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
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
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
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
"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."