Future Cats help spark win in Derby Classic

When it comes to making important shots in clutch situations, future Kentucky basketball guard Jodie Meeks knows that he will be ready. "I practice every day some clutch situation so that when it happens I will be ready," said Meeks after the game.

When it comes to making important shots in clutch situations, future Kentucky basketball guard Jodie Meeks knows that he will be ready. "I practice every day some clutch situation so that when it happens I will be ready," said Meeks after the game. And the preparation showed as Meeks calmly stepped on the free throw line with one second remaining on the clock and hit two free throws in front of a hostile crowd, to send his "White" team to overtime, where they would eventually get the 118-106 victory over the dreaded, Louisville-infested "Black"team in the Kentucky Derby Classic.

High school all-star games, which are usually notorious for highlight-show dunks, minimal effort and virtually no defense, rarely have moments like what occurred on Saturday night. The White team, which was led by the amazing Lopez twins (Brook and Robin, both of whom are headed to Stanford), dominated the majority of the game, relying on inside-outside play with the perimeter scoring of Meeks and dominant post presence of the new Doublemint Gum spokesmen. However as the game came to a close, two Louisville signees, Edgar Sosa and Derrick Caracter decided to end their apprenticeship at the Derby Classic school of bricklaying and hit four key three-pointers which brought the game to the wire.

When future Duke signee and Black Team MVP Gerald Henderson, hit a running layup with twelve seconds to play, it looked as if the future Cats were headed for a difficult defeat. Enter Jodie Meeks. With two seconds to go and his team down two, Meeks drew an improbable foul on Jarvis Crittenton by throwing himself into Crittenton's body and releasing at just the right moment, causing Crittenton to grab his jersey and the referee to call a huge foul. Meeks drained the two clutch free throws, sent the game to overtime and watched as the Lopez boys put on a show, scoring at ease in an extra frame in which the Black team seemed completely disinterested.

Even though the outcome of the game was important to everyone (well, except maybe Edgar Sosa who commented that "he didn't care about winning the game") and the effort was intense, all eyes of the Big Blue faithful were on the Kentucky signees, none of who disappointed. Meeks was the most active of the players, scoring 17 points and showcasing a variety of moves and drives to the basket that were reminiscent of Keith Bogans. With a mature physical frame and a desire to draw contact while attempting to score, Meeks overcame an early air ball that led Louisville fans to taunt him, and quickly began scoring in bunches. However unlike most perimeter players in all-star games, Meeks' points did not come on uncontested jumpers, but rather on physical drives to the basket where he literally outworked his opponents. It was an impressive display and when combined with his outstanding defense, it showcased why Tubby Smith is so high on him.

Equally as impressive was the play of Derrick Jasper, who cemented his status as the point guard of Kentucky's future. Playing with four of his AAU teammates, Jasper showed his role as team leader, often not playing the point, but taking over leading the team once in the half court. His shooting was a bit inconsistent and he only finished with five points, however he had seven assists and a surprising eight rebounds, second on the team. What was most impressive about Jasper's performance was the way in which he attempted to get his teammates involved, imploring them to win and play with intensity, to counter the Black team's lackadaisical nature. The highlight of Jasper's night was not his performance in the dunk contest, where he whiffed on ten attempts at a jam, but came in a pickpocket steal of Sosa and a half-court lob to Brook Lopez for the dunk of the night.

Finally, there were a number of positives to be seen in the play of Perry Stevenson. With the forwards on Kentucky's team this past season showing a problematic inability to finish under the basket, Stevenson was able to show the opposite, scoring eight points, all on slam dunks. His length came into play as well, as he had three blocks and disrupted the shots of many of the Black Team's big men. The concern however still continues to be Stevenson's build. His frame is truly almost skeletal, comparing unfavorably to the thinnest of Kentucky players in the past, ranging from Tayshaun Prince to Jules Camara. His lack of heft hurt him inside and he found it very difficult to match-up with future Card, Derrick Caracter who was able to score over him on two occasions. Despite these concerns however, Stevenson showed great potential and even seemed to have a smooth outside shot, which can be of great use as he attempts to bulk up in his early years.

Thus all three future Cats showcased great physical skills that should make Big Blue fans excited, ranging from Meeks' scoring ability to Jasper's rebounding to Stevenson's length and quickness. But what was most impressive about the three young men was there competitiveness and desire in a game that often devolves into a showboating contest. While other players stepped all over each other to take the most shots or make the best highlight, the Kentucky players came to win. Future Stanford Cardinal player Brook Lopez said it best after the game when he said, "these guys going to Kentucky are all about winning and that is rare. That is why they will be good." That must be music to Cats fans' ears.

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