TIREY: One piece of paper

One week ago all looked bleak for the Wildcats and Randolph Morris, their sophomore season. Morris had been sentenced to a season in basketball purgatory, and the Wildcats sorely missed him as they lost to an IU team they had dominated in recent seasons. Once piece of paper has turned around the prospects for both Morris and the Kentucky Wildcats.

One piece of paper. One little faxed page of plain, white paper with words typed on it, and a scrawled signature. That is the difference between a scary outlook on the SEC season for Kentucky basketball, and a much better chance a capturing another SEC championship.

The faxed intentions of Randolph Morris were located and the NCAA reconsidered the penalty of a season long suspension for the Kentucky center. The announcement made by UK today says that the NCAA will be happy with Morris sitting out the first 14 games of the season, and Morris will be available to the post player-needing Cats for the SEC schedule. And let's face it; the SEC might be little better than anticipated. OK, very little, but still better. No team in the conference has a losing record right now, and the closest to that is Alabama at 4-3. Alabama will be much better down the stretch than that performance they had against Notre Dame recently on national television. Arkansas is 6-2, with a nine-point loss to UConn and wins over Kansas and Missouri. Florida, who everybody thought would crumble without the big three of Walsh, Roberson, and Lee, are 9-0 with wins over Wake Forest, Florida State, and Syracuse. Georgia is 7-1 with a victory over Georgia Tech. Mississippi State is 6-2 with wins over Santa Clara and at Charlotte. Tennessee (yes, Tennessee) is 6-0. Hello, Bruce Pearl. We found out how real the Vols are this weekend as Chris Lofton and company won at Texas Longhorns. And Vandy is 5-1, with wins over Oregon and at Georgetown. So maybe that isn't a murderers' row, but it's better than what we thought the league might look like.

All that to say this: Kentucky without Randolph Morris would be facing a middle-of-the-pack type season in this year's SEC schedule. So it was refreshing to hear the 180-degree turnaround that Morris made from what I heard come out of his mouth back on June 8, 2005. It was then that the center was working out privately for NBA executives and scouts at a downtown Chicago athletic club, during the time period of the NBA pre-draft camp in the same city. Morris took great delight in bragging about the workouts he had set for the next few days, knowing that the media in attendance was aware that he had not been in contact with his coach or his teammates. "They are projecting me in the late first round, and that would be a blessing in itself. I got to get a couple more workouts under my belt, and then I'll decide. (The workout) was geared toward our strengths, so I think I showed them what I could do." Morris was even talking about Kentucky in the past tense, as if it was all behind him at that point. "Kentucky was a positive experience for me. I learned a lot, and I had a good time with the guys. But the pros have been in my dreams for a long time. I think I am a first round pick." Ralph Morris, Randolph's father, even went so far to insinuate that they had a problem with how Randolph was used in his first season as a Wildcat.

In contrast, here are the statements of Randolph Morris today at the press conference.

"I would like to begin by apologizing to Coach Smith, his coaching staff, my teammates, the university, and also the fans. There are many people at UK that stood behind me and made my return possible. Coach (Smith) has always been very supportive of me as a player and as a person. I appreciate that he has allowed me to come back and return to be a member of this team, and I am fortunate to have him as a coach. Mitch Barnhart and Sandy Bell kept me informed and watched over my best interests throughout this reinstatement process. I can't thank them enough for all the hard work they have put into this. It was always my intention to take the steps necessary to protect my eligibility. I appreciate the NCAA for taking that into consideration when reconsidering my case. In exploring my NBA options, I made poor choices. Those choices include accepting bad advice, while putting distance between myself and my coaches and my teammates at UK. I take full responsibility for those actions. It wasn't obvious to me as I was going through this process, but looking back I now see how my actions were disrespectful to Coach Smith and the University of Kentucky. Playing basketball at the University of Kentucky is a privilege few athletes get to enjoy. I intend to take make the most of this opportunity to be a part of the greatest basketball program in America."

You only have a few more games to wait, UK fans. Put down the razor blades and get off the bridge rails. Things could get better soon.

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