VAUGHT: Morris adding more than just numbers

While it's easy to point out what is not right with the Kentucky basketball team, don't overlook one thing that is right with the Wildcats ‘ center Randolph Morris.

No, it's not just his numbers that I mean even though his 29 points, 13 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals in two games are far, far superior to anything Kentucky has had from an interior player this season.

Instead, I mean the way Morris is playing. He's running the court. He's banging with opponents. He's setting screens. He's hustling after loose balls. He's working to get open despite having two or three defenders collapse around him.

Less than three minutes into his first game against Vanderbilt last week, I was sitting close enough to the action to see that Morris already had a full sweat. I'm not sure I remember him ending a lot of games in a full sweat last season because, as he has admitted, he just did not always play as hard as he should.

But he apparently has learned from his mistakes ‘ and being shunned by NBA teams. Just as teammates and UK coaches predicted, Morris is a far better player because he's playing a lot, lot harder.

‘Randolph's play has been huge for us,' said Joe Crawford. ‘He gets us open. When he's in the game, the lane opens us for us because teams have to respect him. He makes us all better.'

Morris knows not every UK fan is glad to have him back playing at Kentucky after the exit he pulled last summer to put his name into the NBA draft. He understands a lot of SEC coaches feel the same way and that the treatment he'll face in upcoming road games from opposing fans could be brutal ‘ and highly personal.

‘All I can do is take it and play as hard as I can now,' Morris said. ‘I can't change what has happened. I'm not going to dwell on the past.'

He blamed his lack of second-half defense for Saturday's loss to Alabama. While that's being a bit too hard on himself, he was willing to accept responsibility for a loss ‘ something I've yet to hear from point guard Rajon Rondo. Maybe that's because Morris now understands Kentucky basketball is about more than any one player ‘ or at least it is supposed to be.

‘Basically, some people were thinking I would come out and we would automatically be a contender again. But it's not all me. Once we are playing the way we can, we can be good. But it is a team thing. We all have to play well,' he said.

He's right. And as unlikely as it might have seemed a few months ago, Morris may turn into the leader this team needs. He's more vocal this season. He's playing harder. And he wants to win.

I could still be wrong, but from all I've seen and heard, Morris has learned from his mistakes, something we should all do. He's been remorseful and frank with media members when UK has made him available. He's not ducked hard questions or avoided taking responsibility for his actions.

I can only imagine the pressure he'll be under Tuesday at Georgia and the taunts he'll hear from fans in his native state. But so far, he's handled everything perfectly and has been the brightest spot in a dark week for Kentucky basketball.


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