Date story published: Wednesday, November 30, 2005
When Kentucky played at Vanderbilt two years ago, a sheet of insults distributed to the student section included this punch line about Brandon Stockton: Resident Oompa Loompa.
Yes, it's well established that Stockton is short at 5-foot-9, although he'd surely post up any worker in Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. And walk-on Preston LeMaster has been so low profile, he didn't rate a mention on Vanderbilt's page of insults.
In helping Kentucky beat High Point 75-55 last night, Stockton showed that good things can come in small packages.
And LeMaster reminded UK fans that he can contribute steady relief on occasion.
Steadiness by the seldom-used backups delighted UK Coach Tubby Smith, who noted the "big lift" his low-profile substitutes provided.
Stockton's five points were one shy of the career-high he scored against Liberty on Friday. His three assists and two steals equaled career bests.
"It feels real good," Stockton said of the first time he's scored in back-to-back games since Dec. 14 and 19 in 2003. "Coach always says to play within the system. I think I've been around long enough to know what Coach wants."
LeMaster didn't score, but his seven minutes were a career-high, and came with UK trying to break free from High Point.
When asked about Stockton, Smith said, "He gave us a lot of poise and a lot of stability. He's under control. He got us in our offense. He didn't try to do too much. He distributes the ball to the open man. He knows the system."
Stockton and LeMaster were on the floor when Kentucky broke the game open midway through the second half.
Kentucky (5-1), going into Saturday's game against North Carolina, led 34-30 at halftime. No doubt the comfort level for UK was as small as the margin.
The 2-2 score more than four minutes into the game typified its uneven start.
High Point missed its first five shots and eight of its first nine. Yet the Panthers trailed only 6-2 thanks to UK's 3-for-9 start.
"Yeah, he was pretty upset," Patrick Sparks said of Smith's halftime mood. "It was understandable. We started out a little sluggish."
High Point (3-2) reduced UK's lead to 48-39 seconds after Stockton and LeMaster entered the game. Four minutes later, the Cats led 57-41 thanks, in part, to a memorable full-court drive by Stockton down the right side. About 30 feet from the basket, he lost a defender by faking toward the center of the court and went on in for a layup.
"Inside-out," Stockton called his evasive action. "It's a dribble move we work on in practice every day."
As pretty as the play was, Stockton preferred a three-pointer he hit a few minutes earlier to start a 16-3 run.
"I'd missed my first two," he said. "So it felt good to make that one."
UK didn't take a double-digit lead for good until Stockton hit that three-pointer with 12:29 left. It put the Cats ahead 51-39 and started the 16-3 run.
Stockton has patiently waited for four seasons to make an impact.
"He epitomizes what college players are supposed to be about," Smith said of Stockton. "Get an education. Be part of something special. Sacrifice."
Along the way, Stockton brushed aside doubts that he could play at Kentucky's level and insults like the Vandy student's Oompa Loompa reference.
Stockton acknowledged his patience wavered "a couple times." But he was philosophical.
"That's part of basketball," he said. "It's an up-and-down thing. You have to learn to balance it."
He denied that his back-to-back contributions against Liberty and High Point helped his self-esteem.
"I don't think my self-esteem has been down at all," he said. "I've always been an 'up' guy."