UK Men's Basketball

Gillispie lauds Lamar's quickness, maturity

You'd think Gardner-Webb and Virginia Military Institute cured anyone of a bias against mid-major teams.

But Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie noted a possible snooty attitude as he discussed his team's game against Lamar Wednesday night.

"Unless it's the SEC or ACC or Big 10 or Big 12, one of the major conferences, people don't give those teams enough respect," he said at a news conference Tuesday night.

In Gillispie's mind, Lamar, which enjoys its first 5-0 start to a season since 1997-98, deserves respect for at least two reasons: Quickness and experience.

The Cardinals enjoy an advantage over Kentucky in both. Lamar starts four seniors. Against a team like Kentucky, which starts no seniors and a point guard of limited starting experience, that's a factor.

"When it's 18 (years old) against 22, there's a difference," Gillispie said. "It's a really good team because of experience."

Two undersized, but quick senior guards lead Lamar, which began the season with nine returning players from a 19-11 team. Injuries have reduced the Cardinals to seven healthy scholarship players, not that Coach Steve Roccaforte is complaining.

"They know what the drill is," Roccaforte said of his veteran players.

Guards Kenny Dawkins and Brandon McThay lead Lamar. Each is only 5-foot-9, but both can be productive individually and in the team concept.

Gillispie compared Dawkins to South Carolina point guard Devan Downey, an all-Southeastern Conference pick last season.

"Kind of like Downey of South Carolina," the UK coach said before adding, "We definitely couldn't guard him last year.

"(Dawkins is) quick, and he's really good with the ball. Both can score off the bounce and off the catch."

Lamar is not tiny inside. Jay Brown goes 6-8 and 250, teammate Tristan Worrell 6-7, 240.

Gillispie called quickness, "major, I mean major," as a factor in any game.

UK's leading scorer, Jodie Meeks, conceded that quickness can be a difficult quality to combat. VMI used its quickness to great effect in beating Kentucky.

"Kind of tough," said Meeks, who then aborted an attempt to note the short shelf life of quickness in a game. "Once you're in a flow of game and warmed up (pause) it's still pretty tough the whole game."

After watching two games on tape, Meeks needed no more convincing of the quality of Lamar's guards.

"It's going to be challenging for us to keep them out of the lane," he said.

Meeks expressed confidence in UK's ability to compete with quickness, while stressing the need to get off to a good start against Lamar.

As Meeks explained it, a good start by VMI and Kentucky's slow start contributed to that opening-night surprise.

"It gave them confidence they could play like that the whole game," he said.

Big man Patrick Patterson suggested that the challenge of playing against smaller, quicker opponents can be good preparation for future games. But he conceded that it wasn't his favorite cup of tea.

"As a big man, you always prefer playing against big guys so you can bang down low," Patterson said.

Lamar likes to run and pressure. Those are other qualities that suggest a competitive game.

"We'd like to," Roccaforte said. "That's our style regardless of who we're playing."

But, the Lamar coach added, his team has shown an ability to compete in a slower, half-court game.

Roccaforte and Gillispie are friends dating back to the late 1980s when Roccaforte, then an assistant at Centenary, tried unsuccessfully to recruit a high school player coached by Gillispie.

Roccaforte recalled a recent conversation with Gillispie. "Billy told me, 'You're not supposed to be 5-0,'" Roccaforte said of the light-hearted conversation.

Roccaforte's response? "I started laughing," he said.

But to Lamar's veteran players, this game is no joke.

"They really don't like people saying what they can and can't do," Roccaforte said. "They're not easily intimidated. They're close. They play hard, and they're tough.

"... I'd be surprised if we don't come out and really compete and play."