With Kupchak in the pros, the Tar Heels will play the game a little differently and maybe even better this year. LaGarde takes over at center but moves out to a high post. This should put his fine shooting touch to good use and also open up the middle for Ford's whirling drives down the lane. Smith would also like to use Davis, a 6'6" swingman, more at guard.
Help should come from 6'7" freshman Forward Mike O'Koren, who has unusual court savvy to go with his considerable playing skills. O'Koren will probably keep 6'8" senior Bruce Buckley in his role as Carolina's sixth man.
LaGarde is the center of attention, though. He was the Tar Heels' field-goal (61%) and free-throw (82%) leader last year and he looks forward to his increased responsibilities this season. "I only did an adequate job at forward," he says. "There were times Mitch and I seemed to clog things up too much underneath. I probably played better when he wasn't in the game."
Ford and Davis were consistently outstanding. Ford led the team in scoring (18.6), set a school record for assists (203) and made All-America. Davis averaged 16.6, led the team in steals and was the top player in a composite statistical rating that only Smith understands. Smith likes his fifth starter, Guard John Kuester, because he dives after loose balls and sacrifices his offense for the rest of the team.
For all his success, the Tar Heel coach has never won the national championship. Sometimes being best in the world is just not good enough.
Overcome by a fit of youthful enthusiasm, Kentucky's muscular 6'5" James Lee swooped toward the basket in a layup drill, soared high above the rim and slammed the ball through with a whump that echoed through nearly deserted Rupp Arena, the Wildcats' new 23,000-seat home. The next man in line, Mike Phillips, the 6'10" center, lumbered toward the hoop and outdid Lee with a reverse smash. That was enough for Coach Joe B. Hall, watching from midcourt. "Whoa, whoa," he yelled. "Let's settle down, put the ball on the floor, cut out the fancy stuff and do what we're supposed to do." The Wildcats meekly devoted the rest of the drill to solid, but dull, layups.
Aside from having four of five starters back from last season's National Invitational Tournament champions—plus a healthy Rick Robey and three promising freshmen—the Wildcats are moving from on-campus Memorial Coliseum, where they terrorized rivals for 25 years, to downtown Rupp Arena, largest basketball hall this side of the Superdome and site of this season's NCAA Mideast Regional tournament. Says Hall, "We're looking for that first exciting game that will turn a crowd on, to see if we've been able to transport that Coliseum spirit."
That Kentucky will regain its rightful place atop the Southeastern Conference is a foregone conclusion among Wildcat loyalists. There's even speculation that Kentucky has a chance to add to the four NCAA titles won under the man for whom the new arena was named. Says Hall, "We're going to have a good team, no question about it, but we don't seem to have that one area where we dominate. We've got to become dominant in shooting, defense, rebounding, something. Until then we're an iffy team."
Actually, better than iffy. For rebounders, Kentucky has Phillips, Robey and Lee. Now that the 6'10" Robey has recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of 18 games last season, Hall plans to use him and Phillips together as much as possible, meaning that Kentucky will have the muscle to trigger its legendary fast break. However, if playing the giants simultaneously proves to be a defensive liability. Hall can alternate them at center and use Lee as his strong forward.