During NBA early entry decision season, more and more elite posts have enlisted to be →
It was a great weekend around the Bluegrass as the first real hint of summer took over the state. Most of you probably spent a bit of time outdoors, maybe watched the monsoon at the Preakness or headed to a movie theater to see either Mad Max (which I hear is amazing) or Pitch Perfect 2 (which I hear was awful). For my part, I played in the Glasgow Country Club Member-Guest for the third year in a row and this time was able to get through without getting into any type of fight with a UL fan (something I could not say the first two times around). My partner and I came in second in our flight, losing the last match due to a combination of fatigue, sun burn and faulty handicapping. Still a good time was had by all and for the first time all year, it felt like summer and the creeping onset of football was right around the corner. For the Harrison Twins, the summer is giving mixed results. Andrew is having a strong start to his NBA Draft campaign, producing one of the better showings at the NBA Combine and creeping into the top of the 2nd Round in mock drafts. His attitude (Saying he will take on anyone any time in the Draft pre-workout process) has been a hit with NBA scouts and he is seeing his stock rise. Aaron on the other hand has had some adversity. He didn’t play well at the Combine (onlookers said he seemed to be trying too hard) and he has fallen off many Mock Drafts as onlookers try to figure out how to slot him. There is still plenty of time for both guys and I will be shocked if both players aren’t drafted. But for now, their early fortunes are heading in different directions.
Some other notes:
RECRUITING: The big news of the day was the decision by LeGerald Vick (Spanish for “The Gerald”) to attend Kansas next year. It was not a surprising choice, especially after his visit to Kentucky ended up not happening this weekend. For UK, Vick was somewhat of a backup option behind the twosome of Caleb Swanigan and Jamal Murray, both of whom UK would love to add this year. Chances are UK will only take one player and the folks I have talked to feel good about where UK stands with both guys. This has been a tough Spring for UK from the recruiting standpoint as the order of selection often hasn’t worked in UK’s favor. The backup options have often chosen before players that UK coveted more could decide (the way that Thomas Bryant picked while UK still waited on Zimmerman and Diallo). This has put UK in an odd position and has exacerbated the difficulty in finding the right player for the Spring. Still, I think UK is one player short from being a REALLY good team next year and if either Swanigan or Murray fills the class, the Cats are in very good shape. I am told that it will be Purdue or Kentucky for Swanigan (California has been mentioned by others and could be in play, but I have been told the Boilermaker/Wildcat duo is out front), and if UK gets him, they get a force for next season. If instead it is Murray, you see a lot of Alex at the “4” and a small ball team that is explosive athletically. We shall see…but I don’t sweat the Vick loss. Of all the guys UK has missed on this recruiting year, he was the one that excited me the least.
TONY BARBEE — Speaking of recruiting, every day that Tony Barbee is not announced as the new Assistant Coach at UK becomes even more of a mystery. When Slice took the St Johns job, we all assumed Barbee would be the pick, since he was already on staff and got a waiver to help with recruiting while the job was posted. But as of now, nothing has yet been said about him and the long wait is curious as an onlooker. I haven’t heard anything concrete to say he isn’t getting the job and the delay may be much ado about nothing. But considering just how much of an obvious hire Barbee seemed to be just a few weeks ago, the delay is certainly odd if nothing else.
FOOTBALL SUMMER — The addition to KSR of Freddie Maggard has been great for this site and if you missed his columns last week, I would suggest that you check them out. He has mentioned a variety of needs and issues for UK next season, but one to be on the lookout for is the start of UK’s schedule. The Cats open the season with a four game stretch that I believe will be season-defining. They have:
South Carolina Away
Those are four huge games right out of the block. Louisiana has been to four straight bowl games and is a much better team than most folks realize. South Carolina is a tough road game, but a team UK beat last year. Florida and Missouri are two SEC East opponents that have eaten UK’s lunch either historically (Florida) or recently (Missouri), but are beatable at home. In my view for UK to have the season it wants, it needs to go at least 2-2 in these games. Two wins (plus the likely gimmes versus EKU and Charlotte), would put the Cats in a position to where they could go to a Bowl game with a win over Vandy and either UT/Louisville at home. Three wins and UK is sitting pretty for a Bowl and a very strong season…four wins and we are dancing in the street. However if UK comes out with only one of these four, and doesn’t pull an upset over Florida or Missouri…well the road looks much more difficult. UK can’t afford any let downs with the way the schedule is set up early. The magic 3rd season for Mark Stoops needs momentum right out of the gate in Commonwealth.
DEREK WILLIS — There is no player on UK’s team that I ever get asked about more than Derek Willis. People want to know will he play and whether he will make it at UK. I have always said the same thing about Derek…it is up to him. I did speak this weekend to someone close to Willis who said this to me. “Derek knows this is his year to shine and this summer will make the difference. I hope he works for it but if he doesn’t, he has no one to blame but himself.” I said on radio Friday that someone close to the program told me, “if I could combine Dominique Hawkins’ work ethic with Derek Willis’s skills, I would have an All American.” If UK doesn’t get another player in recruiting (which they still may), Willis to me has to be good next year. As with those around him who know him, I am still skeptical, but hopeful.
With that, a fun week is ahead. One more until Memorial Day…two more until my vacation (and the KSR Guest Host extravaganza)…and five more until the KSR Tour begins. It all finishes so fast… (that’s what she said)
Get out your frequent flyer miles because next season’s UK Basketball schedule is going to be quite a haul. The Cats have completed the marquee part of their slate with the announcement today that they will play at Kansas on January 30 as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The event is mixed right in the middle of conference play and will see UK head to Lawrence for the first time since Jared Carter was roaming the sidelines to play in what I believe is the best venue for college basketball in America. It is the marquee game of the Challenge and will surely be a Saturday night affair with all of college basketball watching.
The game joins the schedule that already included a game vs Duke (in Chicago), Ohio State (in Brooklyn), UCLA (in Los Angeles), Louisville (in Rupp), Arizona State (in Rupp) and South Florida (in Miami). It should be a heck of a ride for a young team and now also includes a chance for fans to go to one of the great venues in all of sports to watch the Cats spank on Bill Self once again.
Here is the rest of the Challenge:
John Wall played great tonight (eat it Cowherd) and with a hand that has five fractures in it, nearly carried his team to a crucial road victory. Instead, some dumb plays down the stretch by his teammates (Nene was particularly awful) and big shots by the Hawks caused the Wizards to fall at Atlanta. I hope you saw Wall’s two tremendous blocks in the last two minutes, plays that he made that could have been game-winners had a couple of things gone differently. Even in obvious pain, he was a gamer and his block on the last second shot by Dennis Schroder was truly epic. However Nene decided boxing out was overrated (helped by Paul Milsap slightly pulling on his arm) and Al Horford took what he learned while on the Dominican team in Lexington and got the Hawks the win 81-80.
There is still a game six to come but after the ten minute stretch tonight (the Capitals lost game 7 of the NHL series versus the Rangers in Overtime), the city of Washington may just be ready to drown its sorrow, pray that RGIII somehow gets healthy and call it a year.
Podcasts used to be a big part of KSR and were the original start of this website. In fact, the name of this site “Kentucky Sports Radio” was created because we had a podcast and hoped to find a way to turn it into a radio show (the theory being “if you name it, it will come”). Now we don’t do any “Podcast-only” recordings (although this may change) but it is a big part of our history. Thus I really enjoyed getting to record this podcast with our old friend Zack McCrite about the history of KSR Radio for his show. In case you don’t remember Zack, he was the original co-host of KSR before Ryan Lemond and even before that, gave me my first on-air gig on radio in Louisville. He has since moved on to Oklahoma City but his love for Sports Radio has led him to start the Podcast, ABOUT SPORTS RADIO in which he interviews people about sports radio (the name is very descriptive). He has had lots of big names on the show and this week he slummed it with me as we talked about the history of KSR and the show itself.
The discussion is about 35 minutes long and if you are a fan of the site or show, worth your time. You can listen at the link below and also check out his other episodes. I have spent the day perusing through them and they are very good and I appreciate Zack having me on to yap.
John Calipari is signing a new deal with Kentucky that will add on another year to his contract and increase his salary to $8 million. His total take now will be 7 years, $54 million as he continues his time in Lexington through the 2021-2022 season. The new deal also features a $1.6 million longevity bonus that kicks into effect on July 1. It is part of a package for Calipari that began increasing last year (when his average salary went from 5 million to 7 million) and is intended to keep him at Lexington until he retires.
So what does the new extension mean? Well first of all, this was not a direct response to rumors of a NBA team having interest in Calipari. Well not exactly. This deal has been in place for a couple of weeks and was part of a deal that Kentucky was instituting for Calipari beginning at the end of the season. The goal of this deal is of course to keep Cal in Lexington and the $1.6 million bonus acts as a big of an incentive to keep him here. Since Calipari has no “buyout” in his contract, if he ever leaves, there is no penalty for him hitting the road. However by making the $1.6 million paid after the NBA Finals and after the Draft, the theory is that any NBA team that wants Calipari will have made its choice before that date. If Cal leaves, he is leaving that money on the table to take the job…hence it is the closest thing possible to a buyout under the terms of the contract as structured.
So while this deal may not be a response to the Pelicans’ job coming open, it could of course be the case that its release tonight may be. There are four teams with Calipari ties that could be looking for a coach at the end of the year. The Pelicans, Cavs, Bulls and Wizards, all have coaching situations that are at least flexible, if not in the danger zone depending on what the next few days hold. Each have players that Calipari has connections to as their best player and each are in a position to win in the years to come. I don’t think Calipari would be interested in the Pelicans and I am not sure if the Bulls/Wizards would be interested in Calipari. But the goal of this deal is to at least dampen the talk that is sure to come in the days ahead. As Cleveland continues to march on, that will be the job to watch, especially after their courtship of Cal last year. The hope is that the extension and the attractiveness of the UK job as a whole will keep him here.
As far as whether this contract extension means that Calipari is definitely staying…well I don’t think you can for certain say that. If the dream offer is out there, Calipari will consider it, even if it comes this summer. Calipari would want full player control on a team that can win…there aren’t many of those out there and such a team would have to pay more than he makes now…which is a lot. It is becoming harder and harder to see such a marriage being created. But I also think today’s news makes clear that reports that Calipari wants to leave Kentucky for the NBA are incorrect. He is content at UK and if he ends up retiring here, I think he will be happy. You can never completely exclude the perfect offer but I think tonight what I thought earlier this afternoon…if Calipari makes it through this summer as the UK coach, he will retire here. I still don’t think that is 100% assured, but today’s events continue to make it more likely and should at least dampen the NBA chatter.
And just keep pulling for Cleveland…we need the Cavs to realize, once you go Blatt, you never go back.
UK Defensive End Lloyd Tubman, a major part of the heralded 2014 UK Football recruiting class will no longer be a student at the University of Kentucky. This morning Lonny Demaree tweeted out that a source close to Tubman’s family had told him that Lloyd would no longer be at Kentucky. This afternoon we have confirmed the story as reported by Demaree. Lloyd was banned as a student at Kentucky by the Code of Student Conduct Board after a hearing following the allegations of rape from a fellow student. You may remember that a Fayette County grand jury heard the same allegations earlier this year and decided not to indict Tubman for the incident. However the Student Conduct Board is not bound by that finding and after its own process, declined to allow Tubman to re-enroll as a student at UK. A source tells KSR that an appeal has also taken place and the initial punishment from the board, Tubman being unable to return to campus at UK ever, was changed to a five year ban from the campus.
As Demaree noted earlier, a number of folks in Lexington are upset about the decision and feel that it was unjust, but the appeals process has been exhausted and the decision at this point is final. Tubman will not be able to attend Kentucky this fall and will have to find another school to continue his educational and football career. A number of folks are speculating that Western Kentucky could be his future home, but nothing is settled at this time.
By Matt Jones on ©May 10th, 2015 @ 10:30pm
photo by Getty images
Here is my hope. I hope you spent at least part of this weekend with your mother and family and thus were not worried about who UK was recruiting or whether the Cats were going to have a top 5 preseason team next season. My guess is you did. I spent Sunday going to church with my mother (at Immanuel Baptist where the people were quite nice to us), eating lunch (Saul Good, which was saul good) and walking through Gratz Park (where it looked as if all the state’s hippies had come to gather and sell their crafts). It was a wonderful time. But afterwards, I watched the great final round of the Player’s Championship which featured the first big victory for Rickie Fowler and his girlfriend. Look, the golf was great as the final round was crazy close and produced a three way playoff for the ages. But the great moments on the course (including the sly cocky stare of Sergio after he made his put on 17) were upstaged by the outfit of Fowler’s girlfriend on 18.
Fowler’s lady is undoubtedly beautiful and is also a bikini model, which at times nowadays can just mean a girl on Instagram who finds clothes restricting but in Rickie’s case actually means a woman paid to pose in bikinis. She has become famous, seems like a wonderful person and I am sure loves America. But she also made her national television debut dressed like she was going to see Kenny Chesney at Riverbend. Now don’t get me wrong…she is gorgeous and not one red-blooded male at KSR could text anything to the others that didn’t involve how much we were all collectively in love with her. But women seemed to have a different reaction and it did make me wonder…do cut off jean shorts (with the pockets longer than the denim…a look that I hated at first but maybe has grown on me slightly) and a yellow piece of fabric masquerading as a shirt belong at a major championship? For me, I can support it. I freely admit that at times I have a little of the Confederate Railroad taste in women, but I if Rickie’s lady is going to take the next step from “bikini model” to “Real Housewives of the PGA Tour”, she will likely need a suburban mom makeover. The yoga pants work going to Whole Foods honey, but on the court you can’t show up Jim Furyk’s wife and her capri pants like that. It just isn’t done.
Because very little happened, I am going to borrow the old trick of sportswriters who have nothing to say…the “Quick thoughts on a lot of subjects”…nothing says you are mailing in a column quite like that and with my vacation just three weeks away, my mind is adrift. Some notes:
— For those of us in the “let nothing happen in the NBA that could at all threaten Calipari being here in Lexington”, be thankful that David Blatt didn’t get that timeout. With the game tied, Blatt nearly fell on his face trying to call a timeout that the Cavs didn’t have and had they lost in that manner…well Lebron would likely have had him deported. Please David, don’t screw this up…we need you to remain in the smelly city in north Ohio.
— I love that Kelenna Azubuike came back and graduated from UK this weekend. No one ever at Kentucky dunked the ball harder than Kelenna…yes he may be most remembered for his “look like Tarzan, play like Jane” comment by Tubby, but he was a great player at Kentucky who had to leave too soon because of issues that had nothing to do with him. I was really happy to see him get a moment to finish what he began.
— Bud Dupree is going to be a beast in Pittsburgh…perfect organization for him and he will work his butt off to become a star. I only own two NFL jerseys (Walter Payton and Brian Urlacher…I would like a Jacksonville Jaguars Matt Jones one if anyone knows of one), but Dupree’s Steelers uniform is going to be a purchase for me soon.
— I am hearing that Toledo has emerged as a possible candidate to fill in for the UAB game that is lost in 2016. The problem for UK is that to get the game, they may have to play two at Commonwealth and one on the road at Toledo. Who is ready for that road trip?
— I love the Arizona State deal that UK scheduled for basketball. The administration has desperately tried to add a good non conference home game for next season as part of their goal to always have two. Two years from now, UCLA and Kansas (or an Oklahoma school) will come to Rupp, but this year so far UK only had Louisville. The Cats don’t want to play another true road game, so finding a marquee team to come play and not require a road game is tough. But Arizona State was good with one game in Rupp and then their home game being in the Bahamas. That is a solid get in order to book a Big 5 conference school and helps make the Rupp schedule much better next year.
— I had a lot of fun with the KSR GOP Governor’s Debate on Wednesday. There were most definitely fireworks, but it got pretty good reviews from everyone involved and most importantly the KSR listeners. The new poll for the race comes out this week and it will be interesting to see where all the candidates fall. I really appreciate all the support from everyone involved and will say that it was one of the cooler things we have done here.
— A couple of scheduling things for the website…Freddie Maggard begins as a football writer for KSR this week. I can’t tell you how glad we are to have him join the group and become a part of the KSR team. You all have been telling us for some time that the two things you wanted to see upgraded the most on KSR were football and recruiting. With Freddie joining Nick Roush and our other writers, I think you will see the football coverage grow exponentially…especially in the Xs and Os department. I have seen his first couple of posts and I know people will enjoy them. As for the recruiting, stay tuned…we will have more to announce in the near future.
— We are going to have a KSR Golf Scramble in August to celebrate the site’s 10th Anniversary. More details are to come but if you are a golfer, think about getting your group together because once we announce, we expect to fill up quickly. It should be a whole lot of fun with the things we have planned.
That is all for now…Tyler is on vacation this week, so you get a lot of Drew, more of me than usual and the debut of Freddie (plus a Tomlin night post). Should be a fun week.
By Matt Jones on ©May 10th, 2015 @ 9:20pm
Could this be an end to the “One and Done?” Many people don’t like the one and done rule and have been trying to find some relief from the idea of having kids in college for only one year. Some believe that the best high school basketball players in America should not have to go to college at all and if they are so inclined, should be able to jump right to the league. Others argue that this waters down the NBA product and suggest a 2 year rule in college (or the D-League) makes more sense. But now one Las Vegas businessman is trying to create a new option and pay McDonalds All Americans to skip college and play for his traveling road show for one year. The Las Vegas Dealers are being created as an Independent Professional Basketball team to try and steal the nation’s best players for a year and pay them a lot of money before they head to the league. Here is their press release from last week according to their website:
LAS VEGAS, NV, May 5, 2015 — Las Vegas will finally be home to a professional basketball team- the Las Vegas Dealers. The Dealers are a professional developmental team, owned by LV Basketball Enterprises, Inc., that will compete against European teams affiliated with the EuroLeague.
“College is not for every young man that is trying to use basketball to provide a better situation for their families,” says owner Cerruti Brown. “Our innovative model targets the McDonald’s All-Americans who are projected first round prospects by NBA scouts and general managers. This concept allows for the highly touted player to bypass college and immediately become a paid professional. We are able to offer competitive salaries averaging around $700k to the highly touted McDonald’s All-Americans who are typically “one and done” players and $400k for college underclassmen. The Dealers niche will be based on giving basketball players a different option than what is presently offered in America. Before this, underclassmen had to either play college ball or go overseas. Venturing to Europe will not be a necessity when a U.S. based organization will play top European teams.”
At press time, offers are in the works for the 2015 McDonald’s All-Americans.
Fans are invited to join the team’s online family by following the club Twitter @LV_DEALERS. Presently fans also have an opportunity to vote on the team’s logo at www.lvdbasket.com (the official site of the Las Vegas Dealers). Voting will commence on the 6th of May 2015 and run through the end of the month. Management is in negotiations with multiple Las Vegas venues to call home for its 40 game home schedule. The inaugural 2015-16 season begins October with the season ending in March.
“We are ecstatic to bring high-level, professional basketball to the Las Vegas community,” Brown said. “The media spotlight and American viewership will help build our unique brand. We are excited that several companies have reached out to us in regards to becoming our official apparel sponsor. The response has been overwhelming.”
Now there are many questions that come to mind. On the surface, $700,000 for a year seems like a lot of money and would be intriguing to high school kids. But from a financial level, how would it work? Who is going to pay to watch this glorified all star team for a season and support this very high level of salary. The owner Cerruti Brown however is confident and told the Lawrence Journal-World:
The team owner says it will play 35 games in Las Vegas against European League teams and would also go on a 15-game tour of Europe. Cerruti Brown told Las Vegas FOX 5 TV that some current McDonald’s All-Americans are being contacted to sign up for the 2015-16 season, to begin in October. “We don’t see any problems in landing the right kids. Now, I’m not going to say we’ll have 10 of the top 25 kids this year, but I’m going to go on record as saying we’re going to have five,” Brown told the TV station.
Brown believes he will get 5 of the top 25 players IN THIS CLASS??? That is hard to believe…who are these kids and why haven’t we heard about any of them? Such a claim seems hard to back up, but the idea itself is one that at least on the surface he seems committed to achieving. So will it work? I have my doubts and am quite skeptical, but it is something to watch in the weeks/months ahead.
I know its Saturday night and that means most of you are out enjoying yourselves or doing things getting ready for Mother’s Day. Well I am seeing mom tomorrow and find myself at home watching a doubleheader of the Reds (we are currently in hour 7) and thus I am appreciating the little things. And one of those little things for me is the graduation today of Kelenna Azubuike. Fans correctly have praised the diploma acquisition of Alex Poythress, Bud Dupree and the other UK athletes, but Kelenna also is worth applauding. His time at UK ended slightly prematurely due to circumstances beyond his control. However Azubuike decided that he would return and complete what he started and now here he is, 10 years after departing Lexington, returning to get his much-desired piece of paper.
In his time at Kentucky, Azubuike was one of my favorites. His dunks were explosive, his biceps were tremendous and he played on the most exciting of the Tubby teams. His final year at Kentucky coincided with the beginning of KSR and thus we here at Kentucky Sports Radio congratulate him on a job well done.
We at KSR would like to welcome our newest addition to the website, former UK Quarterback Freddie Maggard. Many of you are familiar with Freddie’s work via his radio appearances on Tom Leach’s show on Mondays. If you have heard him then, you know that he is a great football mind and his ability to break down the game and the Xs and Os of football is excellent. He joins us on KSR as a new football contributor and will write twice a week beginning next week on all topics UK football. During the season, he will preview and review games and during recruiting season, he will let us know how the recruits stack up via their film.
We are very excited to have Freddie on board and to ramp up the football coverage on KSR. I know you will welcome him here and on Twitter (@FredMaggard)
It has been a looooooong but awesome weekend in Louisville and after writing over 1,000 words on recruiting (scroll down or go back on the KSR app to read it), the reality is that I am a little tired. So this will probably be quick so I can watch Veep (which is awesome) and read “The Sixth Extinction” (which is eye-opening).
— The big news is of course the loss of Jaylen Brown to California. Say whatever you want about the oddness of the decision (and it is quite odd) or the bizarre schools these kids are attending (Miss St, LSU, UNLV, Cal…sure thing guys), but it would have been nice for Kentucky to have grabbed one more player. It still isn’t over…the Cats have a chance with Jamal Murray but he must first decide to reclassify and then buy into the Kentucky system. There could also be a potential last minute surprise with a transfer or 2016 reclassification, but neither is assured. I still believe UK is one player away from being great but I also believe they can be very good as constituted. The Cats have two of the best Point Guards in America (who will play together), the likely #1 pick in next year’s draft, a Senior leader on a mission and a number of role players who have the potential to step up and surprise (Lee, Matthews, Mulder, Willis, Hawkins). If they get one more guy at the right position, they are good. But even if they don’t, this team will have more talent on the roster than virtually every team they play (only Duke and LSU would be close…and LSU may or may not have actual human coaches on the sideline). It won’t be like last year but it will still be fun to watch a team grow…and I will likely get few, if any, calls on why Calipari isn’t playing Willis or Hawkins.
— It was a good weekend for UK with the NFL Draft. While the Cats didn’t break any records with Draftees (they had two), it was an important step for the program nonetheless. The Cats got only their third FIRST round draft pick in 30 years with Bud Dupree and his positioning with the Steelers is great for UK. Playing linebacker for Pittsburgh is a marquee position and the Steeler Nation seems to love the pick. If he has success at a place that is also close to the UK recruiting base, that can’t help but be good for the Cats. Zadarius Smith goes to the Ravens at another marquee position, the D-Line for Baltimore. Lots of great players have come through those ranks and if Zadarius works and makes it happen there, he has a real chance for success with a great franchise. Throw in the fact that Louisville had a huge Draft haul (10 picks…which is really impressive for them but also means they just lost a TON OF talent for next year), and the Cats can consider the weekend a positive heading into the crucial third year for Mark Stoops.
— I think UK is close to completing its non-conference schedule for next year. We know about the Duke game in Chicago, Ohio State in Brooklyn, UCLA in Los Angeles, South Florida in Miami, Louisville in Lexington, a true road game in the Big 12 (rumored to be either Kansas or an Oklahoma school) and Eastern Kentucky in Rupp. I still think there is a decent chance a strong home game is still on the horizon as well, which would complete a pretty difficult trek for the new team.
— The UK guys were the stars of the Derby. We ended up in the same place as them often this weekend and they were the hits wherever they went. The Harrisons, Dakari, Willie and Booker were the toasts of the town and I saw them be wonderful with fans who took pictures with them by the bundles. Celebrities came up wanting to meet them as well, including Rob Gronkowski who introduced himself to the Twins and said he enjoyed watching Kentucky this year (and at the two parties where I was with Gronk in attendance, he seemed to enjoy most every part of the weekend). The best story may however be Karl Towns, who came to Ferdinand’s Ball on Thursday night and spent some time with me and Drew. I asked him if he was going to Derby or any other festivities. He said no, he was going home and I when I asked why he said, “I want to go to the Derby but I will be back in Kentucky a lot in my life and can do it then…but right now I just want to go home and spend time with my mom.” How great is he?
Finally, I hope you listened to KSR on Friday, because if you did, you would have hit the trifecta. The four horses we mentioned on the show ended up being the top four in the Derby and a couple of you told me you hit the Superfecta with all four (well done…we didn’t even do that.) I hit the trifecta for the third year in the row, but the payout was modest because I took the advice I gave (go heavy on one favorite on top and light on a second favorite on top) and my second favorite was American Pharoah. My group (they just give the money to me and say spend it wisely like a hedge fund manager) thus had a modest win, but left a ton on the table if Pharoah had been my heavy over Dortmund. Oh well, you live and learn. Either way, I hope you had a fun Derby on what was as beautiful a day as I can ever remember for the first Saturday in May.
Big week this week on KSR Radio…Republican Governor’s Debate on Wednesday and (maybe, not assured yet) Karl Towns hosting Thursday. Should be fun.
This group of young girls watching Jared Polson speak at a church recently are similar to how UK fans were in hoping to get one more recruit
There have been some strange recruiting decision moments in my time here on KSR. There was the time we had a cell phone held up at the Patrick Patterson press conference in order to play the audio live over my (virtually unheard) radio show. There have been the countless streams of grainy video from high school gyms across America, as UK fans crash all viewing parties with their sheer numbers. And there was the year that all of UK’s decisions were part of a reality show, that showcased the traveling circus that can be UK basketball. However few decisions for me were more random than the one Friday night with Jaylen Brown. I was at the Barnstable Brown party with Drew Franklin and about 25-30 UK fans, all waiting anxiously for the Brown decision. The group was outfitted in tuxedos and surrounded by celebrities but the only thing anyone cared about was where Brown would go. When the text came through that he had picked California, I announced it to the group and the look of shock was ubiquitous. HOW COULD HE DO THAT? I just shook my head and answered the same way I have explained the Newman, Zimmerman and other decisions this year with two words, “That’s Recruiting.”
It has been an odd string of losses for UK and it is clear that the continued punches to the gut have weighed on the fanbase. Just one week ago, it looked as if Jaylen Brown had virtually no chance of picking Kentucky, but then things changed. Kentucky moved up on Brown to such a degree that most around Lexington believed the Cats had him. The last Friday was a circus of activity. A national recruiting insider sent me this text around noon, “it is Kentucky or California…I think he has eliminated Michigan but don’t tell anyone because the kid doesn’t want it out.” Not telling anyone was easy (it was Oaks day and the distractions were everywhere) but the sentiment made me feel great. I was hesitant to eliminate Michigan since most of the world seemed to think they were the favorite, but if it was Kentucky and California, how could a kid from Atlanta, Ga who wants to be in the NBA not pick Kentucky? During the Oaks I got a text that the folks in Lexington were feeling good about their chances and that “everyone will be by their phones this weekend.” One national recruiting writer even went so far as to tell me he had the Brown to Kentucky story written, because he felt it was close to done. Then Friday night came…and the pick was California. Amazing.
At the end of the day, this much is clear. The platoon system killed Kentucky on the recruiting trail in the final weeks. What was a huge positive during the season, because it showcased how Calipari would take care of his kids and a group of players could sacrifice their individual interests for a collective goal, became a hammer that opposing coaches pounded UK with on the recruiting trail. One source told me, “Zimmerman, Newman, Diallo and Swanigan all four at some point probably had UK as their leader…and all four were barraged with the platoon talk all season.” Even though Calipari told the recruits that the platoon thing was a one time deal and told parents that people should look at it as a positive (he takes care of all his kids), the worry about playing time being sacrificed made kids who were UK leans turn into open recruits. After seven players declared for the Draft, Kentucky then found itself behind in recruitments that it once led in (Zimmerman, Newman) and forced to play catchup on recruitments where it had trailed (Ingram, Brown). Everyone assumed someone would bite…but slowly no one did as the characteristic which made the 2015 team so special was used to help weaken the crop that would make up the 2016 version.
In Brown’s particular case, another factor was at play. A source close to the situation told me on Sunday that “Jaylen Brown is one kid where the UK media/fan attention actually hurt UK’s chances.” According to the source, Brown expressed to a number of people the worry that the attention at UK was overwhelming and might be more than he would like to deal with. All season long, Brown has avoided the media spotlight…he didn’t do a ton of interviews, his people leaked almost nothing to the press and he also chose to make his announcement without any tv cameras or press in attendance. Instead he did it after a team banquet, and the only reason people knew it was happening was due to a school student fan section Twitter account (how random is that?). Brown’s choice of California was for a variety of reasons but those close to the recruitment said a big one was the circus that UK basketball was the year/has been for decades. “For most players, UK being on Sportcenter every night and having fans blowing up their twitter account is a positive…but Jaylen is one of the few that saw it as a negative.”
So now we are where we are. Jamal Murray is still on the board, but his status at this moment is unclear. He may not want to reclassify to 2015 and if he does, issues of him fitting into the UK system/shunning an Oregon program that has been on him for some time will still come into play. His situation should be more clear at some point this week. There is still always the chance another player could pop up (either by transfer or a potential 2016 reclassification), but fans should come closer to accepting the very real possibility that this UK team as constituted may be the final draft. A very good year is still quite possible. It requires a few variables to break a certain way (Alex be healthy, Skal totally eligible, Derek Willis ready to make a step up), but if those things happen, the Cats can still be very good. But absent Murray or a last minute surprise, Brown’s pick of Cuonzo Martin and former UK Assistant Tracy Webster (who was Cuonzo’s lead recruiter for Cal on Brown), may have made the roster what it will be…a group with lots of talent, lots of questions and the a vow to never use the word “platoon” again.
By Matt Jones on ©April 26th, 2015 @ 10:13pm
The young girl above met Willie Cauley-Stein at an autograph signing this weekend and the two pictures are just about the most precious things that I have ever seen (and that may be the first time I have used the word precious since the movie). She may not yet have an opinion about basketball recruiting but if so, then she would be one of the very few UK fans that does not. The talk on the lips of virtually all UK fans recently has been the same. Why hasn’t John Calipari closed the deal with recruits in the last two weeks of the Spring signing period? After the devastating loss to Wisconsin, many fans went through a period of mourning…I have had a number of folks tell me that they have avoided all Cats news, simply because accepting the loss is too difficult. But for the rest of us, our thoughts have moved to more glorious things, like the chance to see Kentucky on the court again and that means the team next season. Nearly every Spring sees a plethora of the nation’s top players picking Kentucky at the last minute in order to fulfill their basketball dreams, and we assumed this year would be no exception. But as of today, it hasn’t yet happened. So what gives? I thought a quick rundown of how we got here and what we may be able to expect was in order.
The seeds of the 2015 recruiting class began the day last season when Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison Twins returned. All three players were expected to leave and mid-season and when various factors brought them back, the entire outlook of last season and this recruiting class changed. The decision begat one of the greatest years we have ever had in this program but it also made 2015 more difficult, as the entire roster was not only full, but in flux. Two elite recruits took the “I don’t care who is there, I am coming” mantra…Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe. I love the moxie of that thought process and their confidence/dedication to UK will be showcased next season. But for the rest, Kentucky as a final option could not be determined until the day seven players stood up and said they were leaving. Thus a couple of players that UK likely led on in the fall (Stephen Zimmerman and Malik Newman) had their decision stretched out, and in so doing allowed other schools to make up ground. They did and the hometown B-level programs (and let’s be clear, neither UNLV or Mississippi State will even sniff the top 10 next season) became the choice.
DEVIN BOOKER AND DAKARI JOHNSON
Calipari was of course thrilled when Willie and the Twins returned and the effect on future recruiting was secondary. But as the year progressed, the mindset around the UK program seemed to be that those three plus Karl-Anthony Towns were certainly gone. Trey Lyles had always wanted to play for only one year, so if he stayed on the Draft boards, the assumption was that he would leave as well (and he did). However Dakari Johnson and Devin Booker were wildcards. When the season began, the notion that Booker would leave seemed silly, as he was almost certainly projected as a two-year player. But then he got hot, the Splash Brothers took off in Golden State (providing a model for a Booker-type guard in Klay Thompson) and his stock immediately rose. Still no one was sure what Dakari and Devin would do all year. I talked to a good source in late February who told me the working assumption was that Dakari would leave and Devin stay…but both could be flipped. And in the end that is almost what happened. Booker was much more certain in his decision and Dakari wavered before declaring for the Draft. But the UK folks who hoped they would get at least one and maybe both, were left with then having to make up for the loss of seven players all en masse, a scenario that seemed unlikely until the end of the NCAA Tournament run.
THE 2015 CLASS
If you have listened to me on the radio, you know that I have said this class is weird…and it is. A lot of guys have chosen schools that would have seemed like bizarre picks in years past, simply because of unique situations (Stepfather on the staff, father played at the school, wanting to stay in the same city with parents). However there has also been a change that is worth noting…more schools are making the recruitment of elite One and Dones in a group a priority. For the past 5 years, only two schools have tried to bundle One and Done players…Kentucky and Kansas. But spurred on by the success of those two programs, now Duke, Arizona, and UNC are doing it as well. Before, they might pick at a couple of guys here and there, but going for multiple players was not in the cards and UK/Kansas reaped the rewards. Now that luxury is gone…and every top kid is being recruited by all the blue chip programs. So far UNC hasn’t had a ton of success with this strategy, but Duke is becoming a player. So these top battles will become more difficult and while Calipari will surely win more than his fair share of them, the number of his opponents are likely to increase (this is especially true in 2016).
Coming into the Spring, it looked like UK would almost certainly get Zimmerman and likely would find a way to get Newman. Then Zimmerman got turned off by how good Skal Labissiere is (and he is REALLY good) and Ben Howland became the final piece at making Malik to Starkville happen. So UK was in some ways, back at square one. So what happens? Here is how the scene looks as of today:
Possibly the player that could fit a need the most for UK, Brandon Ingram was always going to be an uphill battle. He is from North Carolina, grew up a Tarheel fan and is in the state where the current National Champion is located. Getting him to Lexington is a chore…but UK has made up ground in the last few weeks. I am told that he is seriously considering Kentucky and when he makes his announcement at 6:10 tomorrow, I think the Cats have a fighting shot. I still expect his decision to be Duke…those that have followed him longer than I believe that it is what he will do. However Calipari has made it a race, after zeroing in on him when it was clear the Cats weren’t getting Newman (which was clear a few weeks ago). If he can pull it off, it will be a great come from behind upset grab.
UK has been all over the board with Diallo. He was Slice’s recruit when he came to Kentucky and at times, UK has led thanks to his time here. But then Mullin gets the job at St Johns and makes that a more plausible landing spot, Cliff Alexander gets ruled ineligible at Kansas and leaves an opening for him and Slice heads back home to New York, taking away UK’s best connection. Diallo is still expected to make his decision this week and he asked for the UK staff to make another visit a week ago, a good sign no matter how you look at it. I am not sure what he will do, but the Cats do have a shot. It isn’t a position of need necessarily, but if he comes here, then the Cats will have a great front line.
UK hadn’t even begun to recruit Murray until three weeks ago…now he might be the biggest prize out there to grab. Murray blew up at the Nike Hoop Summit and the working plan (that he would go to prep school next year) may have quickly changed. He is looking more likely to reclassify to this year and the Cats are doing everything to make up for lost time. He was the best perimeter player in basketball this All Star season and the Canadian now has to decide whether he goes with the school that has been on him the longest (Oregon, which has invested of time in him) or the shiny new power program that has arrived on his doorstep. UK is trying to get him to visit next weekend (he chose not to come to Lexington for the tournament with his AAU team this weekend because he would not have been allowed to meet with coaches or have a tour of the campus with anyone from UK during the trip)…if they are successful (which we should know by Tuesday), I like UK’s chances. If not, Oregon is likely the favorite. He is a potential superstar.
The wildcard of all wildcards. Brown might be the most explosive talent in the class. I have seen him do things on the basketball floor that no one else in this class can do athletically. He will be a superstar. But no one has any idea what he is thinking. It is assumed that Adidas schools are in the lead, with thoughts varying from Kansas to UCLA to Michigan. But Calipari has been going with him a long time and Brown has said that there is no place like Kentucky. Last summer Brown told me (and others) that there were people around him who didn’t want him to go to UK. But Calipari has been to see him many times and the UK folks haven’t given up. Will he go against his family and Adidas and come to Lexington and be a star (and likely give Kentucky 2 of the top 3 picks in next year’s Draft)? Most all the experts seem to think that is unlikely…but they dont’ know any more than the rest of us. He is the rarity in modern recruiting…an elite talent whose destination is anybody’s guess.
Mulder is on his visit to UK right now and leaves tomorrow. If he doesn’t commit to Kentucky within 24-48 hours, I will be surprised. He is a great shooter who will be a good role player for the Cats no matter who else they get. I asked someone to compare his role at Kentucky and they told me “think Darnell Dodson without all the baggage.” UK could use such a player next season.
So that is where we are…Calipari needed one of a few things to happen for next year’s team to once again be elite. Either Booker returned, Newman came, Brown surprised everyone, Ingram spurned his hometown schools or Murray became a rabbit out of the hat. The first two options have passed. Now we wait for the last three. As of now the roster looks like this:
PG: Tyler Ulis
SG: Isaiah Briscoe
PF Alex Poythress
C Skal Labissiere
6th: Marcus Lee
I put Poythress at the 4 because I am told that is where Calipari wants to use him most often next year, as that is his true college position. I expect the Cats to add Mulder and at least one other piece. Who that other piece is determines whether UK is just very good (which they still can be with the roster above) or elite. Cross your fingers.
By Matt Jones on ©April 26th, 2015 @ 9:13pm
How many of you have an online dating profile, raise your hand? Now include Tinder…now raise them again. Chances are if you are single and under 50, you either have had one or will have one at some point in your life, even if just for fun. And if you have, then the above map may be interesting to you. Vox.com looked at a study of dating profiles and checked which word was used more often in a state than in the rest of the country…and the winning word in Kentucky was not surprisingly, “Basketball.” Kentuckians use the word basketball in their online dating profiles disproportionately more than any other state in the country…and I bet if we looked more into it, the phrases “#BBN”, “Calipari” and “Reload” probably would have been on the list as well.
At least we aren’t Mississippi…what kind of word is “lookin” anyway?
I will freely admit. I didn’t know that Upper Deck even still made cards. But they do and since they do, one would think they would do it well. Not this time. The Upper Deck NFL Draft card for Bud Dupree is actually Jalen Whitlow. As you can see, the card shows a player diving for the end zone (which maybe should have been a clue for Upper Deck since Dupree is a Defensive player and likely has dove with the ball only a couple of times ever) and the player is wearing #8. Everyone knows that Dupree was #2 with the Big Blue and the player shown is Jalen Whitlow. Dupree himself noticed the mistake and tweeted it out, likely slightly miffed. Getting a chance to see yourself on a card is pretty awesome…unless the player that is presumably you is actually someone altogether different.
I had the same reaction when my first Kentucky radio card showed a picture of Dick Gabriel.
UPDATE: A couple of you have pointed out that it may be #2 on the card as well, as Whitlow also wore #2. That makes sense and would help explain (a little) the Upper Deck goof. But it is still a goof.