Longing for lost leaders

John Clay
John Clay

Call them the departed duo.

Both quarterbacks.

Both missed.

More with each passing game.

Curtis Pulley got the boot on media day. A junior with notable athletic ability, Pulley was to be UK football's quarterback, or at least share the job with Mike Hartline.

But summer brought Pulley off-the-field problems, more than Rich Brooks could stand. So, on the very morning training camp began, the UK coach announced his QB had been dismissed from the squad.

Back to the drawing board went the football team.

Derrick Jasper left of his own accord. The California guard had limped through a struggle of a sophomore basketball season. His contributions were solid, but his knee was gimpy.

The off-season brought Jasper's spoken wish that he could play closer to home, take a year off, let his injury completely heal. Billy Gillispie jetted to the Left Coast to try to turn Jasper's mind back toward Lexington. No such luck.

Back to the drawing board went the basketball team.

To their credit, neither Brooks nor Gillispie has used his particular personnel loss as an easy excuse, but surely there is chagrin at what might have been.

Randall Cobb is a freshman find for the football Cats, no doubt, but you have to wonder where the Cats would be right now if Pulley was running and throwing at Cooper and Alumni rather than down south at Florida A&M.

Gillispie has at least a trio of shaky point guard choices for a team off to a turtle-paced 0-2 start, but you have to wonder where the hoop Cats would be if the calm, 6-foot-6 Jasper was running the point.

There's an old basketball saying: "If you don't have a point guard, you don't have anything."

And if you can't advance the basketball up the floor, or get into your offense, you don't have much either. Through two games, what Kentucky has is an astonishing 53 turnovers — 25 in the season-opening loss to Virginia Military Institute; 28 in the futile follow-up against top-ranked North Carolina on Tuesday.

So far, Gillispie's team has played a school picked to finish eighth in the Big South Conference (and lost by eight on UK's home floor), and a team picked to win the national championship (and lost by 19 on UNC's home floor).

November has been numbing.

Gillispie claimed Tuesday night that his Cats are not as far away from success as we might think. He praised the second-half play of freshman DeAndre Liggins. He appeared encouraged by Tuesday's second 20 minutes. He said improvement would be forthcoming.

But unless the basketball Cats can find a quarterback, the lingering lament will center on what might have been and who might have been here to do it.

Same on the football side, where the Cats' two league wins are one-point squeakers over Arkansas and lowly Mississippi State. After this Saturday's open date, UK travels to Tennessee in hopes of closing out the regular season by avoiding a last-place finish in the SEC East.

The record books won't show that the football squad lost its quarterback in August, or that the basketball team lost its point guard in July.

You play with what you have, not what you don't have.

Still, sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder.