Countdown to Madness: Centers/Power Forwards

Starting this week, Inside Kentucky will be providing a position by position analysis of the Wildcat basketball team. Today we focus on the Center and Power Forward position. With Midnight Madness ready to kick off this Friday and the 2004 season tipping off on November 2nd, it's never too early to take a look at the team position by position. In this first of three installments, we will take a look at the muscle behind the Wildcat basketball team.

Seniority is a way of thinking that in the best of times can propel your team to greatness and in other situations leave your team in dire straits. This year's leader by example won't have any problems having such a burden.

That's because he's been doing it since he was a freshmen.

Chuck Hayes, a 6-6 forward from Modesto, Calif., is one of two returning starters on the 2004-05 Kentucky squad this season and is expected to fill the role of captain with departed seniors Erik Daniels and Gerald Fitch. Hayes averaged 10.7 ppg and 8.1 rpg as a junior, while earning Associated Press Third Team All-Southeastern Conference and SEC All-Tournament team honors in 2004. The senior-to-be has started 76-straight games, the longest active streak on the team and 34 games shy of the school record, set by the great Alex Groza.

"Chuck's meant everything to this program the past four years," long-time trainer Bill Keightley said. "It will be a sad senior day when he leaves."

Along side the California native is a tremendous amount of youth at the center position. Lukasz Obrzut, Shagari Alleyne and Randolph Morris anchor a center spot that will be heavily contested this fall as far as starting roles. Morris is the expected front runner with Alleyne possibly redshirting.

"That is something we are looking at, even last year," Coach Tubby Smith said on Alleyne's redshirt. "And looking back on it, that may have been the thing to do, because he really didn't play as much as we would've hoped."

"There is that potential for that."

Morris, at 6'10 260 pounds, appears to be the added presense down low that the Cats have desperately needed.

"We really didn't have a shot-blocker last year since Jules and Marquis left," Smith said. "He's just a very good athlete - great hands, great size. He's got all the physical tools to play right away and that's probably different than the players we have in the program right now."

Perhaps the most important part of the team is the depth at the power forward position. Super sophomores Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas will be needed to help anchor the depth behind Chuck Hayes. With Thomas recovering from surgery, Perry will need to step up immediately.

"Sheray is resting comfortably and appreciates everyone's thoughts and prayers," Coach Smith said on Sheray's injury. "He looks forward to being back on the court soon."

Perry at 6'6 will be challenged physically at the 4, which means he might have to play there if certain lineups present themselves. Regardless, one thing is evident, Chuck Hayes will be getting plenty of early season minutes and Keleena Azubuike will be getting more time at the 3.

"Expectations never change," Coach Smith said. "Expectations have always been the same in my book every year. Our expectations have always been to win the SEC, which we have done a pretty good job of, and go as deep as we can in the NCAA Tournament."

"Nobody is guaranteed anything – championships, national championships, Final Fours," Smith said. "We need to get to the Final Four, and I am getting antsy about not being there for the last couple years especially. I don't think we have ever reached all our expectations except in '98."

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview on the small forwards and shooting guards.

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