The story goes that Adolph Rupp once had a 6'9" center who assiduously avoided contact. This infuriated Rupp, who liked Kentucky pivotmen to throw more elbows than hook shots. In practice one day, Rupp caught the timid one loitering on the foul line during a fierce battle under the boards. Calling the workout to a halt, Rupp gazed up at the center and said, "What's a nice boy like you doing in a place like this?"
The same question might be asked of Jack Givens (above), the slick 6'4" senior forward and high scorer (18.9 points per game last season) for the current Wildcats. Givens is a finesse player on a team that will not only be the biggest in Kentucky history, but also the roughest. If preseason practice was any indication, UK might consider taking time off to play in the Super Bowl on its way to the NCAA tournament, which it is likely to win.
Givens' soft jumpers provide a touch of class to Kentucky's attack, which otherwise will consist of huge bodies lunging toward the basket. Back at center is 6'10" senior Mike Phillips, a massive specimen who all but clanks when he walks. The strong forward will be 6'10" Rick Robey, who also can move to the post when Coach Joe Hall wants to put quicker but no less muscular James Lee into the front line. Backing up all this beef are 6'10" freshmen Chuck Aleksinas and Scott Courts.
Last year was very good—and very bad—for Kentucky, which ranked high in the polls but was outmaneuvered by North Carolina in the Eastern Regional finals. Now with Givens, Robey, Phillips and Lee back for their final season, Wildcat followers—all 16 games in 23,000-seat Rupp Arena already are sold out—are expecting Kentucky to win its fifth NCAA title. "Our class has done everything except put that big candle in the middle of the cake," says Robey. "As freshmen we were NCAA runners-up to UCLA, as sophomores we won the NIT, and last season we were ranked as high as No. 2. There's only one thing left to do."
Doing it may not depend as much on Givens' shooting or Kentucky's muscle as on whether Guard Kyle Macy, a transfer from Purdue, can fill the sneakers of playmaker Larry Johnson, who graduated. Two long rifles, Truman Claytor and Jay Shidler, are on hand to deploy with Macy. Nobody has the firepower or muscle to run with the Wildcats, so chances are they will see a lot of slowdowns. Hall is confident he has the brawn and experience to overcome that tactic, but if neither of those suffice, he can always call on Givens to outfinesse opponents.