On a whim, 2018 five-star wing Keldon Johnson decided to take an unofficial visit to →
By Matt Jones on ©September 22nd, 2015 @ 1:48pm
Sports fandom in the modern age is very interesting. On the one hand, fans have more ability to interact with each other and express their opinions about their favorite teams that at any time in the history of sports. Thanks to social media, message boards, comment sections, etc, fans who have virtually any opinion about their team cannot only give it out to the masses, they are likely to find others who share it and can legitimize its support. Thus there can be a fan chorus of thought that begins in the internet world and slowly becomes the talking point of discussion, regardless of whether or not it is acknowledged by the mainstream media. To put it another way, in today’s fan environment one doesn’t need a newspaper, tv station or radio show to tell them what the major story is after a game, the fans themselves can decide it.
Since Saturday night’s disappointing loss to Florida, this fan/media dichotomy has clearly existed in the UK world. While the media focuses on missed opportunities, poor line play, Wide receiver drops and play calling, in some of the minds of fans only one topic matters: the conversation begins and ends with the situation at Quarterback. Walking (or in my case running to beat the traffic) out of Commonwealth Stadium, I heard multiple people complaining about UK’s Quarterback play and discussing (or in one case arguing) about whether a change should be made. The Twitterverse after the game erupted with calls for Drew Barker to get snaps and my post game show had a number of opinions that essentially asked, “how much longer of a lease should Patrick Towles get?” Whether it is discussion #1 in media write-ups of the game or in the preparation for Missouri, amongst the fans, Towles vs Barker is the only issue.
I find this relatively disheartening. First and foremost, the Quarterback always gets too much blame whenever a team loses. Because fans naturally follow the ball, their eyes stay on the Quarterback through virtually the entire offensive half of the game and his mistakes are always magnified in a way those of others never will be. If an Offensive Lineman is beaten off the line of scrimmage, a Wide Receiver misses his block or a Running Back doesn’t hit the right hole, hardcore Football fans may easily notice (standing next to Jared Lorenzen on the sideline has been a lesson in how natural that becomes to a former high level player), but the average fan is likely to miss it on first glance. But even the most casual fan knows when a Quarterback makes a bad decision and thus for Armchair experts, his play will always be the most critiqued. There is no doubt on Saturday that Patrick Towles did not have his best game. He missed open receivers, held onto the ball too long and made a couple of bad decisions that were crippling. But it can’t be overlooked that he also dealt with an offensive line that was beaten (often badly) off the line of scrimmage, had key throws dropped in crucial moments and too often was left on an island by other teammates who were struggling. Had Patrick played better, Kentucky would have won…but there are others on the team who could have had the same statement said about them as well.
Mark Stoops reaction to this on Monday was understandable and reassuring. He said that after losing one game by one possession, now was not the time to make a change at Quarterback. He noted that Patrick made mistakes, but he also made some good plays and remains the leader of the team. This is a rational viewpoint and one that I expected him to have. However there is a strong percentage of the fan base that holds the opposite view. For them, the Florida game represents the final proof that backup Drew Barker should be given a chance. It is an oft-quoted expression that the most popular player on the team is the backup quarterback. This is especially true when that backup is like Barker, a highly touted recruit with an exemplary high school career who has never showcased any of his weaknesses to the fan base on the college level. Whereas Kentucky fans are familiar with Patrick Towles, warts and all, Drew Barker is a clean slate, ready to come in and make no mistakes while leading the Cats to victory. Just as in 2013 when Jalen Whitlow struggled to lead a 2 win team and fans called my post game show every week to ask “Where is Towles?!?”, now the shoe is on the other foot and Towles is receiving the same questioning for a younger version of himself.
Fortunately for them, the “PLAY BARKER!” chorus doesn’t have to accept facts and reality yet. Theirs is a view clouded in the mystery of what Barker might be, rather than what he (or Patrick Towles) is. Unlike the coaches, staff, administration and players (all of whom see the Quarterbacks compete everyday), they are free to have their opinion stripped of that nuisance that can make arguments so much more difficult to maintain…facts. I am constantly amazed that fans don’t trust the judgment of the individuals who have the most incentive to play the best players, the coaches. Think about Mark Stoops for a second. His contract is set up where each victory pays him a substantial sum of money and each SEC victory over 2 is worth A LOT of money. So if he honestly believed that Drew Barker were the better option, don’t you think he would play him? A source close to the program told me yesterday, “look Patrick has to play better, but if Mark (Stoops) thought that Drew was the better option, he would be playing yesterday, regardless of his age or anything else.” This group WANTS TO WIN. It is their primary goal and when I have been around them, I am constantly amazed at how obsessed they are at making it happen. Their football judgment collectively is much better than mine and if they believe Towles is the best option (or if one day they believe Barker makes the most sense), I will trust their opinion over my own.
At this point, here is where I think the situation stands. Patrick will be the starter against Missouri but he needs to play well. The two-time defending SEC East Champion is vulnerable and the Cats are a favorite against a Top 25 team for the first time since 2007. For Kentucky to win however, Towles has to play well and if he does and UK gets the victory, the overall start puts Kentucky in a very good position. However if he plays poorly and the game goes South, causing two straight disappointing home losses, I think there is a good chance we might see a different situation for the EKU game. At that point, the coaches may believe that it is worth giving Barker some run, so as to see if they hope amongst many around the program (that he can be a “gamer” like Johnny Manziel, better under the bright lights than in practice) could be true. A bad Towles performance might lead to a situation where both play against Eastern and then the situation is reevaluated after. If the coaches go in this direction (and I think it is possible they could), that would make perfect sense to me.
But for now, Towles is the guy. No amount of fan grumbling or frustration will change that. He has talent and has the ability to play on a high enough level for UK to succeed. The UK coaches believe he puts the Cats in the best position to win Saturday and going forward…my hope is that the fans will give the coaches and Patrick the benefit of the doubt, and get behind that decision for the huge game Saturday against Missouri.
By Matt Jones on ©September 21st, 2015 @ 8:19pm
Hello KSR friends…I check in to deliver a couple of quick recruiting tidbits, one of which is not good and one of which is more positive. The first is concerning one of my favorite recruits in the 2016 class, Miles Bridges, who at one time was a near certainty to go to Kentucky. Over the past two weeks, he has visited Michigan State and Kentucky and now my confidence in his ending up a Cat has dissipated quite a bit. I am hearing that Bridges had a tremendous visit to Michigan State and they put on the full court press (including visiting with some former Spartans) for he and other top talents. His visit to Kentucky was this past weekend and while it went well, there is a growing feeling that the Spartans may have overtaken the Cats as the leader. Bridges is of course making his decision in two weeks and things can always change. But for a long time, I assumed Bridges (one of my 3-4 favorite players in the class) would end up a Cat. I no longer feel that is certain and after talking to some folks today, if forced to predict as of today, I would bet on Izzo getting the commitment (and finishing up maybe his best class ever).
In better news, I feel good about Kentucky’s chances with star Point Guard De’Aaron Fox. He is the best point guard in America and I think John Calipari has done a great job moving the Cats to the top of the list. It is still a dog fight to get his services, but I like Kentucky’s position much more than I did this summer.
If I were to predict now, I would say that UK’s most likely members of the 2016 class would be Fox, Malik Monk and Wenyen Gabriel (replacing Bridges). These three would join current commitment Sacha Killeya-Jones and likely another player or two in the rest of the class (maybe Bam Adebeyo?) There is still a lot of time for things to move, but for now this looks to me to be the most likely scenario.
By Matt Jones on ©September 09th, 2015 @ 10:30pm
This is a big weekend in UK land…the Cats play South Carolina on Saturday, are hosting the Calipari Fantasy Camp beginning Saturday, have the Alumni Game on Sunday and some big basketball recruiting visitors beginning on Friday. It is a great weekend to be a Cat. Thus KSR will be doing a LIVE SHOW on campus at the K-Lair on Friday from 10-noon. The show is sponsored by UK Federal Credit Union and will have me and Ryan doing our thing right in the middle of the campus. In addition, if you are a college student at UK or ANY OTHER Kentucky college, you can register while there to win an all-expense paid trip to see UK and Duke in Chicago in December. That trip includes tickets from GuyontheCorner.com and expenses paid by yours truly. So come see us on Friday, enjoy the show and win some tickets. A good time will be had by all…especially whoever wins.
Last night was quite a night in UK land as Commonwealth Stadium went from one of the best Pre-game atmospheres I have ever been a part of to the brink of utter disaster in a four hour period, finishing with a sign of relief and an important victory. Because I spent today with one of the very few “do nothing” days of the last few months (I went and saw “End of the Tour” which I would highly recommend if you like David Foster Wallace novels or movies that are dialogue-driven…if it is a no to either, you will hate it), my restlessness brought me to the computer tonight to summarize the evening. Rather than do it in a post (I will probably do that tomorrow), I thought I would do it with links to the coverage from the weekend on this site as there has been a lot and you may have missed it. So without further ado, the Kentucky-Louisiana-Lafayette game as told by KSR posts:
As we get ready for the start of UK Football season (and by the way, please get tickets if you don’t have them yet), a quick reminder of what I thought was the coolest moment of last season. One can’t quite describe just how loud Commonwealth was at this moment during the South Carolina game. The new uniforms, the night atmosphere, the upset in the air, made the place special and when the Special Teams began to dance…well the place was unreal. I hope we see similar moments during the three home games in September…I believe we will:
It is time to fight…about what you may ask? Well candy of course. Tomorrow on KSR, we will have the first ever KSR CANDY BRACKET. It will of course have 32 of your favorite candies, divided up into two sides…sugar and chocolate. The divisions aren’t perfect (Tootsie Rolls could be in either, but I put them in sugar), but it works fairly well. Here is the bracket and feel free to do your own Bracketology before the show
8. Dove Bar
5. Baby Ruth
6. 3 Musketeers
2. Hershey Bar
8. Almond Joy
5. Crunch Bar
3. Kit Kat
6. Heath Bar
2. Milky Way
7. Mr. Goodbar
8. Good And Plenty
4. Tootsie Rolls
5. Candy Corn
3. Jelly Belly
8. Pop Rocks
4. Gummi Bears
5. Junior Mints
3. Hot Tamales
6. Fun Dip
7. Blow Pop
Saturday might end up being a day that we all look back upon as a major moment in the history of the Mark Stoops era at Kentucky. In the midst of year three, a pivotal season for the future of the program, Saturday saw the worst and the best of UK Football practices and a roller coaster with potential far-reaching ramifications. Saturday started with what was supposed to be the final scrimmage before the beginning of the regular season and chance for the players to get kicked into gear before real play began. Much like the third preseason game in the NFL, the scrimmage 2 weeks before the season is the final time for the starters to showcase that they are ready for what is upcoming and to bring their “A” games. Needless to say, Kentucky didn’t. What followed was a practice that one onlooker told me was “the worst of the last two seasons.” Kentucky was out of sorts, made errors left and right and most significantly to Mark Stoops, showcased far too little effort for a team that was about to hit the big time. As one source told me, “it was the kind of performance that would get you massacred in the SEC.”
Stoops complained loudly about it at the press conference afterwards and most assumed he was trying to send a message to his players. And in fact, that was likely the goal. But then Stoops went back to his office, watched the tape of the proceedings and decided a media message wasn’t enough…they would have to hit the practice field again. And thus even though Saturday night was a scheduled night off for players and staff, Stoops called them all back. A second practice was to be held in the middle of the night, with fixing the lack of energy in the first the primary goal. Because of an event for incoming students at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky had to practice at their facility in near darkness. They went to the grass fields that were only lit by secondary lights far away and in a scene that one source told me was “just this side of total darkness”, UK practiced again…and things turned around.
Obviously I wasn’t in attendance, but virtually everyone who was that I spoke with said the same thing…the practice Saturday night was a special event for the UK Football team. Whether it was the energy, the embarrassment of the earlier poor play or the night atmosphere, players, coaches and staff all praised what followed as an example of football at its best. Multiple coaches said it was the most special practice of their coaching lives and players hit social media to talk at length about what occurred. One source told me, “Matt, if we could have played that next day, I would have taken us against anybody.” The excitement was universal and there is a real belief among those around the program that it could be the turning point the team needs going into the last two weeks of practice. This has been a good summer camp for UK Football and the coaches have been generally pleased about the progression. But everyone also believed that UK needed to get over that one final hump to be ready for the season…whether that was going to happen was up in the air, especially after Saturday’s scrimmage.
However now the vibe is different. Now there is a sense of belief all around the team, including those that are often less spirited that this team can take a positive step. It will be important to carry on over the last two weeks but optimism is higher right now within the UK team than at any point of the Stoops era. Can that all be the case of one amazing practice? Maybe not, but it was clearly a huge moment and one that we may look back on as being a crucial step towards an important season.
By Matt Jones on ©August 20th, 2015 @ 10:13pm
OK…I have seen dumb controversies…but this may be the dumbest. The Superintendent of the Science Hill Independent School District in Pulaski County is in trouble over the above photo, which he took to help his daughter win a contest for tickets to see the band “One Direction.” The contest from a local radio station was to see whose dad would act the craziest to help his kid win tickets and Rick Walker decided his plan of attack was to get in a bathtub with his shirt off and covered in “One Direction” gear…it is an odd strategy and ultimately it was ineffective (it didn’t win). But it seems harmless and looks to me like the caring act of a loving dad. However, as with everything in life now, someone got upset…in this case as parent at the school. WKYT reports in this story that one parent in particular, Erica Phillips, is very upset,
“I was just disgusted with it, really. There’s so many ways that picture can be taken and it doesn’t matter what the purpose was for the picture,” Phillips said. Phillips met WKYT with a small group of parents who didn’t want to be interviewed on camera. “You have an obligation to be a role model to our children.”
May I say something to you Erica Phillips? And I mean this in the nicest way possible…lighten the hell up. It’s a dad trying to act foolish to support his daughter. Unless there is something else here I don’t know, this seems like much ado about absolutely nothing. There is apparently a board meeting coming up to discuss the issue and Walker is having to apologize and defend himself, but I truly don’t get it. It’s bathtub people…
Seems like some parents at Science Hill Independent need a vacation.
I will start this post with a shout to the young lady in the picture above, Hayley Minogue, who is killing it on television in Hazard on WYMT. Hayley started here on KSR a few years back as one of our college writers and like a number of similar students over the years, has turned that experience into a job in sports, in her case as a tv reporter. As of now, KSR has seen over 15 of its writers move on to some job in sports (or a full time job here) and that may be one of my favorite parts of the history of this site. Many are, like Hayley, killing it in their new jobs and it makes me very proud to see all of their success.
And with that, here is the latest Behind the Scenes in UK Sports
— With football practice beginning, the #1 overall arching theme is optimism across the board from all around the program. To some extent that is normal but there is no doubt it is different this year. As we have said on here before, the coaching staff had no idea what a difficult job they were undertaking in their first year…after the initial few practices, they were shocked to see the level of fundamentals lacking with the team and they knew the climb was going to be very long. But now for the first time they feel their heads are above water and there is a sense from some that they can really make some noise this year. One person close to the team told me this weekend, “Matt, you never know with the record in this conference, but I think we can be A LOT BETTER (his emphasis not mine) this year than last…and fans will be able to see it.” That makes me very excited.
— When you ask the coaches where the biggest difference will be this season, the answer is the same, the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends will be markedly better. Between Jeff Badet, Garrett Johnson, Alexander Montgomery, Ryan Timmons, Dorian Baker, Blake Bone and others, the staff believes they have 7-8 guys who can play in the SEC ready to go right now. The key is going to be to have one or two develop into the stars and leaders of the group. The hope is that Badet and Garrett Johnson end up at the top of that list, but any one of them could emerge depending on how things go. But there is depth and real talent there for the first time since Cobb/Matthews. At Tight End, two players CJ Conrad and Darryl Long (I called him Ronnie Shields on the radio today showcasing again that I am an idiot), are going to have an immediate and important impact. Freddie Maggard said today that the two of them are the best at the position since Jacob Tamme and one coach told me recently that the offense will look exponentially different than last year and a big reason for it will be that position. I expect big things from those guys and their role to increase as the season goes along.
— The Defense is a worry to some as their are still issues at various position. The staff feels good up the middle with Melvin Lewis, Josh Forrest and AJ Stamps, each bringing big time talent and work to their position. But the suspension of Jason Hatcher and injury to Kobie Walker highlights the real issues they have at the outside DE/LB positions and at Corner. UK is bunched up with some good players at the same position (They feel really good about Safety where they think they have big time Depth) but there is concern about the Defense on the edges and the hope is that guys step up in these first few weeks of practice.
— On recruiting, the optimism is high as the 2017 class is trending to be very special. IT is quite early and nothing will matter more than how they play this year. But with Mac Jones and the early Ohio commitments, there is the belief that 2017 can trend to be the best class of the Stoops era. As one person close to the team told me, “we have done this much and haven’t even won yet…if we win, watch out.” I believe that is true.
— Finally, all eyes are on Patrick Towles. The Quarterback has impressed everyone with his mechanics and arm strength, while he has also showcased a better ability making decisions. He will get the chance to throw the long ball and I am told he looks better doing that now than at any time at UK. The issue for him will be decision-making and confidence in key situations or in difficult moments. That was a problem last year and is something that coaches can work on all they want, but it may take game moments to see it in action. I get a sense of cautious optimism about Towles…everyone believes he has what it takes to have a big year. Now its up to him…and for what its work, the raves I am hearing on Drew Barker (whose first year was basically a disaster off the field and a disappointment until Spring practice on it) are quite impressive. People feel his future is really bright and his continued improvement is why Towles is still in a quarterback competition.
— The news isn’t as thorough on basketball but it is still out there. The pickup games are going and the star continues to be Tyler Ulis. Coaches are so pleased with is development as a leader on and off the court and there is a general consensus that this will be his team this year. While Skal and Jamal Murray may have more talent and Alex is a Senior, the leader will be Tyler and it may be a team with the strongest individual personality running the show since Brandon Knight. Ulis has befriended Isaiah Briscoe, ending a worry some had that the two alpha dogs might bump heads due to their nature and playing the same position. Instead they have become best friends and are relishing the opportunity to compete against each other every day in practice and play together in the games. Ulis is going to be special this year and everyone knows it.
— The new guys have generally all been better than coaches had hoped for. Skal Labissiere is taking some time to adjust to the college game and college work (in terms of effort) but people are happy with his progress. He will (like Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel) probably develop slowly during the season and will initially be a force on defense before offense. I am told his block shot timing is excellent and he can hold his own rebounding. He still needs work on his low post moves and when practice begins in full, expect lots of work with Skal and Kenny Payne. Mychal Mulder has been the most surprising player to enter at UK this year…he is simply better than anyone thought. He was always a good shooter but his athleticism has been a huge revelation. He has dunked on his teammates twice in pickup situations that have led to everyone stopping play to admire (and talk trash) and he is asserting himself more and more. I would not be shocked if he ended up starting. Folks are happy with Charles Matthews and he is where most believed, but I still think he is likely in a reserve role this year, with next year being more of his moment.
— The plan is still to have Isaac Humphries join the team this year if he ends up getting his academic summer work taken care of. He will be a big body and can be a good rebounder. He does however need to do work on his conditioning, etc and that will be something that will take place if he ends up coming. At this point, he is a go for Kentucky if the academic stuff happens…we should find out in the next two weeks.
— I was told by someone close to the program last week that the style UK will have to play this year will be very conducive to Marcus Lee and should play to his strengths. UK is going to have to play at a fast pace, and Lee will have less worries about having to create his own shot and he can attack in the way that he does the best. For Marcus, a big part of everything is desire and work and it will be important that he is ready to compete with Skal every day…a player who can make him better and turn him into a first round pick. If he brings it with him, he can have a huge year.
— The one hushed comment you still hear around Lexington is Jamal Murray and his Canadian national team experience. He was added to the Canadian roster today for FIBA Americas and if he accepts (which he is expected to) for Training camp, he will miss time in Lexington. The bigger question is whether he will (after going through Training Camp) join the team if he makes it (which he may). If he does that, it puts UK in a tough spot…he would come to school for three days, then leave and there is a drop dead date that he must return by and it isn’t clear if FIBA Americas will be done. Some are suggesting that could mean he doesn’t play for the Canadian team…and that probably is the most likely scenario. He also could go down there, play for a few and then return. He could potentially get some kind of waiver to continue to play and then return later than normal due to the special situation. Or he could decide to play and then not come to Lexington at all. The latter is VERY UNLIKELY, but I do think it is still in the back of folks’ minds and it does make everyone want to get clarification of what the schedule will be and Murray’s plans. I expect that Murray goes to Training Camp, plays with the team and then skips the FIBA Americas…but we still don’t know for sure and I think everyone will feel better when we do.
— Finally, I will have more on 2016 recruiting later this week…for now, I will just say this. Kentucky is DEEP with a lot of kids…there are probably 10 guys that UK is in the top 2-3 with. But guessing who will end up on the team is a total crapshoot. I like UK’s chances with Sacha Kileya-Jones and Miles Bridges…but UNC is in on Jones and Michigan State on Bridges. The Cats could end up with virtually anyone and I wouldn’t be shocked. Sit back for another nutty recruiting year…although in this one, I think the Cats get 2-3 guys by Fall Signing Day.
And with that, I Am done…a Periscope coming at 10 or so.
By Matt Jones on ©August 02nd, 2015 @ 8:36pm
It of course had to happen on Friday night. While I was in the far Western part of Kentucky for Fancy Farm, eating with the KSR crew at Patti’s Settlement (which is really, really good), the news that we have hinted at for a number of weeks finally broke. Kentucky is looking to add big man Isaac Humphries to the 2015 class to join the team this year. Many were surprised by the news, but those that listen to KSR were not. I have been hinting for 6 weeks that it was coming because this has been in the works for UK since the last two big men that UK was interested in for the 2015 class (Caleb Swanigan and Check Diallo) made decisions to go elsewhere. The Cats decided that Humphries, a talented big man that was initially supposed to be in the 2016 class, would be a good addition to this year and pay dividends for next, while not scaring off any top recruits. Plus, there was the added benefit of keeping the news relatively silent for a long time, thus not allowing other schools to come after him once they knew he was interested in reclassifying. It was, and is, a win-win.
Since the announcement, I have seen some UK fans online complaining that they don’t think Humphries is good enough or the signing doesn’t make sense, all the while having never watched him play one game ever. That is of course an idiotic and uninformed opinion. If you haven’t at this point learned to give Calipari a little benefit of the doubt, you never will. Here is the thinking behind adding Humphries from UK’s side…the Australian is a big guy that the Cats see as a meaty body for this year, who can develop into a Jorts-like contributor in the second year. They like the talent that he has and his ability to shoot and rebound. While the 2016 class is loaded with perimeter players and long athletes that can fly, true big men aren’t in high abundance. Calipari knows he will lose Skal and Poythress this year and realizes he could lose Marcus Lee depending on how things go. While Kentucky will likely get Sacha Killeya-Jones and likely one more big man, having Humphries allows a top 50 talent who can develop and be very good over time. That is a win-win. Plus, Isaac is tough and on a team this year that may lack a little toughness (outside of Tyler Ulis), that is a very valuable commodity.
It is important to note however that Humphries is not yet eligible to play at Kentucky this year. Since the decision to reclassify was made late, he has had to take a number of classes to get eligible for next year and that process has not been completed. It will not be done for the next 2 weeks or so and that is partially why the news had not been leaked. It came out this weekend after he visited while camps were in town and because he was with Jamal Murray a great deal (they are friends from various international events). Before everyone assumes he is on the team, this process has to finish and he has to actually get eligible.
I see the addition of Humphries as a great one for UK…he provides a big body for this year and has a chance to develop into a very good player. Calipari isn’t out for charity cases…this is a Top 50 talent who is VERY big while also being skilled. It is another late grab for Kentucky from Calipari and one that I think will be big both this year, and in the future.
Sunday night is my writing night. If you read KSR consistently, you know that since I have given up the daily work on the site, I have stayed involved by writing the Sunday Night Post for the past few years. This has changed recently into the Monday Morning Wakeup Post (still often written at night), but it has caused me to miss the interaction of writing my random thoughts at a time when the internet is slightly less packed with people and interesting discussion can follow. With that in mind, I decided to throw in some things I have been hearing from around the world of UK Basketball and Football this weekend as a way to reconnect with my former Sunday night writing self.
When I do these Summer radio tours, the good part is I get to see the fans and the state as a whole, while keeping the show filled with energy during an otherwise slow time. The bad part is that I am never home and I often feel disconnected from my regular world. Thus I spent some time this weekend during a rare couple of days at home to catch up on the UK world and here is what I am hearing about the summer
— This is of course the time of year when the players are doing their initial workouts and pickup games and coaches see what they have with the new guys and who has come back improved. All of the buzz in Lexington, like the buzz around the state, is about Jamal Murray and just how good he can be. While he still hasn’t been to Lexington thanks to his Team Canada work, everyone is watching him play and there is a growing consensus that the best perimeter recruit in America is headed this way. The question is whether he will make the Team Canada group for Olympic qualifying, which could keep him from Lexington until mid-September. If so, that would put him behind the rest of the team in development, but the experience of playing with GAM can still only help.
— When I ask people what the big stories are from the summer, a few things get repeated. One that is consistent is that this is Tyler Ulis’s team. He is the unquestioned leader on the court and off in both play and organization. He has developed a good relationship with the two younger guards (Briscoe and Matthews) and along with Devin Booker, they have spent a great deal of time with each other. One source told me, “Tyler is exactly what you would think he would be…and that is really good.”
— The surprise of the summer has been Mychal Mulder, who virtually everyone believes is better than they thought he would be. He was brought in to shoot, but his athleticism has been a pleasant surprise. During pickup games, he has had a couple of instances of apparently eye-popping athleticism and his game is much more well-rounded than we believed. I am told that the idea of him starting (potentially with Ulis and Murray as well) is being floated about, an idea that would have been insane to many just a few weeks back.
— Skal Labissiere is everything as advertised. Because pickup games are not great showcases for big men, his offensive skills are still up in the air a bit, but his ability to dominate on defense and make unbelievably athletic plays are unquestioned. Most everyone believes he will be helped when he gets to work more with Calipari and Kenny Payne but as one source told me, “he has all the talent to be the top pick in the Draft and contend for SEC Player of the Year.” I will take it.
— There has been some pleasant surprise at the progress of Derek Willis coming into the summmer, not so much on the court as in his work ethic. Talent has never been an issue for Derek, who can look as good in individual practices as anyone on the team. But what has been lacking for his time at Kentucky, especially in the last year, was the showcase of a desire to work to be great. Apparently those around the program have seen more of that from Derek this summer that at any time during his tenure in Lexington. As one person told me, “it is all up to Derek. He has the tools to be an important part of this team and can do some things that we don’t have anyone else that can do. Now he is actually working hard as well, so that is really exciting.”
— Finally the rehab for Alex Poythress is still going and remains on target. There is cautious optimism that he can be close to 100% when the season starts, as he is hitting all the rehab goals up until this point. With Alex, everyone knows what he can do but the question will be how he rebounds from this injury mentally and what he believes he can accomplish this next season. The good news from my end? Every time I hear someone who knows talk about the team, it is done with the expectation that Poythress plays a crucial role. That makes me feel confident that he is headed to a place where he can be fully healthy and ready to have his best season in a UK uniform.
— With football, one overall feeling lingers over everything…this staff is insanely optimistic about this next season. Everyone believes that the team is much improved and is close to getting where they need to be to really compete. Depth is much stronger and you can see a swagger with everyone as they believe that this season they won’t be competing with one hand tied behind their back.
— I am sure lip service will be paid to a Quarterback competition, but the sense I get is that Patrick Towles is the guy. His Spring was great but I am told he continues to impress in the summer and everyone is all-in with him as the leader of the team. Tim Couch was telling me this weekend that he thinks Patrick is ready to make the leap this year and as one source told me, “people nationally fell asleep on Patrick because of the way the season ended…I bet they jump right back on board after the first few games.” You can’t win without a Quarterback and I get the sense that those around UK Football believe they have theirs.
— I asked what position would see the most improvement to a number of folks over the last few days and all said the same thing, the Wide Receivers. One coach told me that the team has 7-9 guys that can really play and that there will “be some really good players who don’t get in because of the depth we have.” The question is only if any guys can step up to the next level and take off. People seem to feel really good about Garrett Johnson and Jeff Badet, but there are lots of players with a chance to make a move, and a name I continue to hear as improving and needing the football this season is Ryan Timmons.
— I asked one source with knowledge of the program to predict at the end of the season, which 10 guys would we look back on as having had the best years. He told me (in no order):
Solid lineup…also watch out for George Asafo-Adjei who may be the player most ready to make a massive leap this season.
I will have more on football in the coming days….
By Matt Jones on ©July 24th, 2015 @ 11:00pm
I know it’s Friday night and thus many, if not most, of you were out doing other things. But you missed it. You missed the chance to see the future of UK Basketball. The future of UK Basketball is Jamal Murray and he was special on Friday night. Helping Team Canada knock off Team USA in Overtime, Jamal Murray did something that rarely happens in non-UK basketball games…he got me out of my chair and openly cheering for a team not in the Blue and White. The fact that the team I was rooting for was in red and playing against the Stars and Stripes was even more bizarre, but I couldn’t help myself. If you are like me and Kentucky basketball will always be your #1 sports team, then you couldn’t help but be thrilled as you watched the future of UK hit the spotlight right before your eyes.
Murray was amazing…22 points, all of which were in the 4th Quarter and Overtime. But that doesn’t even tell the tale of his dominance. After not scoring during the first three quarters, Murray started the 4th with his team down six and proceeded to take over the game and elevate the entire spectacle to another level. His passing was exquisite, hooking up multiple times with Anthony Bennett for perfect dimes that led to dunks. He played strong defense, rebounded efficiently and showcased a flair for the dramatic, hitting shots from all angles. During Overtime, he hit two back-to-back threes that gave Team Canada its final lead, both of which were so sweet that ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla began to chuckle at the show being put on before his eyes. The Canada coach realized that even on a team with NBA pros in the lineup, Murray was the star and the future, and every big moment saw the ball in his hands, including a regulation buzzer beater that he just missed. It was thrilling to watch and provided one of the better random basketball viewing experiences I can remember. Take a look at some of his best plays:
"Made for the moment." He apparently hates America, but Jamal Murray sure is clutch. pic.twitter.com/d6jHyirfQq
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) July 24, 2015
Some may say that after this game we should all take a step back. It is true that Murray didn’t score for the first three quarters of the game and did have three turnovers during the closing minutes of regulation. Plus, the American team was an odd assortment of players, ranging from college stars such as Ron Baker to journeyman European league pros like Damien Wilkens. But such attempts at stealing my joy will be treated as lame party-pooping nonsense. The reality is that in a game on a big stage in his home country, Jamal Murray was a revelation. Everything we thought he might be able to do, he can and better than we thought. When Kentucky lost out on Malik Newman, Jaylen Brown, Stephen Zimmerman and others, many wondered if Calipari’s recruiting magic had slipped and UK could be in for a down year. Wonder no more. Jamal Murray is the best of that bunch and along with Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere, he will challenge for the honor of best Freshman in college basketball.
Tonight I saw the future of Kentucky Basketball and he is a Maple Leaf ready to win his country the Gold Medal tomorrow night before coming to Lexington this fall and electrifying Big Blue Nation on the chase for #9.
Our decision to make the trip out to the NBA Summer League may not have been the most financially prudent business call in the history of KSR. On paper it seemed like a good idea…after I made a mistake and scheduled the KSR Radio Tour around the wrong date for the Peach Jam (we thought it was this week and it was last week), I was left with two days off and nowhere to go. The NBA Summer League offered the Peach Jam crew (me, Drew and Tomlin) the ability to go to Vegas and potentially see some interesting sights. Plus, with Kentucky players on eight different NBA Summer League teams, there would be plenty of time to see lots of our guys in different games, with tons of material to fill up our website during an otherwise slow time of year. It was glorious.
Well at least that was the plan. As it turns out, virtually all of the UK guys in the Summer League have either lost already or have had odd occurrences move them from the premises. Karl Towns, Julius Randle, Willie Cauely-Stein and Trey Lyles have all seen their teams have early winner’s bracket exits (they do all play one more game tomorrow), Doron Lamb hasn’t gotten off the bench and Darius Miller left to go get married (and odd reason to leave, but one that will likely get him major brownie points in the future). Thus for Thursday and Saturday, our entire NBA Summer League/UK connection is left to one team, the Phoenix Suns.
While most of the attention next season from UK fans will likely follow Sacramento and their three-headed strong UK personality monster, the closest thing Kentucky has to an actual NBA Team may be the Phoenix Suns. The entire Suns backcourt is made up of Cats…Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin and Devin Booker provide a thorough overview of the backcourts of the Calipari era, with players of all pedigrees making the jump to play for Jeff Hornacek. Just in time for the NBA Summer League, the Suns decided to add Josh Harrellson to their roster, giving the Cats five players in the Valley of the Sun and a chance to rally around one franchise on the other side of the country. For our game today, three of those players were on the court and watching them up close did allow me to reminisce about times past. Every time each of the three did something on the floor, my mind immediately went back to the days of yesteryear when the plays occurred with blue on the uniforms and a smile crept to my face. The more things change, the more they stay the same and all three are just in advanced stages of their UK selves:
If I asked you to recount your memory of Archie Goodwin’s time at Kentucky, it probably goes something like this…Archie taking the ball on the other side of half-court, dribbling aggressively while weaving through defenders and then taking the ball to the basket, flailing after getting hit by an opponent, landing on the ground and either making the shot/getting fouled or looking with a scowl at the referee wondering why he didn’t get the call…rinse and repeat. As a matter of fact when I look back at Archie’s time at Kentucky, I remember virtually nothing beyond those drives. To me they epitomized the Archie Goodwin experience…aggressive, frustrating, body-sacrificing and ultimately exhausting. After watching him in person in Summer League today, I can tell you that all of those adjectives still apply. In fact NBA Archie is just an advanced version of Kentucky Archie. He shoots all the time, plays with 100% energy/commitment and can be dazzling or frustrating at any given moment, often on the same play. The Archie Goodwin of the Summer League today was likely the best player on the floor in his battle versus the Milwaukee Bucks. While out in transition, he was a step faster than anyone and could get to the basket at will. But he also still showcased the qualities that make NBA teams hesitant…he isn’t a good passer, doesn’t make great decisions and spends more time leering at officials than running back on defense. But when at his peak, he is a force. He defends extremely well, makes plays that seem impossible and had 18 points, keying a comeback that the Suns used to pull away. I am not sure what his NBA future projects to be, but in the role he will likely have this year as a 2nd team scoring spark plug, his skill set remains perfect.
During part of his time at Kentucky, Devin Booker looked like a perfectly made creation for the new NBA…deadeye three point shooter, with a good first step towards the rim and the ability to take contact. At other times however he looked less ready, missing some shots badly, unable to defend against penetration and drifting in and out of play. NBA Summer League Devin had a similar performance. In the first half, I mentioned to Tomlin that Devin was being outclassed by a player at his position taken after him. Rashad Vaughn, formerly of UNLV, had the better of Booker consistently and looked the better player. Booker had no ability to guard him and the constant nagging defense was causing Devin to miss shots that during February in SEC play were automatic. Vaughn was clearly playing with a chip on his shoulder and I wondered if Booker would be able to compete. But then the second half came and Devin hit his stride…he shot in rhythm, made good decisions and Vaughn retreated…it was February Booker and his 19 points became a game high out of nowhere. It is hard to imagine Booker failing and when he is good, it will be like at Kentucky…he can become the biggest scorer on the team and the most consistent offensive threat. But will that Booker become March Devin where it was easy at times to forget he was on the court? That will be his challenge as his first few years in the league begin. After the game was over, I spoke to him for a minute and he gave the Booker smile while saying, “hey, I am coming back to Lexington after the Summer League. I miss it and am going to work out at UK.” The ladies of Lexington will certainly be happy.
Jorts is Jorts. When he saw Tomlin and I in the crowd, his face lit up and he waved in the middle of the game…there has never been a UK player who was more appreciative of KSR. He waved as UK fans in the crowd (and there were many) screamed “Jorts” at him and he had 13 points doing what Jorts does…setting high screens, bouncing off and hitting threes, pounding the glass and getting putbacks for buckets. His defense was like it was in Lexington…physical and hard (he had seven fouls), but also lacking against great athleticism (West Virginia’s Kevin Jones had his way with him a few times). But watching Jorts again, you saw why we loved him so much in Lexington. He recreated his most famous UK play, diving for a loose ball and saving it off an opposing player with a bullet (this time off the guy’s knees instead of Jared Sullinger’s chest). He gave constant affirmation to the rest of his team and at the end, was a key part of a big victory. After the game we talked for a bit about his future and he told me that he hoped for good things in Phoenix, but didn’t know what was ahead. He has played well down here…after a rocky first game, he is 7-9 from three point land and has often outplayed the starting Center Alex Len, who he was brought in to backup. Whether there is a future with the Suns will be determined in the coming weeks but Jorts has shown once again that he can play at this level and the rest may be up to him…and he will do it all with a big smile on his face.
All three of the UK players had a big game today and at the end of the day, they probably were the three best Suns on the court. But for me it was more than this one game…all three showed that they remain exactly like what I remembered from their time in Lexington. While the setting has changed and the fans aren’t nearly the same (Summer League crowds are basically silent), the UK guys are better versions of their Lexington selves. If you close your eyes, the Suns jerseys can morph into UK ones and all the memories of their top BBN moments can be repeated. It might be the thing I like best about seeing UK guys in the Summer League…it is the NBA, but not quite…and thus it remains just connected enough to college to still bring out my UK fandom. When Anthony Davis becomes the world’s best player, I will still be proud of his UK connection…but it will be while playing at a different level than he did at UK. But in Summer League, the guys are still versions of their UK selves and that remains my favorite part.
Johnson County is a place that has been great over the years to KSR, from being one of the first affiliates in the state to pick up the radio show to hosting the first ever KSR Tour stop four years ago. Thus it is with particular sadness that the pictures of the tremendous flooding devastation in and around Johnson County strike home today. After the seeming never-ending stream of rain that has engulfed the state over the last few weeks, a great deal of the Commonwealth was hit with flooding late yesterday, causing the Governor to issue an Emergency Disaster Declaration earlier today. No place was hit as hard as Johnson County, where at least one person is dead and ten missing following the mass destruction. Over 150 homes were destroyed and another 500 significantly damaged, mostly in the rural parts of the county. The pictures below from WKYT are just a small example of the difficulties facing the area and our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by this tremendous natural disaster.
Likely because of my affinity for “Shawshank Redemption,” I have always been fascinated by prison breaks. The idea that you find a way to get out of a situation specifically designed to keep you in, strikes me as the most ingenuous of accomplishments, even though it is clearly shunned by society. The people who escape out of prisons are by their very nature not some of society’s best, but to find your way out of a maximum security situation does show cunning, even if it is for a result that harms society. Today we learned that notorious Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzman has escaped from a maximum security prison in Mexico and is currently on the loose. El Chapo is the worst of the worst and the violence that he has overseen over the last 25 years is atrocious. Still the fact that he found a way out of the most severe prison in Mexico is fascinating and worthy of study. The official story is that he crawled through a 30 by 30 hole in his shower, but that strikes me as implausible at best. Clearly someone helped him and considering the corruption in Mexico, it could have been an individual high up in the government. It is the second time El Chapo has escaped, and the last time he did it, he stayed gone for nearly 13 years. For the better part of that time, it is believed the Mexican government knew where he was and simply let him be…now the question is will they do it again?
To the non-Mexican drug lord news this week:
UK Basketball Recruiting Comes Into Focus
We assumed after this past week of AAU events that the status of UK basketball recruiting for 2016 would become a bit clearer and it did. Some of the news wasn’t the best as #2 ranked Jayson Tatum spurned the Cats and others by picking Duke in a decision that really surprised no one. The reality of this class is that Duke is set up to have the #1 overall class relatively easily thanks to a home state stud (Harry Giles) and getting Tatum early in the process. Many are crediting winning the title for Duke’s success, but the Blue Devils were likely to get both players even before the title as Coach K has adopted Calipari’s recruiting strategy and is now competing against the Cats for virtually all of the same players. This will mean they will win their share of battles and today was one of them. For Kentucky however, there is some good news. The Cats look to be in good shape with Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins, two players with tremendous ability and high-impact scorers. I think both are Kentucky’s to lose and the Cats are sitting in the driver’s seat early in the process. Miles Bridges may have been the star of the week and he is likely Michigan State or Kentucky, meaning the Cats and Izzo will have a battle over the Michigan product. If UK can land Bridges, then that threesome will be the clear #2 overall class and UK will be set after pairing them with Tai Wynyard and likely a couple of other stars. Malik Monk is an elite talent that UK will try to bend out of Arkansas, but if Kentucky keeps up the heat on the threesome above, potentially adds another (maybe Markelle Fultz a shooting guard that picked up a UK offer this week and had a strong showing), then the Cats are set. Lose some of this group and it becomes a bit more troubling, but even with Duke’s success, I like where the Cats stand as of today.
Attendance at the KSR Radio Tour shows has been absolutely amazing. Fans are showing up in droves and there have been some really fun events. I think our show Friday at the Kentucky Speedway was one of the best in a long time and this week we have these stops ahead. Come see us:
Monday: Cynthiana (Cynthiana Country Club)
Tuesday: Whitley City (Whitley City Public Library)
Wednesday: London (Sleep Outfitters)
SEC MEDIA DAYS
The circus that is known as SEC Football Media Days begin this morning and the entire South will be looking to the coaches to learn about next season. I often get criticism for not taking our show to Media Days (we are sending Tyler there and she will have reports all week), but honestly I am not sure why there is so much hype about having “Radio Row” down there. I have never been to either football or basketball Media Days and while I think the circus is an interesting thing to watch from afar, it gives no real information that advances the ball at all. We may go some year in the future just for entertainment value, but seriously, what are you going to learn by hearing coaches give press conferences? In my view, very little, so I prefer to watch the event from afar and continue on our Radio Tour. But we will have a LOT of coverage from the event on here all week and Tyler will give you everything you need to know as you need to know it. She was excellent last year in capturing the environment and I know she will do it again this time.
image by Jason Spear
NBA Summer League Continues
I have watched a great deal of NBA Summer League over the last week and will watch a good deal more this week before we head out to Las Vegas Wednesday to see it up close. The big stories so far include the Aaron Harrison signing by Charlotte, a massive step for Aaron and a great chance for him to make the team this fall. Archie Goodwin has played very well for Phoenix and may be solidifying a better spot in the rotation this season with his strong performances. Karl Towns and Julius Randle have both looked good in high profile appearances with a lot of hype. Towns in particular showed some great skill in his two games and has the announcers drooling about his future. All in all, things have been very positive for UK guys, with no one having a bad debut in Summer League…a good sign as they all move forward this summer towards their NBA careers.
— I saw Ted 2 this weekend and it was exactly what I thought it would be…overall just blah, but with some really funny parts. I had a couple of scenes that had me laughing until I cried but a lot of the rest was just filler. Still, it is worth your time if you liked the first one and/or like Seth MacFarlane. If you don’t then…don’t. Also check out “Love and Mercy” if it is playing close to you…a movie about The Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson’s life told in two parts…very good and one of the better movies I have seen so far this year.
— The NASCAR race at the Kentucky Speedway was great on Saturday night…the new aero package allowed the drivers to pass much easier and the Speedway was blessed with good weather and no bad luck for the first time since getting the Sprint Cup Race. I had an awesome time watching the event while sitting with the most random mix of people imaginable (Joe B Hall, Jack Givens, Nick and Drew Lachey, Papa John, Matt Bevin, Terry Meiners, Tom Hammond and Mike Battaglia). I highly encourage those of you who haven’t been yet to Sparta to make a trip….it is worth your time.
— Finally, some of you like my random book recommendations. This one is a little older but worth your time.
“Stumbling on Happiness” is a look at what makes people happy in their own lives and how they are often wrong about convictions that you believe lead to your satisfaction. It is one of the more interesting psychology studies I have read and if you like Malcolm Gladwell or Freakonomics-type books, you will enjoy it.
That is it for now…have a good Monday