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By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Ã¢â‚¬â€ HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not mentioned as having the same talent as freshmen teammates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not mentioned for providing the leadership that junior teammate Patrick Patterson does.
Yet when it comes to freshman guard Eric Bledsoe, opponents believe heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more valuable to the Wildcats than some realize.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He is a a big factor for their team. With all the attention John Wall gets, Eric Bledsoe has to step up and make plays. He is very important and is a very good player,Ã¢â‚¬Â Alabama guard Anthony Brock said.
Bledsoe averages 10.4 points Ã¢â‚¬â€ fourth best on the team Ã¢â‚¬â€ and is second in assists (90) and steals (40). HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a 35.5 percent shooter from 3-point range and 70 percent shooter at the foul line.
He went through a difficult five-game stretch where he averaged only 7.4 points and was 13-for-41 from the field and 3-for-18 from 3-point range. However, he had 14 points on 4-for-5 shooting against Florida to end the regular season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everybody on that team canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get the attention they deserve and he might be a little underrated, but he is still a very good player,Ã¢â‚¬Â Brock, who had to play against Bledsoe today, said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He plays with poise and keeps his head. He has been keeping his head even though he probably wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t getting the attention he deserved. He just goes out and plays every night without complaining.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Bledsoe, an Alabama native, played on the same AAU team with AlabamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s JaMychal Green.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We were always close. We went on the same trips together,Ã¢â‚¬Â Green said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I knew he was a great player and could shoot and was athletic. He could also always play defense. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an all-around good player.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He is very competitive. He never liked to lose. He has been like that all his life. He just wants to win and will do anything it takes to win. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always been tough and physical. He could always shoot and score. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just very talented and probably is better than even Kentucky fans know.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Both Brock and Green said BledsoeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s toughness is often overlooked because of his size.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He has always been tough for a guy his size. He will battle you all the time. He might have some breakdowns, but everybody does and he comes back fighting,Ã¢â‚¬Â Brock said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you look at him, he is well built. He has a little muscle and is pretty tough,Ã¢â‚¬Â Green said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wish he had came here, but I am just glad that he is doing well. When we went to Kentucky and played, we got to talk some,Ã¢â‚¬Â Green said. He is lot better now. He developed a consistent jump shot now and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got great teammates. I think heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very, very happy.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Green even admits if heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not playing Kentucky, he watches at times to see how Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins, another Alabama native whom he played against in AAU, fare.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wish nothing bad on them even though they do not come to Alabama,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
However, he was anxious to play against both of them today.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“To be the best, you have to play the best. I am glad we are playing them,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“They are just a great, solid, sound team. They have no real weakness. You just have to go after them, play hard and hope for the best.Ã¢â‚¬Â