Justin Miller, a 6-foot-7 forward out of Owensboro, walked off the basketball court tucked into the back corner of the Kentucky Basketball Academy on Tuesday. His gray shirt hung loose around his massive frame and sweat poured down his face, the result of an intense hourlong practice in preparation for this weekend's two-game series against Indiana in the All-Star Classic.
It was the first practice for the team of Kentucky All-Stars, and if the turnout was any indication of future success, Kentucky is in for a long weekend.
Out of a roster of 13 players, five were in attendance. One player, Kentucky Mr. Basketball Camron Justice, is not able to play because he is now a student-athlete at Vanderbilt, and the other missing players, such as Mr. Basketball finalist Matt Rose of Lexington Christian Academy, were tending to prior commitments. One player wasn't expected to show up until Thursday and two not until Friday, which is game day.
Despite the lack of cohesion and limited practice time together, Miller is confident about Kentucky's chances.
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"We have a bunch of shooters," he said. "We're pretty loaded, we should be all right."
History would disagree.
Indiana has dominated the series, defeating Kentucky 13 straight times. Last year's 111-99 win in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis capped off its sixth consecutive sweep.
"We have lost," said Brian Miller, president and CEO of the Bluegrass Sports Commission, the event organizer. "And it necessarily hasn't been as competitive."
That lack of success has contributed to attendance dwindling in the 75-year-old series. This year's games will be played Friday in the 2,500-seat arena at Transylvania University and on Saturday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Last year's game drew 1,700 in the Clive M. Beck Center and 6,250 in Indianapolis.
"We're playing this all-star game in June as opposed to late March, April or May when high school basketball and the Sweet Sixteen is still at the peak," Miller said about the lack of attention to the event.
However, history is a documentation of the past, and the future is defined by the actions of those in the present — a mindset that the coaches and the players are taking.
"They are an excellent group of guys as far as their character," Kentucky coach James Haire said. "I think they are a very competitive group of guys by nature, and if you have those things right there, everything will take care of itself."
The coaches hope that everything will take care of itself because the lack of practice time has hampered their ability to get a feel for their players.
"It kind of adds to it a little bit," Haire said. "The circumstances are the way that they are. Every kid who signs Division I the coaches want them on campus, which makes it difficult for them to come."
"It's always a hit," shooting guard Zach Patterson of Elizabethtown said. He played under Haire at Elizabethtown High School and knows the challenge this weekend will be tough.
"Indiana is always big," he said. "I've gone a couple years to watch the games and they've dominated us the past couple of years, but I think we'll give them a run for their money. I think we'll at least be competitive."
Another loss for Kentucky won't break many hearts, but a victory will do wonders for an event that a few years ago almost ceased to exist.
"I don't feel like we're going to lose," Miller said. "I don't like to lose."