December 12, 2010

OPINION: Can Cats succeed without Kanter?

By Aaron Snyder, The Daily Independent, Ashland, Ky.

Dec. 11--ASHLAND -- While the NCAA takes its sweet time reviewing the case of Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter, Wildcats fans can't help but ponder how much this team needs the ineligible forward from Turkey.

The NCAA ruled Kanter ineligible for the entire season, but Kentucky appealed the decision, and the school is now presenting "new information."

While the investigation lingers, Cats fans are left to wonder if their beloved team might be 7-1, or even 8-0, now instead of 6-2. UK big men Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas don't exactly wow the crowd with electrifying plays like versatile forward Terrence Jones, but they've done enough, so far, with the 
exception of the two losses.

Against North Carolina, if Kentucky had Kanter, Harrellson's and Vargas' issues with fouls would have been no problem, seemingly. Same with the loss to UConn, when Harrellson and Vargas struggled in the absence of Jones, who was in foul trouble in the first half. If Kanter had been there, maybe the result is different. Who knows? Maybe Kentucky is undefeated and ranked No. 3 behind Duke and Ohio State if Kanter is on the team!

The fact is, though, that Enes Kanter is not eligible, and he may not ever take the court as a Kentucky Wildcat. But that can be a good thing.

Hear me out...

Until Kanter is ruled eligible, if he is, it only benefits Jones, Harrellson and Vargas. While I haven't been impressed with Vargas yet, I don't have to be. Nobody has to be impressed with Vargas, as long as he does a decent job defensively and doesn't make too many mistakes while he's in there.

Harrellson hustles as much as anybody on the court, and is much improved on the glass.

Jones? His play speaks for itself. No more catnaps for the young Cat, and he'll be fine. (Jones took a nap before the North Carolina game, and his tiredness showed on the court in a 3-for-17 shooting effort.)
These young Wildcats (get used to saying that every year) have loads of potential to be a tournament-ready team in March.

There will be more bumps along the way than last season -- I will guess maybe eight or nine losses -- but the end result will be satisfying for fans, I believe.

This team possesses attributes of a champion: Quick, skillful guard play; two quality, dependable rebounders; a fiery playmaker; and better shooters than last season. Brandon Knight is slowly but surely becoming the point guard coach John Calipari and Big Blue Nation want to see, and, if Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins can emerge as standout leaders, pieces could be in place for an exciting run down the stretch.

One thing about this year in college basketball is that it's unpredictable. That goes for the Cats as well, especially with the case of Kanter.

Webb a Cubbie?

Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reported on Thursday that the Chicago Cubs' central focus is on pitching and their No. 1 target is Ashland's own Brandon Webb.

Sullivan reported that the Cubs are one of the top three teams left in the Webb interest pool.

Looking ahead, the Diamondbacks face the Cubs twice in April 2011. Even more of interest for local baseball fans, the Reds travel to Wrigley Field on May 6 for a three-game series. Perhaps Webb will take the rubber in blue and white.

Royal-Lion battle

Three basketball seasons ago, in 2007-08, Rose Hill Christian and Elliott County were atop the 16th Region boys basketball world. The Royals and Lions seemed destined all season to battle for the regional title. They finally met in the semifinals, when Elliott County got the best of Rose Hill and ended up scheduling another trip to the state tournament in Lexington.

Shades of recent 16th Region past can be seen on the court on today, when James Madison and Radford face one another in Radford, Va. Former Elliott County star Evan Faulkner averages seven-plus points per game for Radford as a sophomore. Chad Jackson, a former Rose Hill player who later transferred to Scott County, averages nearly two points in 16 minutes a game for James Madison.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at or (606) 326-2664.
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