Part two in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats. Cats hope →
One of our two KSR editors, Tyler Thompson, is on vacation this week so being the good boss that I am, I volunteered to pick up a night post tonight to try and take some of the load off Drew Franklin. Tonight’s post was supposed to be a simple affair, in which I reviewed the state of Kentucky basketball recruiting, Mark Stoops’ comments today at the KSR Tour and the overall awesomeness of Slice Rohrssen. But then, like the evil dictator that he is, Coach K had to come out of nowhere and ruin my night. With one rumored decision, Coach K has once again topped my list of most disliked people in this great country. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported tonight that after Camp Team USA has been completed, it is expected that Coach K will pick Mason Plumlee to represent the team at the World Cup of Basketball over Demarcus Cousins. I want you to read that sentence again, this time with focus and if you are drinking, when you have become sober. Demarcus Cousins is reported to likely not make Team USA because Coach K prefers MASON FREAKING PLUMLEE!!!!
That sounds made up right? Like if you were going to create a “Coach K is the worst and favors mediocre white Duke players over talented skilled professionals,” Onion piece, you would probably title it “Coach K picks a Plumlee over Boogie,” wouldn’t you? It can’t be real. Coach K can’t favor a reserve averaging 7.4 points and 3.8 rebounds a game over Demarcus’s 22 and 15, can he? Demarcus Cousins is legitimately one of the top 5-8 big men in the NBA. His numbers this season probably should have made him a third team All NBA center and most people who know the game say he is about to have a 2-3 year breakout that could put him (along with Anthony Davis) as a potential All Star starter. And Mason Plumlee…well he was a decent reserve on an underperforming Brooklyn Nets team. Yet Coach K would rather have that Plumlee, Mason..or maybe its Miles, who heck the knows the difference, instead of Demarcus “you can’t guard me” Cousins. Sure thing K.
Its a headline and story so baffling that it almost defies belief. Look at these statistics comparing the two big men:
So the numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark. Now some may say, “but Matt, Mason is a good team player and Demarcus is a trouble maker!” Says who? What has Demarcus done that has really “caused trouble?” Yes, he has had a temper in games and has a number of technicals. But if he is on Team USA and he is in that mode, guess what he will do…be on the bench? And whoever would come in and take his place would certainly be much better than Mason Plumlee. But what has Demarcus ever done off the court to be a team chemistry killer? What teammates has Demarcus had that are not fans of him as a player? And would he not be on the same team as guys who are friends of his and former Calipari players like Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose (and possibly John Wall). One of the things that we learned long ago at Kentucky is that Demarcus excels based in part on those around him. What could be better for him, and what role could he serve better in, than on a team of other top talents with a common goal, all the while actually winning games.
I could break down the International game and tell you why Demarcus would also play well in that style (he is tough, rebounds, is physical and can hit a mid range jumper). Give me a skill that Miles Plumlee has that Demarcus Cousins does not…you can’t. The reality is that there is no explanation for a Plumlee over Demarcus except the Duke connection. Plumlee is not one of the top 40 big men in the NBA and putting him on the team would be the utmost in Duke favoritism over skill. Over the years we have seen Coach K shun top talent to put floor slapper in the game that are often scrappy, but underachieve in big games (hello Lehigh and Mercer). But to have those same odd decisions while with Team USA, that seems bizarre at best.
The only good thing about this decision? It once again confirms to me that Coach K is the worst. Over the years, Coach K had slowly backed down from his sole perch atop my disliked list that he climbed up in 1992 (sharing it with Laettner). Between saying the occasional nice thing about UK, winning at a high level and leading the USA to a gold medal (all the while praising Anthony Davis as the next star of the NBA), had slowly made me forget that at Coach K’s core is a black hole. He is the coach of the least likable team in basketball history, full of players that are spoiled and snotty, and helped in their success by an adoring media and a constant badgering of officials that borders on psychological warfare. I had forgotten that K, the one who looks like a rat and makes your blood boil during home games in Cameron Indoor. He had been replaced by the humble Coach K who lost to Mercer and then looked noble entering their locker room and congratulating them after the embarrassing upset.
Not anymore…picking Plumlee over Boogie reminds us that all good Coach K moments are a facade for the real Coach K. The real Coach K favors Duke and the worst of humanity over Boogie, the Big Blue Nation and all that is good. I had forgotten that I hate Coach K, but leave it to the Brown eyed Blue Devil to remind me by replacing a great American on the team of the Red, White and Blue. You won’t fool me again K…you are the worst.
This one is pretty awesome. The 2013-2014 season in review…complete with music, highlights and a Chester call for the ages. Check it out…you will love it from UKCatFan8
UK lost one of its legends early this morning as Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones passed away at the age of 88. The Harlan County native’s life reads like a storybook example of what makes Kentucky sports great. He grew up in deep Eastern Kentucky, where he was a baseball, basketball and football star at a time that the best athletes played all three. He went to the state Basketball Tournament four times, helping Harlan win the title in 1944. While at UK, he had a legendary career like none other, playing football and basketball at a high level, earning All American honors in the process. He was part of one of the greatest teams in UK Basketball history, the “Fabulous Five” of 1948 that not only won the NCAA title, but were then made part of the US Olympic Team that won the Gold Medal in 1948. His athletic exploits are legendary and he was called by John Calipari today, “perhaps the greatest athlete in UK history.” He was also one of our last remaining links to the golden years of UK Athletics, as he played for both Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant in Lexington. I met Wah Wah on a couple of occasions later in life, and he couldn’t have been more gracious, telling me stories about games he played against Middlesboro during his high school years. He was also part of one of the more special events I have ever attended at Rupp, when he and Anthony Davis were honored with their gold medals in 2012, a symbol of the great living tradition of Kentucky basketball. Wah Wah Jones in the epitome of the Big Blue Nation tradition and KSR’s prayers and thoughts go out to his family and friends.
With that, a few notes from the weekend:
— The basketball team begins practice for the Bahamas in full force on Monday, getting 10 days of practices in which to get ready for the trip to the island. The excitement around the basketball facility is palpable, as everyone realizes just what a special season this can be. The plan in the Bahamas, at least for the first couple of games, is likely to be to play two separate five man teams an equal amount of the game. That may change for the latter games, but this will give all ten of the main players a chance to get full work and showcase themselves. That means big things for Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee, who will likely get extended periods on the court and be able to get into their groove and contribute. The playing time may switch afterwards as they try different rotations but this “two team” concept should be very entertaining to watch for the early games. All of the games will be at 1 pm, the first three on ESPNU, the second three on the new SEC Network and all of them on radio. We will be doing KSR LIVE from the Bahamas, Ryan will host an extra 30 minutes of the show and then there will be a half hour IMG show leading into the game….all of which means if you are at work, you can listen to UK basketball on the radio from 10 am to 3:30 pm for an entire week in August. That’s pretty cool.
— Julius Randle was in town this weekend…and everyone sent us pictures. Here were my three favorites, the first because of what is happening in the background, the second because it was very cool to get Couch and Julius together in a pic and the third because it made me laugh:
— In the basketball recruiting world, we learned again that Jaylen Brown is really damn good. He played on ESPNU on Sunday and I was once again amazed at his talent. He is so graceful on the court, can get to the rim against anyone and is literally perfect for the Calipari system. Everyone continues to seem negative about Kentucky’s chances but I still don’t buy it. UCLA, Kansas and his home state Georgia schools will be tough, but I know he is target #1 for Calipari and until I hear something different, I still think UK has a very good shot. Either the way, the kid can ball and watching him is a pleasure.
We also have confirmation that Stephen Zimmerman is coming to Big Blue Madness…great get by Kentucky to have him in the building on what will be a huge recruiting weekend.
— The “Coaches for the Kids” event was this weekend and while it was “off the record” (meaning we can’t tell any juicy gossip), one thing was clear (and repeatable)…this football staff is amped up for the season. Every conversation with these guys from Mark Stoops to the Graduate Assistants reveals the same thing…they believe the team is going to be much better and they can’t wait to show it. Last year was a humbling season for everyone involved and while the learning curve was going to always be steep, it ended up being much steeper than people thought. But there are now athletes in the program of another level, and it is about time to see some positive steps. We keep hearing great things about two guys…Patrick Towles and Ryan Timmons…two Kentucky kids who will play a huge role in this offense and the season. I can’t wait to see them get started. The team officially reports next Sunday, with practice beginning Monday. Get ready…
The Women’s clinic was this weekend…our own Brennan English was there and has a great report below…the star was of course Zadarius, who is here with KSR Radio Super Fan Marsha Poe
— Finally, a short note on football recruiting. Yes, Kentucky lost out on George Brown and CJ Conrad (who is committed to UK) went to the Ohio State Friday Night Lights event (but didn’t yet get an offer). But I am hearing some rumblings of good news coming very shortly that could have us all very happy before we depart for the Bahamas. “Bermuda, Bahamas, come on pretty Mama…Key Largo, Montego, Baby Why Don’t We Go Yahtzee?” (Reading that back, that is really awful…but its been a long weekend and I am going with it either way).
The West side of the state treated us great with massive crowds and unbelievable energy. We only have five stops left on the tour….DANVILLE, NORTHERN KY, MAYSVILLE, LEXINGTON and LOUISVILLE. Mark Stoops and Slice Rohrrsen will join us at the Lexington stop and Neal Brown is going to be on with us during the Danville stop (his home town). Northern Kentucky should be great at Dickmann’s and Louisville is where someone wins a trip to the Bahamas. Should be a great week.
We are now just a little over a month away from this time of year
By Matt Jones on ©7:15 pm
Kentucky made the list of five official visits for 2015 big man Stephen Zimmerman. The top player with the longest hair in the 2015 class says he will visit Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona and UCLA before making his college choice. While he didn’t say these were his final five schools, it is a good indication to where he will ultimately end up. In a bit of a surprise, UNLV did not make the list, a school that most believe is one of the two or three leaders for his services. But with it being in his home area, he has probably been many times to the campus as is. Still, an odd omission all things considered.
Calipari really likes this kid and this will be a recruit he fights for.
photo by Jennifer Palumbo
Guess Who’s back, back again, Shady’s back, tell a friend. This time the resident shady journalist known as Pete Thamel is back with this profile of new Texas Coach Charlie Strong. Mixed in with some interesting tidbits is the part of the article highlighted above, in which Kentucky is lumped in with a group of schools where Strong interviewed in which it is insinuated he was not hired due to the fact that he is African American and his wife is white. This is an issue that has been brought up in the Charlie Strong story before, but Thamel goes the next step and mentions the schools that could be indicted for the charge.
I can’t speak to what happened at the others schools as I am not familiar with their hiring process. I also would be naive if I didn’t leave open the possibility that Strong’s race and interracial marriage could not have played some part in his lack of a hiring opportunity at some point in his career. However Thamel’s decision to lump Kentucky into the category of schools that didn’t hire Strong because of race is simply not fair. Strong interviewed for the job when Kentucky hired Rich Brooks and if you speak with anyone that was around at that point, they all agree that he had an awful interview. The knock on Strong always was that his communication skills were not great (an issue that has followed him to Texas and has led to some early criticism) and that he did not do well in an interview setting. Kentucky ended up not going with Strong, in part for this reason, and to suggest that they didn’t hire him because of race isn’t fair for a reporter to insinuate who was not part of the process.
But even if such an accusation could potentially have some merit in general, in has zero place with Kentucky. Why? Because just a few years later, Kentucky hired an African-American coach with a white wife for the exact same position. Joker Phillips was hired by Barnhart and while he did not have success, his race, nor that of his wife, was no obstacle in him getting the job. If Kentucky was against Strong because of his race or his interracial marriage, why would they hire Joker just a few years later? Does Thamel believe that UK’s administration and Athletic Director all of a sudden became more enlightened? Of course not. Kentucky had no problem hiring a black coach with a white wife, when Strong was first interviewed or a few years later. The fact that they hired the wrong one of the two is not a symbol of racism, but rather simply a poor hiring decision.
Thamel, as per usual, went for the cheap hit and the easy shot on a group of programs. My guess is that individuals at all of those programs would disagree with his assessment, and their points may be completely valid. But in the case of Kentucky, to insinuate that Charlie Strong wasn’t hired because of his race/marriage is objectively false. However as we have seen with Thamel over the years, writing incorrect/misleading articles is par for his journalistic course and showcases once again why when the Hall of Fame of Overrated sports writers is erected, Pete’s bust will be part of the first ballot class, likely inducted by a beautiful speech from Manti Teo’s girlfriend.
If you have been around these parts for awhile, you know that KSR’s favorite writer is not Pat Forde. Beginning with the hiring of John Calipari at Kentucky, Forde has used every opportunity to come after the UK coach, a trend that resulted not only in numerous rants about UK’s mistake in the initial hire, but many follow-up shots in Calipari’s direction. His rants became so personal and unprofessional, that during his tenure at ESPN, he was forbidden to write about Kentucky or Calipari except in the most general terms (a fact he has never publicly acknowledged but one that is true). After a year of his nonsense, I wrote this blog post about Forde’s past, bringing to light what most people in the industry knew but would never say, mainly that Forde’s has an extremely checkered past himself, including two “ethics” suspensions. One of those suspensions was due to releasing private information to the NCAA (for unknown, likely personal reasons when the pre-Jurich regime was in Louisville), and the other for a personal reason that related to his coverage of a UL team. After writing that article, Forde contacted my employer (Clear Channel) and refused to ever appear on a Clear Channel radio program in Louisville again…a stance he held for a couple of years until he got tired of not having his voice heard in his home area.
I write all of that as a background to say that we have never been a Pat Forde fan in the KSR Compound. Whether it was his decision to buy the media in St Louis a round of drinks as they watched Calipari lose to West Virginia in 2010 (a fact he admitted on a Louisville radio show, but explained by saying it was “his turn”) or his decision to “cover” the Karen Sypher trial by writing articles “investigating” his drinking buddy’s antics, he has always struck me as the worst of modern media….biased in all regards, full of hatred towards those he doesn’t like while taking up for his friends, all while couching his viewpoints as being “objective” journalism. So while my lack of respect for Forde goes way back, I must admit that even I was surprised to read his latest article today, a fluff piece for Bobby Petrino that is explained by the phrase in its title, “The Path to Redemption.” (In order to discuss this article, I am violating my general rule about not linking or promoting such national articles, but in this case it is necessary in order to make my overall point…plus you ought to read it just to laugh).
The article discusses how poor Bobby Petrino, the oppressed soul who has now left four jobs in under 10 years, either for greener pastures (UL, Falcons, WKU) or because he was having an affair with a subordinate that led to a sketchy motorcycle accident/amazing neck brace photo, has now become a new man. How has he become this new man? Well by caddying for his daughter as she plays golf across the country of course. Forde writes,
For a football obsessive, taking time away from an all-consuming job does not come easily. But caddying for Katie is an avocation that means a lot to a man who put his family and himself through an embarrassing public ordeal when he was fired at Arkansas for having an affair with a woman he hired onto his staff. It has been a means to connect with one of his four children, and to show the entire family – and everyone else – that he’s not the same guy who wrecked a Harley and derailed his career on one disastrous April day in 2012.
Rebuilding that trust will take time. But those closest to Petrino believe what they are seeing so far.
Forde seems to believe that because he is pushing around a golf cart for his daughter, Petrino must be a new man that has changed his ways and is ready to be a model citizen. But wait you say…in the same article Forde noted that he has done this the past three years and this isn’t a new action by Bobby the Neckbrace. So the same Bobby that abandoned Western after one year (which by the way never gets brought up when discussing how he is no longer a “drifter”…but I digress), also caddied for his daughter. I guess that can’t be what is “new and improved,” So if not, what shows Bobby to be a new man? Forde explains:
Last month he started the Petrino Family Foundation and made a $1 million gift that will go to Kosair Children’s Hospital, a scholarship for Louisville students and the school’s marching band – and the foundation is being run by daughter Kelsey. Petrino has been more of a team player within the Cardinals athletic department, attending several baseball games during the school’s run to the College World Series. And Monday he talked about becoming more attentive to his players beyond the football field, saying he related some of his personal travails to the team during meetings.
One million dollars? That is a very nice gesture actually. One could argue that paying money isn’t exactly “doing” anything, but we should never blast someone for charity, especially in helping those in need. But his decision to give money to the Children’s Hospital is not a new one. He actually gave a large sum of money to the same hospital in 2007, even honoring the pledge after he left. Now don’t get me wrong. That was a great thing by Petrino then and it is noble that he did it before and will do it again. But considering the fact that he gave money while in the midst of “Old Nasty Bobby”, how does giving money now show he is different? In fact, when Pat Forde took his strongest shots at Bobby Petrino, it was right after he made his first payment to the Louisville hospital in 2007. That didn’t stop Forde then, so it wouldn’t be proof of a changed man now would it? And as for the other “proof”, is it really that he attended a few baseball games (that are steps from his office) and “talked” about being more attentive to his players? Well, I guess Forde’s standard of change must be quite low.
It is clear however that Bobby has made quite an impression on Pat in order for him to write such a glowing piece. This is especially true when you contrast today’s article with what Forde wrote about him just a few years ago. In 2007, he wrote an article that he called one of the meanest of his career in which he named Petrino the “disingenuous drifter” and mocked Arkansas fans for thinking he would care about them at all. Forde then wrote,
The disingenuous drifter doesn’t love you or any other fan base. He doesn’t love any school or any NFL franchise. He loves himself, his playbook and his bank account.
That’s it. Don’t expect it to change.
Bobby Petrino will return your embrace, Hog fans. But while he’s hugging you he’ll be looking over your shoulder, scanning the terrain for his next hook-up.
Even in a profession rife with dishonest posturing, Petrino is singularly mercenary. Loyalty, allegiance, commitment and honesty are foreign concepts to him. It must be a sad existence.
Harsh words right? When Petrino was hired back in January, those words came back in Forde’s face as he now had to deal with the fact that his Daddy Jurich had hired a man that he once had annihilated (probably at his behest, since he had left Louisville before…but I digress). In the internet age, these words did not disappear, so how did Forde deal with them? Well he acknowledged them, but left open the possibility for change saying,
For now, those words are cheap. It will be all about actions for Bobby Petrino. He’s tasked with laying one brick of credibility on top of another in what will be a long and painstaking effort to rebuild his demolished reputation.
But the future must be a significant break from the past for Bobby Petrino, and he has to prove it with deeds that back up his words.
At the time, we commended Forde for holding Petrino to task and asking some difficult questions. While one could ask whether Pat would have given the same benefit of the doubt to Petrino had UK hired him the year before (hint…he would not have), it was at least on the surface, a line in the sand. Show us Bobby, then we will believe it. And now here we are seven months later and Forde is all-in on the “Bobby the Prodigal Son” narrative. After a few months caddying, some money, a day at the old ballgame and some kind words to his players, Bobby is a new man. Stand up and rejoice, the new Bobby Petrino has graced us with his presence! And Forde, a man who is so narrow-minded in his hatred of John Calipari that he famously gave up on him as a coach and wrote the “made your own bed” column right before UK engineered one of the most amazing turnarounds and tournament runs in college basketball history, is now back on the Petrino bandwagon, forgetting the words that once dissected the coach so sharply in the past. What is the difference? Only one, he is back with Daddy Jurich, Forde’s friend and purveyor of scoops.
Has Bobby Petrino “changed”? I don’t know, maybe. I tend to be the type of person who is forgiving to a fault, giving people multiple chances and trying to make it a point to do my best to judge their actions and not them as a person. I don’t know Bobby Petrino so I can’t say whether he is a good man or not or to what extent he has changed, if at all. And honestly, it doesn’t matter. I learned long ago that we don’t really even “know” the people that we deal with every day in our lives, much less a public figure that we only encounter at press conferences or on game day. Spending time trying to judge whether a coach or administrator is a “good person”, “classy” or the like is a waste of time. You spend your days deluding yourself in to thinking you know which people are good and which are bad, and I will just assume that as with virtually everyone, there is a little bit of both. At the same time Petrino was awful to his co-workers, abandoned all his teams and was cheating on his spouse, he was giving money to a hospital that was thousands of miles away from him, with few paying attention. Almost one is all good or all bad, no matter our society’s desire to put everyone into such an easy to digest box. Time will tell if Petrino was a hire worth the risk for UL, but one thing that is undisputed is that UL is one of the very few schools with such a low moral threshold that they would have ever even considered taking the chance.
But ultimately this isn’t really about Bobby Petrino. Had Petrino gone to another school, I have zero doubt that not only would Forde not have forgiven him, he would have bludgeoned the man again. He only loves you Bobby because Tom told him to, not because of your inherent goodness. The reality is clear. The National college sports columnist for Yahoo is a biased Jurich-man who will do whatever he can to make his friend look good. If that means taking up for a coach who has an embarrassing sex scandal and never at any point bring it up or criticize him, he will do it. If that means blasting the basketball coach down the road at every juncture in order to make Jurich’s coach/program look better, he will do it. And if that means eating his words, throwing away his self-respect and looking like a hypocrite by praising a man that he once considered to be one of the worst in coaching, well it looks like Pat will do that as well. Anything for Daddy Jurich and his UL barhopping buddies.
I am a biased homer who wants UK to win and am unabashed in my favoritism to all things Blue. I knew long ago that Pat Forde was essentially the same thing for UL, so long as Tom Jurich was running the Athletic Department. He has always been a wolf UL blogger in sheep Yahoo objective clothing, albeit one with great hair and the latest in stylish, hipster glasses. But today I also found out something I didn’t know, that Pat Forde is also a sellout, willing to take any stance depending on the situation. Bobby Petrino has gone from the “disingenuous drifter” who lived a “sad existence” to a new, changed man on a “Path to Redemption”…and all it took was one hire by his friend and pushing a golf bag around with his daughter a few days. Not a bad trade-off I guess. Hey Pat, remember what it was like to be a real objective journalist with self-respect, integrity and tremendous talent? Naw, we don’t either.
Some good news (from my perspective) on the UK basketball front from Scout.com. The website is reporting that 2015 Big man Caleb Swanigan received an offer from Kentucky today, a big development for the star player. Swanigan had a GREAT Peach Jam and was one of my favorite players during the event. He played against Cheick Diallo and had the better of the matchup and it was that performance that may have pushed Calipari over the top. Michigan State has been the considered leader and Indiana/Louisville are also involved. But with Kentucky in the picture, things may change for a guy with lots of talent and a frame that is ready to compete right away in major college basketball.
It has been a heck of a week around the KSR Compound, with Week four of the KSR Tour, a trip to recruiting events throughout the South and a big UK Football recruiting weekend in Lexington. All in all, it felt like this was the week where we kicked it into high gear for the upcoming season and I for one am ready. Throughout my travels, I have been catching up on reading and while I have gone through some very good books (like “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen), some interesting ones (like “This Love is Not For Cowards” about a soccer team in Juarez, Mexico) and some decidedly mediocre ones (“The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” may be a world sensation but is decidedly blah in translation), none have held my attention like the tremendous book centered around Hurricane Katrina called “Five Days at Memorial.” The book follows the aftermath of the Hurricane at one of New Orleans’ largest hospitals, Memorial, a facility that was submerged in water and cut off from the rest of the city. For five days, it was without power in a hellish situation that is almost unfathomable to imagine in modern-day America. The doctors and administrators of the hospital were forced to make decisions that literally determined who died and who lived as they waited for rescue missions that came too few and too far between. It is a fascinating story, not just for the sadness around their plight, but the awful decisions human beings had to make and the ramifications for their choices. While it gets bogged down a bit in unnecessary details, I still HIGHLY recommend it to everyone. It isn’t light summer fare, but it is important and one of the more thought-provoking books I have read in some time.
And with that Oprah recommendation, lets get on to a few thoughts on the weekend:
— We spent most of last week watching UK Basketball 2015 targets at the Peach Jam and Under Armour Finals. It was a great trip for the oddity of the events, which Drew and Tomlin have both outlined on here…and below are links to their other stories to get a feel for specific guys we saw and games. There is a ton of coverage. However my quick summary of UK’s targets are as follows:
JAYLEN BROWN: My favorite player I saw all week. Along with Ben Simmons (who is going to LSU and is a stud…go ahead and assume he is the first pick of the 2016 NBA Draft), he was the most impressive guy we watched in any game. His athletic explosiveness is special…as with Simmons, he is the only guy currently out there with “WOW” potential on the basketball court. He has the ability to get to the rim on anyone, is a solid defender and can dunk as good as I have seen in high school in some time. His has a pretty outside jumper, although he missed it often in the two games we saw. Nevertheless, he is my current 2015 Calipari “Must-Get”…take him and I will be happy with most anything else. I expect in the end, it will be Kentucky or Kansas.
ANTONIO BLAKENEY: The other guy whose stock rose mightily for me this week. A quick guard who can fill it up from outside and would be a perfect compliment to Brown in a backcourt. I love the way he can drain from the outside with a hand in his face, a rare skill for even good shooters in high school. Calipari has fallen for the kid too, offering him earlier this week and taking the thunder from Louisville (where it was expected he would go). This will be a UK/UL/Florida recruiting battle and I like the Cats’ chances…and I love the amount of threes he would drain in Lexington.
BIG GUYS: Here is the thing about the big guys in the 2015 class…there are a LOT of good, skilled ones with talent. But there are no (in my eyes) GREAT ones. The three best players in the class are, to me, Simmons, Brown and Newman. The big guys each have strengths and weaknesses and if Kentucky gets any of them, they will probably be ok. Diamond Stone is ranked highest, but is very inconsistent and doesn’t look like the #1 guy in America to me. I think he ends up at UCONN, depending on if the “package deal” thing works. Ivan Rabb is #1 on ESPN but while he has moments of splendor and is crazy athletic, he also disappears and can be a forgotten man on the court…not a good sign for a star. I like Chieck Diallo a lot and he played better as the week went on, but his offensive game needs work. It is clear UK likes him a lot, as Slice watched every minute he played. Caleb Swanigan impressed this weekend and may get a UK offer (he is between Michigan State and Indiana). He looks 35 but is very skilled and has a huge body…not sure why he isn’t ranked higher. Doral Moore also doesn’t have a UK offer and wants to go to Kentucky. He is slightly awkward, but played Diamond Stone to a draw and will probably commit to the Cats if they offer. The best big I saw in my mind was Stephen Zimmerman, who is the least athletic of the group, but probably the most skilled. In an AAU setting, a big man like him rarely shines, but he was always around the basket and finished well, even while getting mugged (referees don’t call fouls for big men in these games). All of these guys are impressive in their own right, but none are polished. If Calipari gets one or two of them he will be fine (don’t forget Thon Maker, who is 2016 but may reclassify and didn’t play this weekend), but don’t get hung up on rankings. I liked Stone probably less than all the others and he is ranked the highest…this big man group is truly a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” bunch.
2016 GUYS: Now here is where I get excited. Two guys that will be HUUUUUUGEEEEE talents next year are Tyus Battle and Malik Monk and Kentucky is sitting well with both. Each guy has an athletic “next gear” that simply could not be matched. Battle was on a better team and shared the ball well with Diallo, while still doing a move that caused a certain coach down the road to say “Damn that was something.” Monk may have been the story of the camp, filling up the score sheet with huge point totals and ball-handling displays that had the crowd dancing like it was a “Streetball” exhibition. There are a lot of GREAT guards in the 2016 class and these are two…if UK gets one, watch out…if they get both…well then go ahead and start booking 2017 Final Four reservations (how is that for looking ahead?)
For more on the Peach Jam, check out these stories we posted from the weekend and Tomlin’s wrap-up a couple of posts down:
Daniel Orton played this weekend…he has gotten rather large
— On the football side of things, this was a massively successful recruiting weekend for UK football. The Cats picked up three commitments, two in the 2015 class and one for 2016, all three of which were big gets. Marcus Walker is the most obvious good news, as the 4 Star Safety did what is rare…recommitted after decommitting just recently. He picked the Cats over Florida and getting him is huge for UK’s Secondary. They also added Kei Beckham, a recruit that not only is very talented, but was also plucked away from Louisville and West Virginia (two schools that UK seems to beat consistently for players). Stoops added 2016 in-state talent Zy’Aire Hughes, and could get big Offensive Lineman George Brown soon. But most importantly, the weekend showcased an unbelievably good vibe around Kentucky football. The players and recruits were all tweeting about what a great time they were having, new recruits talked about visiting and the vibe coming out of Lexington was unbelievably positive and exciting. The Football Cats are now in the Top 20 in the Class rankings and continue to get better and better. This weekend, combined with the DC commitments just a week or so ago, have Kentucky football sitting pretty in recruiting heading into the Fall.
Scotty Too Hotty knew what was up
— We also got some basketball team news for this season as Calipari made clear he is VERY excited about what he sees from this team. After an absurd weekend of flying back and forth to recruiting events and Lexington, he returned on Saturday night and the entire team was in the gym playing pickup. He wrote about excited he was to see that energy and you could sense at the Peach Jam that Calipari is extremely motivated for this season. On Thursday night, while Drew, Tomlin and I hung out at the coaches’ hotel bar (where you can see some crazy stuff as the coaches/media let their hair down), Calipari and his staff sat a table by themselves on the other end of the restaurant, eating a late dinner and talking about the team. At one point, Seth Greenberg (a friend of Calipari) even joked to him, “hey Cal! It’s only July”…but Calipari and his group are focused and ready to go…partially because they are so excited not only at the talent on this team, but also the work ethic…add those traits and experience, and next year could be special.
— Finally, Lexington was abuzz Friday night with LEBRON IS IN TOWN tweets, texts, snapchats, etc. Lebron came to see his son play at the KBA and in addition to the awesome video of the two of them (which is below a few posts down), his presence got UK fans excited. Calipari flew back into Lexington to see him (Calipari gets it) and the place was packed with onlookers to see King James. Lebron told a person I knew there that he “loves Lexington”, but Lexington also loves the stir of Lebron in town…he left without Calipari, which is what we all hope also happens next summer as well. You can’t have him Lebron, sorry.
The Tour is back at it tomorrow in Owensboro as we have our Western Kentucky swing, with stops in the Boro, Morganfield, Madisonville, Hopkinsville and our first trip ever to Paducah. Come see us at the stops below and enjoy the festivities. Until later, have a good start to your week:
MONDAY, JULY 21ST: OWENSBORO
3232 Villa Point (Just off Highway 54)
Owensboro, KY 42303
TUESDAY, JULY 22ND: MORGANFIELD
101 W. Main Street
Morganfield, KY 42437
WEDNESDAY, JULY 23RD: MADISONVILLE
1055 Crossing Place
Madisonville, KY 42431
THURSDAY, JULY 24TH: HOPKINSVILLE
2910 Fort Campbell Boulevard
Hopkinsville, KY 42240
FRIDAY, JULY 25TH: PADUCAH
BW3′S brought to you by IMAC Regeneration
2916 James Sanders Boulevard
Paducah, KY 42001
Earlier, John Calipari tweeted out a picture of himself in Minnesota with Hillary Clinton at an event, causing fans to speculate why he was there and a few to blow their gaskets in our comment section. Well one reason for the trip was to see 2015 UK Recruit Skal Labissiere. Skal has been forgotten a bit since he played in the less known event in Minnesota instead of the big two in Georgia/South Carolina. But the Cats are fighting Memphis for his services and he is one of the eight or so big men that Kentucky is following. As with the others (I will have more on this in the night post), Skal is hard to differentiate as a talent from the rest of the group…he is raw but has skills and is very athletic. Most people believe Memphis leads (his Crystal Ball right now is 86% Memphis) owever Calipari wants him and depending on how things fall, you never know.
It is a lazy Friday morning here in the KSR Peach Jam compound. We had a long day yesterday, filled with basketball and our annual night out to watch the coaches/media at the hotel bar. Of all the Peach Jam days in KSR’s history, this may have been the most eventful. We will hit some of the highlights now and some later, but let’s do a quick rundown:
— Last night was my first ever, face-to-face-, one-on-one interaction with Rick Pitino. While watching UK targets Chieck Diallo and Tyus Battle play one of the best AAU games I have ever seen (the second best actually, only behind the Randle-Wiggins affair), Drew Franklin decided to get up and check out Stephen Zimmerman and Ivan Rabb on another court. As soon as he vacated, Rick Pitino took his seat and I was then next to Mr. 15 Seconds himself. We sat next to each other for an entire game (only occasionally blocked by a ST Johns coach and Jody Demling moving between us). The interactions varied from pleasant to awkward, he made me genuinely laugh one time and about halfway through, I think he realized (or someone told him) who I was…changing the dynamics slightly. It was a memorable time and one I will expand on later in a longer post. I didn’t get the discreet selfie I desired (I tried but I was worried my phone would flash…it was doing it all night, even with the flash off), but I did get a good story…and that my friends is what life is about.
— We have seen a number of UK targets over the last few days and they have been of wide variations on the scale. I wrote yesterday about how much I love JAYLEN BROWN (get him Calipari…please), but I also fell for 2016 guard Tyus Battle yesterday as well. The kid is uber-quick, has a great pull up jumper and can get to the basket against anyone, anytime. In a game filled with stars (at least six guys who will play high major Division I basketball), Battle was the one that made the coaches go “wow” several times. As one prominent coach burst out after a drive to the basket, “now THAT is a different gear.” Word on the Peach Jam street is that he loves Kentucky and most people think the Cats are/will be the leader. Just as with Jaylen Brown, when you watch him play, you can’t help but think what a star he would be in Calipari’s system. He has two years remaining and a lot can happen in that time. But as of now, for me, he is my 2016 “go get him Calipari” guy.
— He won’t be coming to Kentucky, but #1 ranked Ben Simmons is special. He is headed to LSU because his godfather is there, and I can assure you that for the one time we may see him in Rupp Arena, you will be impressed. As good an athlete as you will see at this level and can do things on the court that you simply don’t see. It is rare to be jealous of LSU basketball…in fact in my life, I think I have only felt that way in 1986 (when they beat us in the Elite Eight), in the early 90s while watching the domination of Shaq and witnessing the unbelievable shooting (never since matched in my eyes) of Chris Jackson. But I will probably be jealous next year with Simmons. He is special.
— The two big men, Stephen Zimmerman and Ivan Rabb are on the same team, so at times it is hard to get a read on both guys. Rabb has tremendous athleticism, but has a great deal of work to do from a skill standpoint. Zimmerman had somewhat of an off game in the game we saw, leading a person familiar with the kid to tell me, “don’t judge him on this game. This is one of his worst.” We plan on checking the two of them out again today. One thing that is clear about this class is that while there is no dominant or elite big man, there are 8-10 with major talent and upside. Calipari has offered five of them and trying to weed out which one will be successful will be interesting to watch.
— A constant refrain that I find at these tournaments is how different these coaches are in this setting. I have heard more big time coaches drop “F-bombs” in ill-conceived jokes and odd taunts that one would ever imagine. IT truly is a different part of their personality. In some cases seeing the other side makes me like them much more (take Tom Izzo or Frank Haith for instance) and in some cases, it makes me like them less (I am looking at you Mark Gottfried). But it is still very cool to see this side of everything, especially when you get moments like our classic one from last year with Coach K, who looked on the sidelines and said to me…well I can’t tell you what he said, but it is the Jeffrey Ross-Bea Arthur joke of Peach Jam lore.
More later today as we watch Antonio Blakeney and others take the court for one final time…
Willie Cauley-Stein is getting around and seeing the people. The latest example, this “party pic” from the newest issue of “Garden and Gun” magazine with Willie and two young ladies. Now to be honest, I didn’t know there was a “Garden and Gun” magazine and on the surface, those don’t seem to me to be two things that go together. But the magazine bills itself as showcasing “the best in Southern food, travel, music, art, style, sporting life, and more.” And Willie is totally at home with Southern food (he tweets about his meals), travel (he goes to the SEC road games), music (my man is a hipster), art (sidewalk varieties seem to be his speciality), style (remember the yellow hair), sporting life (uh, basketball) and more.
So kudos to Willie and if you get your next Garden and Gun magazine, give him a salute. Personally I won’t be satisfied until he shows up in my next issue of “Cat Fancy.”
I have seen the future of the Kentucky basketball athlete…and the future is Jaylen Brown. For the first time tonight, I saw 2015 recruit Jaylen Brown play, and I believe Brown is the best perimeter athlete UK could get since John Wall. His explosiveness is amazing. He has an unbelievably quick first step and his ability to leap to the rim and throw down with power is as good as I have seen. Jaylen Brown is the type of player that when you watch, you get excited….not for what he is (although he is immensely talented) but for what he can become. He has athleticism that made one college coach look at me and shake his head and go “wooooooo boy, now he is something.” There is plenty for Brown to work on with his game (he isn’t a great ball handler, makes the occasional poor decision and his mid-range game needs work). But with his ability to dominate with athleticism, steady outside shot and explosive rise to the basket, he will be a star and the perfect Calipari player.
The last trait is the one that I couldn’t stop focusing on Thursday night. If you were to draw up a perfect wing player for Calipari, you would get Jaylen Brown. He is an explosive leaper like MKG, long like Liggins and has a decent outside shot like Darius. He plays look effortless on the court and in a Calipari system where he would get penetration lanes (and foul calls which don’t happen in these AAU “Showcase” events) that would make him unguardable. I imagine Calipari salivates at the thought of him in a Kentucky uniform, which is why he is such a priority
After the game, I spoke to Brown and he said that while he has a number of schools, he is hoping to narrow it to three by the time his the fall rolls around. He is visiting UCLA unofficially in August and then plans on taking official visits to Kentucky and Kansas in August/September. Those three schools, plus home state Georgia and Georgia Tech seem to be the early leaders. When asked about Kentucky, Brown says, “Kentucky I like because of Coach Cal. He is a great guy. He always has a lot of things to say to me about my game because he watches me play. At Kentucky it is a great basketball environment.”
While he likes everything he has seen from Kentucky, Brown also notes that many people don’t want him to go to UK and that others trash the program. He said that coaches of other teams note that UK could have too many players, an issue that he is following because it is important to him. “I am a guy that wants to work for everything I get but I want to play right away,” Brown said, “I don’t want to have to sit my first year.”
But while he understands the questions about the roster, the negativity he hears about UK goes beyond that. And Brown wants to correct them. “There are a lot of misconceptions about Kentucky as well, about things they do and how they work. They say those boys out there don’t go to school, they don’t go to class, all they care about is basketball, they don’t care about education. But that’s not true. They are just like the rest of the teams in college.” When I asked if he hears more negative about Kentucky than other places, he said, “It is absolutely more about Kentucky than other schools. Some people just don’t like Kentucky. They say, I don’t like that place, they are shady.” He says however he isn’t worried about such comments because, “I know what they aren’t true”
One thing he does believe is that he is the best player in America. When asked if he sees himself as the most talented high school player, he replied, “Absolutely. I feel like I have a lot of stuff to work on still but in my eyes, there is no one better. There are a lot of good guys that I give a lot of respect to, but I don’t feel like they can do what I can do on the floor.”
After watching him, I think he may be right. Ben Simmons is the best player in the land and Malik Newman has out of this world talent. But when it comes to athleticism and the “Wow” factor, give me Brown. He could be special in Lexington.
I just spoke with Malik Newman for an extended period of time (along with a couple of other UK reporters). He talked about his recruiting for some time and said that he and Diamond Stone will be a package deal for college this year. While he did leave a little hole for wiggle room, he was clear that the plan was to play at the same school with the nation’s #1 big man who he speaks with “every day.” He mentioned Kentucky, Kansas, UCONN and NC State as schools recruiting both hard and he noted that whoever gets both players, he thinks “will win the National Championship.”
I really do love this time of year. Basketball its biggest recruiting events of the year and over the next three days, we will have a good idea who UK will likely get in the 2015 class, what targets are on the rise and bizarre stories from coaches who let their hair down. It is the most fun “Behind the scenes” weekend of the year. Over the next three days, we will be flooding KSR with UK Recruiting news so make sure you make multiple trips or you might miss something.
With that in mind, we have arrived in Atlanta (after a never-ending traffic jam) to see some games tonight. Diamond Stone, Doral Moore, Jaylen Brown, Derrick Jones and Brandon Ingram are all guys UK is looking at (4 have offers) and we will see them all take the court. A few early notes:
— Above is new Samford head coach Scott Padgett, the first person I ran into when I got here. He is excited about his new team, says they will “run around and press a bunch”, showcasing he remembers his UK roots and is ready to get started. He is part of a growing former UK player-coach fraternity here, with Sean Woods, John Pelphrey and others joining him (including Matt Scherbenske, who coaches at Central Arkansas now). Great seeing Scott in the crowd.
— The first player UK watched today was 6’10″ Owensboro Senior Aric Holman, who is rising up the rankings. The kid is long, athletic and can block shots left and right. Many schools in the area want him…Notre Dame, Illinois, Indiana have all been recruiting him and rumors are that UL will offer him tonight. John Robic sat court side to watch him play and saw an ok performance (he only scored three). It is clear that Holman is amazingly athletic and has some skill….but I am not sure he is on the UK level. However Robic being in attendance showcases that there is at least some interest, and if Pitino offers tonight, that interest may go up a bit higher.
— Tom Crean still looks like a dork. He was wearing cargo shorts when we got here and just went and changed into gym shorts. I guess someone pointed out that he was wearing cargo shorts.
— John Calipari is not here yet. He arrives at these events tomorrow after attending the ESPYs tonight. Robic is doing the work here and Kenny Payne and Slice will likely be making an appearance at the Peach Jam (where we will be tomorrow). This event though is loaded with people and some great prospects.
More all night from me, Drew and Tomlin…stay tuned.