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Former UK Basketball staffer charged with defrauding pro athletes pleads not guilty

And now, an update from a big story last week: Leon Smith, the former UK Basketball staffer accused of conning pro athletes of nearly $1.3 million, pleaded not guilty this morning in the U.S. District Court in Lexington. Smith’s trial will begin July 18 in Lexington; if found guilty of all charges, he could face more than 30 years in prison.

Smith, a former UK wide receiver and Director of Basketball Opps under Tubby Smith, faces 14 counts, including fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. According to an open records request by the Herald-Leader, UK officials were unhappy with Smith back in 2006 because he ordered $12,000 worth of SEC Championship rings without going through proper purchasing procedures. UK only found out about the rings when Balfour, the vendor, contacted them about a past-due invoice. Around that time, Smith’s role with UK shifted from director of men’s basketball operations to assistant athletic director under Mitch Barnhart, a position he held until he resigned in April 2010. (While it appears his time at UK did overlap with John Calipari’s, it’s important to note that Smith only worked with Barnhart.)

Among the clients conned by Smith are Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson, the latter of which is suing Smith for defrauding him of $180,000.

More details at the Herald-Leader.


Let’s answer the 5 weirdest questions players were asked at the NBA Combine

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The measurements, agility testing, and on the court stuff at the NBA Combine is important, but equally as important are team interviews. Typically, those interviews include some really weird questions. These aren’t your standard interview questions like where you see yourself in five years or whether or not you would turn something in incomplete on a deadline; these questions are designed to throw players off to gauge their reactions. Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype.com asked players at the Combine to share the weirdest questions they were asked, and because it’s a Monday and we’ve got nothing better to do, I thought I’d share five of my favorites so you can answer in the comments:

1. Why is a manhole cover round?

I’ve never thought about this before, and the answer is actually really clever: it’s because a circular manhole cover can’t fall through the opening like a square one would. I totally spoiled that for you, but what a fun fact, right?

2. What would the janitor at your school say if I asked him about you?

That I drank too much Diet Coke and stunted my growth? (And hopefully that I recycled.)

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3. Can you explain each of your tattoos?

If Malik Monk had participated in the Combine, teams would get to hear that his large chest tattoo is a tribute to his hometown of Lepanto, specifically “The Woods” where he played pickup basketball growing up.

Also, I have no tattoos.

4. If you were the size of a pencil and stuck in a blender, how would you get out?

According to Kennedy, this question is popular in Silicon Valley to test applicants’ analytic problem solving skills. And I have no idea how I’d answer. Chill on the edge and pray?

5. What drink do you order when you’re in the club?

Yes, players were asked about their drinking and their marijuana habits. I’d be curious to see how many players answered honestly (knowing that teams will do their homework on them) or how many played it safe and lied, especially if they were under 21.

My answer, even though I never go clubbing? In my limited experience, clubs have limited craft beer selection, so I’ll go with Hendricks and tonic, cucumber, no lime.

 

Your turn if you wanna. Or, just go to HoopsHype.com to read the rest.


Monday’s Top 10: Fox soars, John Wall has his moment, and some big breaking news coming soon…

Monday’s Top 10: Fox soars, John Wall has his moment, and some big breaking news coming soon…

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Greetings all, and welcome to a new week. Shoutout to KSR and UK fan Nick for repping the Cats at the Parthenon. Sure, it may be the full-scale replica that’s here in Nashville — built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition — but it’s still impressive and in close proximity to plenty of great hot chicken places and craft breweries. Nick, I hope you took advantage of all that.

Before I call Prince’s to see if they’re open at 9 a.m., let’s roll through the top ten, because that’s probably a decision that I’d regret later today.

1. Sorting through the aftermath of the NBA Combine

The NBA Draft Combine finally wrapped up yesterday in Chicago, and for Kentucky fans, there were two main takeaways: 1) Hamidou Diallo’s measurements/agility piqued the interest of several teams; and 2) De’Aaron Fox did himself some favors. We’ll start with Diallo, who has nine days left to make the decision to stay in the draft or come back to Kentucky. After doing some reading, it seems that Diallo’s 44.5″ vertical and 6’11.25″ wingspan were enough to make NBA teams want to hear more. According to Chad Ford, Diallo is now viewed as an “intriguing” prospect that could go in the 20’s, whereas if he stayed at Kentucky and had a good season, could go in the top 10 of the 2018 draft. The speculation surrounding Diallo is overwhelming and, honestly, a bit exhausting, but we’ll keep bringing you the news as it happens.

2. De’Aaron Fox charmed everyone

The other big takeaway of the Combine to me was the emergence of De’Aaron Fox. Fox was one of the few projected top 10 prospects to actually attend the Combine, and that decision seems to have worked in his favor. Fox charmed everyone, to the point that Chad Ford believes many squads would pick him over Lonzo Ball, putting him in contention for the second or third pick. That’s huge.

One of the many media opps Fox did this week:

Fox seems primed to become the next great ambassador of Kentucky Basketball. Let’s hope he lands somewhere good.

3. The NBA Draft Lottery is tomorrow

Here are the latest odds:

4. It’s Game 7 for Wizards/Celtics

Friday night was the night John Wall told the world that he’s an NBA superstar. Wall quietly put together an impressive regular season, and when some haters — cough, Cowherd, cough — still questioned that he had the talent and charisma to be among the league’s elite, he made a statement Friday night. After the buzzer sounded following his game-winning three, Wall leapt on the scorer’s table and motioned to the Washington crowd to get loud. The pictures and video of the moment have been everywhere, but this perspective from the crowd may be my favorite:

Tonight, the Wizards and Celtics will meet one final time in Boston to decide the series, the winner of which will advance to play the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. That game tips at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.

5. UK Baseball swept the Vols

UK Baseball made Senior Weekend one to remember by sweeping Tennessee at The Cliff. After a date with Northern Kentucky on Tuesday, the Bat Cats will turn their sights to a crucial weekend showdown with Florida with the SEC championship on the line. The Cats (36-16, 18-9 SEC) will need to win at least two of three games to claim a piece of the division – and possibly overall – crown in coach Nick Mingione’s first season as head coach.

We’ve said it a lot, but what Mingione has done this season is incredible. Keep it up, fellas.

6. The football team landed a three-star center

Mark Stoops added an eighth member to his 2018 class this weekend in the form of three-star center Quintin Wilson. Wilson is the third offensive lineman in the 2018 class and the fourth recruit from the state of Ohio, aka Vince Marrow land. UK’s 2018 class is now ranked 22nd in 247 Sports’ rankings, and Alex Reigelsperger, who has seized the role of lead recruiter, says more Yahtzees are coming soon:

Hmm…

7. UK Softball will host a regional

Last night, the UK Softball team drew the No. 14 national seed in the 2017 NCAA Softball Championships, and will serve as regional hosts this weekend at John Cropp Stadium. Illinois, Marshall and DePaul will come to town for the double-elimination style bracket, the winner of which will advance to the super regionals. Kentucky will open play on Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET against DePaul, which will be shown live on ESPN 3/WatchESPN.

Tickets are available now at the UK Ticket Office, so make plans to go support the ladies this weekend.

8. My Preds dropped Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals started well for the Nashville Predators, who quickly leapt to a 2-0 lead, but Anaheim didn’t give up, eventually winning by a final score of 5-3. Thankfully, Nashville won Game 1, so the series is tied at 1-1, and now comes home to Bridgestone Arena, which will be absolutely nuts on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Hopefully I can be there on Tuesday to cheer them on before leaving for vacation. Either way, I’m taking jersey with me to Italy.

9. Julius Randle won Mother’s Day

Shoutout to Julius Randle for a very impressive and creative Mother’s Day gift for his fiancée, Kendra. Guys, good luck topping this one:

10. Some big news is going to drop on today’s show

I suggest you be by your radio at 10 a.m. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


NBA Teams are Starting to Figure Out De’Aaron Fox is Better than Lonzo Ball

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It ain’t hard to tell that De’Aaron Fox is better than Lonzo Ball.

The first time the two point guards faced off at Rupp Arena, Ball’s team won, but he was outplayed by Fox.  Ball had 14 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, compared to Fox’s 24 points and 5 steals.

In the NCAA Tournament, Fox completely dominated Ball from start to finish.  Fox had 39 points, 4 assists and two steals.  Ball made 1-of-6 threes, scored just 10 points and immediately said after the game, “That was my final game for UCLA.  I appreciate all the fans for all the support.”

Despite all of that, NBA scouts still saw Ball as a better pro prospect, penciling him as the No. 2 player in the draft.  That’s no longer the case.

Even though neither of the two players participated in the drills at the NBA Draft Combine, ESPN’s Chad Ford left Chicago with one important takeaway: Fox has surpassed Ball on the draft boards of many NBA teams.

“No one helped himself more in March than Fox did,” Ford said.  “He has a chance to go as high as No. 2 or No. 3 in this draft.”

I don’t know what took teams so long to come to their senses.  Maybe it was Lonzo’s new shoe?

[Chad Ford]


John Calipari has a Problem at Forward

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It’s been eight days since Kevin Knox shocked the Big Blue Nation by committing to Kentucky.  Naturally, the addition of a Top 10 player in the class of 2017 created excitement.  Now that the dust has settled, there’s an elephant in the room: Calipari has too many forwards.

John Calipari doesn’t have many weaknesses as a recruiter, but he always struggled to recruit true small forwards.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is an exception, but MKG is not an offensive player.  This year he has not just one, but three small forwards in his recruiting class who excel offensively.  Along with the returning players, here’s who will be in the crowded frontcourt:

  • Kevin Knox
  • Jarred Vanderbilt
  • P.J. Washington
  • Sacha Killeya-Jones
  • Wenyen Gabriel
  • Tai Wynyard
  • Nick Richards
  • Mo Bamba (maybe)

Even though Calipari has excelled with size (the 2015 team started three guys 6’10” and over), only Richards and Bamba are true centers.  For arguments sake, I’ll leave Bamba out of the equation.  That leaves six players vying to play two forward positions.  There are a few ways Calipari can make it work.

Play Small

Tai Wynyard and P.J. Washington are both bruisers on the defensive end of the floor.  Exceptional rebounders with a wide base, they can sacrifice some size and still adequately defend the opponent’s center.

This leaves room for the others to stretch the floor.  Gabriel, Knox and Vanderbilt are all at their best facing the basket and can extend their game all the way to the three-point line.  SKJ doesn’t have that range, but that’s more of an assumption because we haven’t seen much of him since high school.

Play Big

 

With Richards in the middle, Calipari can still employ three other small forwards because of their versatility.  Knox and Vanderbilt weren’t great three-point shooters during their senior seasons, but have dramatically improved their shooting over the last six months.  Each of them could play on the wing, while Washington or Killeya-Jones plays the four-spot.  This puts four players on the court at 6’8″ and above.

The Problem

Spacing.  The last two seasons Calipari has had two of his best backcourts.  Spreading the floor, he let them use space to create shots near the rim or find an open man an the three-point line.

Nobody in college basketball is more adaptable than Calipari, but if Hamidou Diallo does not return, the Cats will only have two players (Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) who can truly create off the dribble.  As basketball becomes more perimeter-oriented, next year’s team is going in the opposite direction.

There will be some growing pains at the start of the season, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.


Mother’s Day Wishes from the Big Blue Nation

@KentuckyMBB

@KentuckyMBB

Your favorite University of Kentucky Wildcats are celebrating their beloved Mothers with social media shout outs.  For those Moms who aren’t on Twitter, it makes no sense to me, but that’s a conversation for another day.  Today is a day to honor the wonderful women who made us who we are, starting with a special video from the football team.

Coach Rich Brooks

Karl-Anthony Towns

Coach Mark Stoops 

Coach Cal

Linebacker Courtney Love

Running Back Benny Snell

Former UK Center Max Godby 

Cornerback Jordan Griffin

J.B. Holmes, before he tries to win The Players’ Championship.

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Photo via @Suns Twitter

Devin Booker’s Special NBA Draft Lottery Guest

Photo via @Suns Twitter

Photo via @Suns Twitter

As if we needed another reason to love Devin Booker.

This week, Booker went to go see Suns super fan Noah Smith and asked him to come to the NBA Draft in New York on Tuesday.

Noah Smith, a fifth grader was born with a hole in his heart and, like Devin, plays basketball – for the special olympics. The plan is for Smith and Booker to spend all Tuesday together playing basketball and exploring the city before the big night. I’m sure there will be tons of adorable pictures of the duo on Tuesday. I mean, look at these ones from the announcement:

I think I love him more than Tyler Ulis loves him.


De’Aaron Fox Sits Down with NBATV to Talk Combine, 3PT Shooting, and More

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De’Aaron Fox sat down with NBATV’s Kevin Harlan to discuss why he decided to come to the combine, what NBA teams are asking him, and if he will shoot a high number of 3’s in the NBA.

Fox told Harlan why he came to the combine, “It was always a dream of mine to come to the NBA combine. I have been watching it for many years. With the year I had I didn’t really have to do the testing, just measurements.”

The projected top-5 pick did not want to lose his opportunity to show teams who he is off the court, “I just wanted to meet with teams, 30 minute interviews, just gives them more of a peak at my personality.”

Check out everything Fox had to say below:


De’Aaron Fox Says He’s Best Player in the Draft

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De’Aaron Fox has been at the center of conversations across the NBA this weekend as many believe the star point guard has gained traction as the best player in this draft.

Fox sat down with John Jackson of the Associated Press on Friday to discuss an array of topics.

Jackson asked Fox how he felt he stacked up against fellow star point guards, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz. Fox said, “I feel like I’m the best. If they’re drafted above me, I’m cool with it. You have to play basketball at the end of the day.”

We all know about Fox’s epic 39 point performance against UCLA in the sweet sixteen, he told the AP that there was a little extra motivation behind that performance because of Lonzo Ball.

“He’s the consensus No.1 pick, he could be the No.1 pick. I’m just extremely competitive. That’s what I tell everyone. It didn’t matter if it was him or one of the other top picks. I’m competitive, and I came out hot.”

DraftExpress has Fox slated to go #5 to the Orlando Magic while Fultz and Ball are projected to be the first and second picks in the draft.


Imagining an 8-Team Tournament with NBA Players Playing For Their College Programs

Photo by Dr. Michael Huang

Photo by Dr. Michael Huang

Bleacher Report’s Kerry Miller had an interesting idea that would help to determine which college program is best represented in the NBA. Miller decided to choose eight players (starting five, and 3 bench players)  from Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, UCLA, Texas, and of course Kentucky. Miller seeded the teams in order of overall supremacy and put them through an NBA style best-of-seven formatted tournament.

UK’s lineup consisted of John Wall, Devin Booker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis as the starting five along with Eric Bledsoe, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Julius Randle as the bench players.

In the 1st round No.1 seed Kentucky was matched up against the No.8 seed Arizona where Miller projected UK to sweep Arizona in four games. In the final four No.1 Kentucky matched up against a Kyrie Irving-led Duke team, where the size of Davis, Cousins, and Towns would be too much for Mason Plumlee and Jabari Parker to handle. Miller projects Kentucky would win the series in five games.

In the other final four No.2 Texas squares off against No.3 UCLA in a Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant battle. This would be a fun series to watch as UCLA has a bevy of good guards and Texas is stacked in the front court. In the end the size of LaMarcus Aldridge, Tristan Thompson and KD overpowers the shooting of Kevin Love and Trevor Ariza.

The Championship pits No.1 Kentucky vs No.2 Texas in a series that would be extremely entertaining. Texas would make things interesting with two above average big men in LaMarcus Aldridge and Tristan Thompson along with one of the best players in the world in Durant. In this imaginary scenario John Wall would have himself a field day against Cory Joseph and D.J. Augustin while Cousins and Davis would control the paint. Kentucky wins in six games.

As Miller stated himself, “Texas puts up more of a fight than any other team would, but it’s kind of hard to win an alumni battle against a program that has produced 21 first round draft picks since 2010.”

This exercise demonstrated what Cats fans have known for a while, Kentucky is by far the best represented college program in the NBA with an outstanding 25 players on rosters. To see everything Miller had to say, click here.


Coach Cal Urged Bam to Hire Agent

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Bam Adebayo has expected to be a 1st round pick in this year’s 2017 NBA Draft since he committed to UK over a year ago. Throughout the season, Bam’s spot in mock drafts fluctuated, but his desire to turn pro never did.

Initially, Bam left the door open for a return to UK for his sophomore season by not hiring an agent to start the pre-draft process. Two weeks later after a meeting with assistant coach Kenny Payne, Bam’s mother, and Coach Calipari, Bam hired an agent to end his time at Kentucky.

Thanks to our friend, Kyle Tucker, over at seccountry.com we have learned that Calipari told the Adebayo’s that Bam would be crazy to consider coming back as a projected top-20 pick.

Adebayo told reporters at the combine on Friday, “He felt like I was doubting my potential. He was like, ‘What’s wrong with you, man?’ He was like, ‘Go!’ I was like, ‘All right.”

Bam has looked great at the combine this week, showing off his freakish frame while weighing in at 243 pounds with 5.2% body fat. Draft Express currently has the 6’10 big man set to join the Phoenix Wildcats with the 32nd pick in the draft.

It’s hard to be blame a kid that just wants to support his family, the BBN is behind you, Bam!


Photo via @FletcherPage

De’Aaron Fox was Mr. Popular at the Combine

Photo via @FletcherPage

Photo via @FletcherPage

It’s safe to say that De’Aaron Fox is pretty popular at the NBA Combine this week. Honestly, looking at this picture makes me a little claustrophobic. I’m very happy I’m a 5’4″ white girl and not a superstar basketball player.

Fox has a few different options of where he could go. The Twitter account Strictly Knicks posted this interview from Fox on the possibility of playing with the Knicks yesterday:

There’s also talks of Fox going to the Kings. Kings Writer Jason Jones posted this video on his twitter last night:

The possibility of Fox, Skal, and Willie together makes my heart happy. It’s still early and this is all talk but, I’m crossing my fingers he goes there.


The post-NBA Combine Mock Draft is here

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The 2017 NBA Combine has come and gone and Draft Express has released their latest Mock Draft. This time, four Kentucky guys are expected go.

#5: De’Aaron Fox – Orlando Magic
#7:  Malik Monk – New York Knicks
#32: Bam Adebayo – Phoenix Suns
#35: Hamidou Diallo – Orlando Magic

De’Aaron and Diallo on the Magic? A UK player that isn’t a guard on the Suns? I love it all. Maybe Monk can bring some stability to the crumbling Knicks franchise? We’ll just have to wait and see.


Briscoe says he’s leaving UK in past, looking at future

Denny Medley | USA Today

Denny Medley | USA Today

As usual, when you take a Kentucky player out of Kentucky and put them in front of reporters who don’t cover the team day in and day out, they get asked a bazillion and one Kentucky questions.

However, Isaiah Briscoe was having none of that today, according to SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker.

“All the Kentucky questions, I don’t play for Kentucky no more!” Briscoe yelped. “I’m just trying to start fresh.”

I enjoyed my time at Kentucky, it was fine, but I moved on,” he said, declaring that his pro position will be point guard. “Obviously, I wasn’t playing point guard in college, but it is what it is. College is over with. Why we still talking about college? I’m starting a new chapter in my life.”

Briscoe did have a solid outing in two 5-on-5 scrimmages, scoring 28 points with 11 assists and six rebounds in 46 minutes of play. And did take time to talk about how the program has prepared him for the NBA.

“I’ve been playing against NBA guys for the last two years and pretty much all my life, so it’s nothing new,” he said. “And then the combine we have at Kentucky, I think it’s more pressure there than in here, because the gym is so small and everybody’s on top of you.

So far the only team that Briscoe has met with is the Miami Heat, but you only need one team to give you a shot.


Diallo was an asset last season according to De’Aaron Fox

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UK Athletics

Even though he never played a single minute in a Kentucky uniform last season, and he may never put one on, Hamidou Diallo still made a difference in his own way.

In media availability today, De’Aaron Fox talked about the impact the possible none-and-done had this season by bringing practice to the next level with his defense, according to SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker.

“When he was defending us — like when people ask me what was harder, the practices or games, practices for me were a lot tougher than games,” star point guard De’Aaron Fox said Friday at the NBA Combine. “He’s a great defender.”

“He’s extremely tough and gritty,” Fox said. “But he’s from the Bronx. All the New York guards are like that. His ball skills are better than what I thought they were. He can shoot the ball (but) he’s going to have to shoot it better from the NBA three. That’s true of just about every player in the draft, though, except Malik (Monk); Malik shoots it from half court well.”

Diallo still hasn’t played a game since his time on the AAU circuit, but the times and measurements he’s putting up at the combine are impressive. The possibility of Diallo leaving and never playing a game are getting realer and realer each day.