Galloway ready to fill point guard void

Junior college transfer Kevin Galloway hopes to be the air that fills Kentucky’s vacuum at point guard this coming season.

Galloway sees opportunity. Now he wants to seize that opportunity.

“Oh yeah, I see a big opportunity,” he said last week.

Derrick Jasper’s transfer to UNLV muddled Kentucky’s point guard position. With Ramel Bradley’s eligibility expired, Jasper became the logical person to assume the responsibility. UK needed Jasper bad enough for Coach Billy Gillispie to travel west to try to talk the player into staying.

That possibility gone, Kentucky turns to Galloway and incoming freshman DeAndre Liggins as presumptive point guards.

Steve Gosar, who helped coach Galloway at the College of Southern Idaho last season, says the Cats will be in good hands if Galloway plays the position.

“He’s the best passer I’ve been around,” Gosar said of Galloway. “He really sees the court. And he’s a very unselfish player. He always had four happy players around him.”

At 6-foot-6, Galloway has unusual size for a point guard. He can see over defenders, Gosar said.

That size is also a potential liability. Some recruiters told Galloway he was too tall to play the point and would be better suited on the wing.

“I couldn’t guard the small guards and stuff,” Galloway said of the doubts.

By contrast, Gillispie the recruiter expressed his confidence in Galloway as a point guard.

“That was a big key,” the player said of his recruitment. “Because most guys feel I didn’t have a chance at the position. Coach Gillispie had his trust in me.

“I know he will push me to the limit and make me the best person I can be. ... He’ll push me to get in shape and get me ready to go. He said I could play defense and guard the smallest guy to the tallest guy. He liked that versatility.”

Jasper also had the size advantage on most point guards. Alas, Galloway shares another attribute with the former UK player: an inconsistent jump shot.

“If one thing is his weakness, it’s shooting,” Gosar said. “I know he continues to work on it. He definitely makes up for it.”

Galloway compensates with rebounds, passes and fast-break sprints.

“Like an explosion out of there,” Gosar said. “You’re in conversion right away.”

Gosar expressed confidence that Galloway, who played at Southern California for a season before going to junior college, can do those things at Kentucky’s level.

“I tell you, Kevin is a high-level player,” the Southern Idaho coach said. “He really is. It’ll be a transition. But if one player can do it, it’s Kevin.”

Galloway began that transition this summer by spending time in Lexington. The experience, which included pickup games with UK players, gave him confidence he can play at the elite level.

“I feel I can get a lot better just playing with these guys,” Galloway said. “Just the competition, playing against each other, is going to make all of us better.”

Ole Miss commits

Kentucky is hardly the only school looking to improve its athletic facilities. At the other end of the Southeastern Conference basketball spectrum, Mississippi has broken ground on a new practice facility it plans to open in the fall of 2009.

“I think it’ll do wonders for the image of the program,” Coach Andy Kennedy said. “One of the things we have to obviously overcome is tradition. We’ve had moments, but it hasn’t been sustained.”

Ole Miss has a league-worst .365 SEC winning percentage (424-739).

In Kennedy’s mind, the new practice facility ($12 million, 51,000 square feet) makes a statement about basketball’s importance to Ole Miss.

“It speaks to the commitment of our administration,” he said. “Its willingness to give our kids everything they need to have a chance to be successful.”

Kennedy spoke of the practice facility being a recruiting tool. He expects it will give the program the look of a place where NBA dreams can be fulfilled.

“All (the players) want to go to the next level,” he said. “The practice facility speaks to that commitment of giving the necessary tools to have a chance at that goal.”

Kennedy noted that the practice facility will allow Ole Miss to avoid a conflict on the first day of practice each season (Oct. 17 this year). The NCAA allows workouts to begin at 7 p.m. But with the men’s and women’s teams sharing the Tad Smith Coliseum, one must choose a late-night practice or simply wait till the next day.

Downward spiral?

Kentucky taking a step toward building a new basketball arena evoked memories of then-Georgia coach Hugh Durham commenting on a similar UK idea in 1991.

Durham, who grew up a Cats fan in Louisville, had figured out Kentucky’s home-court advantage: Visiting teams won at a slightly better percentage as UK moved into newer arenas.

“If you look, you’ll see they had a little more success at Alumni Gym,” Durham said, launching into a half-serious, half-kidding soliloquy on an SEC teleconference. “They maybe had two or three percentage points less success in Memorial Coliseum. And two or three percentage points lower — but still in the high 80s or low 90s — in Rupp Arena.

“So,” Durham concluded, “basically what the rest of the league has to look forward to is four or five men’s basketball facilities down the road. Kentucky may lose a reasonable number of home games, if the pattern continues. A new arena goes to 30,000. Goes to 50,000. Once it gets to 75,000, who knows? They might only win 80 percent of their games.”

Then-UK coach Rick Pitino played along by expressing his support for a 75,000-seat arena.

The numbers supported Durham’s tongue-in-cheek observation. UK won 91.1 percent of its games in Alumni Gym (247-24), 89 percent of its games in Memorial Coliseum (306-38) and now 88.5 percent of its games in Rupp Arena (415-54).

Gillispie tours state

UK Coach Billy Gillispie became part Johnny Appleseed, part Johnny Jumpshot recently as he staged a number of basketball clinics around the state.

The Paintsville Herald reported on a stop in its city.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Gillispie told the newspaper. “It’s good for everyone. I know the kids are having a good time. ... We’re doing it on a small scale now, but it’s going to get bigger and, eventually, we’re going to try to do it in every part of Kentucky that we can.”

The initial camp kicked off in Ashland. After stops in Hazard and Paintsville, the camp tour concluded in Madisonville.

“The Wildcats mean so much to everyone,” Gillispie told The Paintsville Herald. “You don’t have to be a grown person to have a love for the Wildcats, I think you’re born with it in this state. ...

“There are so many fans in Eastern Kentucky who may not get the chance to see the Wildcats play, and we want to get out here and touch everybody we can and make every opportunity available to them that could be a life-changing experience to everyone.”

14-year-old commits

It’s not just basketball that sees ever-younger prospects make college commitments. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that a 14-year-old hockey player committed to Wisconsin.

Jordan Schmaltz will be a high school freshman when class resumes next month. The earliest he’ll take the ice is the 2012-13 season.

As the Journal-Sentinel story noted: The Badgers began showing interest in Schmaltz after he attended a national elite camp in May, and they offered him a scholarship earlier this month.

“I just felt I really liked the campus and I really liked the coaches as well,” said Schmaltz, who is 6-foot-1 and 150 pounds.

Schmaltz’s commitment is part of a trend of college prospects being offered and accepting scholarships at younger ages.

UK basketball is becoming synonymous with early commitments. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story noted eighth-grader Michael Avery’s commitment to the Cats earlier this year.

That led the National Association of Basketball Coaches to ask its members to stop offering scholarships to players who haven’t yet begun the 10th grade.

The American Hockey Coaches Association has not taken a stance on the issue.

100th anniversaries

Two SEC schools will celebrate 100 years of basketball this season.

Louisiana State, which will be playing a whopping 21 home games this season, will celebrate 100 years of basketball in conjunction with a home game against Arkansas on Jan. 31.

That’s 100 years and one day after the first intercollegiate sanctioned game by LSU.

The school will also ask fans to vote for an all-century team.

New coach Trent Johnson has embraced the program’s tradition and worked to make former players feel welcome.

Tennessee will also celebrate 100 seasons of basketball. The Vols staged special nights in conjunction with Kentucky games the past two seasons (tributes to Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld).

But the UK game this season won’t be suitable for such a celebration. It falls on a Tuesday night. Tennessee wants a weekend game when more former players can return.

Don’t ask-Don’t tell

UK has something of a don’t ask-don’t tell policy concerning player eligibility issues. The school will announce that a player has failed to gain eligibility. But if a high-profile player (aren’t all UK basketball players high profile?) gains eligibility, the program wants the media (and more importantly the fans) to wait until Midnight Madness to know whether the player is on the team.

Although UK cites concerns about student privacy laws, other schools are more forthcoming with their fans.

When the NCAA Eligibility Center cleared Arkansas freshman guard Courtney Fortson last week, the school not only confirmed the good news, but it also released a comment from Coach John Pelphrey.

“We are very excited about Courtney as a student-athlete,” Pelphrey said in the statement. “This is great news, but we never really anticipated any problems. There was a process he had to go through. It took some time, but he and his family did all the right things. We are looking forward to having Courtney as a Razorback.”

Fortson was Alabama’s Mr. Basketball in 2007 after averaging 23.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.2 steals at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery.

Last year, he played at The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., and averaged 25.0 points, 7.0 assists and 6.0 steals on a team finishing 33-1.

Several other SEC schools said they would not make a media event out of a player gaining eligibility, but would confirm the news.

Nick the Greek

Florida sophomore-to-be Nick Calathes played in the European Under-20 championships for Greece this summer. He averaged 11.2 points, 3.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals.

Happy birthday

To UK basketball’s Man Friday, Van Florence. He turns 62 on Tuesday.

Formally and informally, Florence has filled a number of roles for UK athletics: president of the Committee of 101 service organization, director of major gifts (a position created to help fund-raising for the basketball practice facility), executive director of the UK Basketball Museum, ramrod for basketball coaches’ charitable foundations and the basketball program’s general gofer/confidant/public liaison beginning with the Joe B. Hall era.

When asked last week how he felt with 62 fast approaching, Florence said, “Like I’m 102.”

He’s had enough medical problems and surgeries to listen to his doctor’s advice to slow down. After 2008-09, which will complete 30 years with the Committee of 101, Florence will probably retire.