Indiana Awaiting Young Cats
For the next two weeks, Kentucky is likely to be faced with the task of preventing embarrassments rather than playing to upset mighty arch-rivals Indiana and Louisville on the road.
After the disappointing 66-56 loss to Purdue in West Lafayette last Saturday, it's obvious Kentucky will not be a decent team before mid to late January and not a good team before March, if by then.
This Wildcat team has some very good talent. Mind you, I said good talent, not great. And there are about thirty teams around the country which have good talent these days.
This isn't a putdown of the Kentucky players. This group of young men is a great bunch of fellows. They're fine young men off the court and most have a lot of potential. But that's what it is right now, just potential.
What's missing in this group (with the exception of Kenny Walker) is anyone which combines great skill, good health and sustained experience. Winston Bennett should fill the bill once he is healthy.
Kentucky struggled to get by Toledo at home and that should have sent warning buzzers off right there. A very so-so Purdue team never allowed UK the luxury of getting its act together. Give the Boilermakers some credit, but most of the damage was self-imposed.
Prior to the season, coach Joe B. Hall hinted that the Wildcats would shine on certain nights and stink on others. Someone has already left the doors open for the pole-cats during the first two contests. Maybe it's time for one of those Boadway acts.
Still, you can bet Bobby Knight won't let a chance like this one escape him and UK could be in for a beating similar to the overkill back in 1974. Unless the young Cats are ready for hand-to-hand combat and play defense like their very lives depend upon it, the Cats could become an endangered species.
Those moving picks will have the entire Kentucky roster in the hospital by intermission if they're not careful.
The thrill of beating Kentucky remains what it has always been, "the highlight of the season." Such was the feeling of most Purdue players last Saturday at Mackey Arena.
Make no mistake about it, this UK team isn't to be confused with the "Twin Towers" of a year ago, but you wouldn't have known it by the reaction of the capacity crowd of more than 14,000 fans.
In fact, the Kentucky^ game is the
only December contest in Mackey Arena (and there are six others on tap) which will be a sell-out according to Purdue officials. Sure, John Wooden once played for the Boilermakers, but the big name to beat anywhere in Big Ten Country is Kentucky.
With just media hype and fan attention, you can understand why emotion was so high and the Boilermakers' intensity was so great. Many of the UK players admitted afterward they learned just how much opponents want to beat Kentucky.
Yes, even when Kentucky is down, the Wildcats are still No. 1 bait. And the young Wildcats will face that each time they hit the road this season, regardless of how good or poor the season is going for the Big Blue.
Purdue Coach Gene Keady put it best when he said that it sometimes takes an opponent like Kentucky to fire kids (Purdue) up for a game. "If you could get kids up 28 times a year like (we) did for Kentucky, you should write a book," said Keady. Of course, you don't play a Kentucky or Indiana every night.
+ + +
After the first two games, it's still difficult to get a handle on this Kentucky squad. There's too much youth to judge in just eighty minutes. Each have shown spurts of potential and failure, but the important thing is for the kids not to get down on themselves and that isn't likely to happen.
Another problem in trying to size up this team has been the absence of Winston Bennett. Just an abbreviated exhibition from him on Saturday gave Wildcat fans reason for substantial hope.
The Louisville native played brilliantly in his 24 minutes, although he obviously wasn't in 100 percent shape. His presence on the floor calmed the jittery Cats and his leadership could mean even more than his tremendous talent.
Fans should start to see the real Winston Bennett by the first of January. But he'll be a force as early as Saturday. You can't keep a good man down.
The shocking news around UK last week was the suspensions of Brian Williams, Russell Hairston and Tony Mayes from the Wildcat football team. No details of the incident which led to their suspensions were released, but the situation again points out the strict disciplinary codes enforced by Jerry Claiborne.
Most schools and coaches around
the country talk about discipline and how tough they are, but few practice what they preach. Jerry Claiborne does and when a rule is violated, players pay the penalty.
The three players have been considered "model" student-athletes and it was really shocking to hear their names associated with the word "suspension." But all athletes are treated equally by Claiborne.
Does Claiborne's philosophy work? Well, the Cats are 8-3 and going to a second straight bowl. The players' situations will be reviewed in the spring, and here's betting that those three (if allowed to return) will never face another situation like this one again.
HITS AND MISSES. . .UK athletics director Cliff Hagan said last week UK has sold almost 8,000 tickets for the Hall of Fame Bowl. Kentucky is likely to take more than 10,000 fans to the bowl this time around. Hagan said UK would order more tickets if the demand continues at the present level. . . .Several parents made it to West Lafayette, Indiana, for the Purdue game Saturday. The two Hoosiers on the UK roster, Roger Harden and James Blackmon, were greeted by their families as well as Winston Bennett's parents who drove up from Louisville . . . Wildcat players greeted Joe B. Hall with a birthday party at the team's hotel on Friday evening. How old is Hall? Let's just say he's about half-way between 50 and 60 . . . Stopping by the team's headquarters for a brief visit was Tom Heitz, who was on his way to Lexington from Chicago. Tom is also a native of Indiana and is now working in commodoties at Chicago . . .For those of you out-of-state, the Kentucky-Louisville game is being syndicated across the country so you'll need to check local stations' listing. The game has an unusual tip-off time of 8:55 p.m., Eastern Time. By the way, Louisville All-American candidate Milt Wagner will not be seeing any action for about six weeks. Wagner suffered a broken foot against Virginia Commonwealth last Saturday. Coach Denny Crum was toying with the idea of red-shirting freshman sensation Kevin Walls before Wagner's injury, but that might change now. Louisville is off to a fast start with impressive wins over both Indiana and VCU. Both of those clubs were ranked in most preseason Top Twenty polls . . .There's some good news for Kentucky football fans who want season tickets. Reports from UK are that as many as 3,000 to 4,000 season tickets will be available to fans
beginning next season and many of the seats are excellent ones. UK has decided to reduce the number allocated to students because students haven't been using their's the last five years. Some of the better seats will become part of the Blue-White donors' program. More information on that later . . .And there may be some good news for would-be basketball season ticket holders. Rumors continue to mount that the UK administration will reduce the number of student seats at Rupp Arena and make them available to the public. Again, the same reason for reducing the number is the lack of interest from students. Over 2,000 tickets went unclaimed by the students for both the Toledo and SMU games. Officials say the public will be informed when and if tickets do indeed become available. All tickets, other than those of students, have been sold out annually at both Commonwealth Stadium and Rupp Arena . . . Details have not been finalized, but UK plans to hold an open practice session prior to the Louisville game next Saturday at Freedom Hall. "It's become a tradition with us to do this when we play at Freedom Hall," said Joe B. Hall recently, "and we believe we owe it to our loyal fans." Unlike previous games at Freedom Hall, it will be about the only way any Wildcat fans will have of seeing the Cats in person since it is Louisville's home game . . . There was a great deal made of the fact that Louisville received only 100 tickets to Rupp Arena for the regular season game last year. Well, Kentucky will get more than 100 tickets for next Saturday's game. The exact number isn't known, but probably is in the 250 range. By the way, Louisville received about 150 extra (250 total) last season. Neither school wanted to admit the agreement to exchange a few extra tickets because of the heavy demand from supporters of the two schools' programs. If you recall, there were a lot of fans dressed in red in a special row of seats put in just for the Louisville game . . . Kentucky is going all out to promote its involvement in the Hall of Fame Bowl, complete with a Big Blue party the night before (Dec. 28) at the Birmingham Civic Center. It's no secret that UK athletics director Cliff Hagan wants to prove that the Wildcats' following of 1976 was the norm rather than the measely 5,000 or so in Birmingham last year . . . Many of the All-SEC teams are beginning to hit the news and both defensive back Paul Calhoun and running back George Adams were selected to the coaches' first team All-SEC. Adams won the honors over Tennessee's outstanding running back Johnnie Jones . . .