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Image 8 of The Cats' Pause, 15-Dec-84

Part of The Cats' Pause

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H6e 0aU' Paute Titans Clash At Freedom Hall But Stars Walker, Thompson Know Their Roles Kenny Walker of Kentucky and Billy Thompson of Louisville will be on opposite sides tonight when the Cats take on the Cardinals in Freedom Hall. However, the two junior forwards have the same pressure-packed responsibility — trying to lead their team while living up to huge expectations. Many college recruiters considered Thompson, a product of Camden, N.J., the best high school prospect in the country in 1982. Walker was second on some lists and high on every recruiting poll. They were tagged as future superstars. "That's an awful big price to put on any kid," says Walker, who lives in Roberta, Ga. "For the media or recruiters to tab a kid as the best in the country is tough to live up to. And if the kid starts believing that stuff he can get soft. "All my life I've have to claw and scratch for everything I've got. That's why I'm going to keep on doing even though people are saying I have to be the star on this team. But no matter what people say Kenny Walker will always play hard." Louisville assistant coach Jerry Jones knows Walker means exactly what he says. Jones has seen how pressure has haunted Thompson since his arrival in Louisville. "We've tried to tell Billy that he doesn't have to please anybody but the team," says Jones. "And he doesn't have to score points to be valuable to L Larry Vaught Cats' Pause Columnist our team. He's just a good overall player. "Walker and Thompson are both great players who do a lot of jobs for their teams. I know we would be lost without Billy and I don't imagine Kentucky would want to give up Walker. You just can't measure the true value of a player like Billy Thompson or Kenny Walker to a team." This season, though, both Walker and Thompson must produce big numbers for their teams to win. Kentucky lost four starters off last year's 29-5 Final Four team. The departure of 7-4 Gunther Behnke and a knee injury to rugged Winston Bennett have put even more scoring and rebounding pressure on Walker's shoulders. But Thompson can sympathize with that situation. Louisville lost two starters off last year's team and two weeks ago senior guard Milt Wagner, the team's top scorer, broke a bone in his foot. He will be out six weeks. To Billy Thompson Kenny Walker make matters worse, senior forward Manuel Forrest has been hampered by an ankle injury. "We can't win if Thompson isn't in there playing his game," says Jones. "He can make every other player on the floor a better player the same way Walker can at Kentucky. They can draw defensive pressure but still score and rebound. And when defenses concentrate on one player it leaves other things open. "When you take a Thompson or Walker out of a game it makes a coach have to do a lot of things he doesn't want to do. That's why they valuable to their teams." Still, both junior forwards know no matter what they do many expect more. That's the price a youngster pays for being tabbed miss superstar. are so people will as a can't Renovated Freedom Hall "It took me to the end of my freshman year to start feeling comfortable," says Walker, the prep player of the year in Georgia three seasons ago. "Thank goodness I was lucky enough to play behind (Derrick) Hord and (Charles) Hurt so I didn't have to be pushed." But Jones says athletes have feelings, too, and those feelings can be bruised as easily as their bodies. He says, "Expectations are too high for most kids when they come out of high school. It's natural for a kid to read how good he is supposed to be and how he isn't living up to that. It hurts because athletes are human beings, too." It's even tougher when injuries complicate matters. Walker played more than any other Wildcat last year despite frequent muscle spasms in his back. A sprained Achilles tendon also hobbled him at the Final Four and Olympic tryouts. Thompson missed one game last year with a back injury. He missed three contests with a knee injury and played the last month of the season at less than full speed because of the knee sprain. But both players still produced. Walker was the number two scorer (12.4 points) and number three rebounder (5.9) for the Cats last year. He scored at least 10 points in all but eight games last campaign and his last-second hoop beat Auburn for the championship of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Last season Thompson ranked among the top three Cardinals in assists, rebounds, blocked shots and dunks while averaging 9.2 points per game. He scored in double figures 13 times and Louisville was 12-1 in those games. Thompson, an excellent passer, also had five or more assists in 12 games. Both Walker and Thompson, though, have had "off" games when Kentucky and Louisville have met three times during the past two seasons. Thompson scored only four points in each game and grabbed only 13 rebounds total. Walker has 23 points and 10 rebounds in the three previous meetings. Look for both to have much better games tonight. ? ? ? UK FANS lucky enough to have tickets to the Louisville game will get their first look at renovated Freedom Hall. The facility now seats 19,000 after a $13.3 million renovation after the end of the 1983-84 basketball season. Over 2,000 seats were added along with a $1 million scoreboard that can flash pictures of the Cardinals, $750,000 lighting system, sound system, and a heating and air conditioning system. Thirty-six midlevel luxury boxes have also been added. Of the 36 boxes 24 have sightlines to the floor for basketball. New dressing rooms for the Cardinals and their visitors have been added along with a new press room and interview room. Thanks to the renovation Freedom Hall again has to rank among the finest basketball facilities in the country. ? ? ? TIMES ARE certainly changing at the University of Kentucky thanks to [Continued On Page 31]