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November 24th, 2014

The Tao of “The Brow”: Anthony Davis’ Selfless Path to Immortality

2012 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Hillel the Elder, wandering the streets of ancient Jerusalem, accosted by a smart aleck stranger.  “Rabbi Hillel,” the intruder shouted, “I challenge you to teach me the entire Bible while standing on one foot.”

Hillel didn’t hesitate. He stood on one foot and exclaimed: “Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the whole Bible.  All the rest is commentary.  Now go and learn it!”

Hillel’s words reveal a universal morality.  Every single one of the world’s religious traditions holds at its very core the same notion:  That when we act on behalf of others, when we abandon our own selfish instincts and serve the greater community, that’s when we are most holy.  That’s when we are doing God’s work.

It’s also the Tao of “The Brow.”

And remarkably, Anthony Davis’ deep and sturdy spirit of unselfishness is propelling him into the pantheon of American sport.

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I’m often asked by my coastal friends how a Jewish pischer like me could win statewide election in an inner notch of the Bible Belt.  It’s simple, I tell them: There’s only one state-established religion in the Commonwealth, and that’s Wildcat basketball. (Besides, Kentucky features some of the most rabid anti-Christian hatred in the country.  Christian Laettner, that is.)

I exaggerate only slightly.  As I discussed in my inaugural KSR column, it’s tough to over-estimate the spiritual connection between the people of Kentucky and our beloved hoops squad. On game day, much of our diverse and often deeply divided Commonwealth joins in one voice; we become a coherent and inter-dependent congregation.

Rupp Arena is the cathedral of our devotion, with its own set of religious rites.  Consider the “Y”:  After a group of cheerleaders contort their bodies to spell out the first seven letters of the state’s name, a special luminary remains alone at center court as the letter “Y”: the equivalent of a high priest standing in the middle of the Great Temple, reaching toward the heavens, bringing the blue-attired parishioners to their feet and lifting the faithful into frenzied revival.

When play resumes, this same community spirit is modeled on the hardwood.  Coach John Calipari regularly recruits the nation’s top talent; but the Cats win only when Cal convinces his players to check their egos at the locker room door, forget about their personal scoring stats and work in the team’s best interest.  This is another universal truth: The sport’s greatest icons — Michael, LeBron, Wilt — all earned their place in hoops lore only after they learned to surrender their own ball-hogging self-interest for the common good.

As Anthony Davis prepares to join this elite list, he already gets it. Maybe he was born that way.  Or perhaps his bounty was born out of necessity.

What’s certain is that The Brow wasn’t born a superstar.  Unlike many of his NBA contemporaries, Davis didn’t spend his childhood or even most of his adolescence lifted up on a hard court pedestal, coddled by ego-stroking, money-grubbing sycophants, grasping to exploit his inevitable celebrity.  He didn’t have the chance to pick up all of the narcissistic habits that too often result from excessive teenage entitlement.  His path to primacy materialized, almost suddenly, from the ether.

To put Davis’s supersonic career trajectory into perspective, consider where he was in 2009.  This was just five years ago: Barack Obama was already President; Justin Bieber was already infamous; our cineplexes were already filled with X-Men, Transformers, and Twilight vampires.  Unless you are reading this from your college dorm, you probably looked the same.

Not Anthony Davis.  In 2009, he was 6 foot 3, a skinny high school sophomore point guard who had been recently known as “the little guy who would shoot threes from the corner.” Only one Division 1 school was recruiting him: Cleveland State. (Yes, the C-State Vikings are D1; they play in that powerhouse conference known as the Horizon League.)

In 2009, Davis wasn’t touring the country on the AAU circuit; instead, he was working out with his cousins on guard drills that his uncle had developed.  He was receiving a solid high school education — the Perspectives Charter School that he had attended since sixth grade is a reputable science and math academy — but they weren’t known for balling:  His junior year team finished 8-15.

And then…Anthony Davis grew.  By senior year, Davis reached 6 foot 10, lit up the Chicago Public High School League (on a still-lousy team), and drew the notice of coaches, shoe sellers, agents, fans, boosters…well, everybody. You know the rest: McDonald’s All-American, first team Parade All-American, year-early projection as an NBA lottery pick, and of course, signed by the program with THE GREATEST TRADITION IN THE HISTORY OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL.

To recite Davis’ accomplishments in his magical 2011-12 season in Blue and White would insult even the most casual KSR reader.  But here are some of the most instructive highlights:

That one of the most talented young men ever to lace up UK Nikes was principally hailed for his defense, only scoring an average of 14 points a game…

That his signature regular season moment was not some acrobatic slam dunk, but rather an iconic blocked shot, swatting away a John Henson eight footer with four seconds left to preserve a one-point victory over arch-rival North Carolina…

That in the NCAA championship game, on his way to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Davis hadn’t scored a single point by halftime…

And that, as more often than not, the consensus national player of the year fundamentally controlled the choreography of the Big Dance through his unselfish passing, gritty defense, and imposing court presence.

The quiet, dignified, most-skilled athlete on an über-talented squad, Anthony Davis modeled Calipari’s symbiotic system from the moment he slipped on the number 23.

In short, the tall teenager was the ultimate team player.

The transition from teen idol to NBA stardom wasn’t easy.  His first two seasons were plagued by crippling injuries and subpar teammates. But sometime last year, Davis had a counterintuitive revelation:  That sometimes the most unselfish behavior requires more self-focused responsibility.

Cue again Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Last spring, Davis determined that the time was now.  Force-feeding himself a heavy dose of self-confidence (and apparently, protein), he agonizingly built up muscle, furiously refined his offensive skills, and maybe even grew another inch or two.  Last March featured a 10 game stretch in which he averaged 29.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game.  And this fall, after a dozen games, Davis is averaging more than 26 points and 11 rebounds an outing (including a monstrous personal best 43/14 Saturday), as well as nearly 4 blocked shots a contest.  While Kevin Durant wears street clothes, Anthony Davis is now, almost out of nowhere, widely considered the best hoopster on the planet not named LeBron.

Anthony Davis’ basketball immortality will be determined over the next few years by his ability to translate his selfless spirit into true leadership — that is, the proverbial lifting up of his fellow teammates (or perhaps like King James, assembling a complimentary group of stars around him.)  But ultimately, Davis’ success will rest on remembering how far he’s come — and grown — without the suffocating entitlement that too often consumes our young sports stars.

So every day, this bright young man grateful for his unique, late-blooming gifts, and dedicated to empowering the community around him toward mutual progress, will likely continue to leap forward, toward common higher ground.

And in doing so, Anthony Davis will provide a model for the rest of us.

That is the Tao of “The Brow.”  All the rest is commentary.  Now go and learn it.


Calipari checking in on Harry Giles tonight

Coach Cal is in North Carolina this evening to watch Harry Giles, a top five player in the 2016 class. Giles’ Wesleyan Christian is sold out for tonight’s game but Cal found his way in, as did an assistant from Duke, Giles’ presumed leader.

Giles has long had an offer from UK and has been high on the staff’s list in the class.


Former Cats take over the league leaderboard

leagueleaders1124

While the current Cats are dominating college basketball, it’s nice to know that the former Cats are doing pretty well for themselves in the NBA. Four different former Cats lead the league in statistical categories: Rajon Rondo in assists; DeMarcus Cousins in rebounds; Anthony Davis in blocks; and John Wall in steals. Davis even leads the NBA in player efficiency rating (PER) at 35.9, the only tarter in the league with a PER higher than 28. Phew. The Sporting News’ Sean Deveney argues that makes Davis the clear frontrunner for MVP:

We are only a month into the season, but already, Davis has established himself as an All-Star shoo-in — and, though it is obviously early in the year, it is not too early to consider Davis the easy front-runner in the NBA’s MVP race.

Keep cleaning up, boys.

[Sporting News]


The Harrison Twins and Karl Towns named to the Oscar Robertson Watch List

Congrats to the Harrison Twins and Karl Towns, who were named to the early-season watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, given annually to the best player in college basketball by the US Basketball Writers Association. UK accounted for three of the SEC’s five players on the list, which also included LSU’s Jordan Mickey and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis.

Oscar Robertson Trophy Watch List
Ron Baker, Wichita State
Branden Dawson, Michigan State
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Caris LeVert, Michigan
Jordan Mickey, LSU
Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Angel Rodriquez, Miami
Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Justise Winslow, Duke
Delon Wright, Utah

Meanwhile, the Cats were shut out of the weekly SEC awards, with Alabama’s Levi Randolph taking home SEC Player of the Week and Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin IV taking home SEC Freshman of the Week.

Wade Baldwin IV is almost more of a Vandy name than Patton Robinette.


KSR will be live at Fan Outfitters in Hamburg tomorrow

Got plans tomorrow morning? Get an early start on the Thanksgiving holiday by coming to Fan Outfitters in Hamburg Pavilion from 10 a.m. to noon to hear Matt and Ryan talk Cats, turkey, and whatever else comes to mind.

No word on if they’ll have 100 lbs. coats in stock.


Kentucky opens as a 31-point favorite over UT-Arlington

After beating Montana State by 58 points, the Cats are a 31-point favorite over UT-Arlington. UK beat the Mavericks 105-76 last season. This year, UT-Arlington has already played two of UK’s previous opponents, beating Grand Canyon 66-64 and losing to Buffalo 74-68. Something tells me they won’t score nearly that many points tomorrow night.


Dorian Baker says he tore his LCL

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.44.46 PM

Earlier today, Mark Stoops announced that Dorian Baker injured his knee in practice last week and will be out the rest of the season. Stoops didn’t give specifics other than Baker will need surgery, but today, Baker posted on Instagram that he has torn his lateral collateral ligament (LCL).

According to ye olde internets, the LCL supports the outer side of the knee and is responsible for the elasticity of the knee when it bows out or rotates. It’s the least likely knee ligament to be sprained because most LCL injuries are caused by a blow to the inside of the knee, and that area usually is shielded by the opposite leg. We don’t know the severity of Baker’s tear, but the recovery time can take anywhere from 3-9 months.

Get well soon, Dorian.


Stoops confident losing streak won’t hurt recruiting

Darrell Bird | CatsPause.com

Darrell Bird | CatsPause.com

After starting the season out 5-1, the Cats lost five straight, which has pretty much killed all of the momentum headed into the season finale against Louisville. Has the losing streak affected recruiting? Earlier today, Mark Stoops said not at all.

“No, not at all. I feel very good about where we’re at and where we’re going recruiting,” Stoops told reporters. When asked, he said he doesn’t believe the losing streak has put doubts in his current players’ heads either. “No, I don’t worry about that one bit. We have a good group of players that enjoy playing here and have really worked hard and done the right things. I think you could ask them, I think they have full trust in what we’re doing. So I don’t worry about that at all on the recruiting front.”

Meanwhile, Damien Harris had this reaction to the news Dorian Baker will be out the rest of the season with a knee injury:

Emojipedia (yes, there is such a thing) describes that as the “weary face.” Weary because he’s sad about his future teammate’s injury, amirite??


UK giving out individual player posters at each home game starting Sunday

Did you love this poster that was distributed at Big Blue Madness? Then you’ll love to hear that UK will distribute individual versions featuring each player at each home game, starting with freshman Devin Booker’s poster for the Providence game on Sunday. The first 5,000 fans at Rupp Arena for each game will receive one poster for free.

Here’s the schedule:

Providence – Devin Booker (Nov. 30)
Texas – Trey Lyles (Dec. 5)
Eastern Kentucky – Karl-Anthony Towns (Dec. 7)
Columbia – Tyler Ulis (Dec. 10)
North Carolina – Alex Poythress (Dec. 13)
Ole Miss – Aaron Harrison (Jan. 6)
Missouri – Andrew Harrison (Jan. 13)
Vanderbilt – Willie Cauley-Stein (Jan. 20)
Alabama – Dakari Johnson (Jan. 31)
Georgia – Marcus Lee (Feb. 3)
South Carolina – Derek Willis (Feb. 14)
Auburn – Dominique Hawkins (Feb. 21)
Arkansas – EJ Floreal (Feb. 28)
Florida – Sam Malone, Tod Lanter and Brian Long (Senior Day, March 7)

Posters will be distributed in the main concourse at Rupp Arena. Doors open 90 minutes prior to tipoff and fans are encouraged to arrive early and proceed to the table where posters are being distributed after entering the arena.


Watch Mark Stoops preview Louisville

Transcript after the jump.

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It’s a good thing there was a Bye Week, and other takeaways from Stoops’ Press Conference

Mark Zerof/USA Today

Mark Zerof/USA Today

–  Tyler has kept you well-informed of the injury situation, but it should be said again: this team REALLY needed a break.  “You can’t help but feel better,” Stoops said.  “It was nice to have one day off.”

Even so, a week might not have been enough.  Dorian Baker is done for the year, Kyle Meadows probably is too, Towles’ ankle is tweaked, and those are just the people we know about.  The ‘banged up’ qualification probably applies to more than not.  Hopefully the Bye Week gave them enough mental rest to overcome the physical pains for just one more week.

–  Get Reggie Rattled.  When it was announced the Reggie Bonnafon would be Louisville’s starting QB for the final two games of the season, UK fans became optimistic that the defensive line could rattle the true freshman in a big game.  That changed last week when a composed Bonnafon went to Notre Dame Stadium and threw for 180 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 35 yards and two scores.  “I’ve been impressed.  [He’s] very cool.  He’s just been very poised back there, making good decisions.”

–  About the play-actions.  Stoops may have only briefly mentioned Petrino’s play-action passes, but it was enough for me to exhale.  There isn’t one thing that could disappoint me more than if the Cats gave up a deep ball to Devante Parker off a play-action on the first play of the game.  They did it against Florida State.  Petrino did it at WKU against the Cats and I can name at least a handful of personal memories from Petrino’s last tour at Louisville, with Urrutia’s stiffarm against Miami the most memorable.

The bad news: the corners were pretty banged up after Tennessee.  It also doesn’t help that stopping the run will be the #1 priority this week on defense, making them even more susceptible to the play-action.  “Any offense that has the balance that can run and pass, they put you in that situation where they can get him (Parker) in some one-on-ones because they can run the ball.”

Stoops is going to add some wrinkles to apply additional pressure on Parker in underneath coverage, but if UK’s corners are stuck in one-on-ones I do not like our chances.

–  Patrick Towles could enter the NCAA record books, for the wrong reason.  If you haven’t been paying attention, Louisville has the best defensive back in America.  Gerod Holliman has recorded 13 interceptions this season, one shy of tying an NCAA record that has stood since 1968.  To give the stat some perspective, 17 UK players have caught passes this season: Holliman has more catches on defense than half of them do on offense.  To make things even more difficult, he isn’t a corner you can throw away from, he plays centerfield of the defense as safety, “The other safety, #2, is just as good.  He doesn’t have the numbers, but very good football players, both of them.”

–  At the end of the day, it’s either win or go home for the Cats.  Despite the obstacles that lie ahead and everything that’s at stake in this game, Stoops is confident his team’s effort will not be lacking, “I think we all know what we’re playing for.  They know that.  There’s no point in hiding it from them.” 


UK still #1 in both polls

Photo by Darrell Bird, 247Sports

Photo by Darrell Bird, 247Sports

In news that will surprise no one, the Cat are on top of the polls once again this week, slowly stealing first place votes from just about every other team. In the AP poll, UK had 62 of the 65 first place votes, and 29 of the 32 first place votes in the USA Today Coaches poll:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.10.01 PM

Go Cats.


4-star Vandy commit will take an official visit to Kentucky

Good news in football recruiting: 4-star linebacker Josh Smith told Rivals’ Woody Womack that he’s planning to take an official visit to Kentucky sometime soon. The Murfreesboro, Tennessee native is considered the 7th best inside linebacker and the 283rd overall player in the 2015 class and committed to Vanderbilt back in July, but has now decided to take official visits to Kentucky and Ole Miss, along with one to Vanderbilt in January.

“Everything’s going well with Vanderbilt, still sticking strong,” Smith said of his commitment to Vandy. Smith’s brother plays for the Commodores, which could make flipping him especially difficult; however, getting him on campus can’t hurt, especially if it happens on December 13, a huge recruiting weekend in which almost all of UK’s current commits and top targets are set to take their officials.

Come on down and let Vince Marrow entertain you.

[Rivals]


So, about Patrick Towles’ ankle…

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Patrick Towles sprained his ankle during the loss at Tennessee, but was able to come back in. Today, Mark Stoops hinted that Patrick’s still not at 100%, and the staff is anxious to see how he performs in practice this afternoon. “We’ll see how he is today. Hopefully he’ll be out there full strength today,” Stoops said. “I’d just like to see him really put it all on the line this week and go play. Really be the leader he’s shown at times.”

A rough slide of SEC losses caused morale to dip considerably, but that can all change with a win over the Cards. Stoops called the opportunity to beat Louisville and become bowl eligible a “beautiful thing” and he expects his team to be ready for it. “I think we all know what we’re playing for. They know that. There’s no point in hiding from it,” Stoops said. “I think a win this weekend would mean an awful lot to these players. I think they deserve it, and that’s what I’ve said to them.”

Nick Roush will be by with more notes here in a bit. #BeatLouisville.


Dorian Baker injured his knee last week, needs surgery

Andy Lyon/Getty

Andy Lyon/Getty

Unfortunate news for one of Kentucky’s most promising wide receivers: Mark Stoops told reporters that freshman Dorian Baker injured a knee in practice last week and will need surgery. He’ll be out for the rest of the season.