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April 12, 2009

Hood, Orton help lead Gold to DFC victory

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky signees Jon Hood and Daniel Orton scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, on Saturday to help lead the Gold squad to a 151-145 victory over the Black team in the 2009 Wazoo Sports Derby Festival Classic at Freedom Hall.

Hood, the recently-crowned "Mr. Basketball" for the Bluegrass State, was 5-for-13 from the floor with his typical mix of drives to the basket, pull-up jumpers in the lane and 3-point shots. He also added five rebounds and four assists to his stat line. Orton, the burly center from Oklahoma City, pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, dished out six assists and blocked two shots.

Now comes the big question. Will the gifted signees actually play together in Lexington following the dismissal of Billy Gillispie and the arrival of John Calipari?

Hood said he's "100 percent sure" he'll be a Wildcat now, but Orton plans to weigh his decision further upon returning home from the all-star game.

"It's been a great experience," he said. "It's been real fun to forget about everything for a while and just got out and have fun playing the game... (The fans) were amazing. It was a great turnout. I'm really pleased and happy with everything."

Kentucky fans made it difficult for Orton to think about going elsewhere with the support he received during all-star weekend. Late in Saturday's game, a chant of "DAN-IEL OR-TON" filled Freedom Hall.

"Yeah, I could (hear it)," Orton said. "It makes you feel really good about yourself.

"Before I came here, I knew what it was all about, but they showed me it was exactly how I thought."

Earlier in the week, Orton cited Kansas as a possible alternate destination should he decide to request a release from his UK letter-of-intent. On Saturday, he declined to offer a percentage on what the chances of him doing that were.

"I am (anxious to get it over with)," Orton acknowledged. "It's been stressful."

Hood and Orton weren't the only two potential Wildcats in the DFC. Nolan Dennis, a guard from Dallas, signed with Memphis in the spring but was just released from his LOI on Friday. He has previously indicated high interest in following Calipari to UK.

"Oh man, it was crazy," Dennis said of his DFC experience. "The atmosphere here is amazing the way they love basketball. All these fans showing the love for their teams. I'd love to be part of that."

Dennis, who played for the Black squad, had three points, three assists and two steals in the game. He played only 12 minutes after being hindered by tendinitis in his knees.

"I wasn't 100 percent," he said, "but it was still a lot of fun to be here. The whole Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is crazy. It's got to be up there with North Carolina and Duke as one of the best in the country."

Dennis said he's currently "wide open" in his recruitment, but plans to "have things narrowed down within three days." He added that he hopes to speak with Calipari by the end of the weekend to learn about the possibility of coming to UK.

"Coach Calipari is the best," Dennis said. "I love his style of play. It's penetrate and kick, go to the basket, get up and down. That's what I love to do."

Dennis has four official visits available, if necessary. He said UConn, Kansas, Wake Forest, Texas A&M and Baylor are a few schools that have been expressing interest.

DFC NOTES:
* Florida State signee Michael Snaer earned Derby Festival Classic MVP honors with a game-high 30 points for the winning Gold squad. The cat-quick guard was 13-for-23 from the field, 2-of-6 from long range and also recorded seven rebounds and six assists.

* The future of Indiana basketball appears to be bright with players like Christian Watford, Maurice Creek and Jordan Hulls on their way to Bloomington. Watford, one of the most versatile big men in the game, scored 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from long range and 8-of-10 at the line. Creek and Hulls added 21 and 6 points, repectively. Hulls, who won the DFC 3-point shootout, scored both of his baskets from long range.

* Speaking of strong outside shooting, Oklahoma State signee Raymond Penn proved to be the DFC's most dangerous marksman, knocking down five treys en route to a 24-point performance.

* Louisville signee Rakeem Buckles paced the Black squad with 26 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field. Future Cardinal teammate Peyton Siva dazzled the crowd with 11 assists to go along with 15 points. He was named MVP of the Black squad.

* Kansas-bound Elijah Johnson had an efficient 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, but made an even bigger impression setting up teammates with eight assists. He also had the dunk of the night, a 180-degree, between the legs jam near the final buzzer that brought the Freedom Hall crowd to its feet to salute the future Jayhawk.

* Unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe had a strong all-around performance with nine points, eight rebounds and four assists. He currently lists Florida as his leader with Kentucky, Duke and Cincinnati also under consideration.

* Arizona picked up a commitment from Kyryl Natyazhko prior to the DFC. The Florida big man had a solid showing in the game, scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds.


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