Morris' return to Kentucky gets mixed reviews
Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Last October, when the future of Randolph Morris remained uncertain, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was asked if he thought the Kentucky center should be granted the remaining years of his eligibility.
"You don't want to know how I feel about that," Stallings said. "Out of respect to (Kentucky coach) Tubby (Smith), I'd rather not answer that question."
Ironically, Morris will return from a 14-game suspension Tuesday when Kentucky faces Vandy in its SEC opener. For Big Blue Nation, his arrival couldn't come at a better time. The Wildcats have struggled to establish an offensive flow without their starting center from a season ago.
Kentucky is tied for ninth with Ole Miss in scoring offense in the SEC at 70.6 per game. Little of that scoring production has come from the post. Junior forward Rekalin Sims, a junior college transfer, leads Kentucky big men in scoring at 7.5 points per game.
On Tuesday, Kentucky needed a fade-away jumper from sophomore point guard Rajon Rondo in the closing seconds to edge UCF 59-57 at Rupp Arena. Yes, it was the same UCF team that Florida beat earlier in the season by 33 points.
Smith conceded: "We're not playing at the level we'd like to play. Our chemistry has been off with our scoring a little bit. Our defense has been pretty strong and our rebounding is starting to come around. We just need to get some more scoring and I think the return of Randolph is going to help us in that area."
Morris has been able to practice with the team since October while his amateur status remained in limbo. Initially, the NCAA ruled the 6-foot-10 sophomore ineligible for the season. But the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement committee reduced the suspension to 14 games after Smith supplied a lost fax in which Morris expressed interest in returning to Kentucky while going through the NBA Draft process last spring.
The NCAA ruled Morris must repay $7,000 to nine NBA teams for expenses incurred during predraft workouts. But Morris was able to get half a season back. His return, even with the surprise 13-0 start of Florida, could alter the balance of power in the SEC East.
"He's going to bring a large dose of energy to Kentucky at the right time," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "He's an excellent post player, probably one of the best in the league."
Reaction of Morris's return around the league has been mixed. When Lexington-Herald leader reporter Jerry Tipton asked Alabama coach Mark Gottfried a question about the state of the Wildcats, Gottfried offered an unsolicited response about the Morris issue.
"By the way, Jerry I'm, looking for some faxes," Gottfried said. "Every day, I'm hunting on the floor, everywhere I can look."
Morris averaged 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds as a freshman, deferring many rebounds to senior Chuck Hayes. He saved some of his best performances for last March, prompting his flirtation with the NBA Draft. In the NCAA Tournament, Morris posted a double-double against Cincinnati (11 points, 12 rebounds) and scored 20 points in what appeared to be his last game against Michigan State.
Now, Morris gets a second chance. Odom thinks he'll adapt quickly because of his position and because he's been able to practice with the team since October.
"It depends on your offense," Odom said. "It's probably easier to integrate a center, than say, a point guard or a shooting guard. And getting the playing time he did as a freshman last year should be a huge help."
When center Glen Davis arrived at LSU as a freshman, he was 358 pounds.
The 7-footer reduced his playing weight to 338 pounds by the time his freshman season began and earned SEC freshman of the year honors, averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds. As a sophomore, Davis is down to 318 pounds, a big reason why he is entering conference play as the SEC leader in scoring (18.5 ppg) and rebounding (10.0 rpg).
"Glen has improved," LSU coach John Brady said. "Losing the weight has helped him. As a coach, you're always trying to push your players, but he has been pretty receptive to the things that we're trying to teach him."
Brady attributed the dip in weight to working with a nutritionist during his freshman year and staying away from fast food late at night.
"I give him a lot of credit for showing that kind of discipline," Brady said.
Pearls of wisdom
Florida fans may want to circle the date Jan. 21 on their calendars. That will be the first time the Gators face new-look Tennessee, with first-year coach Bruce Pearl scrapping a conventional approach for a more run-and-gun style.
Early results have been promising for the Vols, who enter SEC play 9-1.
"I have learned that these guys want to win," Pearl said. " They have been very willing to adapt and play unselfishly."
Included in the nonconference schedule was a 95-78 upset win at Texas, which climbed the Vols briefly in the Top 25 for the first time in five years.
"It did show them that they can step up and they can win on the road against anyone in the country," Pearl said. "I scheduled games against Texas, against Oklahoma State and against Memphis not knowing if we could win, but feeling like you have play those games in order to get yourself on the map."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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