Junior forward Chuck Hayes, a communications major, recently
visited Bluegrass Airport in Lexington to report a story on the
airport's security operation for a journalism class. The next day
the security chief sent an e-mail to coach Tubby Smith praising
Hayes's character and intelligence. For Smith it was just one
more indication that Hayes is ready to lead the Wildcats to
another SEC championship--and more. "Chuck epitomizes what I
think a college basketball player should be," Smith says. "He has
a lot of skill, but he's also our most unselfish player, our
hardest worker and our best spokesman."
The unspectacular, overachieving Hayes is an appropriate
centerpiece for Kentucky, which for the first time since 1992
does not have a former McDonald's High School All-American on its
roster. The 6'6", 247-pound Hayes started all 36 games last year
and was the shortest player in 25 years to lead the Wildcats in
rebounding (6.8 per game). Last summer he was one of the
less-heralded players on the U.S. team coached by Michigan
State's Tom Izzo at the Pan Am Games, but Hayes led the team in
minutes (29.2 per game) and rebounding (7.6) and was second in
scoring (11.2). "Coach Izzo told me that when I'm vocal and
emotional, it inspires the guys I'm playing with," Hayes says. "I
want to do that for my Kentucky teammates too."
It helps that those teammates, who with Hayes have a combined 192
career starts, are the most experienced group Smith has coached
during his seven years in Lexington. The backcourt will be
anchored by senior Gerald Fitch, a three-year starter and the
team's leading returning scorer (12.3), and senior point guard
Cliff Hawkins, who was the sixth man last season and led the
squad in assists for the second straight year.
The experience of last season is enough to motivate the Wildcats.
After starting 6-3, they reeled off 26 straight wins before
losing, 83-69, to Marquette in the Elite Eight. "We thought we'd
at least make the Final Four," Fitch says. "Once you win a few,
you don't ever want to lose." --S.D.
2002-03 RECORD: 32-4 (16-0, 1st in SEC East)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Marquette in Elite Eight
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Kelenna Azubuike 6'5" Soph. 3.7 ppg
PF Chuck Hayes 6'6" Jr. 8.6 ppg
C Erik Daniels 6'8" Sr. 56.7 FG%
SG Gerald Fitch 6'3" Sr. 41.5 3FG%
PG Cliff Hawkins 6'6" Sr. 3.8 apg
an opposing coach's view
"Replacing Keith Bogans won't be nearly as tough as replacing the
two big men they lost [Marquis Estill and Jules Camara]. Pressure
defense was Kentucky's catalyst last year, but opponents
inevitably get into the paint against it, and ERIK DANIELS and
CHUCK HAYES won't be as effective as having a 6'10" presence for
40 minutes a game.... Hayes is an All-SEC-caliber player who can
finish in a lot of ways.... Can they get one of the big freshmen
[7'3" SHAGARI ALLEYNE and 7'1" LUKASZ OBRZUT] to do anything?
Those guys aren't big talents, or they'd be in the NBA.... If
forward ANTWAIN BARBOUR steps up, they'll have five upperclassmen
who can play, and experience wins in that league."
Wins against SEC foes last season, making 'Cats first team since
1951-52 to go unbeaten in league's regular season and tournament.