We’ve given a breakdown of how the offense performed in the spring game, but it’s now time to jump over to the other side of the football. Mark Stoops has put together a handful of really good defenses in his coaching career and last year’s version at Kentucky was one of his best. But that is over and entering this season the Wildcats have a ton of questions to answer.
Gone is Matt House and in steps Brad White into the coordinator role. Ole Miss assistant Jon Sumrall was brought back to his alma mater to coach inside linebackers at UK and the Wildcats figure to have a very strong front seven. That’s the good news, but there is also some bad news. With the loss of Josh Allen and five seniors in the secondary, pass rush and pass coverage will be a very substantial worry entering the season. Leaving the spring game, it was clear that those two spots still need quite a bit of polish.
We must always remember that spring games are built for offenses to have success. The defensive fronts are limited in the types of looks and stunts they can run while the secondary usually vanillas down the coverage. There was a reason we saw a ton of points at Kroger Field.
With all that said, there were still some very important takeaways from the spring game to address after watching the game tape.
On the line of scrimmage, we saw Quinton Bohanna, T.J. Carter, and Calvin Taylor, Jr. open the game as the starters but they were not the only players that contributed. Joshua Paschal and Kordell Looney both received a heavy amount of reps with UK’s top defense and the group limited the white team to just 58 yards on 23 carries. That will win you some football games.
Due to the absence of Marquan McCall, we got to see redshirt freshman Jerquavion Mahone in action and the Georgia native looks like someone who could potentially crack the rotation at nose. Phil Hoskins figures to add depth at tackle while there are plenty of young players waiting in the wings.
At the next level, we were unable to see Kash Daniel with the senior being limited during the entire spring session due to precautionary reasons. The wrestling loving middle linebacker is the unquestioned leader of the group and has played a lot of football. We know what we’re getting from him, but we got to see how the development is going with UK’s trio of sophomore inside linebackers.
With Daniel out, sophomore Chris Oats got the start at Mike and the former four-star recruit collected seven tackles in the game. Oats, who in a limited sample size, recorded 27 tackles last season looks the part of a big-time SEC linebacker. On film, the sophomore looked bigger and showed more comfortability within the structure of the defense. After the game, Oats confirmed that he is working at both Mike and Will spots. With Daniel’s return to the lineup it wouldn’t be a surprise if Oats gets the start at the Will spot to begin the season.
DeAndre Square remains a reliable option at Will after recording 35 tackles with a start in the Citrus Bowl last season. Jamin Davis played both the Mike and the Will for the ones and in his third spring the redshirt sophomore looks poised to make an impact this fall.
On the edges is where the questions are. Kentucky should feel pretty good at what they have at Sam linebacker. Boogie Watson was solid in the spring game and is UK’s top returning pass rusher with seven career sacks. Backing him up appears to be Jared Casey and the highest ranked recruit in the class of 2019 will likely play this season. The true freshman was one of the white team’s most productive players recording seven tackles and a QB hurry. However, this position group will be graded on how well they fill the hole at Jack.
The Jack spot is a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid role that this defense relies on to make a ton of plays. Yes, this spot needs to create a consistent pass rush, but they also need to make run stuffs and have the ability to occasionally drop back in coverage to make a play. We saw the latter in the spring game.
Jordan Wright was a big recruiting win late in the class of 2017 and after two years of development, it is time for the former high school basketball star to make an impact. Wright has the size and frame (6-foot-5, 242 pounds) to be a big time edge player in the SEC. He’s shown the athletic ability and has the raw skills (25 sacks recorded during his senior year of high school). Now he just has to put it together.
On tape, Wright was all over the field for the first-team defense. The South Florida native collected four tackles, an interception, and a pass break-up in addition to creating some edge pressure with a speed rush. Brad White, who has been really hard on this position group, mentioned that the spring game was the best Wright has played all spring. Maybe that’s a good sign. Kentucky is going to need this guy to produce and play to that recruiting ranking.
On the final level, Kentucky has some holes but they have one for sure reliable option at safety. Davonte Robinson started three games last fall and recorded 42 tackles on his way to becoming one of the defense’s top slot corners. Now everyone from last year’s secondary is gone except Robinson. UK is going to need the redshirt junior to be a rock steady player this season. In the spring game, Robinson led all defenders with eight tackles and don’t be surprised if he leads the team in stops this season. Expect Mark Stoops to use his versatile safety close to the line scrimmage as much as possible.
At the other safety spot, senior Jordan Griffin got the start for UK’s base defense. The senior has played all over the secondary during his career and will bring much needed experience to the table. He also appears to be Robinson’s top backup at nickel. When UK went to a subpackage defense, Yusuf Corker was the third safety they brought in with the ones. After playing mostly just special teams last season, the redshirt sophomore looks ready for a bigger role. Right now redshirt sophomore Tyrell Ajian appears to be the fourth safety and that’s a good option to have. The Mansfield, Ohio native was a starter for UK’s dime defense last season and recorded that huge fourth quarter interception in the win over Mississippi State.
Kentucky should feel really good about their safety position. Safeties coach Dean Hood has a nice blend of talent and experience to deal with in his position group and that’s not even mentioning blue-chip true freshman Moses Douglass. This group is in very good shape. That cannot be said for the cornerback position.
Gone are Derrick Baity, Lonnie Johnson, and Chris Westry to the NFL. Now, in his fourth season on the staff, cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale has his work cut out for him rebuilding this position. One good thing moving forward is that UK appears to have a building block in junior college transfer Brandin Echols.
The Northwest Mississippi Community College transfer is a smaller corner than what we’ve seen recently from Kentucky (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) but it’s clear he is CB1 heading into the summer. Despite his short stature, we saw his ability to hold his own in man coverage against a bigger receiver.
Echols looked the part in coverage and made a nice, physical tackle against bruising tailback Christopher Rodriguez, Jr. in run support. UK played him at both field and boundary corner, but it appears he is now a lock to open up the season a starter on the outside. After that there are a lot of unknowns.
Cedrick Dort, Jr. was the other starting corner and he had some rocky moments. Jamari Brown got some reps with the ones while everyone else was mostly with the white team. Junior college transfer Quandre Mosely was burned by Isaiah Epps on a deep post, Stanley Garner did not appear to make an impact, and Taj Dodson looked like a true freshman.
Going into the summer, UK probably feels good about Echols but after that it’s wide open. There are three more corners enrolling in the summer and each should get a good, hard look in fall camp. The fact of the matter is that this group has a long way to go and this could be a season where a bunch of players get a shot to play big snaps at corner.
This is a defense with obvious strengths and weaknesses. Up the middle, this is set to be the best defense of the Mark Stoops era. The Wildcats have talent, experience, and depth on the defensive line. At linebacker, Kash Daniel sets the tone while Chris Oats and Boogie Watson look like future draft picks. Davonte Robinson is another pro at safety and senior Jordan Griffin brings a good amount of experience to the table. Where the worry lies is on the edges.
Right now it’s fair to say that this defense’s two most important players this season will be Brandin Echols and Jordan Wright. The Wildcats need the junior college corner to be good right away so they have a dependable piece to lean on while they figure what to do at the other corner spot. At the very important Jack linebacker spot, Jordan Wright has to fill the monstrous shoes of Josh Allen and that’s going to be an uphill climb to say the least. However, the position is tailor-made to make a lot of plays. Wright has all the tools needed to succeed at the position.
If the Wildcats are able to keep the momentum from last season and play at a top 30 or 4o level, both Echols and Wright will probably be the main reason why.
Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: Johnny Juzang and Kerry Blackshear Jr. updates, final thoughts on the NBA Draft
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 23rd, 2019 @ 11:00pm
A little over a week ago, it was looking like Kentucky was set to miss out on Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels was trending toward Washington, leaving the UK coaching staff scrambling to find one final piece to close out the frontcourt.
And then on Wednesday morning, Jemarl Baker announced he was entering the transfer portal and leaving the school. Again, Kentucky was left searching for his replacement in the backcourt.
Now, it’s looking like the Wildcats have two legitimate options for next season that we could see join the fold in the coming weeks.
Let’s jump right in.
This afternoon, 2020 five-star small forward Johnny Juzang made headlines after writing on Twitter that he has a “big announcement” ready to make tomorrow evening at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Big announcement tomorrow @ 4:30pm PST !
— Johnny Juzang (@JohnnyJuzang) April 23, 2019
Why is this significant? Because this comes just four days after the Kentucky coaching staff flew out to Studio City, California and offered Juzang a scholarship face-to-face at the conclusion of an in-home visit. To take it a step further, the reclassification rumors we’ve heard with the 6-foot-7 small forward over the last week or so are growing even louder since the weekend, with one report released this afternoon going as far as to say he is “seriously” considering a jump.
Put two and two together, and you’re looking at Juzang being a legitimate option for Kentucky in the class of 2019.
Before we dive into today’s report, let’s break down what happened during John Calipari and Joel Justus’ visit out to California on Friday. From what I understand, Kentucky discussed reclassification options during their visit and offered him a scholarship for both 2019 and 2020, whenever he wanted to find his way to Lexington. While they let it be known that they love his game and would be okay with him playing for Kentucky no matter when he wanted to come, the preference is for him to join UK’s class of 2019.
With Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Jemarl Baker all leaving the program, the Kentucky coaches outlined a very specific role for Juzang to fill at the shooting guard and/or small forward spots. They have a need for shooting next season, and with Juzang considered one of the most talented shooters in the class of 2020, the fit is obviously there. He averaged 23 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game as a junior, also shooting 43.4% from three on the Adidas circuit last summer.
Moving on to today’s report, Evan Daniels of 247 Sports broke two big tidbits of news on Juzang, the first being that the silky-smooth forward was strongly considering a jump to the class of 2019, and the next being that he will be officially visiting Kentucky starting on Monday, April 29. He went on to say that he has been told that while nothing is set in stone, Juzang is “honed in on” reclassifying.
After doing some digging since then, I can confirm that the expectation is that he will announce he is beginning the process of putting everything in order (academic credits, etc.) to make the jump to 2019. It is my understanding that Harvard-Westlake, Juzang’s high school, does not have an early graduation program for students, though his family believes they have a path in place that will allow him to make the jump happen.
As for a timeline on a decision beyond that, while I don’t think Juzang will be committing to a school tomorrow night, I do believe Kentucky feels they can wrap things up and secure a commitment next week when the five-star wing officially visits. There is significant chatter that he will be looking to wrap his recruitment up shortly, which certainly bodes well for the Cats. The mutual interest is there, and I genuinely wouldn’t trade Kentucky’s position with anybody else’s right now.
I’m going to be writing an in-depth feature/analysis of Juzang’s game and what he would bring to the table for Kentucky sometime tomorrow. Be on the lookout for that, as well.
Kerry Blackshear Jr.
While Juzang is emerging as a serious possibility for Kentucky next year, things are getting weird with Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr.
A week ago today, sources confirmed to KSR that Kentucky was in contact with the 6-foot-10 redshirt junior out of Orlando, FL. The very next day, Blackshear’s father told Kyle Tucker of The Athletic that he hadn’t spoken with anyone from UK.
And then last night, Corey Evans of Rivals.com reported that John Calipari completed an in-home visit with Blackshear Jr.
— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) April 22, 2019
Once again, Blackshear’s father refuted the report not long after, telling Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog that the meeting did not happen, though he is in the process of setting one up with the Kentucky coaching staff.
FWIW, Kerry Blackshear Sr. told me just now he did not meet with John Calipari today. "That wasn't the case."
He said they're working on a date. "We're trying to figure that out right now as we speak.'
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 23, 2019
While it’s tough to cut through who specifically visited with and/or made contact with those in Blackshear’s camp, KSR can confirm that the Kentucky coaching staff has been in consistent contact as a group and there is mutual interest between both parties. While I believe Zagoria is a reliable reporter and don’t doubt that Blackshear’s father gave him that quote, everything I’ve been told also indicates that the UK coaching staff did, in fact, make the trip down to Florida to make a visit.
Before he dives into the recruiting process, though, he will test the NBA Draft waters over the next few weeks, his main priority right now.
Like Reid Travis did last offseason, Blackshear will go through the draft process to receive feedback, though it is likely teams tell him he needs to return to school for one final season. He’s a tremendous college basketball player, but his stock just isn’t high right now, as he isn’t featured on any major draft boards or mocks. The expectation is that while he is hoping to impress teams enough to take a shot on him in the 2019 draft and that is the preferred scenario, he will come back and transfer to another school after the deadline passes on May 29.
As of today, Texas A&M, Florida, and Kentucky are likely the top three schools on Blackshear’s (very loose) list. For A&M, there are obvious ties with head coach Buzz Williams, who has been with Blackshear throughout his tenure at Virginia Tech. With the Gators, they are the hometown school and he could play one final year close to his friends and family back home. And with Kentucky, he saw what Reid Travis was able to do for the Wildcats, and Blackshear feels he could fit that role perfectly, which is what the UK coaching staff is pitching.
Kentucky has made it clear to Blackshear’s camp that he is likely their top priority and a need to close out their class of 2019. A gifted offensive player with tremendous rebounding skills, Blackshear would be able to step in from day one and provide a similar skillset to both Travis and PJ Washington. While the novelty of playing close to home and playing for the coach he’s extremely familiar with are there, the combination of need and fit for a perennial powerhouse in Lexington is extremely intriguing for the 6-foot-10 forward.
We’re still early in the process here, and there is certainly some strong competition, but I like Kentucky’s chances.
Both EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards announced this past week that they would be testing the NBA Draft waters, a move that makes complete sense for both individuals. In fact, I think it’s in the best interest of all players to capitalize on the resources available to them while in college to prepare them for when that official jump to the league does happen.
That being said, it’s clear that neither player is remotely close to being ready to play in the NBA, and I think they understand that. There were some rumblings late last week that a transfer may have been possible for one of them, but now, I think that’s not on the table.
Kentucky is operating under the assumption that both players will eventually return to school after receiving feedback from NBA teams over the next few weeks.
Beyond those two, the NBA Draft process is over for the rest of the Wildcats. Washington, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson are keeping their names in the draft, while Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are both returning to school.
Now, we will wait to hear final decisions from Montgomery and Richards, which are expected to be favorable ones for Kentucky fans.
Closing out the 2019 class
As mentioned above, if I were a betting man, I’d say Kentucky closes out the 2019 class with both Juzang and Blackshear Jr.
From there, though, things get tricky. They technically would have an open scholarship spot, but as for playing time? Not so much.
If you assume both Montgomery and Richards return with both Juzang and Blackshear Jr. joining the fold, you are looking at scholarships from:
Ashton Hagans/Immanuel Quickley
Tyrese Maxey/Johnny Juzang
Kahlil Whitney/Keion Brooks Jr./Dontaie Allen
Kerry Blackshear Jr./Nate Sestina
EJ Montgomery/Nick Richards
That’s as legitimate of a two-deep roster you’ll find in the nation next season.
After Nate Sestina committed to Kentucky, I was told that the UK coaching staff was looking to add two more pieces to close things out, with a third being a tight squeeze, but manageable if the right situation came about.
As for who those candidates might be, we brought up Nevada transfer Jordan Brown last week, and five-star forward Jaden McDaniels is also still on the table. I was told before that Kentucky would be open to accepting commitments from both Blackshear Jr. and Brown, as the latter would be forced to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. He’d fill up an available scholarship – Division I schools are allowed 13 – but wouldn’t take up playing time. He’d simply provide an extra body in practice and work against other talented frontcourt prospects to better his game for the 2020-21 season.
As for McDaniels, I would bet at this point that he ends up committing to Washington. He told me several times, both at the McDonald’s All-American Game and at the Jordan Brand Classic, that there is “nothing like playing close to home,” and there have always been rumblings that he’d prefer to shy away from the spotlight and play a bit off the radar for one of the west coast schools. With the deadline to sign a National Letter of Intent being on May 15, one would think his decision will come in the next three weeks. He could end up just signing scholarship papers and dragging this process out even further, but I believe he’ll head home after the Iverson Classic this week and move toward a decision before the deadline.
Nonetheless, Kentucky is left with two significant options for the 2019-20 season, with that looking even more likely if Juzang announces he is reclassifying, as expected, tomorrow evening.
Gunnar Hoak will look into other options for the final two years of his college football career, announcing on Tuesday that he will enter the NCAA’s transfer portal.
“After much thought and consideration, I have decided to put my name in the NCAA transfer portal,” he tweeted. “With graduation coming up next week, I knew I had an important decision to make for my future including my football and academic careers.
“I would like to thank Coach Stoops and the UK staff for understanding that I need to see if there any other options for me at this time in my career.”
Prior to UK’s spring game earlier this month, Mark Stoops said, “Of course I want Gunnar here but I’ll be very supportive of him in whatever he decides to do.”
As a graduate transfer, Hoak will have two years of immediate eligibility.
By Nick Roush on ©April 22nd, 2019 @ 11:00pm
It looks like John Calipari is going all in on Kerry Blackshear Jr.
According to Rivals’ Corey Evans, the Kentucky head coach completed an in-home visit today with the parents of Virginia Tech grad transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr.
The 6’10” 250-pound post averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in the 2018. A second team All-ACC selection that helped take Virginia Tech to the Sweet 16, Blackshear is leaving Blacksburg following Buzz Williams’ departure.
The highest-ranked grad transfer on the market according to ESPN, it’s not 100 percent certain that Blackshear will play college basketball next season. Last week he declared for the NBA Draft. He has until May 29 at midnight to decide if he wants to take a shot at the NBA or play one more season of college basketball elsewhere.
UPDATE (9:45 p.m. ET)
A few hours after Evans’ initial report, Adam Zagoria spoke to Kerry Blackshear Sr. Just like the first piece of news from this recruitment, that Kentucky had in fact reached out to Blackshear, the player’s father refuted the report.
FWIW, Kerry Blackshear Sr. told me just now he did not meet with John Calipari today. "That wasn't the case."
He said they're working on a date. "We're trying to figure that out right now as we speak.'
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 23, 2019
You can read all of Blackshear’s Sr.’s comments here.
By Nick Roush on ©April 22nd, 2019 @ 10:45pm
Is this the biggest week in the history of the Kentucky football program? Not exactly. In the last calendar year UK won on a walk-off to play for a chance to win the SEC East. That week definitely beats this one, but for a sunny four days in April, it doesn’t get much bigger for football in the Bluegrass.
Thursday night in Nashville the Kentucky football program will receive the bright spotlight in the NFL Draft when Josh Allen becomes a top five pick. Mark Stoops is one of a dozen of college coaches that will be on Broadway in Nashville. With the eyes of the football world watching, the event will be surrounded by a massive pitch to prospective recruits.
Once Stoops shakes hands and completes a few interviews, he’s returning to Lexington Friday for an incredibly important recruiting weekend. As his former players are picked, future stars will gather on campus for official visits.
Marquee Official Visitors
After receiving a few de-commitments from offensive linemen who jump on board early, Stoops and Vince Marrow can create a strong foundation in the 2020 class this weekend when three athletes officially visit: quarterback Beau Allen, offensive tackle John Young and cornerback Andru Phillips.
Young could be the cornerstone of the class. A charismatic four-star talent from Louisville, Kentucky’s best days under Mark Stoops have featured in-state stars manning the offensive line. Young could be the next to contribute to that legacy.
Even though Phillips has spent the last four or five years of his life in South Carolina, he grew up not far from where Young resides in Louisville. The son of a former UK linebacker would be an excellent addition to Brad White’s defense.
Last, but certainly not least, is the the quarterback. Throughout his tenure at Kentucky, Stoops has received commitments from high profile quarterbacks, but has never been able to hold on until signing day. Stoops needs Allen to end that streak. The four-star pocket passer is considering a future in the high-flying offenses of Mike Leach and Neal Brown. The Lexington native’s many ties to the program and Kentucky’s explosive spring game performance have certainly sweetened the recruiting pitch. Now it’s time for Stoops, Marrow and Eddie Gran to seal the deal this weekend.
Young, Phillips and Allen will not be alone. Stay tuned to KSR throughout the week to see what other talented 2020 recruits will officially visit Lexington this weekend.
Ed Oliver is Cramping Josh Allen’s Style
As we enter the homestretch, teams are pulling out all of the stunts to mess with other teams. The latest involves our guy, Josh Allen.
Projected to go third overall to the New York Jets for months, there’s some late buzz that Gregg Williams actually prefers Houston’s Ed Oliver. Once seen as a lock in the top five, the defensive tackle’s stock has been incredibly volatile over the last year. At one point he fell completely out of the first round. Now the Card killer is back near the top thanks to the Raiders.
Word on the street is that Gruden and Mayock like Oliver with the fourth overall pick. Once the Jets caught wind, they started telling people they like Oliver, giving the Raiders an incentive to trade up a spot with one of their many picks in this year’s draft.
Frankly, it’s a bit bizarre. There’s no reason to worry about Allen slipping down the draft, but there is a good reason to watch Ed Oliver sack Lamar Jackson over and over and over again.
Lonnie Johnson is Ready
Johnson will not be in Nashville for the draft, but he still will be wearing a new hat once he’s selected.
— 4/7 (@Lonnie30johnson) April 22, 2019
The rumor mill is circulating that Lonnie could leap into the first round. You can’t rule it out, but it’s safer to expect to hear his name Friday night. While you’re waiting, enjoy this delightful piece on Johnson from the Chicago Tribune.
Scalzo Looks Sharp
The future Kentucky quarterback tore his ACL in the Florida state playoffs. Even though he’s only five months into rehab, he doesn’t look like somebody with a bum knee. If Gunnar Hoak decides to depart after the spring semester, they’ll need Scalzo ready to roll this fall.
Comeback SZN? pic.twitter.com/lmpkJCK72y
— Nik Scalzo (@NikScalzo) April 21, 2019
UK Offers Another In-State Freshman
Corbin’s Treyveon Longmire received plenty of attention from power five programs once Kentucky offered the sophomore to-be. This afternoon Kentucky offered another in-state prospect from the class of 2022. Unlike Longmire, Selah Brown is a bruiser. The 6’2″ 245-pounder played defensive end, linebacker and fullback for Louisville Male High School. It ain’t hard to tell this kid is a tank.
The Kentucky Pocket Pass is Now Available
You can get into all eight of Kentucky’s home football games for only $250. That’s only $31.25 a ticket. It’s a deal that sounds too good to be true, but it is. Get your hands on the digital tickets right now.
Easter Sunday in the South
Today I leave you with the most glorious Easter Sunday sermon ever delivered.
By Drew Franklin on ©April 22nd, 2019 @ 3:46pm
UK is crashing the NFL party in Nashville with an enormous banner celebrating Josh Allen. The sign is going up today on the front of the building that will soon be the Moxy Downtown Nashville. It is located on Broadway, not far from the NFL draft stage, so Allen will be in the background of several crowd shots throughout the weekend.
Shout-out to whoever reached out to UK about doing this. I bet he is an awesome guy. Like really awesome and handsome and great on KSR. And an even bigger shout-out to his friend Jamie Daniel, whose family business is opening the Moxy this summer, for offering up the front of his building so Josh Allen can take center stage in front of the biggest crowd Nashville has ever seen.
It’s going to look great on TV too. Go Cats.
By Nick Roush on ©April 22nd, 2019 @ 12:14pm
Nick Richards is dipping his toe into the NBA Draft waters. Kentucky’s 7-foot center announced on Instagram he has submitted his name into the NBA Draft.
“After discussing my options with Coach Cal and my family, I decided to enter my name into the NBA Draft,” Richards said. “Using the rules in place, I want to explore every option to see where my game is.”
Like E.J. Montgomery, Richards will keep the door open to potentially return to UK for another season. Unlike Montgomery, Richards did not specifically state what he wants to hear from NBA officials.
“If it isn’t my time, I’ll be more than excited to suit up for there best fans in the country again next season and chase our goal of winning a championship.”
His complete statement:
John Calipari completely supports Richards’ decision.
“Nick is one of the most loveable and nicest people I’ve ever coached,” Calipari said. “He’s made great strides and at some point he’s going to be an NBA player who influences games. At 7-foot with his ability to shoot and block shots, it’s just a rare commodity. I think Nick is making a good decision for him and his family to explore their options and see what’s out there. I’ll fully support what he and his family choose to do.”
The fifth UK underclassman to declare for the NBA Draft, in 2018-19 Richards averaged 4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in about 12.1 minutes of action. The sophomore led the Wildcats in blocked shots with 47.
Richards has until May 29 at midnight to decide if he wants to return to Kentucky for another season or keep his name in the NBA Draft.
We’re over a week removed from the 2019 edition of spring practice wrapping at Kroger Field and now all that awaits us is three-plus long months until the toe meets the leather on Labor Day weekend.
With eight home games on the schedule and experience on the line of scrimmage in addition to quarterback, the expectations are pretty high entering the fall.
Kentucky is fresh off a 10-win season and Mark Stoops is telling anyone that will listen that this program is not going to take a step back in year seven. There is still a lot for this team to prove before the season begins at the end of August, but there were also some important takeaway to bring home from the spring game.
After some DVR malfunctions, here at KSR we were finally able to view the tape and see exactly how the cake was baked at Kroger Field. There were a lot of good developments and some specific personnel pieces that went unreported.
The biggest thing to take away from the game was just the comfortability level of junior quarterback Terry Wilson. Going up against against a reserve defense, the Oklahoma City native looked calm and poised. It was easy to tell he was confident in his knowledge of the offense and it seems like his vertical accuracy has come a long way.
For the day, Wilson completed 83.3 percent of his 12 passes and tossed for two touchdowns on a 15.9 yards per attempt average. These are robust numbers, but they are not the most important things to remember. Wilson was on target multiple times to different targets in vertical routes. Being able to challenge opposing secondaries vertically will be vital for this offense to take a step forward in 2019.
In the running game, A.J. Rose enters 2019 at the top of the depth chart and the redshirt junior showed a nice blend of power and speed at Kroger Field. In a reserve role last season, Rose rushed for 442 yards on a 6.2 yards per carry average and had flashed some home run ability shown by 14.1 percent of his runs going for at least 10 yards. In the spring, it was obvious that the big play burst was still there.
The team’s top back put up 86 yards on 11 carries in the scrimmage with three touchdowns. Rose will provide the big runs, but he must prove he can consistently collect positive gains when the big play is not there. In the red zone, he flashed that ability by getting north/south and finding away to get into the endzone. However, he’s going to need some help.
Kavosiey Smoke was a late addition to the class of 2018 and after redshirting this past season we finally caught a glimpse of what the three-star prospect brings to the table. The wrap out of high school was that Smoke was a bowling ball type runner who had a some burst to extend runs into 20-plus yard gains. We definitely saw that.
On his first touch of the day, Smoke showed off some wiggle and burst on his way to an 80-plus yards touchdown sprint. He finished the game with 132 yards on five carries to go along with a reception out of the backfield. It’s no secret that UK will be going to a committee type approach at running back this upcoming season. Expect UK to use their backs in a multitude of ways.
On the broadcast, Matt Stinchcomb mentioned that the staff said that Smoke had the best hands on the team and it appears that the goal is to get the running backs heavily involved in the passing game.
For the first time since 2010, Kentucky will enter the season with a bonafide star at wide receiver. Lynn Bowden, Jr. became one of the best slot receivers in the SEC last season and this year he will have a great chance to receive first-team all-conference honors. We all know how good he is and will be, but the success of UK’s passing game will depend on the other wideouts.
On the outside, we saw some good things in the game. Both Isaiah Epps and Ahmad Wagner made catches in the vertical pass game while Josh Ali served as a good possession option. But it was Bryce Oliver who stole the show.
The redshirt freshman and high school teammate of UK linebacker Jordan Wright and corner Stanley Garner was the game MVP. The outside receiver played for both the blue and white teams on his way to 105 yards on eight grabs. He consistently got open against UK’s top secondary players and was able to create separation in addition to making multiple contested catches. He was a bright spot and should received plenty of chances to make a splash this fall.
On the line of scrimmage, it went as expected for UK’s starters. Mason Wolfe rotated for Luke Fortner at right guard, but other than that we saw the ones play most of the game. Landon Young looked very good in his first game back at The Kroge while it’s clear that both Drake Jackson and Logan Stenberg will be in position for All-SEC honors. It was a bit of surprise to see Naasir Watkins playing primarily with the twos after playing a good amount as a redshirt freshman. We also got a look at the future of the offensive line.
Quintin Wilson started at center for the white team and it appears that the redshirt freshman from Cincinnati is in line to take over in the middle whenever Drake Jackson leaves. Redshirt sophomore Austin Dotson received work at both right guard and right tackle. The mammoth 6-foot-6 and 331-pound offensive lineman is a guy the staff probably wants to crack the rotation this season. In his first public action, 6-foot-9, 367-pound redshirt freshman Nick Lewis was used at left tackle and he’s a mountain of a man.
One of those eye-popping reminders of the size of UK redshirt freshman OT Nick Lewis when see him working against a 6-3, 285-pound Josh Paschal… ? pic.twitter.com/N51zHGrFvS
— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) April 13, 2019
It’s hard to fairly evaluate the tight end position because we have yet to see redshirt freshman Keaton Upshaw in action. After being forced to redshirt due to a knee injury last season, Upshaw has gotten plenty of love from the coaches this spring and will be UK’s best receiving option at this spot. However, he was held out of the spring game for precautionary reasons. Justin Rigg continues to be Mr. Reliable and we saw that he can make catches in space in addition to blocking. Brenden Bates is built more in the Rigg role and could be used fairly often in some jumbo packages UK will utilize in short yardage situations. Walk-on Drew Schlegel figures to play the fullback/H-back spot UK often used C.J. Conrad in. The senior is going to be a very important part of the offense.
Beautiful stuff from H-back Drew Schlegel clearing out the Will backer so Smoke can crib this run. https://t.co/m24iO6UNm4
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettBOS) April 13, 2019
Overall, it was a very satisfying performance we saw from UK’s offense at the 2019 spring game. Terry Wilson looked improved, the running backs made explosive plays, and the the ones on the offensive line dominated at the point of attack. Kentucky even received some very solid play from their wideouts.
With Benny Snell no longer on the roster, Kentucky is going to have to open up the playbook this fall. In the spring game we saw Eddie Gran use multiple 3-plus wide receiver sets in addition to use many twins (two wideouts to one side) and trips (three wideouts to one side) formations. That could be something we should expect to see more of.
The Wildcats have an experienced quarterback with true dual-threat ability to go with a very efficient playmaker operating out of the slot. That’s combined with an experience offensive line to go along with some explosive players at running back. On, paper this group should put some points on the board and could be the the program’s best big play offense in quite some time.
After “hectic” recruitment, Keion Brooks Jr. says he couldn’t be happier with his decision to attend Kentucky
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 21st, 2019 @ 11:00pm
At times, college decisions for high-profile athletes can be an incredibly satisfying and rewarding experience. When you factor in all of the positive attention and prestigious programs trying to woo you, it’s certainly a nice stroke of the ego.
In other instances, the recruiting process can be both physically and emotionally draining. When it comes to taking visits, fielding countless phone calls and texts, being pulled in numerous directions, weighing all the factors, etc., there is a massive sense of a relief when it finally comes to a close.
For Kentucky signee Keion Brooks Jr., he is fits into the latter category.
Growing up in Fort Wayne, IN, the 6-foot-8 forward had the obvious pull of staying in-state and playing for the hometown Indiana Hoosiers. On the flip side, when you have some of the most historic college basketball programs of all time, you have to listen.
Now signed, sealed, and delivered for the Kentucky Wildcats, Brooks admitted to KSR at the Jordan Brand Classic this weekend that the end of his recruitment got a little “hectic.”
“The last couple weeks going into it was kind of hectic,” he said. “Everybody knew that a decision was coming up, all the coaches were still trying to reach out to me and give me their final pitch on why I should go to their school.”
According to the five-star forward, his trip to Lexington for Kentucky’s victory over Tennessee with College GameDay in town had a pretty significant impact on his final decision.
“It definitely moved the scale in Kentucky’s favor,” Brooks said. “I wouldn’t say my mind was made up at the time, but it definitely moved it in their favor. The game was lit, I had never been to a game before there. I had been to (Big Blue Madness), but never to an actual game. The atmosphere was crazy, Kentucky played really well that night, and Tennessee was the No. 1 team in the country at the time. So the atmosphere was live and I really enjoyed myself.”
After sitting down with his family and weighing all of his options just a few weeks later, Brooks decided that it was in his best interest to turn down the hometown Hoosiers and attend the University of Kentucky.
While he has received backlash from Indiana fans following his announcement, Brooks said he is relieved to finally have the process over with and couldn’t be happier with his final decision.
“After I got the decision out of the way, it’s been great,” he said. “Just being able to communicate with the Kentucky coaching staff, texting back and forth with Kahlil, Tyrese, and Dontaie, our upcoming class coming in. It just felt really good, really relaxing, to finally get that off of my chest.”
So what was it that put Kentucky over the edge? Brooks told KSR that his relationship with Coach Cal won out in the end, as he trusts the UK head coach to help him reach his dreams after his college career comes to a close.
“What put Kentucky over the top is just the relationship I have with Coach Cal,” he said. “The last time I spoke to him, I felt very comfortable with moving forward and taking my talents to Kentucky. He has an unbelievable track record of getting players where they want to be, and I feel like I have the talent and ability to be an NBA player.”
Simply put, no one on his list put him in position to develop as a player and eventually thrive in the NBA the way Kentucky can.
“I just needed a coach that would help me and show me the way so I can finally get there,” he said. “Kentucky was the best option for that.”
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 21st, 2019 @ 8:00pm
Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve seen former Kentucky players PJ Washington, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson keep their names in the NBA Draft, EJ Montgomery putting his name in to receive feedback, and Jemarl Baker enter the transfer portal. In terms of recent recruiting decisions, we also saw 2019 five-star forward and Kentucky target commit to Duke on Friday.
On the flip side, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley each decided to return to school for their sophomore seasons, while Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear Jr. emerged as a graduate transfer candidate.
With so many moving parts remaining, I asked future Wildcats Tyrese Maxey and Keion Brooks Jr. about their thoughts on the current roster and how they hope to see it close in the coming months.
“First off, shoutout to PJ (Washington), Keldon (Johnson), Tyler (Herro), and EJ (Montgomery) as well,” Maxey said of the recent NBA decisions. “Whatever EJ’s decision is, I’ll respect it and I’m proud of him. As far as the other people that are coming back, Ashton (Hagans) and (Immanuel) Quickley, and then Keion (Brooks), me, Kahlil, and our grad transfer, Nate (Sestina), it’s time to get to work. I feel like it’s going to be a lot of fun this year.”
When asked about any holes in the roster he felt Kentucky had and how he’d like to fill them going into the season, Maxey said he has complete faith in head coach John Calipari to put together a competitive team. If Coach Cal wants to add more pieces, his future guard trusts him. If not, Maxey is ready to roll with what they have now.
“I feel like Coach Cal is going to figure it out, I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to figure it out,” he said. “He’s always a step ahead, you know? Always ahead of the game. As soon as we get on campus, he’s going to get us gelling and playing together. We’re trying to go make a run for that title.”
That’s not to say Maxey doesn’t have favorites, though. As mentioned on the site a bit earlier, he said he would “love” to see 2020 combo guard RJ Hampton reclassify to the class of 2019 and join him in Lexington.
“I talk to RJ (Hampton) dang-near every week,” he said. “We live in the same area. Like I tell him all the time, he is absolutely welcome to join us. I would love to play with RJ.”
Back at the McDonald’s All-American Game, Maxey also told KSR that he was recruiting both Hurt and five-star power forward Jaden McDaniels to Kentucky.
With Hurt now headed to Duke, that leaves just McDaniels as the final big-name 2019 high school recruit left on UK’s board. With the 6-foot-11 prospect out of Federal Way, Washington known as an incredibly reserved individual who really doesn’t like bringing up his recruitment, Maxey said that he’s trying to give him space, but continue to let him know he’s wanted in Lexington.
“I know when someone has been annoying to me, so that’s why I only hit him up every now and then,” Maxey said. “Like if there’s a tweet that comes out or something that I see, when I see him in person I’ll just tap him and say “Big Blue Nation.” I try not to be overly annoying because I wouldn’t like that.”
As for Kentucky’s most recent signee, Keion Brooks Jr., he says that while he’s content with the way the roster is currently laid out, he’d “love” to see another addition or two for the Wildcats going into next season.
“I think that we have all we need right now, but of course we’d love to have someone else join us that can help,” he said.
What does he like so much about the current roster? They’re all tall, athletic, and extremely versatile.
“I think what we have right now is a good, tall, lengthy, athletic team,” Brooks told KSR. “We can get out in transition. With Ashton coming back, we have a really good on-ball defender, really good point guard who knows how to run a team. Kahlil, Tyrese, and myself, we can all really score the ball. I feel like the team we have right now is really, really good.”
And if someone decides they want to make that “really, really good” team a great one? The 6-foot-8 forward out of Fort Wayne, IN said he’d be all for it.
“If there is anyone else out there that wants to join,” he added, “I would absolutely welcome them with open arms.”
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 21st, 2019 @ 6:30pm
Back on April 9, 2020 five-star combo guard RJ Hampton made headlines after writing in a blog post on USA Today that he was not only strongly considering making a jump to the class of 2019, but that he also wanted to play with another elite point guard.
“I actually think playing with another elite point guard is a more attractive option because either one of us can bring it down and I can do what I do best and score the ball,” he said. “I think that makes us a more dangerous team.”
Hampton, who is down to Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and Memphis, specifically mentioned Blue Devil guard Tre Jones and Devon Dotson of the Jayhawks as two examples of individuals he’d like to play with. Nonetheless, he added that all four finalists on his list have “really strong” guards on their respective rosters that he’d enjoy playing with.
One elite point guard trying to convince Hampton that he’s the best potential backcourt teammate to pair with in college? Kentucky signee Tyrese Maxey.
In an interview with KSR this weekend at the Jordan Brand Classic, Maxey said that he is in consistent contact with Hampton about joining Kentucky’s class of 2019.
“I talk to RJ (Hampton) dang-near every week,” he said. “We live in the same area. Like I tell him all the time, he is absolutely welcome to join us. I would love to play with RJ.”
Part of the intrigue for Maxey is that after growing up and playing basketball his whole life in Texas, he’s never been able to team up with Hampton, a fellow Texan.
In his eyes, it’s time to finally make it happen at the college level.
“I’ve been playing against RJ since I was yea high, but I’ve never actually been able to play with him,” he said. “He’s one of the only players in the (Dallas Fort-Worth) area that I’ve never gotten to play with, so I’d love to finally be able to play with him on the big stage like that. I think we would do really well together.”
Back in November, Hampton told PrepCircuit.com that Maxey was “(his) guy” and that he was “one of the most dynamic players in the country.”
“Tyrese is my guy, I’ve been playing (against) him since 1st grade,” he said. “One of the most dynamic players in the country. A pure scorer that can get anywhere on the floor”
Hampton, a 6-foot-4 combo guard out of Little Elm, TX, is considered the No. 6 overall prospect and the top combo guard in the class of 2020, per 247 Sports.
As of right now, Memphis has received 44% of his Crystal Ball predictions, followed by Duke with 33% and Kansas with 22%. Since April 7, the Tigers have received three consecutive picks, most notably from recruiting insider Andrew Slater.
Here was just one of the battles between Hampton and Maxey in high school, where Hampton finished with 33 points and the Kentucky signee finished with 21:
By Maggie Davis on ©April 21st, 2019 @ 4:30pm
We now know what the future holds for almost every Wildcat from last season’s roster, but one question mark still remains: Nick Richards.
Will he join PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson as certainties for the NBA Draft? Or will he be more like EJ Montgomery, who’s entering the draft to “test the waters” while leaving the door open for a return to Kentucky?
Will he join Jemarl Baker in the transfer portal? Or will he team-up once again with Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley in Lexington for the 2019-20 season?
We may not be able to completely solve the puzzle by the end of today, but we’ll have a better idea: the deadline for entering the NBA Draft is Sunday, April 21 at midnight.
Richards’ teammates have taken to social media to announce their own decisions, but Richards has not posted any news on his personal accounts at this time. UK Athletics would also dedicate a post to Richards once his decision is finalized, no matter the outcome of that decision. For example:
Staying in the Draft:
It’s his time. Keldon Johnson is officially staying in the NBA Draft and forgoing his remaining eligibility at Kentucky. There are few people who love this game as much as he does nor work as hard at it. We know he’s got a long career ahead of him. Make us proud, KJ.#DreamBIG pic.twitter.com/vlQ9oomPCt
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) April 17, 2019
Testing the waters:
EJ Montgomery showed flashes of his potential this season. He’s got the tools to be a special player. Whatever happens in the NBA Draft evaluation process, we know he’s headed for big things. pic.twitter.com/R1njHG0OPe
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) April 19, 2019
Wherever Jemarl ends up, he’s going to add a lot of value. We’ll certainly be watching and supporting him. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat. pic.twitter.com/N51xFAlcZD
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) April 17, 2019
Staying at Kentucky:
Arguably nobody improved this season as much as @IQ_GodSon. Quick was playing with so much confidence, feel and poise at the end of the year. We’re excited to see him build on it as one of our leaders next season. Let’s do this, Quick!!! pic.twitter.com/sCOOujYMZa
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) April 12, 2019
Is no news good news for the Wildcats? Or, does no announcement mean the staff doesn’t know what Richards has decided to do next season? Maybe Nick Richards hasn’t yet decided for himself.
As of now, there’s no clear answer and there are a lot of questions. Will we have the chance to see a Junior Nick Richards in action? If he does decide to enter the Draft – even if it’s just for feedback – we’ll know by tonight at midnight. Otherwise, we’ll be back to playing the waiting game.
For a full breakdown of NBA Draft deadlines and rules, click HERE.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 20th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
The high school All-American circuit continues today with the Jordan Brand Classic live in Las Vegas, and once again, the Kentucky Wildcats are represented well.
Kentucky signees Tyrese Maxey and Keion Brooks Jr., along with forward commit Kahlil Whitney, are all competing in the event. Kentucky matches Duke for the most competitors in the event with three representatives.
Over the course of each of their recruitments and after their commitments, we’ve broken down their games extensively here on KSR. We’ve also gotten player breakdowns from some of the top recruiting and draft analysts in the game.
Instead of getting the same ole recycled analysis, though, I decided to ask some of the individuals that know their games the best to give a fresh scouting report on each of the future Wildcats.
At Jordan Brand Classic Media Day on Friday afternoon, I talked to some of their opponents and fellow five-star peers to break down their games with some of their biggest strengths and weaknesses.
The participants? Five-star point guard Cole Anthony, Georgia signee Anthony Edwards, and Indiana signee Trayce Jackson-Davis.
On Tyrese Maxey…
Tyrese Maxey is an extremely versatile two-way player, can score on all three levels. I’d say his weakness is that he’s erratic at times, but I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about him. It’s always a battle when we play against each other. To stop him, I’d have to try and make him feel uncomfortable without the ball and just pressure him.
On Keion Brooks Jr…
Keion Brooks, I’d say one of his weaknesses is that he can be erratic at times too. But he can really score the ball, can really shoot it, freak athlete. Nothing but positive things to say about him either.
On Kahlil Whitney…
Kahlil Whitney, I think his weakness is that his motor, at times, is questionable. Just whether or not he wants to play sometimes. But he can shoot it, freak, freak athlete. When he competes, he’s really, really good.
On Tyrese Maxey…
Tyrese Maxey, he’s cold. I mean to me, every dude that’s committed to Kentucky is really good. But Tyrese can really shoot, and his floater is unstoppable. He’s hard to stay in front of.
On Keion Brooks Jr…
Keion Brooks is like a big guard, nice pull-up jumper, athletic. I mean, he’s taller than me, but I’m stronger than him, so I’d have to impose my will against him.
On Kahlil Whitney…
Kahlil Whitney is so strong, he’s just a dog. He wants to score at will, so it’s hard to stop him. I’d have to just not let him post me up, can’t let him body me. I mean he’s so strong and physical.
On Tyrese Maxey…
Tyrese is an explosive guard, can shoot up to like 40 feet. He’s just crazy. Stopping him, you’re going to have to jam him, make him drive. He can come at you both ways, so it’s going to be hard to stop him regardless. He’s got a nice floater, so you’ve got to try to take that away from him. You’ve got to meet him at the rim, time it just right. His biggest strength is definitely his jump shot, he can shoot it anywhere on the floor. As far as a weakness, I’m not really sure, but I’d guess I’d say his passing ability.
On Keion Brooks Jr…
He can be a bang inside, bang outside player. He’s worked on his shot so much this year, so it’s gotten a lot better. If anything, I’d say he needs to work on his handle a little bit, tighten that up. But that’s about it, he’s really good.
On Kahlil Whitney…
Kahlil is an explosive guard, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7, probably has a 38 or 39-inch vertical. He’s crazy high. His skillset is that he can come off the wing, pull-up jumper, bang with you down low. He needs to keep working on his 3-point shot, just keep it consistent, but that’s not even bad either.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 20th, 2019 @ 4:00pm
At one point, Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class was shaping up to look completely different than what eventually became reality. John Calipari and the UK coaching staff had landed a commitment from four-star small forward DJ Jeffries and were the runaway favorite for the No. 1 prospect in the class, James Wiseman.
They landed five-star guard Tyrese Maxey, and beyond that, Wiseman was talking about teaming up with fellow elite big man Vernon Carey Jr. and becoming the next Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins at whichever school they decided to attend.
When Penny Hardaway became the head coach at Memphis that spring, he immediately began recruiting Wiseman, his star center with his former AAU squad, the Bluff City Legends. And there were rumors Jeffries was interested in teaming up with each of them in Memphis.
Just a few months later, Jeffries became the first player under John Calipari to decommit from Kentucky and eventually pledged his commitment in October to Hardaway’s Tigers. Wiseman soon followed in November.
For Jeffries, he says it wasn’t an easy process and that he realized the magnitude of his decision, he just felt it was the best decision for him.
“Making the adjustment from Kentucky was kind of hard, you know?” he said. “I mean, it’s Kentucky, right? Not too many kids leave Kentucky. When I did that, it just felt like it was right for me, felt like it was the best thing.”
So why was it the best thing for Jeffries and his future? Hardaway helped him realize that he wanted to represent the city of Memphis at the next level.
“Penny (Hardaway), of course, and my teammates,” he said. “I played AAU ball with most of the guys already there, and James (Wiseman) is a big part of it. I just wanted to do something for the city (of Memphis), you know?”
Though he did become the first player to decommit under Calipari at Kentucky, he said that he has nothing but love for the UK coaching staff and the time and effort they put into recruiting him.
“But Coach Cal, he’s still a really great guy,” Jeffries said. “I don’t have anything (against) him, Tony Barbee, none of them. They have a great coaching staff.”
After Jeffries decommitted, Kentucky was able to put the full-court press on five-star small forward Kahlil Whitney, who ended up committing to the school just a week later. Fast forward to March of this year, and five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. also decided to make Lexington his new basketball home.
In Jeffries’ eyes, both Memphis and Kentucky ended up better off in the long run with how things played out.
“(Kentucky has) two great players in Keion Brooks and Kahlil Whitney (at the wing) now, so there’s no bad blood,” he said. “I really just had to do what was best for me.”
On Thursday, the SEC announced that they had formed a scheduling alliance in basketball with the American Athletic conference going forward.
As of now, the idea is that the top four AAC schools would face off against the four SEC schools who do not currently participate in the SEC/Big 12 challenge, meaning that does not include Kentucky for now. That being said, the partnership could lead to increased dialogue between both parties and a potential matchup between UK and Memphis could come about that way.
With the dust settled a bit, Jeffries said he would be all for a friendly rivalry with head-to-head matchups while he is at Memphis.
“I hope for it,” he said. “That’d be really fun. It’d be fun, because, you know, the fans gave me so much backlash. But I still love them, I ain’t got no problem with them. I’d just love to have a game against Kentucky.”