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September 3rd, 2015

ESPN Thinks LSU Can Challenge for SEC Basketball Title

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There have been multiple posts about LSU basketball over on ESPN.com this week. All three posts had the same sort of story.

The writers are interested in seeing this young, talented LSU team and they think they can challenge Kentucky for the SEC title. Now, while I think LSU lacks the interior size and talent to truly challenge for the SEC title, there will be an uptick in talent this year not only in Baton Rouge, but across the conference as a whole.

Dick Vitale talked a lot about LSU’s trio of Ben Simmons, Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson, but did end his story with this:

The SEC has a lot of young talent coming in. When you look at Simmons, Blakeney and Sampson, and Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray of Kentucky, and Malik Newman of Mississippi State, there is excitement galore.

My question to you is simple. Are you excited for the uptick in talent across the conference?


The Deuce and Juice: The Dynamic Duo Leading UK’s Receivers

Photos by Clay Jackson and J.A. Holt.

Photos by Clay Jackson and J.A. Holt.

There isn’t a more exciting position to watch in 2015 than the development of Kentucky’s deep group of wide receivers.  Depleted upon Stoops’ arrival, the head coach and offensive coordinator believe they’re 2-deep at every spot, with 10-12 competent pass-catchers available.  Which begs the question – who’s going to be the superstars?

Garrett “Juice” Johnson and #2, Dorian Baker.

The dynamic duo have created a buzz around camp entering the season, making big play after big play.  When Patrick Towles delivers them a pass, he doesn’t have to be perfect, “just get it in their zip code.”

A Quintessential Dichotomy

Juice is primarily a slot receiver, working the middle of the field, but also streaking along the sideline.  A quiet intellectual, Juice has spent countless hours over the summer studying film to perfect his craft, “He spent a lot of time in the summer in meeting rooms.  You’d walk by the meeting room and there’s Juice sitting there, eating lunch by himself watching something,” wide receiver coach Tommy Mainord said.  “Countless hours he’s spent here, trying to educate himself, not only in what we’re doing, but different guys running routes.”

He was the breakout performer of the Florida game, catching 6 passes for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns in his home state.  Unfortunately, it was only a fleeting flash of greatness.  It was disheartening, but it’s provided motivation, “There’s really nothing I could do about it now,” Juice said.  “That’s why I took it upon myself in the offseason to keep working to make sure that I don’t keep peaking, and just going up and down.”

Mainord sees a difference on the field, bringing established maturity to his play, “He’s a quick guy, he’s very quick, and he’s got a good imagination on running routes.  He sticks his foot really well, and has good ball skills.”

Baker has taken a similar approach in mentality, but has completely different tangibles.  The outside receiver is a physical specimen, remembered most for dismantling an LSU defender while his quarterback scrambled.  Towles likes having that guy on his side, “I wouldn’t fight him.  I think there’s some guys that are offensive linemen that wouldn’t.”

His physicality isn’t just a marvel while blocking, it also helps him create separation downfield to make big plays.  In tough 3rd and long situations, he can open a window for a first down.  “Well, he’s big, physical, fast, strong.  I mean, what else you want?” Shannon Dawson said.  “The kid’s a talented kid, no doubt.”

His mentality is also much more aggressive, so aggressive that some might call it cocky.  “You come in with a mindset, ‘There’s money on the line.  There’s jobs on the line and we’ve got a game in two weeks (now two days) to come out ready to roll.”

That mindset has him ready for Saturday, “(I’m) Anxious.  Almost too anxious; can’t sleep at night, I don’t even eat as much.  I’m just hungry.  I’m going to do my eating on the field, that’s how I see it.”

Competition Doesn’t Create Riffs in Chemistry

Just like Baker and Johnson, we saw flashes from all of the returning receivers at some point last year, but consistency kept the young talents from truly exploding onto the scene.  The problem has been remedied with depth, and tough competition everyday at practice.

Juice acknowledged that it can be tough during the dog days of camp, but there’s a voice in the back of his head that keeps pushing him.  If the energy is lacking, somebody steps up to inject excitement.

Blake Bone and Jeff Badet go back-and-forth, Thaddeus Snodgrass pushes Baker, and Johnson has to fend off Ryan Timmons and T.V. Williams.  They know that nothing will be given to them, “We’re not sitting here with a guy that had a hundred catches last year, and so to me, we have a bunch of players that are role players,” Dawson said. “People need to prove their worth.”

Despite the fights to prove their worth to the new offensive coordinator, Baker knows they are all in to win it as one, ““If he makes a play, it’s almost as if I made a play because we’re so close.  We’re family.  We kind of expect those things out of each other,” Baker said.  “We don’t look at who did it or who done it, we look at it as a collective unit.”

The Swagger Comes with Awesome Alter-Egos

As a unit, this group exudes confidence like I’ve never seen before.  It isn’t just on the field.  While walking around campus, you’ll see a group of them on the corner near Whitehall with their chins held high.  The students take notice.

On the field, their play has earned them nicknames.  Juice isn’t reserved just for Johnson, with the entire unit donning themselves as “The Juice Boys,” breaking huddles with a call of “JUICE.”  Individually, T.V is obviously “Television,” but Baker has been the most regarded.  Drew Barker calls him American Pharoah, Patrick Towles referred to him as a “two-car garage,” but the best description is from Coach Mainord, “He can hardly walk in a door without knocking it down, that’s his nature.”

KSR has obtained an alleged sign used for calling packages from the sideline.

KSR has obtained an alleged sign used for calling packages from the sideline.

Looking Forward

Freddie Maggard has remembered every person to play for UK since Curci’s Cats in the 70’s, and he cannot recall a deeper group of wideouts then what Kentucky brings in 2015.  They’ve made plays during the preseason.  All that’s left is seeing what they can do on Saturday.

They were young last year, discovering the nuances necessary to be successful in the SEC.  Baker described it as “an introduction year.”  A year ago, they were a bunch of kids, achieving their dream to play in the SEC.  Now they are living it everyday, transforming themselves into potential superstars, day by day.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” Baker said.  “We feel untouchable now.”


KSR’s Guide to the Season Opener

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We’re less than 48 hours from Football Time in the Bluegrass, which means you’re probably making your plans for Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana Lafayette. To help you enjoy the day in the most ridiculous manner possible, I put together this handy little guide, which includes a schedule, maps, and some DOs and DON’Ts. Go Cats.

DO arrive early

The game’s not until 7 p.m., but the parking lots open at 8 a.m. and there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained throughout the day, all of which are much more fun than sitting in traffic. Speaking of, here’s the pregame traffic flow map:

pregame

Traffic flow before the game. Click here for post game.

Lexington Police will try their best to keep everything flowing smoothly, but I can guarantee you Nicholasville Road will still be a mess. That’s why you should arrive early, otherwise, by 5:30 p.m., you’re gonna be like this while all your friends are having fun:

DO pay attention to these parking maps

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That’s right, there are three FREE PARKING GARAGES at the following locations:

  • Parking Structure #2 – accessible from University Drive near the WT Young Library
  • Parking Structure #3 – Kentucky Clinic parking off Virginia Avenue
  • Parking Structure #6 – On the corner of Virginia Avenue and Press Avenue

Click on the map above for a better view.

DO pack a little extra money if you’re planning to take the shuttle

One of the best ways to get to the games the past few years was the LexTran shuttle from downtown. Unfortunately, LexTran no longer operates the shuttle, which used to cost $5. It’s now run by Miller Transportation, who is charging $15 for a roundtrip. For more information, visit millertransportation.com.

DON’T have a tailgate? DO make a friend

Parking passes are worth their weight in gold at Commonwealth Stadium, so if you’re not one of the lucky few hosting a tailgate, make a friend who is. We’re all Cats fans, especially if you bring a nice bottle of bourbon with you.

DO pace yourself

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With highs expected to be in the 90’s, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sneak some water in between all those light beers. Speaking of, if you love craft beer but don’t love the bloat/nap that comes with it after a few, try a session ale. My favorite is Founders All-Day IPA. As always, drink responsibly.

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DO go to Matthew Mitchell/Sundy Best concert starting at 3 PM

Matthew Mitchell and the Go Big Blue Band will open for country duo Sundy Best at approximately 3 p.m. in the Glenn Infiniti of Lexington Green Lot adjacent to Gate 1. Sundy Best will take the stage at 4 p.m. and break for the Cat Walk at 4:45 p.m.

DO sing along to “Since U Been Gone”

I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Mitchell at the KSR Party last Saturday, and after I got over my fangirling, I insisted he and his band play “Since U Been Gone.” Probably in an attempt to appease the pathetic fan girl in front of him, he agreed, so I’ll be on the front row singing along. You should be too.

DON’T storm the stage and tell everyone to go streaking

This goes along with pacing yourself.

DO listen to the KSR Pregame Show

Country music not your thing? Listen to the KSR Pregame Show starting at 3 p.m. on WLAP and all the UK Radio Network affiliates. Matt, Ryan, Jared, and Drew will be making the rounds at Commonwealth Stadium to bring you the sights and sounds from opening day.

DO invite the guys to your tailgate if you’re having one

Food and cold beverages are always appreciated.

DON’T invite Kentucky Joe

Although he’ll probably already be there anyways.

DO cheer for Auburn

Because they’re playing Louisville at 3:30 p.m. and a Cardinal loss would make a great day even better.

DON’T be late to the Cat Walk

It starts at 4:45 p.m. outside Gate 1. Here’s a map:

2015-Cat-Walk-Map

If you’re lost, just look for Boom Williams’ dad. He’ll get you there:

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DO go to the Nutter Field House to watch Freddie Maggard and Christi Thomas on “Cat Talk to the Cat Walk”

Our own Freddie Maggard has a new 30-minute show with Christi Thomas entitled “Cat Talk to the Cat Walk” immediately following the KSR Pregame Show. The show, part of UK’s “Countdown to Kickoff,” will be broadcast outside of the Nutter Fieldhouse. Come check it out in person, or if you’re at home, listen on the radio or watch the live video stream on UKAthletics.com.

DO acquaint yourself with the new Stadium Map

CWS-Map-2015-v2

Which gate should you go in? Check the back of your ticket.

DON’T bring that big bag

Guests are allowed one bag no larger than 13.5″ x 10″ x 7″ and they must fit within the sizing bins at each entrance. Here’s a handy guide from UK Athletics:

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Leave the L.L. Bean backpack at home for this one.

DO expect slightly better cell service

There may not be free wifi at the stadium yet, but Mitch Barnhart said fans can expect better cell service if they have AT&T or Verizon.

DON’T nitpick over the stuff that may not be finished

Construction crews and volunteers have been working around the clock to make sure everything is finished or as closed to finished as it can be for Saturday. This morning, Mitch Barnhart said there will be a few things left to do, but odds are, you won’t even notice them unless you’re in the suite level. Besides, this is a football game, not HGTV. Chill.

Instead…

DO marvel at the transformation

I love Commonwealth Stadium, but I think we can all agree it hasn’t exactly been the coolest stadium in the SEC, unless you’re really into plain concrete. Now, Kentucky football finally has a stadium fans can be proud of, and all season, TV commentators and visiting fans will be buzzing about it. Enjoy it.

DO pat Mitch Barnhart on the back if you see him

He deserves it.


Notes from the Last Time We’ll Hear from Stoops Before ULL

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–  Jordan Jones will get plenty of reps in place of Ryan Flannigan.  Even though he’s a true freshman.  Even though he’s been sidelined for almost a month because of an undisclosed illness, Mark Stoops still REALLY likes what he sees.  Jones reacts quickly, and he has what we in the biz like to call a nose for the ball, “He’s a different bird,” Stoops said.

Stoops hasn’t decided if Jones, Khalid Henderson or Eli Brown will start, but all will play.  Flannigan isn’t being held out to be saved for the future.  If Stoops could play him, he would, “That’s not even close to what I’m thinking.”

–  Today’s practice was a light walk-thru; tomorrow will be more intense.  Continuing a tradition from last year, the Cats went though their light walk-thru today, picking the tempo up tomorrow.  Stoops believes it gives them a sense of urgency, and keeps them from being lethargic on game day, “I think it helps with timing, and getting the guys moving, because when you play those night games, you’re sitting around all day Friday and all day Saturday.”

–  He feels good about his pass rushers.  They aren’t Bud and Z, but Faro (Farrington Huguenin) and Denzil Ware have been exceptional, and Josh Allen has been a pleasant surprise.  D.J. Eliot preached on the importance of pressuring the quarterbacks on Tuesday, giving them credit for causing more turnovers through the air.

–  Courtney Love will NOT be eligible to play this Fall.  Stoops heard the word earlier this week.  Don’t take the news too harshly, it was a longshot from the start.

–   Stoops believes his defense will be better this year than last year.  It could just be coach talk, but I think he truly believes those words.  His secondary has a lot more experience and Josh Forrest has learned how to stop the run by filling holes quicker.  He knows there will be growing pains, but believes there is a much better comfort level overall.

–  Stoops’ advice to Westry: keep your eyes on the prize.  He’s never played in front of this many people before; there’s going to be a lot to look at.  Stoops knows he’ll be fine once he gets settled in, but until then, he’s telling him to keep his eyes disciplined, “Young guys have a tendency to start looking at a lot of things, except the things they’re supposed to be looking at.”

You can watch all of Mark Stoops’ comments here, and while you’re watching football tonight, Tweet along with me @RoushKSR.


SI.com Ranks Anthony Davis as the…

Davis

SI.com ranked the top 100 NBA players heading into the 2015-16 season. The biggest question for most is where would Anthony Davis end up. He’s often considered the best young talent in the NBA and the next big thing, expected to take over the torch once the LeBron James’ of the world get past their prime.

Well, they ranked him third. Kind of. Here’s what was said about Davis:

The tradeoff in giving Kevin Durant the benefit of the doubt as the No. 2 player in our rankings is that it underrates Davis. Fit this one with an asterisk for upward mobility; no other player in the NBA can quite match Davis’s plausible upside as a still-growing 22-year-old MVP candidate. It seems only a matter of time until Davis becomes the consensus choice for the best in the game—a reality that could come to fruition as soon as this season. For now, we prefer LeBron James and a healthy Durant. For tomorrow, we unquestionably prefer Davis. [SI.com]

Davis is up one spot from last year’s rankings. Also making the list was Nerlens Noel (No. 97), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 85), Brandon Knight (No. 79), Eric Bledsoe (No. 33), DeMarcus Cousins (No. 14) and John Wall (No. 13).


Ryan Flannigan will NOT play Saturday

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Well crap.

Stoops announced today that senior linebacker Ryan Flannigan is out Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette. Khalid Henderson and Jordan Jones, a true freshman, will have to fill his shoes against the Ragin’ Cajuns. A starter hasn’t been determined between those two.

When asked if there’s a mindset of holding Flannigan back to preserve him for later, Stoops said, “If he is ready to play, he would play. I don’t make those decisions and I don’t influence anybody. Doctors tell me if they can play. I don’t go anywhere near those decisions.”

So there ya go.


A High Point Response to BTI

@UKcoachbrooks

@UKcoachbrooks

BTI posted this morning about the high and low points of UK football, specific to your lifetime. Well, with games currently going on, I’m going to throw one more high point out there specific to my age (late 20’s) that truly changed the way Kentucky football was a program.

It was November 4, 2006 and Homecoming Weekend in Lexington when a Georgia team with Matthew Stafford under center came to town. The Wildcats were 4-4 and 2-3 in SEC play, losing to big name teams like LSU, Florida and South Carolina. This was viewed as a somewhat must-win game for Rich Brooks and company, trying to secure their spot in a bowl. Kentucky trailed early, but Andre Woodson threw two touchdowns to Keenan Burton and Trevard Lindley picked Stafford off on the final possession to seal the win.

It ultimately showed that Kentucky could win a big game under Brooks, before heading down to the Music City Bowl to beat Clemson. This was the first time fans in Commonwealth Stadium felt their team could truly compete with anyone and more importantly it led to an epic storming of the field. I truly believe without this win, the victory over No. 1 LSU a year later doesn’t happen.


We now have all five parts of TSN’s Calipari exclusive

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We now have “John Calipari: The Strategist,” the fifth and final piece in Mike DeCourcy’s series on John Calipari.

 

This time, DeCourcy writes about John Calipari, the coach. It begins with the story of how Cal blew UMass’s chances against Kentucky in the 1992 Sweet Sixteen, setting up the Laettner game in the Regional Final. As one of his former players tells it, Calipari took complete responsibility in the locker room after receiving a technical foul late in a close game.

“I don’t know there would have been many coaches that would have stepped up like that.”

The piece then goes on to look at Cal’s career numbers, his ability to adapt to his personnel, and something we all remember well: the tweak.

“Whether it was a marketing scheme or a tactical adjustment, it worked,” DeCourcy writes.

Read more in the final part of the series. All five parts linked here below:

John Calipari: The Success
John Calipari: The Salesman
John Calipari: The Target
John Calipari: The Citizen
John Calipari: The Strategist


Scratch directs traffic in Brad Paisley’s new music video

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Brad Paisley has a bizarre new music video with mascots from around the SEC and other parts of the country, including Oregon, for some reason. Most of the “Country Nation” video was filmed inside Vanderbilt Stadium, but Kentucky’s own Scratch is seen directing traffic midway through.

Scratch reappears near the end when a Paisley mascot lunges for a touchdown. It went in the books as a score but I think Scratch got the goal line stop.

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Has the extra point been kicked? Can we throw a challenge flag here?

Anyway, here’s the video…


UK’s starting fullback has the best nickname in football

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Pikeville’s Will Thomas Collins will make his University of Kentucky football debut this Saturday when he starts at fullback for the Wildcats.

But forget all that for now. Let’s talk about his nickname: “Taco Meat.”

“Last summer, I got done with a summer workout and went home to my uncle’s house,” Collins explained, in a story on UKAthletics.com. “He had made about two pounds of taco meat and put it in the fridge. I was starving, and looked in the fridge and saw this taco meat and thought ‘Alright’. So I took it out, microwaved it, put some cheese and taco sauce on it, and ate it with chips. He came home, I was watching TV and he said, ‘Where is all my taco meat at?’ And I said, ‘Well, I ate all your taco meat’. He said ‘That was for supper; it was for the whole family.’”

The nickname stuck and Collins often hears it shouted during practice from Vince Marrow, his position coach. Marrow also calls Taco Meat a “thumper” at fullback.

Read more about the Pikeville transfer here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to brown up some taco meat.


Sleep Outfitters’ Thursday Recruiting Roundup

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There’s not a ton of new recruiting news in either sport, but let’s hit what we can from this week…

Sacha Killeya-Jones bumped to five stars.

Rivals.com updated its 2016 class rankings yesterday and Sacha Killeya-Jones saw a huge bump up the list. The UK commit is now ranked No. 26 — up 25 spots from 51 — and earned his fifth star.

KENTUCKY EFFECT!!!!

Can we just sign the whole Big Blue Madness guest list and win it all in 2016-17?

Check out the current list of visitors:

Harry Giles
De’Aaron Fox
Malik Monk
Miles Bridges
Sacha Killeya-Jones

Give me that starting Fab 5 next year all damn day.

The Herald-Leader has a good read on Drake Jackson and Woodford’s O-line.

Take a second to learn more about UK’s next center and his teammates at Woodford County. Jackson confesses his love for Mexican food in the article, so he’s my new favorite player.

Read: Unprecedented Woodford County offensive line packs a punch

Watch UK commit Gunnar Hoak fire the pigskin in his first game as a senior.

Hoak threw for 201 yards and three touchdown on only 13 pass attempts in the win.

 

You look like you’re hurting today. You sleeping okay? You should check out that Sleep Outfitters deal for a new mattress.


We almost got the GOAT in the UK-UNC Alumni Game

The biggest name in basketball history almost accepted an invite to participate in the UK-UNC alumni game. Michael Jordan was invited to coach the Tar Heel team but had to decline the invitation due to other obligations.

“I tried to get Michael to come back and coach the team but he’s going to be out of the country or something,” Calipari told us yesterday.

The game is already loaded with stars and now has ESPN on board to televise it to the entire country, but M.J. would’ve taken things to an even higher level. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have the GOAT coaching against all of our favorite players in Rupp Arena.

Out of the country? I say he is scared.

You scared, Mike? I think you’re scared. Aren’t you the one who said, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Sounds to me like you’re not trying. Get in there, Your Airness.


Saturday’s game is SOLD OUT! (Update: Maybe not)

@ukphotogs

It looks like it will be a completely packed house for the grand opening of the New CWS this Saturday night. According to a tweet from the starting quarterback, Big Blue Nation answered the call and bought up all the tickets to see the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Can’t. Wait.

(UPDATE)

It looks like there are still a few available on Ticketmaster.com. The UK Ticket Office announced a complete sellout for students tickets, which might’ve confused my news source, Patrick Towles’ Twitter.

Buy up the few that are left!


A Whole Lot of New on Saturday

Saturday will unveil Commonwealth Stadium upgrades. On the new artificial playing surface, several Wildcats will be making their initial run in game action. From a player’s perspective, there is very little more exciting than their initial game week experience. Throughout the hours leading up to kickoff, newcomers will be facing the uptick of seriousness as the high stakes game of college football translates from a dream to reality.

Below is a by position breakdown of Wildcats that will play in their first college football snap against Louisiana-Lafayette. (True freshmen/first-year guys in bold)

OFFENSE

Coordinator- Coach Shannon Dawson

TE- CJ Conrad and Darryl Long

RT- George Asafo-Adjei

LG- Bunchy Stallings

RG- Jarrett LaRubbio

WR- Thaddeus Snodgrass

QB- Drew Barker

FB- Will Tom Collins and Tanner Fink

RB/KR- Sihiem King

DEFENSE

DE- Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell

DT- Adrian Middleton

DE/OLB- Denzil Ware and Kengera Daniel

Sam LB- Josh Allen

Mike LB- Nico Firios

Will LB- Eli Brown

CB- Chris Westry and Derrick Baity

Safety- Mike Edwards and Darius West

By my count, that’s 22 Wildcats. Three position groups are completely comprised with newcomers: tight end, fullback and defensive end/outside linebacker.

Nerves and excitement will be plentiful. Prior to my first offensive series, a sledgehammer couldn’t have pried out my mouthpiece. It’s scary and an experience of sensory overload. Again, it’s ok to be nervous. Means that you care. This group won’t be scared. Mark Stoops addressed this at his Monday press conference and said he would “rather say whoa! than getty-up!

For those listed above, an unspoken concern is that first time players will need to monitored during warmups.  Rookies can expend excessive energy before the football is kicked off. These are exciting times. Saturday will be fun. Young players make mistakes. However, this group will make those expected errors at 100 mph.


The Sporting News released Part 4 this morning

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While you were listening to Mitch Barnhart and purchasing UK Alumni Game tickets this morning, Mike DeCourcy released the fourth piece of his five-part series on John Calipari.

This one is called: John Calipari: The Citizen.

Maybe my favorite of the first four parts, “The Citizen” focuses on Calipari the man, and his charity and goodwill around Kentucky and beyond.

One local business owner said, “There’s never been a coach in the history of Kentucky that’s leveraged that position for the greater good of more people than John Calipari.”

And that’s pretty accurate.

Read more on Citizen Cal in DeCourcy’s latest release here.

Check out the others below:

John Calipari: The Success
John Calipari: The Salesman
John Calipari: The Target