It should have been a summer of content for Kentucky coach Tubby
Smith. But instead of reveling in the school's seventh NCAA
championship, he spent much of his time doing damage control. In
May, sophomore forward Myron Anthony confessed to leaving the
scene of a September 1997 accident, a transgression for which
senior point guard Wayne Turner had been charged. Also that
month, sophomore guard Ryan Hogan pleaded guilty to driving
under the influence of alcohol. Then in June, junior center
Jamaal Magloire was in a car that was pulled over by Louisville
police. Though Magloire wasn't charged, one of the two men
riding with him was arrested and later pleaded guilty to
possession of marijuana.
Try as he might, Smith couldn't control the damage. He said in
June that the players would be punished, but he didn't reveal the
specific penalties until Nov. 2. (Anthony, Hogan and Magloire
were scheduled to miss the Wildcats' first two games, and Anthony
may have to sit out five more games for academic reasons.) For
his perceived stonewalling, Smith received a barrage of criticism
in Lexington. "I read what you all wrote about me," Smith said at
media day on Oct. 20, "and I just want to say, right back at you.
Know what I mean?" The comment was delivered tongue in cheek, and
the assembled reporters laughed accordingly, but it was hardly
the optimum way to launch a title defense.
Assuming the worst is over, there is every reason to believe that
the Cats can win it all again. Sure, they lost their two top
scorers, Jeff Sheppard and Nazr Mohammed, but didn't they begin
last season having to replace not only Ron Mercer and Derek
Anderson (both NBA lottery picks), but also coach Rick Pitino?
"This time last year everybody was saying it was going to be a
rebuilding season," says senior Scott Padgett. But, the Wildcats
don't rebuild; they don't even reload. They just keep shooting.
The trigger man this season will be Padgett, a 6'9" power
forward who connected on 37.4% of his three-pointers last
season. Running the offense is the savvy Turner, who was named
the most valuable player of the SEC tournament and the NCAA's
South region. Magloire will patrol the middle, where he served
as a capable understudy to Mohammed for most of last season, and
sixth man Heshimu Evans, a 6'6" senior, now starts on the wing.
The Cats have to replace Sheppard's 13.7 points a game (and
37.6% three-point shooting), but with Hogan, 6'5" freshman
Desmond Allison, 6'8" freshman Tayshaun Prince and 6'2"
sophomore Saul Smith in the lineup, long-range scoring will not
be hard to come by.
It remains to be seen how deeply the summer's travails have
affected this team, but the start of the season will serve as a
welcome salve. "We've dealt with it," Padgett says. "Now we're
ready to start playing again."
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO GREAT SCOTT If Kentucky is to wrest an eighth title, Padgett will again be a key figure. [Scott Padgett in game]
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF Heshimu Evans 6'6" Sr. 8.8 ppg
PF [**]Scott Padgett 6'9" Sr. 11.5 ppg
C Jamaal Magloire* 6'10" Jr. 4.2 rpg
SG Ryan Hogan* 6'3" So. 1.1 ppg
PG [**]Wayne Turner 6'2" Sr. 9.3 ppg
'97-98 record: 35-4 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 1
[**]Returning starter *Suspended for first two regular-season