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Notes from Mark Stoops’ interview with KSR

@jennyhg76

We’ve always said Mark Stoops is infinitely better at the microphone when he is chatting with KSR. That was the case again this morning when Coach stopped by All Sports in Fayette Mall for an interview before his team begins fall camp on Monday. He was loose, energetic and undoubtedly excited to see the fans in attendance, plus he sounded pretty excited about kicking off his season in a couple of weeks, too.

Below you’ll find a rundown of his comments; you can hear the audio of the entire interview on the website later today.

*****

Enough with the basketball questions.

Stoops understands basketball is king in Kentucky and he has said many times that he embraces Coach Cal’s program, but today he admitted that, for the first time, a question about UK basketball annoyed him recently. He was at the ESPN Car Wash in Bristol, fresh off SEC Media Day, and the first question he got was about basketball. Stoops said he was tempted to respond with: “Really?!”

“We’re all starving for a good football program.”

Feed us, Coach. Let’s eat. Big Blue Nation is famished.

Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith are ‘difference-makers’ on the ends.

Stoops said his two DEs are as good as anybody in the country. The interior guys will be decided by committee, but he feels very good about his defensive line. He foresees three or four guys who will play well at the defensive tackle spots inside his superstars, who he says are as good as any of the NFL talent he had at Florida State.

The secondary was a letdown last season.

After Matt complimented the secondary’s effort, Stoops told him, “Wow, they didn’t play as good as I wanted them to.”

He expects that group (his expertise on defense, he says) to be much better in 2014.

He expects a substantial step up at wide receiver.

“I don’t mean to be funny or cute here, but we were not very good,” he said of last year’s receiving corps. “We are going to drastically improve there, because all of the guys were first year guys in the program. Four of the top five guys were first year guys in our program. Three of them were true freshmen.”

He said Ryan Timmons was good with the ball in his hands but that’s all he could do last year. They had to create ways to get him the ball because he played lost. But now Timmons and the others know the offense, they know what they’re doing, and they know how to play wide receiver.

He’s really looking forward to getting Josh Clemons on the field.

Headlined by transfer Braylon Heard and returning leading rusher JoJo Kemp, Stoops feels great about his backfield. He called Heard a guy that can make some home run plays, and we all know what Kemp is capable of. But Stoops is also really excited to get Josh Clemons in the mix.

Regarding Clemons’ arms, Stoops said, “Our strength and conditioning coaches want to take pride in that, but that’s called genetics.”

josh-clemons

Wow.

The quarterback update is there is no quarterback update.

We’ve known the deal since the spring and Stoops is tired of talking about it. The staff will decide some time in fall camp before the opener.

Does he have a relationship with Bobby Petrino?

“I do not. No.”

But he plans to keep playing Louisville, even if the SEC goes to nine games.

He is surprised by how quickly they found recruiting success.

He knew it would come, but Stoops admitted to surprising himself by how quickly they’ve gone up against quality teams for recruits and winning some of those battles.

The new football complex will be “incredible.”

Stoops is very excited to get everything in one centralized location, a new 100,000 sq. ft. football facility that will house their offices, dining room, players lounge, weight room and locker rooms.

“It’s going to be incredible.”

“Never look back, believe me.”

Get ready for a new attitude on the football field in 2014.


KSR’s Kickoff Playoff: The Semifinals

KSR’s Kickoff Playoff: The Semifinals

kickoff-playoff2

Now that the football team’s Kickoff Playoff has its final matchup, its time we decide who advances in KSR’s version of the Kickoff Playoffs. Last week’s winners advanced by way of vote here on the website and we ask you again tonight to send two more ahead and two more home.

Here is a look at the field, in case you missed it.

Jared Lorenzen – “Hells Bells” by AC/DC
Matt Jones – “Victory” by Puff Daddy
Bryan The Intern – “Whoomp! (There It Is) by Tag Team
Ryan Lemond – “Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon
Shannon The Dude – “For Those About To Rock” by AC/DC
Tyler Thompson – “Lose Yourself” by Eminem
Drew Franklin – “Jungle” by X Ambassadors & Jamie N Commons
CM Tomlin – “Magnificent Seven Theme” by Elmer Bernstein

So tonight we have Jared Lorenzen and AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” versus Ryan Lemond and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What” on one side of the bracket. And on the other side we have Tyler Thompson and Eminem’s classic “Lose Yourself” against me and “Jungle” by the X Ambassadors & Jamie N Connors.

Help us decide which two songs reach the finals:

 


“Hells Bells” vs. “Turn Down For What”

“Hells Bells”

“Turn Down For What”


“Lose Yourself” vs. “Jungle”

“Lose Yourself”

“Jungle”


 

Be sure to vote in the Braylon Heard vs. Za’Darius Smith matchup, too. The winner of that one will meet our winner in one final showdown next week.


2014 Kentucky Position by Position Preview: Quarterbacks

2014 Kentucky Position by Position Preview: Quarterbacks

 

Part one in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats.

lorenzen

Barring something unforeseen, neither of the gentlemen pictured above will start at quarterback.

 

We’ve almost made it, Cat fans.  We’ve successfully navigated through the doldrums of the Kentucky sports calendar, and now stand at the precipice of football season.  Fall camp is less than a week away, and year two of the Mark Stoops Kentucky rejuvenation project hits Commonwealth Stadium in just one month.  Here to greet this glorious time of year is the annual Kentucky Sports Radio position by position preview, an eight part series breaking down each position group on the Wildcat roster. We know you are anxious to hear about the punters, but we’re saving that preview to the end to allow the tension to build.  Instead, we’ll start with quarterbacks.

THE CANDIDATES:

towles

Patrick Towles  6-5, 238 So. Ft. Thomas, KY (Highlands)

Towles made a strong impression in the Spring after appearing to be the odd man out in 2013, when he was beaten out by both Max Smith and Jalen Whitlow.  Towles redshirted in 2013, and rededicated himself to the fundamentals, in part through the employment of private quarterback coaches in the off-season.  This work appears to have paid off. Towles was named the starting quarterback for the Spring Game, and appears to be the leader in the clubhouse for the position going into Fall camp.  Of the likely candidates for the job, Towles is the only player with collegiate playing experience, though that initial foray into college football was largely forgettable, having completed 19 of 40 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman in 2012.   Towles has always possessed the physical tools, as indicated by his stellar high school career.  Towles went 38-1 as a starter for the powerful Highland Bluebirds, including three consecutive state titles.  He compiled 7400 passing yards and 73 passing touchdowns as well as 1700 rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns in a high school career that culminated with the Mr. Football Award in 2011.

phillips

Reese Phillips 6-2, 218 Fr.-RS Signal Mountain, TN

Despite being far and away the least heralded of the contenders for the Kentucky quarterback position, Phillips nearly worked his way onto the field as a true freshman in 2013.  Having graduated high school a semester early, Phillips immediately impressed coaches with his cool demeanor and accuracy in the Spring of 2013. As injuries mounted at the position last Fall, coaches seriously considered throwing Phillips into the fire, but decided it was in the best interest of Phillips and the program to preserve his redshirt season.  Phillips was twice named all state in the volunteer state, before escaping over the wall designed to keep out all of the haters and snitches. Phillips will go into Fall camp competing with Towles and Barker for the starting job.

barker

Drew Barker 6-3, 216 Fr.-HS Burlington, KY (Conner)

Barker gave himself a legitimate shot at the starting quarterback position by enrolling in January so that he could participate in the conditioning program and compete in Spring Practice.  Undoubtedly one of Mark Stoops’ biggest achievements to date as the Wildcat coach was the signing of Barker, an Elite 11 quarterback and four star prospect.  As a three year starter at Conner, Barker threw for over 6000 yards and 62 touchdowns, and rushed for over 3900 yards and 51 touchdowns.

6775949

Maxwell Smith 6-4, 238 Jr. Granada Hills, CA

Smith’s status is up in the air following off-season shoulder surgery.  However, he is throwing at this point, and has been told by coaches he will have the opportunity to compete if healthy.  “If healthy” is a significant qualification for Smith, who has actually been quite capable in those rare moments that he has been able to avoid injury.  Smith has played in 21 games in his Kentucky career, starting 11.  In that game action, he has thrown for over 3000 yards and 21 touchdowns compared to just 9 interceptions. Unfortunately, his best football took place early in his Kentucky career, as witnessed by his 2011 Freshman All SEC designation, before a multitude of injuries hampered his effectiveness.

OUTLOOK:

Unfortunately, I do not think that Maxwell Smith is a viable option at this point.  If fully healthy, I truly believe that Smith has ideal tools to be an excellent option in the Air Raid Offense.  Having said that, by the end of last season, it appeared his arm was held to his torso by bailing twine.  And though he admirably fought through it without complaint, and without much help from his supporting cast I might add, it seems too much to ask for him to overtake three talented, and healthy, quarterbacks in the Fall.

The resulting three man race is difficult to call with any real certainty, as there is a valid argument to be made for each candidate. Each brings something unique to the table.  If you combined the three together, you’d get former ‘Cat Jared Lorenzen. (I kid, Jared. Don’t hurt me.)  If you combined the three in something other than mass, the resulting player would be something pretty special. Towles possesses all of the measurable qualities.  With his 6-5 height and broad shoulders, he looks like an NFL quarterback.  He also has the strongest arm of the candidates.  Phillips has the accuracy that Neal Brown craves. Brown has stated many times that accuracy is the single most important characteristic for a quarterback to possess in his version of the Air Raid.  Barker has that certain air of leadership and star power that Kentucky has not enjoyed at the most important of positions since the days of Tim Couch.  Because the technology necessary to combine these players to form one megaback will likely not be available by the August 30 opener, Stoops will have to make the call.

The best case scenario appears to be for Towles to win the job.  He is the most experienced, in his third year in the program, and appears to have reached the point in which his preparation and devotion to the craft have equaled his raw ability. Towles has the arm strength to make all of the throws necessary for opponents to have to cover the entire field, as evidenced by the 15 yard outs he zipped routinely in the Spring Game.  Towles’ emergence will have the added benefit of allowing Barker to redshirt.  Though fans are understandably excited about Barker, and many will be impatient to see him on the field, success at the highest level of Division One football as a true freshman quarterback is a rarity.  (Like a Louisville fan with a job.) Allowing Barker a year to get stronger and perfect his understanding of the offense would be a tremendous luxury.  It would also grant another year for Stoops, Marrow and company to fill the offense with weapons for his disposal once he is ready to take over the position, whenever that may be. Phillips would appear to be an ideal backup.  Brown stated that he was both the most accurate passer and most consistent performer over the Spring, though his ceiling may not quite reach the peak level of either Barker or Towles.  These qualities will serve Phillips well as a dependable backup to Towles in 2014.

 

 

 


Remembering Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones

Remembering Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones

wah-wah

By now you’ve heard about the passing of Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, the most accomplished athlete in the history of athletics at the University of Kentucky. Earlier today, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart issued a statement, saying, “The word ‘legend’ is used frequently in our society but it is truly fitting when considering Wah Wah Jones. Wah Wah holds a legendary place in the athletic history of our state.”

Barnhart is exactly right, too. Wah Wah Jones is a true legend, and tonight we’ll explore his accomplishments on the court, on the field, and in life in general. The man did it all…

*****

He was born in Harlan, Kentucky.

Born in 1926, Wallace was one of Hugh and Fay Jones’ five children, along with Dukie, Evelyn, Hugh, Jr. and Jacqueline. The Joneses owned Hugh Jones Cafe, a popular restaurant in Harlan, located on Main Street next door to where BB&T Bank is today.

He went by “Wah Wah” early, because his younger sister couldn’t pronounce his name.

His baby sister Jackie could only say ‘Wah Wah’ when trying to pronounce ‘Wallace,’ thus the nickname was born. It stuck with him since childhood.

He played for Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant.

wah-football

Kentucky football made its first bowl appearance in 1947, Jones’ junior season and Bryant’s second year as coach. Jones followed that up with the NCAA basketball championship that season, the first of Rupp’s four.

He was the last surviving member of the “Fabulous Five.”

Oscar Combs tweeted, “With Wah’s passing, the end of UK’s Fabulous Five era is now in the history books.”

The Fabulous Five, consisting of Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Cliff Barker, Kenny Rollins and Jones, won 36 of 39 games in 1947-48, including the national championship.

He is the only Wildcat with a retired number in basketball and football.

That is a feat that will never be duplicated.

He also played baseball.

When he wasn’t playing basketball and football for Kentucky, he also pitched for the baseball team, lettering three years on the diamond.

And he was on the track team.

Why stop with basketball, football and baseball? Shot put was another of Jones’ athletic gifts.

He was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Phi Delt was kicked off campus earlier this year until Fall 2016 for behavior Wah Wah would not approve of.

He had a summer job at Keeneland.

He worked in horse sales during what little free time he had away from sports.

He almost signed with the University of Tennessee.

From an interview for Wildcat Memories:

Were it not for the man who went on to become my father-inlaw—Alva Ball of Middlesboro, Kentucky (I married his daughter, Edna)—I might have ended up playing basketball for the University of Tennessee instead of for UK. In the summer of 1945 Mr. Ball overheard that I was considering signing with Tennessee. I don’t know who he called at UK, but the next day a driver arrived in Harlan to transport me to Lexington to meet with Coach Adolph Rupp. After meeting with him I decided to sign at UK.

Thank you, Alva Ball. You’re a great American.

He won a gold medal in the 1948 Olympics.

Jones, Coach Rupp and the other members of the Fabulous Five brought home the gold from London in 1948. Another Wildcat won basketball gold in London, 64 years later…

He was selected eighth overall in the 1949 NBA Draft.

He fell to the Washington Capitols at No. 8, six spots behind Alex Groza, a fellow Wildcat and second overall pick that year. Ralph Beard came off the board four picks later.

He played three seasons for the Indianapolis Olympians.

Washington dealt him to Indianapolis after the draft where he averaged 10.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest in three seasons.

He was a seventh-round choice by the Chicago Bears in the 1949 NFL Draft.

The NFL was an option, too.

He was invited to try out for the Boston Braves.

As was Major League Baseball.

He was a 5-handicap golfer.

There were very few things he couldn’t do in sports, if any.

He published a Lexington TV guide.

The “Wah Wah Jones Publication” was delivered to every house in Lexington with an antenna, back when televisions weren’t so common. Jones went on to sell the subscription to TV Guide.

He was elected sheriff of Fayette County.

He served from 1954 through 1958. “I was the first Republican sheriff in this county since the Civil War – and the last one,” he told the Courier-Journal in 2003.

He was a Republican nominee for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.

He lost to John Watts, a veteran Congressman, in Jones’ only run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956.

He started Blue Grass Tours.

Lexington’s oldest horse farm tour company (with the blue buses we’ve all seen) began in 1978 under Jones, its founder. Today, Blue Grass is the official charter of the Kentucky basketball team. The Cats use a custom-made $700,000 sleeper coach, designed specifically for John Calipari and his team. The bus’ horn plays the UK fight song.

Watch his introduction at Big Blue Madness in 2012.


The Ladies of BBN Are Ready for More Stoopsball

The Ladies of BBN Are Ready for More Stoopsball

photo 3

D Line Pride

The second edition of Coach Stoops’ women’s clinic was moved indoors to Nutter Field House as Commonwealth Stadium is under construction–a fitting analogy for the attitude of this coaching staff and the ladies of the BBN yesterday. There’s a mixed air of optimism and realism for what lies ahead for this program after that 2-10 opening slog through the SEC (you may recall).

Over three hundred women made their way to Kentucky’s campus at 8 am on a Saturday in July, and while there wasn’t the frenzy of last year’s record-setting crowd, these ladies are clearly hungry for some football.

BteLRELCQAApE-I

@JenNimePalumbo

A few observations upon entering Nutter Field House:

1) I. Am. Tired. How do these women have so much energy?

A) They are getting to talk football with virtually no men around–except the real experts. I need to perk up.

2) Am I the only person not wearing blue?

A) Yes.

It was clearly not just the impending season (or tailgating) that was on the minds of the women participating–there was a buzz about the room regarding the upcoming recruiting class, evident in Vince Marrow’s introductory ovation.

After a few Cal-isms from Stoops, it was time for a positional breakdown by each member of the staff of course to “impress your husbands and boyfriends.” Despite fact that these ladies know more about football than your average person, not just man, it did produce a number of interesting insights.

Neal Brown gave the crowd something they wanted to start off the day–“the quarterback position is probably gonna be the most improved position on offense this fall.” In response to a quick burst of applause, Brown chuckled, “yea, that’s worth a hand to me.”

Then Brown told us a bit about each quarterback and their progress this summer; it was in alphabetical order to avoid any of the notorious over-analysis we Kentucky fans are capable of. (George Brown DID put the Florida hat in the middle).

– Drew Barker has done a really good job learning the offense and is catching up quickly with the other quarterbacks.

– Reese Phillips has been under the radar a bit, but was the most consistent day in and day out in the spring. He throws a really catchable ball.

– Maxwell Smith may be ready before the season begins after his shoulder surgery, but it’s to be decided.

– Patrick Towles came from one of the better high school programs in the state (some would say the best), and he may be the most improved guy in the entire offense.

Brown assured everyone that he wants to name a quarterback sooner rather than later in order to get them settled in. Oh, and we are gonna be MUCH better on third down, thanks to the improvement on plays like the ones he ran at Texas Tech.

Next up we had running backs coach Chad Scott round up the running back corps: Braylon Heard is very VERY fast, Jojo Kemp talks a lot but he’s also grown a lot, and Josh Clemons has been through a great deal of injuries, but is a terrific leader with a great attitude. I’m truly looking forward to seeing where these running backs can take us in season 2 of the Air Raid.

Vince Marrow was the next presenter, and hot damn does he have a fun personality. Must be why the young’uns relate to him. He’s far too cool for me. He also played football for Nick Saban at Toledo after being a scholarship basketball player.

My favorite presenter just may have been Tommy Mainord, wide receivers coach transplant of Brown’s offense at Texas Tech. He’s a Texas native and fittingly so–he should have been cast on Friday Night Lights. The guy is intense and excited to see what a healthier wide receiver corps with a technically and physically improved Ryan Timmons, Javess Blue, Jeff Badet, and soon-ish to be ready Alex Montgomery can do.

After Coach Naivar (special teams) and DJ Eliot broke down some plays for the ladies, we got to hear some insight from now famous High Performance Coach Erik Korem and Nutritionist and Dietitian Monica Fowler on how they’re taking these guys to the next level.

Monica Fowler puts in a LOT of work, eating breakfast and dinner with the football team during training, being available night and day via text to answer any random question the guys may have. Though some of the players are eating 6 or 7 thousand calories a day to keep weight up, they’re now asking questions like “Can I gain that much in one week and it still be good weight?”

The last presenter was Col. Jason Cummins, the Director of the Impact Leadership Program and Senior Manager of Athletic Operations for Horizon Performance.

In the military, medals are awarded for sacrificing self for the team. But we live in a culture that rewards sacrifice of the team for self. We tell them all the time, ‘Who you’re becoming is more important that what you’re doing.’

Strong words.

photo (16)

The Wives

The wives of each member of the coaching staff came up and introduced themselves to the clinic.

My favorite tidbits:

– There are soon to be 38 kids between the members of the coaching staff. Sounds like a nightmare.

– Mark Stoops and his wife Chantel hosted a recruiting dinner during the season with 100 people at the house. Chantel said that getting to know the parents, as well as their kids and have them under one roof helps to forge a bond between the families. The best part? Having all those football players isn’t good for plumbing. Three toilets were broken, which likely made a Lexington plumber very … happy? 

– A member of the audience thanked them for sharing their sexy husbands with us. I’m uncomfortable.

Fashion Show

The players may have been more excited to show off for the women of the clinic than we were to see them. Nate Willis was dancing, Jason hatchet was blowing kisses, and Javess Blue was backflipping, and each player made a point to give a special shout to the “beautiful ladies of the BBN”

Za’Darius introduced each of the players, from full football gear down to full Under Armour gear, and the ladies, especially the older crowd were going WILD, with several catcalls like “What’s underneath this?” to which Erik Korem replied, “Wrong clinic?”

Hide yo kids, hide yo wives.

We closed out the show with the stirring rendition of Happy Birthday for some of the campers (let’s call them campers) led by Rodney Cox. Though he complained of a sore throat, the dude’s got some pipes.

Drills, Drills, Drills

My favorite part of the entire program–running drills with the position coaches and players. Lazily standing to the side, watching these women getting in a stance and huddle up was absolutely brilliant. You were real troopers ladies. Though you need to pick up the pace, as Vince Marrow said to our group, “If you really were my players and you walked over here that slow, you’d be running laps.” Dang coach.

neil brown

We learned Neal Brown is on team no shoes.

Stadium tours (synthetic turf is coming–this means football field wedding receptions people) a raffle, and autographs closed out a great day in Nutter Field House. And we have over a month until kickoff against UT-Martin. Can’t wait? Get in line.

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Hello autograph line.

Click the “more” button for some more pictures and Vines of the ladies participating in drills. You won’t regret it. 

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22 Fun Facts from the UK Football Media Guide

22 Fun Facts from the UK Football Media Guide

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There’s pretty much only one reason I look through the media guide each season: the fun facts about each player at the end of their bios. Reading what each player’s hidden talent, nickname, or favorite thing about UK is may be the best way to get to know them. So, to save you the time of flipping through each bio, I did it myself this morning, and came up with this list of 22 fun facts about UK’s 2014 football team:

Jordan1

1. Despite the fact that most of the players were toddlers during his prime, Michael Jordan is still the most famous athlete in sports.

When asked what sporting event they’d most like to witness, past, present, or future, several players said they wanted to see Michael Jordan in his prime (Josh Clemons, Josh Forrest), or specifically his “flu game” (Drew Barker, Thaddeus Kuzunas, Ashely Lowery). Three players said Jordan is the athlete with which they’d most like to trade places (Shaquille Love, Ramsey Meyers, Miles Thompson). To me, this is further proof that Jordan is still considered the greatest basketball player of all time, or, at the very least, “Space Jam” was the most popular kids movie in the mid-90′s.

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2. UK beating LSU in 2007 is UK football’s most famous moment for this generation

UK’s football tradition isn’t exactly great, but we’ve had some big moments in the past decade. The biggest is UK’s upset of LSU in 2007, and four players–Mikel Horton, Jacob Hyde, Matt Howard, and DJ Warren–said that’s the sporting event they’d most like to witness past, present, or future.

Dunn_Treeli-capilouto

3. Tre’ Dunn and Eli Capilouto are workout buddies

Senior linebacker Tre’ Dunn’s profile might be the best of all. He says he wears the number 26 because “2 multiplied by 6 is 12 and 12 is the greatest number.” When asked for one thing he couldn’t live without, he said “my organs.” I  mean, that’s just straight up logic. The coolest thing about UK for Tre’? “Hanging at the gym with Eli Capilouto.” We need video of this.

(Photo by Clay Jackson/cjackson@amnews.com)

(Photo by Clay Jackson/cjackson@amnews.com)

4. The Blaylock Twins are very musical

Junior linebacker Daron Blaylock says that if he could go back in time, he’d like to go to Woodstock, and his hidden talent is Guitar Hero. In fact, he claims he has “a voice of Fergie and Jesus combined” when he sings. His twin, safety Zack Blaylock, may have one of the most unexpected go-to hype songs on the team: “Sweet Dreams.” I’m assuming he means “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, which is just awesome.

5. Javess Blue’s hidden talent shouldn’t be a surprise

Javess Blue says his hidden talent is tumbling but KSR readers learned all about that during his recruitment.

i

6. Darryl Long’s hidden talent is writing poetry

Get ready to swoon, ladies.

7. Some more random hidden talents on the team…

  • Grant Aumiller used to bass fish competitively.
  • Matt Howard is really good at quoting Forrest Gump. (I think this calls for a quote-off with Drew Franklin at Media Day)
  • Farrington Huguenin can stand on his hands for a while.
  • Travaughn Paschal claims that he can fly (Hmm).
  • Patrick Towles can play the harmonica.
  • Tyler Brause is really good at precision long-range shooting.

hatchervet

8. Jason Hatcher’s dream job other than the NFL is owning an animal hospital.

AzYVIayCUAA-KDw

9. John Gruenschlaeger listens to “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion to get ready for a game

That flute solo is really stirring.

10. The “dream jobs” are all across the board

The players were asked what their dream jobs are other than playing in the NFL. There was a wide variety:

  • Junior long snapper Kelly Mason: Actuary
  • Senior wide receiver Demarco Robinson: Jungle Explorer
  • Freshman offensive lineman Josh Krok: DEA agent or US Marshal (he’ll be a hit at parties)
  • Freshman offensive lineman Nick Richardson: architect
  • Sophomore wide receiver Jeff Badet: financial advisor
  • Senior tight end: Steven Borden: Professional surfer
  • Junior offensive tackle Shaquille Love: chef

download (1)

11. Freshman linebacker Dorian Hendrix meditates every day.

Ommmmm.

boom from KSR

12. Stanley “Boom” Williams’ reason for picking the number 18 will make you love him

The freshman running back says he picked the number 18 to “follow the legacy of Randall Cobb and Jacob Tamme.” Yep, fan favorite already.

13. Here are just a few of the players’ nicknames:

  • Josh Clemons: Big Zoo Doo
  • JoJo Kemp: Jojo on the Go-Go
  • Nico Firios: Greek Freak
  • Khalid Henderson: Lee-do, Shotta, Waka, and Blondey

Who needs four nicknames?!?

Ear+wiggle_22904b_4671146

14. Jacob Hyde and Jordan Swindle can wiggle their ears

I bet you’re trying to wiggle yours right now, aren’t you?

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KSR’s Kickoff Playoff: Round 1

KSR’s Kickoff Playoff: Round 1

kickoff-playoff

Earlier this week, UK released its Kickoff Playoff, a three-round tournament of eight songs selected by eight UK football players to determine which song will be played before kickoff in the season opener. Fans are asked to vote over on the BBN First website, with the first round wrapping up this week and semifinal voting taking place next week.

Tonight, I put together our own Kickoff Playoff bracket with eight song suggestions from eight KSR personalities. We ask that you eliminate four from the tournament tonight by vote and we’ll trim that to two next week. In the end, we’ll put our winning song up against UK’s winning song for the ultimate Kickoff Playoff championship.

Here are the eight songs we came up with:

Jared Lorenzen – “Hells Bells” by AC/DC
Matt Jones – “Victory” by Puff Daddy
Bryan The Intern – “Whoomp! (There It Is) by Tag Team
Ryan Lemond – “Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon
Shannon The Dude – “For Those About To Rock” by AC/DC
Tyler Thompson – “Lose Yourself” by Eminem
Drew Franklin – “Jungle” by X Ambassadors & Jamie N Commons
CM Tomlin – “Magnificent Seven Theme” by Elmer Bernstein

Listen and vote below:


“Hells Bells” vs. “Victory”

“Hells Bells”

“Victory”


 

“Whoomp! (There It Is)” vs. “Turn Down For What”

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

“Turn Down For What”


“For Those About To Rock” vs. “Lose Yourself”

“For Those About To Rock”

“Lose Yourself”


 

“Jungle” vs. “Magnificent Seven Theme”


“Jungle”

“Magnificent Seven Theme”


UK Football Fan Day set for August 9

Your University of Kentucky football program will hold its annual ‘Fan Day’ on Saturday, August 9th at Commonwealth Stadium this year. The autograph session with the players will begin at 9:00 am, followed by an open practice at 10:45 am.

Last year’s open practice/scrimmage was played in the rain, but it was still a very fun event with a surprisingly good turnout for the weather. I spent most of the time watching Za’Darius Smith do pushups on the sidelines in full pads because he was out with a tweaked ankle. It was my first time seeing him in person.

You should go this year and show your support for the Cats as the season opener draws near.

 


UK Football’s 2015 Big Board: Commitments and Top Targets

UK Football’s 2015 Big Board: Commitments and Top Targets

2015-commits

Kentucky picked up three commitments during the Friday Night Lights camp this past weekend, two in the 2015 class (Marcus Walker and Kei Beckham) and one in the 2016 class (Zy’Aire Hughes). It’s been a while since we’ve recapped where the Cats are with the 2015 class and who they still want to bring in, so I spent my day updating the Big Board. Enjoy.

*****

COMMITMENTS

Linebacker

ELI BROWN
Outside Linebacker
Bowling Green, KY
6-2 | 185

Ranking: 
247Composite: 12 OLB | 204
247Sports: 19 OLB
Rivals: 10 OLB | 133
ESPN: 13 OLB | 234
Scout: 21 OLB | 239

Committed: April 21, 2014

Other Offers: Ohio State, USC, Ole Miss, Penn State, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky

Additional Note: Originally a Vanderbilt commit, Brown re-opened his recruitment in October shortly after an unofficial visit to Ohio State, UK’s biggest competitor for Brown at the time.

JORDAN JONES
Outside Linebacker
Youngstown, OH
6-2 | 203

Ranking: 
247Composite: 48 OLB | 696
247Sports: 48 OLB
Rivals: 32 OLB
ESPN: 36 OLB
Scout: NR

Committed: May 8, 2014

Other Offers: Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan State, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana

Additional Note: Jones attends Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, alma mater of Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow.

Defensive Line

4_2929789

DARIUS FULLWOOD
Defensive End
Olney, MD
6-4 | 240

Ranking: 
247Composite: 18 WDE | 399
247Sports: 19 WDE
Rivals: 18 SDE
ESPN: 37 DE
Scout: 44 DE

Committed: June 28, 2014

Other Offers: Alabama, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Michigan State, NC State, Penn State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, West Virginia

Additional Note: Fullwood and Jabari Greenwood announced together at Fullwood’s home in DC, opening the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) pipeline for years to come. Fullwood cited the family atmosphere around the program and the ability to play in the SEC as reasons he chose the Cats over Virginia Tech, Duke, and Maryland. He also said he wants to be a leader in the 2015 class, like Drew Barker was for 2014.

Secondary

4_1075475MARCUS WALKER
Safety
Lake Wales, FL
6-0.5 | 176

Ranking: 
247Composite: 19 S | 377
247Sports: 32 S
Rivals: 16 S
ESPN: 16 S | 196
Scout: NR

Committed: July 18, 2014

Other Offers: Arkansas, Cincinnati, Duke, Florida, Illinois, Michigan State, Mississippi State, NC State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, UCLA, Vanderbilt, UVA

Additional Note: Walker first committed to Kentucky back in January, but decommitted in April. After picking up offers from Arkansas, Michigan State, Tennessee and others, Walker decided to recommit to Kentucky, in part because the staff kept in contact with him even after he reopened his recruitment. He was one of three commitments during UK’s Friday Night Lights camp this past weekend (two in the 2015 class, one in the 2016 class).

4_2930064KEI BECKHAM
Cornerback
Dayton, OH
6-0 | 173

Ranking: 
247Composite: 46 CB | 564
247Sports: 44 CB
Rivals: 42 CB
ESPN: 59 CB
Scout: NR

Committed: July 18, 2014

Other Offers: Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Louisville, Minnesota, Purdue

Additional Note: Beckham also committed to the Cats during the FNL camp after an exclusive workout with Mark Stoops. He needs to bulk up before he can hold his own in the SEC, but he’s athletic, with good hands and quick feet.

Offensive Line

LUKE HIERS
Center
Lake Wales, FL
6-3 | 295

Ranking: 
247Composite: 9 C | 533
247Sports: 10 C
Rivals: 3 C | 247
ESPN: 4 C
Scout: 12 C

Committed: May 1, 2014

Other Offers: Louisville, Miami, Mississippi State, Nebraska, NC State, South Florida, Syracuse

Additional Note: A four-star product on Rivals.com, Hiers committed to Kentucky days after visiting Lexington for the Blue-White game. He was Rivals’ second-ranked center in the country at the time, but has since dropped a spot to No. 3. There are reports that he committed back in October but waited to see the campus before going public with it.

LEVON LIVINGSTON
Offensive Tackle
Washington, DC
6-7 | 232

Ranking: 
247Composite: 86 OT | 770
247Sports: 52 OT
Rivals: NR
ESPN: 75 OT
Scout: NR

Committed: April 5, 2014

Other Offers: West Virginia, NC State

Additional Note: Livingston plays both sides of the line of scrimmage in high school and insists he can play either in college, however, the plan is to use him on the offensive line at Kentucky.

LOGAN STENBERG
Offensive Tackle
Madison, AL
6-6 | 327

Ranking: 
247Composite: 106 OT | 969
247Sports: 106 OT
Rivals: 9 C
ESPN: 109 C
Scout: NR

Committed: April 5, 2014

Other Offers: UAB

Additional Note: Stenberg committed to UK on the same day as fellow offensive linemen Levon Livingston and Larry Wells.

LARRY WELLS
Offensive Tackle
Kenton, OH
6-8 | 295

Ranking: 
247Composite: 127 OT
247Sports: 139 OT
Rivals: NR
ESPN: 81 OT
Scout: NR

Committed: April 5, 2014

Other Offers: Cincinnati, Illinois, Akron

Additional Note: Wells committed on the same day as Levon Livingston and Logan Stenberg.

MASON WOLFE
Offensive Lineman
Henderson, KY
6-7 | 280

Ranking: 
247Composite: 88 OG
247Sports: 98 OG
Rivals: NR
ESPN: 96 OG
Scout: 77 OT

Committed: April 7, 2014

Additional Note: Wolfe became the fourth offensive lineman commit in three days when he committed during an unofficial visit to UK in early April. He told 247Sports he just felt it was time and he was interested in Kentucky since the very beginning.

4_2929835GEORGE ASAFO-ADJEI
Offensive Lineman
West Chester, OH
6-4 | 295

Ranking: 
247Composite: 53 OT | 445
247Sports: 19 OT | 176
Rivals: 42 OG
ESPN: 58 OG
Scout: 35 OG

Committed: June 23, 2014

Other Offers: Akron, Cincinnati, UConn, Florida, Illinois, Louisville, Miami (OH), Minnesota, Syracuse, Toledo, West Virginia, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan

Additional Note: Asafo-Adjei is a former teammate of current UK players Kyle Meadows and Mikel Horton, and said he felt comfortable with UK’s players, coaches, and facilities. It doesn’t hurt that it’s close to home, as well. (Thank you, Vince Marrow.)

Tight End

CJ CONRAD
Tight End
LaGrange, OH
6-5 | 225

Ranking: 
247Composite: 10 TE | 228
247Sports: 8 TE
Rivals: 7 TE | 195
ESPN: 11 TE
Scout: 7 TE | 203

Committed: May 9, 2014

Other Offers: Arkansas, Illinois, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Additional Note: Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame were picking up interest, but he chose the Cats before they could close in. Vince Marrow was the lead recruiter, of course, and he liked how UK was on him early. Indiana was the other finalist with Kentucky.

Wide Receiver

ALEX STUMP
Wide Receiver
Lakewood, OH
6-3 | 190

Ranking: 
247Composite: 39 WR | 305
247Sports: 33 WR
Rivals: 40 WR
ESPN: 75 WR
Scout: 31 WR | 235

Committed: May 3, 2014

Other Offers: Cincinnati, Miami (FL), West Virginia, Georgia Tech, Ohio, Harvard, Yale

Additional Note: Stump, who will undoubtedly see his ranking climb next season, called Kentucky the perfect fit when he committed earlier this month. “Their offense is a great offense for receivers,” he told the Herald-Leader. “Maybe, possibly I could have gotten ‘bigger’ offers, but this is the perfect fit for me. There was no reason not to do it.”

4_1299074JABARI GREENWOOD
Wide Receiver
Washington, DC
6-4 | 193

Ranking: 
247Composite: 57 WR | 506
247Sports: 53 WR
Rivals: 42 WR
ESPN: 56 WR
Scout: 60 WR

Committed: June 28, 2014

Other Offers: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Marshall, Maryland, Michigan State, NC State, Pitt, Rutgers, UVA, Wake Forest, Washington State

Additional Note: Greenwood picked Kentucky over Michigan State, Virginia, and Maryland. At 6’4″, 193 lbs., he’s got the size to compete in the SEC, and more importantly, looks like a playmaker. Greenwood said WR coach Tommy Mainord played a huge factor in his decision, and his commitment was a big win for Mainord, who is the primary recruiter in the DMV area.

*****

TOP TARGETS

4_2929782DAMIEN HARRIS
Running Back
Berea, KY
5-11 | 205

Ranking: 
247Composite: 1 RB | 23
247Sports: 2 RB | 59
Rivals: 1 RB | 4
ESPN: 1 RB | 28
Scout: 1 RB | 34

Decision Date: December 13, 2014

Other Offers: Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Michigan, Arkansas, Florida State, USC, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin

Additional Note: Harris is the staff’s biggest priority in the class. If he does choose Kentucky, he’ll be the highest ranked recruit the program has ever landed, and have an impact on recruiting classes for years to come. Harris attended UK’s FNL camp this past weekend, one of several visits he’s taken to UK, and by all reports, the staff feels better than ever at their chances of landing him. However, December 13 is a long time from now, and UK may need to pull off more than one upset this season to convince Harris to take a chance on them.

4_997523GEORGE BROWN JR. 
Offensive Tackle
Cincinnati, OH
6-6 | 253

Ranking: 
247Composite: 42 OT | 364
247Sports: 84 OT
Rivals: 13 OT | 118
ESPN: 63 OT
Scout: 39 OT

Decision Date: July 25, 2014

Final Five: Alabama (non-committable), Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU

Additional Note: Brown seemed close to committing during his visit to UK for the FNL camp this past weekend, but held off to take one last visit for Florida. If you read the tweet leaves, he seems torn between the two, but we’ll know for sure on Friday.

4_1251828BRANDON WILSON 
Defensive End
Winter Garden, FL
6-4 | 240

Ranking: 
247Composite: 50 SDE | 1037
247Sports: 41 SDE
Rivals: NR
ESPN: NR
Scout: NR

Decision Date: Unknown

Other offers: Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Wisconsin

Additional Note: Wilson visited UK last Tuesday, and reports say he enjoyed himself, especially getting to see his former teammate Garrett Johnson, who will be a freshman this fall. He’s looking for an offer from Georgia, and on Sunday, tweeted he’d also like to take an official visit to Wisconsin. While the Cats are in a good position, this is far from over.

4_882099VON DAVIS
Cornerback/Athlete
Mount Dora, FL
5-11 | 170

Ranking: 
247Composite: 42 CB | 504
247Sports: 39 CB
Rivals: 25 ATH
ESPN: 46 ATH
Scout: 69 CB

Decision Date: Unknown

Other offers: Arizona, Indiana, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis

Additional Note: There have been conflicting reports about Davis’ interest in Kentucky, but according to 247 Sports’ Ryan Bartow, had Davis visited UK this past weekend, he would have committed. Keep an eye on this one.

[All images and star-ratings via 247Sports.com]


The Real People Of The Peach Jam

The Real People Of The Peach Jam

peach-jam-people

Nike’s EYBL Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina is the hottest spot in basketball recruiting every year. College coaches from all over the country fly in to watch the nation’s most elite high school basketball players in a five-day event, the biggest stage of the summer.

By now you know all about the participants and the coaches in town to watch them play, but unless you’ve been to the Peach Jam and taken in the whole scene, you don’t know anything about the many other faces in attendance. So today I present to you a KSR special: a behind-the-scenes look at The Real People Of The Peach Jam.

***** 

The Angry Parent

peach-jam-people2

We all know “the angry parent” (if you don’t, you are the angry parent) and the loudest and craziest in the country gather here in Augusta for the Peach Jam. With the highest level of high school basketball comes the highest level of insanity in the stands.

The Assistant Coaches Who Are Overly Nice To Everyone, Hoping To Land A Better Job

This is a big weekend for the recruits, but it’s also a big weekend for that hungry youngster looking to climb the college basketball coaching ladder. Lowly assistants from the Vermonts, Furmans and Toledos of the world can be seen hobnobbing with head coaches of bigger programs whenever the opportunity presents itself. For example, I watched one aspiring young chap do everything but massage Bill Self’s shoulders as they sat courtside during the afternoon session. Self was not interested in the rook’s many attempts to strike up a conversation, but he wasn’t going away without giving his two cents about every player on the court.

The People Who Were Told To Not Stand In The Corner But Didn’t Listen

peach-jam-people4

Fire Marshal, anyone?

The People Who Were Told To Not Stand In The Corner And Listened

peach-jam-people3

Birdseye view of the action.

The Kids In The Lobby Who Need Supervision

Seriously, who is watching all of these kids? One of them threw a piece of a pretzel at me earlier. This isn’t free daycare. Get these kids out of here.

The Old Man Using The Gym Because It’s His Gym And A Basketball Tournament Won’t Stop Him From Getting His Wednesday Workout In

Maybe the most bizarre moment of the trip happened Wednesday in Atlanta when an old man walked out of the locker room in nothing but his briefs and a towel draped over his shoulder to watch the end of the game. I guess the Suwanee gym was still open to its regular members and he wasn’t going to let AAU basketball ruin his weekly routine on the StairMaster.

The Jersey Chaser In Training

Just as the Peach Jam is the beginning of a bright future for the boys in jerseys, it’s also the beginning of a lifelong thirst for the girls who like the boys in jerseys. Young groupies make their presence known outside the locker rooms.

The Fat Guy Carrying A Sweat Towel

peach-jam-people5

One prominent head college basketball coach once told us there is always a massively overweight friend of every AAU program, standing in the corner near the bench, wiping his face with a sweat towel throughout the game. Coach K, I mean, that prominent head college basketball coach, was exactly right, too. There is always one Biggest Loser candidate in every gym, every game.

The Guys Who Think They’ll Strike Gold With A YouTube Video

peach-jam-people1

Someone has to make all of those YouTube videos we watch religiously throughout the recruiting periods. You’re looking at the masterminds behind those videos, the guys who hope to get one with 100,000 views so they can pay rent.

The UK Fan

Go in any of the four courts, make one quick scan of the crowd, and I guarantee you you will find at least one Kentucky fan. Decked out in a UK polo or a ’12 National Championship tee, the UK fan is often here alone, further proving their dedication to the Cats. Ridge Runner, one of our favorite KSR commenters, makes the solo trip to the Peach Jam every year, although we missed him on Thursday.

Also, a special shout-out to the gentleman who watch Jaylen Brown, Diamond Stone and Doral Moore in Atlanta Wednesday night. I don’t know who you are, but you were cheering for the UK targets like they are already commits, and your enthusiasm did not go unnoticed.

The Blogger That Takes A SnapChat Of His Knee Because It Is Touching Tom Izzo’s Knee, When He Should Be Paying Attention To The Basketball Game That Is Right In Front Of Him

knee


Peach Jam Update: Cheick Diallo and Tyus Battle — Also Delicious Peaches

Peach Jam Update: Cheick Diallo and Tyus Battle — Also Delicious Peaches

peach-jam

Our Friday at the Peach Jam has seen Calipari head back to Lexington to hang with Lebron and an influx of weekend-basketball fans into the Riverview Park Activities Center, and I’m sorry to say that if you’re a local here looking to get a quick bit of elliptical in before tomorrow, you’re likely out of luck. Instead, the place is flooded with coaches, assistants, fans and various youths hanging about — some of them here on official basketball business and some of them just hanging out. Regardless of what the motives of these young whippersnappers may be for being here, the action is everywhere.

As your credentialed chronicler of all things Peach-Jammy (and man, I’m really beginning to wish you guys would stop putting pressure on me to be your sole source of awesome recruiting information, because I’m a human being and not your personal, definitive fount of basketball news), I just walked out of a match-up between Boo Williams and Team SCAN Cardinals. Boo Williams, it should be noted, is both a real person and a team name here at the Peach Jam founded by the real person. Team SCAN Cardinals, which is both a basketball team and the name of a birdwatching interest group I host in the park on weekends (email me for details) is the home team of two of Kentucky’s sought-after recruits.

Mali-born power forward Cheick Diallo is a tall drink of water who attends Our Savior New American, a New York team which requires at least seventeen cheerleaders to spell its name out on cards at halftime if you forgo the exclamation point. His younger teammate Tyus Battle is a highly-ranked shooting guard out of Gill St. Bernard’s School, which sounds like just some guy’s homeschooling operation but is an actual institution in Gladstone, New Jersey. Both have gained a lot of eyes lately and both have offers from UK and we were here to check ‘em out.

Several coaches showed up to watch the throwdown, including Jamie Dixon (man, that guy is everywhere), Slice, Orlando Antigua, Jay Wright and Michigan’s John Beilein, who I stood behind in the dinner line and discovered to be extremely polite with food service workers.

Tyus Battle and teammates (not pictured)

Tyus Battle and teammates (not pictured)

As per usual, take my critique as you will, bearing in mind I’m watching these guys play for the first time and relaying what I see to you, but both Diallo and Battle look like guys we could really potentially get behind in the next few years. Battle initially jumped out at me as the more dynamic of the two; physically he resembles Rajon Rondo and displays a real confidence on the court without coming off as self-important. He’s fast, moves the ball really well and controls things nicely. He went three of seven on three-pointers but has a nice shot but most impressive was that he really seemed to have his head in the game at all times. Occasionally you’ll see a player here who looks completely lost — maybe he’s not paying attention, maybe the gravity of the situation is distracting, maybe the fact that if you make one wrong move you could end up in Bob Huggins’ lap — but Battle looked focused and competent. He also, to harken back to my earlier post today about Greg Paulus’ tidbits on recruiting, appeared to be a cohesive teammate, supportive and chatty on the floor at all times, picking his team up and keeping momentum high. Kid even smiled from time to time — and that’s a level of comfort I can assure you hardly ever see out of these players. You wouldn’t guess him a junior, that’s for sure.

Diallo Cheick

Diallo Cheick

One of the top ten prospects for 2015, 6’9″ Diallo only saw twenty-one minutes of playing time and ended up with six points, six rebounds and no blocks. From my vantage point — and I heard he looked phenomenal earlier today — he looked kind of exasperated. Maybe he was being hard on himself, but he looked put out with some of the calls and once, upon missing a shot, slammed his fist into his hand in frustration. Still, he looks pretty ferocious at times on rebounding and definitely has a motor. He also gets down the floor quickly and has moments where he really attacks the ball. Perhaps Diallo is just an aggressive player both physically and emotionally, which isn’t a bad recipe if it can be harnessed for good.

(Photos shown actual speed.)

(Photos shown actual speed.)

Overall, I think we’re going to be happy with either of these guys. We’ll see. Back to the courts now.


(Photo by Todd Van Emst, SEC)

Eight Takeaways from UK’s turn at SEC Media Days

 (Photo by Todd Van Emst, SEC)

After a whirlwind trip to Birmingham, I’m back from my second SEC Media Days. On the drive back, I finally processed the very busy day and came up with eight takeaways from UK’s session, both on the main stage and with the local media beforehand.

Talk is great, but it’s time for action

Mark Stoops knows it’s time for action. Last year, he had a lot of padding heading into the SEC gauntlet as a first-year coach with little talent in the cupboard in the most difficult conference in college football. This year, some of that padding comes off as both fans and media look to see if Stoops’ rebuilding effort is legit. Will Kentucky finally get its first SEC win since 2011? Are those highly-touted recruits enough to turn the program around? Even more, will the recruits still come if the Cats continue to struggle? These are the questions that followed Mark Stoops as he made his rounds at the Hyatt Wynfrey on Thursday. To give Stoops credit, he knows it’s time to walk the walk:

“I think you’re going to start to see the fruits of our labor. We don’t put in all this work – players don’t put in all this work and the coaches, all we do – to come out here and not win games. We’re in the business of winning games; we understand that, we accept that and embrace that and we’re excited to get out there and get going.”

Although still up in the air, the situation at QB will be better

Not that I expected to hear otherwise, but the quarterback situation is still undecided. With the local media, Stoops admitted that there was some “clarity” about who was leading the race, a “pecking order,” but insisted that the job was not won, and there is plenty of time for things to change. Later on, he told reporters in another room “We’re not close to making a decision yet.” Hmm. While there is plenty of uncertainty about who the starting quarterback will be, Stoops is certain about one thing: “We’re going to be better at quarterback.” From the way he broke down each candidate, it sounded like no matter whom the staff picks–Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, or Drew Barker–things will be MUCH improved on offense. That’s comforting.

© Marvin Gentry

© Marvin Gentry

Stoops is doing his best to repair the damage of the Joker Era

Over the course of the past year, we’ve come to realize just broken the program was when Stoops came on board. We’ve heard Stoops say in the past that Za’Darius Smith, a JuCo player, had the best fundamentals on the team at the beginning of last season. Although Stoops says he doesn’t like to dwell on the past regime, he’s admitted that he’s been taken aback by the scope of the rebuilding process at times. Today, Bud Dupree opened up about how Stoops not only had to teach his players not to give up, a habit many of them picked up towards the end of Joker Phillips’ tenure, he had to get rid of some team “cancers”:

“Once you’re losing so many games, people just start to think why they are listening to a certain guy. Coach Joker was a great coach, but I think people just gave up on him too easy. I was never one of those guys who gave up on him. Now, with Coach Stoops, even though we only won two games last year, he made sure people didn’t give up on him and people didn’t think about throwing the towel in and so on. That played a big role on why people came back this offseason so strong and so hard even though they’ve seen us go through the struggle again and see that he’s with us the whole time, side by side.”

“[Stoops] brought a different mindset to people. And it started with people who, if you weren’t all in for the team, you gotta go. So once people started leaving the team who were a cancer, you’ve gotta make sure people are all in for the team and benefit the team in the long run. All the people who were on the sideline just saying ‘oh, I hate being at practice,’ stuff like that, they gotta go. Once everything happened, no dead weight, the team started to rise up.”

(Photo by Todd Van Emst, SEC)

(Photo by Todd Van Emst, SEC)

Za’Darius Smith is way more important than any of us realized

The one thing I’ll really take away from the interviews today is just how valuable Za’Darius Smith is to this team. Sure, we all love Big Z for his huge smile, infectious personality, and extraordinary talent; however, I’m not sure any of us will truly appreciate just how integral he’s been to Stoops’ rebuilding effort. I made it a point to spend a lot of time around Za’Darius today to get to know him as a “fan favorite,” but I left realizing that his impact on the program goes much, much deeper. To refresh your memory, Za’Darius came to UK from East Mississippi Community College, along with UK’s current defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh. Za’Darius said today that Brumbaugh was the reason he came to Kentucky, and if Brumbaugh hadn’t left East Mississippi CC, he probably would have gone to Mississippi State. I reminded Za’Darius of Stoops’ comment that he had the best fundamentals of anyone on the team when he arrived. Za’Darius didn’t disagree, and said that he’s spent all of his free time helping his teammates learn:

“Coach Brumbaugh taught me in junior college, and I have the ability to help the team and know what I’m doing. Just by coming in when he’s not there, I can go outside with all the other guys and be that leader to help them with technique work.” Za’Darius says it’s already paying off, and he’s seeing several of his teammates, particularly the freshmen, putting in extra technique work in their free time. “I’ve actually seen a lot of guys, a lot of freshmen in their dorm with ladders doing feet work. The older guys, the defensive line, are there doing hand drills just to make room, just because they’re together and they’re trying to get better.”

All of this from a player who will only be at Kentucky for two years. Za’Darius has already earned that billboard and so much more.

This was the best moment of the day

While waiting in a lobby full of hyper Alabama fans for Nick Saban to arrive, I stumbled upon Wanda Smith, Za’Darius Smith’s aunt. She was right at the front of all of the Alabama fans, with a prime view of the front doors. She was decked in blue and white and proudly held up her “GO CATS” towel. I introduced myself and said that UK fans love her nephew, and when the UK contingent arrived, she shouted his name, and he came over and gave her a huge hug. Knowing the journey Za’Darius has taken, the pride his family has in him, and the huge stage he’s now on, the grins on their faces as they embraced was by far the best moment of the entire trip for me.

Za’Darius has taken Matt Elam under his wing

Earlier I mentioned how Za’Darius has taken it upon himself to help the younger guys with their techniques. It turns out he’s taken one player in particular under his wing: Matt Elam.

“Matt Elam is a great guy. He’s a guy who wants to learn also. Every chance I get, I take time to help him with technique work because that’s something that every guy needs is technique work. Just from him coming out of high school, I really take my time to help him with it.”

Za’Darius was Elam’s host on his visits and said he gave him one piece of advice: “Just don’t go to a school because of the uniforms or the cleats and all that good stuff. Go to a school where you know you’re going to get coached up. And where you know you’re going to build a relationship with that coach because I was in that same situation.”

The talent and depth are rising

Despite the breadth of the rebuilding process, Stoops’ message was positive. In fact, according to my count, he used the word “better” at least 25 times today in his various appearances. I’ve already mentioned that no matter who gets the starting quarterback job, Stoops believes the position will be better, and he sees that improvement across the board on offense, specifically with playmakers.

“Our wide receivers will be better. Four of our top‑five pass catchers were first‑year guys in our program a year ago, three true freshmen and one junior college transfer. Our leading rusher was a true freshman. Those guys being a little older, a little stronger, more experienced is going to help the quarterbacks as well.”

In fact, depth is building all across the roster:

“We played eight true freshmen last year, four first‑year junior college players. We have 15 returning starters and 36 guys in our program that have started at least one game. So we’re starting to build a little bit of depth.”

© Marvin Gentry | Getty

© Marvin Gentry | Getty

The chip on UK’s shoulder is getting sharper

Throughout the day, reporters asked Stoops and the players how they felt about being picked last in the SEC. Stoops joked that he thought they’d be at the top of the pack, but insisted that they’re “not worried about all that,” and are only concerned with getting better, day by day. His players, however, couldn’t help but address the topic in a bolder manner. Bud Dupree even trotted out one of the team’s mottos: “We’re definitely trying to change the game, not only for our team but for our whole program. This is my last year, so if we go to a bowl game and win a lot of games, it will only help the program.”

Part of changing the game is finally shedding the losing mentality that built up during all of the program’s struggles. That hasn’t been easy, and Dupree said that it’s not enough to just want to change the game–you have to believe that you can:

“We have enough talent to win games. Now, the big key behind it is, do we believe we have enough talent to win games? The mindset of a player going out on the field can’t be given by the coach. Even though the coach is telling me I can do it, if I don’t believe in my mind I can do it, it’s not going to happen.”

Za’Darius says the coaches are trying to build up the players’ confidence every day: “Our coaches tell us each and every day, ‘We’re not going 2-10 no more,’ so that’s something that will motivate us and in my eyes, I see each and every guy working hard and I can see a big turnaround this year.”

However Dupree knows that talk’s cheap. “So why not pick us to finish last? But it’s just up to us to go out there and show them.”

———————————–

Have you had enough football yet? Didn’t think so. Ryan Lemond and Jared Lorenzen are hosting tomorrow’s show, so get ready to hear more gridiron talk. The guys will by with their thoughts on the night’s events in the morning, including the story behind that priceless picture of Pitino and Matt. 


A Behind-the-Scenes Tour of SEC Media Days

A Behind-the-Scenes Tour of SEC Media Days

© Marvin Gentry

© Marvin Gentry | Getty Images

With one year of SEC Media Days under my belt, I know that, aside from UK’s session, the most exciting thing isn’t the coaches or the players–it’s watching the media. So, while sitting through the various press conferences is good for a few soundbites (more so if it’s Les Miles or Steve Spurrier), the real action happens in the lobbies, whether it be the upstairs landing between the various meeting rooms; the main hotel lobby downstairs where the fans are; or Radio Row, the long hallway in where all the radio stations set up. Instead of sitting in the chilly main room pretending to care about Arkansas or LSU, I spent my day roaming the grounds to get a true feel for the event. I made the right choice.

The upstairs lobby at the end of the day (abnormally quiet)

The upstairs lobby at the end of the day (abnormally quiet)

UPSTAIRS LOBBY

The upstairs lobby is where all of the “work” happens, and accordingly, only credentialed media are allowed up there. This space, anchored by two ESPN sets, a soda fountain, and a long table with press conference transcripts, is the epicenter of Media Days. Tucked into a corner, one can best observe the natural ebb and flow of the event, which all revolves around the coaches and the players moving from room to room. So, with a handful of cameramen, I waited outside the door to the TV interview room where Les Miles was speaking, hoping to get a good video of the shutter-staccatoed drama as he proceeded to the next room:

The video actually goes on like that for another thirty seconds as Les makes his way slowly across the lobby, cameramen walking backwards in front of him. I shot a similar video last year, and the crowd surrounding Les was much bigger, probably because Media Days itself seemed bigger last year. Although they added an extra day this year (mainly for the SEC Network), the event doesn’t have the same fervor, probably because all of the superstars are gone–Johnny Football, Jadeveon Clowney, AJ McCarron, etc. I’m sure this will all change tomorrow once Alabama takes the stage, but this year’s event has a much calmer feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still chaos, but I don’t have to straddle a video platform to get a picture of a player like I did the last go around.

THE ESCALATOR

An escalator connects the downstairs lobby (fans) to the upstairs lobby (media). One of the highlights of the event for me is riding the escalator just to see how disappointed the fans are when they realize it’s just me. Seeing the sadness and irritation wash over them as I slide into view is magical. I’ve never been so happy to disappoint people in my life.

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DOWNSTAIRS LOBBY

Maybe it’s because I’m a Kentucky fan so I feel at home amidst the craziest of the crazy sports fans, but the downstairs lobby is my favorite place to hang out. All week, fans of various teams (mostly Alabama) spend the day standing in the lobby for that millisecond glance at coaches and players as they enter the hotel and go up the elevator. The best coaches and players will stop to sign autographs, but not all of them. Tomorrow, this place will be a mob scene as Alabama fans cram the lobby to get a glimpse of Nick Saban and the Alabama contingent.

Today, there was a light mix of Alabama fans, Florida fans, Auburn fans, and LSU fans, each with a miniature helmet for their heroes to sign. One couple even brought their bulldog to the festivities, and of course I had to take a picture.

IMG_2044

Radio Row at the end of the day

RADIO ROW

Radio Row is the long hallway that connects the downstairs lobby to the adjacent mall. It’s flanked by conference rooms, and around 30 radio stations are set up along the walls, making for a cacophany of accents and opinions as you walk through. Right now, I’m writing this from a table on Radio Row, eating my SEC Network popcorn and drinking a beer courtesy of the SEC Network. That’s especially fitting because Radio Row gives you the best people watching possible. For instance, Paul Finebaum just walked by, pausing in front of the conference room in which the SEC Network was holding its “Movie Night” (free popcorn and booze!) and the hotel bar, in which hordes of writers, TV reporters, bloggers, and cameramen are letting loose and preying on the few female media members in attendance. I watched Paul carefully as he contemplated which room to enter. After briefly hesitating at the entrance of the bar, he turned around and went to the Movie Night, exiting about five minutes later with a bottle of water. Always on the straight and narrow, that Paul.

Other celebrity sightings: Jesse Palmer looking tall and tailored, nary a wrinkle in sight; Mitch Barnhart strolling around the upstairs lobby with his monogrammed UK backpack; and Pat Forde preening at the Movie Night festivities. I averted my eyes from that one.

As you can imagine, I kind of geeked about the free popcorn.

As you can imagine, I kind of geeked about the free popcorn.

As I sip my free beer and eat my free popcorn, I’m reminded that SEC Media Days is really just about the media, not the coaches or the players. When you think about it, all of these press conferences could be done in one day, probably via phone or the internet. This year, it’s been stretched to four long days, and the media are more pampered than ever. Over the past few decades, the SEC has become the grandest of the grand, and with the SEC Network revving up, Mike Slive might as well be Jay Gatsby smiling over yet another lavish event. It’s the best commercial ever, right? Winning makes the SEC the best conference in college football, but a full and happy media makes it the most popular.


UK’s Class of ’15 Basketball Recruiting Board: Meet The New Guys

UK’s Class of ’15 Basketball Recruiting Board: Meet The New Guys

new-guys

The University of Kentucky added four new names to its list of prospects with scholarship offers over the weekend. Most notably is Diamond Stone, the nation’s top recruit according to at least two services and one-half of the Malik Newman/Diamond Stone package deal. We’ve discussed Stone several times on this website and on the radio, but the other three additions to the big board are a little less known.

Tonight we’ll introduce you to the new guys — Antonio Blakeney, Henry Ellenson and Brandon Ingram — with a look at where they rank in the class, what schools have offered and five interesting facts and notes about each player. Let’s get to know them, shall we?

 

Antonio Blakeney, Shooting Guard



6’4″, 170 lbs.
Orlando, Florida (Oak Ridge)

Top247: No. 11 overall, No. 3 SG
247 Composite: No. 12 overall, No. 2 SG
Rivals: No. 16 overall, No. 3 SG
ESPN: No. 16 overall, No. 3 SG
Scout: No. 20 overall, No. 5 SG

Other offers include: Florida, Florida State, Kansas, Louisville, Missouri, Memphis, Auburn

1.) He played his first two season of high school basketball at Cardinal Mooney, but not the same Cardinal Mooney that is very familiar to Big Blue Nation. There is another Cardinal Mooney in Sarasota, where Blakeney scored over 1,000 points before transferring to Oak Ridge in Orlando for his junior season last year.

2.) He made a gym explode:

3.) John Lucas called him “the most explosive scorer in the 2015 class” in a tweet from the LeBron James Skills Academy over the weekend. 247Sports.com’s Jerry Meyer said he is “an electric scorer.”

4.) He has long been one of Louisville’s top targets, but the Cards are losing ground as interest picks up from other schools. Louisville still leads the Crystal Ball predictions at 39 percent but the lead isn’t what it once was.

5.) His high school coach, Alex Jackson, told CatsPause.com, “He is unguardable at the high school level.”

 

Henry Ellenson, Power Forward




6’10″, 230 lbs.
Rice Lake, Wisconsin (Rice Lake)

Top247: No. 12 overall, No. 4 PF
247 Composite: No. 8 overall, No. 3 PF
Rivals: No. 17 overall, No. 5 PF
ESPN: No. 5 overall, No. 3 PF
Scout: No. 7 overall, No. 3 C

Other offers include: Marquette, Duke, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa State, Creighton, Michigan State, North Carolina, UCLA

1.) Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi recently tweeted, “Starting to think of Henry Ellenson as more of a combo forward than straight four. Has some young Antoine Walker to him.” He has also drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzski.

2.) He went head-to-head with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in New Jersey last month. Cousins and Davis were the two instructors at Nike’s Big Man Skills Academy, where Ellenson was one of 15 high schools players invited to train with the two former Wildcats and 10 college big men.

3.) He made a huge surge in the rankings in the last couple of months. Ellenson was ranked No. 46 in the 247Composite when Kentucky picked up talks with him in early May. Now he is No. 8 overall in the rankings, up almost 40 spots.

4.) His older brother, Wally, transferred to Marquette this summer after two seasons at Minnesota. Marquette is recruiting Henry to join his older brother and currently leads his Crystal Ball predictions at 62 percent.

5.) ESPN’s Joel Francisco named him one of the five best players at the LeBron James Skills Academy, along with Cheick Diallo, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons and Stephen Zimmerman.

 

Brandon Ingram, Small Forward



6’8″, 180 lbs.
Kinston, North Carolina (Kinston)

Top247: No. 17 overall, No. 4 SF
247 Composite: No. 18 overall, No. 4 SF
Rivals: No. 25 overall, No. 5 SF
ESPN: No. 12 overall, No. 2 SF
Scout: No. 26 overall, No. 5 SF

Other offers include: North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, NC State, Florida, UCLA

1.) Duke and North Carolina, the two in-state schools, are all over Ingram. He has already taken at least three unofficial visits to Duke in 2014 with two reported coaches visits from Coach K and assistant Jeff Capel. He has made at least two trips to Chapel Hill this year while meeting at home with Roy Williams on at least three separate occasions.

2.) Two former Tar Heels, Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Bullock, also attended Ingram’s Kinston High School.

3.) He recently told CatsPause.com, “(Kentucky is) making me more of a priority… (Coach Cal) talked about how bad he wants me. He said I’m the type of player he wants. We had a very good talk and they want to get in the mix more and try to recruit me.”

4.) He plans to visit Kentucky next month. Louisville, too.

5.) He did this in the state title game:

Much more to come from these guys, and the others, as the summer recruiting cycle picks up speed.


The Best Coaches with 5-Star Recruits in College Basketball

The Best Coaches with 5-Star Recruits in College Basketball

John-Calipari-11-8-12

Last spring, I did a study to find out which college coaches are the most successful at getting five-star recruits to the pros. I started with the top eight coaches still in the game: John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim. I looked up all of the 5-star recruits they’ve brought in during the past decade and how each of those recruits fared in the NBA Draft (or, if they went undrafted). Picking five-star talent is not a perfect indicator, as there are obviously differences between a player ranked #1 and those ranked #20 (where five-star rankings usually end). But it is the best indicator of elite status and the players that most all of the top programs focus on recruiting. I developed a point system to determine which coach is most successful in getting players to the league:

The NBA Prep Point System

0 = Undrafted
1 = Drafted in the second round
2 = Drafted in the first round
3 = Lottery pick
4 = Top 5
5 = Number one pick

SIS = Still in school

Why the different levels? I awarded zero points to players that came in as 5-stars and left school without being drafted. To me, that shows a lack of preparation by their coach for the league. This could also include players who were not drafted, but signed with a team later on.

I awarded one point to players who were drafted in the second round, since they do not receive guaranteed contracts. Two points go to players drafted in the first round, but not in the lottery, since those players receive guaranteed multi-year contracts. Three points to players selected in the lottery, or picks one through fourteen, and four points to player picked in the top five. The money payout for the top five picks is significantly more than the rest of the lottery picks, as is the pressure to go pro if that’s your projection. I awarded five points to players who went first because of the notoriety and money that comes with it, as well as the bragging rights that go to the school. I took the average of the players’ NBA Prep rank and assigned them to each coach. That number shows, on average, where each five-star recruit that plays for that coach goes in the NBA Draft.

Here are last year’s results, which included up to the 2011 recruiting class (the study was done before the 2013 NBA Draft):

2012 results

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 4.28.48 PM

How has that changed after two recruiting classes? John Calipari has pulled even farther away from the pack:

1. John Calipari, Memphis & Kentucky: 2.84

CalRecruits14

Cal’s average has gone down slightly because none of his past four draft picks (Nerlens, Archie, Julius, or James) were picked in the top five. In retrospect, Nerlens definitely should have gone in the top five, and Julius’ stock took a last minute drop, as did James Young’s. Still, the gap between Cal and the other coaches grew almost 0.3 points, which is pretty significant in just two years. As the years go on, this gap will most likely continue to widen, especially after next year’s draft.

2. Roy Williams, North Carolina: 2.45

RoyRecruits14

Williams’ average was clearly hurt by James McAdoo going undrafted, but he still maintains a big lead over the rest of the coaches. However, the past few recruiting classes haven’t panned out for him, and as scandal continues to swirl around Chapel Hill, it’s not looking good for Ole Roy.

3. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: 1.79

CoachKrecruits14

Coach K’s average pretty much stayed the same, with Rodney Hood’s late first round pick offsetting Jabari Parker’s Top 5 selection. With Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker going first and second in the draft after only one season, Coach K can’t really cling to that anti-one-and-done stance like he used to. The players that do stick around for a few years at Duke end up going from the mid-first round to early second, which would give Coach K a higher average if Demarcus Nelson, Greg Paulus, and Brian Zoubek hadn’t gone undrafted.

4. Bill Self, Kansas: 1.77

BillSelfrecruits14

* JR Giddens was recruited to Kansas by Roy Williams, but Bill Self persuaded him to stay when he was hired. Dave Padgett was also a member of Kansas 2003 class, but transferred to Louisville after his freshman year.

Clearly, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins really helped out Self’s average, and with more five-stars coming to Kansas, I expect Self will continue to rise in the rankings.

T5. Tom Izzo, Michigan State: 1.5

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 5.31.36 PM

Izzo also made a jump, thanks to Adreian Payne finally going to the draft and Gary Harris making it after two years. Despite Harris going pro after his sophomore season, Izzo continues to have a reputation for recruiting three or four year players.

T5. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse: 1.5

BoeheimRecruits14

Boeheim doesn’t get many five-star players, but the ones he does have gone in the first round the past five years. Ennis was Boeheim’s first one-and-done since Donte Greene back in 2008.

T5. Sean Miller, Arizona: 1.5

MillerRecruits14

I added Miller to the study this year because he is becoming a bigger and bigger presence on the recruiting trail. In fact, in the past three years, he’s brought in more five-star recruits than anyone but Calipari, a very telling fact. Aaron Gordon was Miller’s first recruit to go in the Top 5 of the draft, and he’s got two more five-stars coming with Stanley Johnson in 2014 and Justin Simon in 2015.

8. Billy Donovan, Florida: 1.2

billyrecruits14

Billy Donovan took by far the biggest fall of all the coaches in the past two years, due in large part to Kenny Boynton and Patric Young not being drafted. For a coach ESPN voted the best in the country, Donovan isn’t even in the top five of getting five-star players drafted. However, his average will likely get a bump up once Chris Walker goes to the league (Walker is currently projected to go 11th in the 2015 draft).

9. Rick Pitino, Louisville: 0.57

PitinoRecruits14

Once again, Rick Pitino is at the bottom of the rankings, and hasn’t had a five-star recruit come to Louisville since Chane Behanan in 2011. Ouch.

Conclusion: The Kentucky Effect is a growing phenomenon

Once again, the numbers show that John Calipari is not only the best recruiter in college basketball, he’s also the most successful at getting his players in the league. On average during his time at Kentucky, his five-star recruits are being drafted right on the cusp of the lottery, and he’s helped a good number of four-stars get to the league as well. With seven potential draft picks next season (Harrison Twins, Dakari, Willie, Marcus Lee, Alex and Karl Towns), Calipari’s average should continue to rise. 

If you’re a five-star recruit and want to be a high NBA Draft pick, Kentucky is clearly the best school in the country to help make your dreams come true, and the gap between Kentucky and the rest is widening each year.