LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Part III of Kentucky coach Tubby Smith's comments Tuesday during the Cats' annual basketball media day...
On the schedule:
"Again, this schedule and this league will be one of the best, one of the toughest we've ever had. There are tough challenges ahead. The good thing about this year, we do have experience and some veteran players to compete at this level."
"One good thing, we're not playing as early, so we're going to have a lot more practices under our belt. Our first game last year was Nov. 9, this year it's Nov. 15. Along with having more veteran players, experienced players, I think that will help the toughness of the early season schedule. I hope so anyway."
On the effects of losing Jason Parker in the post:
"The physical stuff, obviously. His size, his bulk, his rebounding, his intimidation inside. I think he was a player that, because of his strength and his aggressiveness inside, could intimidate a lot of people. Kind of like Jamaal Magloire did... without the other part. [Laughs] He had that. That's what we're going to have to find in someone else, Marquis (Estill) or Marvin (Stone) or Chuck (Hayes). They're very capable of doing that."
"You're going to run up against some very physical players, guys like Udonis Haslem (of Florida) or a Ron Slay (of Tennessee), guys that are pretty aggressive. You have to have players who can match that kind of physicality and intensity and aggressiveness. I think that's what we lose. And especially a guy who can score inside. He could physically just go through you. A lot of guys are intimidated by that. They can't handle that kind of physical player inside."
On whether Marvin Stone can assume that kind of role:
"He can't do something that's not in his nature. So he has to use what he has. He has to be himself. He's capable of doing that, being himself and still being more physical. That's not something because of Jason Parker, just something I want him to do to be a better player. In my opinion, if he does those things, he's going to be a better player, and we're going to be a better team."
"Marvin and Marquis are both very skilled interior scorers. But they also have the ability to step away from the basket, like Chuck. They'll all be able to do that more than Jason. What he did, he did great, but he could not do those other things. These other guys can."
On whether Jules Camara may figure into the starting lineup after sitting out last season:
"I think Jules has started at the 4 before. I think Jules is very capable of being one of the starters in our lineup. He has the defensive presence, maybe not the physicalness, but the shot-blocking ability inside that we lacked last year. I think, other than Tayshaun, we really didn't have a guy like that. Now we have two or three with Marquis' better knees and Marvin better at blocking shots."
"(Camara) has a nice little fade away and a jump-hook he's perfected. He can step out and take a bigger guy off the dribble, go around him or shoot over him. I saw that last year when he was sitting out, and this summer he really improved a lot more."
On the status of Marquis Estill's knees:
"Last year at this point, he wasn't even practicing. He could barely run up and down the court. He had to miss practices and sit out about every other day. We didn't run him on the track or anything in the preseason. He did all the individual shooting that every other player did. He's always going to have that soreness in his knees, but because he's physically healthy now, it can help overcome the loss of a Jason Parker. It helps out our scoring. It makes us a much deeper team, especially in the frontcourt."
"But he can really jump now. He could barely dunk the ball. Now he's up above the rim. He's like a totally different person, really. It's amazing how athletic he looks and is right now as opposed to last year. There were times when he looked like that, but now he can do it consistently day in and day out."
"Marquis was the youngest player in our program at one time. He just turned 19. Here's a kid who had three years in high school, two knee surgeries, so he's just now becoming physically fit. Again, that comes from the maturation, trimming his body. His baby fat has now turned to muscle. His stamina's getting better. He can run for a longer period of time. We did a good job of taking him to the pool, the SwimEx, over at the Nutter Center. That was some excellent rehab equipment he and Jason both used."
On how, with so much talent, to keep the players happy with playing time:
"I don't even think about happiness. I'm not here to make them happy. I'm really not. I'm here to help them be successful: successful students, successful people, successful players. If that means them not being happy, that's alright with me. If that means them being happy and excited and elated and overjoyed, that's OK too. Whatever it takes for us to be successful, that's what I'll do."
"If I'm happy, they're probably going to be happy. If I'm unhappy, they're going to be unhappy." [Laughs]
"It changes our willingness to make changes quicker. They thought I was Captain Hook before... [Laughs] That's what I mean. They know they better be producing or someone more skilled will come in and take those minutes. And that always helps. That makes people better. Competition makes you better or worse. And if it makes you worse, you're not going to play."
"As a coaching staff, we constantly talk to them about teamwork, team play. I think the players understand who our go-to players are, Keith and Tayshaun, but we also know that we have guys like Jules and Marquis and Marvin who are very capable, and other scoring threats besides just Tayshaun and Keith. And I think that we have kids who like each other. Plus, most of these kids had choices. It was there decision to come here with who we had in the program."
But I'm going to keep them feeling good about themselves, let them know that they're special, let them know how important they are to the program, being there whenever they need to talk about anything. Like I always do, I always open the door to 'Coach, why am I not playing?' or 'Coach, why can't I get more playing time?' or 'What do I need to work on?' We're constantly talking about that all the time."
On which newcomers may contribute soonest and the most:
"Probably all three of them (excluding Adam Chiles, who may redshirt). They're going to play a lot... early. By that, I mean we want to play an aggressive style. We want to be more of a running team, a better pressing team, because we've added some quickness in the backcourt with Rashaad (Carruth) and in the frontcourt with Chuck (Hayes). Plus, I think another year of all our players knowing and understanding how to press will be a big help for guys like Gerald (Fitch) and Cliff (Hawkins) and 'Quis (Estill), having Jules (Camara) back. All of those guys can help us in our ability to run and put more points on the board, create turnovers and play at a more uptempo pace.... If we can create more turnovers, we can run a lot more."
"I've always felt everyone can contribute in some kind of fashion. And I think a team that can press better (allows that). This is also a team that can find its roles. We won't have to find their roles for them as a coaching staff. So multiple lineups and personnel mixes can be in the game. We can have a 3-point shooting team. You take a guy like Rashaad Carruth: he's as good a 3-point shooter as we've ever had on the team. He's a guy that can be in there during those times. A guy like Marquis, you saw when he was in the game late a lot of times last year, it was because he is an excellent free throw shooter. He may be the best free throw shooting player on the team. A guy like Chuck Hayes can be in there a lot because he can press from the power forward spot and not lose anything when he's in there because he's got the agility and that mobility that maybe you wouldn't have with someone else."
"Again, practices have been very super. Everybody's really competing. I think that's going to make it tougher, but that's a good thing that we have that luxury of having multiple types of mixes. That makes it tougher (for opponents) to defend and to scout."
On how much J.P. Blevins' ability to defend will dictate his starting status and/or playing time:
"It has all to do with it. If they can't defend, they can't play. That's J.P. or Cliff. And if that doesn't work out, we've got Gerald Fitch who we can try there. J.P. is a guy who understands what needs to be done. He just needs to relax and play. If he does that, he'll be fine."
"In our style of play, it allows us to have different guys bring the ball up the court. Tayshaun will bring the ball up. Gerald will bring it up. In our style of offense, the passing game, that's why it's not as critical as it has been. We have that luxury. We have better ballhandlers on the perimeter. Keith has improved his ballhandling, Tayshaun is improving, Gerald is improving, unlike last year where we had so many freshmen and Saul was counted on running our offense. It's a lot different now with more veteran players."
On Cliff Hawkins limiting his turnovers, or do they come with the territory with such a flashy player:
"That's a focal point for improvement. No, that doesn't come with the territory. Obviously, a point guard should not turn the ball over. His job is to take care of the ball. He's the point guard because he's the best ballhandler. Maybe for how many times he handles the ball, you're going to have more frequency and opportunities to turn the ball over, but Cliff got into trouble sometimes because he was excited and trying to do too much. We've talked with him about staying within the offense. There's a time and place for creativity, and a time and place to force the action."
On competition at the 2 spot:
"From what I've seen, the competitive juices are coming out in guys who understand there's a competition there. With guys like Gerald Fitch and Rashaad Carruth, even a guy like Josh Carrier, those guys can push a guy like Keith Bogans to make sure his performance every time in every drill and every moment (is good). So you can't help but get better. And there's not a big drop-off when somebody comes in. That's one of the things that I feel good about. I have no hesitation about bringing in somebody for somebody else that's starting. I have no hesitation in bringing a Jules Camara off the bench for a Marvin Stone or a Marvin Stone off the bench for a Marquis Estill, whoever's starting. I don't have any problem bringing in somebody for Tayshaun Prince, an Erik Daniels. I don't have a problem with a Josh Carrier coming in for a Keith Bogans at the swing position, or a Rashaad Carruth coming in at shooting guard."
On what the one big question mark is for this season:
"I always have questions, but right now, I'm really pleased with where we are, real excited about the group we've got. There aren't a lot of questions right now.... Obviously, you want to keep everybody healthy. We can't afford to lose another big guy. That's always a concern for coaches at this time of year."
"No questions. I don't have a whole lot of answers right now, either, but the answers will come. [Laughs] The answers will come in due time. Patience. Patience. Patience."
On Gerald Fitch:
"He's a player. You gotta love a player like that. I know I do because Gerald does all the little things well. Gerald is in the right spot defensively, and when he is wrong, he makes up for it with his hustle and his aggressiveness. You can overcome some of those things, lack of size, whatever, because he has heart. There's always a place for athletes like that."
On Erik Daniels and the possibility of breaking the starting lineup:
"Erik has been playing awfully well...All of our post men have been playing extremely well -- Jules, Marquis, Marvin... I'd like to be able to start them all. But that's how balanced we are right now in their effort, doing the right things on and off the court."
"Erik has a nose for the ball... And he's a very skilled player with an understanding of the game. I think he had an excellent high school coach up at Princeton High School. Coach Andrews was a big guy who probably taught him a lot about how to play at that position. And being left-handed, I think he's very unorthodox."
"Erik plays within himself, old-schoolish, as you'd say. Although he's got a lot of flair for the game, he makes the right decisions. Sometimes it doesn't look like he's doing anything fancy, but he's making things happen. He's got great vision, great hands, great anticipation, and now his knees are healthy and his knees are stronger. I think he's really a guy who's going to challenge for a lot of playing time."
On the team's defensive outlook:
"Great. We could be great. We could be as good as any defensive team in the country. I think we should be the best defensive team in the country because of our versatility and quickness and athleticism."
"Our perimeter defense is something that concerned me (last year). Everybody now wants to take you off the dribble. We run into a lot of talented point guards and backcourts who can take you off the dribble, a la Brett Nelson (of Florida) and Jason Williams at Duke. Containing penetration, I think, has been the biggest challenge for most teams over the last 10 years."
On whether he's given any thought to the Louisville game Dec. 29:
"Not really. I've got too many other things to worry about. Obviously, that's a big game like it is every year. And whenever we play anyone, Kentucky's usually the No. 1 game on their schedule, so we have to really focus in on getting ready for Western Kentucky and whoever comes next. That's the way we operate."