What do Kentucky fans love more than 3 pointers and the full-court press? The answer, of course, is nothing, but near the top of the list would have to be players who take full advantage of the opportunity presented to them. We saw it earlier this season when Landon Sloan dutifully logged significant minutes over a two game stretch, and who could forget P-funk LeMaster’s three-ball downpour against a hapless, understandably confused Ole Miss squad a few years back?
Darius Miller’s All-SEC performance on Saturday is currently the cover story in big blue nation, and rightfully so, but lets not overlook the recent contributions of one A.J. Stewart. Back when KSR was dominating the airwaves–the Shelbyville podcast circuit more specifically–A.J. was perhaps second only to Jai Lucas in number of guest appearances, so we got to know the then high school senior pretty well, and not just on a “my favorite movie is Bad Boys II” level. Growing up in Jacksonville, Stewart was not necessarily a life-long Kentucky fan, and nothing can prepare an outsider for the consecrated fervor in which basketball is celebrated in this state, but through his candid and genuine politeness you got the sense he understood the weight of his commitment but wasn’t exactly sure what lay ahead. During these initial interviews he spoke of his future at UK with the same unquenchable zeal he’s always displayed even through the tumult of an abrupt coaching change, eviction from the Lodge, and a seemingly permanent spot on the bench.
AJ’s always reminded me of a 3 year old labrador: showing glimpses of maturity and reason, as well as intense optimistic hyperactivity and a penchant for innocent tomfoolery. You got the impression that if he didn’t get his daily exercise in, he’d wreak uncontrollable havoc on his immediate surroundings…and feel really bad about it when you got home.
His athleticism was never a question, nor his passion. His palpable ADHD and spotty understanding of the game and The Billy-Clyde Way has obviously been his biggest hurdle, but for a kid whose become a poster boy of sorts for coach’s ‘break em down and see what they’re made of’ approach, AJ’s recent productivity and willingness to stay aggressive and unfazed by the threat of immediate “Get Out” is promising to say the least and an example I hope other players on this team recognize.
AJ still has miles to go, and let’s face it, Billy Tex could be resigned to keeping one-five buried on the bench for all we know (“Did he just say coach and resigned in the same sentence? I’ll hang up and listen”). But for a kid who’s been “expected” to transfer on numerous occasions, not to mention having his bed taken from him (even Carruth managed to keep his for a semester), I for one am excited at the thought of AJ chasing
tennis basketballs for two more years.