Sports

Mark Story: Meeks showing marks from being marked man

Jodie Meeks, meet the yin and yang of 54.

There is a flip side to blowing up on ESPN, dropping 54 points on Rocky Top and becoming the nation's most talked-about college basketball player.

In the words of an old-school hoops sage — Olivia Newton-John — foes are now going to get physical, phy-si-cal, with the scalding-hot Kentucky guard.

Meeks saw his new life in full Wednesday night when he tried to rise for a three-point jump shot against Auburn only to be bulldozed under by defender Frankie Sullivan.

During what became an intense 73-64 UK win, Auburn jostled Meeks when he came off picks, bodied him when he attempted to drive and tried to have a man in his face no matter where Meeks went on the floor.

"Obviously, we didn't ever want to leave Meeks," said Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo.

One might say the Tigers tried to inflict bruises on Rhythm.

You have to think more of that is headed Meeks' way.

"This was the most physical anyone has played him in the SEC," Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson said of Auburn's defense on his roommate. "We expected that after Tennessee. Jodie knows that's coming."

Back in the long-ago basketball season of 1984-85, Kenny Walker experienced something of the treatment Meeks likely has ahead of him.

That year, UK's problem wasn't that, like now, it had only two reliable scorers.

Then, Joe B. Hall's team had only one dependable shot-maker — Walker averaged 22.9 points for a team with no other double-figure scorer.

By mid-season, defenses were banging on Walker like Ray Lewis now pounds on running backs. The former UK star still has vivid memories of the beating an LSU strongman named Jose Vargas used to apply.

"That guy had the hardest elbows ever," Walker says.

One advantage Meeks has over Walker is that, as a perimeter player, it will not be as easy for defenders to muscle him as it was an inside player.

"In that sense, I identify with what Patrick goes through more," Walker said of UK's current inside scorer.

Still, Walker has some advice for Meeks.

"You have to be able to keep your composure and not let that stuff bother you," Walker said. "Mentally, you have to stay on top of yourself. Not take plays off, not get frustrated."

Billy Gillispie's famously rigorous practices, Walker says, should be uniquely well-suited to prepare Meeks (and Patterson) for what coming opponents are likely to bring.

The good news for Kentucky is that, as well and as tough as Auburn played Meeks, the UK junior still hit the Tigers for 31 points.

If the "D" bothered Meeks at all, it was that he sometimes seemed in such a rush to get open, he hurried his way into five of UK's 22 turnovers.

"When I was a freshman, that stuff might have gotten in my head a little bit," Meeks said of Auburn's physical play. "But if teams play physical, you just have to accept that and not let it take you out of your game. I think I can do that."

His teammates think so, too.

If going smash-mouth with Meeks as a means to knock him off his game is what future UK foes plan to do, "that's a bad idea," said UK forward Perry Stevenson. "I've seen him get upset before when guys try that stuff. He'll light you up on both ends of the floor."

Still, when a player has had six games of 30 or more points, has a 46-point game and a 54-point game and is averaging 26 a game, one can't exactly blame defenders for trying to bring the lumber.

You gotta do something.

Says Walker: "The way Jodie is going, every kid in America doesn't want to get embarrassed and get on ESPN the way a lot of the kids from Tennessee did."

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