(Photo by Darrell Bird) So, it’s like the Baylor game never happened, right? Well, maybe →
Sitting here in Lexington at the Griffin Gate enjoying our one night of rest in the middle of the KSR Tour Across America. We have been to Brooklyn and Morgantown and are now on our way to Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock and Dallas, while trying to avoid the snowstorm that is coming. With that in mind, a few notes on what has gone down:
Big Willie Style
— The most important development of the season thus far has been the huge elevation in play by Willie Cauley-Stein. The last two games have seen Willie hit a level defensively (not to mention scoring well offensively) that is in the Anthony Davis/Nerlens Noel ballpark. Such a defensive presence takes Kentucky to an entirely new level on the defensive end, a place where the Cats have struggled a bit this year. John Calipari apparently told Willie before the Cleveland State game to “try and block everything,” a mantra that he also gave to Anthony and Nerlens during their times at UK. IN both of those cases, he trusted the players enough to allow them to hedge off their man at will and go after blocks, recognizing that this would occasionally give away an offside rebound when the block was missed. Calipari had not given Willie that same green light, as he likely wasn’t sure about Willie’s decision-making until now. But at this point, he trusts WCS and Willie has made him happy. If WCS can provide anywhere close to the shot blocking presence that he did in New York, everyone on the team, including the perimeter defenders that have struggled, will be helped and this can become an elite defensive team quickly. If as Jay Bilas has said, it takes three stars to win a title, WCS is making his case to be one of them for this group come March.
Willie had HOW MANY BLOCKS???
— Very interesting news tonight from Evan Daniels that UK has re-entered the Rashad Vaughn race. The 2014 wing recruit has been a top 20 guy the entire time, but was never a huge UK priority up until this point. Some saw that as a UK decision (because the focus had been on Stanley Johnson), but some thought it might be because of Vaughn’s favoritism towards North Carolina. Regardless of how we got here, now it looks like UK has come to play. Orlando Antigua visited Vaughn on Monday and a visit from Calipari may come soon. Grabbing Vaughn would make UK’s very good class on the verge of great, and alleviate some of the worries about the wing position next year. Quite a move and one that comes as a bit of a surprise (and was not my surprise I mentioned a few weeks ago).
— UK may have lost a football recruit today, but I am not overly concerned about the possibility of Derrick Kelly going elsewhere. While he is an offensive lineman UK would have liked, he was probably headed for a redshirt year and was not one of the stars the Cats MUST lock-up to finish the 2014 group. Offensive line is a position of importance and the Cats have a LOT of options in this class either way. While Kelly will still visit and might even end up a Cat in the end, this isn’t (despite what some Louisville fans may hope) a sign of the class falling apart. It is one guy that was wanted by UK but was probably towards the lower end of this very well put together class.
— This obituary was in the Herald Leader on Thanksgiving. It has fascinated me ever since, because of the oddity of inserting one two-word phrase. I am sure it will intrigue you as well:
— A big shout out goes to the UK AcoustiKats, who in addition to having an impeccable sense of fashion (showcased above…although the one guy should have let the hat go), are also a great acapella singing group on UK’s campus. But they are going national this week as they will debut on the NBC show “Sing-Off.” It is apparently a singing group talent show that features a guy from Boyz II Men, Jewel and others as judges. We wish the Big Blue group well and hope they bring home another big trophy (or in this case a Sony record contract) to Lexington
That is all I have…we hit the road for Memphis tomorrow after the show. If you have missed the KSR Radio show this week, you have missed Drew and I talking about Worldwide Wes interactions, Denny Crum yelling in my ear, owning 200 swords, how to take your lottery payment and Carly Simon….along with UK basketball and football. Catch up at the link below or subscribe to the podcast. See you folks soon…
I freely admit that I don’t understand why people stand outside on Black Friday. Yes, I am sure there is some money to be saved and I get that there is sort of a “rite of passage” to it, but standing outside in such situations combines three of the things that I dislike most in this world…crowds, lines and cold…all in one huge smorgasbord. It seems horrendous to me. But obviously, some like it and across this nation, the scenes from last night and early today were bizarre. I drove by Best Buy last night in Lexington and saw long lines but no fights. However, nothing can quite compete with these scenes of mayhem (h/t to Huffington Post and The Big Lead):
Two People Getting a Major Fight On:
Police do Little During this BrawlMart showdown:
A Puerto Rico Stampede:
I am Not Even Sure Why These People are Fighting:
All in all, what this shows us more than anything is that the holiday spirit is truly making our country warm and fuzzy this Black Friday!
It is a nasty day here in Kentucky with sleet covering the area. It is the kind of day that makes you want to stay home, get under a blanket and watch tv reruns. Yet before we can get to television and Thanksgiving, there is still one more basketball game and some football notes as well. Thus we must persevere, knowing that the good thing is nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain. A few notes:
— Last night has the potential to be a breakout game that we point to as one that became the launching point for Andrew Harrison. The last eight minutes showcased, for the first time, a point guard that can be one of the best in America and has the ability to lead a team to a national championship. Up until those eight minutes, my biggest worry about this edition of the Cats was young Andrew, as I had not seen the characteristics necessary to be a leader of a national title team. Unfortunately for Andrew, he doesn’t have the luxury of even performing at Marquis Teague’s level and being a secondary figure on a team full of scorers/stars. This team needs him to utilize his great penetration ability, getting to the basket and creating offense. All we had seen so far was a player who deferred far too often and seemed to deal poorly with adversity. But the last eight minutes on Monday showcased the Andrew Harrison we thought we would see out of high school. He went to the basket and created the four most important late buckets, two And ones for him, a lob to Willie Cauley-Stein and a pass to his brother for a crucial dagger three pointer. THAT is the Andrew Harrison that can be this team’s second star and a contender for one of the best point guards in America. Both of UK’s best Calipari teams have had games like this (Miami in the Wall year and Old Dominion in the title season). But so have the other teams as well (the Baylor loss last year was a hint of what was to come). How this team responds, and whether they utilize this game as a leaping point for the future, will be showcased on Monday and will tell us a lot about the makeup of this very young group of guys.
— Even with all the struggles for UK, two things still make me optimistic about the group going forward. First, these guys can play defense in a lockdown mode when it is required. We saw it against Michigan State and we saw it last night as well. While that effort must be more consistent, and they have to find a way to guard the perimeter better (without fouling), when stops are needed, these guys have shown and ability to get them. The other thing is that even after last night’s poor performance, UK is fifth in the country in Offensive efficiency, an important test for national championship winners. Six of the last seven national champions (UCONN being the exception) have been #1 overall in Kenpom.com efficiency stats…that is an amazing record. The Cats right now are #7 overall and the only thing that needs improvement is on the defensive side (where they are 34th). Even with the struggles, UK looks like a team with the type of makeup to win a title on the efficiency side and that is good news…and no one tell Doug Gottlieb that right now Oklahoma State is #1 in the Kenpom ratings.
— A quick note about the Cleveland State coach complaining about the fouls last night. There are always going to be issues with officiating and the home team nearly always gets a slightly friendlier whistle. But I only saw one call I thought was highly questionable (the push off with the game tied on the Cleveland State end) and in general the discrepancy in fouls can best be showcased by the difference in teams. UK attacks the rim more than Cleveland State and thus will draw more fouls. Combine that with the fact that Cleveland State came into the game averaging 26 fouls a game and were called for 28 against Kentucky (the most athletic team they have faced), and I think the complaints were silly. But even if they felt they had been jobbed, going onto Twitter and complaining was a bad move by the Assistant Coach. Remember my Twitter rule…never tweet when drunk, angry or frustrated. The Coach did the latter and he will pay the price.
Finally if you get a chance, check out this collection of maps in which Brits tried to label the states. I put this up not to make fun of their attempts (some of the attempts are good and they did better than many Americans. Plus I am sure our attempts at labeling anything in the United Kingdom would be a disaster), but to just showcase how funny some of the guesses are. My favorite map is below, in part because it labels Kentucky as “Pennsylvania” and in part because it labels Canada as “Nickelback”…makes sense to me.
Here is the schedule for tomorrow’s events…come join in:
10:00 AM: KSR LIVE at Fan Outfitters at Palomar (giving away UK/E. Michigan and UK/UT tickets)
Noon: UK women vs Bradley
1:20: I am on the Jim Rome Show
2:00: KSR Pregame Show with Ryan and Matt
2:30: IMG Pregame with Matt and Oscar
4:00: UK vs E Michigan
7:15: KSR Postgame Show
Have a big day and a great Thanksgiving!
It has been quite the week here around the KSR Compound, with weird and random occurrences the likes of which we havent seen in quite some time. We will get to them in just a minute, but first a movie recommendation. While it isn’t exactly light fare, I highly recommend watching “Dallas Buyers Club some time over the next week. The movie deals with the time in the mid-1980s when the Aids crisis was exploding in America and the mysteries about the disease and those infected were pervasive. Matthew McConaughey plays a straight rodeo star who gets the disease and then fights to stay alive by going into foreign countries to get the drugs necessary to prolong his life. McConaughey is brilliant as the main character, but Jared Leto is equally engaging in a supporting role that could probably lead to Oscar nominations for both men. There are some scenes that are difficult to watch, primarily due to the suffering the men go through with the disease, but it is extremely well done and McConaughey is almost sure to win multiple awards. Check it out…but follow it quickly with Bad Grampa or the like to lighten the mood.
With that seven thoughts on the week:
1. The less said about the Kentucky Georgia game the better. But seeing as how this is a blog and we have to use words, we might as well address it. The game in Athens was the most embarrassing performance of the season and the low point so far in the Mark Stoops era. We were all disappointed with the loss to Western, but we could write that off to the first game of the year. There is no excuse for this one. For the first time all season, Kentucky looked as if it had gotten worse and the game was pitiful on all sides from start to finish. There isn’t anything in particular to point to as individually bad, because the team was collectively awful from start to finish. The offense was generally ineffective, the defense could stop no one and the special teams were horrendous. Throw in a number of fumbles and the look of a team that was ready to pack it in halfway through the second quarter and it was one of those games that you hope to never have to remember again. Luckily there is still one more game left, against a rival, and there is a chance to erase this from our collective memories by knocking down the Vols. But if one had looked at this year as a general improvement from last (as for instance I did), Saturday night became an unfortunate diversion from the sea of optimism to the reality of just how much is left to be done to make Kentucky even a competitive team going forward.
2. I am not sure I have heard a more depressed coach than Mark Stoops on Saturday night. His interview with Tom Leach after the game was one of the more morbid that I can ever remember, with the coach sounding like he was ten seconds from falling off a cliff. He said at the beginning that he was embarrassed with the effort and all that followed was a string of depressing attempts at explanations for the problems. In the second half of the game, Stoops took to not even having on his headphones, suggesting that he knew the game was not only lost but doomed as well. I genuinely think this coaching staff had no idea when it arrived just how much had to be done to turn around this program. They have embraced the challenge and have had some games of which to be proud (the road games at Miss State and South Carolina being the two most obvious). But then there are the low points, and I am not sure it would be possible to have one much lower. For Stoops, ever the optimist about the future, it was a sobering reality check and one that probably made him not a person you would have wanted to be anywhere near on the flight home from between the hedges.
3. The UK Player suspensions are still a topic of discussion, in large part due to the fact that we don’t know what happened and the comments by Mark Stoops after the game. Stoops noted that there would be “changes coming” at the end of the season but when asked by Tom Leach to go further, he declined. At this point, all we know is that three players were suspended for at least one game. The report by BBK that Raymond Sanders was kicked off the team was shown to be incorrect, but there was at least some fire to the smoke, as Stoops said Sanders had some discipline issues that had to be worked through before the game. Either way, one thing is clear. There was turmoil around the team last week and it had a negative impact on the play on the field. JoJo Kemp said after the game that they had to make sure “bad apples don’t spoil the bunch.” That tells me that we are going to see some personnel changes as the season ends and the problems of last week are going to still see ramifications in the days ahead.
4. The Backlash to the backlash of the Harrison Twins has begun. After the game against Michigan State, the hip thing to do for college basketball announcers and even UK fans was to bash the Harrison Twins. While we here at KSR didn’t bash, we did criticize as the sulking and pouting was not a good look for the talented twosome. However we have seen some improvement and folks around the program tell me that they have seen a great increase in their work ethic post-Chicago. This has found its way to a lot of commentators as showcased by comments during the KSR “All Star” show on Friday (which if you missed, you ought to check out here...Vitale, Bomani, Goodman, Gottlieb, Ian Eagle, Doyel and Seth Greenberg). Most everyone said that the Twins were going to improve and that they thought worries about them were overblown. After a weekend of watching college basketball, I tend to agree even more. While there are certain players that are clearly stars (Russ Smith, Jabari Parker, etc), most teams seem to have major issues and those that we see with Kentucky seem small in comparison. I like where Kentucky stands more now than I did last week and am much less worried by the Twins’ performance than I was in the days following the Michigan State game.
In case you missed it last week, a naked man roamed around UK’s campus. I chose the backwards shot, but thanks to the reader that sent pictures of him in all his glory…you ruined my Qdoba dinner on Sunday night.
5. We now have our yearly “Calipari to the NBA” rumors in full effect once again. This version is from CBS and involves the possibility that Calipari could make his way to the New York Knicks at the end of the year due to his connections with World Wide Wes and his affinity for the Big Apple. Unlike many UK fans, I won’t put the possibility of Calipari leaving for the NBA as a longshot. I think there is a part of Calipari that would like to try one more time to win on that stage, especially now that he has proven he can win the whole thing on the college level. His time with the Nets was not positive as any competitive person can attest, you always remember your failures much more than you remember your successes. With that said, Calipari is also smart and knows better than to go to a NBA job that has no realistic possibility of success. The Nets experience (and the years since) should have shown Calipari that you simply can’t win in the NBA without having great players. The Knicks do have Carmelo Anthony, but if the years have taught us anything it is that he is simply not good enough to win a title on his own as the team’s best player. At this point, he is behind Lebron, Durant, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan and likely now Paul George (at least) and without that level of superstardom (and very little help), a title will not come his way. Plus, Calipari’s son Brad is a Junior and I think it is unlikely that John leaves before he finishes school. Thus to me, the notion of him departing Lexington this summer is highly unlikely. There may still be a day that he gives the NBA one more shot, but I don’t think we worry about that with the Knicks’ current roster or this year.
6. The past week with the Kevin Ware/Rick Pitino thing was as surreal an experience as I have ever had. I won’t rehash the play by play here as most of you either followed via the radio show or don’t care. But in hindsight, I must say that this whole fiasco will go down as one of the more bizarre moments of my life. Somehow a poor decision by Ware (to drive 95 in a 45) became an indictment (thanks to Rick Pitino essentially calling me out in a postgame press conference) of KSR and my radio show and the way that I am a “hater” who tries to “bring down” the UL program. Nevermind the fact that I uncovered exactly none of the Ware stuff (beyond the car owner Matt Case’s name) and was not the one doing the investigating/questioning of Louisville. Throw in the fact that if you believe the UL story (that there was nothing wrong with Ware using Case’s car because they were friends), then there is nothing to be upset about (because no rules would have been broken) and the whole outrage seems even more strange. It is indicative of the new media world we live in that the defending national champion coach can be so worried about a blogger with an AM radio show to such a degree that he forgets his own morally salacious past and cast aspersions on the afterlife future of said blogger (Rick, when the roll is called up yonder, I doubt Kevin Ware’s speeding ticket will be part of the questionnaire). Ain’t life strange.
In 1951, a Japanese Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor won the New York marathon. As he crossed the finish line, he was greeted with exactly zero applause.
7. Finally, the new Commonwealth Stadium redesign will be unveiled tomorrow at 3 pm at Nutter Field House. This has been a long time coming and everyone I have talked with is VERY excited about the design that has been chosen. I will be in attendance and will have a full review of the event here on the site after but for long-suffering UK football fans (or just the ones that stayed until the end of the game Saturday night), Monday should give some positive energy on what is often a long, hard slog.
We get back to radio in the morning and then UK plays Cleveland State at 7 pm on Monday night. Stay tuned all day as we move closer to Turkey day and a trip to Brooklyn…
Did you ever want to see a video that included a young Alan Cutler, Kenny Walker with GREAT hair and crazy earrings and UK players farting to throw each other off? Well if you did, this video is for you. A GREAT piece of old school tape as Rex, Sky and Alan do their thing…definitely worth a morning watch:
Tonight was an exciting night wasn’t it! A few notes to get us through the evening:
— John Calipari ended his postgame show last night on the radio by suggesting that his team would shoot 100 free throws a day per person, if the individual is not shooting 80% from the line. That basically translates to “hey everyone but Derrick Willis and Aaron Harrison…come shoot.” It is extremely frustrating to watch a team that gets to the line as much as this one does, struggle to convert those easy points. Whatever the reason (and Calipari suggested last night that part of it could be the fact that they play with such fast energy that it might be hard to “slow down” at the line), it is a problem that will continue to resurface. Guys like Julius Randle and James Young will be fouled at such a degree, that if they can shoot 75% from the line, Kentucky becomes tough to guard. However only practice and the mental component (a huge part of in-game foul shooting) will make that happen.
— Most of the stories today focus on the play of Dominique Hawkins, who is finding his way into the rotation. In many ways, Hawkins does not fit a typical Calipari player. He is not particularly, tall, long or athletic but he does a lot of things well and gives constant energy from the moment he finds himself on the court. I watched him quite a bit versus Robert Morris and he defended on the perimeter better than the Harrison Twins and James Young. Now that should not be the case…those guys are longer and more athletic and have to improve their perimeter defense. But now Hawkins is making a case not only for playing time, but to be used as an example of the energy that will be required to see time for the Cats. What a calendar year Dominique has had and I am really happy for his success.
— The Kevin Ware story is great. In case you missed it, Ware was caught driving 95 in a 45/55 (depending on who you ask) in Barren County. He then was charged with reckless driving and did not show up for his court date today. Pitino was asked about it and compared skipping court to a “parking ticket or lunch pass” and thus the media got going on it. Then it turned out that the car Ware was driving did not belong to him, but instead to Angela Case, the mother of Matt Case, a 23 year old student at UL. Case has an interesting background in promotions and is said to be a “friend of Ware’s” according to UL. Who knows where this story will end up but it continues to be fun to watch as we learn more about Kevin Ware, the saint of Louisville basketball.
— Mark Stoops said today that the UK football team fought harder against Vanderbilt than in any game this season. He said he was proud of the effort and just wished the team could make a few more plays down the stretch to make a victory happen. Stoops was overall upbeat and says especially on the defensive side, he has seen marked improvement as the year has gone on. With only two games left, the spirit of the team still feels high and there remains the possibility of stealing a victory in the last game of the year versus Tennessee.
Also remember our radio show will be at McDONALDS ON NICHOLASVILLE ROAD on Wednesday, giving out tickets and having a good old time. Come check us out:
picture from Oscar Combs
Outside of Kentucky basketball coaches/players, there aren’t a lot of folks that come to mind when you mentions “Legends of SEC Basketball.” Well while the list might be short, near the top is the name of an icon of SEC basketball who passed away yesterday, Joe Dean Sr. Joe Dean Sr was the former Athletic Director at LSU and made a huge impact at that university in its sports department. But he is best known outside of Baton Rouge as the first voice of the SEC on television. Along with broadcast partners like Tom Hammond, Dean called early SEC games in the 70s, 80s and 90s and was the voice of a generation for people who loved SEC basketball. His signature calls, including “STUFFARINO!” and “String Music in Lexington KY!” were repeated throughout the region and you knew a basketball game in the SEC was exciting if Joe Dean Sr was in town to call it.
For me, the basketball of my youth has three signature voices…Cawood Leford, Dick Vitale and Joe Dean Sr. Hearing of his passing brought back a lot of great memories of my formative years as a UK fan. Below you will see a picture (from Oscar Combs) of Joe and Rex Champman and a video of Dean commenting on one of Kenny Sky Walker’s great games. Check it out and get ready for some “STUFFARINO IN LEXINGTON K-Y!”
Notes on a calm Thursday after the Chicago trip…
— Like most UK fans, I am not severely disappointed with the loss on Tuesday. While fans of opposing teams like to mock the Cats’ end to a perfect season (I know exactly one UK fan that predicted that…Ryan Lemond), for most of us it was a step in the right direction. Kentucky played almost as poorly as it possibly could for one half and still nearly won the game. While we can (and will) break down more below, that fact is by far the most important point. Kentucky did exactly what a team needs to do to win a big time game. While playing poorly, they stayed within striking distance thanks to James Young’s scoring. When needing to come back, they held the Spartans in the half court and got key defensive stops on big plays. And when needing a basket, they found a go-to player in Julius Randle, who made big time plays. That is the recipe for winning against elite teams at big moments. UK didn’t win and there are many things to point to as explanations why. But before one gets too depressed about any of them, think about this. UK played the best team in America poorly and still almost won. With a little improvement, or even a different start to the contest, the result would almost certainly be different.
— Julius Randle is a total beast. 27 points, 13 rebounds and he did almost all of his work in one half. We are going to see 30/20 games from Julius this year and it won’t be a shock when it happens. The first half saw him stymied, largely due to his inability to turn off the “spin” button from his playset on the post. But he adjusted in the second half, the foul situation altered and then he became the unstoppable machine that he is. Randle is going to go down as one of the best to play here…I firmly believe that. No one that has ever played at this school has had a better three game start to their career statistically. Of all the things to worry about longterm, we saw on Tuesday that Randle certainly is not one of them.
— Speaking of Randle, I thought the way the game was officiated Tuesday was very instructive for the rest of the year. Yes, there were a lot of ticky-tack calls and a stretch in the middle of the second half seemed blatantly bad for Kentucky. But by the end of the game, the foul situation clearly helped the Cats. With Michigan State not allowed to put their hands on Randle on the post, the players all got in foul trouble and in the last five minutes, Julius had plenty of room to work. It is worth watching all year, as Randle gets players in foul trouble on the block early and then capitalizes at the end with soft defense. It happened in Chicago and I think we will see the pattern repeated as the year goes on.
— I was disappointed with most of what we saw from the Harrison Twins. Unlike many others, I am not worried about their skill-set long term, nor do I believe they are somehow “overrated.” Aaron Harrison is not quite as talented as his brother, but he still is a great shooter and can penetrate and finish. He does however have to improve his defense, where he was unable to even stay in front of his man for most of the ball game on Tuesday. Andrew Harrison has the talent and skill, but must show improvement on the body language and attitude. After every bad play on Tuesday, he sulked. He complained when the whistle went the other way and his constant look of frustration caused even his biggest advocate (Calipari) to get angry. The Twins are different than everyone else on the team. They are not jokesters in the least and they have a very serious attitude on the court. That is fine. But they also have to realize that they have to be mentally tough and play through adversity. As ESPN’s Jalen Rose told me after the game, “Andrew needs to not get so happy when he does something good and start trotting and he needs to stop sulking when it goes bad.” That was a huge stage on national television and the Twins came away with the worst performance of all the hyped freshman. Now they need to take that adversity and improve to ensure that we see no repeats in the future.
— How much do you love how well Alex Poythress is playing? I think Calipari explained Alex the best last week when he said that last year the team needed him to be a creator and maybe he was not comfortable with that. But now they need him to be a finisher and that may be more his speed. Since he is often the fourth option and will probably see more benefits from Randle double teams than any other player (if Randle can see the cross court pass), Alex has the chance to really flourish. He has two of three games with double digit rebounds, only one less than he had all of last year…and oh yeah, he is playing fewer minutes while doing it. No player has handled his role better thus far this year, and that really makes me happy.
— Two final notes on the game. First, UK Outrebounded Michigan State by 12. That is pretty amazing. Michigan State rarely gets outrebounded and probably hasn’t been outrebounded by double digits in years. For this Kentucky team to do that is pretty impressive. And the rating was HUGE on the game. It was the second most watched nonconference game on ESPN EVER…and if the game had taken place last season, it would have been the second most watched game in the entirety of last year. Lots of folks tune in for the Cats and that ensures they will be part of such games for years to come.
We are doing our KSR RADIO SHOW LIVE AT HOMERUN BURGERS TOMORROW FROM 10-NOON IN LOUISVILLE. We will give away tickets to the Robert Morris game and have a lot of fun. Its on Hurstbourne Parkway, so come on out and see us. And if like today, we have John Short call and say that he wants to see Calipari play “Anthony Hopkins” more, this picture below will note who he is talking about:
The football game stinks right now…so how about this video. Watch how Alex Poythress reacts to a Jeff Goodman question he finds amusing.
(SKIP to 1:50 in the Video)
Some notes on a calm afternoon before the storm:
— This may be one of the busier weekends in UK sports history. The basketball team has two games, football team one, women’s basketball team has two and the volleyball team has one. At the center of all this is the tipoff to the run towards the ninth championship. The Cats will finally get a full game with Andrew Harrison at the point and I think we see a focused group that comes out and punches UNC Asheville in the mouth. James Young is a gametime decision and may not play, although everyone believes he will be ready by Michigan State. The key for this team now is to get a rotation and I think we will see only seven guys (maybe eight with Marcus Lee, especially if Young is out) for the vast majority of the time. Guys like Lee, Derrick Willis and Dominique Hawkins will have to work their way into a rotation as Calipari finds what he can count on before a massive game on Tuesday. The biggest thing to watch tonight? How will Kentucky rebound? The Cats were awful on the defensive glass against Montevallo and they have to clean that up before the toughest team in America comes to Chicago on Tuesday.
— If you get a chance, check out this Sporting News list of the 100 best Twitter follows in college basketball. It basically includes everyone you would want to see if you want to know the national landscape of the sport. I made the list (I would like to thank the God, my parents and the Academy) and there are others for you to peruse. Check it out and add some of these folks to your life.
— The Harrison Twins are ready to roll:
— On the football side, the mismatches versus Missouri look overwhelming on paper. They have potentially the best duo of Wide Receivers in the country and both are 6’4″. They have a stacked defensive line that is great at stopping the run and scrambling quarterbacks. And their weakness, the secondary, is hard to exploit with a team that doesn’t pass a great deal. But I continue to hold to this. They are MISSOURI…not LSU, not Alabama. I know that it shouldn’t matter but it does. This is not a team to look at and be intimidated/scared. Yes they have Kentucky outmanned but this is a home game and the Cats have a chance. I like UK to cover, probably not win, but those that think this is a lost cause are…in my view, mistaken.
— If you haven’t yet seen this, take a look at this new article about the disaster debt situation with the Yum Center. The folks are now cooking the books to make it look like the UL deal will not cost the taxpayers millions (it will) and try to somehow save a situation that has led UL to be the most profitable basketball program in America and the city of Louisville a financial disaster with its new arena. Thanks a lot Jurich.
Exciting weekend around Lexington and we have games, radio shows and everything else going all weekend long. Don’t forget the KSR LIVE BLOG today at 6:50 for UK vs UNC Asheville. And if you see this guy in Lexington, shake your head in disgust (Really???)
It has been a busy 48 hours in UK and KSR land as the Cats have had 2 recruit decisions come to pass, won their first exhibition game, are getting ready for their first basketball game and we have flown across the country for the Breeders’ Cup. We have made the trip thanks to our friends at Twinspires.com and you still have time today to sign up for their special KSR Breeders’ Cup offer, and get 50 FREE DOLLARS TO WAGER with a $50 deposit. Just use the promo code “KSR50″ before the Breeders’ Cup ends today and get your bet on. We have been doing it and while we aren’t winning (more on that later), we are having fun.
Now to the news, UK and otherwise:
1. Booker Joins the Fray: Kentucky got huge news when Devin Booker confirmed that he would be attending UK and providing a big time shooting guard for the Cats for years to come. The reason the Booker commitment is so huge to me is that he is the kind of college basketball player that Calipari hasn’t gotten a lot in the modern era….a top level college player that will probably stay in school for a long period of time. These players are what I usually call “Duke guys”…just good enough to be huge in college but not with the skill set to go early to the draft. JJ Redick is the model of this type, but guys like Russ Smith at Louisville and Doug McDermott at Creighton are other examples. Booker is in my view that guy. He can shoot lights out and will score A LOT in college. But he probably won’t be coveted early by the NBA. This means lots of years of him scoring lots of points and possessing a Bogans/Miller-like college career. We will take it.
2. Blackmon Alters his Course to Indiana: I usually know when Kentucky is going to get a player. Booker made clear about a month ago to the folks in the UK world that he was likely a Cat and those that know rarely wavered. But Blackmon was an example of how things fall apart. Just a week or so ago, he was all but a UK lock and most in Lexington had him with a UK jersey. But something changed his mind and in the last 48 hours, all those with confidence, lost it quickly. The day of the decision, I was in California and out of the loop but the lack of confidence spoke bundles to me. He cut off communication and ended up going back to Hoosier land. He will do well at Indiana and is a good save for Tom Crean. The Booker decision made Blackmon a luxury, but now the class probably needs one more superstar (besides Lyles which is a must get) to be elite. I am not sure if that person is out there.
3. Rick Pitino Follows Me: I had an absolutely terrible day at the track betting the ponies. Every horse I picked was way back and the more even nature of the quality horses here on day one of the Breeders’ Cup caused me problems. But what was the worst was the win by Rick Pitino’s horse “Goldencents” in the Dirt Mile. My view on Rick Pitino is that I can’t cheer for anything he does…even if it is horses. After betting for him at the Derby (as part of my winning trifecta bet…his being the one horse out of the four that didn’t come in), I said it would never happen again. So what does he do? He comes out and wins the race today and in the process, ruins my trifecta (I had horses in 2-3-4). Rick Pitino haunts me like an old girlfriend and while I won’t try and extort him or ask him for money to go to Cincinnati, I do wish he would retire and take his hair plugs and motivational speaking books with him.
4. Cats Put Forth Mediocre Transy Exhibition: I was only able to watch one half of the Transy game so I missed the spot when the effort went up and the talent overwhelmed. But in the first half, I was disappointed with the way Kentucky played and the lack of energy we saw. The Cats are not going to play teams like Transy but they will play teams that they have dominated at nearly every position. But if the effort isn’t there and the lockdown defense does not show up, the games will be closer than they need to be. What talented teams often forget is that they can impose their will on less heralded groups by shutting down the defensive side of the ball. The Cats didn’t really do that and besides Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson, I was disappointed early. Now apparently things were better in half two but the first should be a lesson. This is the most talented team in America and they should cut down the nets. But I will be very interested to see how they come back on Monday and if they make Montevallo pay for the sins committed against Transylvania.
5. Older People Get Angry at Horse Racing: We will talk more about this as the weekend goes along but the most interesting thing about the Breeders’ Cup to me is the average age of those in attendance. Whereas the social aspect of Keeneland dominates and the hardcore gamblers are off to the side, at Santa Anita, the hardcore gamblers dominate and the social aspect is off to the side. Yes there are people dressed up and enjoy the atmosphere, but there are also lots of people with their rent checks trying to hit the superfecta and if you get in their way sonny, you will get a smack to the fact. I have been accosted by two older gentlemen so far for the sins of (a) standing up during a race and making it to where he couldn’t see who came in third through his binoculars and (b) walking up stairs “with too much speed.” I love these guys and the way they talk about horses (all have a tip or “like the 2 horse because of what I have seen”) but if you cross them, or suggest that the coffee at the racetrack isn’t “Better than that $5 nonsense at Starbucks”, be prepared to be lit up with anger.
6. Super Saturday upcoming: The Cats play Alabama State on Saturday night and it should give everyone a chance to see Kentucky not only get a victory but get some confidence going into Alabama. I hope to see Jalen Whitlow play more consistently and give the offense some push. We can’t have the continued stagnation that we saw in Starkville and the ability to move the ball down the field on multiple series is key to me. I also want to see if the Cats can dominate like they did against Miami (OH)….every performance this year besides Western Kentucky has been encouraging to me (I dont count Alabama as it was an impossible task), and I want this one to be as well. The team needs confidence and Saturday night can do the trick. We will be here at the Breeders’ Cup and there is a LOT of money to be won. If you were on the site earlier today, you could have won tickets to see the UK-Tennessee game and we may have a similar contest upcoming later. Either way, we will be posting our thoughts and the random celebrities we see throughout the afternoon/evening. So stick around, follow the races, use the KSR CODE at the link below “KSR50″ and get your 50 free dollars and participate. We will all celebrate our winnings later today.
Go Cats!..and be ready for a great Marilyn Manson story on Monday…
By Matt Jones on ©10:30 pm
Do you care about the Breeders’ Cup? For many of you, the answer is either “maybe a little,” “no,” or “this is a UK Sports Blog, why don’t you shut up and give me some UK news you liberal!” If this is your reaction, then I am here to tell you, YOU ARE MISSING OUT. Horse racing is not only the sport of kings, it is also the sport of amazing stories and interesting anecdotes. In no other sport (except bowling) can you be just a random person and through a combination of luck, skill, moxy and seersucker suits can you too become a person of influence and compete for the biggest titles. But even if you don’t fancy yourself a horse owner, trainer or jockey, you can still enjoy the events from afar. The Breeders’ Cup (and by the way, always put the apostrophe after the “S”, not before it…this grammar note is one that has already been mentioned to me twice in my short time here. They love their grammar here at Santa Anita, so pity the horse racing blogger who comes to town with a dangling participle) is a great place to get a taste of the horse racing bug, because there are three things happening that everyone can get behind:
(c) Stupid People in funny outfits
And that is why we are here. We are here to showcase the other side of the Breeder’s Cup…the part in which there are races to win, money to bet and people to mock. With that in mind, you need to know the basics of the Breeders’ Cup. The current formation of the “Greatest Day in Horse Racing” is actually two days long and involves approximately 625 horses. There are fourteen races of all iterations of racing, ranging from dirt/turf to males/females to healthy/lactose-intolerant. Whatever variation of race horse you prefer, the Breeders’ Cup will give it to you.
The races start on Friday with five big events. You at home are probably thinking, “who should I root for/bet on”? And that is why I am here. It is time to give you the definitive UK Fan’s Guide to DAY ONE at the BREEDERS’ CUP!. A word of warning…when you bet on TwinSpires.com (using the promo code “KSR50″ to get 50 free dollars in wagering) you should use these picks for entertainment purposes only since I know nothing about what I am talking about. The actual picks for money (we actually have a guy who gave us insight) are also include:
RACE 1: BREEDERS’ CUP MARATHON
1. Old Time Hockey 8-1
2. Cease 8-1
3. Commander 6-1
4. Ever Rider 7-2
5. Suns Out Guns Out 10-1
6. Indian Jones 5-1
7. London Bridge 8-1
8. Blueskiesnrainbows 6-1
9. Pool Play 8-1
10. Worldly 6-1
The first race of the Breeders’ Cup is also the worst one. It is the “Marathon” and like with real marathons, no one really cares who wins and most people just want it to end so they can get their (26.2) sticker to put on their mini-van (often with the annoying stickers of each person in their family and their dog…I promise you we don’t care and when I see those stickers it generally tells me that this would be a group of people that if I engaged them in conversation, they would tell me all about their children’s science homework and how good Susie is at enunciation. But I digress). This is the only Grade 2 race on the card, which means most of the horses are mediocre and are just happy to be here (think the #15 seeds in the NCAA Tournament). As a matter of fact, there is no consensus favorite and amongst the “experts” we talked to (aka the four guys sitting on the rail yelling about things like “late speed” and “that horse has good eyes”), we heard four different winners. The lack of knowledge on this race can best be summed up by the story in the Daily Racing Form on the event today, which was headlined, “As Usual, Distance is the Big Question.” In a marathon, distance is the question? That is why they get paid the big bucks:
UK FAN’S CHOICE: Blueskiesinrainbows: If there is a horse that has the word blue in it, especially in the first race, how can you not pick him? Plus he won the richest open stakes race of any horse in the bunch at the Los Angeles County Fair (to be honest, I have no idea what that means but any horse that can win at a county fair is my type of racer).
EXPERT’S PICK: INDIAN JONES: There is really no consensus in this race as all the horses are fairly equal. But I am told that Indian Jones has shown “a bit of spark” this week, and I do like some spark.
RACE 2 JUVENILE TURF:
1. All Cash 30-1
2. Giovanni Boldini 7-2
3. Got Shades 30-1
4. Outstrip 4-1
5. Bobby’s Kitten 5-2
6. Home School 30-1
7. Aotearoa 12-1
8. Bon Accord 20-1
9. Wilshire Boulevard 8-1
10. Ontology 30-1
11. Poker Player 12-1
12. Shamshon 12-1
13. Bashart 6-1
Our second race of the Breeder’s Cup is the Juvenile Turf. As with all the races on grass, the Europeans come out of the woodwork, bringing their socialized medicine, Euro currency and inflated sense of self-worth to these hallowed shores. The race this year sees four European entries, the best of which is Outstrip which hails from Great Britain, and is the favorite horse of one David Beckham. The sentimental favorite here is Bobby’s Kitten, every horse player’s pick to win the race as it is named after legendary late trainer Bobby Frankel. Most of my guys say that Bobby’s Kitten is the play of the day as you never want to bet against sentimentality on horse racing’s most exciting day.
UK FANS’ PICK: POKER PLAYER: This is less a UK pick than it is a personal pick. I like to play poker and since the influx of European horses makes the names in this race read like a James Joyce play, I will go with what makes the gamblers happy. By all means stay away from Home School. I am still waiting to meet one normal person who was home schooled as a child. When I find one, then I reserve the right to bet on the horse in the future.
EXPERT CHOICE: BOBBY’S KITTEN: It is the best horse in the field, has Javier Castellano on the horse (never bet against a jockey named Javier…words to live by) and is the feel-good story of the year. You can’t go against such mojo.
RACE 3 BREEDERS’ CUP MILE:
1. Taptowne 15-1
2. Golden Ticket 12-1
3. Hymn Book 15-1
4. Brujo de Olleros 8-1
5. Fed Biz 6-1
6. Broadway Empire 12-1
7. Alpha 8-1
8. Holy Lute 20-1
9. Centralinteligence 15-1
10. Verrazano 3-1
11. Pants on Fire 6-1
12. Goldencents 4-1
This is the official Breeders’ Cup “didn’t I lose money betting on that horse once?” race. Lots of names you may remember from Kentucky Derbys past as this field is evenly balanced and full of horses with equal speed. A couple of the horse offend my sensibilities, specifically Centralinteligence. I don’t like the hipster way in which the owners tried to name a horse with the word intelligence in it, while also slyly misspelling the word. I am onto your PBR drinking ways young man and no amount of black wire rim glasses are going to make me support you in this loaded field. While normally I would support Verrazano, the key to this race is remembering a simple fact about the Breeders’ Cup Mile. No favorite has ever won the event since it began on dirt. Verrazano will likely go off the favorite so stay away like the plague.
UK FAN PICK: ANY HORSE BUT GOLDENCENTS: You cannot be a UK fan without rooting adamantly against all the horses in Rick Pitino’s stables. Goldencents is the best of his lot and he is one of the favorites in this race. While I don’t wish poor results on animals (it isn’t the horse’s fault that the UL coach purchased him…in fact, sources say he has been demanding a trade), I am still hoping for no success for the owner. Take any horse not named Goldencents.
EXPERT PICK: BRUJO de OLLEROS: This race is wide open and there will be good money to win here. Stay away from the favorites and the trendy picks and take the Brazilian beauty. I like my horses like I like my steakhouses, Brazilian and today Brujo is going to make us all quite happy.
RACE 4 JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
1. Nesso 20-1
2. Al Thakhira 6-1
3. Colonel Joan 20-1
4. Kitten Kaboodle 12-1
5. Granny Mc’sKitten 20-1
6. Vorda 4-1
7. Street Sailing 15-1
8. Chriselliam 6-1
9. Dancing House 20-1
10. Clenor 8-1
11. Ready to Act 8-1
12. Testa Rossi 8-1
13. Sky Painter 15-1
14. My Conquestadory 9-2
Another wide open race (do you sense a pattern) where favorites have generally done very poorly. The best horses have drawn the outside posts, which may mean nothing or may mean something (there is the expert analysis you are look for). The only horse that has drawn my ire here is Granny Mc’sKitten because it not only makes no sense as a name (is it Granny’s kitten…and if so, why are we talking about that on public airwaves?) but also the unnecessary and inappropriate apostrophe frustrates me. This race is ultimately toss-up because if there is one thing that we have learned in the rap game over the years, when you get Juvenile’s Fillies some grass, you never know what they will do.
UK FAN PICK: KITTEN KABOODLE: Not only do we have a Cat as part of the horse’s name, but there is also the connection of Kentucky’s road to a Championship. On the quest for #9, Calipari is trying to win the whole kit and kaboodle, and if it is good enough for college basketball, it is good enough for the Juvenile Fillies Turf race.
EXPERT PICK: CLENOR: Coming from Ireland, loving this weather and filled with all the potatoes a horse can handle, Clenor is my horse to watch. Clenor has never lost in California and as I can attest, once you love Cali, it is hard to leave.
RACE 5 DISTAFF
1. Street Girl 30-1
2. Authenticity 8-1
3. Close Hatches 6-1
4. Royal Delta 8-5
5. Beholder 5-2
6. Princess of Sylmar 9-5
The final race of the day is also the biggest, as the Miss USA of horse racing comes with the Distaff. It is crown prize for the fillies and with such a small field, pulling a big money winner will be tough. Street Girl has no chance and is in here more to give the drunk women at the track something to giggle about while they throw their bet down. The horse to beat is Royal Delta, who has won this very race three times and is trying to finish as one of the best women to ever walk on the race track. Think of her as Meryl Streep in her final act before walking off the stage as one of the best to ever do it. But there next to her is Princess of Sylmar, the upstart sexy new “it” horse (think of her as Jennifer Lawrence), trying to establish herself as the new Queen of the horse racing world. In a prep race earlier this year, the Princess upset Royal Delta and now we will find out if the torch has been passed. It is unlikely that this race will end with a male fantasy (a cat fight), but it should be a battle to remember.
UK FAN PICK: ROYAL DELTA: We are a program of tradition and the greatest to ever play college basketball. We appreciate that greatness is shown over time, not in one fifteen second burst in an Italian restaurant. Royal Delta is like Kentucky, she doesn’t just play horse racing, she IS HORSE RACING.
EXPERT PICK: AUTHENTICITY: With everyone watching (and betting on) the two queen bees, go across the board on Authenticity to sneak in and make everyone disappointed. You will thank me later.
So there you have it. Your official UK fan guide to Friday at the Breeders’ Cup. Play along with Drew and me at Twinspires.com and use the special “KSR50″ promo code to get 50 FREE DOLLARS to wager with a $50 deposit.
Less than 24 hours away from basketball season folks…Get it!
— We won’t get a complete notion of the starting lineup for the season on Tuesday night, as the teams are of course playing each other. But from talking to some folks, I think that the Twins, James Young, Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein are the likely starters when the team hits the floor versus Transylvania on Friday. All five guys have been great in practice and as a group, they will be a beast for other teams to handle. The key thing to watch for this group is defense, as they all have tremendous length. If they are able to guard well (because they will surely be able to score), this team could hit an amazing rhythm very quickly.
— Of course the big story tomorrow night will be they way these games are officiated. Much has been made in the offseason about the emphasis on defense and all we are hearing from the “secret scrimmages” that teams have been playing in recent weeks is that fouls are being called left and right. One game involving Xavier apparently had 62 foul calls in 40 minutes of action. The result early in the year will be ugly play and games taking a LOOOOONNNNGGGGG time. But the teams will adjust. What will be at a premium now is the ability to drive, because people will not be able to check you on your way to the rim. What does that mean? It means Kentucky becomes even more difficult to stop.
UK fans hanging out at Mike and Mike this morning
— On the football side of things, Stoops confirmed what we told you on here last night, mainly that Reese Phillips is being groomed as the new backup for Jalen Whitlow. Phillips has passed Patrick Towles (who would have ever thought he would be 4th string?) and if Jalen gets injured again, I expect to see the reigns given to him. They simply can’t go with Max Smith any more…he can’t make the throws and it limits the offense to such a degree that Kentucky simply has no chance of winning. Jalen is still the best option but now Reese will be given a shot if Whitlow gets injured (and if you heard Stoops today, he is also questioning Jalen’s toughness…which hopefully motivates him to play big).
— I LOVE the quote from Stoops today that the Mississippi State onside kick will haunt him. He knows that would have been a huge win for his program and that they were oh so close to making it happen. It is also worth noting however that he made an interesting comment on recruiting. When asked about keeping his recruiting class together, he said that not only did he think that would happen, but they would “add to it.” Gotta love that confidence and moxy from the new coach.
— KSR with a screwup a couple weeks back. If you listened to the KSR Pregame Show before the Alabama game, we were doing it outside the stadium and ran into Drew Barker, who was in town to watch the game with his dad. We said hey to Drew, he came on the show for a minute and we thought nothing else of it. But apparently one is not allowed to do that under NCAA rules, since the kid was on campus (even though he wasn’t there for a visit). It was stupid on our part (specifically my part), and UK was forced to suspend our credentials (the whole lot of us) for the next home football game. We live and learn. But that means Saturday’s pregame show will be in studio, with much less absurdity.
You can’t buy it now, but here was the bet made by a UK fan last week for the Cats to go undefeated at 400-1 odds. I like the odds and the bet, as if it would happen once in 350 times (which I think it would), it is worth doing. You can get the same bet now at 200-1 in Vegas if you look in the right place.
On the radio tomorrow we are giving away lots of Blue-White tickets as Ryan drives around town as Santa, giving away gifts. Make sure and tune in.
There may be no “News and Views” honoree that would have been less interested in the actual content of the post upon which they were above than today’s pick (my guess is that Lou Reed would not have been hugely interested in our top recruiting class). Rocker Lou Reed passed away today at the age of 71, ending a lifetime of originality. For those of a younger generation, an individual like Lou Reed might not even seem real…he was a rebellious magician not in today’s manufactured way (aka by dancing half-naked on stage with the son of a sitcom dad), but in the “flip-off authority, I hate everything, get out of my way” methods of the past. Lou Reed was a walking poster-child for the anti-establishment and his music over the years was thus interesting and often hard to describe. While he did have his share of hits (the one that has probably lasted the longest is “Walk on the Wild Side”, his only top 20 hit of his career), he is best known as the front man for Velvet Underground and a symbol of tough rock and roll and Manhattan life, unlike any of his era. I was more of an admirer of the bizarreness of Lou Reed than his music, but his effect on music can be seen from by listening to virtually any modern song (he sang about things that while today seem tame, were scandalous in his time) and walking the streets to see the plethora of hipsters who would have worshipped his every move. Like many who grow up rebelling, he found the mainstream late (performing at the White House and even doing features for PBS), but will always be remembered for his music and acerbic personality. The latter is best show by the video below in which Reed interviews a “New Music Seminar” director and expresses his displeasure with him clearly. The awkwardness makes me laugh and slightly uncomfortable, similar to how Ryan Lemond gets when I interview politicians.
Basketball season begins on Tuesday as we finally see the UK Basketball team take the floor at the Blue/White Game. It has been a long time coming, almost a full calendar year, since it became clear that Kentucky would have a loaded roster this season and the anticipation has been through the roof across the state. But with that in mind, it is worth a look at the state of the UK basketball team before Game 1:
Julius Randle: You have heard all the accolades and by now you are probably just ready to see Randle on the court. So am I. What is going to impress you the most is just how good he is at getting to the basket, finishing around the rim and playing with strength. He reminds me of a much bigger Keith Bogans in the way that he can go to the rim, get hit, absorb the contact and finish with authority. Finding someone to compare him to is hard…he is so much larger than anyone we have had at this school who could be a ball handler. I will go with Jamal Mashburn’s post game, combined with Terrence Jones’ penetration ability (he isn’t a Mash-type outside shooter yet). But the reality is that he is a different guy and so talented that like with John Wall/Anthony Davis, he will become one for the ages in his one year here.
Andrew Harrison: The Twins came in with anticipation and so far have generally lived up to the hype. The quickness of Andrew leaves a little to be desired…I can see some other teams’ speedy point guards (think Chris Jones at Louisville) giving him some trouble, but once again like with Randle, his size and thickness will make him impossible to guard. With the new rules, all he will need is a half a step and his physicality will produce a ton of foul calls. The kid is very willing to learn and no one embraces the teaching aspect of Calipari as much as he does.
Aaron Harrison: Aaron Harrison (remember Drew’s memory device…Aaron has 2 A’s, is a 2 guard and wears #2) was the story of the early fall camp. He is a great shooter and a great learner. Since then, he hasn’t been talked about quite as much, in part due to the emergence of James Young. I am going to be interested to see how Aaron develops during the year. I think he has to showcase some aggression and take the ball to the basket more than I have seen. But he is a GREAT outside shooter when open and with the other offensive weapons on the team, he will get a ton of open looks.
James Young: James missed about a week of practice, but is expected to be good to go at the Blue/White game. He is the player that has stuck out the most in the past few weeks and there are many people now claiming he is a Top 5 draft pick. What I have noticed most about him is the way that he can explode to the basket and score so fluidly from all parts of the court. He really has a NBA game on the college level and if his jumper is consistent, watch out. My only worry is if he pounds the ball too much…he is a big dribbler…but Calipari will make sure it doesn’t happen too often and with the emphasis on the dribble drive this year, it won’t be much of a hindrance either way.
Willie Cauley-Stein: If it was possible for Willie to have improved his athleticism, he has. I still can’t get over some of the things he can do on the basketball court and Willie has a characteristic that if harnessed, can be tremendous. He believes he is even better than he is. That means he tries, and often succeeds, at getting to the rim and scoring where other big men never could. Expect to see his ball-handling capability (which has improved) make him potentially be part of a Twin Tower lineup with Dakari and you will be amazed how he can go off the dribble. The key is this…he must rebound consistently and improve at the foul line….he will get lots of lobs, and if he finishes, he will put up big stats.
Dakari Johnson: An absolute force of nature. Athletically speaking, he is much different than the rest of this team. He isn’t quick and he is not a good leaper. But he is such a load down low that he finds a way to get every rebound on the floor. When he is in the game, he will be the slowest player on the UK team, but if he is able to work hard, he will block a lot of shots and lead the team in rebounds. He is the type of player that always looks like he is giving effort because he has to work so much harder than everyone else. But he is usually in the right spot, has a good basketball feel for the game and gives Kentucky some toughness it needs down low. Prepare to love cheering for Dakari.
Alex Poythress: Alex is the one player on this team that I am still worried about. I am not sure he is totally matching the effort level of the other guys on the team and if he isn’t totally focused, he could get left behind by their talent. When in position, he can be as good a scorer as anyone on this list not named Julius Randle. But the tendencies we saw last year, the tendency to stand around and let others do the work that should be his, could be amplified this year if he isn’t careful. And on this year’s team, that attitude could lead to sitting on the bench. Alex has all the gifts, but this is a time where he needs to use the rising tide to raise his ship, not to sink with the added pressure.
Marcus Lee: As freakish an athlete as I can remember at this school. You remember how Anthony Davis would block shots that you couldn’t even imagine he could get to? Now think of a similar player (a couple of inches shorter) but who is such a good leaper that he could play college volleyball. Marcus Lee is going to give more “DID YOU SEE THAT” moments on this team than anyone else. He may not score a lot this year, but he will rebound and be a defensive presence/huge energy guy. He is the 8th man but will see lots of run with the starting five because his athleticism will open up the court for all that they do. Another kid that will be a fan favorite and you will see huge improvement as the year goes on.
Jarrod Polson: I like what I am seeing from Jarrod Polson and I do think he will get the occasional playing time. The kid has become so tough and he doesnt back down from the challenge of playing against the Harrisons. He can hit the outside shot consistently and run the team in spurts. Against elite point guards, his defense isn’t sufficient, but how many of those guys are really out there? Jarrod has gotten a ton out of his talent and I think you will see games this year where he makes an impact.
Derek Willis: This kid can play. No player has surprised me more than Derrick. He has convinced me that before he is done here, he will be an important part of this program and a regular rotation player who can contribute. When you watch him on the court, he looks like he belongs, and that is extremely impressive. Derrick went through a lot his Senior year of high school, but he looks to be having fun playing college basketball and he is getting better by the day. We may not see it this year, but in the years to come, watch out.
As for the other guys, (Hood, Hawkins, the walk-ons), they have performed well and we will see more of them as the Blue/White game is played. It wouldn’t shock me to see games where Hood and Hawkins are utilized as they are both getting the experience of these tremendous practices against top talent. That is a huge takeaway from this group so far. This team is loaded and it is making everyone rise to the occasion. Calipari has a spring in his step I haven’t seen in two years and the mood around the facility is one of complete optimism. The sly smiles that suggest they know they are good are ubiquitous and beginning on Tuesday, the fans get to join in the fun as well.
We will chat about the team in more detail in the morning and talk about each player and their role this year. A big week of recruiting news is coming so stay tuned…it all begins now.