"You'd think we never even played in a postseason tournament for all the good the NIT did us around here," says Rose, bemoaning another poor recruiting year. "I know this is just so much mental gymnastics, but when you've got a player as dominating as Joe Barry it's hard to believe there's not a good guard out there who'd like to play with him."
But even a pessimist of Rose's stature couldn't fail to be cheered by Stallings' play against the Yugoslavians. His long jumpers, blond hair and countrified looks remind a lot of Boilermaker fans of Rick Mount. A poor man's Mount, to be sure, but on a team with Carroll, that may be good enough.
In its long and illustrious history, Kentucky has never had a big man quite like Sam Bowie. The 7'1" freshman from Lebanon, Pa. lacks the brawn of Rick Robey and Mike Phillips, the twin pillars around which the Wildcats' 1978 national championship team was built. In fact, when Bowie arrived at Lexington, he was a scrawny 199 pounds. After lots of running, weightlifting and eating, Bowie now tips in at a respectable 223. And the extra poundage and strength haven't cost him any agility and quickness.
The addition of Bowie and three other prize freshmen—Derrick Hord, Charles Hurt and Dirk Minniefield—has turned the Wildcats from a good team into a dark-horse contender for the national title. Left over from last season's NIT entry are such talented players as Kyle Macy, Dwight Anderson and LaVon Williams. "This is the most athletic group I've ever had," says Coach Joe Hall. "They can all run and jump and play defense. This is something I haven't had. In the past I've had to work with some immobile players."
Bowie came to Kentucky with visions of playing forward, but Hall quickly convinced him he'd be a lot more valuable near the hoop than outside launching the bombs he loves. "Sam will get to shoot some jumpers," Hall says, "but we want him to be able to score both inside and out." With that goal in mind, Bowie has spent most of his practice time learning to play the pivot against the kind of big, tough centers he will face this season. He and Williams, the Wildcats' leading rebounder in 1978-79, will operate in a high-low post that could be devastating by season's end.
"We'll be more flexible this year, have a more varied attack." says Hall. "We'll have a good outside shooting game, and we could have a good inside game with Bowie. Once he learns to post up stronger and recognize his scoring opportunities, he's going to be all right." Bowie is the only one of the superfreshmen almost sure to start. At least initially, Hord will come off the bench as a swing-man, Hurt will be a substitute at forward, and Minniefield will be Macy's understudy as floor leader. "Our system is such that older players do better," says Hall.
One of the older players, junior Fred Cowan, last year's No. 2 re-bounder, will start at forward, and another, Anderson, will move from small forward to the starting guard spot alongside Macy, who again will be Kentucky's leader. He's a superb ballhandler, playmaker, passer and outside shooter. And he has fully recovered from the broken jaw he suffered last summer when a Cuban player assaulted him during the Pan-Am Games. Macy is a forceful competitor who could pull Kentucky's raw talent into the kind of cohesive, selfless unit that Hall loves. "Kyle's strengths will show up later in the year, when we get together as a team," the coach says. "We may be going in different directions early."
This lack of cohesiveness was a major factor in the Wildcats' 82-76 overtime loss to Duke on Nov. 17. They proved they have the talent—Bowie outscored Blue Devil Mike Gminski 22-21—but they also showed they need the maturity that can only come with experience. Nevertheless, the performance was encouraging. The young 'Cats may be going in the same direction much sooner than Hall expects.