Part two in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats. Cats hope →
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Everybody expected to load up KSR late Saturday/early Sunday and see cartoons on the front page, right? I didn’t expect to put any up there, until I saw that legendary Japanese storyteller Hayao Miyazaki celebrates his 72nd birthday today. You might recognize some of the characters above, and you might not. But Miyazaki’s films have long been set the standard for fantastical storytelling, and they’re only animated because no live action movie could contain the amount of imagination he sets forth. From action-oriented movies like Princess Mononoke, to whimsical stories like Ponyo or The Secret World of Arietty, all the way down to the mysterious yet warming Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away, each one is a unique story, with incredible detail and enjoyable characters.
If you haven’t seen any of his movies, and have a taste for that sort of thing, they’re really very good. I realize the overlap between sports fans and Japanese animation fans is very narrow, but if I like both, there might be someone else who does, too.
Now, before I get stoned to death, on to the news…
-Charlie Strong is either leaving Louisville or staying. Not sure what’s gonna happen, but we know it’s one of those two options. His move to Texas seems to be nothing short of an inevitability by this point, but something seems to be holding up the deal, and we’re not quite sure what.
-Matt Elam delayed his decision til the spring signing period. Considering all the momentum that was swinging Kentucky’s way, this is certainly a disappointment. Now that Stoops and Saban have equal recruiting time, Bama may make up some groung for the elite lineman. Who ever thought that sentence would be on this page?
-Karl Towns almost picked up his second quadruple double. No stranger to gaudy stats, Kentucky recruit and 2015 cornerstone Karl Towns, Jr. racked up a 29/21/11/6 line today in a 69-53 St. Joseph’s beatdown.
-Marcus Lee got dunked on by Dominique Hawkins and had to put on the Helmet at practice. Lee just gave the Helmet to Aaron Harrison, but now is relegated to wearing it for the foreseeable future after the dunk by “Tomo-Hawkins.” Is it too late to start that? Gosh, I hope not.
-Drew Barker led two touchdown drives during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, throwing 4-6 and displaying great skill and awareness. Nick Roush got half a chub just thinking about next year, so you know it’s going to be exciting to see Barker in Blue. Turns out that he’s not only a great recruiter, but a good quarterback, too.
That’s about all for today. What looked like a super-busy news day turned into something of a dud with Strong still on the fence and Elam postponing his decision, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun, right? Tune in tomorrow for more stuff, maybe some Charlie Strong info, and I promise I won’t throw up pictures of cartoons. Okay, maybe one.
I must admit, I’m somewhat surprised the Charlie Strong is likely to be the next head coach of what is arguably the most powerful college football program in the country. While I think Strong is a quality head coach who has obviously done a good job at Louisville, he has not proven–at least in my opinion–that he is the elite coach that most people expected Texas to hire. When it was rumored yesterday that Texas was down to Strong and James Franklin, I expected that a decision would be made in favor of James Franklin. Franklin has done a tremendous job at a cellar-dwelling program while being (somewhat) shackled by the academic standards at Vanderbilt. Before I go any further, I want to make clear to the Louisville folks that read this blog that I am not poo pooing what Charlie Strong has done at Louisville. He took a team that hadn’t had a winning season in three years (surprise of Card Nation, you have not been a perennial powerhouse for years now), and immediately began winning.
With that being said, when you have an excellent quarterback, you have a chance to win games in college football. Charlie Strong was 14-12 at Louisville prior to Teddy Bridgewater’s arrival in Louisville. Before you point out that Charlie Strong secured Bridgewater’s commitment to the Cards, let me admit this is true and thus he deserves the credit for Bridgewater’s performance. Still, an argument could be made (and indeed it is being made by quite a few wary Longhorn fans), that Strong’s astounding success at a traditionally unsuccessful school is directly correlated to the heroics of his star quarterback. Would Strong have been able to duplicate this level of success with a Reggie Bonnafon or a Kyle Bolin? Would Strong have been able to compete week in and week out against a higher level of competition similar to that which would be afforded to him in the ACC, and now possibly the Big 12? These are huge unanswered questions that I am surprised the Texas Longhorns are willing to leave unanswered.
If I were a Texas fan, here are some tidbits that would make me cringe:
1. In four years as the head coach, Strong and the Cards have played THREE teams in the top 25–Strong’s record in those games is 2-1. Look, I get that you can only beat who you play. I’m truly not trying to knock Strong or Louisville for that matter. But this is Texas and I am surprised they wouldn’t set their sights on a more proven commodity.
2. The Texas job is similar to the Kentucky basketball coaching job. The position is bigger than just coaching his team on Saturday’s. Strong would not merely be a head coach but also an important state figure. Even Card fans have knocked Strong’s ability to deal with the media. Being a public figure might not suit him. In the end, winning football games would rectify that but as a result of this shortcoming, Strong’s shelf-life at Texas might not be as long if the success isn’t almost immediate.
3. Game management has been an issue under Strong. While he has undeniably compiled an impressive record in the past two years with Teddy Bridgewater at the reins, many supposedly ‘gimme’ games have been a lot closer than Louisville fans would have liked.
In the end, I’m assuming that the people running the Texas coaching search are smart. Presumably, they have done their due diligence and have decided that Charlie Strong is the best man for the job. If he takes the job, I hope that Charlie Strong succeeds. He has carried himself well, seems likable and outside of the infamous five core values of Louisville football (no drugs, guns, hitting women, etc.), hasn’t given Kentucky bloggers much to make fun of. These are all issues that Bobby Petrino would happily rectify–I hear Louisville’s basketball coach is already planning a welcome home party at Porcinis.
4-Star DT Travonte Valentine has become an important target for the UK coaching staff following a weekend that started with Valentine being a Miami commitment and ending with a de-commitment to the ‘Canes and a plan to visit both Kentucky and LSU before Signing Day.
Josh Helmholdt interviewed the former UofL, Florida, and Miami commit (woah) about his decision to re-re-re-open his recruitment and what schools he will be looking at before February 5th rolls around. Unfortunately, you must be a Rivals member to view the entire article, but one segment in particular will intrigue the Big Blue Faithful.
This week’s Army Bowl experience also put Valentine around Kentucky commits and those considering Wildcats, like quarterback Drew Barker and defensive tackle Matt Elam. What they told Valentine has piqued the Florida defensive tackle’s interest in Kentucky.
“They talked to me and said to come join the family at Kentucky,” Valentine said. “They are trying to grow a program and run things over there.”
I don’t want to read into too much of what a 17-18 year old kid says regarding his recruitment, but you may notice that he did use the word “they” more than once. All I know is that my head is a pretzel right now.
The Bilastrator is one of my favorites in the announcing game, not only because his Twitter game is on point, but also because he seems to give the most level-headed and unbiased analysis of anyone at the 4-letter network. Bilas took some time off from being “trill” to speak to the Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker about Kentucky’s basketball team this year, their progress, free throw shooting, and among other things how they’ve stacked up to expectations so far.
You can read the entire Q&A here (it’s fairly long) but this quote from Bilas commenting on whether or not people should “recalibrate expectations” for this team I think perfectly sums up my view on the Wildcats’ season and where they are heading from here:
“…So when you look at the cumulative, the better view is let’s look at the last three or four games, because it’s a team that’s going to continue to build and change. So what they’re doing well right now they probably didn’t do well earlier in the year. So looking at their averages doesn’t tell you who they are right now. So I’m not worried about them. By the end of the year, they’re going to be really good – really good – if they keep building like this. Now, I think Arizona is better than they are, but like who can they not – when you line them up with everybody, who can they not beat? Is there anybody out there they can’t beat?…”
Karl Towns continues to improve and amaze each time he steps out on the court. Towns Jr., a 7-1 C ranked as the #8 player in the country by 247 Composite Rankings continued that nearly 3-year long string of dominance of New Jersey High School basketball earlier today by coming up just shy of his 2nd career QUADRUPLE-DOUBLE in a 69-53 win for his St. Joseph’s (NJ) team.
Towns Jr., who was UK’s first commitment in the 2014 class, finished off the game with 29 points, 21 rebounds, 11 assists, and 6 blocks. This kind of performance is referred to by anyone with eyeballs as “domination”. Towns is now averaging 22.2 PPG and 13.8 RPG in a 5-0 St. Joseph’s start to the season. Great basketball player, even better kid. Towns will be a fan favorite in Lexington whether he stays for 9 months or 4 years, that much is certain.
Towns’ reaction to coming just shy of his 2nd career quad-dub? Disappointment.
I was that close to a quadruple double. #lookingformy2nd
— Karl Towns (@KATis32) January 4, 2014
The basketball Gods giveth, and the basketball Gods taketh away. Only a few short days after Marcus Lee put the helmet on Aaron Harrison by cramming home an off-the-backboard alley oop from Jon Hood, Lee himself was on the receiving end of a poster in practice that by all accounts, was a sight to be seen. The video hasn’t been posted yet to Cal’s website, but when it does we’ll show it to you.
Matt was impressed though, not only by the dunk, but the team as well:
Dominique Hawkins got a dunk on Marcus Lee that was…well it brought me out of my seat
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 4, 2014
UK went for 2.5 hours straight with no breaks and effort was high and intense throughout. Consider me officially pumped for rest of year
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 4, 2014
Eric Bledsoe has been having a breakout season ever since being traded from the Clippers to the Suns in the offseason. Through 24 contests this season in Phoenix, Bledsoe has averaged 18.0 PPG, 5.8 APG, and 4.3 RPG, all career highs. Living in the shadow of Chris Paul as the backup PG for a future HOF’er was enough for the Suns to take a chance with Bledsoe and with he and Goran Dragic running the team, the Suns (who were thought to be a guaranteed high-lottery team) are squarely in the playoff hunt now with a 19-12 record and have absolutely been the surprise of the NBA season so far.
Bledsoe has been kept out of 7 games already this year for nagging injuries but it seems now Bledsoe will miss at least a week with a sprained knee, according to The Arizona Republic. This is where the story gets disturbing and hilarious at the same time. A twitter user by the name of @lorneculp was upset with Bledsoe being scratched from Thursday’s game against Memphis right before game time and costing him some money, and used his anger to direct a profanity-laced tweet at the 4th year PG about it. Bledsoe’s response to said anger was nothing short of perfection:
“@EBled2 you sorry candy a$& piece of s#%t!!!! Next time you are not gonna play post an update… You cost me thousands!” – notgonnastop (@lorneculp)
“I hope I coast you a million RT @lorneculp: @EBled2 you sorry candy a$& piece of s#%t!!!! Next time you are not gonna play post an update… You cost me thousands!” – Eric Bledsoe (@EBled2)
That, my friends, is how you handle a rogue tweeter with grace.
See, today’s not all bad news!
Jimmy D. Smith (@JimmyDetail) of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans has reported that 4-Star DT Travonte Valentine has de-committed from Miami, which had been rumored the last couple of days at the Army All-American Bowl. Valentine’s de-commitment comes following reports that Miami’s Al Golden has been offered and more than likely will accept the job at Penn State, his alma mater.
Valentine is ranked as the 7th best DT in the 2014 class, and the 56th best player overall according to 247Sports and is ranked #115 in the 247Composite rankings, accounting for all the major recruiting services. The 6’3 338lb. Palm Bay, FL prospect announced yesterday that he would be taking an official visit to Kentucky on January 23-24 and has expressed interest in playing with another UK DT target, Matt Elam. Valentine will also take a visit to LSU the weekend before he comes up to Lexington, he has said that the Tigers are his current leader.
Valentine’s decision is expected to come down to Kentucky, Miami, and LSU. That sounds about right.
— Jimmy D Smith (@JimmyDetail) January 4, 2014
1. Drew Barker ain’t scared. High School All-American games are all about smoke and mirrors. It’s difficult to find a rhythm as players constantly rotate in and out in order to ensure that everyone receives playing time. Drew Barker was put in NBC’s shadow behind Johnny Football’s replacement, #1 QB recruit Kyle Allen. Barker responded by playing exceptionally well. His second play from scrimmage he was sacked by South Carolina commit Dante Sawyer. The following play he threw a 16 yard dagger to make it 4th and 1, with his team scoring two plays later. On his third and final drive, Barker was smashed in the backfield during the mesh part of the read option. Barker stayed on his feet and fought back to the line of scrimmage. “Attitude reflects leadership.” When you can see evidence of that never-quit attitude in an All-Star game, the sky is the limit.
2. Barker likes to dabble. When you see “pro-style” QB, you expect Tim Couch. When you hear that Barker lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs (especially in KY), you might question how “pro” this guy is. Today Barker showed us that Pro-style means doing whatever you can for your team to win. If it means sitting on the sideline on 4th and 1 for a running QB, despite getting your team that close, Barker is willing to do it. If they need him to power through the middle on a run, he’s your man. Want to roll him out and give him the pass/run option? Barker is more than happy to. Need a big play downfield? He can hit a back shoulder in between two safeties. Barker finished the game 4-6 for 54 yards while leading his team to scores on two of his three drives. There may have been only three drives, but I’m all jacked up on Mountain Dew just thinking about Drew in Blue.
3. We DIDN’T learn where Matt Elam is going to school. Womp, womp, womp. Matt Elam said this morning that he was not ready to announce his college choice, becoming a bigger buzzkill than Buzz Killington. Take it however you’d like; maybe he is indecisive and can’t make up his mind, maybe he wanted to pick Bama but couldn’t do it in front of his buddy Barker, maybe he wants to receive more letters from Notre Dame. Your guess is as good as mine, but for now we will wait until National Signing Day.
4. Defensive tackles aren’t as fun to watch as QBs. Even the football nerd that watches film on linemen can’t help but stare in shock and awe at UK’s future QB. Even though Matt Elam can easily get lost “in the wash” inside the trenches, Elam showed sound technique between the double-teams. He played the game predominantly in the A Gap, taking on both the Center and Guard. The first play in the game he started off with a bang, tackling future Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in the backfield. He also showed us a nice little spin move, breaking off the blocker before tackling a scrambling QB a few yards down the field. Elam certainly has it all there, now we just gotta get him to UK to put it all together.
5. Coach Stoops liked what he saw.
Congratulations Drew on the Win today. You represented the #BBN well!!! See you in a week!!
— Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) January 4, 2014
The football news has been plentiful today, but the basketball front has been rather quiet. The big news of the day though comes from Matt Jones, who says that Willie Cauley-Stein’s hair is no longer blond. The 7 footer has returned to his natural hair color. Stay tuned for other breaking news today…
CJ Conrad is evidence of the power of playing on National Television. The 4-star Ohio tight end in the class of 2015 (#15 TE overall) has not had the Cats high on his recruiting totem pole, but after watching Drew Barker’s stellar 2nd quarter performance in the US Army All-American Bowl, Conrad has a new school on his radar.
I want to visit Kentucky after this dead period
— cj conrad (@cjconrad1) January 4, 2014
After a slow start, the #BBN is in for a treat on NBC. The future of Kentucky Football has been nothing but exceptional. 4-4 for 56 yards doesn’t sound very impressive, but Drew Barker has led the West team to the only 2 scores of the game.
Barker has done a little bit of everything. He has ran a couple of power runs up the middle, thrown a screen pass, rolled out and hung in the pocket. The first scoring drive started near goal line, taking a sack on the 2nd play from a South Carolina commit. What was impressive was his pass on 3rd and 17, getting it to 4th and 1 before his RB scored two plays later. A strike down the center of the field on the second drive was his prettiest pass, moving the ball down to the 2 yard line. Barker is showing poise against the best of the best after replacing the #1 QB in the nation (Johnny Football’s replacement) in the 2nd quarter.
Matt Elam hasn’t done too bad in his limited action either. Elam entered on the 2nd drive of the game, taking down future Stanford RB Christian McCaffery in the backfield on his first play from scrimmage. Since his first big play Elam has been rotating in and out constantly, commonplace in games like this and at the college level.
I’m going ham on Twitter. Keep in touch for updates throughout the game @RoushKSR
The #11 safety in the country was expected to choose the Ohio State, but rumors earlier this week indicated that UK was making some headway in his recruitment. The blue hat made the table, even causing his hand to linger for awhile, before he chose the Buckeyes.
We didn’t get the safety, but Drew Barker has played impressively. Seriously, change the channel right now, the guy has had two scoring drives in his only 2 possessions (the only 2 TDs of the game). I’ll have a complete update at the half.
Erick Smith, Marcelys Jones, Marshon Lattimore
In football recruiting, things gets crazy. Earlier this week we reported that the highly-touted Glenville Trio was reconsidering an Ohio State commitment, possibly heading South to Lexington instead. Jones has the strongest UK ties, but has been committed to Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes for months. Conventional wisdom said the other two would join Jones by pledging to the Buckeyes today.
For a moment both players backed off from announcing today, but NBC has confirmed that the #11 safety and #5 cornerback will announce their decision during today’s game. Conventional wisdom (to OSU) will probably prove to be true today.
Before an NFL Wildcard doubleheader begins on NBC, the best high school football stars in America will showcase their skills at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Normally Kentucky fans could care less about high school bowl games during basketball season, but Mark Stoops is just too damn good at recruiting. Here are a few things you need to know before the game begins on the Alamadome turf.
Drew Barker is playing in his final football game before making a permanent move to his college home of Lexington. Barker will be wearing his #7 for the West squad, wearing the brightest yellow jersey you’ve ever seen. One of three QBs for the West squad, you can expect to see the future of Kentucky football operate on multiple drives.
Unfortunately the biggest headline from this game has been taken away. Matt Elam‘s plan for months had been to choose between Alabama and Kentucky during the game, only to push that decision back this morning until the February 5th National Signing Day. Elam’s recruitment has been so crazy that at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he repelled from the roof of the Alamodome wearing a t-shirt of his college choice. Don’t panic though #BBN, Jason Hatcher was committed to USC at this time last year before sacking 2 QBs for the Cats last Fall. The Elizabethtown defensive tackle will be wearing #69 for the East squad.
Outside of the state of Kentucky, there are a few other guys that could eventually make their way to Lexington. “The Glenville Trio” is composed of Marcelys Jones, Erick Smith, and Marshon Lattimore. Coached by Ted Ginn Sr., pretty much every all-star that comes from this school goes to Ohio State.
Jones (#50 for the East) has actually been expected to enroll at OSU as early as next week, but rumors have been flying that the highly-ranked offensive guard could flip to UK. He has a long relationship with the staff and he has roomed with Matt Elam for the duration of the bowl game. Smith (#22 East) and Lattimore (#2 East) are bigger longshots for the Cats, but Barker’s ‘can’t stop, won’t stop’ mentality has created uncertainty in the ‘Trio’.
The last guy to keep an eye on is defensive lineman Travonte Valentine (#98 East). The #56 overall prospect by 247 announced this week on Twitter that he will be visiting Kentucky, “Switching my official visit out Alabama<Kentucky.” Valentine has committed to Miami but with rumors that Al Golden is heading to PSU, the Cats still have a dog left in the fight.
Watch all of the action Live from the Astrodome on NBC starting at 1:00 PM.