Will Jasper be the magic elixir for the Cats?

After not seeing the floor during the first ten games of the 2007-2008 season sophomore Derrick Jasper returned to the lineup in limited action one-week ago. On Monday he made a significant contribution in a thumping of Florida International. What does the return of Jasper mean to this Kentucky squad?

If nothing else the return of Derrick Jasper to the Kentucky lineup has improved the outlook of the team, and has provided the Wildcats with a fresh start as the Wildcats complete the out-of-conference portion of their schedule against the Louisville Cardinals today at Rupp Arena. Today's game will mark Jasper's third appearance of the season, and comes just over six months removed from a June microfracture procedure on his knee.

Jasper thought he would be back sooner, but a setback in December delayed his return to the lineup for several games. The Kentucky sophomore said, "I thought I was ready to come back before the UAB game, but I felt a sharp pain in my knee so it got pushed back a little. I just kept working as hard as I could and did the things that I could do during practice. I need to be able to go out and play my game and working hard everyday. I am really excited to play Louisville tomorrow."

Jasper is an experienced veteran for the Wildcats, which is something the team was short on when he and Jodie Meeks were both sidelined by injuries. Jasper is one of only four returning Kentucky players, along with Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley and Meeks, who averaged twenty minutes or more per game for the 2006-2007 squad.

The lanky guard sees himself as having a definite role on the current squad, and knows what contributions he can make to the team. "I think I bring a lot of energy and leadership to this team," said Jasper. "I know that this year I am more mature and come into this season ready to step into more of a leadership position."

During Jasper's recovery Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie praised the sophomore's ability to see all ten players on the floor. Gillispie said the ability to see all ten players is a trait great players possess. This is high praise for a player that averaged 3.9 points and 2.9 assists per game last season.

During the season the season the Cats have been plagued by an inability to take care of the ball, and an inability to pass the ball well. Jasper is seen as a player that can really aid the Wildcats in correcting these shortcomings.

Does the young man feel any pressure being back in the rotation?

"I don't really feel the pressure that much. This is a team sport and I have to be able to go out there and play as best as I can for my team and myself. I always want to get my teammates involved as much as I can. Coach Gillispie is a great coach. I have listened to him all season and tried to learn as much as I can in my role during practices."

On Monday against Florida International Jasper made a tremendous impact on the game. The game was perhaps the best performance by the Wildcats on the season, as the team displayed better ball and player movement, which led to improved offensive play. Defensively the Wildcats were able to limit their opponent by rebounding the ball much better, in part due to the ten boards that Jasper snared.

Following the appearance comments by Jasper's coach and teammates indicate that his presence in the lineup was a positive for the Wildcats.

Coach Gillispie said, "In my opinion Derrick was the most dominant player in the game today and he only took one shot. Derrick is not a savior, but he makes so many things so much easier for so many other players. That is what a great player does. Hopefully, he will continue with his good help and continue to keep a good outlook. He sees the game before it happens and understands how to count. The ball does not stick in his hands. He is still rusty obviously, but he is playing with a lot of confidence. Most importantly I think you can see the difference in the body language of the other players when he is on the court. I think it makes a big difference when he is on the court. I don't know how to explain it, but the guys just look so much more confident when he is on the court. He is a good player that is not looking to take his shot but takes good shots. I'm learning about him but he has not played enough yet to completely understand everything about how he plays. He will make some plays that can't need to be coached and I think that gives everyone confidence."

Comments by his teammates indicate that they have a lot of confidence in Jasper.

Senior Joe Crawford praised Jasper's decision-making said, "We don't have to worry much about him making bad decisions." Crawford added, "I had more energy just from having him out there."

Fellow sophomore Jodie Meeks spoke of what Jasper means to the team. "I think he does a great job carrying the ball. He is tall for a point guard and has long arms. He can really get in there and rebound and control the tempo of the game," said Meeks.

Today will be an excellent test for the Wildcats. Was the improved play against Florida International just a result of playing a team that was far inferior to the Wildcats? Or has the return of Jasper and his sophomore running mate Meeks helped this group of befuddled kittens become the Wildcats they must be in order to compete in the SEC?

In the words of former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, can Jasper be the "straw that stirs the drink" for this Kentucky squad?

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