Is the "1 spot" the one spot that could be the Wildcats' Achilles' heel?
In a word: Yes. The point guard position is being carefully watched in Bluegrass country.
The Wildcats took a working vacation in Italy this summer, and during a field trip to Florence, last season's point guard, Jeff Sheppard, was so mesmerized by Michelangelo's David that he got separated from the rest of the group. "Three hours later I left the hotel to get a bite to eat, and there was Shep, all worn out," says center Mark Pope. "He had been walking around in circles. Shep just gets lost once in a while."
Not a bad metaphor for the point guard situation in Lexington. Coach Rick Pitino, who once prided himself on molding floor generals from the rawest materials (Billy Donovan, Travis Ford, Sean Woods), may lose another excellent shot at a national title because the best players in the nation don't yet have a floor leader. On the baseline Pitino has two versatile 6'10" seniors, Pope and Walter McCarty, who can both rebound and stick a three-pointer; 6'8" sophomore Antoine Walker, the MVP of last season's SEC tournament; and schoolboy player of the year Ron Mercer. The back-court has plenty of weapons as well, with Sheppard, Tony Delk, who scored 16.7 points a game in 1994-95, and Ohio State transfer Derek Anderson.
Still, no team since Indiana in '86-87 has gone all the way without a true point guard. Former walk-on Anthony Epps may be the only real point on the roster, but Pitino believes he is too slow for the Kentucky derby. Sheppard struggled at times last season, and both Anderson and freshman Wayne Turner are considered scorers rather than creators. All this could leave the job to Delk, who flunked out at the point as a freshman. Perhaps Pitino was sending Delk a message during Kentucky's Midnight Madness practice on Oct. 15, when he had McCarty and Delk drop from the ceiling of Memorial Coliseum dressed as Batman and Robin, respectively, on Cat Fan Forever theme night. If Delk isn't the Boy Wonder at this point, Pitino may end up as the Joker.
It's Midnight Madness, Coach Harrick, do you know where your children are?
Toby Bailey, the star of last season's NCAA championship game as a freshman, has been spotted around the 'hood with rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, a big Bruins' fan. Bailey's Bruin teammate Kris Johnson has been seen hangin' with Queen Latifah. And UCLA practices have featured so much trash-talking they sometimes look like Yo! MTV Raps. Coach Wooden, please avert your eyes, sir.
"We're not the clean-cut team America thinks we are," says junior forward Charles O'Bannon, the Bruins' new elder statesman. "We've got a lot of guys who like to talk and dunk and get crazy out there."
O.K., but is Charles in charge? "We don't have a leader, a disciplinarian to keep guys in line," says sophomore forward J.R. Henderson. "If you say something, guys don't respect it. They take it as a joke."