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What gives? Jasper, selflessly

Date story published: Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Derrick Jasper got an angle on the defender and drove purposefully to the basket. With a lightly contested layup there for the taking, he turned away from the basket at the last instant and practically handed the ball to freshman Patrick Patterson.

Patterson, who was standing behind Jasper, scored.

"I was just trying to get Pat involved a little bit," Jasper said. "He had been kind of down during the game playing against another good post player. I was trying to give him some confidence."

Jasper filled Kentucky's 92-49 rout of Florida International on Monday with thoughtful playmaking. Rarely has such a holiday mismatch contained a more generous individual performance.

"Derrick, in my opinion, was the most dominant player in the game," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said before adding, "and he took one shot."

Jasper, whose season's debut came in a laboring 14-minute stint against San Diego on Saturday, got the call early and often against Florida International. After turnovers on two of the first three possessions, Gillispie inserted Jasper at the 18:17 mark of the first half. The UK coach was even quicker on the trigger in the second half, sending in Jasper 34 seconds into the action.

What microfracture knee surgery June 16?

Jasper handed out five assists, equaled a career-high of 10 rebounds, blocked a shot, made a steal and hit his only shot (a three-pointer, no less, his first since Feb. 17). He played guard (where he again showed his knack for feeding the post decisively and effectively). He played power forward (where he set up more than one open shot with passes from the baseline).

"Derrick's not the savior or anything like that," Gillispie said. "But he makes so many things so much easier for so many others. And that's what a great player does."

After taking a pass from Patterson in the low post, Jasper declined an open three-pointer from the top of the key to pass to Jodie Meeks on the right side. Meeks swished his shot, one of a career-high five three-pointers en route to a 21-point afternoon (which equaled a career high).

Jasper's pass set up the three-pointer that enabled Ramel Bradley to become the 55th UK player to reach 1,000 career points. Bradley led Kentucky with 22 points.

On another penetrating drive, Jasper leaped off the floor, looked left and then passed straight ahead to Patterson for a layup.

"He sees the game before it happens," Gillispie said of Jasper, "and he understands how to count (translation: knows where all players are positioned) and the ball does not stick in his hands."

Surely most importantly, Jasper's belated but much anticipated contributions infused UK with a can-do spirit going forward.

"You can see a difference in the body language in players when he's out there ... ," Gillispie said. "He's going to be a ball mover. He'll go get it and he'll make some play you can't coach. I think that gives everybody confidence."

Kentucky (6-6) spoke confidently.

"Derrick takes a lot of the pressure off everyone because he's so unselfish," Bradley said. "He rebounds. He pushes the ball. He finds open guys. He does that and we just have to worry about spotting up and knocking down open shots."

Kentucky made 11 three-pointers, one shy of the season high of 12 against UAB.

"I was out there with a lot more energy just having him out there," said Joe Crawford, who contributed 11 points. "He doesn't make bad decisions. He's strong with the ball. He makes good passes. Having another person out there who can handle the ball gave me more energy and Ramel more energy."

Jasper again wore a bulky black brace on his left knee. But unlike against San Diego, when he gasped for breath despite playing only 14 minutes, he moved around the court against Florida International more smoothly. And the 28 minutes were more than he'd played in all but four games last season.

When asked to explain, Jasper shrugged and said, "I think it's adrenalin."

He's not yet fully comfortable with wearing the brace. And UK's trainers are working to strengthen the thigh muscles on his left leg. He wore a large bag of ice on the knee as he spoke to reporters. "Just a weird, unpredictable process," he said of the rehabilitation from microfracture surgery, a procedure that typically sidelines players for a year or more. "I just told myself I need to try to get back earlier to help my team. I really wanted to be out there and compete."

Kentucky, off to its worse start since 1989-90, welcomed him back enthusiastically.

"He's an emerging player for us," Gillispie said. "He's played in two games and made a major difference in both of them."