men's notes

UK basketball notes: Walk-on Malone plays like he belongs

guard plays as though he belongs

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 26, 2011 

Kentucky's Sam Malone drove around Penn State forward Jonathan Graham last Saturday. Malone has six points in seven minutes this season. "He's not afraid," Coach John Calipari said.

MARK CORNELISON — Lexington Herald-Leader

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Five shots, two rebounds, one turnover and, much to the delight of Kentucky fans, six points in seven minutes suggest (shout?) that walk-on Sam Malone plays with a purpose.

"I just feel I have something to prove," he said on Friday. "... My dream was to get (recruiting) looks and play Division I ball."

Injuries curtailed that dream and tested Malone's resolve. As a high school player, he underwent surgeries to repair tears in an anterior cruciate ligament and then meniscus. Complications with the latter further delayed his return.

Perhaps most seriously, Malone then needed microfracture surgery, the procedure dreaded by players and, hitting home for UK fans, the repair that hobbled ex-Cat Derrick Jasper's career.

Malone plays with an obvious take-it-to-them attitude.

"He's not afraid," UK Coach John Calipari said.

Malone moves with confidence.

"Definitely," he said. "Whenever I'm on the court, that's my approach. I think I can play at this level. So I want to show I can play and I'm comfortable playing with these people."

Malone acknowledged that, upon arriving at UK this summer, he wondered whether he was in over his head. Now, he's more or less convinced he belongs.

"I feel I can play with these guys for the most part," he said before adding, "These are the best athletes in the country, for the most part, and I'm 5-11.

"I like to think, in my head, I can belong on the court with them."

Each Malone basket causes the UK bench to erupt in joy. "Neat to see," Calipari said. Malone called it the best part of scoring.

After Malone scored against Radford earlier this week, Calipari noted how the freshman has put in extra work. The UK coach said he arrived at his office late one night and found Malone shooting.

Noting that another walk-on, Brian Long, can use Malone as an example to follow, Calipari said, "Both have scored in a Kentucky uniform. The other (Malone) tries to score every time he gets the ball."

Though he doesn't get a regular turn in practices, Malone said he's eager to keep active. He regularly rides the exercise bicycle rather than simply stand and watch practice. This led assistant coach Orlando Antigua to dub him "Lance," as in Lance Armstrong.

"I don't think it's that funny," Malone said as reporters erupted in laughter.

Each of Malone's three baskets looked similar. A drive to his left and a left-handed layup banked off the glass. A lefty, he was asked where his right hand was.

"It's right here," he said, raising his right hand for laughing reporters to see. "I can go right, too."

When a reporter playfully suggested defenders might now try to force him to his right, Malone said, "I don't think they have a scouting report on me. I like that."

His family appreciated the significance of moving from the Boston area to play for Kentucky. "My family knew how crazy Big Blue Nation was," he said.

His friends did not share that sense of UK basketball.

"I was just going to play basketball at Kentucky," Malone said of his friends' reaction. "It's no big deal."

That changed.

"Now, they see me trending on Twitter," he said. " 'Oh my God.' "

Strength of schedule?

By playing Portland, UK completes what seems a two-game tune-up for competitions against St. John's and North Carolina next week. Calipari was not apologizing for the schedule.

"Last year, we played a ridiculous schedule," he said, "and they gave us a four-seed (in the NCAA Tournament). So none of that matters."

Two for one

Portland is returning the favor for UK playing the Pilots in the Rose Garden last season en route to Maui. Portland will play at UK again next season to complete the two-for-one deal.

This prompted Portland Coach Eric Reveno to quote a Japanese saying: In climbing Mount Fuji, a wise man does it once. A fool does it twice.

"Once may be enough," he said.

Four-and-done

Portland's two leading lights last season are playing overseas: Luke Sikma in Spain and Jared Stohl in Germany.

This led Reveno to note that his last nine players had played four seasons, earned their degrees and now play professionally overseas.

Portland touts guard Nemanja Mitrovic as a Player of the Year candidate in the West Coast Conference. Mitrovic has struggled with his shooting (35.6 percent overall, 29 percent from three-point range). Reveno cited how defenses can concentrate on Mitrovic now that Stohl is gone.

Reveno said Portland is more athletic, though younger and less experienced, than last season's team.

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