In nuclear weaponry they call it stockpiling. At Kentucky they call it recruiting. The difference is the Wildcats, omnipotent missile rattlers that they are, aren't afraid to launch each and every warhead they have and let the chips (or the freshmen, or the sophomores) fall where they may.
When the dust from the most recent Kentucky explosion had cleared last week, Coach Joe B. Hall's youthful Wildcats had blasted their way to a 3-0 record and, in the process, just about obliterated the powerful Big Ten conference. And the 'Cats did it with some unexpected bombers.
You may have heard of 7'1" sophomore Sam Bowie, the center on the U.S. Olympic team. Against Indiana a 6'11" freshman named Melvin Turpin played more minutes and got more rebounds than Bowie. You may know of sophomore Dirk Minniefield, the successor to the graduated legend, Kyle Macy. Against Indiana and Ohio State another freshman, name of Jim Master—a grand Kentucky Rifle if there ever was one—played more minutes than Minniefield and scored more than twice as many points. Finally, you may recall such stalwart upperclassmen as Fred Cowan and Chuck Verderber. Well, it wasn't either of them, but another unfamiliar substitute who made the two biggest plays in the Wildcats' victories over the musclemen from the league of the big shoulders, Ohio State (70-64) and Indiana (68-66). It was only fitting that the player's name was Hurt. Charles Hurt. No, he isn't another inexperienced freshman. He's a sort-of-experienced sophomore.
The 6'6", 215-pound Hurt, whose physique must have been mail-ordered from the Lou Ferrigno school of design, didn't merely hurt the 'Cats' opponents. He knocked 'em flat dead with a pair of steals when 1) with 1:21 left in a tie game with Ohio State and the Buckeyes looking for an opening, Hurt darted in front of Jim Smith at the State free-throw line and roared all the way for a breakaway jam, and 2) with Kentucky ahead of Indiana 66-64, 18 seconds to go and the Hoosiers setting up for a tying basket, Hurt slapped the ball away from Landon Turner on the baseline and then saved it from going out of bounds.
"A garbageman?" said Hurt, who scored all of four baskets for the week. "I'm sort of like the guy who, whatever nobody else wants to do, I do it. Yeah, I guess I'm a garbageman."
Hall didn't think there was anything trashy about the conquest of Indiana. "They don't come any sweeter," he said. "I'll cherish this one the rest of my life."
Of all the traditional rivalries—UCLA-Notre Dame, North Carolina-Maryland, Temple-Villanova—none is conducted at such a high level of belligerence as Kentucky-Indiana. Or at such a high level, period. Including a couple of NCAA tournament games, this was the seventh time in 15 years that the Wildcats and the Hoosiers met when one or the other of them was ranked No. 1 in a wire-service poll.
The Wildcats had almost lost that rating before running into the Big Ten two. Following a season-opening 62-57 escape past East Tennessee State, Hall described his team as "overconfident, conceited, pigheaded," adding, "I call a spade a spade. In '78 I said we'd win the NCAAs, and we did. But this team just isn't ready. How do you tell freshmen and sophomores they're progressing when they're ranked No. 1? I figured us to be about 12 and Ohio State and Indiana to be two of the teams chosen ahead of us."
To cope with the physical tortures Big Ten teams dish out, the Kentucky staff presided over a bone-jarring practice the day before meeting Ohio State. Bowie said it was tougher than any workout last season. Cowan said it was rougher than most games. During the practice Turpin and Verderber nearly came to blows. "I want to thank Chuck for showing me what it's all about," said Turpin. "It's about getting mean."
With Bowie shooting 1 for 9 in a first-half disappearing act against Ohio State, it was up to Turpin and the other freshmen to hold off the Buckeyes for a while. They scored 16 points—eight by Master—as the Wildcats established a 35-34 lead at intermission. Kentucky didn't begin to put the game away until the score was 47-47 in the second half. That's when Bowie woke up, caught some lob passes over Herb Williams and outscored Ohio State 11-5 to pace Kentucky to a 60-52 lead. Then after Clark Kellogg scored his only two baskets to help lift the Buckeyes into a 64-64 tie with 2:34 left, the other Wildcats took over. Hurt got that aforementioned sidewinder dunk, and Derrick Hord, another sophomore, made two free throws and threw down another tomahawk slam for the 70-64 final score. The game had been rough, but as Bowie observed later, "Ain't no need to take a bump without givin' a bump."
The next morning Hall arose at dawn to shoot pheasant, which later turned up under glass at a family dinner along with wild rice, vegetables, applesauce-nut bread and pecan pie. Some kind of training table. While packing away the repast, Hall scoffed at the idea that the current 'Cats are as big and strong as Kentucky's bruising national champions of 1978. "We're a bunch of ballet dancers compared to that team," he said. Across the table Hall's son-in-law, Mike Summers, an assistant on Kentucky's football staff, laughed and said, "Coach, your guys' ability in the weight room embarrasses our football team."
Across the border the Indiana forces appeared as flexible as Kentucky's, with an ample supply of both little whippets and big whoppers. Hoosier Coach Bobby Knight said he wasn't going to consult hypnotists or lose sleep preparing for Kentucky. He knew which lineup he'd, need. "Players don't come here to play pipsqueak schools," he said, relishing the challenge of meeting an archrival like Kentucky. "This is the kind of game we're all here for."
Bowie wasn't there for much of the first half. Whistled into early foul oblivion, he played only 5½ minutes, but Turpin came off the bench again to hold his own—as did freshman Tricky Dicky Beat, a Minniefield clone—and Kentucky led 37-33 at halftime.
After the intermission Knight installed his tall tandem of Ray Tolbert and Landon Turner along with good-shooting Ted Kitchel up front, but it was the outrageously talented guard, Isiah Thomas (20 points, five assists and five rebounds for the afternoon), who was directly responsible for the Hoosiers' first 14 points of the second half. The Book of Isiah read three assists, three baskets and two steals, and suddenly Indiana was ahead 47-42, and later 54-48. "We were always afraid Isiah would explode," Bowie said of his Olympic teammate.
But the 'Cats' offensive rebounding—they won the boards 37-28—and depth was too much. Only one Kentucky starter was in the lineup for most of a 10-point spurt that gave the Wildcats a 58-54 lead. Bowie finally returned to play middleman in Kentucky's 1-3-1 zone, but with the game tied at 62 and a little over two minutes remaining. Thomas spied Tolbert breaking for the basket alone and directed a perfect alley-oop pass to somewhere near the rings of Saturn.
"When I turned around, the ball was in the air and so was Ray," said Bowie. "I thought, 'Oh no, it's one of those days. This one's coming down.' "
But alley oops! Tolbert's dunk attempt crashed off the rim and was grabbed by a shocked, not to mention extremely lucky, Bowie.
Tolbert's miss meant that now Kentucky had a chance to break the tie. Hurt and Kitchel exchanged nerveless baskets, but with 48 seconds to go, Thomas, who must be forgiven a mistake a week, fouled Minniefield. How could Thomas have known that Minnie, who had been playing like a mouse, would calmly step to the line and make both free throws for a 66-64 lead? Or that the Hoosiers, who were expertly working the ball for a good shot and another tie, would then pass it to Turner in an area where he could be so badly Hurt?
After the Kentucky reserve forward had snatched the ball away from Turner, kicked it to Minniefield and, thereby, inflicted another Big Hurt on the Big Ten, the man who starts in front of Hurt said he wasn't surprised at all.
"Charlie and all the other young kids aren't so young anymore," said Verderber. "What will surprise me is if we ever lose."