Jan. 9, 2006
Tubby Smith has to be happy to have Randolph Morris returning Tuesday for Kentucky's game against Vanderbilt. You know Smith was upset with his team's performance Saturday in Kansas. The Wildcats have had a difficult time with no post presence on offense. Morris returns from his 14-game suspension for his involvement with an agency during the NBA draft evaluation process. With Morris, there will be more post presence, but also a player who can draw contact and get to the foul line. Last season, he went to the charity stripe 143 times.
This is not a vintage Kentucky team, and even the return of Morris doesn't guarantee great success. I saw the Wildcats lack intensity and emotion in Lawrence. There was no ball movement, no player movement and the worst execution of the half-court offense that I have seen from a Tubby Smith-coached Kentucky squad.
I know how hard Smith and his coaching staff work, but I was surprised by the lack of intensity shown when I attended practice on Friday. This club simply doesn't have the type of personnel it has had in the past. It is not a dominant Kentucky team. Nobody else besides Rondo has stepped up to provide scoring. Maybe Morris can do just that.
The return of Morris will help several players. There will be a little less pressure on Rajon Rondo, who entered last Saturday as the team's leading scorer, assist man and, yes, rebounder! Patrick Sparks will get some more open looks when defenses collapse on Morris in the middle. This year's Kentucky team really misses the intangibles brought to the table by Chuck Hayes. The guy was more than a contributor, he was a flat-out winner.
Let's face reality, baby! The expectations are always so high in Lexington. This group doesn't have the superstar first rounder. These days in the SEC, you don't walk into Florida, Tennessee or Alabama and get an automatic W. This will be a challenge for the 'Cats.
Kentucky is circled on the schedule of every opponent and the Wildcats have to respond to the pressure. Certainly, they failed to do that in Lawrence. It's like Notre Dame in football, and Duke and North Carolina in college hoops. There is a different mind-set when those teams go on the road.
Considering Saturday's game was against a Kansas team that won at Lexington last season, I was stunned by the lack of passion and emotion on the court. This Wildcat team has to get back and show the pride in representing that jersey. I hope Kentucky fans realize that Morris won't be the savior, but he will be a positive addition.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.