Orton exceling while flying under the radar

Freshman Daniel Orton scores two points for the Cats during the end of the second half of their game against the UNC Tar Heels on Saturday, Dec. 05, 2009 at Rupp Arena. UK beat UNC 68-66.

Freshman forward Daniel Orton isn’t getting the national publicity and respect of his fellow freshman teammates, but he’s fine with that.

Orton, who didn’t score against North Carolina on Saturday and only averages 4.4 points a game, has been singled out throughout the season by UK head coach John Calipari. Orton’s blocked shot of North Carolina forward Ed Davis four minutes into the game was one of the catalysts to UK’s 28-2 run. The block went to freshman guard John Wall, who then raced down the court for an acrobatic layup that cut the lead to three and energized the crowd.

“I really don’t have that much of a leadership role,” Orton said. “But I feel like I was kind of a leader out there (against North Carolina) in getting us on the roll that we started on.”

Still, the highlight of the season for the Cats has been the play of Wall. The Raleigh, N.C., native is leading the team in points and assists and when he went down from a battle with cramps early in the second half against UNC, the Cats appeared lost for a while until settling back down, thanks in part to Orton.

With their leader off the floor and the Tar Heels riding on a 10-0 run, Orton stuffed UNC freshman forward John Henson on a dunk attempt. The ball led to an outlet pass that was finished off with a slam dunk by junior forward Patrick Patterson. That re-energized a crowd that had gone silent from the UNC run.

The lull from the Cats caused some to say they are dependent upon the play of Wall, but Orton said there’s more to UK than just one player.

“John’s a great player, don’t get me wrong,” Orton said. “But there’s so many little, minor pieces to the puzzle around that get us going and get us started.”

While it may be the first time a 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward is classified as a “little, minor piece to a puzzle,” Orton’s play has been indicative of just that. While he still hasn’t started a game, Orton is currently second on the team in blocked shots and has provided the Cats with a strong defensive presence with fellow freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins finding himself in first half foul trouble on multiple occasions.

Wall said Orton’s energy in the UNC game rubbed off on the rest of them and became contagious.

“He was bouncing around like coach wanted us to do when we’re playing defense, and he was clapping, and blocking shots and rebounding,” Wall said. “When he comes in with the type of energy like that, it builds on all of us. That’s what got us on our big run (against UNC).”

Calipari also singled out Orton’s energy and defensive presence in the UNC game and said while he didn’t score a point, he and senior forward Perry Stevenson were the reasons UK beat UNC.

With Wall and Cousins getting so much attention as two of the more highly-touted players in the country coming out of high school, Calipari said Orton has been able to come in with no pressure and excel.

“He’s got the best job on the team,” Calipari said. “He has no pressure. Whatever he does is like added. He got no baskets and we’re talking about Daniel Orton being like the best player.”

Orton’s two blocks against UNC gave him his fourth straight game finishing with two blocks. Still, the big man from Oklahoma City said he thought he’d be doing more at this point.

“I’m playing OK,” Orton said. “I expected to see myself do a lot better, but I can’t complain, we’re winning.”