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March 27th, 2017

Three Late Night Notes from Chicago

@McDAAG

Knox knocking down treys via @McDAAG.

1. Knox Almost Won the Three-Point Contest.  The small forward target couldn’t get enough momentum going, failing to finish his final rack.  His long arms simply and shooting motion simply take too long.  Trae Young got the win, but was worried Knox wouldn’t cool down before they took the challenge to television.  “Kevin was hot today.”

2. Ready for Revenge.  Last night’s all-star game practice prevented any of the players from seeing the South Regional Final.  They didn’t get to feel the heartbreak firsthand, but they feel for their friends.

“They really care.  It’s a passion,” Jarred Vanderbilt said.  “Some guys, they don’t care to lose.  They just want to go to the next level.”

Standing next to Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington echoed that sentiment.  He knows his peers are prepared to do what’s necessary to make sure the Cats don’t take any steps back.

“We want to pick it back up next year with the freshman class and I feel like we have the power to do that.  We just got to play together and play with Coach Cal and we’ll be fine.”

3.  Short-shorts are back.  Future WKU center Mitchell Robinson’s shorts are short.  He is not alone, but those long legs make his shorts look even shorter.

Robinson (22) next to P.J. Washington.

Robinson (22) next to P.J. Washington.

If you still can’t tell just how short those shorts are, watch those long legs fly through the air on this pass from Kevin Knox.

4. Green vs. Sexton is going to be AWESOME.  Collin Sexton was last summer’s breakout star.  After watching him for just one day, I can understand why.  The combo guard is only about 6’2″ but the man has bounce.  Today’s Slam Dunk Champion EARNED IT.  He can do more than dunk.  Sexton is physical, yet he has a soft touch.

Watching Sexton duel with Green was quite the treat after day one.  Once Avery Johnson gets ahold of him and Calipari can do some work on Green…next year’s matchups with the Crimson Tide will just mean more.


Quade Green Wins the Powerade JamFest Skills Challenge

Green and Sexton

Green and Sexton

There were only two players participating in tonight’s Powerade JamFest, but they made the most of it.

Jarred Vanderbilt and Quade Green participated in the Skills Challenge.  The two were paired with a player on the girl’s team and an alum, tasked to make four shots from across the court.  Both made their half-court shots, but they produced two different results.

Vanderbilt’s went in as the buzzer sounded, saving his team from being the only one who failed to finish.  After three tries, Green’s half-court heave was good enough to win the Skills Challenge Championship.

“I just needed a couple touches, and I was good,” he said after the W.

Green was officially done, but unofficially he was just getting started. The Carrot Top of the JamFest, the future Kentucky point guard was a human prop throughout the dunk contest.  He started by throwing a perfect pass off the side of the backboard for an impressive slam by Collin Sexton.  The pass to Sexton worked well after plenty of practice, but Green wasn’t prepared for what was next.

“I was nervous.  I was really worried.  I didn’t know what to expect.”

Bamba’s leap worked, barely.

Later, Bamba tried to duplicate the dunk Sexton previously performed, but instead of using Green, he had Trevon Duval throw the pass.  The result: zero finished dunks.  Green, his AAU point guard, was laughing hysterically at Bamba the entire time, while holding onto this camera.

Quade the Cameraman

Green helped out Sexton with another dunk, propelling the future Alabama point guard to the Dunk Contest Title.  There’s no SEC rivalry, yet.  The press conference ended in a stare-down.

Sexton: “Roll Tide”
Green: “BBN”


Requiem for a team stopped short

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On Saturday afternoon, I sat down and wrote an entire post about how no matter what happened vs. North Carolina, this season was a success to me. I had just walked out of the best press conference of the season, in which the team was loose, happy, and downright lovable. Not only had Kentucky just beaten UCLA to avenge December’s loss, they did it in convincing fashion, with De’Aaron Fox getting the best of Lonzo Ball (and his dad) and Malik Monk finding his three-point shot. The North Carolina game loomed, but watching this team transform into the one we’ve all been waiting for was enough for me. I saved that post as a draft, content to just get it off my chest, and went into yesterday with an open mind, ready to accept whatever outcome the basketball gods had in store.

And then the game happened. The funny thing about the loss is that I don’t think I would be as upset today had the Cats lost by ten, like it seemed they might in the first half. For most of the game, I never really thought Kentucky would win. In the first half, the Cats got hosed by the officials but the Tar Heels missed plenty of shots, making just enough mistakes to let Kentucky hang around. When Kentucky made its rally in the second half, my heart lurched and all that “no regrets” stuff went out the window. I had prepared myself for a loss, but here came Isaac Humphries of all people, making me believe again. When UNC went up by seven with a minute left, I once again braced myself for the worst, only for De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk to drag my heart back into it. After Monk’s three to tie it with nine seconds left, I had just talked myself into this being the greatest story of all time when Maye wrote the sad final chapter six seconds later. Game over. Season over.

So, is this season still a success? It’s hard to see in the bleak light of the morning after, but I still believe so. Yes, had the Cats beaten the Heels, the path to the national championship was wide open and ready for the taking; however, North Carolina was the best team left besides Kentucky and there is no shame in losing to them. Plus, you have to appreciate how far this team came. Remember how bleak things looked in late January? Kentucky lost three games in a two-week span, bringing Cal’s haters out of the woodwork; however, while the BBN braced itself for what could be another short March, the team quietly went to work. Hampered by illness and injury, De’Aaron Fox slowly returned to form. In the shadow of bigs like Anthony Davis and Karl Towns, Bam Adebayo became a consistent force down low. When Malik Monk’s shot failed him, he discovered other ways to contribute. Seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis shed their bench status and became clutch contributors, unwilling to waste another second of their final days in blue and white. As college basketball focused on Duke, North Carolina, and the almighty ACC, the Cats steeled themselves for battle with ugly win after ugly win in the SEC, in retrospect, an underrated feat. For once, everyone was sleeping on Kentucky, including a good portion of its own fanbase.

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And then came the postseason, a wild seven-game ride in which all the parts started coming together at just the right time. With the clock running down, this group transformed, barreling into the tournament like De’Aaron Fox towards the basket, picking up confidence with each game. With increased media opportunities came more glimpses into this squad’s personality, which, at times, had been hard to pinpoint. The fact that many fans had a hard time falling in love with this team for so long isn’t the team’s fault at all; over the years, Kentucky fans have become increasingly spoiled by players whose on the court talent was matched by their off the court personality. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl Towns, and Tyler Ulis come to mind as players who have won the BBN over with their personalities, and maybe it’s because of the fanbase’s intense emotional attachment to the 2015 team and Ulis that it took a while to fall for this group. This team is full of great kids, but man, what a hard act to follow.

Yet, as the season inched closer to midnight, this group started talking and the BBN listened. Monk was the player who, no matter how much he struggled, you could count on to make a big shot; Fox, the fearless, confident leader; Bam, the lovable and hard-working big; Briscoe, the bulldog. And then there are the seniors, the heart and soul of the whole bunch. Years from now, people will probably mention Fox and Monk first when talking about this team, but you’re never going to convince me that Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis aren’t the reason everything came together at the end. How special was it that two Kentucky kids played above themselves to help a group of freshmen gel?

Fittingly, in the end, this team won fans over not because of one player, but because of their bond. I’ll always remember three moments with them: the bench sprinting out to meet Dominique Hawkins after one of many huge plays in the SEC Tournament; the starters cutting up and laughing at the podium on Saturday; and Bam and De’Aaron clutching each other as they sobbed last night. As Fox said, that was a locker room that cared, not just about the glory, but about each other, and seeing it come to such a painful end was shattering.

© Justin Ford

© Justin Ford

So, where will this group land in terms of legacy? This is subjective, so everyone will have a different answer, but for me, the 2012, 2015, and 2010 teams will always be at the top in the Calipari era. Even though only one won a national championship, all three teams were just special. From there, I’d go with the 2014 team because that run felt like destiny and taught us never to give up. I keep waffling on whether this team or the 2011 team comes next, but I think we can all agree that 2016 and 2013 round out the eight seasons. Had Luke Maye missed that shot and Kentucky gone on to win in overtime, would the 2017 team rank higher? Probably. But like I said last night, that’s the cruelest part of all of this: just as this team was really coming into its own, it was over. The videos of the players crying in the locker room were doubly as heartbreaking because you realized just how much this team cares. The fact that had they won, the path to the title was so wide open is just salt in the wound. Right now, it all feels like a journey cut short, a dream never fully realized, destined to lie behind the hazy curtain of “what if.”

…But, for 40 or so hours this weekend, it felt right. Life again on scorched Earth. And for this fan, that counts for something.


Quade Green using his TV time to recruit Mohamed Bamba

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Quade Green is using this week’s McDonald’s All-American Game to put the full-court press on his good friend and fellow All-American, Mohamed Bamba.

Green has constantly been in Bamba’s ear about becoming a Kentucky Wildcat with him, and tonight he begged Bamba to join BBN during his on-court interview with ESPN following his Legends and Stars Shootout win.

“I’m wanting Mo to commit to BBN,” he said. “Please commit to BBN! Please commit to BBN!”

Listen to him, Bamba!


Watch Matt and Steve Romines recap the season on “Hey Kentucky!”

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Matt’s back from Memphis and was joined by Steve Romines for tonight’s episode of “Hey Kentucky!”. Check out their season review below, or click through the jump for the entire episode:

(more…)


Malik Monk is a Wooden All-American

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Congratulations to Malik Monk, who was just named a Wooden All-American by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Although Monk was not named a finalist for the Wooden Award, given annually to the best player in college basketball, being named to the All-American Team is still a huge honor. He joins Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Dillon Brooks (Oregon), Josh Hart (Villanova), Josh Jackson (Kansas), Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Luke Kennard (Duke), Frank Mason III (Kansas), Caleb Swanigan (Purdue) and Nigel Williams-Goss (Gonzaga) on the team. Ball, Hart, Mason III, Swanigan and Williams-Goss were named the five finalists for the Wooden Award, given annually to the best player in college basketball.

Monk is the sixth Wildcat named a Wooden Award All-American in the John Calipari era. He joins Tyler Ulis (2016), Willie Cauley-Stein (2015), Anthony Davis (2012), DeMarcus Cousins (2010) and John Wall (2010) as other UK players to earn the distinction.

Here’s a complete list of his postseason honors:

  • SEC Player of the Year (AP)
  • SEC Newcomer of the Year (AP)
  • SEC Freshman of the Year (Coaches)
  • All-SEC First Team (AP/Coaches)
  • All-SEC Freshman Team (Coaches)
  • NABC All-America Second Team
  • USBWA All-America Second Team
  • Sporting News All-America Second Team
  • Sporting News Freshman All-America Team
  • USA Today All-America Second Team
  • NBC Sports All-America Second Team
  • USBWA District IV Player of the Year
  • USBWA All-District IV Team
  • Jerry West Award Finalist
  • Wooden Award Finalist
  • NABC All-District 21 Team

What a season for Monk, who averaged 19.8 points per game, second among all freshmen nationally, and reached double-figure scoring in all but two games this season. With 14 points in the second-round game vs. Wichita State, he became UK’s all-time leading freshman scorer with 721 points, passing Jamal Murray’s output of 720 from a season ago. His record-breaking season ends with 754 points scored. That’s fourth all-time in UK’s history books regardless of class, trailing only Dan Issel (948; 1970), Jodie Meeks (854; 2009) and Jamal Mashburn (767; 1992).

Additionally, Monk had 18 games with 20 points or more, including a Kentucky freshman record 47 points vs. North Carolina in December. Monk is the only freshman in program history with four 30-point games, and six times this season he scored at least 20 points in a half. Monk made 104 3-pointers on the season, not far behind Jodie Meeks’ school record of 117.

 


No more John Higgins please.

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John Higgins is not good at his job.

In fact, John Higgins is terrible at his job.

Sunday night’s regional final in Memphis further proved that Higgins, one of the most recognizable officials in college basketball, should not be allowed to call Kentucky games. He has been on the whistle in eight Kentucky games throughout his career, and Kentucky has been on the losing end of five of them. For a program that has won almost 80 percent of its games, there is something fishy about a 37.5 percent winning percentage under one referee.

Furthermore, John Calipari is 2-4 with the Wildcats when Higgins is on the floor, compared to Cal’s 247-49 record in other games. Those four losses came against UConn in the 2011 Final Four, Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four, UCLA at Rupp Arena back in December, and in Sunday night’s heartbreaker against the Tar Heels. In the latter, Higgins was trending nationally on Twitter during the first half of the horribly-called game:

Let’s take a look at some of the calls Higgins and his two partners in crime, Keith Kimble and Mike Reed, whiffed on in those first 20 minutes:

The De’Aaron Fox no-call

The most obvious of the bad calls of the game, this somehow didn’t send Fox to the foul line right before halftime:

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foul-2

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All arm there.

The Bam Adebayo goaltending call

Kentucky was robbed of two points when a clean Bam Adebayo tip-in was waved off for phantom goaltending:

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Kentucky could’ve used those two points in the end, huh?

Another two points were waved off on this over-the-back call on Bam:

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That’s not an over-the-back foul. That is called hustle and second effort.

There were many more missed and bad calls throughout that first half, almost all leaning in North Carolina’s favor. The Derek Willis loose ball foul is another one that comes to mind, and then there’s this from Mike DeCourcy’s story for The Sporting News:

There were some curiosities, though, particularly with the first-half officiating. On three occasions, official John Higgins observed action and did not blow his whistle to call a foul on Kentucky until the outcome of the play turned in UK’s favor.

All of it led John Calipari to say in his press conference, “You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my whole team. Amazing that we had a chance.”

Cal also said he wishes he had his full roster in the first half against the Tar Heels.

With all that said, Kentucky still pulled ahead to a five-point lead with five minutes to go in the game, so the first half whistle isn’t the reason why the Cats lost. Kentucky lost because it needed more from De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk offensively, and because North Carolina is the best team in the country. Higgins’ whistle didn’t help UK’s chances, but the blame doesn’t fall on the guys in stripes.

Did they suck? Yes. Was it five on six in the first half? Yes. Is that an excuse? No. Blaming officials is never the way to go. But we can be critical of them, which is what I am doing right now.

Going forward, obviously, John Higgins should be kept far, far away from meaningful Kentucky games. I’m sure Calipari will do everything he can to make that happen.

But even if we never see Higgins again, he still played a starring role in three NCAA tournament exits in seasons with the title in reach.

He did this in the 2011 semifinal…

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He blew the shot clock call in the 2014 semifinal…

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And he kept his streak alive by ruining the first half of Sunday’s game…

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No more John Higgins please.


Calipari feels like crap and other notes from tonight’s call in show

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If you’re still sad, don’t worry, Cal is too. On his final call-in show of the season tonight, Calipari said he feels like crap following Kentucky’s heartbreaking loss to North Carolina.

“I’m feeling like crap right now. I didn’t sleep good last night, I got up and went to mass and got coffee. I went home and took a nap, but I haven’t felt good.” 

Same. In fact, Calipari insisted on fans taking some time to be sad, because that’s part of the process.

“I’m going to grieve for a few days. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be disappointed. I imagine there’s a cloud over our fans. Let’s take some time to grieve and then you have to look at where this team came from.”

As for the next big question, who is staying and who is going, we didn’t learn much. Calipari said that today, he focused on making plans for his three seniors and hasn’t talked at length yet with the four players who have draft decisions to make (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, and Isaiah Briscoe). He said he met individually with Isaac Humphries, and plans to do the same with Wenyen Gabriel, Tai Wynyard, and Sacha Killeya-Jones. He talked a lot about how difficult the process of helping kids decide whether to stay or go is, specifically the pressure kids feel from outside influences or family situations, using DeAndre Liggins as an example of a player that left early because he had a family to feed.

“How about this one: the family needs money,” Cal said. “What am I going to say, no? It’s not easy.”

One quote of interest: when talking about how difficult it is to make it at Kentucky, he hinted that some players worry more about the recruits coming in than whether or not it’s really time for them to make the jump to the NBA.

“How about ‘I’m going to leave because of who you have coming in.’ You’re worried more about an 18-year-old than the men in the NBA?”

But mostly, like us, he just sounded sad.

“I’m sick for these kids,” Cal said. “This group will never be together again and they know it. They rode this train together, ups and downs.”


Look to the future by watching the McDonald’s All-American Dunk Contest tonight

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Want to get over last night’s loss by looking ahead to the future? Tune in to ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET to watch some future Cats participate in the Powerade Jam Fest at the McDonald’s All-American Game.

We won’t know the final list of participants for the dunk contest until right before it starts, but our man on the ground, Nick Roush, tells me that UK signee PJ Washington and five-star target Kevin Knox were practicing their dunks for it earlier. The three-point contest will also take place tonight, but I wouldn’t expect any future Cats to participate. Maybe Quade Green or Knox. If you remember, last year, Malik Monk won the three-point contest and almost took home the dunk title too:

 


Derek Willis will play in the NABC All-Star Game this weeked

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Breaking news from John Calipari’s call-in show: senior Derek Willis has been invited to play in the NABC All-Star Game, otherwise known as the Reese’s All-Star Game, at the Final Four this weekend.

Calipari said getting Derek and Dominique Hawkins in the senior all-star game and the Portsmouth pre-draft camp was his priority today, and it sounds as though he’s succeeded on at least one front. Cal said he didn’t plan to go to the Final Four, but he will now to watch Derek play. As an added bonus, he said he’ll also get to see about ten of his former guys that are now in the NBA.

The Reese’s College All-Star Game takes place Friday at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. We’ll be watching.


P.J. Washington Dunked On Quade Green’s Face

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This morning I saw a preview of what’s to come this summer at the Joe Craft Center.  With four Kentucky commits on the same team, future Cats went toe-to-toe all morning long.

The East Team’s practice began with a variety of small group drills.  Quade Green’s demise came as soon as they started a one-on-one closeout drill.  With P.J. Washington at the three-point line and Green starting at the baseline, Green’s goal was to keep Washington from scoring.  Instead, he got dunked on.

Washington started chirping and didn’t stop.  “I was talking to him the whole practice about it.”

“I was ready to fight him right there,” Green said.  “Y’all are lucky y’all were here.  I would’ve been ready to fight.”

But that wasn’t the worst of it.  When it was Quade’s turn for redemption, Washington buried a three in his face.  Unfortunately, my fingers were too busy typing to capture it on video, but the guys at Courtside Films did.  See the dunk around the 12-second mark and the trey around the 37-second mark.

After it all, the point guard din’t hold it against his future teammate.  During a 5-on-5 period he fed Washington for an open three and screamed, “EAT!” before Washington buried the bucket.  It’s just one small example of how the four future Cats are using this week to foster a chemistry that can take them to the top of the college basketball world.

“We all have the same goals, and that’s a championship,” Washington said.


Hear Calipari sum up the season on tonight’s call-in show

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Need closure, or maybe a little more group therapy? The final John Calipari call-in show of the season is about to begin in Lexington on WLAP-630 and online at UKathletics.com. Follow along on this stream courtesy of UK Athletics:

We’ll pass along news and/or highlights if there are any worth sharing.


UK faculty defends UK Athletics in Herald-Leader op-ed

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A few weeks ago, The Washington Post ran a story that always gets run this time of year: the amount of money spent on college athletics is staggering, and disproportionate to the amount of money spent on academics. It’s an old narrative that gets trotted out every March to make everyone feel guilty about enjoying sports, but this particular piece took fire at UK specifically. The author, Will Hobson, pointed out that coaching salaries at UK (even for sports other than football and basketball) are rising at a much higher rate than faculty salaries; therefore, the school cares more about sports than academics.

Today, UK provost Tim Tracy, Dean of the College of Arts & Science Mark Kornbluh, and Chair of the Department of Chemistry Mark Meier fired back in an op-ed for the Herald-Leader, defending UK Athletics, which they argue is not only self-sufficient, but helps out academics, most notably in the form of the new $110 million Jacobs Science Building, $65 million of which was funded by the athletic department.

But salaries for coaches have not deterred our progress. In fact, the ability of athletics to fund vital infrastructure on our campus — and pay its own bills entirely — has, in many ways, made us more competitive for academic and research talent, not less.

In fact, the UK Athletics investment in the Jacobs Science Building alone is greater than all the coaches’ salaries combined for multiple years.

There’s a lot more logic where that came from over at the Herald-Leader, so go check it out.


Christian Laettner just couldn’t help himself, trolls Kentucky by embracing Luke Maye

So far today, it seems the national media is really going with this “Luke Maye is the new Christian Laettner” narrative, which is entirely unfair to Maye because he doesn’t seem like a pretentious punk. Sure, both Laettner and Maye hit heartbreaking last-second shots to beat the Cats, and, wow, isn’t a coincidence that both wore the #32 and the shots happened 25 years apart, but other than that, whatever. Laettner further proved my point today when he embraced Maye on Twitter, trolling the #BBN as only he can do:

Hard to believe that a few years ago, I was starting to not hate him so much.


South Carolina fans raise $4,000 to send “Gamecock Jesus” to the Final Four

If you’ve ever been to a game at South Carolina, you’ve seen “Gamecock Jesus,” the long-haired super fan waving a flag and dancing in his own little world behind the basket. I got an up close and personal introduction to Gamecock Jesus (whose real name is Carlton Thompson) in 2014, when he practically gyrated in my face the entire game:

The South Carolina fan next to me is READY.

A post shared by Tyler Thompson (@mrstylerksr) on

They tell me he's called Gamecock Jesus.

A post shared by Tyler Thompson (@mrstylerksr) on

A lifelong fan and USC nursing school graduate, Gamecock Jesus is an institution at almost every South Carolina athletics event, and now, with the Gamecocks unpredictably in the Final Four, South Carolina fans have teamed up to make sure he goes to Phoenix. After Gamecock Jesus couldn’t afford to go to the East Regional in New York this past weekend, South Carolina fans started a GoFundMe page and raised over $5,000 to send him to the Final Four, well over their $3,500 goal. So, if you can stomach watching the games this weekend, keep an eye out for him, doing his thing. Here’s hoping he gets lots of screen time.