Commentary

Meeks puts on a show for the ages

Originally Published: January 13, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- From today forward, children across the state of Kentucky will demand hash browns and scrambled eggs from their parents before they head off to school.

It's the new breakfast of Big Blue champions.

Specifically, it is the game-day breakfast ritual of Kentucky Wildcat Jodie Meeks.

Who puts the "shoot" in shooting guard. Who stroked smoke out of the nets in Thompson-Boling Arena. Who merely rewrote the annals of the winningest program in college basketball history.

On Tuesday morning, Meeks ate eggs and hash browns at the Knoxville Marriott. Same as he did before he scored 46 points against Appalachian State last month. Same as he has before every game during his breakout junior season.

On Tuesday night, he turned Thompson-Boling into Studio 54.

Meeks danced his way to a school-record 54 points as Kentucky thrashed Tennessee 90-72. Made a school-record 10 3-point shots in 15 attempts. Made all 14 free throws. Made five two-point shots, too.

The 54 points broke the 39-year-old school record of Dan Issel, who scored 53 against Mississippi. It should be noted that Kentucky scored 120 points that day, which means Issel scored 44 percent of the Wildcats' total. Meeks racked up a ridiculous 60 percent of Kentucky's points here -- an extraordinary display of shooting and stamina stretched over 39 jaw-dropping minutes.

When you say Issel's name aloud in the commonwealth of Kentucky, a heavenly chorus follows, and those within earshot bow their heads. It's a state law. He is the greatest scorer in the history of a program that has won 1,979 games, as well as its most revered player.

So when you break a Dan Issel scoring record, you have done something. When you do it on the road in front of 20,474 fans and the defending SEC champion, you have really done something. You have etched your name in Kentucky lore.

"To be in the same sentence as guys like Dan Issel and other Kentucky legends, it means a lot," the muscular, 6-foot-4 guard said. "It's kind of mind-boggling to me."

Consider everyone's mind boggled, Jodie.

"It was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen," said his coach, Billy Gillispie.

Meeks wears No. 23. And seriously, has that number looked this good in action since Michael Jordan hung it up? Meeks finished one point shy of Jordan's famous double-nickel game against the New York Knicks.

[+] EnlargeJodie Meeks
AP Photo/Wade PayneMeeks' 54 points Tuesday were the same number UK scored in its November victory over West Virginia.

Consider how rare nights like these are in college basketball:

• Meeks' 54 points are the most by a single player in any regulation game in the past decade.

• No player from a "BCS" conference had scored this many points since Arizona State's Eddie House went for 61 in an overtime game against California in 2000.

• Six Division I teams scored fewer points than Meeks Tuesday night. Memphis, the 2008 national runner-up, outscored Meeks by a point. Kentucky itself scored 54 points in a win over West Virginia back on Nov. 29.

C.M. Newton played basketball during the Adolph Rupp heyday of the 1950s and was Kentucky's athletic director during the Rick Pitino heyday of the 1990s. Between those jobs, he coached at Alabama against Pistol Pete Maravich and at Vanderbilt against Chris Jackson. He was courtside for the show.

He's seen a ton -- but he's never seen anything like what Meeks did to Tennessee.

"The hostile environment and a game this meaningful, just to put your team on your back, I've never seen anyone do that," Newton said.

"It's fun to watch him. I'm thrilled to be here to see him."

So were Meeks' dad, Orestes, and his uncle, Dwayne Arnold, who drove more than three hours north from Norcross, Ga., for the game.

"Coming out of high school, they said he couldn't shoot," Orestes Meeks confided.

"Who said that?" a reporter asked.

"You'd be surprised how many people," Orestes said.

Hopefully none of them is a college basketball coach.

Arnold was wearing a Meeks jersey. Tennessee fans didn't even want to let him into the bathroom at halftime, when Meeks had 26 points on the board.

"Go find a fire hydrant somewhere," one fan said. "And use it to cool Jodie off."

There was no cooling him off. Not from the opening tip. Not ever.

Meeks undoubtedly was highlighted on the Tennessee scouting report. He came into the game averaging 24.2 points per game, fifth-best in the nation, having recovered from an injury-plagued sophomore season that limited him to playing in only 11 games.

You wonder whether the Vols bothered to read said scouting report, because it took Meeks 36 seconds to score the first basket of the game on a driving layup.

"He never really got to the rim the rest of the night," a chagrined Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "He didn't have to."

After 11½ minutes of play, Meeks had scored 14 of Kentucky's 24 points. After 14½ minutes, he'd scored 19 of its 32. By the time he'd dropped Nos. 25 and 26 through the hoop from the foul line, Pearl should have asked for Volunteers to guard the guy.

Meeks toyed with McDonald's All-American freshman Scotty Hopson. Tortured Bobby Maze. Torched Cameron Tatum, J.P. Prince and Josh Tabb. Any other Vol who came close to him walked away with third-degree burns as well.

"That was amazing," Pearl said later. "… He just got it, looked at our guy and shot it. It was a great effort."

The onslaught resumed immediately after halftime, as the Vols apparently forgot what Meeks did to them in the first 20 minutes.

Late in the shot clock in Kentucky's first possession following intermission, Meeks asked for a clear-out at the top of the key, drove on Prince, stumbled a bit, recovered and swished a jumper. Then came a drive past Tyler Smith from the wing. Then a 3 in transition. (Some courtside observers thought Meeks had a foot well inside the 3-point line, so Issel might ask for a review of the videotape.) Then he hit another 3 after a handoff from teammate Ramon Harris.

By the first TV timeout of the second half, Meeks had 36. Then he iced the game.

Tennessee somehow scrapped to within seven at 71-64 with less than six minutes to play. That's when Gillispie went back to his SLOB (sideline out-of-bounds) and BLOB (baseline out-of-bounds) playbook, which paid dividends all night. He called a play for Meeks, who responded by draining a baseline 3-pointer.

Forty seconds later, after making a steal, Meeks cashed a pull-up trey for a 77-64 lead. And after being fouled on yet another 3-point attempt, Meeks stepped to the line with four minutes, 11 seconds to play.

He swished the first and offered a news update to Maze, who stood along the lane watching.

"Fifty."

(Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson said Tennessee's players yapped all game, despite the napalming put on them. "I wouldn't be talking at all," Patterson said. "My mouth would be shut. Especially when a guy's got 54 in your own gym. They can talk all they want. Jodie's shots speak for themselves.")

Then Meeks made points 51 and 52. The lead was 16 and the game was over, except for two more foul shots at the 1:31 mark for the school record and the second-highest SEC single-game total of the post-Maravich era.

In the final seconds, all that was left was for Kentucky to dribble out the clock. Naturally, that task fell to Meeks. At the buzzer, he yelled into the emptying stands, then was engulfed by his teammates near midcourt.

It was a startling transformation for a Tubby Smith recruit who languished in the Gillispie doghouse much of last season while averaging 8.8 points per game as a "streak shooter," in the words of his coach.

Meeks' injury was a sports hernia, but some within the program wondered whether he was truly committed to playing through it. There was no questioning his desire once he suited up fully healed this season.

"When he came back in the fall, he was something different," Gillispie said. "Not a streak shooter, but a great shooter."

A star-caliber shooter. Just what a flagging SEC needs.

After speaking to the media, Meeks had just one more duty before boarding the team bus for the airport. He had to embrace his father, who was about to drive more than three hours the other way.

"I love you, son," Orestes Meeks said. "Fantastic job."

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

ALSO SEE