LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Kentucky basketball fans have spent the preseason wondering how Tubby Smith was going to manage playing time with his talent-laden roster.
An admittedly nice "problem" to have, Smith wishes that was still the case for Tuesday's exhibition game against Nike Elite. The Wildcats will be without at least four players --- center Jason Parker (knee), forward Marquis Estill (back spasms), guards Rashaad Carruth and Adam Chiles (suspension) --- and another, senior point guard J.P. Blevins, will be playing with a dislocated finger in his left (off) hand.
"I'm a little bit disappointed in our injury situation," the UK coach said. "Coming into this year, we were thinking we had a lot of depth, even before Jason's knee injury in June. Now all the sudden Jules (Camara) is out for about a week with a groin pull, Marquis is out for a week with back spasms, Rashaad went down yesterday with a high-ankle sprain, and J.P. has the dislocated finger.
"You lose some of your excitement when those things happen because you don't have your full complement of players... With so many players, 15 guys, you want to make sure that you're developing that teamwork and chemistry... They all need to be out there practicing, they all need to be out there learning. Any time missed is a problem."
The Cats will be hard pressed to receive any sympathy from Nike Elite. The traveling squad, coached by former Michigan and Arizona State head man Bill Frieder, has lost all three of its games this season by an average margin of 23 points. That includes a 108-65 rout at the hands of Wake Forest and new Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser.
Kentucky, ranked No. 4 in Monday's debut of the AP Top 25 poll, poses Nike Elite's biggest challenge to date. While the Cats will not have a full roster at their disposal, there's still national player of the year candidates in senior forward Tayshaun Prince and junior guard Keith Bogans.
"This is a hungry UK team," Bogans said. "We have battled against each other for two weeks and we are ready to go against someone else."
It will also mark the return of Camara, a 6-foot-11 junior forward who sat out last season after violating the school's student-athlete alcohol policy. His team's most athletic player, the Senegal native brings a different look to this year's edition of the Cats.
"Jules had an excellent few days of practice," Smith said. "I'll be interested to see how he plays after sitting out.
"In order to be a great defensive team, you've got to have a good shot-blocker inside. In Jules, we have an excellent shot-blocker... He's so long, plus he's an intelligent player. He understands how to manuever."
Smith said he planned to use a starting lineup of Blevins at the point, sophomore Gerald Fitch at the "2" spot, Bogans at small forward, Prince at power forward and junior Marvin Stone at center.
Coming into the season, the most competition was expected at the center position. It appears the 6-10 Stone has taken the early lead for that job.
"Marvin is lighter and in better shape. He's running well, and his mobility and stamina are better," Smith said. "He is passing the ball well and playing unselfishly. I don't think he has any hang-ups on getting up more shots. He just needs to concentrate on doing what he does best: anchoring our defense inside, setting good screens, rebounding the ball and taking the shots when they are there. And he's doing those things extremely well."
Smith also indicated that he planned to use a platoon substitution pattern early in the game, something he may implement throughout the season.
"We platooned a lot in the past, especially the first couple of years, and then we kind of went away from that because we didn't have the depth of talent," Smith said. "But I think this is a group you can do that. We'll probably platoon at the 16-minute mark, then when we get to the 12-minute mark, you put the starters back in. After that, you substitute according to situations.
"I'm not a guy who goes into games saying we're going to do this and this and this, but in most exhibition games, you want to see and try as many combinations as you can do."
"We're going to try a lot of different things," Prince said. "Coach will try some different lineups to see how we play together. We will come out and play different defenses, but the one thing that won't change is our aggressiveness."
Smith says Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. matchup at Rupp Arena will be a good gauge for his younger players.
"You play exhibition games so you can find out where you are, test your guys, and find out what kind of progress you've made," he said, adding that freshmen Chuck Hayes and Josh Carrier have impressed him the most in recent workouts.