3 Kentucky The battle for playing time among the Wildcats might be as fierce as their games

November 19, 2001

In the hours leading up to each home game, senior point guard
J.P. Blevins heads for the training room and spends 15 minutes
soaking in a whirlpool chilled to a frigid 45[degrees]. The
superstitious ritual dates back to Blevins's sophomore year,
when he played well one night against Georgia after soaking in a
whirlpool to help ease soreness in his left foot. "It'll take
your breath away when you first get in," he says.

Having shown that he can handle cold, Blevins now hopes to prove
he can take the heat--the kind that comes with being the point
guard for the Wildcats. He doesn't have much margin for error:
Pushing him for playing time will be 6'1" sophomore Cliff
Hawkins, a defensive ball hawk who averaged 3.0 points and 11
minutes a game at the point as an understudy to the oft maligned
Saul Smith, who learned how tough the position can be in his four
years at Kentucky.

Internal competition of that sort will be waged up and down the
Wildcats' lineup, which has back 80.6% of its scoring and 82.4%
of its rebounding from last season's SEC champs. "Our practices
are unbelievably intense right now," says 6'5" junior Keith
Bogans, who's one of two players (along with reigning SEC player
of the year Tayshaun Prince) whose starting jobs are secure.

Eight returning players averaged at least 10 minutes a game last
year, and the Wildcats have added three freshmen--most notably
6'3" McDonald's All-American shooting guard Rashaad Carruth--who
are capable of contributing right away. Such is Kentucky's
embarrassment of riches that when the Wildcats learned sophomore
forward Jason Parker, last season's third-leading scorer and
second-leading rebounder, would be out for the season after
reinjuring his right knee, the natterers of Big Blue Nation
opined that the Wildcats would benefit from having one less
thoroughbred crowding the stable.

Any concern over Parker's injury is lessened by the return of
Jules Camara, a 6'11" junior who was suspended for all of last
season after he was convicted on DUI charges in October 2000.
Marquis Estill, a 6'9" junior who gave up his scholarship and
agreed to pay his own way this season after Bogans and Prince
returned to Kentucky instead of turning pro, will also provide
frontcourt muscle, but coach Tubby Smith hopes enigmatic forward
Marvin Stone, a 6'10" junior, will emerge as a force. Stone was
a big-time recruit coming out of Grissom High in Huntsville,
Ala., but he averaged only 6.0 points last year and almost
transferred midway through the season. "Marvin needs to become
more assertive," Smith says. "Sometimes when you don't live up
to high expectations, your self-esteem suffers."

High expectations are, of course, nothing new at Kentucky, but
they're especially lofty this season. "The sky's the limit for
this team," Blevins says. "Coach Smith's hardest job is going to
be keeping everyone happy and on the same page. I guess that's
why he gets paid the big bucks."

--S.D.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Estill (50) made 60.3% of his field goal tries last year and then gave the Wildcats what they really needed--his scholarship, so they could keep all their stars.

STARTING LINEUP

POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT

SF Keith Bogans[#] 6'5" Jr. 17.0 ppg
PF Tayshaun Prince[#] 6'9" Sr. 16.9 ppg
C Marvin Stone 6'10" Jr. 4.6 rpg
SG Gerald Fitch[#] 6'3" So. 6.8 ppg
PG J.P. Blevins 6'2" Sr. 2.8 ppg

2000-01 record: 24-10
Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 8
[#]Returning starter

REPORT CARD

GRADUATION RATE: 55%
AVERAGE NUMBER OF WINS: 29.3
NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 34-8
TRANSFERS: 9
McDONALD'S ALL-AMERICANS: 9
PLAYERS IN NBA: 10

COMMENT: Image took a hit in recent years with four players
having been arrested for alcohol-related offenses. The school
admirably imposed zero-tolerance policy that cost it some top
players (though it softened that policy this year, which allowed
center Jules Camara to return to team). Wildcats also took the
high road and dropped recruit Michael Southall in 2000 after he
pleaded guilty to drug charge. Run-ins with NCAA, which have
characterized so much of program's history, have been
nonexistent under coach Tubby Smith and his predecessor, Rick
Pitino.

GRADE: A

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)