Bledsoe's high school coach says UK making freshman backcourt work

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 15, 2010 

When Eric Bledsoe signed with Kentucky, his high school coach questioned whether the star point guard made a good decision. Maurice Ford, the coach at Parker High School in Birmingham, Ala., wondered aloud whether two freshman guards were too much for one team.

Could Bledsoe coexist with the more heralded John Wall? Or, maybe worse, would Bledsoe not get a chance to show what he could do until Wall fulfilled his one-and-done destiny by entering the 2010 NBA Draft?

Eight months and a half-season later, Bledsoe is ensconced as a starting guard. He's coming off a career-high 25 points at Florida and headed to a quasi-homecoming game at Auburn on Saturday.

Ford had to admit his player made a good college choice.

"It's working out all right," Ford said Thursday. "As long as he's happy, I'm happy."

As changes of opinions go, it sounded as weak as Florida's post-up game. Ford sounded like he still believed Bledsoe would have been better off as the floor leader for another team, but because the player is happy, the high school coach was willing to live with the situation.

"That's it, that's it," Ford said. "As I explained to him, he has to be there. Not me. He's the one that has to play. If he's happy, I'm happy."

The source of Bledsoe's happiness involves his status as a starting guard who plays off Wall, the Cats' point guard and a leading candidate for national player of the year. Florida concentrated on containing Wall, which freed Bledsoe to excel.

"He just likes playing," Ford said of Bledsoe's happiness. "He just wants to play. He's doing a good job, and he's having fun. The team is winning. So who wouldn't be happy? He's on the No. 2 team in the country. How could he not be happy?"

Ford, who speaks to Bledsoe regularly, noted how his former player and Wall have bonded as teammates. Bledsoe apparently has no problem living with Wall getting a lion's share of the credit for Kentucky's 17-0 start.

But the Parker High coach still bristles at what he sees and hears.

For instance, he took exception to ESPN commentator Dick Vitale referring to Bledsoe as a "diaper dandy" on the telecast of the Florida game.

"No, he was not," said Ford, who noted that Bledsoe was not selected to the McDonald's All-American team nor invited to the Jordan Classic.

"Nobody gave this kid the accolades," Ford said. "But I knew he could play."

Ford also disliked Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS recently writing that Kentucky could "put four schlubs from the Lexington YMCA alongside John Wall and they'd at least reach the Sweet Sixteen."

Of that hyperbole, Ford said, "That's a slap in the face of the other kids on the floor."

Coaches going against Kentucky include Bledsoe as a threat who must be considered in the game plan.

"Bledsoe's a terrific player," said Florida Coach Billy Donovan, who referred to UK's Wall-Bledsoe double-threat as a "two-headed monster."

Like all players, Bledsoe must make the adjustment from high school star (he led Parker to the Alabama 5A finals as a senior) to college contributor.

For Bledsoe and Wall, that adjustment includes learning to reduce turnovers. In talking to reporters after the Florida game, Bledsoe preferred to talk about how he and Wall combined for only five turnovers rather than his 25 points, five assists and three steals. The latter equaled a career high.

Besides his offensive gifts, Bledsoe has made a name for himself as a defender. UK Coach John Calipari has pointed out how Bledsoe volunteers to defend the opposition's top scorer.

"When Eric first came to me, that toughness wasn't where I wanted it to be," Ford said.

That sounded odd, given Bledsoe's self-admitted willingness to put up his dukes at a moment's notice.

"He was tough, per se," Ford said of Bledsoe, the high school player. "But he was just laid back with it."

Ford said he demands and gets a more demonstrative type of toughness from his players.

Meanwhile, Kentucky's season flows smoothly and Bledsoe plays well enough to spark speculation that, maybe, he should be placed with Wall and big man DeMarcus Cousins as possible one-and-done players for UK.

Ford acknowledged conversations with Bledsoe about the 2010 NBA Draft. But the Parker High coach wants his former star to stay at Kentucky.

Wall's presence this season could work in UK's favor next season.

"I want him to be the lead guard," Ford said. "I want him to play without John Wall. I want him to be out front."

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