BY KEVIN FARIS
No power means no television. No television means no ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPNNEWS. No power means no Internet, which means no espn.com, wildcatfaithful.com, cnnsi.com, or sportspages.com. No power means the local radio stations are carrying live call-in shows focused around the weather, the damage, and the safety, and are not taking calls having to do with the back of University of Kentucky Wildcats power forward Chuck Hayes and its health. This is not an easy time to be a sports junkie. There was little downtime between basking in the glow of UK's 14th consecutive victory and wondering how and where to live for the next several days. Ice Storm 2003, or The Night the Trees Stuck Back (TNTTSB), has caused all of us to refocus our priorities from such details as who won the Daytona 500 (Michael Waltrip), if Tiger won the Buick Invitational (he did), and whether Chuck's back is OK (sore, but he will be playing), to the safety of our fellow man.
After spending 48 hours waiting for the KU trucks, it was time to head for someplace warm.
And that place is home in the Capitol City to seek refuge with Mom and Dad, and it is a great improvement over having no electricity. Now with the comforts back in my life, there is a return to thinking about sports, and more specifically the #2 ranked college basketball team in the country, your Kentucky Wildcats.
One of the more amazing things about the 20-3 record, the 10-0 conference record, and the 14-game winning streak is that UK does it all without one outstanding player. There is likely not an All-American on the roster this year, which makes picking a Most Valuable Player for this squad all the more difficult. Arguments can be given, pro and con, to almost six different players. Here, in order, are the choices.
Cliff Hawkins-The point guard has returned from academic holiday, spearheading the defense that has carried the Cats this far. He is averaging only 5 points and 4 assists, but his ability to shut down opposing team's point guards merits him consideration. The fact he is hitting an un "Cliff" like 44% from three-point range is so amazing that representatives from The Vatican are said to be in town investigating.
Chuck Hayes-This is quite possibly Coach Tubby Smith's favorite player and the future husband of my friend Sally. He averages only 9 points, but leads the team in rebounds with 6.7 and is second on the team in blocks, which is not bad for a player listed at a questionable 6'7''. What does not show up is that fact Chuck is the strongest guy on the squad and, despite height differences, is quite adept at shutting down players in the post.
Marquis Estill-If not for some nitpicky foul trouble, Estill could be at the top of this list. Those who say Tubby cannot develop players need to take a look at some tape from Estill a few years ago. He has grown in leaps and bounds from an overweight freshman into a possible first round NBA draft pick. Although not the MVP, he could be the Cat most likely to be the go-to guy, such as he was earlier against Indiana. If he could stay in the game for 30+ minutes his numbers, a modest 11 points and 5 rebounds, would possibly improve to the point he could be an All American. He has the talent, but not yet the time.
Erik Daniels-E.D. has got to be the biggest surprise of the season. No one, probably not even Daniels himself, thought he was going to be this big of a factor. He may not be the MVP, but he is easily the most entertaining of the Cats. The constant smile, the high leg kick, the extra head he is growing in his armpit. Some may call him Luke Walton lite, after the All-American forward at Arizona. They should check the stats, E.D. has 10 points, 6 boards, and 3 assists a game. Maybe Walton is Daniels lite.
Gerald Fitch-This was close. Fitch started out the season out of position at point guard and played so well that not even a red hot Hawkins could oust him from the starting line up. He has hit on 41% of his threes and is averaging almost 13 points a game. His rebounding stats may be a little down from years before, but most of that can me attributed to playing the point. Fitch is only going to get better and is positioning himself for a senior season that will hopefully lead to the NBA. A crowd favorite, Fitch has hit multiple big shots throughout the season, and is one of the most important Cats.
Keith Bogans-The senior has come back from a nightmarish junior year to play the kind of basketball everyone knew could. 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and shooting 39% from three, while committing the kind of hustle plays that oft go unnoticed, has made him, despite the big season from Tennessee's Ron Slay, my pick for SEC player of the year and this years Wildcat MVP. Bogans has been everything a coach wants in a senior; a leader, a competitor, and the best player on the team. The dreadful nights of last winter and spring seem like a lifetime ago as this Wildcat continues to climb the All-Time Scoring list.
Of course, any of these picks instill confidence in making such claims. In a sense they are all MVPs. Coach Tubby Smith has done a remarkable job of turning Team Turmoil into Team Team. Now, the only thing we can hope is that the electricity works again in time for us to watch them play.