QUOTING COACH EDDIE SUTTON
Question: Would you comment on the upcoming Kentucky Wildcat season?
Eddie Sutton: I think that anyone who follows Kentucky basketball has to be optimistic about the upcoming year. We have a good blend in that we have five seniors who should give us excellent leadership.
One of the keys in how good this team can become is Winston Bennett, if he's back in full speed. He certainly has displayed outstanding play in the three years he has participated at the University of Kentucky.
The five seniors have worked extremely hard in the past spring and over the summer and fall. They should give us not only good leadership but a lot of good play. They're seasoned veterans and too often coaches overlook the value of experience.
We're a little thin perhaps in the middle classes, with only Mike Scott. But Mike has trimmed down considerably. We probably put him under some undue pressure last year, having never been in a practice session with us and not even watching us practice very much and hoping that he could come in and give us a lot of help. During that period of time he gained a considerable amount of weight and that slowed down his foot speed. He did not have a good second half of the season, which for him was the entire season. But he has worked hard; he's lost about 20 to 25 pounds. I feel like Mike can contribute to this basketball team.
Now, lo our two underclasses. In our sophomore class we have two outstanding guards in Rex Chapman, one of the great guards in college basketball, and in (Derrick) Miller you have one of the best shooting guards in college basketball.
Then we have a freshman group that many people feel is the best coming into college basketball. Those guys, I'm sure, are going to be eager as all freshman are. But they will have to learn some things before they can contribute as much as they would like to. There's no doubt there's a lot of talent in that freshman class.
When you put the entire group together, one thing I know for sure is that we'll have better practice sessions. This will allow us to become a better basketball team. Last season was the most difficult situation I ever had as a coach, in not being able to field even 10 players on some days to practice. That won't be a problem this year.
I look at our schedule, in how many games we might win, and we might not win as many as a lot of our fans would like to see us win. With the difficulty of the schedule, we'll certainly mature. And by the end of the year we could be one of the top teams in college basketball.
Question: What about the SEC race this season?
Eddie Sutton: Many people feel like that the conference race could be the closest one we've seen in years. I'm not sure who I would pick as a favorite I'm sure the University of Kentucky will be picked by many people. I've looked at some of the early publications and a lot of peo-
ple like Florida. They certainly came on strong last year. LSU is a proven basketball team.
Even though Alabama lost a lot of people, I still think they will be good. Auburn's got three NBA players on the front line. . .if they get any backcourt help then they could be pretty tough. Vanderbilt last year finished eighth in our league but they probably had the most impressive non-conference wins of anyone. This year Vanderbilt returns everyone, so they'll certainly be moving up.
Tennessee, I thought, was the hard-luck ball-club last year. We felt like that talent-wise they were much better than what their record would indicate. Georgia has a chance to win the league. They've got a lot of returning players and a lot of players coming back who were ineligible last year. (Toney) Mack is one of the outstanding players in our league. Hugh (Durham) is going to have an outstanding ballclub.
I believe that the team which can go through the league and minimize (its losses) or go undefeated at home, and possibly even split on the road, has got a chance to win the league.
No one is going to go through the league undefeated. When you go on the road you'll see that there are so many places that are difficult to win at. Serious injuries are also sometimes overlooked. And the schedule sometimes comes into play.
Last year it would seem that everytime a team would upset us, then the next game they would get beat. I don't think fans look at that, but that (schedule) is very important.
Question: Again, this season Kentucky's schedule is one of the toughest, if not the most difficult, in the country. Is that the type of schedule you want?
Eddie Sutton: Our schedule last year was ranked in the Top 10, as far as ranking the difficulty of schedule. Some people ranked ours as the toughest.
I would think this year is probably the most challenging schedule we have faced in the three years that I've been here. It's a very, very tough schedule, because the league is so difficult. That's the thing a lot of times people forget. If
you had two or three "dogs" in the league then you could say "Hey, we've got two automatic wins when we play those teams." You can't say that anymore. Some of the schools that have been doormats in the past are now no longer that way, because different schools have put a great emphasis on basketball.
The SEC, from top to bottom, and I think all the coaches across the country agree, this past year the SEC was the toughest conference. Perhaps other leagues might have had one or two teams that were better, but when you went down to the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, ninth- and 10th-place teams, those teams in our conference were very tough ballclubs.
I always use Vanderbilt as an example. They finished eighth in our league, yet they beat the national champions (Indiana), Notre Dame, Kansas State, Missouri and New Mexico—teams that were playing in the NCAA tournament.
So, our schedule this year will be very tough. We're playing Syracuse, Indiana, Notre Dame and Louisville. . .those are all outstanding basketball teams. Plus, we'll be playing our conference schedule.
Question: This past summer during the SEC meetings there was talk about reducing the league schedule. Have you had any feedback from the other coaches, administrators or from UK President Dr. David Ro-selle?
Eddie Sutton: No, I haven't really talked to anyone about that. The coaches voted 10 to zero to reduce the schedule from 18 to 14 (games). There are a lot of reasons for doing that. I think it would be beneficial to all institutions. The coaches certainly agree that it would be.
I made the presentation to the athletic directors at the spring meeting and it was more or less tabled. But there are some who agree that they like the 18-game schedule. We haven't given up on it because the coaches feel very strongly about going to a 14-game schedule. It certainly would help the University of Kentucky from the standpoint we could play a lot more intersectional games. They probably would be national games—teams like UCLA and St. John's, which are traditionally in the Top Twenty every year.
But believe me, they wouldn't be any tougher than playing an SEC team. Every time we line up it seems like the intensity level rises everytime we play an SEC team. The fact that Mr. (Adolph) Rupp and Mr. (Joe) Hall beat them so soundly through the years, I think that one victory over the 'Cats is worth just as much as three over the other schools. We're always meeting a team that's sky high.
I don't think you see that as much when you play intersectional games. Playing in a league is great, and it is the only sport in our conference that plays for a "true" champion (18-game round-robin). But at the same time I really like the idea of playing some teams outside our conference. I think our fans would, too.
Interview conducted by Oscar Combs, The Cats' Pause.