NCAA BK

With Wall out, Bledsoe takes control for No. 4 UK

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)

Eric Bledsoe heard all the chatter. He understood it, too. He knew signing with Kentucky as the "other" point guard didn't seem to make a lot of sense. Why would Bledsoe want to play in the considerable shadow of prep superstar John Wall, the marquee recruit of new coach John Calipari's heralded signing class? "I knew I had to get better," Bledsoe said. "I wasn't as highly recruited as John. He's the No. 1 player." But Bledsoe's eager to prove he can play, too. He'll get his chance sooner than anyone thought when No. 4 Kentucky opens the season Friday against Morehead State, the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions. Wall must sit out the game as part of an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits from his former AAU coach. Wall will be available Monday when Kentucky hosts Miami (Ohio). So, for now, Bledsoe's at the controls of Calipari's "dribble-drive" offense, which will require him to look for his shot first and his teammates second. That's a switch for Bledsoe, but his speed and strength for his size - he's generously listed at 6-foot-1 - have impressed his coach. "We've been working hard trying to get him into lanes, trying to create gaps and doing those kind of things so hopefully it will show, but you never know," Calipari said. "The real stuff starts ... and all of a sudden guys go haywire." Maybe, but Bledsoe hardly looked nervous during Kentucky's exhibition win over Campbellsville on Nov. 2. He had nine points, four assists, four steals and two blocks, including an acrobatic play on a breakaway lay-up in which his arm soared well over the rim to swat the ball away. It was the kind of effort Bledsoe knows he must make to take pressure off Wall, who was surprised by Bledsoe's play. When the two started working out together over the summer it took Wall all of one pickup game to realize he wasn't the only one on the floor who is a blur with the ball in his hands. "He's a better player than everybody said he was," Wall said. "Once I've seen the way he played, I was like 'What's the point of him being the backup?' He could be on the court with me at the same time." Their teammates agree. "I think (Bledsoe's) just as skilled as John, and I think he's going to be a great surprise to a lot of people," Kentucky forward Josh Harrellson said. Although Calipari admits Wall is a "special" player, the gap between the Wall and Bledsoe isn't as wide as it appeared when they signed last spring. "John is more advanced in his conditioning and pace of game, that's it," Calipari said. "If Eric went as hard as (Wall) did up and down the court, you'd see the same kind of speed. And we're trying to get that balance." There will be growing pains. Several times during the exhibition against Campbellsville both players rushed to get the inbounds pass after a made basket. "When you're used to having the ball all the time, it takes time to get used to moving," Bledsoe said. "But me and John, we just love playing with each other. We've got that bond. We know what it takes to win games." That includes putting egos aside. "If you're going to key on me, I'm just going to give it to him, and he can do the same things," Wall said. "You're not going to find too many people in college basketball that can guard both of us." The Eagles will only have to guard one Friday, and Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall knows Bledsoe alone might be too much. "He's not a guy that is a one-and-done like John Wall, but certainly is a guy that is going to have a chance to play at the next level," Tyndall said. "He's a talent." And the combo is a luxury that few teams in the country can boast. Calipari knows it's hard enough to find one point guard who can run the team, let alone two. He's hardly bothered by their youth. The way he looks at it, they've got four months go grow up. "I know there are other point guards that are more experienced," Calipari said. "There may be some just as talented and all those things, but these two together ... they both know when they're on the court, each one is better."
Tagged: Kentucky

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