"STRAY CAT STRUT"
(COACH: EDDIE SUTTON)
November 20, 1985
Kenny Walker is sporting a mustache this season. That probably won't affect his sweet, sky-high moves around the basket, but it is indicative of the Wildcats' fresh approach to the upcoming season. "We couldn't wear them under Coach Hall," says Walker.
Joe B. Hall is gone now, and Eddie Sutton is in place, only the third keeper of the basketball flame in Lexington since 1930. It's a precarious position, one to which Sutton is not accustomed. He comes from Arkansas, where for 11 years his Hogs were sacred cows. In 13 seasons at Lexington, Hall won nearly 75% of his games (297-100), eight regular-season SEC championships, one NCAA (1978) and one NIT (1976) title. Yet in many quarters he was considered a failure. Will Sutton do any better? Is it within the power of any coach to step out of the shadow of Adolph Rupp?
"All I know," says Sutton, "is that whatever I heard about how big Kentucky basketball is, was wrong. It's bigger."
Sutton would feel more comfortable if his front line were bigger. At 6'8", Walker may be the Wildcats' tallest starter, and he'll be their best, as well. "If Kenny goes down," says Sutton, "I go on sabbatical. The best player I ever coached was Sidney Moncrief. Kenny plays the game just like Moncrief, and he's four inches taller."
Last season, even with the 6'9", 230-pound Bret Bearup in the lineup, Walker pulled down 10.2 rebounds per game to go with his 22.9 scoring average. This season his two frontcourt companions may be only 6'6"—Winston Bennett and Richard (Master Blaster) Madison—unless sophomores Cedric Jenkins and Robert Lock (both 6'9") and freshman Irving Thomas (also 6'9") mature quickly.
Bennett, now recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery, should have a good season. "He's my kind of player—mean," says Sutton. Madison has great potential but lacks Bennett's intensity. "It's been easy for Richard because of his ability," says Walker. "He has to get better work habits."
Everything has to get better for James Blackmon, who nearly left Kentucky after last season because of communication problems with Hall. Blackmon has a pair of bad knees, but, even so, he has been a disappointment in his first two seasons. Sutton has a reputation for developing guards (Moncrief, Darrell Walker, Alvin Robertson and Ron Brewer at Arkansas), and Blackmon is cut from the same cloth. "The word I'd use for James so far is 'rejuvenated,' " says Bennett.
Blackmon, Roger Harden and Ed Davender make an effective backcourt rotation. Like Blackmon, Davender also feels a lot better about things. "This guy [Sutton] has put a bunch of guards in the NBA," Davender told Walker after Sutton was hired, "and I'm going to be next." Davender will be recognizable by his accurate jumpers, Harden by his Converse sneakers. The rest of the team will be wearing Nikes.
Will the new feeling in the Kentucky air help the Wildcats improve on last season's 18-13 finish? "No doubt about it, Coach Sutton is a whole lot looser than Coach Hall was," says Walker. "But for me there wasn't a communication problem with Coach Hall. The door was always open."
"Yes, the door was open," says Harden, "but was he listening to what you said? Would he consider it with an open mind, or would what you said be held against you?"
And will Kentucky fans hold it against Eddie Sutton if he wins only 75% of his games?