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A Bumpy Road To Stardom Kentucky's Fitch Perseveres


Late last Saturday night, after leading No. 7 Kentucky to a 75-63
win over 20th-ranked Vanderbilt, senior guard Gerald Fitch sat in
the Wildcats' locker room and rolled up his sleeves, revealing
his biceps, which bore the tattoos (a gravestone and a line in
BROTHER) that he got in memory of his older brother, George, who
was fatally shot during the summer of 1998. "I still feel the way
I felt when it first happened," Fitch said of the shooting, his
eyes looking toward the floor. "It's a tough thing to deal with,
but I use it to make me stronger."

Fitch's inner strength has been evident this season as he has
transformed himself from one of the nation's best rebounding
guards (4.1 boards per game over his career) to an offensive
star. After averaging 9.4 points per game over the last three
years, Fitch was ranked sixth in the SEC through Sunday with 17.6
points per game. Fitch has also become a team leader instead of a
magnet for trouble.

Two years ago Kentucky coach Tubby Smith suspended Fitch three
times, once after an altercation between Fitch and a teammate on
the team plane, then after a citation for trying to use a fake
I.D. to get into a Lexington bar and finally for a curfew

Smith was aware of George Fitch's murder before Gerald joined the
Wildcats, but he gained a deeper understanding when the guard
talked about his brother during a voluntary team Bible-study
meeting during freshman year. "I could sense he was harboring
some bitterness," Smith says. Fitch refuses to cite his brother's
death as the reason for his transgressions, but he says he's
thankful for the bond he has established with Smith. "Coach Smith
and I have a lot of personal talks, not about basketball but
about life," Fitch says. "It's like a father-son relationship. He
knows me inside and out."

Fitch has rewarded Smith for having faith in him. Fitch has made
a remarkable number of clutch shots during his career, including
a 22-foot three-pointer with 23 seconds left to seal Kentucky's
61-56 win over North Carolina on Jan. 3. He also hit an important
three from the corner with 3:49 remaining against Vanderbilt on
Saturday that gave the Wildcats a nine-point advantage. "I just
feel I'm the one who's supposed to hit the big shot," Fitch says.
"With everything I've been through, it makes me want to do
something big every day, for the coaches and the fans. It's my
way of giving back."
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