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Oh man, I can already feel the comment section heating up. But the 19th marks the 23rd birthday of Louisville All-American Russ Smith, who spent plenty of time celebrating over the last four years, bringing two Final Fours and a title back for the Cards in his sophomore and junior years.
There’s every reason to hate Louisville, and Louisville fans. Their highest-profile coaches are proven and notorious liars who revel in infidelity (both personally and professionally); their fans are obnoxious for no reason; and that calligraphy “L” is just atrocious. But some of their players, like it or not, deserve respect. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng earned it a couple years ago. Montrezl Harrell is about to earn it next year (yep, get ready). And Russ has definitely garnered the respect of the Big Blue Nation for his ability, and his class, over the last four years. Anybody that says otherwise is either jealous, or hasn’t been paying attention.
So happy birthday Mr. Smith, we’re happy you’re celebrating turning 23, but we’re glad you’re gone. We’re sorry you had to go 1-5 against the Cats. And we’re really sorry that the birthday people think you’re Peyton Siva:
Some news and stuff:
-UK recruits had some fun tonight in the Jordan Brand Classic, as all four made the prestigious roster for the New York-based All-Star game. Karl Towns had the most highlight-reel plays, including a spectacular half-court, behind-the-back, no-look dime from half court that made the commentators take the next couple plays off in admiration. But they all had fun, and more importantly, got some experience playing together. We’re ready for them next year.
-Slow news doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, as DeMarcus Cousins provided some levity today with his response to Cal’s new book, Players First. Apparently, Cousins was having some trouble completing the conditioning drills in his first few practices, and Cal gently reminded him that if he wasn’t in shape, he would come off the bench and “play eight minutes.” Cousins apparently found out the story made the final edit, and made sure everyone knew he was “upset” with Coach Cal:
— demarcus cousins (@boogiecousins) April 18, 2014
-We heard it earlier, but Marcus Lee made his return to Lexington official today via a UK Athletics press release.
“I’ve really enjoyed my college experience and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop as an all-around player,” Lee said. “Playing in the Final Four was such an amazing feeling, but I want to come back and help win that final game this year.”
-Stan Van Gundy said that if Cal headed to the Lakers, he’d have less talent. That’s clearly an exaggeration, but man, not by too much. Don’t know whether that says more about the Cats or the Lakers, but either way, thanks Coach. Sorry Dwight Howard ruined your career.
-UK Football has already distributed 25,000 tickets to the Spring Game. The cap is 42,500 because of the construction, so if you want a seat, better act early.
-A bank robber with a giant UK back tattoo is making us all look bad. And not because of the tattoo. Mostly because of the bank robbery. Leave the looting to the Louisville fans.
-New NBA Commissioner “Not David Stern” has grand ambitions to make a 20-year old age-limit a priority this summer. This is great news for us, as not only would our talent stay longer, but our coach probably would, too. Cal spoke out over the last week and said that a “two and through” rule would take a lot of stress off of him, and let him stay as the Grand High Poobah for longer than he’d be able to right now. Let’s hope “Not David Stern” gets it done.
Finally, some quick-hit tidbits:
-CBS acknowledged that Kentucky is dominating college basketball. Naw durr.
-Mark Emmert opened himself to questions on Twitter with the #AskEmmert hashtag, and proceeded to take more public shots than a Tri-Delta at Two Keys.
-Former Florida guard Nick Calathes has been suspended by the NBA for 20 games after violating the league’s anti-drug policy. Quick question: when did the NBA ban Rogaine?
That’s all for tonight, we hope your Good Friday has been rewarding, and we’ll be back tomorrow to let you know if anybody spontaneously declares for the Draft (they won’t), or if Cal says something quotable (he will). Typical off-season stuff for Kentucky. Enjoy it.
Unlike the Nike Hoop Summit, which unwisely left a couple UK recruits off their list, all four Kentucky recruits got a chance to show their stuff in the high-octane, poor-defense shootout known as the Jordan Brand Classic. The third major high school All-Star game, and the second of which to feature all four of our guys, was a fun exhibition of a diverse array of skills we can look forward to next year, regardless of who comes back.
First, Karl Anthony Towns. The big man showed that he’s not limited to staying right around the rim, knocking down outside shots and throwing a few assists, including a sweet no-look, behind-the-back dime from half court that had the commentators ooh-ing and aah-ing for the next few possessions. Not to mention, Towns apparently conveyed the opinion of his doctors that he might still grow another 2-4 inches. Karl’s already pushing 7′, so any height on top of that would make an already daunting presence flat out ridiculous.
Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker got their fair share of attention as UK’s future backcourt, with some praise thrown Ulis’ way for being a guy to “facilitate,” and play “94 feet” on defense. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in tenacity and vision, and the Jordan game was a great chance for him to show his stuff among much taller players. We can no longer be surprised when Ulis shows up and either takes control of the team from the start, or challenges Andrew Harrison for playing time, whichever the case may be. He also tossed in a three in the face of Louisville recruit Shaqquan Aaron, so we appreciate him getting a head start on that. Booker displayed his nice outside touch on several occasions.
Ulis also got this shoutout from friend of LeBron, Cuffs the Legend (does anybody know his real name?):
saw Tyler Ulis play @CP3 1-on-1 last Summer. The boy held his own. He’s the REAL DEAL. Kentucky getting another good one
— Cuffs The Legend (@CuffsTheLegend) April 19, 2014
Trey Lyles was fairly quiet on the offensive end, minus a nice and-1 in the second half to give the East an 11-point lead. He did however pull down 8 boards, which is considerable when you’re surrounded by guys 6’10” and up. He and Towns anchored the inside for the winning East.
There was an interesting note in the second half as ESPN high school recruiting expert Paul Biancardi mentioned that Tyler Ulis would have plenty of frontcourt help, with “Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson” coming back to UK. Does Biancardi know something we don’t, or is he just making stuff up? Of course, smart money is on the latter, but still. Any news helps.
Also check out a fun highlight in the 3-D projection shown on the court pre-game. As far as low-lights go, there was Joel Embiid’s fedora.
By now you know Kentucky is looking at having one of the tallest line ups in the history of college basketball next year, with our without the twins. Even if Dakari and Alex decide to leave, we’re still going to be huge, but let’s assume they return. With that, you’re going to have three seven footers – all of which can flat out play. A 6’10 Trey Lyles, two 6’9 forwards in Lee and Willis, and a 6’8 forward in Poythress. For those of you counting at home, that’s 48 feet of domination waiting to happen.
But not everyone seems to think so.
When Willie declared he was coming back, it was met with tepid reactions from national media. Most of the pundits takes aren’t worth repeating here, because they generally don’t know what they’re talking about. But there was one point that was raised that intrigued me – is now a bad time to be going big, when basketball in general is trending towards small ball?
It’s a valid concern. If you want the best examples, look to the NBA. The Miami Heat can ‘go small’ playing Bosh as a center when need be, the Thunder do it when they don’t play Perkins, Golden State plays better when they go small, and as a general trend, centers are disappearing and being replaced by forwards. The emergence of a ‘stretch 4′ – a power forward that can take the ball behind the arc and shoot it, ala Frank Kaminsky – are almost a necessity if you want to contend for a title.
So should that be a concern in college as well? Is there such a thing as being ‘too big’?
Frankly put, no. I don’t think there is.
Let’s look at two examples. For the first, we’ll point back to the NBA and look at the Indiana Pacers. While everyone else was busy going small, they went all in on a big line up, focused on being the best defensive team they could, and anchored themselves to a dominant big man in Roy Hibbert. The common thought here was – when Miami or another team goes small, they will be too quick for Indiana to handle. Only it has worked the other way – in the same way that Alabama football became a power team in the midst of spread offenses, dominant post presence allowed for Indiana to score when needed, grab rebounds, but more importantly keep Miami out of the paint.
My other example? Last years Kentucky team. Much in the same way Indiana smothers you inside, Kentucky did the same game after game in the tournament, dominating the glass and making it tough to score off anything inside 12 feet. You can get away with going small in the pros, because if you’re a pro you likely have a decent jump shot and can score off screens or force the bigger post players to guard you outside the paint. If there is one thing that college players aren’t great at, it’s knocking down shots. While Kentucky will be getting easy points inside the paint, anyone who wants to beat us next year will have to light it up from the outside – a feat that few college players are capable of.
The key to next years team is still going to be in guard play – simply because that’s where we lack the most bodies. But our identity will be down low, and even if teams are trending small… sometimes it pays to buck the trends.
The Spring Game is next Saturday, and for those of you not able to make it in person, you can watch it on TV or listen on the radio. Here’s all the information from UK:
Former Wildcat lettermen Jeff Piecoro and Dusty Bonner will be on the TV call, which will air live starting at 3:30 p.m. ET on CWKYT in Lexington, Ky., WMYO-TV in Louisville, Ky., and WSAZ-DT (My Z) in Huntington, W.Va.
Fox Sports South will have two delayed telecasts of the game. A same-day delay in the state of Kentucky only will air on FSN South at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, while the entire FSN South footprint will see the game at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 27.
The UK/IMG Sports Radio Network will air the game on radio with the Voice of the Wildcats, Tom Leach, joined by former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard, and sideline reporter Dick Gabriel. The game will be live on 630-AM WLAP in Lexington and 840-AM WHAS in Louisville. Station information across the Bluegrass has not yet been determined. The radio broadcast will start at 3 p.m. ET.
Of course, you can’t beat being there in person. Tickets are free, and you can get them at Ticketmaster.com. UK students can pick up their free tickets at the Joe Craft Center ticket office. Tickets still available on game day may be picked up free of charge at the stadium, based on availability.
The NBA Playoffs begin this weekend, and eight former Cats will participate. Here’s this weekend’s schedule (all times Eastern):
SATURDAY, APRIL 19
12:30 p.m., ESPN: (6) Brooklyn Nets (Marquis Teague) vs. (3) Toronto Raptors (Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes)
3:30 p.m., ABC: (6) Golden State Warriors vs. (3) Los Angeles Clippers
7 p.m., ESPN: (8) Atlanta Hawks vs. (1) Indiana Pacers
9:30 p.m., ESPN: (7) Memphis Grizzlies (Tayshaun Prince) vs. (2) Oklahoma City Thunder
SUNDAY, APRIL 20
1:00 p.m., TNT: (8) Dallas Mavericks vs. (1) San Antonio Spurs
3:30 p.m., ABC: (2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist)
7 p.m., TNT, CSNC: (5) Washington Wizards (John Wall) vs. (4) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed)
9:30 p.m., TNT: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (4) Houston Rockets (Terrence Jones)
Will you be watching?
There are currently over 600 quarterbacks in FBS football. The young men joined the ranks of NCAA Division 1 football hoping to become the heroes of the school and dreaming of one day starting in the NFL. However, that dream just might be a little harder than the movies show.
With Whitlows departure, the spot for starting quarterback is left wide open. Thousands of quarterbacks have participated in NCAA football over the last ten years. Yet less than a handful have been successful in what Drew Barker is trying to accomplish.
Out of hundreds of BCS quarterbacks, there have only been 15 to start as true freshmen for a BCS Conference school since 2003 and the results have been nothing short of mixed. Of those 15 true freshmen, the completion percentages vary from as low as 39.5% to as high as 60.2%, both of which have room for improvement.
True freshmen usually have attributes that are in question from arm strength, to awareness, to vision and whatever else you can question. However, shouldn’t we just worry about how efficient they are? Of those 15 true freshmen that started for a BCS conference school, only two of them had a passer efficiency below 100. Is 100.0 passing efficiency good? Not necessarily. But for comparison sake it shows a good baseline of what has happened in the past.
The BCS might be dead, but the stigma of those power conferences will live on along with the rare feat of a true freshmen starting for a major FBS program. Does it always work out? In some ways yes and in some ways no, but it is rare that a player who doesn’t possess the skills necessary to start as a true freshmen will ever be thrown into that situation. However, as BBN has found out, it is not quite unheard of. Regardless of the rarities, more often than not when a young man is entrusted with the keys to an offense as a true freshman, he usually writes his name into his school’s football history.
Over the years, we have seen such history writing and perhaps it is UK’s turn to grab the pen and write it’s own chapter.
Take former Georgia Bulldog Matt Stafford for example. Stafford trotted out onto field against UAB for his first start as a true freshman and proceeded to lead the Bulldogs to a 34-0 victory followed by helping Georgia to an impressive win against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. We all know the story from that point on, it worked out pretty well for both him and Georgia
Like Barker, Stafford graduated early from high school and enrolled at his college destination in January. It should be noted that Stafford played only sparingly until his first start which occurred in the fourth week of his freshman year. This formula could end up being Barker’s, the only question is when might his first start take place?
Barker has all eyes on him at the moment, but has not shown the pressure on the field so far. Barker looks at the stats not as a distraction, but rather more like a challenge to join the ranks of successful true freshmen quarterbacks of the past.
It’s no secret that we love DeMarcus Cousins around here. While he’s a monster on the court, Boogie is a total goofball off of it, and in the latest excerpt from “Players First” on CoachCal.com, John Calipari describes Boogie’s first practice at UK and how he was able to get through to him when Boogie wanted to slack off during a conditioning drill:
I turned around and DeMarcus was sitting against a wall. He had his shoes off. I walked over there and he said it again: “My feet are on fire!”
I said to him very calmly, “DeMarcus, you didn’t make that run, so you know you’re going to have to make it up. And to be honest with you, I’m okay with that. I know you’ve got a long way to go. But you do know that you will never start for this basketball team if you can’t do the conditioning and you’re not in shape. You know that, right? You’ll come off the bench, and if you’re playing well and in shape, might play thirty minutes. But if you’re not, you’ll come off the bench and you’ll play eight minutes. Either way, you can never start here. You do know that, right?”
Cal said that DeMarcus completed every conditioning drill after that. Look at him now.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 18th, 2014 @ 4:30pm
Got plans tonight? Either cancel them or set your DVR. All four of Kentucky’s 2014 signees–Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, and Devin Booker–are playing in the Jordan Brand Classic at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The guys have been in New York all week preparing for the event, and each has turned heads in their own way. Bleacher Report’s CJ Moore says Trey Lyles has the best stroke of any of the big men in the Classic, and would be surprised if he’s NOT the starting four for UK next season:
Lyles is really skilled, can score facing up and has great hands. Everything he does is fluid and fundamentally sound. Even with a really crowded frontcourt, I would be surprised if Lyles is not the starting 4 for the Wildcats.
Depending on who comes back, I doubt that’ll be the case early on, but Lyles is definitely turning heads this week.
A few matchups you should definitely keep an eye on tonight are Tyus Jones vs. Tyler Ulis and James Blackmon, Jr. vs. Devin Booker. Jones is headed to Duke, and considered one of the premiere point guards in the class along with Emmanuel Mudiay, but Ulis’ stock has been rising after an impressive performance in the McDonald’s All-American Game. A few analysts have said he’s better than Jones, so it will be fun to see them go head-to-head.
With Blackmon vs. Booker, you’re not only getting a showdown of two of the best shooters in the class, you’re getting an early taste of the Indiana/Kentucky rivalry. Blackmon was ready to commit to the Cats, but changed his mind at the last minute to go to Indiana, a decision I can’t help but wonder if he’s regretting now.
Go future Cats.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 18th, 2014 @ 3:50pm
It’s official: Marcus Lee will return for his sophomore season. Lee confirmed the news via press release minutes ago. Here are his quotes about coming back:
“I’ve really enjoyed my college experience and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop as an all-around player,” Lee said. “Playing in the Final Four was such an amazing feeling, but I want to come back and help win that final game this year.”
Coach Cal says Lee’s only scratched the surface of what he can do:
“I’m excited for Marcus and think he’s barely scratched the surface of what he’s capable of,” head coach John Calipari said. “In addition to his athleticism and the energy level he brings, the experience he gained in the NCAA Tournament this year will be immeasurable for us next season.”
Lee’s brother told Adam Zagoria Marcus would be back earlier this week, but it’s still good to get the official word. Even better, it sounds like he and Willie share the desire to settle unfinished business and bring home #9.
Welcome back, Marcus!
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 18th, 2014 @ 3:30pm
What are Coach K and Fake Barney doing in the bathroom? You’ll have to listen to today’s Kentucky Sports Radio to find out. Matt and Ryan talked about the latest draft decision rumors, James Young leaving, and Nate Willis’ sports hernia injury. If you’re wondering what a sports hernia is, please Google it and don’t rely on Ryan Lemond’s explanation.
There’s only a few hours left ’til the weekend officially begins. Spend them wisely.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 18th, 2014 @ 3:00pm
Former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy was on Mike Bianchi’s “Open Mike” show this morning, and the two discussed the now-dead rumors that John Calipari’s going to the Lakers. Cal’s said that isn’t true and I’m sick to death of talking about it, but Van Gundy’s response to the rumor was too good not to post:
“I have no idea why he would want to go the Lakers,” Van Gundy cracked during his weekly appearance on our Open Mike radio show. “He has more NBA players (at Kentucky) this year than the Lakers do. It would be a step down talent-wise for him.“
I know Kobe’s out, and he’s probably joking, but man. Cats.
According to Jen Smith of the Herald-Leader, 25,000 tickets have been distributed to next Saturday’s Spring Game, which will take place at 3:30 p.m. ET at Commonwealth Stadium. Because the renovations to the stadium are underway (as you can see above), capacity has been limited to 42,500, but it looks like that won’t be a problem based on current estimates.
I talked to Bud Dupree, TV Williams, and Josh Clemons on the phone this morning for some features next week, and both Bud and Josh told me there is a totally different vibe around this team right now, and it’s all about winning. That and checking out the quarterback battle are two huge reasons you need to go out and support Stoops and company next Saturday. Also, tailgating.
Get your Spring Game tickets here.
By Nick Roush on ©April 18th, 2014 @ 1:30pm
Coach Stoops wasn’t too pleased with his offense today, but was it because the offense played bad, or the defense played well? I’ll take the latter.
The defense came ready to play in early down situations. By getting hands on passes early, they put the offense in a lot of tough situations, “We get behind the chains early and we’re not very efficient.”
Last year the Cats were last in the SEC in interceptions, a rare occurrence for a Stoops and Eliot coached team. They’ve placed an extra emphasis on getting hands on the ball this Spring and it has paid off. Today the unit came down with multiple picks, including one by linebacker Josh Forrest. Forrest has received praise from the coaching staff for his athletic ability, even though it hasn’t been easy learning the 4-3 and 3-4. Forrest caught one of the three interceptions last year, and takes pride in his hands.
With CB Nate Willis out 3-4 months for hernia surgery, the Cats need guys like Forrest to step up. Stoops believes the return of JD Harmon at cornerback has given them much needed versatility and depth. AJ Stamps might be the most versatile playmaker in the group. He’s received praise all Spring from the staff, but his skills with the ball are another new revelation. A guy that played both sides of the ball in JUCO, Stamps doesn’t hesitate to make the big play, and he can do something with it once he comes down with an interception.
Willis’ injury is the only major setback, but the amount of guys ‘banged up’ has forced them to adjust their practice plans, and possibly their plans for the Blue/White game. Today Stoops wanted another full scrimmage, but it was too risky with dwindling numbers on the depth chart. He’d like to have some fun next week and decide teams with a draft, but they might have too many guys on the sideline.
Even though the Cats are struggling with depth (what’s new), Stoops expects to get a lot out of his team in the final week of Spring practice. Stoops wants to see some continuity from his offense, and that could mean deciding a starting quarterback, “if we can figure it out in the last week we will. If not we’ll continue to work through it. We have time until our first game.” Other than quarterback, he wants to determine a solid pecking order at running back, wide receiver and defensive line.
Eight days til the Spring game. Don’t Geek BBN.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 18th, 2014 @ 1:00pm
Police in Ludlow, Kentucky are searching for Matthew Wolfinbarger, a 26-year-old man suspected of robbing Huntington Bank back on April 10. Investigators were able to identify Wolfinbarger from surveillance footage, in which he’s wearing the same hat as he is in pictures on his Facebook page. He can also be identified from this huge UK tattoo on his back:
See, tattoos can always come back to bite you.
(H/t Big Lead)
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 18th, 2014 @ 12:30pm
Want a signed copy of John Calipari’s new book, “Players First”? Calipari’s local book signing tour is rolling through the Bluegrass. Here’s an updated list of dates and locations via CoachCal.com:
Remember, the signing event in Louisville on April 24, “An Evening with John Calipari,” will take place at The Clifton Center, and will feature a discussion led by our own Matt Jones. Tickets are $30, which gets you admission to the discussion with Calipari and Matt, a copy of Calipari’s new book, and a designated place in the book-signing line based on the letter on your ticket stub. Seating at the event will be general admission (no reserved seats). You can order your ticket here.
Can’t make it to one of the stops? You can order your copy of “Players First” online by clicking here.
UPDATE: Cal has added another Keeneland signing, one at the Richmond Road Kroger, and a stop in Owensboro. I’ve updated the list above as well.