Rick Robey, one of No. 1-ranked Kentucky's top players , lasted about 30 seconds Monday night against Georgia, before coach Joe B. Hall yanked him and gave him a severe tongue lashing.
Robey was guilty of not putting the porper defensive pressure on his man and letting him score the game's first two points. "He (Hall) warned us before the game that the first one of us who didn't front his man down low would be yanked right out of there," Robey said. "Coach doesn't joke about things like that."
Later, with Kentucky ahead by 20 points midway through the first half, James lee's opponent grabbed an offensive rebound after a missed Georgia free throw. Hall jumped off the bench and yelled. "Who's got thatman?" Before Lee could answer, he too was on the bench seated next to Hall.
Properly reprimanded, both players eventually returned to the game. Their mistakes were not repeated.
That is Hall's way of teaching basketball and making it sink in. And it is one reason that Kentucky is 15-1 and No. 1 in the nation.
"I stay on them to do right," Hall said. "and I treat my players like I do my family. If my kid does something wrong, I owe it ot him to get on him than and there about it.
"I'll discipline my players in front of the team but I won't do it in public, unless it's in a game. When I take a gut out of a game for making a mistake it's to let him to know that I'm going to let him play t'at way," Hall added.
"He'll get on you all right," said leading scorer Jack Givens, "but it's not personal. It took me a while to learn that."
In spite of having been ranked No. 1 all season, Kentucky is not possessed with as much individual talent as one might assume. The wildcats don't have much flair and they aren't exciting to watch most of the time. But they are well-coached, disciplined, big and strong and get the most out of what they have.
What they seem to ahve most of is muscle.
Given and Kyle Macy, a transfer from Purdue who runs the Kentucky offense, are finesse players, both capable of going one on one with practically anyone. But the rest of the team does not have high individual skills and as a result Hall teaches discipline with emphasis on defense and inside strength.
"We started from day one talking defense," Hall said. "It makes go and helps us sompensate for not having the super players. We arn't real quick, but we play an agrgressive man-to-man defense bump people around.
"Most people don't like to get bumped around that's why we get called overly physical, dirty, karate experts and things like that, we're not dirty, just tough.
"If you think we're tough during the games, you should see us practice," said assistant ciach Leonard Hamilton.
The 6-5 Givens, who needs only 52 points to pass Kevin Grevey as the second-leading scorer in Kentucky history, says he has been trying his entire career to be more physical.
"Being physical is just a part of our gane," Givens said, "but we don't go out to hurt people. We loke to body check cuttrs through the lane and we want to bother people as much as we can. We have the power, but we use it in a constructive manner."
That was well illustrated in the Georgia game. The Bulldogs started 6-10, 6-7 to front line and came out ready to knock heads.
It was no contest.
Kentucky went into its over-playing man-to-man defense and the Georgia offense was pushed so far away from the basket that all the shots looked forced. The Bulldogs quickly became frustrated.
The object of Kentucky's defense is to make ecery pass difficult. The Wildcats push, lean, grab, bump and generally play an aggressive bcakalley game. There is no malice intended and they don't complain when fouls are called."They aren't dirty, they just don't let you have anything without giving up an arm and a leg," said Geogia's 6-10 Lucius Foster. "Hey that's how you are supposed to play the gaem."
Kentucky lets Macy brings the ball up court and direct the offense. Given plays forward and roams side to side, as does the other guard, Truman Claytor.
The big men, 6-10 Mike Phillips and 6-10 Robey, go from a high-low post to a double-low post and do numerous things underneath.
When Hall wants more defense he calls on 6-6 Lavon Williams. If he wants offense or more muscle, the call goes out to 6-5, 230-pound Lee. Lee, who went to Henry Clay High School in Lexington, is the crowd favorite. Whenever an opposing player becomes too aggressive for their liking, the Kentucky followers yell, "Get him James."
Lee is built in the mold of Gene Upshaw of the Oakland Raiders and he often plays like a pullig guard.
One drive from the corner against Georgia was typical Lee. He faked to the base line and drove to his left straight at the basket. Georgia's Lavon Mercer grabbed one of Lee's arms. Curtis Jackson grabbed the other and Foster bodyblocked him. Lee never flinched and wasn't so much as thrown slightly off balance as he softly laid the ball in and walked to the three-throw line with a sly smile on his face.
Mercer, Jackson and Foster resembled the three stooges as they looked at each other.
An illustration of the balance of Kentucky: Givens is the leading score with an 18-point average and four other players, Robey,Phillips, Macy and Lee are averaging in double figures.
The Wildcats are shooting better than 53 oercent and have outscored oppoenents by an average of 17 points a game.
The only Kentucky defeat this season was a 78-62 setback at Alabama last week. Hall was upset that his team played so poorly, but said he expected all along "to lose several games."
"We just aren't that superior to the rest of the teams in the Southeastern Conference," He said.
"The Alabama loss probably helped us," the coach added. "Everything wascoming so easy for us that we started geting lazy. That loss showed us we are not invincible."
Only a couple of changes have been made from last season's Kentucky team, which lost to North Carolina in the NCAA east regional but won 26 of 30 games. Sophomore Jay Shidler was the playmaker last year. But he broke his foot during the preseason and Macy stepped in and hasnt left.
Claytor took over the graduated Larry Johnson's spot at the other guard and the rest of the lineup ithe same Lee is the sixth man.
Macy is the player Hall had been looking for. "He gives us a lot of poise and he's an excellent outside shooter," Hall said. "He has opened up our offense. We'd soon he take the outside shot as Robey or Phillips the inside one.
"We arn't executing in some situation the way I want us to," Hall added. "I don't know if we deserve to be No.1, but I do know it dosen't mean a heck of a lot. . . yet."