Monday, March 31, 2003

Estill's return would solidify veteran UK lineup


Must graduate for 5th season; Smith subject of NBA rumors

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tubby Smith's chances of establishing Kentucky as a championship contender next season might depend on whether he can persuade Marquis Estill to return.

Similarly, UK's larger hopes will be bound to its efforts to bring back Smith.

The Wildcats would seem to have many of the pieces in place for another stellar season if those men return.

"The future is very bright," Smith said of next season. "It's sparkling."

If Estill eschews the NBA draft in favor of a fifth season, UK will return four starters and four of its top five scorers. It presumably could begin the season with a starting lineup of four seniors - Estill, Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels and either Cliff Hawkins or Antwain Barbour - and a junior, Chuck Hayes.

That would be UK's most veteran lineup at least since the 1991-92 "Unforgettables," who started four seniors plus sophomore Jamal Mashburn.

"We have a great team for next year," Estill said. "We're losing Keith (Bogans) and Jules (Camara), and I haven't made my decision yet."

The senior center, a partial qualifier as a freshman, would need to graduate by the end of the summer to earn another season of eligibility. In all likelihood, he'll need both summer school sessions to do so.

The timing is tricky: If he intends to turn professional, he'll have to declare himself for the June 26 draft by May 12. That means he'll have to make his decision on the NBA before he knows for sure if he'll qualify for another season at UK.

As for Smith, a New York Post story Saturday speculated on the coach's interest in leaving. Smith's name has been linked to NBA jobs in Atlanta and Charlotte.

UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said he would meet with Smith soon to talk about a raise and extension of the coach's contract, which expires in 2007. He also plans pay raises for UK's assistants.

None of the returning Wildcats cited a fear of Smith leaving.

"I couldn't see why he wouldn't (return)," Hawkins said.

Said Hayes: "As far as I'm concerned, he's coming back."

Looking back, the fact the top-ranked Wildcats fell short of the Final Four shouldn't taint this season. Just three of the last 21 teams to finish the season No. 1 went on to win the NCAA Tournament.

This team became renowned for its defense, which held opponents to 40.1 percent shooting and 61.3 points per game during its 26-game winning streak. But for the season, UK's 41.5 percent field-goal defense was actually the worst of Smith's six seasons at UK.

The efficiency of the offense went unnoticed. UK shot 48.8 percent, its best since making 48.9 percent in the 1987-88 season.

The biggest areas to address before next season are leadership, perimeter shooting and size.

Someone will have to fill the shoes of Bogans, who took ownership of this team.

Bogans made a team-high 80 3-pointers. Fitch, with 61 3s, was the only other player with more than 16.

The size issue is more critical if Estill leaves. Who would play center? The 6-foot-8 Daniels is seemingly too slender to play there, and the 6-6 Hayes would be undersized. UK has at least one scholarship remaining to shop for a big man.

The Wildcats also have signed a couple of forwards: 6-foot-8 Sheray Thomas, a Montreal native who plays at Upper Marlboro (Md.) Riverdale Baptist, and 6-8 Bobby Perry of Durham (N.C.) Hillside.

---

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com

UK's projected 2003-04 roster

PlayerHt.Yr.PPGHometown (High school)
Antwain Barbour6-5Sr.3.4Elizabethtown, Ky. (Elizabethtown)
Erik Daniels6-8Sr.9.5Cincinnati (Princeton)
Marquis Estill*6-9Sr.11.6Richmond, Ky. (Madison Central)
Gerald Fitch6-3Sr.12.3Macon, Ga. (Westside)
Cliff Hawkins6-1Sr.6.3Dumfries, Va. (Oak Hill Academy)
Matt Heissenbuttel6-4Sr.0.0Lexington (Lexington Catholic)
Josh Carrier6-5Jr.1.4Bowling Green, Ky. (Bowling Green)
Chuck Hayes6-6Jr.8.6Modesto, Calif. (Modesto Christian)
Kelenna Azubuike6-5So.3.7Tulsa, Okla. (Victory Christian)
Bernard Cote6-9So.0.8St. Lambert, Quebec

(Champlain-St. Lambert)

Preston LeMaster6-2So.0.9Paris, Ky. (Bourbon County)
Ravi Moss6-2So.0.8Hopkinsville, Ky. (University Heights)
Brandon Stockton5-9So.1.3Glasgow, Ky. (Glasgow)
Bobby Perry6-8Fr.n/aDurham, N.C. (Hillside)
Sheray Thomas6-8Fr.n/aMontreal (Riverdale (Md.) Baptist)
(*could return if he earns a fifth year of eligibility)




OPENING DAY IN CINCINNATI
10-1 loss spoils Opening Day
Game PhotosParade photos
Poll: Grade the stadium
New ballpark adds to thrill
Opening Day warms our soul
Parade map and street closings
Going to the game? Get there early
Answers to other fan questions
Public art project swings into action

ABOUT THE REDS
Fans unwrap new park, team
In new ballparks, Casey's a big hit
Reds in slump as they open new park
Rose has lost little support from public

GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK
Photo gallery
Fan verdicts mostly raves
A clubhouse to call his own
Ballpark ready to go after smooth test runs
Reds ticket sales off to sluggish start
Reds fans welcomed by hotels
Small, minority, women-owned contractors got share of ballpark
Luxury seats steal home from telecasts
Banner flyers grounded and grumbling

OTHER BASEBALL
A-Rod, Texas upstage Anaheim
Games with backdrop of war
Cone wins spot in Mets' rotation
Baseball notebook

HEART MINI-MARATHON
Lentz cruises to his first Mini-Marathon victory
Tranter takes fourth straight women's title
Senator addresses walk participants
Heart Mini-Marathon top results

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Syracuse crushes Oklahoma for spot in Final Four
Horns only No. 1 to advance
Estill's return would solidify veteran UK lineup
Somebody's time to shine has come
Orangemen's Boeheim has chance to avenge smarting loss
One No. 1 seed, one repeater in Final Four
Has deciding NCAA game already been played?
Marquette has inspiration on the bench
NCAA tournament notebook
NKU's effort leaves coach with tears of pride
Women: UConn, Purdue advance in East

GOLF
Love roars to TPC win with closing 8-under 64
Meunier-Lebouc denies Sorenstam bid

HOCKEY
Cyclones open ECHL playoffs at Peoria

NASCAR
Newman gambles for lead, beats Little E

NBA
Carter sticks it to Knicks with 28

TENNIS
Agassi wins sixth Key Biscayne title

PREP SPORTS
Monday's prep sports schedule

PLAN YOUR DAY
Monday's sports on TV, radio