt this season, scored 8.6 ppg, third behind Bogans and Prince. In his place are Jules Camara, back after a season-long suspension, and juniors Marvin Stone and Marquis Estill.

     The 6-9 Estill led the team in shooting percentage last season at 60.3 (85-of-141) and even made five 3-pointers. But he missed both exhibition games because of back trouble. Stone is looking to break out. He averaged 6.0 ppg last season as the sixth man but needs to get more aggressive.

     UK's rebounding has to get stronger. The Cats' margin last season was plus-2.9 (38.6 a game). This season, someone other than Prince, whose 6.5 average leads the team, needs to get on the boards. In the first exhibition game, against Nike Elite, Camara, 6-11, mustered only three rebounds in 16 minutes. As a sophomore in 1999-2000, Camara pulled down 4.6 rebounds a game to go along with 7.2 ppg. He also ranked fifth in the SEC with 1.6 blocks per game. He'll be a factor this season and could start.

    

     Backcourt

     The lock to start is Bogans, the team's leading returning scorer (17.0 ppg). Bogans is a career 33 percent 3-point shooter who also can create and penetrate, but his defense must improve.

     The point guard situation is less settled, with Gerald Fitch, J.P. Blevins and Cliff Hawkins in the mix. Saul Smith is gone. And though much of Big Blue Nation cheers that development, Smith had grown into a steady presence. He played 29.3 minutes a game last season and turned over the ball 62 times to 134 assists.

     Last season's upswing began against Indiana, when Fitch, then a freshman, made his first start. Fitch's insertion into the lineup halted a 3-5 opening by the Cats and provided the team with much-needed energy. Fitch essentially was the shooting guard, with Bogans in more of a swing role.

     But Fitch also served as a backup point guard; he averaged 19.8 minutes, 6.8 points, and 63 assists to 46 turnovers.

     Against Athletes in Action on Sunday, coach Tubby Smith started Prince, Stone and a three-guard lineup of Bogans, Fitch and Blevins.

     In his final season, Blevins is a co-captain, and Smith has praised his leadership. But his numbers, certainly, are unspectacular at best: 13.4 minutes a game last season, 19 assists to 28 turnovers, 16-of-55 3-point shooting and 2.8 points a game. Blevins has started only two regular-season games in his UK career, none last season.

     Hawkins has never started and was limited to 11 minutes a game because he suffers from asthma. The 6-1 Hawkins is more athletic than Blevins, but his ballhandling is somewhat suspect. His freshman numbers: 3.0 ppg, 54 assists, 59 turnovers.

    

     Bench

     The bench is deep, even with the injury to Parker. In the back is McDonald's All-American Rashaad Carruth, who, like Camara and Hawkins, played at basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. His hallmark is long-range shooting.

     Sophomore Erik Daniels, out of Princeton High School, should provide the Cats a lift, just as he did last season when his surprising play earned him 12.9 minutes a game. He scored 5.2 ppg as a freshman and grew to 6-7 in the offseason. He can go inside and outside equally well.

     In the post, 6-7 freshman Chuck Hayes, a 237-pounder from Modesto, Calif., could bring a Parker-like presence. He's a wide body who should be able to bang, and he was the star against Nike Elite, with 12 points and 13 rebounds in his first game as a Cat. UK has plenty of depth. Todd Tackett left the team, but Estill and sophomore Cory Sears agreed to join Matt Heissenbuttel as walk-ons to create more scholarship space when Prince and Bogans both decided to stay in college.

     That's a good thing, because with depth comes the full-court press.

    

     Intangibles

     It's hard to say enough about how much Prince brings to the table, from the 3-point shooting to the virtually unstoppable left-handed dunk. Prince is the heart and soul of the Cats. He's unflappable, makes good decisions and confounds opposing coaches.

     The primary concern is settling the rest of the backcourt. Saul Smith's leadership will be missed. That seemed unlikely four years ago, but the Cats are liable to experience some growing pains without a veteran running the show.

    

     Notable numbers

     • UK's record in the Georgia Dome is 13-1. Atlanta is the site of this year's SEC Tournament and the Final Four.

     • Prince has 1,215 career points, good for 31st all time at UK.

     • 1985-86 was the last time UK had a returning All-American, Kenny Walker. This time it's Prince, a second-teamer last season.

     • Prince ranks 10th on the school's all-time 3-point list.

    

     Games to watch

     • Thursday vs. Western Kentucky: The season opener, in the NABC Classic, pits the Cats against 7-1 Chris Marcus.

     • Dec. 8 vs. No. 19 North Carolina: UK stunned the Heels last year in the Dean Dome. Can they make it two wins in a row?

     • Dec. 18 vs. No. 1 Duke: The two best teams in the country go head to head in the Jimmy V Classic.

     • Dec. 22 vs. No. 22 Indiana: An old-school rivalry that precedes an even bigger old-school rivalry.

     • Dec. 29 vs. Louisville: Did you hear? U of L has a new coach this year.

     • Jan. 29 at No. 6 Florida and March 2, vs. Florida: Two games that might decide the SEC regular-season championship.

     - Jennifer Scroggins

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