Kyle Macy, the clever guard who may be the most valuable player on Kentucky's No. 1-ranked college basketball team, nearly collapsed on a week knee yesterday during a workout for tonight's NCAA Mideast Regonal.
Tonight's first game sends Michigan State and its freshman star, Earvin (Magic) Johnson, against a Western Kentucky team that has played well ever since its coach, Jim Richards, said he would quit at season's end.
Then Kentucky takes its 26-2 record against Miami of Ohio, the surprise conquerors of Marquette, last year's national champions.
Coming down from a jump shot early in the workout, Macy flinched in pain and then limped slowly off the court. At one point his left knee buckled and he almost fell. An elastic bandage was wrapped around the knee and Macy than continued the workout without incident, running at three-quarter speed.
Macy said it was nothing to worry about. "I hurt it two days ago," he said. "Somebody stepped on me. It's still . . . a little weak."
Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall said, "Damn right I'm worried. Wouldn't you be worried if the Kentucky Derby was the next day and Secretariat scuffed up his shin?"
Macy's value to Kentucky lies not so much in his scoring, though he averages 13 points a game, but in his control of the offense. He sets up plays and moves the ball to the scorers. With 162 assists, he has broken the school record by 19.
"I just have to warm up the knee better first," he said. "It won't bother me."
Even at three-quarter speed, Macy can do the things he must for this Kentucky team. The larger worry, according to senior forward Ricky Robey, is the patience and intelligence of Miami.
"We're going to have to play an error-free game," said Robey, at 6-foot-10 the team's leading rebounder (8.3) and second-best scorer (14.7). "And we have to make sure wee don't play at their tempo.
While most obvservers think Miami's best hope for a second straight upset is to slow the game, Miami Coach Darrell Hedric hinted it might become a footrace.
"We've been a fast-breaking team and we'll continue to be," said Hedric. "When Kentucky has those big people in the lineup (Robey and 6-10 Mike Philips) we'll try to go on them."
Such talk may be a diversionary tactic. Miami may use the break, but not often. It has scored more than 80 points in only eight games en route to its 19-8 record. In contrast, Kentucky has topped 80 points 17 times.
Physically, Miami is no match for Kentucky. Its center, Bill Lake, is 6-11 but he averages only 2.6 rebounds and 4.9 points a game. Those numbers are matched by Kentucky's seventh-best big man, a 6-11 freshman. Miami's forwards are 6-6 and 6-5.
"It has to be our quickness against their size," Hedric said.
But what, coach, can you do about Kentucky's overwhelming size advantage?
"We'll go to church and say a Hail Mary," Hedric said.
Michigan State (24-4) figures to have too many good players, including the 6-7 guard Johnson, for Western Kentucky, whose 16-13 record includes nine victories in the 14 games since Richards announced his resignation.
Jud Heathcote, the State coach who gained a tiny measure of immortality this season with his observation that he "could count the top five teams in the country on the fingers of one hand," said of Johnson, "He's not Superman, but some people in East Lansing think he's the reincarnation of the messiah and everything he touches turns gold."