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April 23rd, 2014

Don’t forget: Calipari is on “The Colbert Report” tonight

We now interrupt your celebrations for a brief programming reminder. John Calipari will be a guest on “The Colbert Report” tonight at 11:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

For those of you aren’t familiar, “The Colbert Report” is a satirical news show hosted by Stephen Colbert, who plays a conservative political pundit similar to Bill O’Reilly. Colbert was just tapped as David Letterman’s successor at “The Late Show” on CBS.

This has potential to be Calipari’s most bizarre appearance yet, so set those DVRs.


After two injuries, Josh Clemons says he’s better than ever

Photo by Darrell Bird | CatsPause.com

Photo by Darrell Bird | CatsPause.com

It’s been a rough few years for Josh Clemons. The junior running back came to Lexington in 2011 as one of Joker Phillips’ most highly-touted recruits, and immediately lived up to the hype, running for 279 years on 65 carries and two touchdowns through six games. Clemons really looked like a star in the making during the Eastern Michigan game, in which he had 14 carries for 126 yards, including an 87-yard touchdown run that, at the time, was the longest in Commonwealth Stadium history.

Unfortunately, all that progress came to an abrupt halt when Clemons injured his knee against South Carolina and had to sit out the rest of his freshman season. Clemons redshirted his sophomore season to rehab, returning to the field in the spring of 2013 with a new head coach and a healthy leg. He had a huge spring, with 10 carries for 56 yards and two catches for 17 yards in the Spring Game, and was poised for a major comeback, until he injured his Achilles’ tendon during offseason workouts. I spoke to Clemons last week, and he said the setback was “devastating,” but the rehab process gave him hope:

“It was very frustrating at first. I was so close to going into fall camp with the guys, so it was devastating at first, but after I sat down and got off the crutches and was able to work again, my confidence level rose up and I had fun watching the guys play.

Clemons spent all of last season rehabbing his ankle, and now he’s back at spring practice again. How’s the ankle? “It’s doing fine,” Clemons said. “It feels normal. It feels like I’m going at 100%.”

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Mark Stoops agrees, telling reporters a few weeks ago that Clemons may be even more comfortable on the field this year than last. “He really looks good, he does. He almost looks more comfortable right now before his last injury,” Stoops said, adding that the staff is being cautious not to overwork him. “It is good to see him out there and we are trying to be very smart with him and get him through this spring. We have good backs so we are rotating all those guys and just trying to be smart with him as far as reps are concerned.”

Fear of reinjury can haunt some players for the rest of their lives, and after he injured his knee his freshman year, even Josh admitted that he babied it a bit last spring. I asked Josh if that’s been a concern for him this season, and he said that there are so many distractions, it’s easy not to focus on his ankle and knee.

“It’s kind of easy because we have so many different things we could be looking at, like looking at the defense, knowing my assignment and playing fast, so you don’t really have time to think about stuff like that.”

Running back is one of Kentucky’s strongest positions so far, with Clemons, sophomore JoJo Kemp, transfer Braylon Heard, and freshman Mikel Horton battling it out in spring practice. Freshman superstar Boom Williams will be added to the mix in the fall, making the running back position the deepest it’s been in years. Clemons had earned plenty of kudos from his coaches so far. Right now, he says he’s only focusing on himself, and doing what the coaches ask of him.

“I’m just trying to be able to do everything the coaches ask me to do, whether it’s picking up the blitz or running the ball, reading the right keys, catching the ball in the backfield. I’m just trying to execute all the plays to the best of my ability.”

Even though he had a good spring last year, Clemons said this year, he’s taken his game to a new level. “I feel like I’m playing a little faster than I was last spring, understanding my assignments a little better,” Clemons said, a progression he’s seeing in the team as a whole. “As a team, I think we’re a lot farther ahead than we were at the end of last season, so everyone is making strides in the right direction.”

In fact, Clemons says fans that come out to Saturday’s Spring Game will see a “whole different team”: “I hope fans all come out because we’re a whole different team than last year, everybody’s mindset this year is on winning games, and we’re going to win games.”

For a program in the midst of the rebuilding process, there may be no better representative than Clemons, ready for his third shot at stardom after a long, hard road.


Julius Randle and James Young signing tours

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Now that they’ve left the Kentucky basketball program, Julius Randle and James Young are free to move about the state to sign photos, kiss babies and meet all the fans that adore them. And you’re invited.

Check out their upcoming stops below and we’ll let you know if and when they add more:

Julius Randle

Thursday, April 24 – Wildcat Wearhouse – Ashland 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Friday, April 25 – Hillbilly Days – Pikeville – 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 26 – Hillbilly Days – Pikeville – 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 26 – Lexington Sports Card – 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, April 27 – Elizabethtown Mall – 12:30 – 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 29 – Tin Roof – Louisville – 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

James Young

Sunday, April 27 – Wildcats and More Store – Dry Ridge – 1:00 -2:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 27 – Lexington Sports Cards – 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Cats.


Join Draft Street’s $100,000 MLB Pick ‘Em League

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Our good friends at DraftStreet.com are back with another potentially profitable contest, this one coming from the world of Major League Baseball.

For the low cost of $22, you can participate in a Friday night fantasy baseball competition with a prize pool of $100,000. First place will win $20,000 of that pot while 749 other participants will walk away with some form of a payout.

The Pick ‘Em style draft is now open to anyone interested in playing, so head over the league page to sign up and get started. Just click the link below, pick your team from the eight tiers of available players, and buy me dinner when you win. It’s that simple.

DraftStreet.com’s $100,000 MLB Pick ‘Em League (For games on April 25)


“Players First” debuts at #3 on the New York Times’ Best Seller List

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Congratulations to John Calipari, whose new book, “Players First” debuted at number three on the New York Times’ Best Seller list in the print hardcover nonfiction category.

You can purchase the book here, or visit Cal on one of his stops on his book tour:

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What they’re saying about Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson coming back

Photo © Dale Zanine

Photo © Dale Zanine

Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson made the Big Blue Nation giggle like schoolgirls when they announced they are returning for their junior and sophomore years, respectively. Here’s a sampling of their reactions, starting with Alex Poythress’ decision:

ALEX POYTHRESS 

CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish:

The 6-foot-7 forward was considered a likely second-round pick had he entered this draft. Either way, there are now three legitimate NBA prospects at UK — Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee and Poythress — who have announced they’re returning to school. Meantime, freshmen Julius Randle and James Young have announced they’re leaving for the NBA Draft, which means Kentucky is still waiting on formal decisions from freshmen Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and Dakari Johnson. If the Harrisons return, Kentucky will likely again be ranked No. 1 in all preseason polls.

NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster:

Poythress averaged 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds as a sophomore, and while he showed flashes of being the kind of electrifying talent that he was expected to be entering the program — particularly during Kentucky’s run to the national title game — Poythress was known more for his inconsistency than anything else this season.

That’s why it was a smart decision for Poythress to return to school. He has all the athleticism that he needs, but he’s still a tweener with a reputation that’s less than flattering.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman:

Adam Zagoria:

Kentucky sophomore forward Alex Poythress made the wise decision to return to Kentucky for next season, adding to what will surely be a loaded frontcourt and a very deep team.

The 6-foot-7 forward is projected as the No. 42 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com, and can help his stock with a strong season next year.

The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy:

Poythress showed 3-point shooting ability as a freshman but declined a bit at that distance in his second season. He’ll need to improve that to attract NBA interest, but also to hold down a small forward position if that is to become his place with next season’s Wildcats.

…and then there was this tweet, from Tim Sullivan:

Sigh. Was that really necessary, Tim?

DAKARI JOHNSON

Adam Zagoria:

Rob Dauster

Jeff Goodman

Yeah, all of college basketball.

Eamonn Brennan:

A 7-foot center whose combination of size and athletic gifts made him a low-post force in the tournament (especially alongside Julius Randle), Johnson is one of those big men who is both preternaturally athletic and still growing into his body. He has the proverbial “baby fat” scouts love to minimize in their imaginations. Either the NBA now or a year in school (and then the NBA) would have probably worked out equally well for him. A decision to return creates a crowded frontcourt situation for Kentucky, one that should terrify anyone outside Big Blue Nation’s border territories.

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Dakari is hungry

Let’s eat.


Devin Booker gets it

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For the second time today, incoming freshman Devin Booker sent out a tweet that has the BBN smiling and nodding its head:

Oh, Devin. You’ll learn soon enough that it’s because the national media is lazy, and it’s easier to hate than admit you’re wrong.

But, calling out the national media for their hypocrisy? You’re really a member of the family now.


Cal speaks about Dakari coming back

Photo © Mark Zerof

Photo © Mark Zerof

We’ve already seen Dakari and his mother’s statements, but UK just sent out a formal one from both Dakari and John Calipari. Read ‘em and weep for joy. Dakari first:

“After looking at the information provided to me by Coach Cal and the NBA committee, my family and I made the decision for me to return to UK for my sophomore year,” Johnson said. “Returning to school allows me to build on my leadership skills, improve my individual basketball strength and conditioning skills, and have another opportunity to accomplish one of my individual goals: winning an NCAA national championship in college.

Now, Cal:

I’m happy to have Dakari back with us for next season,” head coach John Calipari said. “Despite being the youngest player on the team this season, he continued to improve every day on the court and it showed. We look forward to seeing his improvement over the summer and throughout next year.”

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Dakari’s cryptic tweet

Getty Images

Getty Images

Minutes before Dakari Johnson’s statement went public, he tweeted this to his followers:

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What does it mean? Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, AND Dakari Johnson coming back?? It means watch the eff out, college basketball.

UK’s front seven next season: 7’0″, 7’0″, 7’0″, 6’10″, 6’9″, 6’9″, 6’8″

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Dakari Johnson will return to UK for his sophomore season

Getty Images

Getty Images

Dakari Johnson will return for his sophomore season! The 7′ freshman released this statement through UK minutes ago:

“This year has been for me a year of transition, growth and so much fun! I’ve learned a lot about myself personally through adversity and triumph which I know made me a stronger individual. I would like to thank my brothers (teammates) for pulling together and stepping up and taking the road that many don’t travel. What memories! I would like to thank Coach Cal and the staff for trusting and providing me the opportunity to grow and build on my skills. I’d like to wish Julius Randle and James Young all the best and personally let them know that they have a group of brothers who will always support them.

With that being said, I’m excited about having the option to either enter the 2014 NBA Draft or return to the University of Kentucky. After looking at the information provided to me by Coach Cal and the NBA committee, my family and I made the decision for me to return to UK for my sophomore year.  Returning to school allows me to build on my leadership skills, improve my individual basketball  strength and conditioning skills, and have another opportunity to accomplish one of my individual goals: winning an NCAA national championship in college. In addition, it will give me the opportunity to continue my studies because the ball will stop bouncing one day (shout out to Mike Stone). Big Blue Nation, I can’t thank you enough for your support, and I look forward to representing UK next year.” #StriveforNine

Dakari’s mother, Makini Campbell, also released a statement thanking the Big Blue Nation for a great year and expressing her pride in son:

“I just wanted to take some time to reflect, share, and thank the Big Blue Nation and the coaching staff for a great year of basketball through the ups and downs. Hands down we had a blast! I am so proud of Dakari and the University of Kentucky basketball program on their achievements this year. I had the opportunity to see my son grow as an individual and become the leader that I knew him to be.  I appreciate the space, patience and respect shown to my family during this important time. What a blessing to have an opportunity to choose.

When making a decision (we have made many) we try to look at the whole picture (advantages and disadvantages). I must truly admit when going through the process we saw both sides of the coin as a win-win. I must say that in making his decision, Dakari wasn’t worried about any other player coming back/or in. I think what he learned this year — regardless of a loaded talented team – is that each player brings something unique to the group that attributed to the March run. I’ve always been aware of his goal to win a national championship in high school, college, and the NBA. For him to confidently state what he did after his national high school championship game and make it to the finals in his freshman year of college was prosperous within itself. All of this while successfully working on his degree and enjoying college life whenever he could. I respect each of the young men having to make this decision. Congrats to Julius Randle and James Young for making their dream reality; I wish them all the best. I’m excited about the upcoming season and what lies ahead for this group.” #StriveforNine

Makini Campbell
#44 Mommy

dakarihappy


When The Stoops Brothers Get Together It’s ALL Football

Drew Franklin dared me more than once to ask for a selfie with the Stoops brothers (Mike, Bob and Mark) and Coach Cal.  I chickened out, but thanks to the fine photography by Jonathan Palmer I was able to get my selfie.

Drew Franklin dared me more than once to ask for a selfie with the Stoops brothers (Mike, Bob and Mark) and Coach Cal. Of course I chickened out, but thanks to the fine photography by Jonathan Palmer (@JonathanPalmer) I was able to get my selfie.

In a family filled with college football coaches, it can sometimes be tough for the Stoopses to get together for some quality time.  Rather than trying to find time to get family together away from football, why not bring family to the football?

Today the eldest brother, Ron, was the only Stoops not in attendance.  During the scrimmage time of open practice, Mike was standing behind Mark behind the defense.  After Mike gave some instructions, they began to go back and forth.  Needless to say, Mark loves the additional coaching from his brothers.

Oh yeah, definitely.  That’s what they’re here for.  I mean, they’re not here just for fun. You know, we’ve got to put them to work.  So, absolutely that’s what we constantly do.  We talk about ideas, ways to do things, different change-ups, how they may play a certain formation or a certain adjustment, so it’s good to have them here.  I’m definitely going to utilize them while they’re here to go watch some film of this practice and some previous Spring practices and get some work done.”

We often talk about package deals in recruiting, but this package deal might be the sweetest one Kentucky has ever landed.


Chad Ford: The Harrison Twins would be in the D-League if they declare this year

(Darrell Bird | Catpause)

(Darrell Bird | Catpause)

It’s Wednesday, means two things: 1) Ryan Lemond saying “hump day” an uncomfortable amount of times; and 2) Chad Ford’s weekly chat. ESPN’s NBA Insider chatted with readers earlier about the NBA Draft and the pending decisions of several players, including the Harrison Twins. Today, Ford said that if the Twins declare this year, “they are playing in the D-League”:

They are both borderline first round picks right now. Ditto for Dakari Johnson. All of them have potential to go much higher in 2015 if they return to school and if they improve. I think the Harrison twins, especially, have a lot to gain by returning. I don’t think Kentucky’s incoming guards (Devin Booker & Tyler Ulis) could beat them out of a starting job. With Cauley-Stein and Poythress returning and Karl Towns and Trey Lyles joining the team, there is a chance that they are running the best team in the country next year. If they go to the NBA, they are playing in the D-League. Hard to see how that’s a better option for them. I know they have wanted to declare but the feedback from the NBA has been lukewarm at best. They should return, but hard to predict which way this will end up going.

Now, is the the same guy who said James Young was a great passer? Yes. Are the Twins keeping this decision close to their chests? Absolutely. But his argument makes sense. Here’s hoping the Twins come back and improve their stock instead of getting lost in the shuffle of the D-League.

Read Ford’s entire chat here.


UK Fan of the Day Wants Today’s Podcast

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Today’s show had a little bit for everyone–basketball, football, and even a fashion critique of Neal Brown’s UK polo shirt.

In the first hour, we heard Julius Randle’s taped interview from last night, which was AWESOME, by far the most open and candid Julius has been during his time at UK. Here’s the full audio:

In the second hour, Coach Mark Stoops and Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown stopped by to talk spring practice, and in between interviews, we found out Alex Poythress was coming back. There’s a ton of good stuff, so put on those headphones and enjoy.

[LISTEN TO KENTUCKY SPORTS RADIO]


Neal Brown breaks down the quarterback race

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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown and his awesome UK polo shirt also came on the show this morning, and Brown said he’s really pleased with the team’s progress, and that fans will see a “better product” on the field Saturday during the Spring Game. “We’re going to have a better product,” Brown said, teasing that it’s also going to be a “huge” recruiting day. “Some big names are coming in.”

Of course, everyone wants to know about the quarterbacks. Here’s Brown’s breakdown of each QB this spring:

Patrick Towles: “Towles is much improved. Fundamentally, before, he really had a hitch in his delivery, he was slow getting the ball out of his hands, he made big negative plays that would get you beat. He has taken those away. He’s not making those big negative plays. His ball is getting out of his hand faster. He’s got big time arm talent. He’s got as big an arm talent as you’re going to see. He’s a big kid, he can run too. People underestimate his athleticism. He’s a good natural runner.”

Drew Barker: “With Drew, I’ve always gotta remind myself, he’s 13 practices in. He should in high school. He does some things good. He does not carry himself like a high school senior. He came in and attacked, he’s really handled himself well, he’s studied well, he’s put himself in a position to win the job. He’s making too many mistakes right now, but young people do.”

Reese Phillips: “Reese is just steady. You go around, you don’t really notice him, he’s not the biggest guy, but he gets the ball out of his hand fast, he’s the most accurate of the three, and he probably does more things right. Top end talent? Maybe not, but he does a lot of things that your lay fan probably doesn’t notice.”

Brown didn’t say whether or not they’ll name a starter at the end of the spring, but stressed that the staff is ready for someone to step up and claim the job sooner rather than later: “We need somebody to win the job. We’ve trimmed it from four to three. We’d like to trim it some more, and then get into the fall and see. But we’re not going to drag this out. We’re going to name a guy, give him plenty of rope, and let’s go play.”

I’m ready.


Devin Booker is excited about practice

via gulflive.com

At this point, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, and Alex Poythress have announced they will return for next season, making the Cats’ front court absolutely loaded. For maybe the first time at UK, John Calipari will have two elite juniors on his roster, rubbing some major salt in his haters’ wounds and making the BBN a little giddy.

With three decisions (really just two) still to come, incoming freshmen Devin Booker tweeted what most of us are already thinking about next season:

Yeah, it is.


Stoops explains the Jalen Whitlow comments, says he’s pumped for the Spring Game

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Think he’s comfortable with us now?

KSR was live at Spring Practice this morning, and Mark Stoops stopped by in the second hour to talk about his team’s progress. Stoops’ brother, Bob, was one of the surprise visitors this morning, and our Stoops joked that he’s “putting him to work,” complete with a UK pullover. Earlier, he told reporters that his older brother, the head coach at Oklahoma, put on the pullover because he was cold, not because he lost a bet. Mmhmm. Sure.

Overall, Stoops said he’s pleased with his team this spring, and said they’re “much more efficient on both sides of the ball,” mainly because of the improvement at the quarterback position. Stoops praised Patrick Towles in particular for his progress, calling him a “perfect example” of how a redshirt season can help certain players. “I really appreciate what Patrick did,” Stoops said. “He worked hard, and it’s showing.”

When Stoops was on the show a few weeks ago, he notoriously said that if the Cats played a game that day, Jalen Whitlow would be the starting quarterback. A few days later, Whitlow announced he was transferring. What happened? Stoops says he regrets giving Matt a hypothetical answer, but at that very moment, he would have gone with Jalen because he was the most experienced. ”That was a hypothetical,” Stoops said, taking blame for trying to giving the show a soundbite. ”No more good sound bites from me! It was stupid for me to say as a hypothetical. I shouldn’t have said it.” Stoops added he’s sad to see Jalen go, but they had to go in a different direction at QB because of Neal Brown’s system, and Whitlow wasn’t interested in playing wide receiver.

Stoops says he’s pumped for the Spring Game, which is coming up Saturday at 3:30 p.m. While capacity will be limited to 42,500 because of construction to the stadium, Stoops thinks they can still replicate some of the excitement from last year’s record-breaking Spring Game, the benefits of which they’re still reaping. Stoops said he was stunned by all of the feedback they got from the Spring Game from recruits, some of which the marketing staff is using in their latest campaigns:

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Do your part, BBN.