Kentucky was without Quade Green for the third straight game on a night the whistle →
By Matt Jones on ©September 11th, 2016 @ 11:00pm
As I attempted to process the humiliating beat down the Cats were suffering on Saturday, I looked for the right words to reflect the combination of disgust and resignation that I was feeling. Sitting in a room full of my college friends (in the same spot where I watched last year’s Vanderbilt game…it may just be cursed), it occurred to me that virtually everyone in the room either was or had been a UK Football season ticket holder. As the miserable spectacle lingered on, the conversation shifted to the game next week, the tailgate party that had long ago been planned and what would happen if UK ended up self-combusting to New Mexico State. I looked at this room full dedicated BBN members and ended up composing this tweet:
There is no fanbase in sports that has been more loyal and Been given less in return than UK Football fans
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) September 10, 2016
It clearly struck a nerve. Over the course of the last 24 hours, those words have become my 2nd most Retweeted comment in my five-plus years on Twitter (nothing will probably pass my picture of Josh Hutcherson in the student section at a UK game which ended up on insane Hunger Games fan forums). The reason it connected is simple. UK Football fans have hit a level of frustration that may be the highest I have ever seen. After decades of supporting the team at levels far above any natural reward, Kentucky fans have collectively just about had it and the miserable experience Saturday caused many to reach their wits end. After years of rationalizing every explanation in the book as to why Kentucky football is not successful, a stark realization is upon us. The time for excuses is over as Mark Stoops and Mitch Barnhart now must either produce or face the consequences.
Up until this point, Kentucky football has had a myriad of tailor-made explanations for its futility. Depending on your viewpoint, you could have claimed any of these as an issue that simply would prevent UK from ever really competing:
1. The University won’t invest in football
2. Kentucky has no recruiting base in order to get SEC-caliber players
3. UK can’t find (or won’t pay) a Coach of the highest pedigree
4. The facilities at Kentucky are too far behind those of their competition
and the list goes on. Each of these had various degrees of validity and have been relied upon by coaches and administrators in years past. Whether it was Rich Brooks’ frustration with facility projects, Guy Morris’s complaints about salary or Mitch Barnhart’s “microwave society” quote, we have heard every reason in the book as to why UK football has not been able to succeed. It is then somewhat ironic that the coach who has worked hard to dispel some of these excuses as explanations might suffer from our realization that they are no longer disqualifying facts.
The reality is Mark Stoops has flipped the script at Kentucky and he deserves a great deal of credit for it. Since Stoops has been here, we have seen that UK can recruit in the top 25-30 range, a level that can produce players successful enough to win. The excitement generated by this off-the-field success has led to an unprecedented investment in football infrastructure on campus and a practice facility that is as good as any in the land. The hoopla around Stoops’ tenure has proven (contrary to what Gary Danielson said during the Florida broadcast) that Kentucky isn’t just a basketball school to the fans and will still send 50,000 people to a Spring Game to help jumpstart a football program they so desperately want to see succeed. We thought there were a million reasons why Kentucky could not win…but now we see that while those reasons may make it difficult to get to the College Football Playoff, we have the infrastructure in place to win on a smaller level. Or to put it another way, if Rich Brooks could go to 5 straight bowls without any support, with support the sky should be much higher.
But so far under Mark Stoops it hasn’t been. In fact, with the exception of two special nights versus South Carolina, the Stoops era has been one continual repeat of “what might have been.” The past 4 years have seen the UK fan base get its collective hopes up over and over, only to have its heart stepped upon by losses big and small. Whether it was the painful Florida near misses, the Auburn draw play, the EKU near-humiliation, the Vandy systematic embarrassment or the Louisville collapses, we have continually gotten excited about games or moments, only to see a heartbreaking defeat. Often these disappointments have not been due to talent, but instead to mismanagement, disorganization or outright collapse. In some ways, Stoops’ first season has been the least frustrating. The team played hard, often over its head, and fought every game even when outmanned. Since then however, the losses have been much less explainable and significantly more mystifying. Whether its two 1st and Goals from the 1 yard line leading to three total points at Vandy, play calling in big end-of-game situations that baffle or the continuedlack of any discernible half-time adjustments, our problems recently have been self-made, not structural. As such, they are harder to rationalize.
This culminated Saturday in the latest romp in the Swamp. After years of watching UK football, I am not sure if I have even seen Kentucky look worse. I don’t need to go over the details of the game, you saw it. But suffice to say the Cats were humiliated in every way possible on national network television in a time slot that ensured all of America would see. The announcers openly mocked the Cats, but who could blame then. UK looked disorganized and disinterested with no sign of hope that brighter days are to come. After the game, Stoops said we would have to “get back to work,” a cliche that has followed virtually every UK loss and has become this staff’s answer to Billy Clyde’s infamous “have to get tougher.” The resignation in his voice showcased that he too isn’t sure what to do next and even this Saturday’s game against New Mexico State doesn’t seem assured.
The reality is this. The UK Football program is a worse spot now than it was two years ago. After back-to-back competitive games against Florida, the Cats were just blown out. A Southern Miss team that was 1-11 in Stoops’ first season outmanned and out-schemed the Cats in a game the program absolutely had to win. And players who have showcased talent bursts in the past (CJ Conrad, Dorian Baker, Chris Westry) are now afterthoughts of defeats in which one forgets they were even on the field. UK Football has hits its nadir and now is the time for some answers. Mark Stoops has to make a 180 degree turnaround this season or risk losing even more of the fan base and turning Commonwealth Stadium into a ghost town. Mitch Barnhart has to answer for his decision to give Stoops an extension that produces a buyout so large ($12 million) that the obvious answer to 4 years without a bowl game (replacing the coach) has become a financial noose around the program. At the moment UK Football is left with few options and little hope, and it is up to these two men who have helped take us to this point to now try and rescue it.
I like Mark Stoops and Mitch Barnhart both quite a bit personally. What Stoops has done for this program off-the-field is unprecedented and no matter what happens with the rest of his tenure, that impact will have been extremely positive. Mitch Barnhart is a terrific person who has been a tremendous Athletic Director in most phases of his stewardship. But the reality is this. The UK Football Program has hit rock bottom and it is on them to fix it or change has to be made. Kentucky fans have given and given in an attempt to support a program that for decades has more often than not, let them down. There are simply no more explanations for disorganization, no more pleas for hard work or requests for fan patience that will suffice. The time for excuses has ended…UK Football now must produce.
By Matt Jones on ©August 23rd, 2016 @ 9:00pm
If you are a long time fan of KSR, you know we like to do things differently. I am a big believer in the fact that there are lots of talented people out there with the ability to do things in the world of media, but it doesn’t happen because of a lack of opportunity. With that in mind, we are announcing the “Hey Kentucky” Co-Host Search. Here is the deal…as part of my new TV show beginning this fall on WLEX, I will be doing a daily debate with a rotating group of co-hosts that will be from all different walks of life. Some of these co-hosts are folks you know…Tony Vanetti and Mary Jo Perino for instance will be two of them. But we also want to get a diverse group of people from outside the world of traditional media. The reason why is simple…I found literally ever writer on KSR without going through traditional channels and it has been successful…so why not try the same for television.
So this is your chance. If you are interested in a career in television or simply would like the opportunity to do something fun on the side, here is your chance to give it a shot. All you have to do is send us a 3-5 minute clip of you debating issues in sports, news, politics or whatever to the “Hey Kentucky” Facebook page. Send it via the message there and if we think there is potential, you may get called in for a try out that we could air on the show. Our hope is to find a number of potential co-hosts this way and create new on-air talent going forward. It is that simple.
So if this is something that intrigues you, do it. IF you know someone you think would be good, let them know. It is worth a shot and you have nothing to lose. Like the Facebook Page below (do this either way so you can keep up with the show) and submit your video by FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 2. It is that easy. I am very confident we will find on-air talent via this route. Don’t wish it were you or someone you know. Give it a shot and good luck!
By Matt Jones on ©August 21st, 2016 @ 8:57pm
Anyone who is a regular reader of this website or listener to my radio show has heard me criticize the University of Louisville regularly for the past year due to the corruption that has occurred throughout their administration. Under the leadership of now-departed (sort of) President Ramsey, UL was accused of numerous, at best questionable and at worst illegal, acts over the course of the last year. The scandal built over the past nine months and has culminated in his departure. Throughout this controversy, my opinion has been very consistent. While the various acts around the University were all bad in and of themselves, I was particularly appalled at the way Ramsey and the University leadership continually attempted to cover up the worst misdeeds and members of the Louisville media (especially the city’s newspaper) often acted complicit by looking the other way as scandal after scandal occurred under their watch. As is often the case, for me it wasn’t just about the acts, it was also about the coverup.
With that in mind, I can’t help but be disappointed at the news from this week that the University of Kentucky has appealed a decision of the Kentucky Attorney General requiring it to disclose its records concerning the dismissal of Professor James Harwood. The facts of this case are somewhat complicated, but can be read in their entirety in this story by the UK student newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel. The short summary is that five different students accused Harwood of sexual assault and harassment in a series of events that spanned over the course of three school years. While the claims were brought separately, they culminated in an investigation by the University that determined a “reasonable person could believe the alleged behavior occurred.” Harwood was then due a hearing before a University Board on the issues, but instead chose to resign pursuant to the applicable provisions of Title IX. Those provisions, created by federal law, are complex and somewhat inconsistent in their goals, but they do allow a resignation prior to a hearing…an ending that can dissolve the accused’s case but do so before a true resolution as to what happened is reached. Victims don’t have the ability to appeal such a decision and it can allow the person who resigns the ability to work at another institution, without a final ruling on the merits of the case.
Two of the victims in the case were upset with this result and reached out to the Kentucky Kernel in order to try to shed light on what happened. The Kernel asked for records of the investigation and UK balked, saying that it would not turn them over due to concerns about the victims’ privacy. After doing a thorough and impressive investigation, the Kernel asked the AG to make a ruling on whether it was entitled to the records and the Office determined they must be turned over, with the names of the victims redacted. UK is appealing this decision, and the process of appeal is such that they are technically having to sue the student newspaper procedurally in order for it to take place. This has caused a great deal of controversy, leading to most of the state’s media outlets complaining about the lack of transparency at UK and the University suing its own student newspaper in the process.
I have watched all of this from afar and as with most controversies, I do believe it is more complicated than it is often portrayed. On the one hand, I completely understand the argument of the Kernel and the victims it says it represents (I am assuming for purposes of this column that the desires of the victims that the Kernel suggest represent their true feelings). When a public University professor commits such acts, it has an impact not only on those in question but potentially other, unnamed victims. It is important for the University’s faculty and students to know what happened, how the University handled it, what the University knew and when it knew it and other details about these complaints. Such transparency is important even beyond the acts currently in questioned. If Harwood was allowed to continue teaching after these incidents came to light, people need to know why and how that determination was made. And a complete understanding of what occurred will also help any future University (and their students) determine whether he should be allowed to be on their faculty in the years to come.
It seems, the University’s argument in response is to say that because Harwood taught such a small group of students in the Entomology Graduate Department, if they release the information in their records, those around that Department could figure out who the students were, thus invading their privacy. The University then could argue that this could have a chilling effect on future victims who believe that if they are in a small group in the future and are victimized, then such record releases would still have the effect of ID’ing them even after the redaction. The University thus believes it needs to appeal the AG’s decision (which requires them to sue the Kernel…but its not really “suing” them, it is just the procedure for the appeal), not so much for this case, but for the future. The University has to consider the presidential effect of its decision going forward when cases may not be as clear-cut.
Still, while I understand the theory behind the University’s argument, I believe UK is still making a mistake. If you believe the Kernel’s reporting (and the University has not disputed it publicly), the victims themselves want this information released. Not only do they believe it is important that the information be released about Harwood, but the University’s worries about privacy in this case are ultimately meaningless since virtually all the relevant facts are already out. To put another way, for the very few people who might be able to figure out who are the people involved, enough exists for that to already take place. If the University is worried about the effect on future cases, then release with a statement that it is only putting the information out here BECAUSE it is requested by the victims. Then if a future victim takes a different stance, it can be dealt with in a different manner. This can deal with future privacy concerns while also respecting what are crucial goals of the release, evaluating what took place and the ultimate response of the University. Faculty, students and the general public have a right to determine if the situation was handled with the best interest of everyone involved. A release of the records can allow such an evaluation to take place.
I will freely admit that I know nothing more about the Harwood case than what the Kernel has reported. I find it difficult to believe that UK, a University that is one of the only colleges in America to voluntarily release annual complete data of sexual assault/harassment reports on its campus, and President Capiluoto sought to downplay the allegations and protect Harwood. But I can’t know that for certain unless the records of the investigation are released. If we are going to claim (correctly) that President Ramsey’s continued attempts to cover up his University of Scandal over the last few years have been unacceptable, then the same level of scrutiny must also occur at the top of Kentucky’s leadership as well. What the Kernel asks for in this case is not only reasonable, as determined by the AG’s office, it is required by law. UK should do what is right here and release the records and help the victims and the University get the resolution they deserve.
By Matt Jones on ©August 07th, 2016 @ 11:00pm
If you are like me, you have spent most of this weekend on your couch watching a myriad of sporting events that you would have no interest in viewing in any other context except the Olympic games. Nelly may be a sucker for corn rows and manicured toes, but I am a sucker for the Olympics and every year I become so immersed in Swimming, Fencing, Table Tennis and other sports that I become very distracted for 16 days (the two Cycling Road Races were some of the best sports television I have seen in a long time). But even the heartiest fan of the 31st Olympiad in the Bluegrass should note that this is all a warmup to the main event coming soon, the start of a new Kentucky basketball season. And with that in mind, it is time to once again check in and see what we are hearing about how the team has done this summer. Because of the relatively new NCAA Summer Practice rules, the team actually gets to practice during the summer and thus unlike in years past when all we had were vague notions of what was happening in Pickup games, now we can get a little bit better sense of where the team is. Below is what I am hearing from those around the program at this point. However before we start, two big caveats are worth noting:
1. THIS IS ALL ABOUT PRACTICE As anyone who ever watched Ryan Harrow play in the Craft Center can attest, practice doesn’t tell us everything and doesn’t mean guys will (or won’t) shine when the lights come on
2. IT IS STILL VERY EARLY What we hear now may (and probably will) change before the season. Sometimes guys who looked great in the summer (like Mychal Mulder last year) struggle when the year starts. And sometimes guys who don’t have great summers (like MKG) hit their stride in the fall. But this is a good starting point and like last year, when early reports of Skal being behind and Tyler hitting another level of greatness came out, they often are good indicators of where we are to go.
With that said, here we go:
OVERALL: I am told that the staff is very pleased with the group they have at this point. Part of this is talent as the young players have (as a group) exceeded early expectations and there is some significant improvement among a couple of the returners. But more than actual talent, the work ethic of this group is what really excites those around the program. This group is the hardest working collective since 2012 and along with that year, has put in the most effort during the summer of any group of the Calipari era. That is significant and such desire to get better is of course very pleasing to all who have to coach.
I always like to begin with who has played the best this summer and two different sources came up with the same verdict. They told me that if the season started right now, the starting lineup would be De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Bam Adebayo and Isaac Humphries with Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel able to be inserted instead of the Aussie depending on the opponent. In addition, Dominique Hawkins and Sacha Killeya-Jones have had good summers to slide into the 8/9 role at this point, making up what would be (today) the rotation. With that in mind, some individual player notes:
De’Aaron Fox: While his jump shot still needs work and there will be some development needed to get used to the college game, there is a lot of excitement about what Fox brings to the table. He is the most athletic Point Guard Calipari has had since John Wall and as one source told me, “his quickness from one end of the court to the other is breathtaking.” Everyone knew that Fox could pass but what has impressed the most early is that his defense is ahead of the curve. As one person told me, “he isn’t Tyler, but with his length and quickness, he is going to get a lot of steals.”
Malik Monk: I expect a ton of points from Monk and everyone I have spoken with says he (and one other player to come) has been the revelations of the summer of the summer. He can score in bunches and is super quick, but his explosiveness in attacking the rim is what gets everyone so excited. One source who has heard me talk about how good Briscoe is at the rim says that Monk may be just as good, if not better. Plus his leaping is said to be “other-worldly.” All I hear is praise for Monk from everyone.
Isaiah Briscoe: The issue for every player returning for a second year at Kentucky is how they handle not being a “One and Done” This is especially true for a guy like Briscoe who desperately wanted to go to the League. From all indications, Briscoe has handled it perfectly. He has worked hard since returning and has been a leader on and off the court. Free throw shooting is still an issue (he has improved but still needs more work), but his outside shooting has been solid and defensively, he will be the third wheel in backcourt that is going to be a nightmare for teams on the perimeter.
Bam Adebayo: Bam has dealt with an ankle injury that has made his participation sporadic this summer. Still there are no worries about his health coming into the Fall and everyone believes he will be a star. One source told me, “I keep hearing you say Shawn Kemp and that may be true in terms of explosiveness” but he is stronger and shoots slightly better. He is a beast. I think the nation is sleeping on how good he can be.
Isaac Humphries: The story of the summer from what I am told. He has gotten his body into shape, has really improved offensively and has been the revelation of the summer months. Humphries is still not quick and will have some issues defensively, but his rebounding is very solid and he has great hands. As one source told me, “if he can hit the free throw line jumper and rebound, it would be huge…and he has been great at both.” IF the season started today, he would start.
Derek Willis: Leaving aside the problem earlier this year, people are happy with Derek’s progression. He is working hard, spending lots of time at the gym and has improved slightly defensively. At this point, Calipari wants him for his offense and outside shooting and on that, he is still top notch. HE will get lots of open corner threes and if he makes them, UK becomes hard to stop. A good summer has been had by Derek.
Wenyen Gabriel: The only player who may be slightly behind where most thought he would be at this point is Wenyen Gabriel. His adjustment to the college game has take a little bit longer and he is not quite on the level of the three Freshman mentioned before. His athleticism is still superb but the adjustment period is going to be longer than some expected. I am told that he still will contend for a starting spot but he needs to improve on shooting, court awareness and defense as the fall moves forward.
EVERYONE ELSE: The rest of the group has made advances. Dominique Hawkins has had a great summer from what I am told and has improved more than any other year he has been here. As one source told me, “we have three great guards or Dominique would be contending to start.” Sacha Killeya-Jones is going to play this year but I think will do so in a reserve role. His athleticism is off the charts (only Willie’s would be better from a big man perspective) and he has a nice jumper. But he has a lot of work to do on toughness and physicality and I think he will settle in as a reserve this season. Mychal Mulder has improved but is likely still a notch below this group, however if he can make shots consistently (something he couldn’t do last year), there will be situations where he can play.
So that is where things stand now. The team has most of the next two weeks off from official practice, although they will still be working out. I can always tell when those around the program are truly excited or feel work has to be done (this group doesn’t really get negative). They are excited and that should make everyone feel optimistic.
By Matt Jones on ©July 12th, 2016 @ 11:00pm
It is that time of year again. A tradition started last summer has become a sensation to sweep the state. It is Year 2 of the KSR CHAIN RESTAURANT BRACKET. We began this last year and only did Fast Food, which caused a slight degree of controversy. The winner was Qdoba over Subway in the finals, but some believed Qdoba didnt really count as fast food and that led to unneeded controversy. So we decided to make things clearer this year. This season, we are combining ALL chain restaurants, from fast food to high-end casual. It is a mixed bag with lots of odd match ups, but that is what makes America great.
Here is how the field was picked:
1. We took restaurants on the Top 100 biggest chain list and then picked the ones with a heavy presence in Kentucky. Then we added a couple that are bigger here and not nationally (Skyline, Fazolis, etc).
2. We randomly did the bracket with no seeds. Since I will be one of the voters for the winner, it makes no sense to have me seed the field. So I did a random number generator to get the field…no bias, all randomness
3. The winners are based on which restaurants you like more. This isn’t which is the highest quality or the most successful…it is simply, who do you like more. When you do your own bracket with friends and family, that is what rules…nothing more, nothing less.
We will pick the winners over the next two days of KSR Radio. It starts tomorrow…I get a vote, Ryan gets one, Shannon gets one, the crowd at the Tour stop does and if there is a tie, we will go to either a caller or Drew Franklin…scientific, just like it should be.
But the good in this is if you do it for yourself. Who do you like? Who should be the winner? Have at it…the KSR Food Bracket is here Again
I remember the first time someone sent me a text message. I was in law school and on my new cell phone (which was that tiny square Nokia thing we all had back then), my then-girlfriend texted me to say “isn’t this cool?!?” Beyond the excess amount of punctuation marks, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the fact that this new way to communicate seemed a bit of a hassle. Not only was it charging me money (10 cents a message back then), but responding took forever. There were three letters on every number, I kept making mistakes continuously and my response (“Sure. How r u?”) took me at least five minutes. At that moment I decreed that texting was a total waste of time and anyone that did it needed something to do with their spare time.
Fast forward 13 years and now texting is my most consistent form of communication. When someone takes the time to call me instead of texting, I assume that the conversation is going to be very intense, that they have more than two sentences worth of thoughts to communicate and that my voicemail is probably the best play for their response. What once seemed ridiculous has now become commonplace. We live in a texting world. I thought of that today as I walked the streets of Louisville and saw 30-40 people with their heads buried in their phones playing “Pokemon Go.” I don’t claim to know anything about it beyond the basic fact that you use your phone to walk the streets and track down/accumulate little characters that then prove to the world you are king of the Pokemon army. It seems to me like a stupendous waste of time but as I looked up and down the Highlands, there were people of all ages, ranging from excited children to bearded hipsters to old hippies with pale legs, all playing it with intensity and happiness. My natural instinct is to mock and ridicule. But maybe like with texting, we are on the brink of living in a Pokemon world. Overcome by the reality of their monotonous lives, maybe people will get joy out of acting like they live in a massive cartoon land, where places are to be visited not for their intrinsic beauty but for the collection of digital rewards. I have read that Pokemon Go was just released in America on Wednesday night, and if that is true, my stroll down the streets of Louisville suggest that it has already been massively successful. It seems moronic to me, but then again so once did texting. Its a Pokemon Go world and I guess we all just have to deal with it (unless it becomes like Trivia Crack…remember how we all played that for a few weeks? Whatever happened to that?)
A few notes on the weekend:
— With all the tragedy that engulfed this country last week and the resulting spread of stupid opinions throughout the Facebook world, I used this weekend as a chance to unplug from most internet communication and instead just watch a number of sporting events. I spent a lot of time watching NBA Summer League and seeing former UK players hit a very high level. The two players that were by far the most impressive were Devin Booker and Trey Lyles, both young men who are headed for NBA stardom. Both guys had 28 points in the games I watched and each were the best player on the floor by a large degree. The 2014 UK recruiting class was initially considered the worst of the Calipari era, based solely on rankings and the lack of any real star power beyond Karl Towns. But in the end, it could be the best as I think there are two potential high level NBA starters (Booker/Lyles), one starting NBA point guard (Ulis) and a historically transcendent potential star (Towns). That is pretty freaking good.
— The happiest part of the weekend to me was reading this morning that Andrew Harrison signed a contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. The three year deal basically ensures that Harrison will be in the league and that his struggles to get accepted by a NBA team are complete. He still may have some D-League service, but now if it happens he gets NBA money and the team will be much more likely to call him up since his contract is on their books. It is a huge win for Andrew who was under a lot of pressure this summer. If he finished this year without a deal, he could easily end up in the drifting guard pile of guys who float in and out of NBA rosters and rarely stick to make any money. A NBA scout once told me “big guys get three years, guards two years…if they aren’t in the NBA then, the chance of them ever making it becomes very remote.” I think that is true, especially when you are like Andrew and your talent isn’t due to extreme physical gifts. Andrew was dominant in his first couple of Summer League games and that was enough for Memphis to sign him, a great result for the eldest Harrison. Andrew took more criticism than any UK player since Saul Smith and deserved virtually none of it. He won at a high level at UK and is a great kid who I hope rightly celebrates the culmination of a ton of work to get to this point.
— This afternoon I also watched the championship of the Peach Jam, where a number of UK targets were playing, including Trae Young, Mohammed Bamba and Quade Green. All of them showed their talents but Trae Young is exceptional. In fact, Trae Young is in my mind, the most important recruit of the class for UK. His talent is immense, as he plays the Point Guard position exactly as you would hope…he can pass, handle the ball, frustrate on defense and finish at the rim. But what was so impressive today is the range he has on his outside shots. Young made threes from all angles and dominated a first half that saw his team lead by 18. On a floor with four of the top 50 players in America, Young was the standout and even outshone the Bamba/Michael Porter Jr duo competing to be the top player in America. Young is said to be torn between Oklahoma and Kentucky. He is close with DeAaron Fox, but is also from Norman and friends with Buddy Hield. His recruitment will probably take some more time, but I want him badly in Blue and White…he should be the next of the great UK point guards under Calipari.
— SEC Media Days start tomorrow and KSR has Nick Roush and Freddie Maggard on the scene in Birmingham for the events. In the rest of the SEC, this is one of the biggest weeks of the year, with a circus of people waiting to hear every line uttered by the SEC coaches and players before another massive season. In Kentucky, we rarely even know it is going on. My hope is that Mark Stoops can find a way to get folks excited this year in the same way that he has the previous three but he faces an uphill climb. Most fans I have spoken with are completely in “wait and see” mode and to the extent there has been any talk about football it has been wondering if a season-crushing loss to Southern Miss in the opening game is a possibility. I think the Cats win that game and have a fighting shot the next week versus Florida, but the reality is that for Stoops, success this season is a must. He has had such a great impact on the program in terms of excitement, facilities and talent that UK Football is in a significantly better place today than it was before he arrived. But now he needs to win…this is the year and the road to wherever we end up begins this week.
Six weeks to football…Freddie (who is as excited for SEC Media Days as any human should reasonably be allowed to be) and Nick are down there giving KSR all the coverage one can handle. Keep checking in this week to see what is happening.
Radio is in Louisville tomorrow, Lexington on Tuesday and then Central Kentucky the rest of the week…come out to a show and listen up before we head to Cleveland on Monday.
Its Sunday night, most of you are watching “Game of Thrones” and I have just returned from a two week vacation across this great country of ours. I went a number of places and have a ton of stories that I will share on radio, but I also come back with a little personal news. Last Tuesday I was fortunate enough to get to go to Bristol, Connecticut and spend some time at ESPN. It was one of the cooler days of my professional career and I had an amazing time. After my visit there, I was asked to be a fill-in panelist on First Take this upcoming Friday morning. I will be heading back to Bristol and doing the show Live at 10 am on ESPN2 with some other folks during the vacations of some of the regulars. It is obviously a huge opportunity for me and something that I am beyond excited about getting to do. I hope you wonderful readers will tune in and check it out as I try not to be so nervous that I throw up all over the set. I started this site as a side hobby nearly 11 years ago and never would have imagined that I would get the chance to do something like this and I am thrilled with the opportunity. As always, I thank all of you who have been following/reading/listening during that time for helping make it happen. I hope to do everyone proud. With that some quick thoughts on the stories that occurred while I was gone:
— I was slightly disappointed at how Draft night fell for the UK guys as all four of our players ended up with slightly worse situations than I would have hoped. Jamal Murray will lead the NBA in Rookie scoring in Denver and I think he can be very successful, but had he been on Boston or Minnesota, it would have been nice to get on a more likely playoff team. Skal falling to #28 was sad to watch, but was probably more in line with his talent than the lottery projections. I still think he has real upside, although I do wonder if Sacramento is the perfect place to achieve it. Tyler Ulis falling to the second round was a bummer, but he now joins the Phoenix Wildcats, a team I think he will make and excel on with Booker/Knight/Bledsoe/Archie. It is a pace of play that works for his game and I do like the fit. Alex Poythress not getting picked wasn’t shocking but since he didnt sign a complete deal, he now will have to work very hard in the Summer League to make a team. I hope it happens for him as he is a great kid who deserves success.
— After I left, the details of the Derek Willis arrest came out as did the video. While it was embarrassing to see and very tough to watch, I hope the entire situation makes Derek more focused going into his Senior year. Willis is very lucky that his punishment wasn’t greater but more importantly, fortunate that he didn’t hurt himself or someone else. Derek is a great kid with a terrific future, but he simply can’t make mistakes such as this going forward as his window of opportunity will close with any future mess-ups. It is also worth noting that some fans criticized KSR for posting the video and saying that it was a mistake on our part. I respectfully disagree. Willis and other UK players get the tremendous benefit of playing at a University where their mere presence can give them the set-up for life opportunities most only dream about. But with that comes scrutiny and when you mess up, especially when legal authorities become involved, such scrutiny (and embarrassing videos) will follow. Hopefully it will be a positive lesson for everyone going forward.
— On Friday of last week, we saw a huge explosion of news at UL as Governor Matt Bevin disbanded the UL board and announced the resignation of James Ramsey as President. At first I applauded the decision and thought it was a tremendous move to help pull away the huge dark cloud that has enveloped that University over the past year. But as time has gone on, I am becoming much more skeptical. First, it seems that Ramsey’s resignation hasn’t yet taken place and he has said he may stay on for another entire school year…an odd decision considering the immediacy of the dissolution of the board. Second and MUCH MORE IMPORTANT, nothing Bevin said addressed Ramsey’s role as head of the UL Foundation….this is important as it is the place where a huge part of his salary is generated and where most of the sketchy/scandalous behavior of his tenure took place. So right now all we have is a board that (correctly) wanted the President gone replaced while the President has been left in power potential for at least one year as President and maybe longer as Foundation chair. That strikes me as very little meaningful change and has me much more skeptical of the overall decision than I was initially. If Ramsey is the problem (which he is), why is he still in place while the Board that wanted him gone has been booted? The answer I guess is still to come.
— I LOVED the Calipari vs Rick war of words over the past week. While I don’t know if Calipari truly meant his comments about what coaches know at their program to be about Pitino, it isn’t a shock that most took it like that (and let’s face it, he probably meant Rick at least a bit). I didn’t mind Pitino’s “keep my name out of your mouth” retort either as I suspect I would have done the same thing in his shoes. I did find it hilarious that Rick says he only does or says things to help the image of college basketball…one of the most hilariously absurd statements to come from a man that has plenty similar ones in his past. I love when these two go back and forth…it makes the rivalry better and proves publicly what everyone knows privately…they hate each other. Let it out in public. There is no reason to hide it..the rivalry is red hot and such antics only make it better.
Finally, I have heard a lot of good thing about the early pickup game reports for the UK Basketball team, along with some good info on each player. I will share that later in the week here on the site…but a short version that has me excited is that DeAaron Fox is the real deal Holyfield. Also, I want to thank all the folks who filled in for me on the radio show while I was gone. I thought there was a great variety of people and something for everybody during the two weeks. Finally (I say again), we are starting our “Where in The World is KSR Tour? tomorrow with our first stop in a small town close to Lexington. Every morning on the show we will let you know where we are and if you are close enough to come see us, you can win UK tickets. It is a different type of tour than in years past but one that I think will be entertaining on the air. I appreciate everyone supporting the show and site while I was gone and I look forward to getting back in high gear this week.
We are coming upon KSR’s 11th Anniversary this fall and sometimes I can’t help but feel as if time just keeps passing by. That is especially true when I find pictures like the one above…this was around 2006 or so when we first decided to start promoting KSR at UK Football games. The crew above included most (although not all) of the early writers, the KSR girls who walked around tailgates promoting the site (in custom-made jerseys that were not of the highest quality) and a random guy who I don’t know (the guy on the far right). We were kind of a rag-tag bunch back then, I was much chubbier and had worse hair (if that’s possible) and we had no idea what was to come. But in many ways those were the most fun days as we just wrote whatever wanted, consequences be damned. It was a great time to be a blogger, back when no one knew what that even meant.
But now things are slightly different as social media has changed everything and the rise of KSR means that we have to be careful what we say because it does have repercussions. Posts that were made back then (such as the epic time when Drew’s account was legitimately hacked and someone posted something that were it to come out now, we would be the subject of nationwide Twitter scorn), would be received very differently now. And with that comes the rise of stories that are handled much differently at this point. Case in point, the rumor that went around the internet this weekend about trouble with UK Football. Back in the day, stories about what was going on “behind the scenes” in UK sports almost always started on the internet, and usually on message boards. These discussion threads often contained people that legitimately knew what was happening behind the scenes and posting under made-up pseudonyms (such as Freshshava, TCCat, CarolinaWildcats and some dude named Magloire52), news came out that virtually always beat the major media sites. I got my start on such forums and I will always have soft spot for them. What happened over time usually was that a poster would come with information, everyone would be skeptical and if it proved true, then said poster would get vaunted “Insider” status and be believed more in the future. It was a meritocracy of sorts and those that really knew what was going on (which usually meant they talked to an equipment manager, former player or Tubby’s secretary) became the real go-to people of UK’s internet world. Plus if something was too outlandish, message board moderators could delete it and police the worst of the excess. It was free-flowing but with a bit of control.
Now things have changed. Message boards aren’t quite as popular as they once were as people have instead moved to the world of social media. Blogs such as KSR can still be centers of UK-related information, but now any individual can push their “news” or “scoop” via Twitter and with just a couple of Retweets, it can enter the public’s mind. Without the “status” of a media platform or a history of postings as with message boards, there is no way for the public to know for certain whether the individual knows what s/he is talking about and thus rumors that would have once been quickly dismissed, now take on a life of their own. This happened with the UK football rumor over the weekend and put me (and others that cover UK in a difficult spot). After speaking with people around the program, I am convinced that there was no truth to the rumor in any fashion. But as the days went on, I kept getting asked about it more and more, thus showcasing to me that it was spreading. So what do you do? If you say nothing (as I chose to do from Saturday through this morning), then people see that silence as proof of “something going on.” A look at any UL message board today will show threads of UL fans convinced that the rumor must be true because “UK reporters aren’t saying anything.” I have received 20 different versions of the comment “you report on UL scandals but ignore the Football one at your school!” on Twitter from #L1C4 fans in the last few days. This mindset ignored the possibility that (GASP!) the whole thing was just made up to begin with and silence was considered proof. Such is the world we live in.
So today I tweeted out that there was nothing too it…others soon followed with similar agreement and to any reasonable reader, the whole thing can be put to bed. However others said to me, “you mentioning dignifies it and makes more people look up to see what was being said.” This is no doubt true and I am sure there are many of you that have done the same thing. But I am not sure how else to handle the situation…in today’s world there are no newspaper editors, message board moderators or blog writers who can make a rumor go away. If people want it to proceed it will…so it seems the only way to make it disappear is to acknowledge it…a PR 101 mistake in the old days that now seems to me to have been turned on its heels.
All of this brings me to the UK Hoops issues of the last few weeks. Everywhere I have gone people over the last month, people have asked me some form of “So tell me what’s REALLY going on with UK Hoops.” There is a distinct mindset shared by many…maybe even you. With all the dismissals and departures and the team down to just a few players and a new staff something MUST HAVE happened that is a bombshell that people don’t know yet. I will be honest, I thought the same thing as the story first broke. But I have spent a good deal of time over the last two weeks talking to former players, administrators, reporters and others trying to find if there is something else really going on…and honestly I just don’t think there is. In fact, if I were to summarize what I think caused the UK Hoops issues, it is this:
Matthew Mitchell over the last couple of years got away from what made him have success. In a number of different areas, his management of the program dipped because of mistakes in judgment and action. He spent less time around the players as he became involved in secondary issues and spent more time with his family. He relied on his (new) Assistant coaches to fill in for his role when he wasn’t around and because he didn’t cultivate those relationships properly either, they did not fill those voids. Mitchell has always been a tough coach, but like Calipari has/had with Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne, Mitchell relied on his Assistants to be “good cops” to his “bad cop.” His initial assistants did that well but the more recent ones did not, in part because their relationship with him was not strong. As he drifted from the team, he wasn’t able to see morale/player issues developing and the success on the court made him ignore/dismiss the problems that he did see. Over time the situation grew worse and when four players left last year, rather than deal with the overall change, each was dismissed as “an individual problem.” Then when it happened again this year and a staff overhaul occurred as well, reality smacked everyone in the face. He lost his team and now has to work to get it back.
After a lot of time spent looking into the UK Hoops situation, the above is my conclusion. But there will be many who simply dismiss this offhand. I understand that mindset. But as I recently said at an event, I would equate the problems over the last two years to the dissolution of a relationship. Sometimes when two people break up, it is because of an explosive event, like one spouse cheating on the other. However most of the time, there isn’t a moment, but rather a gradual parting of the two parties due to small acts or mistakes that add up over time. Not every divorce is scandalous…many end because of the slow, methodical act of simply falling out of love due to a culmination of events that viewed individually, might be relatively minor. That is what I think happened with the UK Hoops program and Matthew Mitchell. The relationship became frayed slowly over time, not in one major scandal.
Is that the answer that the Internet (and many fans) want to hear? Maybe not. It is a lot more fun to speculate online, assume the worst conspiracy theory and then when its your rival, bring them down with continued innuendo. But often the truth is much more boring than most wish it would be. People focus on the UL scandals that I have talked about over the last few years (Ware/Behanan, Pitino/Sypher, Katina-Ramsey-Pitino-Behanan-Montrezl-T-Will-Minardi Hall ceiling-Coach Mike…well you get the idea) but they overlook the many I have been told that I never mentioned because I thought they were likely false. But that is just my filter and the filter for others, especially in the social media world, may be much different. The days of ignoring rumors or waiting for verified sources to dismiss fan chatter are basically gone…once people talk about it, then it becomes a story, whether or not it is true. To me the best way to handle it, is to acknowledge and deal with it. That is the new reality for media and those in the public eye, as the two situations with UK Football and UK Hoops have shown these last few days.
Long time no talk…it has been a bit since I have taken to these here interwebs to write, but today seemed as good a time as any. I had a tremendous weekend doing the whole Derby thing and I hope it found you folks having a good time as well. It was a great showcase for our state and UK folks were everywhere (including a number of Billy Gillispie sightings all around Lexington). I hit the Trifecta on the Derby for the 4th straight year, although the excitement was muted a bit by the fact that with the three favorites coming in via the order of their odds, the payoff was relatively small. Still a win is a win and we celebrate victories here, so I am in a positive mood. With that in mind, a few notes on the goings on around the state:
— Everywhere I went this weekend, people asked me the same question: “What are you hearing about Marquis Bolden?” This question always fascinates me because it implies the idea that I would know secret information about the whole thing that I am not sharing publicly but will share to my drunk new amigo in the betting line at Churchill Downs. The answer unfortunately however was “Nothing” because there has been so little info to slip about this entire process in the last few weeks. I have talked a great deal on the radio about the Bolden timeline but it is worth noting on here as well. From my perspective, this is how Bolden’s decision has played out:
Fall Signing Period: Bolden was very close to committing to Kentucky but was concerned about who would be returning for the Cats (specifically Skal/Lee). He decides to hold off until the Spring. Jarrett Allen is ready to commit to Kentucky at this time, but UK suggests he holds off due to class size and Allen moves on to other schools.
January or so: Bolden’s Mother falls for Duke and decides that is where she wants him to go definitively. Bolden still undecided, but family becomes very pro-Duke
Late March: Bolden begins to lean heavily to Duke due to family situation, etc. Folks around Kentucky feel significantly less confident and the assumption is he is likely a Blue Devil
McDonalds All American Game: UK Commitments heavily work on Bolden during the week and I am told may have helped put Kentucky back at the front of his mind. Kid becomes torn again.
Since that period, information has basically become non-existent. There has been chatter here and there about where he is leaning, various bloggers and recruiting writers have flipped their predictions back and forth and thus fans have gone up and down in confidence. But from the people I talk to, who in my opinion know the situation as well as anyone, there is no real confidence either way. I feel confident that Kentucky is in play and I do believe if it were totally up to the kid, he would be a Cat. But the family dynamics are not something I am (or possibly anyone is) privy to and thus I don’t know how it ends up. I heard this weekend that most parties expect a decision date this week. We shall see.
Tanya Tucker still gets it done…I saw her at Barnstable Brown this weekend and she performed “Me and Bobbie McGee”…it was amazing. My grandmother used to call her a floozie, but I am still a fan
— I am not sure I have seen a more strange story than the one around the UK Hoops team over the past few weeks. I feel bad for Matthew Mitchell and the program but I think what we are seeing in the culmination of a 2-3 year period where things were slowly slipping around the team. Mitchell had achieved a great deal of success and with that, new opportunities flourished for him. He has a young family who he wanted to spend time with and during that period, his presence around the program was lessened. In other circumstances that might be ok, but the combination of his attention slipping, his hard style as a coach, Assistant turnover based on difficulty finding the right “fit” and other factors caused a situation that spiraled out of control over the last 2 months. After talking to a number of people around the program, I honestly don’t think there is a “smoking gun” that will come out that has caused all of the player and coach turnover. Instead, it was the more methodical slow degradation of team chemistry that can best be explained by what I would call the “absentee dad” syndrome. Matthew Mitchell deserves a chance to right the ship and his hiring of his last two Assistant Coaches (and I am hearing a likely third that is a former player…possibly Amber Smith) is sure to help that process. But a deep hole has been dug. They only will have 7 scholarship players next year at this point and the future is in question. Makayla Epps will ensure UK is competitive next year, but the two years following could be rough without a significant series of good news moments. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but it will be a very tough and important next 12 months for the future of Mitchell’s tenure here and the program as a whole.
— Call me old-fashioned, but I think what Hubie Brown is describing here should be a foul
— Over the years, one of the great mysteries of UK Athletics has been how the Hall of Fame and retirement of Jerseys process works. When the topic comes up on the show, I find that fans have differing opinions and there is a general lack of understanding of why things have progressed the way they have. This topic was the feature of Episode 38 of my Podcast with Oscar Combs and I really recommend you listen to it. Oscar describes how one gets their jersey retired and he and I get into a little “old school vs new school” debate about who should have their jersey retired and why. We are friends and the back and forth is good natured. But it also reflects what I think are two differing mindsets on the subject and is definitely worth a listen. Check it out…and the other Podcasts while you are at it:
We will check back in later this week.
By Matt Jones on ©May 01st, 2016 @ 8:28pm
Because of all the chatter around the decision of the NCAA to not mention UNC Basketball and Football in its own most recent set of Allegations against the Tar Heels, another potentially important policy by the organization seems to have been looked overlooked. Last week the NCAA announced that it has passed an anti-discrimination provision for the awarding of NCAA Championship sites, requiring that states that seek to host its events “must demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.” The decision comes on the heels of the passing of HB 2 in North Carolina, a bill that restricts the ability of local entities to provide anti-discrimination provisions in their communities on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill has caused a great deal of controversy around the state with businesses, musical artists and the NBA threatening or sustaining boycotts of the state. The NCAA’s announcement provides that if North Carolina or other states, have such legislation in place starting next year, the NCAA will consider either not rewarding or pulling its championships away in those locations.
What does this all mean? Well on the surface it seems to mean that unless North Carolina changes its law, the NCAA will not allow any NCAA Tournament sites in North Carolina. That of course is huge. Over the course of the past 20 years, it has been a rare year when either the first and second rounds or occasionally the Regional itself, have not been played in North Carolina. With Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh picked as possible sites, the best North Carolina and Duke teams have been almost assured of essentially two home games on their way to the Final Four. This has undoubtedly had a positive impact and the high attendance at these locations is part of the reason for their assignment as hosts. If the state of North Carolina does not change its law this summer (the NCAA gave a July 1 deadline), beginning in 2017, such sites may no longer be allowed as hosts. That is a big deal.
Regardless of what you think about the legislation or the boycotts (feel free to debate in the comments section, although you can be assured that you are unlikely to change anyone’s mind in the process…rare is the person who has a belief on an issue and then changes that strongly held notion because of an anonymous comment on a blog), one thing is clear…they are having an impact. And while the economic longterm effect is still to be determined, from a strictly basketball standpoint HB 2 will have a negative impact on two of the biggest college basketball programs under the new NCAA policy. Will that be enough to change the law in a basketball obsessed state such as North Carolina (or keep such laws from being passed in oh say, Kentucky)? That remains to be seen.
What if college athletes could trade on their own endorsement ability while they were in college? Would this make college sports more appealing for athletes, who could see their money value and remain eligible for amateur sports? And is it possible that those Universities with the biggest fan bases (and thus the biggest markets for endorsements) would see their influence grow as players realize that more income can be made at these “brand” programs? All of these questions could be answered soon with the news today that the NCAA is apparently considering allowing players to endorse products without losing their amateur status. According to the Big Lead, Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman stated that such a proposal is now being considered by the NCAA and could come into effect in the next 2 years. She said,
“That’s one that’s actually under consideration I believe by the NCAA. It’s actually a time right now where student athlete interests are being closely examined. I don’t have an answer for you on that one today but I will say that and a number of other topics are under review, and I think rightly by the NCAA and it’s very possible that over the course of the next year or two as these these ideas work their way through the legislative system you could see changes.”
That is a fairly massive potential change for college sports and one that could have profound impact. Allowing student athletes to handle their own brand and receive endorsement income would essentially put their fate as marketers totally in their hands and not allow them to simply be moneymakers for their University. It is a change that I think is long overdue (there is no other walk of life where one cannot make money off their own name) and has some benefits for the colleges as well (they can allow players to be paid without having to be the ones doing the actual paying). This is the solution that Jay Bilas has long advocated and if one breaks it down, it seems not only positive, but needed as well.
With that said, the ramifications will be immense. Programs with bigger market shares or national brands will see their value raise to an even larger degree. The change in enforcement will go from keeping amateur status pure to protecting against collusion from the Universities and endorsers in getting athletes to come to a school. As with any new solution, new problems will arise. But it is a step in the right direction and in my view has the added bonus of being a positive for athletes and for UK basketball, a program that will surely see some of the highest endorsed players in all of college athletics. This story isn’t getting the attention I believe it should, but if it happens, the result will be profound and it bears watching over the coming months.
Not surprisingly to anyone that knows me, my goal of writing every day in 2016 got off to a bumpy start. The launch of the Matt Jones Podcast, some rearrangement at work and the changes coming on the KSR site all took more time than expected, and the writing took a back seat. No excuses however. It is time to do better. With the theory of “Always Set Attainable Goals” now firmly entrenched in my mind, I will set out to write three times a week until the season is over and then move towards more frequency during the lazy Spring and Summer. I have a feeling that a very exciting two months stretch for UK Athletics is coming and I am pumped up about it. So with that in mind, three thoughts on the weekend and life in general:
1. This Kentucky Team has My Full Excitement Now
If we have learned anything over the last seven years of the John Calipari era, it is this. You cannot judge a Calipari team early in the season. Cal starts every season with an idea in mind about how he wants his team to play and the specific playing style that will best fit his roster. Often that mindset works from Day one, as in 2012 and 2015, where the talent clicked at moment one and Kentucky was elite from the opening game. But often Calipari has to play trial and error and it takes some time to get the best out of his (always) new roster. This season Calipari believed he would have a classic Dribble-Drive team…three guards and Poythress run the dribble drive, creating lanes to the basket and open outside shots, while Skal scored on the block and was an elite rim protector. That lineup would play up-tempo, run at every opportunity and had the potential to become a high level defensive team. It was a gameplan designed straight from Calipari’s basketball philosophy and looked to be an exciting team to coach.
It didn’t work out quite like that. Skal was not the offensive weapon the block that UK hoped for and (perhaps more distressingly), his rebounding and defense was significantly below an acceptable level. The penetration ability of UK’s guards was better than advertised (and still is), but the lack of interior scoring made getting to the basket more difficult than the Dribble-Drive requires. Poythress provided little offense from the perimeter (and depending on his effort, occasionally not enough period) and all-to-often the offense was bogged down, sputtering and wasting its potential, like an elite Italian sports car forced to drive in LA Freeway traffic. Calipari tried various tweaks but nothing truly solved the problem until Derek Willis became “so Bullitt County.” Inserting Willis changed the entire dynamic of the team…his three point shooting ability caused his defender to hedge out, creating driving lanes and space on the floor. Alex became a serviceable five and when active, could pull the other team’s big man far away from the basket. The Cats then were able to play with more temp, suffering slightly on defense, but making up for it with quickness and mismatches. With Willis rebounding at a higher level, Ulis transitioning into a dominant scorer and Murray riding waves of hot shooting, UK found its playing style and almost all at once, became a force.
All of this brings me to Saturday night in Lawrence. The final scoreboard says Kentucky lost, but for me the game was the final jolt of excitement I needed to get fully in gear for the March run. For the first time this season, I think Kentucky can win the National Championship. Of course that doesn’t mean they will, or even that they should be among the top five favorites. But the team I saw Saturday night has the pieces necessary to cut down the nets in an otherwise down year in college basketball. Before the flurry of late fouls and corresponding odd lineups, Kentucky outplayed the Jayhawks in the toughest place to play in college basketball. Ulis was a superstar, Alex played very good and everyone who got minutes contributed in some way. Yes, there was poor execution down the stretch and this is something that needs to be improved before March when Kentucky is sure to see many close games. But the reality is that Kentucky looked the part of the better team, done in by a mixture of fatigue, a Selden superstar performance and a (to be generous) shaky whistle. I came away thinking this UK team is leaps and bounds better than the group that lost (bizarrely) in Brooklyn to Ohio State and seemed completely out of sorts just two weeks ago in Auburn. Instead this is Calipari’s sixth team in seven years with a chance to go to the Final Four and win it all. I don’t know about you, but that gets me excited.
2. Appreciate Tyler Ulis
Taking the time to praise Tyler Ulis is not an endeavor that places one out on an argumentative limb of any sort. We all love Tyler and we all think he is a great player. But during this season, Tyler is becoming one of my favorites to ever wear the UK uniform. Leave aside his height and the uncanny way he is able to dominate a game while being (often by far) the shortest player on the court. What makes Ulis such a joy to watch for me is his ability to make the correct decision 95+% of the time, while also often needing to be Kentucky’s best player on the court. It is often said correctly that UK would not have been nearly as dominant in 1996 without the floor leadership of Anthony Epps, whose unselfishness and direction of the team allowed the stars around him to flourish at their highest level. This is true, but imagine if in addition to managing the floor as Epps did, a Point guard needed to score at a Tony Delk-like rate, while defending on the perimeter like a circa 1994 Dale Brown. That is Tyler Ulis. In the same game at the same time, Calipari has to ask Ulis to be the best leader, passer, scorer and defensive player on the team, all the while playing as a second coach on the floor in a hostile environment with virtually no rest. He is asked this nightly and he has consistently risen to the occasion. Saturday he made the occasional late mistake, belabored by an illness and fatigue from his 45 minutes of game action, but he also showcased the traits of stardom. I love watching Tyler Ulis play and it has been a joy to see him wear the UK uniform.
3. Some Random Musings before Monday
— Signing Day is coming on Wednesday and quietly UK is about to have a really strong class. In addition to the guys from Kentucky, Stoops has assembled a quality group of players that can help overcome the momentum lag that occurred due to the end of last season. I know folks are down on football a bit and most have taken the “I don’t want to think about that right now” philosophy. But take some time on Wednesday to follow Signing Day on here and on the UK Athletics live show streaming online. This is a good group and an accomplishment worth celebrating.
— We have to beat Tennessee on Tuesday. Everything I said about this team above is true and will remain true even if they lose. But Kentucky needs to finish 4-1, or at worst 3-2, over its next five SEC road games to finish the season where it wants to going into March. Texas A&M is going to be tough and the road games at Florida, South Carolina and Vandy all present challenges. Dropping a game at Tennessee would be a terrible start and thats why the Cats need to go take care of business against a team that just lost by double digits to a miserable TCU group.
— Thanks to all of you that have been listening to the Matt Jones Podcast and giving it unbelievable numbers online. I have been blown away by how many people have taken the time to listen and it continues to do astoundingly well on the charts. If you haven’t yet subscribed or listened, please do so at this Matt Jones Podcast link (this is the iTunes link, although it is also available on Podbay, Podbean and other podcast apps). There are 10 episodes up and virtually all of them are of the nature that you can listen without it being time sensitive. Check them out and I hope you continue to like the variety of topics.
— Rick Pitino will not be the coach at UL next year.
— Those of you who watch my Periscopes online often see my insane bookshelf and ask for book recommendations. With that in mind, I just finished “The Empathy Exams” which I enjoyed immensely. The overall theme is the notion of empathy and how one can best understand and relate to people by trying to to understand the individual difficulties each person has in their life. I thought parts of it were brilliant and I actually think it can make you a better person just by considering some of its essays. If you have nothing else to do, or are spending too much time yelling at Dan Dakich, check it out.
— Finally, if you listen to the radio show (and if you don’t, you should), then you know that I have offered Shannon the Dude $500 if he can make 80% of his free throws (out of 20) the week of the SEC Tournament live on the air. I know that he can’t, but he claimed to be a good free throw shooter and even enlisted the help of “Lee” a caller who has said that he can make anyone into a great foul shooter. Shannon had his first “lesson” this week and he filmed his initial attempt at the prize. As you can see from the video below, he is quite good already and likely needed no coaching for his odd, but effective, form. Still, I know The Dude will choke when the pressure is on so I remain confident. But for you kids out there wondering how to make free throws (and Isaiah Briscoe), maybe watch Shannon below. He isn’t bad folks
That’s it…have a good rest of your weekend. See you on the radio tomorrow morning.
This is just about the worst time one could possibly post a journal on the site…a few hours before a big game and everything that could be said may become unimportant after the game takes place. But alas, starting the “Matt Jones Podcast” yesterday made me miss my chance to post and I am committed to writing more…so if I don’t do it now, it won’t get done. The picture above is around the time that the original KSR Podcast got its legs underneath it. We all look ridiculous in it (especially me) and there are at least two people in that picture that I don’t even think I know. But nevertheless, it represents a fun time in the KSR history books (probably circa 2008 or so) and I thought was worth a trip down memory lane. With that in mind, a few afternoon notes:
— I was mesmerized by the Kansas-Oklahoma game last night. From my perspective those two teams looked to be the two best in the nation (which is good since they are ranked 1-2) and the efficiency with which they both played was impressive. I still think Kansas is the overall better balanced team, but Buddy Hield got my attention last night as an All-American type player. His ability to hit shots with hands in his face on the road in front of a hostile crowd was one of the more impressive performances I have seen in quite some time. Kansas has a lot of weapons on their team and a number of guys who aren’t even playing right now (like Chieck Diallo and Carlton Bragg) with talent. They are probably the best team in America and when Kentucky makes the trip to Lawrence in a few weeks, I think it will be VERY difficult for the Cats to get a win. However I do like the position Kentucky will be in. It is very rare that a game occurs for Calipari’s team where no one will expect them to win. The Cats can play loose and at the end have a fence post to see just how far they have to go in order to reach the top team in the nation. The Cats can be as good as anyone by the end of the season…the game against Kansas will let us know just how far that journey will need to be.
— I am hearing a lot of positives about Tai Wynyard and his play so far since arriving to Lexington. There was a slight bit of uneasiness about the big New Zealander before he arrived because no one was really sure just how good he was. Calipari had offered him on a bit of a whim, he committed quickly and there was a sense of the unknown with him in a way that I can’t remember with any recruit since Ramon Harris’ arrival from Alaska. But I am told that he has been very good in practice, providing a physical presence down low and really helping the team in the drills with Skal and Marcus Lee. Wynyard is apparently spending a great deal of time on Skal and the hope is that his physical play will slowly help Skal get used to the roughness of the college game and make him more effective by the end of the season. Wynyard may not provide a great deal of time on the court this year, but even if he doesn’t, he has been a net positive for the team in its practice and preparation.
— Look for Kentucky to likely add JUCO QB Stephen Johnson II to the football team after his visit on January 14. He provides a running option for the Cats and is exactly the type of Quarterback that Eddie Gran would like to have on the roster. Gran was interested in the scrambler at Cincy and now that a SEC school is an option, I Think it is almost certain that he will join. There is a chance that he could visit, commit, sign and maybe even enroll immediately and join the team for the Spring. Whether the latter happens or not, I think it is likely that Kentucky will end up taking him and if that happens, I do think he will compete with Drew Barker for the job. He is versatile and will provide what Drew needs…competition to get him to the level that is required for the team to improve to the degree necessary for next season.
— Thanks to all the KSR Fans who helped make our radio show the #1 show in Louisville yet again. KSR received a tremendous rating (8.7 in the key demo), one of its highest of all-time and once again won its time slot, beating every talk show and music station. For this to happen in Louisville (where of course the Cards are the hometown team), on a crappy AM station and without including the streaming and podcast numbers…well, it is really amazing. We appreciate it more than you know.
Also congratulations to Captain Suntan’s UL show on its 17th place finish…keep working and I could see the heights of 15th in your future.
— Finally, check out the new Matt Jones Podcast if you have not yet. You can listen here directly or (better yet) subscribe on iTunes to the KSR feed here…we will have a specific Matt Jones Podcast feed soon but we don’t yet. Until then, use the one above. Jay Williams is great on it as a guest and I hope you enjoy.
Now let’s go get this win tonight in Baton Rouge…I am not optimistic but if we win, it would be massive for the season.
By Matt Jones on ©January 03rd, 2016 @ 11:00pm
There are two types of greatness. The first is the overwhelming kind, when a person’s talent is so obvious that is jumps off the page and you know you are witnessing a unique superstar from the moment you lay eyes on them. Think Tiger Woods at the Masters in 97, LeBron in his early Akron high school days or John Wall from the moment he arrived on campus. That type of greatness is overpowering and when it happens, it is easy to become consumed by the moment. But then there is another, quieter form of greatness that is achieved less by singular acts and more by slow, mundane excellence. Sometimes you don’t realize what they achieved until it is over and you look back and say, “wow was Greg Maddux really THAT good for that long? He had a body like I do!” Such quiet greatness isn’t necessarily flashy but when viewed in a broader context, is no less impressive.
The game Tyler Ulis played against Ole Miss on Saturday night was a quietly brilliant form of greatness. His statline was impressive…20 points, 10 assists and 6 steals. Quality numbers and a rare points-assists double-double. But to recognize just how good of a game it was, historical context is needed. Saturday’s game by Tyler Ulis was only the 5th time in school history that a player finished with over 20 points and 10 assists in a game. The others with that achievement (John Wall, Kyle Macy, Cliff Hawkins and Stan Key) represent high level company and include 2 of the 5 best Point Guards to ever play at this school. And as impressive as that accomplishment is, the 20-10-6 line puts Ulis into even higher rarified air, as no player in the history Kentucky and only three players in college basketball in this decade have ever had a game with that statline. Further, these amazing numbers were accomplished while leading Kentucky to their most impressive win of the year AND effectively guarding the other team’s best player (and SEC leading scorer) doggedly throughout.
Simply put, Tyler Ulis’s game on Saturday was one of the best individual performances at Kentucky. Now we won’t remember it as such and chances are we won’t remember it at all. Ulis will stick in Kentucky fans’ minds more for his commanding performances in two wins over Louisville, his tournament success and likely future accomplishments far more than one January Saturday night in a rout over Ole Miss (who Kentucky has an unfathomable 108-14 all-time series lead over). Unlike the night Jodie went for 50, Goose had 41 against Duke or Tayshaun drained 5 in a row versus the Heels, we won’t tell our children where we were the moment Tyler picked Stefan Moody and his absurdly long shorts’ pocket for the sixth time. But the fact that it won’t register in our long-term memory does not make Tyler’s game any less impressive. Historically it was as complete a performance as a UK Point Guard has ever had in a game and watching it up close led Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy to say afterwards, “I think he is the best point guard in the country.” Well Andy, I do too. And for that to be the case for a 5’9″ (at best) Point Guard who only ended up at Kentucky because Emmanual Mudiay became swayed by Larry Brown, truly is a sight to behold. Tyler Ulis will never have the star power or overwhelming talent of some of John Calipari’s past and future stars. But when it comes to greatness at the college game, he should be in the conversation.
A few more notes about last night:
— There have been a number of stars at Rupp over the past few years…Jay Z, Drake, Magic, John Boehner, NBA stars and others have graced the Rupp stands and the audience is always excited when they are in attendance. But with the possible exception of the Erruption Zone the first time Josh Hutcherson was in the building, I am not sure I have ever seen more excited people than yesterday during the singing of the national anthem by Jordan Smith. The Harlan native of course won “The Voice” and his rendition of the national anthem was tremendous. But what was fascinating to me was to see just how excited his presence made some in the crowd. There were clearly people there who had no idea who he was, but for those who did, Smith’s national anthem got them there early and the applause for him was deafening. I had the chance to interview him for the radio broadcast and he really could not have been nicer. He was as polite as you would assume with his good Harlan roots and we shared a couple of stories of our shared mountain home during our wait to go on the air. He was clearly overwhelmed by the attention and at one point said to me, “just getting to come to a game in Rupp Arena is awesome!” A true Big Blue fan reaching a high national achievement and staying grounded by his love for his home in the process…a very cool story and one that was fun to watch.
— Marcus Lee’s mask is great…it looks a little bit like that of a superhero (I am not sure it totally fits him) and with the headband on, it turns his friendly smile into somewhat of a menacing figure. I have heard that when people start wearing those masks, it can be hard for them to stop as they grow accustomed to their protections and can feel naked on the court without them. I hope that happens to Lee, because masked Marcus Lee may be my favorite Marcus Lee.
— This was the picture of the year so far by Drew Franklin, recreating Rick Pitino’s final Rupp walk:
— I was really glad to hear that the injury to Dominique Hawkins was not as bad as it looked, as it looked very bad. Not only was he taken off the court by Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress, but he was then put in a wheelchair and pushed to the locker room. The faces of everyone involved were very grim and I honestly expected the worst. But before the game was over, the X rays came back negative and it looks as if he will fine in the long term. Hawkins has now played his way into the rotation and I hope he can bounce back from this setback quick enough to ensure his continued spot in it through conference play.
— We will launch the new Matt Jones Podcast this week and I am very excited about it for this year. It is going to be a chance to do longer interviews with people that we don’t normally get to talk to on the show and provide some entertainment in a different form. I think people will really like it. This week will have three episodes, one with Jay Williams on college basketball, one with Eric Crawford on the UL scandal and one with Louisville attorney Steve Romines on “Making of a Murderer.” I hope everyone will subscribe and check it out…it should be a good addition to the KSR world.
Big week coming with the introduction of the new Offensive Coordinator, the Army All American game with three home-grown Kentucky commitments playing and of course UK vs Ben Simmons. More on that tomorrow…we will also put out the call for our next round of college intern writers, so if that intrigues you be on the lookout…otherwise see you on radio tomorrow at 10 am.
By Matt Jones on ©January 02nd, 2016 @ 2:53pm
This has arguably been the worst Bowl season in recent memory and it seems to be only getting worse. As I sit in the WLAP Radio studio and get ready for tonight’s “How many ridiculous threes will Stefan Moody hit today” games versus Ole Miss, the Georgia-Penn State snoozefest plays on the television, furthering the trend of awful games. The combination of blowouts, poor scheduling (putting the playoff games on New Year’s Eve was a dreadful decision) and lack of Kentucky participation (which unfortunately has been consistent for a half decade) has made this the worst Bowl year in quite some time. But there has been one exception to the sleepy Battlefrog Bowl Championship and that was the amazing show put on by Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
I will freely admit to being a complete McCaffrey truther prior to his unbelievable performance last night versus Iowa in the Rose Bowl. I had heard of McCaffrey and vaguely knew that he was the son of that Wide Receiver that played for the Broncos, but due in part to the rash of Kentucky night games and my general aversion to all things Pac 10, I had yet to see him play. Having no actual knowledge of his game, I instead was relying on lazy stereotype. Simply put, I took the view of “seriously, how good could a white Stanford Running Back really be?” Yeah, I remember the guy a few years ago who became Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota, but when I heard people say that McCaffrey was the real deal, I rolled my eyes and incorrectly thought, “yeah right.” Well I was wrong…way wrong. McCaffrey may be the most exciting college Running Back since Reggie Bush and his absolute decimation of Iowa was a sight to behold. Everything he did was spectacular, his moves were eye-popping and his breakaway speed was impressive. Often times when you assume, especially based on stereotypes, you completely miss the boat. Maybe you don’t make any such assumptions ever…good for you (I don’t believe you by the way), but I did with McCaffrey and missed what has to be the most exciting player in college football. I won’t make the same mistake again and the Sophomore’s games next season will be must-watch TV for me.
Some other thoughts for the day:
— I can’t get over the Rick Pitino press conference yesterday, which was yet another bizarre incident in the neverending series of mind-blowing moments of the UL Basketball scandal saga. I will probably write a longer post about all the strange comments Rick made later, but suffice to say he likely should have taken his earlier advice and acted like a man who was not 63 and shut up. He took an innocuous question about whether he flipped UK fans the bird (he did, although he said he didn’t…sort of) and turned his false answer into a 15 minute diatribe about the Katina Powell saga. What followed was verbal diarrhea the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite some time. Pitino blamed the media for reporting false stories that he says he has never read (how does he know they are false?)…he said it was time he took up for the school against a book, the contents of which he says he doesn’t know and he without irony claimed he couldn’t have known anything about the entire matter because he controls the program with such an iron fist. It was truly bizarre and unless you are a homer for whom facts are irrelevant, it looked like the last ramblings of a man on his way out. Maybe there is some good PR strategy that comes from acknowledging for the first time publicly that “scurrilous” things happened and wrapping his plight with that of Joe Paterno, but for the life of me I can’t understand what they would be. If it weren’t for bad decisions, Pitino would make no decisions at all and yesterday’s is just the latest in a long line of odd ones during his prolonged fall.
— I was glad to see the Eddie Gran hire get completed early this week. Whether Gran is the right hire is ultimately irrelevant in my opinion. We can debate it until the cows come home but at the end of the day, if Stoops is going to succeed here then he needed a guy like Gran in the position. It is beyond clear to me that Stoops did not trust his two previous Offensive Coordinators…I think he liked them, they got along and there were some positive moments. But at the end of the day, he didn’t trust their system and in both the case of Neal Brown and Shannon Dawson, that lack of trust made the entire offense inefficient. If Stoops is going to work at Kentucky, he needs a guy who he believes in 100%…I think he believed in Brown about 80% and Dawson about 50%. That doesn’t work for a team. Total trust is not only needed, it is required. I believe he will have that with Gran. The combination of his playcalling and Drew Barker’s Quarterbacking ability will decide if Mark Stoops can be successful at Kentucky. Only time will tell the outcome.
— UK’s game tonight with Ole Miss should be a good start to SEC play. The win over Louisville was crucial and I think Calipari now finally knows how he wants this team to play. He has rotation (9 guys, with Willis playing if and when he rebounds) and he now knows that unlike his past teams, he must put guys in for offensive reasons and live with the defensive result. Not enough guys can make shots to keep out those who can and that mindset will probably continue to prevail during early conference play. My hope is that over the next five games, we see some development from Skal. Without him becoming a productive player, I think Kentucky’s cap is limited. But I am not ready to give up…he is too talented to just assume he can’t contribute. What is even more important is that Jamal Murray becomes a consistent star. For Kentucky to have beaten the Cards with Murray playing out of control and ineffectively (outside of his threes) was a blessing. Now he has to become the elite player I know he can be and help form the best backcourt in America with Tyler Ulis. I still like Kentucky’s upside and the schedule to start conference play (Ole Miss, LSU, Bama, Auburn and Miss State) gives the team the chance to gain some traction and hit their stride before tougher opposition awaits. There is one important caveat however…because this team has no shutdown weapon like past teams, the Cats could lose some games that they have no business losing…that may be part of the “process” with this group and something we just have to get used to for this bunch.
OK time to head towards Rupp…see you folks on the Pregame at 4:30