UK Recruiting

Orton remains mum on Cats

LOUISVILLE — Those looking for signs of Daniel Orton's intentions may have seen something significant in the player introductions for the Derby Festival Basketball Classic Saturday night.

Be true to your school was a theme begun when Elijah Johnson waved a Kansas shirt. Later, Erik Johnson did a (Florida) Gator chomp with his arms.

Each gesture drew boos from the Freedom Hall crowd of 13,111. By contrast cheers erupted when Kentucky-bound Jon Hood appeared on the court holding a UK car flag in each hand.

But Orton, who signed with Kentucky in the fall and is now wavering because of the school's coaching change, was cryptic. He came on the court with a neutral-colored white towel over his head.

"I just wanted to be original," he said in shooting down the suggestion of a message being sent.

When he reached halfcourt, Orton leaned back and appeared to blow a mist into the air.

That was not original, Orton acknowledged. He borrowed the move from Triple H, his favorite professional wrestler.

Tea leaf readers will want to know that before being introduced Orton turned down Hood's offer of a UK flag.

Hood didn't think that meant Orton won't be coming to Kentucky.

"I think he's coming," said Hood, the Madisonville native, reigning Kentucky Mr. Basketball and Orton's roommate here. "I'm not sure about it. I could be wrong. I could be right. I think I'm right."

Orton said he was 90 to 95 percent sure he is still coming to Kentucky and he plans to discuss the decision with his family.

Neither Orton nor Hood dazzled in this Derby Festival game, the first to be televised live (by the NBC affiliate in Louisville). Yet each contributed plenty to the Gold team's 151-145 victory over a Black team that included four Louisville recruits.

Orton, wearing a black brace on his surgically repaired left knee, scored 12 points, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, got credit for six assists and blocked two shots.

"I did OK," he said with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. "All-star games are never for a center. Everybody knows it's guard oriented."

Hood added 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and a nifty collaboration with Orton in which he grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled past mid-court and hit the big man in stride with a bounce pass through traffic that netted a dunk.

"I was hoping he'd dunk it and bite the rim," Hood said.

The night was not one long Kentucky lovefest, as evidenced by a text message that appeared on the overhead scoreboard in the second quarter. For $1.99, fans could have a message scroll across the video screens, a medium someone used to say, "If all the Kentucky fans are here, who's taking care of the mobile homes?"

Although it appeared he might be weighed down by tattoos on both arms and legs, Louisville-bound guard Mike Marra rose high enough to win the dunk contest at halftime.

Marra missed his first two attempts. Then he took a safe approach by passing off the backboard and dunking the ball.

That won it, to the annoyance of Hood, who clearly made the biggest impression. After being introduced as a dunk contest participant, he took off his gold jersey, revealing a makeshift blue No. 15 jersey with Kentucky written across the chest.

The crowd roared at the sight. Then Hood bounced the ball off the court and dunked. After the dunk, he brought the jersey to one of the judges, former Cat Jeff Sheppard, who wore No. 15 at UK and now works for Wazoo Sports company, a sponsor of the game.

"I got a 10," Hood said of Sheppard's score on the dunk. "I got robbed by everybody else."

When someone noted that former U of L player Robbie Valentine was another judge, Hood said, "Weak."

Jordan Hulls, a 6-foot player from Indianapolis (he looked like an extra for Hickory High of the movie Hoosiers) won the three-point shooting contest. He made 12 of 25 three-point shots. In the scoring system, that was good enough to beat another future Indiana Hoosier, Maurice Creek.

The best player on the floor may have been Louisville-bound point guard Peyton Siva. He had 15 points, a game-high 11 assists and three steals.

A media vote named Siva and Florida State recruit Michael Snaer (30 points, seven rebounds and six assists) the Most Valuable Players.

In a vote that evoked memories of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's election successes, a poll conducted via text messaging named Orton the official "Fan Favorite."

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