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The first weekend without college sports since August was a little bit sad for me. While most of this UK basketball season was a bit of a grind, the last month was one of the more special rides in the history of the program. The way this team completely reinvented itself, came together and shocked the college basketball world was something to behold. They produced four of the best postseason games this program has ever seen and they all occurred in succession, each a little bit more exciting than the last. Had Kentucky finished the job, it would probably have been the greatest run in the history of this program, and even as is, it is one that we will always remember. This 2014 Kentucky team will join the 1966 Rupp’s Runts as one of the most beloved to ever come so close and there is no doubt that this group will have a special place in all fans’ hearts.
But now after the joy of the season comes business time. The players spent most of this weekend thinking about their futures and talking about the Draft with their families. Randle, Young and Willie headed home while Poythress, the Twins and Dakari were in town, but all spent time with their families as they tried to figure out what their future holds for next season. Seven players legitimately have a chance to go to the NBA and all seven have considered it. A few days ago I updated where I thought the decisions for each of the players stood and after a few more days, it is worth an update. I expect the first couple of decisions to trickle out in the next 48 hours or so, and the last ones may go all the way to the NBA deadline of April 26. But we will know more very soon, so it is worth noting where we are before a big week for the future of the program. With that in mind, a couple of before we get going:
1. This look is based on my conversations with people close to the program, a couple of folks I know around the NBA and in two cases, people close to the players. I have gotten conflicting information in a couple of cases and have gone with the ones I think are most trustworthy.
2. It is subject to change because…well they are kids subject to change their mind.
So with that, the players:
Gone and likely to announce very soon. Randle is situated to be a top 5 pick and will compete with Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and Dante Exum for one of the top spots. Randle actually has taken the information gathering process seriously and unlike a couple of the other “can’t miss” guys of recent years, I do think he considered the possibility of returning. But everyone agrees that his time is now and there is very little upside for Julius in a second year. I can’t imagine he comes back and I think we find out very soon.
All year I was under the impression that Young was certainly headed to the Draft, no questions asked. I still think he is headed to the Draft, but I am told by a couple of folks that he has strongly considered the possibility of a second year. For Young however, the dream has always been about the NBA and he will likely go in the lottery thanks to his amazing athleticism (one of my NBA people told me that his dunk in the UCONN game was maybe the most important moment of the Final Four in terms of how it was perceived by NBA team scouts). While I don’t consider him the mortal lock that I do Randle, I would still be shocked if he doesn’t enter the Draft, probably this week.
Almost certain to return. Alex looked at where he would go in the Draft and gathered the information and from what I am told, he is almost certain to return. If you remember at this time last week, I had two people in my “lock” category (Randle and Young) and I feel fairly comfortable now to put Alex there as well. I think he will be a key member of the team next year and is on pace to graduate in three years, making his return the correct decision.
The shock of this entire process to me has been Willie. All season long, I heard from everyone around the team and Willie that he would enter the Draft after the season. But now I am hearing that he is not only considering returning, I have people saying that he likely will return. That is amazing to me. But the two people telling me are people I trust and so for now, I am operating under the assumption that he is in the “Lean Return” status. Apparently Willie was torn up about his injury and not being able to finish the job with the team and legitimately loves the life he has as a college student in Lexington. He also understands that because of his injury, he can’t work out during the draft process and that will have an impact on his NBA Draft status. As one person close to the process told me, “not working out caused the certain #1 pick (Nerlens) to drop to #6, the result for Willie could be much worse.”) If he returns and plays well, he could be a guaranteed lottery guy next year in a weak draft. Plus his athleticism is something next year’s team could desperately use and would make for a huge, unexpected addition. I freely admit that I will be skeptical until the day he makes his decision, as I have assumed in in the Draft since before the year began. But at the same time, all the info is going in the direction of a return and so I can’t help but follow along.
Dakari is the opposite of Willie in terms of the fact that I believed he was certain to return all year and now I am not sure. Johnson is taking the process very seriously and is being told that he would be a late first round draft choice. Now it is just up to Dakari to decide if he wants to settle for that placement or come back and have a chance to play himself into the lottery. If I were a betting man, I would still place money on Dakari being back at UK, but I am not confident in that selection and it will be interesting to see if a return by Willie would have any effect. If they both come back, UK’s front court next year is officially crazy scary.
The most talked about of the draft prospects are also the most mysterious. As I have said over and over, people who say they know what the Twins are doing simply do not. I can tell you with some confidence that even those close to the Twins don’t know and they laugh at the stories of “they are gone” or “they are returning” that are out there right now. Their situation is like Dakari’s in that both stand to improve their games and stock by returning. But both thought of themselves as guys who would only play for one year and now they have to decide if they are ok with the second. I pay almost no credibility to the Chad Ford report today that scouts say the Twins believe they weren’t “showcased” correctly by Calipari…they were probably the two who Calipari had the least problems with all season. I just think they are torn and trying to make the best decision possible. I am asked all the time if they will return and UK definitely could use them…without them, they really only have three guards on the team next season (Ulis, Booker and Hawkins), so it will be thin without them. But any guess on their future is just a guess…to me they are a toss-up and we just cross our fingers and hope they make the best decision for UK, which I also think would be the best decision for them…one more year in Lexington.
Thats how I see it standing now. John Calipari does a media tour tomorrow in which he will get asked a lot about their futures and I would expect in the next 48 hours, we will get at least one and maybe many more decisions announced. Seven kids and all different levels of potential in terms of entering the Draft…should be an exciting week.
Yahoo.com has a feature on Karl Towns that is worth reading and is a nice way to spend your Sunday night. But in the feature, a little bit of news MAY have been mixed in. The article says Towns is trying to decide whether to play this summer for the Dominican Republic in Spain in the World Cup or go on a summer tour with UK in Spain. That suggests that UK would be playing its summer tour in Spain As you may know, the NCAA allows college basketball teams to take summer tours once every four years and it also gives teams a month of summer practice. This is Kentucky’s year. So Yahoo seems to suggest that the trip is to Spain.
I must say however that I have heard a different location, much closer to the United States (think island). So this is the first I have heard of Europe (which was discussed as a possibility early on but I had heard had been dismissed). It may be that Yahoo simply said Spain twice (since that is where the World Cup is) and made a mistake. Or maybe the trip is different than what I have heard. Either way, an interesting tidbit and an exciting summer.
Nothing but good things were said about the Wildcats after their first scrimmage in Commonwealth Stadium. I could tell you how great they were, or you can look for yourself. Check out highlights from yesterday featuring a lot of Demarco Robinson, a lot of dreadlocks, and a lot of #7.
Drew Barker wasn’t the only guy that played a big role. TV Williams is one of the tiniest guys on the field, but that didn’t stop him from taking a Reese Phillips’ slant 45-yards to the end zone for his first score on Commonwealth Stadium’s turf.
There’s plenty more of football to come this week. I’ll have more Spring Practice updates tomorrow morning on the Leach Report starting at 9:00 on 630 WLAP and Talk Radio 1080 before I head back to the Tim Couch Practice Fields to see what’s going on with the defense.
For the first time this season, and for the first time since 2011, the University of Kentucky men’s golf team has won an event outright by winning the Bluegrass Invitational, held right here in Lexington, KY. That might sound bad, but when there are 15 quality teams participating at every stop, winning a tournament is no easy feat.
The Cats used a big Saturday to get to 13-under par, before firing a 1-over par final round to hold off the Auburn, Cincinnati and many others. Leading the charge for the Cats was senior Ben Stow, who finished tied for 2nd individually at 5-under par. This marks back-to-back events where Stow has played high level golf as he won the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate back in March.
Rounding out the quality golf for the Cats was David Snyder (T4, -4), Cody Martin (6, -2) and Stephen Powers (T9, -1). Rounding out the top five for the team aspect were the Auburn Tigers (-8), Cincinnati (+2), EKU (+18) and Bradley (+25).
The Cats next action comes April 25th when they travel to St. Simons Island, GA to take on the rest of the SEC in the SEC Championships. Following that will be the NCAA Championships, something that the Cats are pretty much assured of playing in.
Shoes have become a major part of today’s basketball world and are just as much a fashion statement as they are used for performance purposes. Kentucky’s sneaker game has been noticed by top shoes reviewing sites and have been credited as being one of the best teams collectively to rock the best shoes in college basketball. With that being said, I went back through every game this year and picked some of the best shoes worn by each player. Which are your favorite? *Note that more than one player may have worn the same shoe.
Aaron & Andrew Harrison
After a long roller coaster of a season came to a conclusion last Monday, most of the players spent their first weekend without basketball at home with their families, deciding their future – stay or go? Predicting who will stay and who will go has never been more difficult. Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal spoke with ESPN’s Chad Ford about the process, predicting the future of eight Kentucky Wildcats.
Ford had nothing but high remarks for the Cats, “I even think Marcus Lee would be drafted,” Ford said. “All eight players from Kentucky would be drafted. That’s amazing, but it’s true.” Here’s Ford’s take on what each Wildcat will do based off discussions with NBA agents, but remember, this is the same guy that said James Young is an elite passer.
Julius Randle: NBA.
James Young: NBA. (Surprisingly, he didn’t praise Young’s passing.)
Willie Cauley-Stein: Ford thinks Willie is bound for the league, but recent developments have Ford believing that there’s a chance it could go the other way.
Dakari Johnson: Ford knows less about Dakari than any other player. He’s pretty much clueless as to what Dakari will decide, but believes that Dakari would improve with another year, but it would be hard for NBA teams to pass on the opportunity to add a big body in their rotation.
Alex Poythress: Ford believes Poythresss is back for his Junior season to polish his offensive game.
Marcus Lee: Lee could become a Top 10 pick if he earns significant minutes as a Sophomore.
The Harrison Twins: Ford believes that both of the Harrisons will go to the NBA. Before taking an extremely long pause when talking to Tucker, Ford said this:
“They feel like they weren’t showcased or presented as well as they could’ve been as players and are not sure that another year at Kentucky helps them. They think their game is more ready for the NBA and will show better at the NBA level.”
Matt Jones disagrees with Ford’s statement; the Twins responded well to Calipari all season despite backlash from fans, and they have kept all of their opinions on their future tight-lipped. In short, nobody really knows what the Twins are thinking.
Ford’s opinions are based off of talks with NBA agents, but no one knows how the first weekend away from basketball fared for Kentucky’s finest…yet.
While the players are weighing the decision to stay at Kentucky for another season or head off to pursue their NBA dreams; we look ahead to next season. This summer, the team will have plenty of time to practice together and hopefully all will be on campus on time, unlike the Harrison’s and Young this past year. With the roster uncertainty still in question, what categories can Kentucky improve on next season, regardless of their roster? I headed over to teamrankings.com to find out.
Kentucky finished the year averaging 11.2 assists per game. Even though Kentucky’s offense wasn’t predicated on getting assists, this number still can go up next season. This could also depend on if the Harrisons come back. Technically a missed shot could be an assist for them. They are so good at getting to the rim that throwing up a shot at the rim gives the rest of their teammates an opportunity for an offensive rebound or a put back slam. However, if Ulis steps into the starting role, look for that assist number to really jump up. Ulis is a pass-first guard that is much quicker than the Harrison’s. Although he isn’t as big, he can use his quickness to beat his man and dish it to open teammates. Either way, I expect that assist number to go up.
Free Throw %
No matter what Kentucky’s roster is next year, the free throw numbers must go up next season. Kentucky finished the year shooting 68.5% from the line; good enough for only #225th in the country. There were many games this past season that if Kentucky had shot better from the line, they would have been in a position to win.
1st half points (Slow Starts)
Kentucky finished the season 54th in first half scoring at 35.2 points. Even though Kentucky showed that it could win despite the slow start, it was very frustrating to watch from a fan’s perspective. The slow start against UCONN ultimately cost us the game. With inexperience possibly being a factor again in next year’s roster, Kentucky must fix the slow start dilemma.
Most of us have spent the afternoon snoozing to The Master’s, butt KSR investigative journalist Ryan Lemond ain’t got time for that. Apparently he has heard some good news this afternoon, but I don’t think we’re going to find out what that news is for awhile.
The last time I reported on @TrillGeta15 it was bad news about his stress fracture (which he has). Now I've got good news, really good news
— Ryan Lemond (@ryanlemond) April 13, 2014
Let's just let Willie have this moment. He deserves it. Everybody will be happy
— Ryan Lemond (@ryanlemond) April 13, 2014
I’m sure if plenty of people call in to the radio show tomorrow morning (you know where to listen) he would be more than happy to share this news with his closest friends.
With a few potential questions next season in the backcourt, Kentucky has been looking around for a Julius Mays pt. 2 – a solid contributing transfer that can play immediately. One of their primary targets was Bryce Dejean-Jones, UNLV’s 6’5″ leading scorer from 2014 that averaged 13.6 ppg. Today Dejean-Jones announced on Twitter that he’ll attempt to make the jump to the NBA from Ames, Iowa:
Had a great weekend in Ames my first time there but won't be the last I've decided I wanna be a Cyclone!
— Bryce Dejean-Jones (@B2nyce) April 13, 2014
It may not end up being all that unfortunate for the Cats. Dejean-Jones has had multiple off the court issues since he began his playing career at USC. Dejean-Jones will go down in the book of the Calipari era with Tony Woods, rather than the beloved Julius Mays.
UK dropped the rubber match to Missouri 8-3 and the overall series 2-1 on an error filled afternoon that knocked the Cats below .500 (7-8) in conference play at the halfway mark of the SEC season. The Cats entered the ninth inning trailing by just one run but two costly errors, including a surefire double-play ball, allowed four Tigers to score to seal it for Mizzou who are in the SEC East cellar at 6-9 in SEC play and 17-17 on the season.
“You make five errors on the weekend, the chances of winning go way down and clearly we threw it away today,” head coach Gary Henderson said after the game. “You have to play defense and you have to play at a high level and you can’t give away outs and bases and we did that today and when you do, you’re not going to win.”
Missouri got on the board first as the Tigers led off the third inning with a double down the rightfield line and took the lead on a one out RBI single by nine-hole hitter Jake Ring. Mizzou would tack on another after shortstop Matt Reida booted a taylor-made double play ball that allowed Ring to score from third.
Third baseman Max Kuhn would get both runs back fort the Cats in the bottom half of the inning with his second two-RBI double of the weekend to score Reida, who ledoff the inning with a single, and Austin Cousino who was 3-for-5 on the afternoon after an 0-for-5 Saturday.
Mizzou would take the lead right back in the top of the fourth on a two-out RBI single to make it 3-2 but A.J. Reed would match that in the bottom of the fifth with his own two-out RBI single, his SEC leading 48th of the season, to score Austin Cousino.
The Tigers would take lead for good in the top of the sixth with another two-out RBI single to make it 4-3. They would add four more in the ninth as the Cats gave away three outs in the final frame.
Wildcat starter Andrew Nelson (1-3, 3.55 ERA) suffered his third loss of the season as he worked six innings, allowing four runs on then hits with two strikeouts on 92 pitches. “I wasn’t that disappointed in our pitching today,” said Henderson. “(Andrew) Nelson wasn’t his best but he gave us the chance to win.”
The Cats will attempt to rebound Tuesday when they travel to Louisville for a 6pm match-up against UL. The Cats defeated the Cards 8-3 in Lexington two weeks ago.
Across the country teams are finishing up their 15 practices of the Spring with intrasquad scrimmages. The best part of the Spring finales is that fans and coaches aren’t as nearly insane, providing the opportunity for a little bit of fun. In an attempt to gain back some recruiting Mojo that was taken to UK by former Nebraska assistant Vince Marrow, Bo Pelini brought a Wildcat onto the field with him in true Lion King fashion.
I would never wait in line this long to get Butch Jones’ autograph. However, I might wait that long in line to watch Butch Jones yell at a DMV employee.
If you ever wondered why James Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State, it might be because of the 72,000 fans in Happy Valley for a Spring Game versus the 17,000 that attend Vanderbilt regular season games.
I’m going to end with a little something for the ladies.
Matthew McConaughey look alike Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury partook in a team dance-off after practice earlier this week. Around the 1:44 mark, Kingsbury busts out a “Too Turnt Up” t-shirt to perform the Stanky Leg.
Do you think Mark Stoops has something fancy up his sleeves for this year’s Blue/White Game?
With the new hit film “Draft Day” opening in theatres this weekend, excitement around the NFL Draft is starting to pick up. For the lone Wildcat that attended the scouting combine, interest from teams are also starting to rise. Kentucky’s former inside linebacker, Avery Williamson, impressed a lot of people following his time in Indy a few weeks ago. Many originally questioned his speed and quickness, but he quickly put those concerns to rest. Posting a (4.66 sec.) 40 yard dash & a 3rd best (4.07 sec.) 20 yard shuttle time, Williamson proved he was better than a late round draft pick. His production on the field was already there, having back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons at UK.
Williamson has already planned to meet with the Tennessee Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the New England Patriots. Other teams have also shown interest in him, which include Oakland, Indy, St. Louis, San Fran., and the New York Jets. As always, when people find out that the Patriots have a strong interest for a player in the later rounds, they get a little upset. Does New England think they would be getting a steal if they selected Williamson? It’s possible. Just ask Denver when they selected their new defensive captain, Danny Trevethan. I guess Avery Williamson isn’t a secret amongst NFL scouts anymore.
“All those teams said they were impressed with me at the combine, and my agent told me it’s a good sign that some teams — the Titans, Patriots and Jaguars — are already setting up meetings with me,” Williamson said.
Best of luck to Avery as we near “draft day”.
For those of you that don’t follow Rex Chapman’s blog, last night he posted a very long and detailed look into the history of the NBA’s “one & done” rule. Rex went back to when the rule was first implemented and lists every “one & done’er” to leave college early for the NBA Draft. From there, he places each player into one of his three categories. His three categories are “No-brainers”, “Top 19 picks”, and “Head scratchers”. From a Kentucky stand-point, you probably can place every UK player that left after just one year into these categories easily. Try it now and see if you and Rex agree below.
This first group is comprised of players who dominated the college game during their one season in college, were voted either 1st-team all-conference, All-American’s or NCAA Player’s of The Year. You can also call them “no-brainers” to leave school. These guys had proven at the college level to be quite dominant each and every night during their one year as a college student-athlete.
Here, Rex lists the players you would expect: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Kevin Love, Austin Rivers, Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon, Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, and Mike Conley Jr. Did you correctly pick the Kentucky players? I’m sure most of you did.
For Rex’s 2nd group, this is his description:
One thing you will notice about the guys on the list below is that even though they hadn’t been selected in college as 1st-team all-conference players, EACH guy had either something he did exceptionally well as a college player, was extraordinarily big and agile OR was an incredibly freaky athlete. Elite athleticism is sometimes like extraordinary size in professional sports – it can make-up for many deficiencies.
This group includes DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond, Tristan Thompson, Thaddeus Young, Tobias Harris, JJ Hickson, Derrick Favors, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, Spencer Hawes, Enes Kanter, Xavier Henry, Deandre Jordan, Lance Stephenson, and Tony Wroten. Are you still perfect with the Kentucky selections? I’ll be honest, I forgot about Enes.
Of course, the final group is self-explanatory: the “head scratchers”. Rex breaks this group into two sub categories; busts and unproven/D-League. I’ll allow you to find out which player falls into which group for yourself, but here is Rex’s list: Jerryd Bayless, Mo Harkless, Tyrus Thomas, Javaris Crittendon, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Shawne Williams, Quincy Miller, Marquis Teague, Cory Joseph, Daniel Orton, Bill Walker, Donte Greene, Kosta Koufos, Byron Mullens, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Selby, and Daequan Cook. So, did you agree with Rex on all the Kentucky “one & done’ers”? I did, not counting Enes.
There is much more “one & done” talk included in his blog. It really is a good read, and I suggest you click this link to see for yourself. With the amount of time and detail Rex put into it, he proves to be passionate about fixing this rule. He has publically disliked it for quite some time now. He makes a great point as to why it’s flawed, and uses Kentucky for his example:
Would Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young have played 30+ minutes per-game this season had junior Anthony Davis, sophomore Nerlens Noel and junior Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still been playing for the Kentucky Wildcats? Would Andrew Harrison have played much at all had he been playing behind senior Brandon Knight? Of course they wouldn’t have. But here’s the rub, if the freshmen on this Kentucky squad are to enter the draft this summer and then are subsequently drafted to the Pelicans, Rockets, Bucks or Hornets/Bobcats (where those former ‘Cats are currently playing) – ALL of them will sit and play behind the guys 2 and 3 years older. Why, because those older guys are better. In the NBA whether you’re 20 or 24 doesn’t matter to coaches or management. You may as well be in the “same grade”. You’re looked at as “young”. And the strongest/”best” survive (play the minutes).