UK Men's Basketball

Mashburn makes return to Rupp

His duties as an ESPN analyst brought former Kentucky All-American Jamal Mashburn back to Rupp Arena for the first time since the school retired his No. 24 jersey.

"No particular reason," Mashburn said of his absence before UK beat Drexel 88-44 Monday night. "Just busy with life (and) busy with business."

Mashburn, who lives in the Miami area, is the father of two. Daughter Taylor, 13, wears No. 24 for her middle school team.

"She's much more physical than me," Mashburn said. "She uses up all her fouls."

Son, Jamal Jr., 8, goes by the nickname "J." "Because of his wicked jump shot," Mashburn said with a laugh.

Mashburn looks back fondly on his playing career for Kentucky. With UK on probation and banned from post-season play the following season, Mashburn took a chance signing with the Cats.

Then-coach Rick Pitino and his NBA background were the reasons. "What he was selling had to be his honesty," Mashburn said.

From the beginning, Pitino inspired Mashburn to greatness. The coach said the star recruit would become one of the best players ever at UK. Quite a statement to make after the freshman's first pre-season scrimmage.

The bold statement sailed over Mashburn's head.

"Coming from New York City, I didn't realize the tradition," he said. "It was a high honor. But a the time, being 17 or 18, it didn't register."

Thanks largely to Mashburn, Pitino quickly resurrected UK's program. As a sophomore, Mashburn led UK to the gut-wrenching crash landing in the Christian Laettner game against Duke in the 1992 NCAA Tournament East Region.

Mashburn led UK to the 1993 Final Four, where the Cats lost to Michigan in the national semifinals.

"Even though I didn't win a national championship, I always felt I did," Mashburn said.

UK Coach John Calipari saluted Mashburn as the key player — "the separator" — who was the key to Rick Pitino's rebuilding project.

"He was the guy who got the program going," Calipari said. "He didn't win a (national) championship, but he carried that team."

Mashburn spoke to the UK team before the Drexel game. His message: Stay unified and support each other come what may.

His crowning achievement was to establish the Jamal Mashburn Scholarship, which continues to go to area high school students.

It might be a while before Mashburn returns to Rupp Arena, but a prolonged absence should not be seen as a statement.

"Kentucky always felt right," he said, noting that he met his wife and experienced the birth of their daughter here. "But you don't want to wear out your welcome. I was always conscious of that. Some guys can take advantage of their notoriety. People can get tired of what they're talking about."

1 p.m. start?

From the man-bites-dog file, television did not dictate the 1 p.m. start for UK's home game against Long Beach State on Wednesday.

Spokesman DeWayne Peevy said that the UK basketball team requested the early-afternoon start. Now the players can get home for Christmas on Wednesday night, thus giving them extra time with loved ones before reporting back to UK for practice on Saturday night.

Long Beach State agreed to the early start time for the same reason. Now the visitors can get back to the West Coast on Wednesday night.

Calipari's Memphis team had an early start in its last game before Christmas last season.

Title next goal

Freshman Jon Hood, a native of Madisonville, noted the importance of getting to 2,000 victories first. But he acknowledged that there's limits on the significance of the achievement.

"I wouldn't say it's life and death," he said. "I'd take a national championship over 2,000 wins any day of the week. I think anyone would."

National championship ambitions take center stage now.

"We're on our way to a national championship," Hood said. "That's what we want. We're working toward that."

Etc.

The 44-point victory marked UK's most lopsided game since beating Tennessee State 102-58 on Dec. 22, 2008. ... Eric Bledsoe injured his right ankle. He's listed as day-to-day. ... Drexel had the lowest point total of any UK opponent this season.

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