Delk finds his old Ky. home

April 01, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tony Delk is the most-honored player on the heavy favorite in tonight's NCAA championship game, but he's had plenty of chances to second-guess his decision to go to Kentucky.

Delk is from Brownsville, Tenn., 40 miles from Memphis. His high school coach is friends with Memphis coach Larry Finch, so there was some pressure to play for the Tigers. His mother wanted him to go to Tennessee, a Southeastern Conference rival of Kentucky's.

"Of course, there was resentment over me going to Kentucky," Delk said. "I was considered a traitor. Even in an all-star game my senior year, I was booed."

Delk averaged 37.5 points that year, was considered the premier three-point shooter among the nation's prospects and made the McDonald's and Parade All-America teams. In other words, he was a typical Kentucky recruit, but there were some holes in his game. He had to learn how to play defense, and how to play for Rick Pitino.

"I didn't play defense at all in high school, because my strength was as a scorer," said Delk, who is the Wildcats' fourth all-time scorer, but No. 1 among guards. "At Kentucky, I had to change. If you don't play defense for Coach Pitino, you're not going to get in the game.

"When a coach makes a home visit that's nice, you don't know exactly what to expect until you're a part of the team. After my first practice here, I had second thoughts, he [Pitino] worked us so hard."

Delk is the only Kentucky player with previous Final Four experience. He was rushed into action in a 1993 overtime semifinal loss to Michigan after Dale Brown injured a shoulder diving into a table for a loose ball. That was the last game Delk didn't start for the Wildcats, and tonight will mark his 101st consecutive start.

He led Kentucky in scoring as a sophomore and junior, but Pitino tried to turn Delk into a point guard this season. The experiment lasted all of two games. Kentucky needed his second-half scoring to erase an 11-point deficit against Maryland, and the offense sputtered in a Nov. 28 loss to UMass.

Once Delk was moved back to shooting guard and Anthony Epps was made the starter at the point, Kentucky embarked on a school-record 27-game win streak. It didn't end until the SEC tournament title game loss to Mississippi State, when Delk went 5-for-19, one of his worst shooting games ever for the Wildcats.

"You have to get everyone involved in the game, and that's something I wasn't doing early," Delk said. "I was thinking shoot before pass, and to be a point guard, you have to think pass, then shoot. It's something I can do, but not on this team. I don't see myself as a two guard, because I'm only 6-1."

Delk, the SEC Player of the Year and a first-teamer on some All-American squads, is expected to go in the first round of the NBA draft, as could fellow senior Walter McCarty. Mark Pope, the other Kentucky senior, also is viewed as an NBA prospect, and the Wildcats' depth is such that even Delk's playing time dropped from what he had experienced the previous two years.

"When you cut back on my minutes, of course I'm going to be upset," Delk said. "There might have been some bickering early on, but Coach Pitino told everyone that we had the chance to be part of a special season. At a certain point, it stopped becoming an issue."

All-time wins

The top 10 men's basketball teams by victories in NCAA history (through Saturday):

Team .. .. .. .. Yrs .. .. .. .. W-L .. .. Pct

1. Kentucky . .. 93 . .. . 1,649-520 .. . .760

2. N. Carolina . 86 . . .. 1,647-588 .. . .737

3. Kansas ... .. 98 . . .. 1,596-708 .. . .693

4. St. John's .. 89 . . .. 1,519-682 .. . .690

5. Duke .. .. .. 91 . . .. 1,492-740 .. . .668

6. Temple ... . 100 . . .. 1,455-793 .. . .647

7. Oregon St. .. 95 . . .. 1,434-950 .. . .602

8. Syracuse . .. 95 . . .. 1,432-669 .. . .682

9. Penn .. .. .. 96 . . .. 1,425-806 .. . .639

10. N. Dame . .. 91 . . .. 1,398-748 .. . .651

Top 'Cats

/%Name .. .. .. .. .. Years .. .. Pts.

Dan Issel ... ... 1968-70 .. . 2,138

Kenny Walker . .. 1983-86 .. . 2,038

Jack Givens .. .. 1975-78 .. . 2,038

Tony Delk . .. .. 1993-96 .. . 1,866

Jamal Mashburn .. 1991-93 .. . 1,843

Kevin Grevey . .. 1973-75 .. . 1,801

Cotton Nash .. .. 1962-64 .. . 1,770

Alex Groza ... .. 1945-49 .. . 1,744

Davender .. .. 1985-88 .. . 1,637

Louie Dampier ... 1965-67 .. . 1,575

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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