By Nick Roush on ©December 27th, 2016 @ 8:30pm
Just like a fine wine, Woo gets better with time. Much like his time as a player, Lukasz Obrzut was at his best in Louisville. His task was simple: bring Louisville and Kentucky fans together before Christmas. He found a few that got along, but only a few.
Before the show hits the road to Jacksonville, watch the entire episode with Mary Jo Perino after the jump.
I don’t often write you folks and tell you “WATCH THIS!” (ok maybe I do, but sometimes I really mean it). This is one of those times. We did a Christmas edition of the TV Show and it features the best interviews of the first three months of “Hey Kentucky.” The show has been a success for us so far and our initial ratings and feedback have been good. If you have missed it, or can’t get it in your area, check out this edition to see what we have done. I think you will like it.
And also, let me say this Merry Christmas to all of BBN and the KSR fans. There is no better honor than doing this for you guys every day and we really appreciate all your support.
By Matt Jones on ©October 26th, 2016 @ 3:15pm
One of the most common questions I get is “How do I listen to/watch xxxx” thing we are doing. Often times we assume that everyone knows how to find the various KSR projects, but that assumption may be incorrect. By the mere fact you are here, you clearly know about this website. But I will make an easy link page that you can bookmark if you so choose for you to also see the other KSR endeavors:
This is the newest and the one that most of you probably know the least about. I am the host of a new nightly show on WLEX called “Hey Kentucky” that deals with topics in sports, news, culture, politics and other endeavors. It has been a really fun show and is in my view, one of the better things we have done. It is on every night on WLEX at 7:30 but some of you may live outside the region to watch. If so, here his how you can:
HeyKentucky! Website: This is easy enough, you can get all the shows (and segments) while watching from anywhere in the world at HEYKENTUCKY.COM. It’s all there
“>HeyKentucky Facebook: We do have one of those and it is here: Hey Kentucky Facebook
HeyKentucky Twitter: It is here: Hey Kentucky Twitter
By now I assume most of you know the morning radio show that I host with Ryan Lemond, Shannon the Dude and occasionally Drew Franklin. But you may not know that there is a Podcast feed that you can use to find old episodes or listen after it is over. You can find it here: KENTUCKY SPORTS RADIO SHOW
In addition to the radio show, we have a great series of Podcasts done by those on KSR and hitting on a variety of subjects:
KSR PODCASTS: This includes a variety of Podcasts, ranging from the KSR Football Podcast, to Freddie Maggard’s weekly game preview to Tyler Thompson’s interviews with sports media personalities. It is all here and includes many different options for you to focus upon.
Matt Jones Podcast: This is my personal podcast, which is normally a series of in-depth interviews with people in sports or politics, the goal of which is to create long form conversations that we can’t have on the radio. Right now we are on a mini-hiatus but we will kick back into gear in the next couple of months.
We have a KSR FACEBOOK PAGE HERE that we use to post most of our links from the show….a KSR PINTEREST PAGE HERE that has various pictures and other things and of course the KSR TWITTER ACCOUNTS, many of which are listed below:
So there you go…all the different ways to follow KSR or just be happy as a human being. Hope this answers your questions and if you had no questions, I hope you subscribe or follow these links to watch/listen to what you normally miss.
Thanks to Makers Mark for this cool bottle they gave me not long ago
I don’t post on here nearly as often as I would like these days, but I do miss it a great deal. For a number of years, this was my primary method of expression and I still think writing on this blog is the best way to convey thoughts in the most thorough manner. With that in mind, I wanted to take a bit of time tonight to throw out some news/notes on the UK sports landscape and update people on all the various KSR media ventures at this point. With that, a few words on all the KSR Platforms:
— Television As most of you know, we launched the TV show “Hey Kentucky” three weeks ago and it is off to a successful start. Early feedback has been excellent and our viewership has been much stronger initially than I would have anticipated. Most importantly to me, it has been a great experience from a creative standpoint as I have enjoyed creating, preparing and executing this show over the last month as much as anything I have ever done. We have a rotating group of co-hosts that have all been excellent and are great to work with (Drew, Mary Jo Perino, Jeremy Jarmon, Perrin Johnson, Chip Cosby, Steve Romines and Lee Cruse). Mayor Jim Gray has been a guest host and we hope to have more folks from different walks of life have such guest roles in the future (Rand Paul, feel free to call us back). From a creative standpoint, the ability to not only talk about sports, but to do a show that debates and discusses local issues to Kentucky outside of sports has been terrific and I hope those of you have that have watched enjoy it. If you have missed any of the shows, or live outside the viewing area of WLEX at 7:30 pm every night, you can watch them online at HeyKentucky.com (the website is finally working better).
Radio As you know if you listen regularly, we have added Drew Franklin into the mix more often on the radio show, as he is now on 2 times a week. Shannon the Dude is playing a larger speaking role in the daily show and we will continue to add the occasional outside voice over the basketball season. We have lots of special events planned upcoming, including our road trip to Vegas for the game versus North Carolina in December. Radio continues to be the form of KSR where I feel most comfortable being my total self and is the single most fun job I have had in my life. We have finished first in the ratings in Louisville over the 6 of the past 7 (21 total months) ratings books and in every ratings book in Lexington over the past 4 years.
Podcasts: Right now the KSR Podcast feeds are as active as they have ever been and we hope to grow even more over the coming months. There are currently three active podcasts on the KSR feed (which you can find with the “Kentucky Sports Radio” feed on iTunes or other podcast applications)…the Football Podcast (which has been huge this year), Freddie Maggard’s Game Preview Podcast (Which is Football geek heaven) and Tyler Thompson’s Podcast (which has had great interviews including a new one with Doris Burke). We will likely add a Basketball one soon and then potentially a new exciting one in January with people never before associated with KSR. Finally, I will be bringing the Matt Jones Podcast back very soon. I needed to get this tv show off the ground and so I took some time off of that one but I will return in the next couple of weeks. It is still the best method for in-depth conversation and we will have a new one very soon.
Website The website will be undergoing a fairly substantial redesign over the coming months, with the hopes of a debut soon after the first of the year. It will be the most substantial overhaul in our history, with our first dedicated mobile platform, a new and improved App (including Android) and a new visual design for desktops as well. It is intended to keep KSR ahead of the times and I think people will really like it. In the meantime, I think from a content standpoint, the writing of Drew, Tyler, Nick and all of our other writers is as good as it has ever been. Expect to see more video, podcast and other platforms used on the site as we get into 2017.
Social Media Over the course of 2017, the KSR social media usage will continue to increase. I hope you are of course following my Twitter (@Kysportsradio), our Facebook page (which will have increased use over the next year as well…including a lot of live streaming video), our Pinterest page, my Snapchat (@kysportsradio) and the accounts of our writers (some of which are listed below). The reality of the changing media world is that these will continue to be used more and become integrated into all the things we do:
One last note on the KSR Brand…in order to continue to evolve and move forward, we are hitting topics that are different than a straight sports site. I hear people complain about this from time to time and while I understand the thoughts, it is part of a rational decision. In today’s media landscape, sites that only do straight sports and nothing else are dying…period. The sites that are successful are ones that do sports in a slightly different way, produce opinions, touch on other tidbits around the internet and attempt to go beyond scores, etc. We have always done that here and will continue to do so. If you aren’t a fan of particular parts of it, I get it but there is a method to the madness. We still hope you find this site, my radio show, the tv show, etc a place you want to visit. The numbers suggest you still do and we appreciate that a ton.
Some random thoughts/news:
— I hear very positive things about the UK Basketball recruiting weekend that just finished. The Cats had 11 players on campus (that we know of), including a surprise visit at the last minute from Mohammend Bamba. Calipari took the strategy of bringing nearly all of his top targets at once and I am hearing that it went swimmingly well. I believe PJ Washington and Nick Richards to be two guys who Kentucky definitively leads with after this weekend and the Cats are top two for at least two more (Trae Young and Kevin Knox). I am told the former Cats on campus for Big Blue Madness were a hit and that it was “a really good weekend for the program all the way around.”
— I thought it was a good overall Big Blue Madness. Rupp Arena looks the best it has ever looked after the new changes and the scoreboard/new sound system are terrific additions. The checkerboard floor is not as noticeable as I originally thought (which is good) and I think Rupp is going to be a much improved place to play overall. I loved the addition of the former players at the event and my only quibble is one that UK has no control over (the way the SEC Network still talks over the events). Overall a good night for the program once again.
— Some of you may have seen on Twitter Friday where some members of the 1996 team were mad at me over comments I made on the radio show on Thursday. It wasn’t enjoyable having members of one of my three favorite teams of all time being upset at me, but I do understand some of their points. On the show, I criticized the fact that some members of the team continue to complain privately about treatment from UK or John Calipari and I had become annoyed at the continued silly bickering. For the 2-3 members I was talking about, I stand by that position. It is annoying and something that should end as everyone wants to love what may be the greatest team in college basketball history. But after conversations privately with Walter McCarty and Nazr Mohammed on Friday (both of whom were very cordial), I can understand the frustration at others being lumped in incorrectly for solely being on that team. I have tried in the past to make exceptionally clear that the issue wasn’t with the entire group, most of whom have great relationships with Calipari and the University, and instead was limited to a couple of vocal members (who themselves are good guys but have in my view made some silly public comments). I may not have been as clear about that on Thursday’s show as I should have and I am sorry about that. Hopefully this public flareup will help then entire relationship become better all the way around.
— Mississippi State opened as a three point favorite over the Cats in Football and that sounds about right to me. The Bulldogs are probably the slightly better team at this point but UK is very close and can certainly win. It is obviously a big game for the team, something we have said a great deal this year, but it also gives them a chance to put some really high goals on the table. With Missouri/Georgia looking beatable, the prospect of a season that UK could really savor is right there for the taking. I expect Commonwealth to be rowdy on Saturday night and I can’t wait.
— Watch “13th” on Netflix. Great documentary about the criminal justice system and the overpopulation of our prison system. I don’t care your political beliefs, you will find it engrossing and fascinating. Like “Making a Murderer”, I think it will be a documentary talked about by lots of people and it is definitely worth your time.
— Finally, visit our buddy Oscar Combs’ new website. He has been working on it for some time and I am proud of him for its launch. No one knows more UK basketball tales than Oscar and I can’t wait to read his stuff and listen to his podcasts. You can find all the goodies at OscarCombs.com
Tomorrow our radio show is live at Ryan Lemond’s colonoscopy, where we will talk about (among other things), Big Blue Madness, more recruiting updates, UK/Miss State and Ryan’s funeral home procession car wreck. See you then.
By Nick Roush on ©September 19th, 2016 @ 10:00pm
Matt Jones, the founder of Kentucky Sports Radio, spent Sunday evening discussing his latest venture, the New Kentucky Project. Along with former state auditor Adam Edelen, they sat down with Bill Goodman for 30 minutes on KET’s One on One, discussing why they started the political group, the goals they have for the startup and more.
By Nick Roush on ©September 14th, 2016 @ 9:30pm
In this episode Matt explores the problems plaguing the Kentucky football team with color analyst Jeff Piecoro. Less than eight weeks from the election, Jonathan Martin of The New York Times provides an updated from the divisive campaign trail. Highlights:
— Will the Reds be any good in the foreseeable future?
— How the late first half TD vs. Southern Miss changed the season.
— Can Trump beat Hillary?
You can have every podcast delivered straight to your phone by searching for “The Matt Jones Podcast” on iTunes and clicking “subscribe.” If you aren’t an iTunes person, you can also stream every podcast on Podbay or check it out on the Stitcher app.
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.