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Rookie big men ready to contribute for UK; Wildcats open season Wednesday against Morehead State

By Tim Letcher
University of Kentucky

Kentucky’s incoming freshmen are a talented group that was ranked as the nation’s top recruiting class. Included in that group are three big men who are already making their presence felt on this year’s team.

Cam’Ron Fletcher, Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware comprise the front court players, with each bringing a strong pedigree to the team. But the three play in different ways and could all see the floor at the same time this season.

Cam’Ron Fletcher

Fletcher, a 6-foot-6 forward from St. Louis, continues to try to prove people wrong, including those who never thought he could, or would, play at Kentucky.

“Very thrilling,” Fletcher said. “Some people thought I would never be here, but I just worked my tail off to get here and I just want to prove everybody wrong.”

As for what Fletcher does well, he cites intangibles.

“I’m going to get on the floor. I’m going to get dirty. I’m going to do all the little things,” Fletcher said. “Loose balls. I’m going for all the loose balls. I’m playing defense. I don’t want anyone to score on me. I’m just an animal.”

As for his first year playing under Hall of Fame coach John Calipari, Fletcher is simply trying to learn something every day.

“I knew it was going to be challenging and hard,” Fletcher said. “I’m just doing what Coach asks me to do. Practice is going good right now.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-10 forward from Pontiac, Michigan, has been the talk of fall practice so far for the Cats. The big man’s ability to protect the rim has caught the eye of the coaches and his teammates.

“Someone who most impresses me would probably be Isaiah,” said sophomore Jacob Toppin. “He’s very long and he’s everywhere. He’s active. He’s getting blocks, getting blocks all of the time. He’s rebounding the ball very well. He’s definitely going to be a big factor for us.”

The attention is something Jackson appreciates, but largely tries to deflect.

Isaiah Jackson

“It’s good. It’s good publicity, but I really don’t try to look at those things,” Jackson said. “I like to think of myself as an underdog. Me thinking like that, I feel like I can show a lot of people what I can do and surprise a lot of people. I don’t really look at those types of things. I just try to go out there and play hard every day and try to get better.”

It has been his ability to block shots that has had his teammates talking. That’s something for which Jackson is becoming known.

“Yeah, I sort of have a knack for it. It’s like natural,” Jackson said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s something that I guess I was born to do pretty much. It just comes naturally. I don’t even think about it; it just happens. It’s weird.”

Being a shot blocker at Kentucky, Jackson will inevitably be compared to one of the most famous such players in UK history, something he would completely embrace.

“I watched a lot of Anthony Davis, just how he played because we’re built the same,” Jackson said. “We’re tall, long, can block shots and do everything. I mean, me growing up, to be honest, I was always a Kentucky fan so when Anthony Davis got here, I was always watching Kentucky.”

Ware, a 6-foot-9 forward from Camden, New Jersey, is known as a player who can bring energy to the team, something with which he does not disagree.

“That’s definitely true. I definitely try to just mix things up, attack the glass and just play with a lot of energy because sometimes that’s half the battle,” Ware said. “Just try to get your team going and if someone doesn’t bring the energy and the fact that they see me playing hard or chasing loose rebounds and doing all of the little stuff, it just rubs off on the team in a positive way. So, that’s kind of what I do.”

While an assistant at Indiana, new UK assistant coach Bruiser Flint recruited Ware, so he knows the freshman well.

Lance Ware

“One of the things you learn from recruiting him is he’s an unbelievable rebounder,” Flint said. “He can go get balls. (If) the balls don’t come near him, he can go get balls out of his area. I think he’s taken to that.”

Ware is still developing his true post game but he is completely comfortable facing the basket as a big man.

“Mid-post with a catch and face-up game. It all depends kind of on who is guarding me,” Ware said. “I’m getting stronger, so I have a little bit of a back-down, back-to-the-basket game with jump hooks and all of that. But, just trying to make one move and try to get by my defender and finish at the rim and if they sag off a little, I can definitely hit the jumper.”

Jackson has even compared Ware to Olivier Sarr, something that Ware considers to be high praise.

“I mean, that’s a compliment, honestly. Olivier is a really skilled player,” Ware said. “Obviously, he’s 7-foot, I’m 6-9, 6-10. Olivier can really shoot it, very versatile. So, honestly, I don’t take that in offense, honestly. I think that’s a compliment. Obviously, being an older guy and just his knowledge of the game and his ability to rebound, block shots, it’s all there.”

The three freshmen big men have already shown flashes of how good they can be. Their impact should continue to grow as the season moves forward.

UK opens the season this Wednesday at 6 p.m. when Morehead State visits Rupp Arena in the Bluegrass Showcase. Two nights later, UK will play host to Detroit Mercy at 6 p.m. The Wildcats conclude the Bluegrass Showcase on Nov. 29 with a 1 p.m. contest against Richmond.

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