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Forgive me if I am a little rusty, but with Drew on vacation, I will be handling the night post this week, a task I haven’t had consistently in a couple of weeks. Luckily for me this is a busy time with much to talk about, and hopefully this will be like riding a bicycle and I can ease back into the flow. We start tonight with a dedication to the decision by Willie Cauley-Stein to return to Kentucky for his Junior season. This is probably one of the two biggest “returns” of a Calipari-recruited player (along with Terrence Jones) of the last five seasons and for many, is completely unexpected. All season long, Willie was presumed to be headed to the league and everyone around the program had long thought that two years of WCS would be all we would be lucky enough to get. But then things began to change in March. Willie started talking to friends/teammates about a return and after his injury the decision was made. We first got wind this was a real possibility last week and Ryan Lemond heard it was the proverbial “done deal” this weekend. Still I couldn’t help but be skeptical because what Willie did is unusual…he returned to school while potentially being a lottery pick. That takes a lot of guts and I applaud Willie for making the call.
Still, the decision does make sense for two reasons. First, there is an argument that Willie Cauley-Stein wasn’t the high pick lock that some presumed. A source tells KSR that Willie had surgery in the last couple of days and he would have been unable to workout during the draft process. This would have really hindered Willie’s likely draft status because he is the type of player who would be a workout warrior. NBA folks love guys like Willie…long, athletic and quick makes scouts drool and much of Willie’s projection was based on these qualities. If he was unable to show them, that could be a problem. Thus a return gives him a chance to put his best foot forward with another season of development and a chance to have all his best traits on display.
But the other reason Willie’s return makes sense is a fact intrinsic to him. Willie Cauley-Stein is just a different guy, to whom basketball is a part but not the whole of his life. Here is a secret about nearly every big-time college basketball player who is looking at the Draft…their life is basketball. One of my favorite questions to ask players when they arrive on campus is what they would do if they weren’t basketball players…for many the question has never even entered their minds. These guys grow up wanting to play basketball and most of their free time is based on basketball activities. Not Willie. WCS is a kid with a lot of interests in a lot of areas and a free spirit prone to search for the happiness of the moment he is in. After the national championship game, he talked to reporters about the allure of the NBA but then noted that if you are happy doing what you are doing now, why rush to something else? That is a great insight (not just about the NBA but everything in life) and one that few players truly carry. Willie is happy being a college student and being in school…a fact that is even more amazing considering he sort of hated school when he arrived. This has become a place where he is happy, has varied interests and has many friends of diverse backgrounds. In Willie’s mind, why change that if he doesn’t have to?
There will be a huge effect on the Kentucky team due to Willie’s decision to return. Kentucky is now loaded in the front court and he adds a huge dose of athleticism to a class that isnt quite as explosive athletically as in previous years. But it is also a testament to a kid who just does things differently…something I always like. Coloring books for everyone, Willie is back
A few more quick notes:
— Don’t forget about Marcus Lee: The first “announcement” today came from Marcus Lee, whose brother told Adam Zagoria that he would be returning to Kentucky. The idea of Lee considering the draft was mocked by some, but honestly it should not have been. Lee would have gone in the top 40 in the draft thanks to his potential and his length makes his NBA future very promising. He will now be part of a very crowded frontcourt (even more so if Dakari returns as well) but I expect him to improve a great deal this summer. Marcus is a great kid and one of my favorite guys on the team, With him and the other potential returnees back in Lexington, practices next season are going to be absolutely stacked.
— Calipari was Everywhere: John Calipari spoke to a ton of different interviewees today, ranging from Dan Patrick to CBS This Morning to Jim Rome to Bill O’Reilly to of course KSR. He revealed the “tweak” (Andrew passed it more), he gave his notion of how many players he thought would head to the Draft (less than five) and he gave a timeline for his new coach hire (a week or so). There were lots of little tidbits over the course of the day, but to be honest, the one that stuck out to me had to do with his future here in Lexington. He was asked about Rex Chapman’s tweet at the Final Game and after saying “who?”, he noted that it was not true. But he did once again tie his future at Kentucky to the NBA collective bargaining rules about the Draft. On KSR he noted that if the rule got changed to two years (which he believes will happen), “I will probably finish my career here and stay a long time.” But he also suggested that if it stays one year, he might not be able to endure the constant grind of building a new team every year. This summer could be the huge time for the two year decision as the NBA and the Players meet about the issue that was tabled last summer. We all have thought that Kentucky basketball would be better off if the rule changed, but now we know that Calipari’s future may be tied to it as well. That is a lot riding on a decision that will be made by those with no tie to college basketball. But a rejuvenated Calipari with two years worth of top talent? That could be special…
Big Day for Rupp Arena: The news is better for the Rupp Arena renovation, but still not completed. Today will be the day we find out whether the State Senate falls in line and supports the plan for money for a Rupp Arena renovation. The plan has been altered slightly and lawmakers spent today in meetings trying to hash out a grand bargain. IT must be done by today however or the Rupp project could fall by the wayside, with major negative consequences for the historic facility. It is a story worth following on Tuesday and we will let you know what happens.
— UK Football Loses One: There was some bad news in the world of UK sports as four star DB Montrell Custis changed his commitment from Kentucky to Alabama. Custis fell in love with the UK football staff when he visited and was a huge early commitment. But Alabama came calling and that is a tough school for a high school player of his talent to turn down. Alabama is big boy recruiting and it says something that UK has been able to go against them on a few players the last two years…but it is a tough battle to win and Kentucky today lost one of the potential crown jewels of the 2015 class in the process to Saban and the Tide.
Calipari is doing the ESPN Car Wash today, which means he will be on virtually every ESPN show today (except Colin Cowherd, who criticized Calipari loudly today and now finds himself not on the schedule). We will let you know any news that comes out of those appearances. Until then, celebrate as Willie is back and Kentucky basketball looks to be a happy time again next year:
As a sign of the dedication I have to the Big Blue Nation, I watched the “O’Reilly Factor” tonight (I would rather watch the “Forde/Thamel Factor”) to see his interview with John Calipari about his new book. Most of the interview was of the “how do you handle these disrespectful kids who like rap and hip hop” variety (although I was a fan of Bill’s tie), but Calipari did have one line that stuck out to me. The coach said, “If I walk in a home and a kid disrespects a woman, his mother or grandmother, then I am out…I wont recruit them.”
Strong words from Calipari and ones that I am sure we all agree with. If you want to be recruited by Calipari, be kind to your mothers and grandmothers kids…a good life lesson from John Calipari.
(For more on the Calipari/O’Reilly interview, including video, click this link here)
The man formerly known as the Blonde Blocker is returning for his junior campaign and the folks around Big Blue Nation couldn’t be more excited. Willie brings some big time athleticism and experience to a team that has the potential to be one of the tallest ever assembled. Here’s what folks around the nation had to say about the tweet that has Lexington fired up for 2015.
The last image of Willie Cauley-Stein on the Kentucky bench won’t be with an electric blue flower-print button-down shirt underneath his jersey.
Whereas Harrell’s return shores up a position of weakness for Louisville, Cauley-Stein’s return further bolsters a position of strength for Kentucky. Between Cauley-Stein, sophomore-to-be Marcus Lee and incoming freshmen Karl Towns and Trey Lyles, Kentucky will have at least four former McDonald’s All-Americans 6-foot-9 and taller next season. And the frontcourt would only get stronger if 7-foot freshman Dakari Johnson and 6-foot-8 sophomore Alex Poythress were also to come back.
“I was as convinced as everyone that Willie was going pro, but when I got the news he was 100 percent coming back I was as shocked as anybody,” Lemond said. “Reporters have sources that you know you can believe 100 percent and this was one. That’s why I was not afraid to say he was going to have good news for Kentucky fans.”
Cauley-Stein has 166 blocks in his career, which ranks sixth all-time in program history. He averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this year and will give Calipari and UK the rim protector it missed after he was hurt this season. It will also give Calipari at least one veteran leader — and perhaps send a message to sophomore Alex Poythress, who is not projected to go nearly as high in the draft as Cauley-Stein was, to also return.
Matt Norlander [Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein tweets he'll be back for jr. year]
This is big news for Kentucky. Cauley-Stein becomes the latest potential lottery pick to opt out of heading to the NBA, instead choosing to stay the course as an undergrad.
Kentucky, who we already put at No. 7 in our Ridiculously Early Preseason Top 25 (and one), might well be considered a preseason top five team in many outlets by next fall. Cauley-Stein is one of the few true centers in college hoops. He was felled in the Sweet 16 by a foot injury that kept him out for the remainder of Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament run.
What was your reaction when the news broke a few short hours ago? Mine was the realization that it’s going to be another long summer waiting for basketball to return.
Would you like to go to Indiana’s Journalism School? Well you should at least think about it…while we at KSR showcase that you can have a successful career in journalism with no training, little skill and many grammar errors, there is still something to be said for a journalism degree (it ranks with Philosophy degrees in terms of marketability). Indiana is one of the better Journalism schools in this great land of ours and thus they are promoting their status to the world. But how do they do it? Well not with pictures of Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford popcorn boxes or the player allegedly known as “Big Handsome.” No, Indiana wants you to go to their school by letting you know that you MIGHT get to interview John Wall. Yes, if one attends Indiana’s Journalism School a life of excitement awaits as you hope beyond hope that Kentucky will reignite their series with the Hoosiers and you may be in the presence of UK greatness.
If Indiana didn’t exist to continuously make us laugh, then we would probably have to create them…
And now, a bit of bad news. 2015 4-star CB Montrell Custis just flipped his commitment from Kentucky to Alabama. Custis was UK’s first commitment in the 2015 class, and is considered the 26th best cornerback in the country by 247 Sports. The Cats now have five commitments in the 2015 class: Marcus Walker, Levon Livingston, Logan Stenberg, Larry Wells, and Mason Wolf.
The loss is disappointing, but Alabama is Alabama. Best of luck to him.
Apparently UNC likes whistleblowers about as much as the Bluth Company.
With the coaching carousel lethargically inactive, and most NBA draft announcements as predictable as summer in Arizona, there’s been a dearth of drama in the still-green offseason that makes the ending of college basketball seem so much more sudden, and painful, for die-hard hoops fans.
So, sincerely, thank you, University of North Carolina, for your ridiculous academic scandal which continues to give us something to be incensed over, even after the refs’ whistles have sounded the last bad call of the season, and rivals talked their last ounce of trash until October. The scandal, or specifically, its backlash, has taken yet another interesting turn that Bloomberg Businessweek touts as “targeting.”
According to author Paul Barrett, the Tar Heel administration is putting a bullseye squarely on the back (or forehead) of whistleblower Mary Willingham:
“Rather than grapple directly with how university employees and instructors launched on this egregious adventure of keeping scholarship athletes academically eligible by means of fraud, UNC’s leadership has gone after Willingham personally. Employing a classic kill-the-messenger playbook, top officials have questioned her credibility and demoted her.”
Is this as bad as it seems, or is Bloomberg overreacting? Remember, just because a reporter says it, doesn’t make it true. Some have a dull, rusted axe to grind, even when its better off buried (::cough:: PETE THAMEL). But apparently, UNC’s “retaliation” has included publishing the findings of three independent reviewers, who agreed with a dean’s opinion that Willingham’s findings were “a travesty.” There is still all manner of retaliatory “he said, she said” accusations flying between the two entrenched parties, and with the independent reviews and the images of A- papers, both sides have plenty of ammunition.
The bottom line is this: at least one reputable source believes that UNC is, at best, ignorantly neglecting serious problems, or at worst, nefariously targeting the faculty member most concerned with the school’s academic reputation. The author also wonders, as many college basketball fans have, “How long can the NCAA avert its eyes?” If Eric Bledsoe’s grades are reason enough to investigate, it’s hard to imagine how this isn’t.
It’ll take a while before we see how right, or misplaced, Bloomberg’s beliefs are, but until then, it’s the best drama we’re going to get in an offseason bereft of brand new tweaks and Rex Chapman tweets. So enjoy it, and remember: only 187 days until Big Blue Madness.
Everyone’s excited Willie’s returning for his junior season, especially John Calipari. Cal tweeted this moments ago:
I’m happy for Willie and also proud of him for making the best decision for him and his family. Being in school for at least three years will get him closer to having a degree and will help him prepare for the next level and life afterwards.
UK also sent out an official statement about Willie’s return, in which Willie said his desire to win a National Championship and get his degree was too strong to give up for the NBA:
“I want to come back and have a chance to win a national championship, while also getting closer to earning my degree,” Cauley-Stein said. “Being at the Final Four this year was special, but not being able to help my teammates on the floor was tough. I look forward to helping us get back there next year, while playing in front of the best fans in the nation.”
This feels appropriate:
After hints have been dropping the past few days, Willie Cauley-Stein just tweeted that he will return to Kentucky for his junior year. Willie cited the BBN, “the best fans in the USA,” and the void left empty by Kentucky’s loss in the National Championship game:
I'm proud to say I'm coming back for my junior year. I still have an empty spot to fulfill and in no rush to leave the best fans in the USA!
— Willie Cauley-Stein (@THEwillieCS15) April 14, 2014
COME ON GET HAPPY!
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©5:15 pm
When Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers dropped the $65 million in state funding for the Rupp Arena project from the budget a few weeks ago, the future of the project looked bleak. However, Governor Steve Beshear has repeatedly voiced his support for the project, and in a news conference today, announced a new plan that will increase state funding to $80 million, but not require an increase in Fayette County’s hotel and motel tax, a sticking point for Stivers and the Senate. Lexington city leaders now say they’ll use “value engineering” to decrease the total price of the project, whatever that means.
Governor Beshear also told reporters that he’d be meeting with Senator Stivers and other legislative leaders to discuss the new financing plan this afternoon, a HUGE meeting for the future of a renovated Rupp. Cross your fingers.
- Mark Stoops had an old friend in town watching the scrimmage, but not just any old friend. Pete Jenkins has coached for 41 years at the best programs in the country, focusing primarily on defensive linemen. He was on the Eagles’ staff during their NFC Championship runs in the late 2000s after coaching 5 SEC championship teams, and most recently at USC.
Jenkins spends most of his time now watching collegiate practices and talking turkey with the coaches. As a bystander last year, it is a night and day difference compared to this year. For Stoops, it’s much more difficult to see the improvement day-to-day, but Jenkins’ confidence reassured him that they are getting better, “Sometimes when you see it every day, you want to make those steps faster, but he knows, and he told me, it’s a much different team, a better looking team. It looks like we’re more physical and all that.”
- After watching the tape on the QBs, Mark Stoops was still a little reluctant to hand the starting job to someone but did have this to add.
“I’ll give you a bone here. I’m still impressed. Patrick (Towles) is improving, he’s throwing some balls we all know he has the arm talent to execute. I feel like Drew (Barker) is doing some good things for a young guy out there. Again, that’s not dismissing the other two guys, they did some good things as well.”
In the words of Malibu’s Most Wanted, B-Rad G, “It ain’t much, but it’s all I got.”
- Za’Darius Smith used his offseason to build more muscle, but physicality wasn’t his biggest concern. With the absence of Avery Williamson, Z knew that he needed to become a Senior leader on the defense, despite having only spent a season on campus. “I’m being more of a leader and being more experienced,” Za’Darius said, “The best is to come.”
- Before team meetings new Special Teams’ Coach Craig Naivar jams 80′s glam band rock. That’s a great photoshop waiting to happen.
- Mark Stoops is a secondary specialist, but last year Ashely Lowery was the only player in the entire unit with a pick. JD Harmon was the team’s interception leader in 2012, but academic issues kept him on the sideline for 2013. For Harmon, it was painful watching from afar, “I took it upon myself. It was kind of my fault.”
Harmon is hard on himself, but it should pay off in the long run. Harmon’s help is just the tip of the iceberg as the coaches constantly stress the importance of forcing incompletions. “It’s something that we’ve been emphasizing,” DJ Eliot said. “We track it everyday in practice. We’ve had some where we had a bunch, and we’ve had some that we haven’t had very many. A lot of it just comes down to finishing plays. Sometimes you get them in the right spot then it’s a dropped ball or it’s a tipped ball that we don’t bring down.”
John Calipari finished up day one of his book tour by stopping by “The O’Reilly Factor,” and tweeted a picture of himself and Bill O’Reilly on set with the following caption:
Just got done with Bill O’Reilly’s show. Wow. I’m going to be honest, normally I’m not very nervous doing interviews but he’s pretty big. The interview will air sometime tonight during his show at 8 p.m. He said he wants to come to a Kentucky game. What game should we invite him to?
So many strange things here: 1) Cal being nervous about anything; 2) Cal being O’Reilly in the first place; and 3) O’Reilly wanting to come to a Kentucky game. What game should Cal invite him down for?
The interview airs at 8 p.m. ET tonight on Fox News.
John Calipari’s media tour rolls on, and this afternoon, he went on “The Jim Rome Show.” He mainly repeated things we’ve already heard, but I had to laugh when Cal channeled his inner Southern debutante when talking about Rex Chapman’s tweet: “The LA thing was so…you know, bless Rex’s soul, I don’t think he meant it in a negative way or anything, but what are you doing? It’s not true. It’s just not true.”
As anyone in the South can attest, there’s nothing more cutting than a “bless his little heart.” Another interesting comment came when Rome asked Cal if he felt he wore the “black hat” when it comes to the NCAA:
“I think the whole point of this thing–how the NCAA has handled some of the stuff and why people, not just me, a lot of their critics say it’s selective enforcement, and I’ve been thrown in that at times. I’ve never been found to do anything, but it’s kind of ‘here’s how we can embarrass this’–you know what I’m saying, and that’s how I felt.”
Preach on, Cal.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©2:30 pm
One last funny bit from Cal’s appearance on KSR this morning (which you can listen to here), then we’ll move on. When asked about Rex Chapman’s tweet about the Lakers, Cal said that the team didn’t hear about it until after the game, at which point, he wondered why Rex would do that. Cal said he went up to Anthony Davis, who was with the team in the back, and joked that the only way he’d go to LA is if Davis came with him:
“The second thing I said to Anthony Davis, he was in the back, I said ‘the stuff with the Lakers isn’t true,’ and then I looked at him and said ‘unless you’ll come with me, maybe I would go.’ But I was only teasing, and he knew I was teasing.”
Haha, hilarious, Cal…now, can we please get the one-and-done rule changed??
Fan tweets he’ll get Willie’s face tattooed on him if he comes back, Willie says to put it in writing
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©2:02 pm
— ☆€@TAL¥ST☆ (@TrillGeta15) April 14, 2014
We’ve been hearing some hints that Willie Cauley-Stein is leaning towards coming back to UK next season, and this tweet adds some fun kindling to the fire. A fan tweeted Willie that if he returns to Kentucky, he’ll get Willie’s face tattooed on him before the season starts. Willie responded “Let’s get it in writing.”
Now, the real question is, which Willie tattoo should he get?
Bride of Franken-Willie?
Or Hipster Willie?