NCAA yet to decide on status of Kentucky's Morris
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The question has hung over Kentucky basketball since Randolph Morris decided to return to the Wildcats after an ill-fated attempt at entering the NBA draft: Will the sophomore center be eligible, and if so, when?
During media day Thursday, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith -- who has remained mostly mum about Morris' situation while the NCAA considers his eligibility status -- said he expected the 6-foot-10 Morris will play for the Wildcats during the upcoming season.
"We fully expect him to be back at some point when the NCAA finishes their job," Smith said. "Everything has been documented and processed on our side, and we'll wait for the NCAA to finalize their decision."
Morris did not attend media day. Athletics Department spokesman Scott Stricklin said Morris would answer questions about his situation after the NCAA announces its decision about his eligibility.
Morris started 33 of 34 games last season, averaging 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds, and leading the team in fouls. Kentucky finished 28-6, and Morris played his two best games of the season in the NCAA tournament, in a win over Cincinnati and a double-overtime loss to Michigan State in a regional final.
Morris returned to his hometown of Atlanta and, from there, informed Smith via fax that he planned to enter his name in the NBA draft. When the June 21 deadline for Morris to withdraw from the draft passed, it was assumed Morris had played his final game for the Wildcats.
Morris, however, was not one of the 60 players taken in the June 28 draft. A little-used NCAA rule would allow Morris to return to Kentucky, if he reimbursed all the expenses of any NBA workouts in which he participated. He asked Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart for reinstatement within 30 days of the draft and Barnhart agreed to take him back.
But that rule wouldn't apply if Morris had an agreement with an agent. Sports agency SFX issued a statement from Morris on June 21, but Morris' father, Ralph, has said his son had not hired an agent.
The NCAA has granted Kentucky a waiver allowing Morris to practice with the team, but as of now, he won't be able to play when the Wildcats open their season Nov. 13 at home against South Dakota State in the Guardians Classic.
If Morris is ruled ineligible -- or if he has to serve a suspension of undetermined length -- then one of two juniors, 7-3 Shagari Alleyne or 7-0 Lukasz Obrzut, probably would start at center for the Wildcats.
Both Obrzut and Alleyne said they'd be up to the challenge -- "We can handle the pressure," Obrzut said -- but added they hope Morris is able to play for the Wildcats soon.
"When Randolph comes back, we're going to be a better team with him," Alleyne said. "When he's not here, we'll just hold up the slack until he comes back."
Smith praised Morris' attitude and demeanor since his return to Kentucky and acknowledged his importance as the Wildcats' attempt to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1998, when they won the last of their seven NCAA titles. But he also said Morris wasn't indispensable.
"We never depend on one guy, but Randolph is a very important part of reaching our goals of an SEC championship and a national championship," Smith said. "We've found ways to play without him, and we'll do it again. It is really a great opportunity for a lot of other guys to flourish and grow."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press