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Why Kentucky Will Win: Mississippi State Edition

Why Kentucky Will Win: Mississippi State Edition

why-miss-st

Yeah, yeah, yeah… Mississippi State is No. 1 in the polls. Yawn.

When the Dawgs come to Lexington this Saturday for the afternoon special on CBS, I like Kentucky to win. Ain’t worried ’bout nothin’, the kids say. Am I the only one picking the Cats? Probably. But let me explain myself before you start questioning my already questionable sanity. Below you’ll find my reasoning, and though it may be a stretch, I’m rolling with it.

#BeatMissSt

*****

Because State’s defense is ranked 14th in the SEC…

Hard to believe, right? No. 1 team in the nation, worst defense (statistically) in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs give up a league-worst 428.8 yards per game, almost 85 more than the Wildcats. State also gives up the most passing yards per game at 308.3.

Because Dak Prescott is overrated…

OK, I lied: Dak Prescott is not overrated. Dude is the real deal. He’s the Heisman frontrunner and he’s doing things Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel couldn’t do against league opponents. But numbers and accolades aside, I can’t get behind anyone who wears these cleats…

He should be penalized for those or something.

Because Paul Finebaum called this a “Game To Watch” weeks ago…

A Mississippi State fan called in to Finebaum’s show earlier this month and asked which of the Dawgs’ remaining games is the one to worry the most about. With Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss in the discussion, Finebaum told the fan that Kentucky is the “tricky one.” Granted that was before UK got destroyed at LSU, but still. I’m trying here, people.

Because they might not make it out to the field…

Set up fog machines around the visiting tunnel stat.

Because Kentucky is undefeated in front of Dee Jay Silver…

Numbers never lie.

(I’m really, really stretching here.)

Because the Sports Illustrated cover jinx…

It’s a real thing, you know. The most recent victim of the jinx was Oregon and September 22 cover boy Marcus Mariota. On August 21, Little League sensation Mo’Ne Davis graced the cover, then was eliminated from the LLWS in her next game. One week prior, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller was on the cover and suffered a season-ending injury days later.

Because Dan Mullen is too busy shopping for a home in Florida to care…

Some may say Mississippi State’s bye week gave Dan Mullen two weeks to prepare for Kentucky, and in most cases, that would be accurate. But Mullen is leaving for Florida soon so he and his wife spent the off-week searching for a new home in Gainesville. He’s just riding this season out until Foley hands him the keys to the Gators.

Because this song makes me want to beat her guitar against the wall…

Like this…

Because Starkville is the worst place in America and it doesn’t deserve any more attention or happiness…

The College Football Gods will not let Starkville, Mississippi be the star of the sport any longer. The worst city in America, the worst campus in America, doesn’t deserve to be called the home of America’s top-ranked team. It has gone on too long. The Gods will intervene with their magical God-stuff and football magic and strip Mississippi State of its reign. No more will we see the Bulldogs atop the polls, enough is enough. Starkville will fall back into its sad, diseased cesspool of bad hygiene and obesity, and the Bulldogs will drop from the polls before the year is over, beginning with a loss this Saturday. You suck, Starkville. And it’s time you’re reminded of that.

Because Kentucky has the United States Armed Forces on its side…

Yes, that is a UH-60 Black Hawk flying over Kuwait with a UK flag hanging out the window.

Your move, Mississippi State.

Because Why Not?


Behind-The-Scenes Look At Kentucky Basketball Media Day 2014

Behind-The-Scenes Look At Kentucky Basketball Media Day 2014

cal-media

Kentucky Basketball Media Day 2014 has concluded and I have the free media guide, USB charger, coin pouch and earbuds to prove it. (Swag bags!) Hundreds of the finest media members from around the Commonwealth and other parts of the internet gathered together in sweaty groups in the Joe Craft Center on Thursday, with their ink pens and their iPads and their bald spots, hoping to get those three or four good quotes from the Cats. I also made the trip, but unlike the others, I had very little interest in what anyone had to say. Zero interest, really. No, I was in it for two things: photos from the scene and a free lunch. You can see both below:

*****

chicken-parm

It wouldn’t be Media Day without chicken parmesan, a fall tradition in the east concourse in Memorial Coliseum. This year the traditional Media Day dish was served with potatoes and wet green beans, just the way I like them.

I considered a small salad as a starter until one local photographer dipped his hairy knuckles in the balsamic. Fresh rolls were also available, but I’m watching my carbs.

media-room

It was a crazy scene in the Media Room, as it always is this time of year. I noticed several new faces posing as bloggers who created a website two nights ago in hopes of getting a glimpse of John Calipari today.

I bounced around the room to get photos — and to escape the guy with the chicken parmesan farts seated in the back of the room near the Coke machine. You know who you are, dude. You gotta walk those off.

matt-media-day

And then there was Matt on his phone, seated like a 12-year-old. Yet another Media Day tradition.

pratt-oscar

While radio superstars Oscar Combs and Mike Pratt watched from afar as John Calipari rambled on and on for what felt like three days in the front of the room. Pratt gave me a fist bump. We’re boys like that.

bradley

The one and only Bradley McKee, ladies and gentlemen. HAWH.

calipari-media-day2

A look at the scene from behind the TV cameras. I often wonder why they don’t use one shot and share it. Why crowd up on each other for the same piece of footage? We’re all friends here.

(Well, that’s not exactly true. I have like three friends at these functions. On a good day.)

calipari-media-day

Coach Cal explains platooning to a room full of people who have already heard him explain platooning. Reporters ask the same questions they asked a month ago, only to receive the same answers.

However I did like when Cal used the word “chase” to describe his players’ love lives. I believe he was explaining how you can’t get away with anything at UK and he said, “You can’t drink, smoke or chase.”

Of course they don’t chase. They don’t have to.

craft-center

Here’s a shot of some of the new posters around the practice court. They were added for the UK NBA Combine and it appears they’ll stay as motivation throughout the year.

liggans

YOU HAD ONE JOB.

andrew

Andrew Harrison answers questions about what it’s like to play with his brother. Honestly, I don’t know how these guys sit through all of these interviews without losing their minds. It’s the same three or four questions over and over and over and over. I wait for the crowd to die down around a guy and then ask stuff like: “How much do you hate answering these questions?” and “For a million dollars, would you wear Jerry Tipton’s sweater in public?”

The answers stay between us, though.

long

Highlight of the day: Brian Long got tired of being ignored in the corner so he packed up his chair and sign and joined EJ Floreal, who was also being ignored. I sat with them for most of the afternoon, talking about the finer things in life.

But again, that stays between us.

long2

Brian and EJ enjoying each other’s company.

malone

And then Sam Malone joined the party! Sam was on the complete opposite side of the gym but couldn’t sit back and watch his fellow walk-ons have fun without him. He too packed up his stuff and moved over to the action.

willie-tipton

In closing, UK Basketball Media Day summed up in one photo.


The 10 Things You Need to Know from Calipari’s Media Day Press Conference

The 10 Things You Need to Know from Calipari’s Media Day Press Conference

CalMediaDay2014

After nearly falling off of his chair at the beginning of his press conference, John Calipari got rolling, speaking to reporters for a an hour about platoons, clutter, and making sure all of his players eat. What? You’ll understand once you get through these notes:

1) The platoon system isn’t communism

Cal talked A LOT about the platoon system this afternoon, telling reporters he came up with the concept after the Harrison Twins announced they were coming back, and he had to find a solution to deal with all the talent on his team. “As soon as the Twins said they were coming back, I said, ‘Oh my gosh! What am I going to do?'” Thus, the platoon system was born. “I’m not doing this to be a genius,” Cal said, raising his voice theatrically. “If I was worried about me, I would play seven guys. What I’m doing is right for these kids.”

In fact, Calipari said they organized the summer trip to the Bahamas in order to get his players to buy into the platoon system, and it worked. “They celebrated each other,” Cal said. “And that’s brought them together.” However, Cal was careful to point out that just because everyone’s getting playing time doesn’t mean they will keep it if they don’t work hard. “This isn’t communism. So if one group deserves to play a little more, they will,” Cal said. “If two guys separate themselves and need to get more minutes, they’ll get more minutes.”

2) However, the platoon system is Calipari’s new challenge

We all know Calipari is at his best when he’s got a challenge. The platoon is his new challenge. Cal mentioned all of the older coaches he admires, like John Wooden, Joe B. Hall, etc., and how they’ve all said that the best teams are the ones that play six or seven guys. Cal admitted that his best teams have only played six or seven guys. Cal being Cal, that just makes him want this more. “I’m on a mission to make it work because I’m hearing all the reasons you can’t do it,” Cal said, admitting that there will be some stumbles along the way. “We probably in all likelihood will lose a couple games where people will say that wouldn’t have happened if he’d just played seven [players].”

Further, Cal said that Fox is doing a story on how the 2010 team with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins was a “watershed moment” in college basketball (sound familiar?), and that if this team can win it all using the platoon system, it will be the next watershed moment.  “Can you imagine if we do this and all 10 kids eat and benefit and really, all 12, and we win? What do you say now?”

Cal joked that the challenge is so big that he needs a raise. “At the end of the day, I’m coaching two different teams,” Cal said, quipping “I’ve asked to be paid twice. I think it’s fair.”

3) The Trey Lyles buzz continues

In the past few weeks, no player has had more buzz than Trey Lyles. Lyles, who Cal said is back to 90% healthy, drew a lot of praise from scouts at the Combine for the unique skill set and size, two things Cal said sets Trey apart from the rest. “Trey’s got some of that dog in him like he’s bringing it,” Cal said. “When he comes at you, he’s coming at you and you’re going to know he’s coming at you. The biggest thing though is his skill set. He’s a smooth player who can shoot and he’s 6’10”.” Because of that, Cal said he will play Trey at the three, but he may have to guard the four.

A 6’10” small forward, folks.

4) Cal responds to Izzo’s quip about the Combine

Earlier today, Tom Izzo joked that when Calipari said UK’s NBA Combine had nothing to do with recruiting, “If he was Pinocchio, he could have hung 10,000 shirts on that schnoz of his.” Cal responded to Izzo’s quip in his presser today, telling reporters that the Combine was all about the players. “I don’t need my nose to grow to hold 10,000 shirts. But it was done for the players.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.16.52 PM

5) Cal couldn’t care less about UK’s #1 preseason ranking

Calipari looked unimpressed when someone asked him about UK’s new #1 preseason ranking. “There are five, six, seven teams that all could have been #1,” Cal said. “Where were we ranked last year? And we almost fell off the face of the earth.”

Fair enough.

6) No more bad body language from the Twins

Cal rattled off a lot of the feedback his players got from the combine that I’ll put together in a post for you later, but the ones that stuck out to me were his comments about the Twins. “Everything about them, they’re better. Their attitudes on the court, and again, they are the greatest kids, and I say attitude, I mean body language. You’re not seeing any of that now. And that was the biggest comment I got from the NBA people. ‘Wow, these two have totally changed.'”

Interestingly, Cal said he wasn’t opposed to playing the twins on separate platoons, but maintained that they play best together, therefore that’s his preference.

7) Cal’s “not feeling” all the drama surrounding shoe companies

A certain coach down the road went on a rant a few weeks ago about the role shoe companies play in recruiting and how he felt it was ruining the game. Not surprisingly, Cal disagrees. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” Cal said, detailing his history with each shoe company, from Reebok to LA Gear (All I asked was, ‘Please don’t have us in the light-up shoes.’ They were very heavy, but we wore them.) to Adidas to Nike. “All I can tell you is, it’s not had an effect on how I did this job,” Cal said. “But people have their opinions on it.” He pointed out he’s had players that have had all different sorts of shoe affiliations, so he doesn’t see the problem. “I’ve had kids from all different teams playing, all different shoes. I’m not feeling it, but I’m nuts.”

8) Cal said Willie is free to be Willie and “paint his hair” as long as he stays in the circle

A funny moment in the presser came when Cal was asked about the challenge of letting Willie Cauley-Stein be Willie while still staying within the team concept. “Willie’s been fine. Willie’s just got to stay connected with these players,” Cal said, calling on the “circle of trust” reference from Meet the Parents. “There’s a circle of our players. You have to be in that circle to lead, to be a part of something. If you’re not, you’re outside the circle, you’re never going to lead, you’re never going to be a part of what we’re doing.”

So, Willie is free to be Willie as long as he stays in the circle, right Cal? “I’m not trying to take away from his – from what he is. I’m not trying to tell him ‘you have to be this.’ I told him, ‘You’re painting your hair, you better play well. You want to do all the stuff you’re doing, you better play well.'”

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9) Your daily reminder that Kentucky’s not for everyone

Cal’s presser ended on kind of an odd note when he was asked about the autograph scandals at other schools. This led Cal to his usual “Kentucky’s not for everyone” speech. “I don’t sell my autographs. I could sell my autograph, just so you know,” Cal quipped. “There are things that go on on other campuses that absolutely cannot go on here. They’ll make a ’30 for 30′ about it.” Cal said his players are held to a different standard under the UK basketball spotlight. “If you want to drink, smoke, chase, do all of that, you can’t do it here. You just can’t,” Cal said. “There are no secrets in this program.”

10) Don’t jump off the bandwagon if it gets bumpy

During the low point of last season, a lot of fans jumped off the Calipari bandwagon (including Joe B. Hall!), and he hasn’t forgotten. He knows that may happen again if this platoon thing doesn’t work. “These kids are the greatest kids that I’ve coached. Every one of them wants to be coached, wants to be challenged, wants to be taken to another level. They’re not here to just show us what they do. And they care about one another, they’re comfortable in their own skin. BUT, we’re doing something that’s never been done in college basketball and trying to make it work at Kentucky! Not at a place you can stub your toe five times and it’ll be fine. Under this glowing light that’s this,” Cal preached. “Gonna be hard. It’s going to be a process. It’s gonna be step at a time. Some of you will jump off the bandwagon right away. Some of you may have jumped off already. Some of you hope to jump off. Stuff like that happens.”

In short: don’t jump off the bandwagon, even if it gets bumpy. This ride’s going to be way too fun.

swaggycal2


What To Watch For This Weekend

What To Watch For This Weekend

weekend

You’ll have a hard time finding a more exciting weekend for UK sports than the one we have on the calendar in 48 hours. First, basketball fans will get their first taste of the 2014-15 Wildcats on American soil during Big Blue Madness, or what I like to call “The Greatest Spectacle In All Of Basketball Practice.” It gets bigger and brighter every year and Big Blue Nation can’t wait to see what the program has in store this year.

Then on Saturday, UK football will play LSU under the lights in the 7:30 pm marquee game on the SEC Network. Once believed to be a guaranteed loss on the schedule, this game now has the attention of college football enthusiasts everywhere and a win for the Wildcats isn’t out of the question.

So as we look ahead to a jam-packed weekend of bleeding blue, let’s look at 10 things to look out for, once the action gets going Friday evening.

*****

1. Whatever This Is:

bbm-lights

UK Athletics tweeted out a teaser photo of the Big Blue Madness setup in Rupp Arena yesterday and it looks somewhat like the set of an HP tablet commercial. One KSR commenter pointed out that there are nine screens, one for each of UK’s eight national championships and a ninth for the title that will come this season. That makes sense. Or it could be the next generation Wham City Lights show. I don’t have a clue.

It has potential, though. Looks cool.

2. UK’s Run Game

LSU has struggled defending the run this season, giving up 175 yards per game on the ground, the third highest number in the conference. Opponents are only getting a little under 160 through the air on the Tigers, so look for UK to rush often. The Cats’ leading rusher, Braylon Heard, had a rough outing against Louisana-Monroe and will be hungry to bounce back to form in Baton Rouge. We may see a healthy dose of the WildKemp, too.

3. Trey Lyles

Madness is ordinarily our first look at the basketball team but we’ve already gotten an extensive look at the 2014-15 Cats thanks to the six-game event in the Bahamas. There will be very few surprises during the men’s scrimmage, although it will be fans’ first time seeing Trey Lyles. Lyles sat out the entire summer with that mysterious leg injury and will participate in all aspects of Friday’s extravaganza, as far as I know. We will see a third-year Willie Cauley-Stein for the first time, too.

4. Leonard Fournette

While Kentucky will likely rely on the run, the same can be said for LSU. Les Miles has a stud in the backfield in freshman Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 recruit from the 2014 class. Fournette was named SEC Freshman of the Week this week following his 140-yard performance against Florida, the highest single-game total from a true freshman at LSU since 2003. He has over 500 yards and six touchdowns through seven games this season and has kept the Tiger offense alive when the passing game has been suspect.

5. Drake (Maybe)

Several people I trust told me Drake will be in Rupp Arena for Big Blue Madness. There’s also the rumor that he will perform, not just watch the action from the stands. UK Hoops’ Makayla Epps all but confirmed that rumor with a tweet earlier this week, saying, “Hint for BBM Friday: #TOPSZN.” (TOPSZN is the name of Drake’s regime.)

However, a tropical storm is doing its best to interfere with Drake’s rumored appearance in Lexington. The rapper and his crew are reportedly stuck on St. Maarten Island thanks to Hurricane Gonzalo. A member of the crew said yesterday it could be days before they’re allowed to fly home.

So we’ll see. I think it’s safe to say he has been downgraded to doubtful.

6. Two LSU Quarterbacks

It was announced today that Anthony Jennings will get the start, but freshman Brandon Harris will be eager to get another shot if Jennings isn’t getting it done. Harris took over the starting role for Jennings two weeks ago at Auburn after replacing Jennings in the second quarter the week before and playing well. Jennings reclaimed his starting role against Florida and will be playing to keep it against Kentucky. We could very well see both QBs on Saturday.

7. Matthew Mitchell

Matthew Mitchell’s introduction, what is now everyone’s favorite part of Big Blue Madness, will be in the form of dance again this year. I’ve heard rumors of what the UK Hoops coach has up his sleeve in 2014 but you’ll never get it out of me. We’ll all see it together, for the first time, Friday night. (Unless you’re watching volleyball on the SEC Network.)

8. Les Miles Eating Grass

“I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know that I’m a part of the field and part of the game,” Miles said in a 2010 interview about his sideline eating habits. “You should have seen some games before this. I can tell you one thing: The grass in Tiger Stadium tastes best.”

Mmmmkay. Do you, Les. Do you.

9. Player Introductions

The team emerged from beneath the stage in light-up warmups during their intros a year ago and Sam Malone shut it down with his dance moves. Aside from John Wall’s iconic dance in 2009, it was the most fun any team has had in their welcoming party. The bar is high for 2014 and I have no doubt they will blow the roof off of Rupp Arena once again.

10. The Upset In Death Valley

The turnaround in Mark Stoops’ second season has been nothing short of amazing and that momentum will roll down to the Bayou Saturday night with confidence. The Cats not only believe they can win, they expect to, and I am of the same belief.

The timing is right. LSU isn’t the usual LSU this season and Kentucky isn’t the usual Kentucky. Sure, the Tigers are favored by 9.5 points, but Kentucky faced an 18-point spread in a similar environment in Florida and was one fourth-down stop away from a win. That Florida team lost to LSU by a field goal in Baton Rouge last week, so the level of competition is similar and certainly not unbeatable.

WHY NOT.


Old Kentucky Football vs. New Kentucky Football


(Use the slider to move back and forth in the photos)

Times have changed in the Big Blue Nation. While the basketball team is still doing its thing, most of the focus is still on football, with the Cats rolling at 5-1 heading into a huge road game vs. LSU. With Big Blue Madness coming up on Friday, this week is usually reserved for guessing the players’ intro songs, reliving old Madness memories, and generally being giddy about the roundball; however, according to KSR’s very informal internet poll yesterday, a whopping 77% of you guys are more excited about the LSU game Saturday than Big Blue Madness Friday night.

This is just the latest oddity in a surreal month for the football program. Right now, UK is behind only Georgia in the SEC East race at 2-1, and if they upset LSU in Death Valley, there is an extremely good chance ESPN’s “College Gameday” will come to town for the Cats vs. #1 Mississippi State next week. In only his second year, Mark Stoops has the Cats one play (or, if you ask some people, one error by the refs) from undefeated and has more than doubled his win total from last season. As a result, Kentucky is on its way to becoming the latest media darling, with network analysts across the country talking about what a remarkable job Stoops has done so far, and his name already being floated around for high-profile jobs.

I know I’m not alone when I say that more than once over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself having “Old Kentucky football vs. New Kentucky football” moments. You know, those times when you marvel at just how far the program has come. Here are just a few examples, with the help of new fancy photo slider technology:

Old Kentucky defensive lineman vs. New Kentucky defensive linemen:


Old Kentucky football: Worrying your game won’t be on TV
New Kentucky football: Worrying your game won’t get a primetime TV slot

Old Kentucky football: High five fail
New Kentucky football: Storming the field


Old Kentucky football: The Cat Walk in 2012
New Kentucky football: The Cat Walk in 2014


Old Kentucky football: Wanting another coach
New Kentucky football: Worrying about another program wanting your coach

Old Kentucky football: Your quarterback sacking himself
New Kentucky football: Your quarterback evading tackles for a 21-yard gain


Old Kentucky football: The SEC East standings in 2012
New Kentucky football: The SEC East standings in 2014


Old Kentucky football: Being on the wrong side of a Sportscenter Top 10 play
New Kentucky football: Being on the right side of a Sportscenter Top 10 play


Old Kentucky football: Nice, safe, traditional
New Kentucky football: A program that’s actually cool.


As Patrick Towles told reporters today, the difference between the old Kentucky football and the new Kentucky football is “when somebody throws a shot at you, you gotta throw one right back.” We’re just getting started, bro.


UK’s 2015 Football Schedule is out!

UK’s 2015 Football Schedule is out!

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Of note:

  • Only ONE bye week next season, not two. UK’s falls on October 10.
  • Kentucky’s permanent interdivisional opponent remains Mississippi State
  • Kentucky’s rotating interdivisional opponent in 2015 is Auburn, and that game will be on a Thursday night in Commonwealth Stadium

Discuss…


The Big Blue Madness Guest List

The Big Blue Madness Guest List

Big Blue Madness is scheduled to have several big-time guests in attendance Friday night, as it always does, and today I would like to share with you a copy of the unofficial list of VIP attendees.

Below you’ll find the top recruits expected to be in Rupp Arena for the Greatest Spectacle In All Of Basketball Practice, plus one additional name you may recognize.

Make these guys feel at home in Rupp Arena, BBN.

*****

 

Charles Matthews
Shooting Guard

6’5″, 175 lbs.
Chicago, Illinois (Saint Rita)

Top247: No. 60 overall, No. 19 SG
247 Composite: No. 48 overall, No. 14 SG
Rivals: No. 56 overall, No. 17 SG
ESPN: No. 30 overall, No. 7 SG
Scout: No. 61 overall, No. 20 SG

 

i (3)Malik Newman
Combo Guard

6’3″, 175 lbs.
Jackson, Mississippi (Callaway)

Top247: No. 4 overall, No. 1 SG
247 Composite: No. 3 overall, No. 1 SG
Rivals: No. 3 overall, No. 1 SG
ESPN: No. 3 overall, No. 1 SG
Scout: No. 10 overall, No. 1 SG

 

brown

Jaylen Brown
Small Forward

6’7″, 220 lbs.
Alpharetta, Georgia (Wheeler)

Top247: No. 2 overall, No. 2 SF
247 Composite: No. 2 overall, No. 2 SF
Rivals: No. 2 overall, No. 2 SF
ESPN: No. 8 overall, No. 1 SF
Scout: No. 1 overall, No. 1 SF

 

iCarlton Bragg
Power Forward

6’9″, 220 lbs.
Cleveland, Ohio (Villa Angela-St. Joseph)

Top247: No. 16 overall, No. 4 PF
247 Composite: No. 14 overall, No. 5 PF
Rivals: No. 14, No. 3 SF
ESPN: No. 14 overall, No. 7 PF
Scout: No. 11 overall, No. 3 PF

 

i (9)

Brandon Ingram
Small Forward

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

Top247: No. 11 overall, No. 4 SF
247 Composite: No. 17 overall, No. 4 SF
Rivals: No. 18 overall, No. 4 SF
ESPN: No. 12 overall, No. 2 SF
Scout: No. 25 overall, No. 6 SF

 

i (7)

Stephen Zimmerman
Center

7’0″, 230 lbs.
Las Vegas, Nevada (Bishop Gorman)

Top247: No. 22 overall, No. 4 C
247 Composite: No. 12 overall, No. 3 C
Rivals: No. 10 overall, No. 4 C
ESPN: No. 6 overall, No. 2 C
Scout: No. 14 overall, No. 6 C

 

i (7)

Antonio Blakeney
Shooting Guard

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

Top247: No. 15 overall, No. 4 SG
247 Composite: No. 17 overall, No. 3 SG
Rivals: No. 13 overall, No. 3 SG
ESPN: No. 14 overall, No. 2 SG
Scout: No. 22 overall, No. 5 SG

 

i (7)

Tyus Battle
Shooting Guard (Class of 2016)

6’6″, 190 lbs.
Edison, NJ (Gill St. Bernard S. School)

Top247: No. 11 overall, No. 3 SG
247 Sports Composite: No. 11 overall, No. 4 SG
Rivals: No. 16 overall
ESPN: No. 14 overall, No. 4 SG
Scout: No. 9 overall, No. 3 SF

 

Derryck Thornton
Point Guard Guard (Class of 2016)

6’0″, 175 lbs.
Henderson, NV (Findlay Prep)

Top247: No. 10 overall, No. 3 PG
247 Sports Composite: No. 7 overall, No. 2 PG
Rivals: No. 9 overall
ESPN: No. 10 overall, No. 2 PG
Scout: No. 6 overall, No. 1 PG

 

drake

Drake
Rapper

6’0″, 165 lbs.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Young Money, Cash Money)

0 to 100, real quick.


KSR Travel Guide: Louisiana State University

KSR Travel Guide: Louisiana State University

Good evening, sports fans. Are you ready for the biggest SEC road game on Kentucky’s football schedule? It’s going to be a goodin’. UK hasn’t made the trip to Baton Rouge since 2011 and won’t be back again until 2026 at the very earliest. So if you’ve ever wanted to see the Cats in Tiger Stadium, now would be the time to go.

For those you planning to make said trip to the Bayou, I will voluntarily serve as your friendly tour guide. You have a busy schedule, so I did all of the research for you. Just print this out, throw it in your pocket, and enjoy the game.

Oh, and you’re welcome.

*****

If you’re planning to attend Big Blue Madness and make it to LSU…

You’re crazy. That’s an 11-hour drive through the night unless you catch an early morning flight. There’s a 6:00 am out of Lexington for $720 that’ll have you there by 10:00 am. That’s plenty of time to tailgate. That’s also pricey for the average fan.

 

If you don’t parlay it into a trip to Bourbon Street…

You’re not doing it right. It’s a little over an hour drive so you have plenty of time to get nasty in New Orleans Friday night then get to Baton Rouge to tailgate on Saturday.

If you are doing Bourbon Street, remember: the safest sex is no sex and when the sign says ‘Strongest Drink On Bourbon Street,’ it means STRONGEST DRINK ON BOURBON STREET. Trust me. It’s called the Jester, and though it tastes like fruity deliciousness, it will completely wreck your entire existence and you’ll wake up with a bunch of beads and a picture similar to this one on your phone:

new-orlenas

Man, the Final Four wasn’t a terrible time. And, yes, she is wearing pants. (I think.)

 

If you haven’t booked a hotel…

You should get on that. This should’ve been done months ago.

 

If you don’t have tickets…

There are several options available through LSU on Ticketmaster.com or on GuyOnTheCornerTickets.com. Death Valley holds over 102,000 people so you’ll be able to find a way in.

I believe the visiting section is the southeast end zone, sections 401 through 405.

 

If you get hungry…

And you will hungry, here are some suggestions for local fare:

Chelsea’s: Open until 2:00 am, Chelsea’s serves up a delicious po’ boy and other cajun/creole dishes. The website promotes cold beer and warm Jagermeister, so it’s down to party.

Side note: I threw up in my mouth a little bit at the thought of warm Jager.

The Chimes: Another popular spot in Baton Rouge is The Chimes, a cajun joint with blackened alligator on the menu. “The boudin balls are to die for,” says one Yelper.

Personally, I’m not ready to die for boudin balls — that seems like a pathetic way to go out. Boudin balls are good, though.

Pluckers: It wouldn’t be a football trip without a stop for wings, and you’ll find no better wings than the wings at Pluckers. USA Today named it a Top 10 Wing Bar, while ESPN included it on its Top 5 Sports Bars.

Eat 25 ‘Fire In The Hole’ wings and you will make the Wall of Flame. You will also literally have fire in your hole. That will add another hour or two to the ride back if you eat it on your way out of town, so keep that in mind.

Louie’s: This 24-hour diner has been popping in Tiger Town since 1941. It serves a little bit of everything, from breakfast to seafood stir-fry and bread putting. If Jimmy’s working, tell him Drew sent you.

Side note: I don’t know Jimmy, nor does he know me.

TJ Ribs: The self-proclaimed “BBQ Haven of LSU” is full of Tiger memorabilia. You may find yourself sitting next to Billy Cannon’s 1959 Heisman trophy, one of Shaq’s game-worn shoes, or Honey Badger’s one-hitter.

 

If you find this tailgate…

CALL ME IMMEDIATELY AND I WILL BE THERE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Good lawd.

 

If you’re sitting near this guy…

Or this guy…

lsu-fan

Please send us as many photos as possible.

 

If Kentucky wins…

Throw caution to the wind and party like it’s 2007. Leave it all on the field. Don’t come back without stories of the time of your life.

And I’m serious about that tailgate. Don’t let me find out you were with those girls and didn’t tell me. I need them.


Mark Zerof

Halfway Home and the Cats are 5-1

Mark Zerof

Mark Zerof

Kentucky’s 48-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe wasn’t the most spectacular showcase of Stoops’ Troops, but the results matched expectations.  What wasn’t expected? A 5-1 start.

In hindsight, everyone in the BBN expected a letdown from the Cats following an emotional victory of South Carolina.  With a cloudy sky, cool temperatures and a quiet crowd, Kentucky started slower than molasses in January.  Boom Williams’ 75-yard opening kickoff return couldn’t even get them excited.  Even with great field position, Kentucky couldn’t handle the blitzes out of ULM’s 3-3-5 defense.

There were penalties at critical moments.  A WildKemp interception led to easy points.  There didn’t seem to be anything that could light a fire under the Cats’ butts.  At the end of the first quarter the Cats trailed 14-3 and were outgained 119 yards to 61.  

Embedded image permalink

I don’t know what was said or done on the sideline, but Bud Dupree wouldn’t let the Cats get their heads down.  Bud turned into an absolute terror, making his opponents pay on every hit.  A sack saved a potential touchdown, which he followed up with a blocked field goal.  The game could have easily gotten out of hand if Bud hadn’t kept them off the scoreboard.  Bud finished with 5 tackles and his 1.5 sacks were enough to tie Dennis Johnson’s career sack total for the second-most in UK history.

The offense fed off Bud’s energy.  Backed up on their own 13, Javess Blue made some serious moves after a comeback route for an 83-yard touchdown.  Believe it or not, it wasn’t his best highlight of the day.  His one-handed over-the-shoulder snag in the back of the end zone has Sportscenter written all over it.  Dealing with injuries early in the season, the Senior was without a touchdown and had only 116 yards.  Today he had two TDs and 109 yards.

The old guys lived up to early hype, but nothing has been more surprising than the defense’s ability to create turnovers.  Not once, but twice the defense took interceptions to the end zone.  After only three interceptions in 2013, the Cats are now ranked 2nd nationally in interceptions, “No, I don’t think I would’ve believed that.  I’ll give you one there,” Stoops said after the game. 

The only person that exceeded expectations heading into today’s game was Boom Williams.  After missing a week, we weren’t even sure how much he would play today.  After starting with a 75-yard return, ULM refused to kick it to him.  Early in the year, Boom had struggled offensively to be patient enough for his blocks to develop into running lanes.  Today his patience paid off, following his blockers for a 58-yard touchdown run.  For the first time in his career Boom rushed for over 100 yards( 107), in only 7 carries.  The Booms are just getting started, bro.

@ukstoopstroops

@ukstoopstroops

Entering the season, there weren’t many people outside of the program that believed the Cats could turn it around this year.  The youth, combined with a difficult SEC, could only put them in bad situations.  Through six games, their most complete game was the 3OT loss in Gainesville.

“We’re winning games and we’re not playing our best,” Stoops said after today’s W.  That can only mean one thing – We’re Just Getting Started Bro.

Notes on Notes on Notes

–  Demarco (a.k.a. “The Marco) Robinson continues to be a valuable spark plug.  After one of his best game’s on offense last week, he didn’t miss a beat today, earning tough yards after the catch.  His explosiveness was more important in the punt return game, with multiple returns setting the offense up with phenomenal field position.

–  Kentucky was an atrocious 1-12 on 3rd down.  That’s alarming.  I doubt many teams have ever won when only converting one 3rd down.

–  Jared Lorenzen changed the game on the 4th quarter crowd ritual.  Instead of the “Blue & White,” for Heroes’ Day J-Lo got a “U-S-A” chant started for our troops.

-  Pat Towles is quietly killing ‘em.  Towles’ numbers haven’t jumped off the page much this year, but he hasn’t done much wrong.  Faced with plenty of early pressure, Towles’ exceptional footwork in the pocket kept plays alive.  He finished the game with a casual 16-28, 216 yards and 3 touchdowns.

–  Sack lunches are delicious.  The UK defensive line received plenty of preseason hype, but they hadn’t been very consistent.  They definitely got it done today, finishing with six sacks and 12 tackles for loss.  Not too shabby.

–  The Cats now have four defensive touchdowns this season after Marcus McWilson and Josh Forrest capitalized on Louisiana-Monroe mistakes.  It was the first time since the Louisville game in ’08 the Cats have had two in one game (if you don’t remember Myron Pryor’s scoop and score that covered almost an entire football field, then we can’t be friends).

–  Kentucky is tied for first in the SEC East.  Don’t hold your breath, but the last 5-1 start was in ’07.  It became a 6-1 start after beating LSU.  Is anybody else getting Deja Blue?


5 Charts to Get You Ready For UK’s NBA Combine

5 Charts to Get You Ready For UK’s NBA Combine

UKNBA

On Friday, scouts from all 30 NBA teams will make their way to the Joe Craft Center in Lexington to watch your Kentucky Wildcats practice in the school’s first NBA Draft Combine, which is also the first of its kind in the sport. For two hours, 85 NBA scouts/personnel will watch the team go through individual and team drills, including speed, agility, leaping, and other physical tests, along with 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 action. The combine is just the latest brainchild of John Calipari, who continuously proves he is ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing his players for the pros.

The combine is also a great chance for the program to show off its stellar NBA tradition. UK currently has 22 players on NBA rosters, with a few others with the chance to join a roster before the season starts.

ukinthenba2

That’s right, this year, former UK players in the NBA will make almost $117 million, and their current contracts are worth over $450 million. Not to sound like Cal, but imagine what that number will be once Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Terrence Jones get their next contracts. Phew.

Right now, UK is tied with UCLA for the most draft picks in college basketball history with 112, but the Cats clearly have the momentum in the past five years:

overalldraftpicks

Right now, more NBA teams include former UK players than those that don’t:

NBATeamsUKPlayers

In the past five years under John Calipari, Kentucky has become especially dominant in getting players to the pros.

draftgraph

When you factor in the current 2015 NBA Draft projections from Draft Express, the gap widens even further…

NBADraft2015projections

No wonder the rest of college basketball hates us.


(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

This week in UK Football history…

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

It’s been an exciting few days in the Big Blue Nation. UK is off to its best start since 2008, and since then, the program has been on a roller coaster of emotions. From the success of the Rich Brooks Era to the hopeful beginnings of Joker Phillips’ reign to the paradoxical #RISE and the depths of despair, UK football fans have been through the ringer. Now, after a humbling first season, Mark Stoops has finally picked the program up off the floor and not only restored it to respectability, invigorated it with genuine excitement for the future.

For some proper perspective on the program’s progress, I went back and looked at the site archives for the Monday on this week of the season the past five years. I listed the Cats’ record at the time, the results of their most recent game, and some headlines from the site, as well as the football to basketball post ratio (which is pretty interesting in itself…I used the total number of posts to reflect just how much more often we post now as opposed to back in the day). Want to fully appreciate the job Mark Stoops has done so far? Just look at how far we’ve come.

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

October 11, 2010

Record: 3-3 (0-3); Final record: 6-7 (2-6)
Most recent game: 37-34 loss to Auburn
Headlines:

He praised the Cats for coming back against Auburn on Saturday and showing the spirit of a champion, even in a loss. He analogized that comeback to politics, playing on his own role as The Comeback Kid during the early days of his political career.

The Cats Pause is reporting that Defensive Back EJ May committed to Kentucky this weekend after visiting for the Auburn game. May is a 2 star (according to Scout.com) Defensive Back that had offers from Louisville, Southern Miss and La Tech and high interest from Ole Miss.

(Ed. note: Where is EJ May now? May ended up committing to South Alabama, where he is now a junior.)

Football to basketball post ratio: 8:4
Mood in the BBN: Things are still good, in large part because of Randall Cobb Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.36.23 AM

(AP Photo/Rich Glickstein)

October 10, 2011

Record: 2-4 (0-3); Final record: 5-7 (2-6)
Most recent game: 54-3 loss to South Carolina
Headlines:

Monday was a day of reflection on UK’s atrocious football performance against South Carolina over the weekend. Almost all of you have made it very clear that you don’t want to read anything else about the football team, so we won’t delve too far into it right now, but it’s worth pointing out that this is arguably the lowest point in Kentucky football in a long time. Everyone has given up on Joker and the #HireMikeLeach campaign is picking up steam. It really is hard to grasp how unbelievably bad this team is. No one expects a UK football team to win every game, but the losses they’re taking are flat out embarrassing.

Thanks to Kent State’s 70-yard performance at Northern Illinois, Kentucky avoids the title of “Worst Offense in America” for at least another week. The Cats are ranked No. 119 in total offense with 229 yards per game through the halfway mark in the season. Only three teams in the country have scored fewer touchdowns.

Football to basketball post ratio: 6:7
Mood in the BBN: Vomit  Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.33.57 AMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.35.45 AM

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

October 8, 2012

Record: 1-5 (0-3); Final record: 2-10 (0-8)
Most recent game: 27-14 loss to Mississippi State
Headlines:

The news today that Patrick Towles is out for Saturday’s game versus Arkansas is yet another piece of bad luck for a season that has seen almost nothing go right. Towles gave optimism and positivity to Saturday’s otherwise depressing Commonwealth Stadium, but with his departure, Kentucky is left with two quarterbacks and less hope. Jalen Whitlow has potential, but from this onlooker’s perspective, it still seems like he hasn’t completely been used correctly.

It’s not easy to find something good to say about Kentucky football these days. That goes for everyone, including the coaching staff. Maybe that’s why Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal asked defensive coordinator Rick Minter if there is anything he feels really good about.

“Well, I’m about to go eat lunch,” Minter said jokingly

The Joker Phillips era has fallen short of that standard. While he lead the team to a bowl game in year one he tenure will almost undoubtedly result in three straight losing seasons. However the deck was a bit stacked against our head coach from the start. Recruiting classes that dissolved. Exodus of talent. Poor Facilities. Bad decisions on the coaching staff. Following the best era of UK football in our lifetime. If the next coach is going to be successful things at the university are going to have to change. But how far will the university go to make those changes?

Football to basketball post ratio: 8:7
Mood in the BBN: Over it. Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.32.45 AMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.32.58 AM

i-1

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

October 7, 2013

Record: 1-4 (0-2); Final record: 2-10 (0-8)
Most recent game: 35-28 loss to South Carolina
Headlines:

Saturday’s almost comeback win provided Big Blue Nation plenty of optimism moving forward. With a single quarterback at the helm, the Cats continued fighting for their lives despite trailing 21-0. Coach Stoops had to admit that the 21-0 score bothered him, “I was very frustrated I admit that,” but the team didn’t give up, “We talked about it throughout the week. If they started fast, ‘hang in there, (we’ll) make some adjustments and battle back to give ourselves a chance to win the game.’”

“Mark has done a really good job there, I think. The players are playing hard, they’re playing with a lot of toughness, they’re really good on special teams, which to me sometimes shows the character and attitude of your team as much as anything.”

Football to basketball post ratio: 10:10
Mood in the BBN: Good job, good effort. Big Blue Madness in 11 days! Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.31.14 AMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.31.47 AM

patrickSC

October 6, 2014

Record: 4-1 (2-1)
Most recent game: 45-38 win over South Carolina
Headlines:

While 4-1 is incredibly exciting, Stoops said we’re just getting started, bro. “There’s still a lot more in this team. We could be a lot better, we’re going to continue to work extremely hard to improve,” Stoops said. “Feel so proud of the effort, the toughness, and the resolve of this team. That says a lot about what we’re doing. That being said, so much more to improve on.”

Football to basketball post ratio: 22:5
Mood in the BBN: We’re just getting started, bro. Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.27.56 AMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.28.52 AM Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.28.29 AM Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.28.16 AM


@UKphotogs

Stoops’ First Signature Win, In the Most Unbelievable Manner Possible

@ESPNCFB

@ESPNCFB

It felt right all week.  We saw it coming a mile away.  It’s been a couple of hours since Bud Dupree rocked the BBN, and it still doesn’t seem real.

The lead in was perfect.  A night game after Keeneland, visiting elite recruits, Randall Cobb, a black out with new helmets, a Backstreet Boy, and a South Carolina opponent reeling after two conferences losses.  It created the perfect storm for a pregame atmosphere that we never see in Lexington.

And then Kentucky started slower than they have all year.

Spurrier’s offense imposed their will on the first drive.  Every time Mike Davis touched the ball, it was like Moses parting the Red Sea.  Dylan Thompson was slower the snot, yet still scrambling for first downs.  19 plays later, South Carolina drove 79 yards and chewed up 7:56 of clock.

After a poor offensive drive, the Gamecocks went back to the ground.  It worked just as well.  Of their first 30 plays, 25 were runs.  By the game’s end, Davis totaled 183 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 8 yards per carry.

Critical mistakes and bad calls were coming at the worst time possible.  A clipping penalty stalled a drive.  South Carolina fumbled a ball in the backfield that Kentucky appeared to recover.  The review gave South Carolina the ball, and Mike Davis ran it 30 yards the following play.  It looked as if the Cats’ karma had returned to Kentucky football days of old.

Starting strong had defined the Cats all year.  What will define this team is their ability to never quit when facing adversity.

 

Jojo Kemp hadn’t brought much Mojo heading into today’s game.  Without Boom Williams, the running backs had to collectively step up to bring the BOOM.  Braylon Heard was great (6 carries, 67 yards, 1 touchdown), but cramps kept him out of the 4th quarter.  It was all up to Jojo to bring the Mojo.

The Cats couldn’t have overcome their early mistakes without the WildKemp.  Even when South Carolina knew it was coming, they couldn’t stop him.  Heading into halftime, Spurrier told Heather Mitts, “We gotta stop that Wildcat guy.”  The Ol’ Ball Coach couldn’t figure it out.

The WildKemp got the Cats to their first score, giving them enough momentum to keep the game close.  It looked as if Carolina was going to head into halftime with the lead, but the resilient Cats weren’t going to give up without a fight.  With only :22 on the clock, Patrick Towles found Garrett Johnson downfield to put the Big Mac in field goal range, tying the game as the clock expired.

@UKphotogs

@UKphotogs

Needing to start the second half with a bang, Kentucky was once again driving in the Wildcat.  Kemp was grinding away the D, until they did something different.  The jet sweep was reversed back to Patrick Towles who found a wide open Ryan Timmons for the touchdown to take the lead.  Neal Brown out-Spurrier’d Steve Spurrier.

The Cats had the lead, but it as far from over.  After straying away from the run game, they brought it right back at the Cats.  The defense was stuck on the field longer than any defense should, letting their running backs wear and tear them away.  After dominating the 3rd quarter, South Carolina built a 38-24 lead with 11:45 to play.  The game seemed all but over.

Patrick Towles scrambled away from a slew of defenders to find Javess Blue for a miraculous catch to save a drive.  A quick score later, and the Wildcat was ROLLING.  After a defensive stop, Jojo Kemp led the Cats on one of the most dramatic drives in Kentucky football history.  They kept feeding him, until he broke a big run down to the 2.  With the team on his back, he began cramping in front of the student section.  “JO-JO! JO-JO! JO-JO!” began roaring from the student section.  Carried across the field by a trainer, Jojo returned a play later for the tying score.

For most UK football fans you saw it coming: Spurrier’s squad was going to use up the final three minutes to kick a game-winning field goal.  It was practically guaranteed.

A tipped pass later and Bud Dupree was screaming in the end zone with a game-winning touchdown.

With Mark Stoops at the helm, believe in the unbelievable.

“We’re just getting started bro.  You hear me?  Why Not?”

@UKfootball

@UKfootball

Saturday’s Stars

Josh Forrest hadn’t been a head buster so far this year, but he proved that he can be THE guy to replace Avery Williamson.  Forrest’s 15 tackles were the most by a Wildcat this season.  The hit above should be worth two tackles.

I’ve already said it, but Jojo Kemp was the man.  He’s the first player that Stoops has ever awarded a game ball.

AJ Stamps was Drew Franklin’s pregame MVP, and he reminded us frequently when Stamps was making plays ALL OVER THE FIELD.  Stamps had 7 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception.  He had one bad play, but many more big hits.

Matt Elam had the best game of his young career and proved that he will be an essential part of the defense.  His one recorded tackle doesn’t reflect his impact.  He batted balls down, took on double-teams, and when the going got tough, he didn’t let the coaches take him out of the game.  Elam brings a winner’s mentality to the defensive line.

There probably isn’t a player I’m more critical of than Demarco Robinson.  Marco’s small stature allows him to get pushed around a lot, but tonight he brought explosive speed in the short passing game.  On special teams he was mistake free and had a few returns that only needed another block or two to take it to the house.


@ClayPhoto

CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? 45-38 Kentucky

@ClayPhoto

@ClayPhoto

It seemed impossible for awhile.  They needed a miracle to win and they got one, finishing the game by scoring 21 straight points.

Jojo Kemp put the team on his back in the Wildcat.  After knotting the game up with under three minutes to go, Bud Dupree made a play that will live in infamy.  Mike Douglas tipped Dylan Thompson’s pass high into the air, giving Dupree enough time to run under it and into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

There have been some plays in Commonwealth that will be remembered forever.  Bud’s tipped pick 6 will be one of them.


15 Things To Know From John Calipari’s Preseason Roundtable

15 Things To Know From John Calipari’s Preseason Roundtable

roundtable

In early September, John Calipari invited a select number of media members to his preseason Q&A roundtable, and because we’re good at sitting at tables, Kentucky Sports Radio pulled up a couple seats at the discussion. The interview was embargoed until October 1, hidden from all of the basketball-hungry members of Big Blue Nation. But guess what, my friends? Today is October 1, therefore we can share Calipari’s words with the world.

Below you will find KSR’s rundown of 15 important topics from the hour-long discussion at Cal’s table.

Enjoy, Cats fans.

*****

1.) They will platoon.

Get ready, America. College basketball is about to meet its first platoon system of basketball. A fury of elite talent, subbing in and out in groups of five, running the opposition to death for 40 minutes. It has been attempted before, but not under John Calipari’s ‘Players First’ formula. This will be a new and vigorous attack, one that will be challenging to execute but overwhelming to whoever stands in its way.

Darrell Bird | CatsPause.com

Darrell Bird | CatsPause.com

“It’s never been done when the players have benefitted,” Cal explained to us, sitting inside a the second floor conference room in the Joe Craft Center. “It’s been done where the program benefitted and the coaches benefitted, but it’s never been done where players benefitted. That’s the challenge we’ll have. I think that, if you can get two groups that are balanced, yet good enough, we can do it. We have some time. We have to see. I’d like to play that way because it includes 10 guys, and really it includes all 12 because even the two that are left – you’re in the rotation if someone gets hurt or, if a guard’s not playing well, you’re in. If a big’s not playing well, you’re in. So everybody’s into the rotation.”

At the Wildcat Tipoff Luncheon in Louisville earlier this week, Calipari told fans he will run with two teams of five, plus one guard and one big man substitute to make 12 total contributors. That’s a lot of time to be shared, but he insists the players are all on board.

“The players bought into it,” he said. “They liked it. They all thought it was terrific. The biggest thing will be the clutter that will circle, which, the clutter of the ego and all the other things, but we have a couple things we’re going to do that will make it clear, you know, how they’re playing. One thing I would say is, does Michael Jordan really have to be out there 32 minutes to show you he can play? Or Lebron or Anthony? The question is, the clutter of the ego, you know, you have to sit back and say there’s two things: I want to win a championship and I want to be drafted in the highest position I can be. Can that all happen in the a platoon? Yes, it can, but it’ll be a challenge. No one’s ever done it. I’ll say it again: People have done it but not where the players benefitted.”

Cal could stick to the norm and play an eight-man rotation, but that’s only benefitting the seven or eight guys who see the floor. He doesn’t see jealousy or resentment in this group, so that’s not the issue with doing that, but why leave some guys out when everyone can sit at the table at eat?

It ain’t no fun unless all the homies get some.

2.) There will be situational platoons.

If Kentucky is going to platoon as Cal says they will, they’re going to need to be prepared for certain situations. The five-in, five-out method is fun when UK is rolling, but what about the unforeseen circumstance when the other team is playing better? Don’t worry. Cal plans to create several variations of the five-man platoon to adapt to the moment.

“Well we’ll have to practice that,” he said, when asked about possible rotations. “So you gotta have – and we talked about it as a group – I said you’ve gotta have a team that, say someone is really hurting us in a zone and we just say ‘Okay we’re putting our best shooting team in,’ so we’re mixing it up then. Then you practice that way. It’s not like you just did it in that game. What about a team, we get down and we’re just playing bad and we want a catch-up team in there? What would that catch up team be? Because you’ve gotta both defend and score. What would a team look like if you just wanted to be a great defensive team? Would it be Willie, Marcus Lee and another big and two guards who are all guarding? What would that team be? What if you needed a pressing team, who would your best pressing team be and that may be your catch-up team. So all of that stuff will be decided as we practice. I don’t even know what the groupings would be.”

I think we can all agree that Aaron Harrison needs to be in the “Down By Two With The Ball And 20 Seconds Left” group. Put him in any group that is in in the closing minutes of a game.

3.) He hired a new stats guy to record advanced statistics for players and scouts.

Joel Justus was hired as the new director of men’s basketball analytics, a position that seems fairly insignificant until you hear what Calipari is up to with the numbers. With so many players expected to share the floor, and the ball, Justus’ job will be to convert the players’ stats in 20 minutes to what it would be if they were on another team as a star player, seeing 30-plus minutes of action.

Calipari said, “I liked the fact that the numbers were really good for 20 minutes (in the Bahamas), and then we’ll do some things so people will know what their numbers relate to if they play 34 minutes. So you have a team full of guys playing 20, what would that relate to if they were playing 34 minutes? Basically it’s all about efficiency and they would have that stat sheet.”

The Wildcats will be rated individually at 34-minute performances, though it’s unlikely anyone will actually play 34 minutes per game. They will receive adjusted stat sheets after each game to see their efficiency the way it would be anywhere else.

“The numbers that are good for us are for the players to see what they’re accomplishing, in my mind. It’s good for everyone else to see what those numbers say, but the reality of it is, we can all watch a game and, if you have any feel for the game at all, you can say he played a great game even if the numbers say he played ok. Yeah, but those numbers don’t take into account – we’ve got things we’ll do that are nonnegotiable; there is no analytic that can do it; they don’t have one invented. But if I’m going to two-platoon, the numbers will matter and the efficiency numbers.”

The hope is to keep the players happy with their stats while reminding NBA scouts what each player would look like if they weren’t on arguably the deepest roster college basketball has ever seen.

4.) This team is very close off the court.

bball-guys

@tulis3

We saw firsthand in the Bahamas how close the players are off the court. Whether it was sitting by the pool, throwing a football on the beach or watching fans lose money at the roulette table, the players always seemed to be together in big groups and having a good time. The cliques changed throughout the week too, which suggests each player is cool with hanging out with any of his teammates. No one isolated themselves from the pack and it was all smiles and cutting up from what we saw, and we were around them a lot.

Will that camaraderie carry over to the court?

Calipari believes so.

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said. “You know, the best NBA teams, that’s what happens is they go on the road and that’s what they do. They’ll go out to a movie, they go out to dinner, and they’ll go to mass — the best NBA teams. The bad teams, everybody breaks up and goes their own way and gets on the road and you don’t see the guy until the game starts. The good ones don’t. They know they have to be together and be about each other and this is what we’re doing. So yeah, that will help.”

#Brothers

5.) They’re on a mission.

After getting a small taste of the glory a season ago, UK is hungry to return to the big stage.

“They want to win,” he said of his veteran players. “They know they need each other because they went through it last year, where you start and you’re more into your own stuff and all of the sudden you look and it’s not going real good, and then you start worrying about everyone else and your stuff gets better.”

This year they can skip the “buying-in process” we’re accustomed to dealing with every fall. They’re already “in.” They’re on a mission and they don’t need any more motivation.

6.) They’re playing pickup games on their own.

Follow any of the players on social media and you know this group lives in the gym, often getting together for late night games and shoot-arounds when only infomercials can be found on television. Crazy thing is, no one is making them do it. They all love to abuse that all-access key card to the Craft Center.

“These guys, they play pickup five, six nights a week. That’s important,” Calipari said. “We’re not doing it; they’re doing it themselves and they all like to compete and play, which is a big deal. I’ve been on teams here that we had to call to get them to play pickup.”

Remember the Breakfast Club? From what it sounds like, this is the Breakast-Lunch-Dinner Club.

7.) The pickup games have strict rules.

The coaches may not be around for the night sessions in the Joe Craft Center, but they’re still making an impact on the pickup games. Managers are present to enforce rules Calipari put in place to create new habits and one of those rules is everyone has to cross halfcourt in five seconds or it is a turnover. That requires the players to push the tempo so they’re already playing at a fast pace when practice begins this month.

“After you get it up there, I really don’t care what you do, it’s pickup,” he explained. “I just want you to get up there, try to create that habit: on a miss or a make, the ball goes.”

Cal said he tells his guards to peg a teammate in the back of the head with the ball if they’re not looking to catch the ball when it’s being pushed up the court.

“He’ll start looking at you.”

8.) He did not teach any defense before the Bahamas.

It’s hard to believe after watching UK go 5-1 against professionals in the Bahamas, but they haven’t worked on anything defensively and won’t until fall practice. He simply told the guys to ‘pick up and play’ in the full court.

“Pick up and play your man.” he told them before the six-game preseason event. “If somebody leaves, then try to rotate a little bit and figure it out on the run. We told them to force down pick and rolls; we did not teach them how to do it. We didn’t teach it. We just said if the guy tries to pick and roll, force him down the side. So by doing none of that, we ended up 40 percent holding those teams, 28 from three, plus whatever rebounding. We were not a bad defensive team and we taught nothing.”

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9.) He was surprised to see everyone return.

Calipari said Willie Cauley-Stein, a player he thought would enter the draft, was the first to announce his return. Cal congratulated Willie on a great year when the team returned from Dallas, fully expecting the big man to leave after two seasons. The rest went like this:

“The next day he said, ‘I want to come back.’ And I went, ‘What? Why do you want to come back?’ He told me and I said okay, which then I thought, now Alex will come back because he and Alex are really close. I didn’t think the twins would come back. The only reason Dakari had explored, when I grabbed Dakari I said, ‘Do you want me to look into your NBA stuff’ and he said no. I said okay. I asked Marcus Lee, he said no. I said okay. But when I was getting feedback, a couple teams threw Dakari’s name in, and so I told him he may want to reevaluate. Now I think emotionally and every other way he wasn’t ready, but if someone’s going to draft you, you gotta think about it. So that is how it played out.”

He thought the twins would be encouraged to leave, and then he realized they didn’t want to go. He was on a plane when they called to tell him they’re staying.

10.) Everyone benefits by returning, but it’s harder than ever before.

“They all could use more time,” Cal said, when asked about the benefit for a returning player. “Every one of the kids could’ve stayed and benefitted. I would’ve benefitted more than they would’ve benefitted, but they would’ve benefitted. Some of them needed to stick around to learn how to work, basically be professional at your sports. The guys that stayed now, it’s greatly benefitted them. Could they have gone? Yeah. Would Willie have gotten drafted? Yeah. Would the twins have been drafted? Yes. Would Alex have been drafted? They’d all have been drafted. Dakari would’ve been drafted. Now would they have all been drafted in the lottery or down in the high teens? No. A few of them would’ve been in the second round. But they’d all been drafted. My only recommendation to guys is if you put your name in the draft, I’ll do everything I can to get you in the first round. If you stay, don’t come back thinking this is going to be easy. This will be harder than it was ever for you here.”

“Don’t come back here if you think this is the easiest thing you can do,” he added. “Don’t do it. You go in the draft and I’ll help you get in the first round.”

This year is the perfect example of it being harder in a sophomore season. There is more depth and more pressure from new guys to retain a starting role from the year before. Nothing is handed over to a veteran.

11.) This freshman class is more advanced, in better shape, and able to play looser.

When asked what this group of freshmen has that last year’s freshmen did not, Calipari told us, “I would say, on a whole, they’re probably in better condition. But I could say that because of the Bahamas trip. They’re probably a little more advanced with how we’re going to play. They’re probably going to be able to play looser because they know it’s not going to be on them.”

Yeah, that Bahamas trip and additional summer work helped. The returning veterans, too.

“Now all of the sudden, you’ve got a team of guys that played in the championship game,” he continued. “And now you’re coming back and watching and learning. If you can compete with them, you start building your own confidence. This guy, I can compete with this guy. It’s a good thing.”

No more relying on the newbies to perform right away. They have more wiggle room for mistakes and less pressure weighing them down.

12.) Sophomore Harrison twins have new bodies and better attitudes, and that’s still not enough.

Regarding his returning backcourt, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Calipari said, “They’re in better shape; they’re better equipped to deal with stuff; they’re still growing right now; you still have to coach and guide them; they still have some habits that they fall back to when it gets crazy and nutty; but they’re great kids, they’re both great kids; they’re both in the best shape they’ve been but I’m telling them it’s not good enough. They have to get to another level. And then it’s, we have guys that can really compete with them and that’s making them even better.”

And to the Harrison haters, stand down.

“Playing the way we’re playing is going to help both of them. When people see there athletic ability… You know people are saying they’re not real athletic. Compared to what? Me? What are you talking about?”

13.) Willie Cauley-Stein is becoming a star and would’ve changed last year’s results.

“Willie was so good the other day, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh,'” Cal raved over his junior big man. “And then we all forgot that we would’ve won — now think about what we would’ve done with Willie playing. I mean, it would’ve been different, even the endings of game wouldn’t have been where they were. Willie was a shot blocker, a guy that could change the game on both ends, and so now you see him and you’re like, ‘Whoa.'”

Keep in mind, Willie may be this team’s best player and he wasn’t around to win five of six games against professional teams in August.

So how will adding him to the mix affect the logjam at center?

“Willie is playing like he’s a three. Like, we throw it ahead and he’s in the open court, crossing, throwing balls out, and I’m like, ‘Holy geez.'”

Willie at the three?! Holy geez is right.

14.) If you think Tyler Ulis will be here for four years, Calipari doesn’t have time for you.

Calipari won’t accept Ulis or any of the fans settling for him being a four-year player at Kentucky. Despite Ulis’ undersized frame, he has the potential to jump to the NBA like everyone else, Cal says.

“I told him when he came here, ‘If you don’t plan on being an NBA player, don’t come here.’ I don’t want to see you. You’re not coming here. And don’t let me hear all these people say, ‘Well, he finally got a four-year point guard.’ I don’t want to hear that crap either. I think that’s when he said, ‘Well, I’m coming then.'”

15.) He’s not worried about being “the most talked about team in 20 years.”

During the Big Blue Bahamas trip, Jay Bilas told the Wildcats they will be talked about more than any team in the country, maybe any team over the last 20 years.

Calipari, your thoughts?

“It doesn’t worry me,” he said. “Is it possible? It’s Kentucky. Anything is possible here.”

Anything, huh?

17 days until it all begins at Big Blue Madness…


11 Takeaways from the UK Basketball Women’s Clinic

11 Takeaways from the UK Basketball Women’s Clinic

Yesterday, I attended my third-straight Women’s Clinic at Memorial Coliseum, and for the third-straight year, had a blast. Here are my eleven takeaways from the Clinic, which was my favorite one yet.

1) I feel better about John Calipari staying now than when I walked in

Earlier today, I shared Cal’s comments about wanting to leave UK having generated $3 billion for his former players and their families in the NBA. Cal said he had an epiphany two weeks ago after a friend shared data with him about how much his former players are earning, which opened his eyes to how much he’s been able to change lives in his current position. Cal said that he’s on a mission over the next 5-7 years to generate $3 billion for his former players’ families, which he says has never been done in the history of the sport. “It kind of changed how I see things. I’m chasing this now,” he told the ladies. We all know Cal loves challenges, and as the head coach at Kentucky, I think he’s in a better position to influence players and help them achieve their dreams than in the NBA. Coming into yesterday, I was one of those who believed Calipari may leave after this season, but coming into today, I believe he’s so passionate about what he’s able to do and the power of his current position that he’ll stay for longer. Maybe not five to seven years as he said, but longer than one.

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2) “Let them eat first” is the new “Players first”

From the sign on the locker room door to all of the drills the players did on the court, it is clear that the team is focusing on next weekend’s NBA Combine. Cal told us that the Combine, which will take place October 10-11, is his way of showing the players he has their back, or “letting them eat first.” In typical Cal fashion, he went on a five-minute rant about how “letting the players eat first” has led to the most successful five-year run in UK basketball history. And if the haters want to keep hating? Go right ahead. “So then they say is ‘All he cares about getting guys in the NBA.’ If that’s how they tag me on my tombstone, it will say ‘He only cares about getting players in the NBA.’ Not a bad little tagline if you ask me. So, the combine was an idea with that in mind. How do I let these kids know I have your back? I’m letting you eat first.” Get ready to hear that A LOT this season.

3) Karl Towns is Rock Oliver’s favorite player to pick on

Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, and Karl Towns helped out Rock Oliver during his demonstration, which included giant ropes, medicine balls, and other equipment. The ropes were the most entertaining to watch. Here’s Tyler Ulis on the ropes, which are being weighed down by Karl Towns on the stationary bike.

Rock had Karl also do the ropes, but in a more difficult maneuver where you throw both ropes up from side to side with your hands together. Rock made Karl do a speed agility drill that the players will do during the NBA Combine several times, and this was only at one of the three stations at the camp. At this point, it was becoming clear that Karl was Rock’s favorite player to pick on. Rock joked that he likes to pick on Karl because “Karl loves himself so much,” but I had to laugh when Karl came over to me and Jennifer Palumbo to tell us how Rock challenged him to do 100 pushups in front of the crowd, and only let him stop when he got to 50. Karl was so exhausted after one drill he had to take a break behind the basket, resulting in this picture which may be the saddest one ever taken of him:

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4) You women are crazy about your autographs

Inevitably, one of the biggest draws of the Women’s Clinic (or any Calipari clinic) is the chance to get autographs from the players and coaches. Women started lining up outside the Joe Craft Center at 6 a.m. to get an early jump on the autograph session, which took place from 1 – 3 p.m. during registration. The team set everything up as best they could to make the process go smoothly, creating a giant assembly line on the Memorial Coliseum floor, but chaos still crept in. Both Calipari and Robic had to get on the mic several times to attempt to organize the crowd, and at one point, there were some ladies yelling and accusing each other of cutting in line. At one point, Robic threw up his hands and looked around helplessly. You women are crazy.

5) Dominique and Dakari were the only ones brave enough to dance

The organizers of the clinic brought back the Fashion Show this year, a crowd favorite, and it did not disappoint, even if most of the players were afraid to dance. I filmed it all and made a highlight reel for you guys, which includes Dakari and Dominique dancing, Marcus Lee revealing EJ Floreal’s favorite movie, and Tyler Ulis looking like a little blueberry in a puffer jacket. Jennifer Palumbo and her co-host Marcus Lee did their best to get all of the guys to bust a move for the ladies, but only Dakari and Dominique were brave enough, and the latter only after his entire team and the crowd pressured him into it. It’s still one of my favorite parts of the night.

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6) Seeing the team watching the Michigan game was a really cool moment

For most of the three hours, the clinic was split into three different gyms: the main floor at Memorial Coliseum and the men’s and women’s practice gyms in the Joe Craft Center. For those of you who have never been to the Joe Craft Center, the two practice gyms are separated by a lobby, where Cal holds press conferences, etc. There’s a TV mounted on the wall that was showing highlights from last season. As I was going between the gyms yesterday, I walked in and saw Aaron Harrison, Derek Willis, Willie, Trey, Alex, and I think Andrew watching the Michigan game, which was a pretty cool moment, honestly. I’m not sure how often these guys go back and watch that game, but seeing their reactions was very cool, and a moment that will stick with me for a while.

7) Trey Lyles looked fine to me

The crowd was treated to ten minutes of practice in which the team broke into four groups for 3-on-3s. The 3-on-3s were going on on both sides of the court, so it was a bit difficult to keep up with everything, but I did try to keep an eye on Trey Lyles since it was my first time seeing him play. Back from his mysterious leg injury, Lyles looked fine to me. Actually, he looked really good shooting the ball, nailing mid-range jumpers and threes. While he may be rusty in conditioning, seeing him hold his own against Willie Cauley-Stein in the 3-on-3s was encouraging.

8) This lady’s outfit earned kudos from John Robic

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Robic stopped a drill in order to address this lady’s outfit, which he called “old school for sure.” She told me before the Clinic started that her fake tattoo sleeve was in honor of Willie Cauley-Stein, who needs to stop wearing a blue headband because he never plays well when he wears it. When Robic later pointed out that she was wearing a blue headband, she said it was the only one they had at the store. Regardless, well done.

9) Devin Booker’s shot is just pretty

Devin Booker didn’t have the best performance in the Bahamas, but back on the mainland, his stroke is back. At the beginning of the 3-on-3’s, Booker stepped back and nailed a three several feet behind the line, and his hot hand stayed warm throughout the practice. Mike Pratt recently said he was impressed by Booker’s form, and now, I am too. It will be a thing of beauty for seasons to come.

10) This team is happy and loose

One of the criticisms of last year’s team early on was that they didn’t look like they were having any fun. It took a tweak to change that, and I’m happy to report that the fun has carried over from the postseason and the Bahamas. The team looked loose, relaxed, and happy during the Clinic yesterday, which I definitely couldn’t have said about them for most of last season. The Harrison Twins, always quiet, were still quiet, but smiled and laughed with their teammates a lot, and for once, didn’t look like the weight of the world was on their shoulders. With fans, the freshmen already have the poise of veterans and fit in seamlessly with the rest of the team. It’s an interesting dynamic this year; with the biggest mix of experience Cal’s had at Kentucky comes even more of a big brother/little brother atmosphere. Marcus Lee, the team goofball, particularly loves to pick on the younger guys, introducing Karl Towns as “the guy that NEVER STOPS TALKING” and Tyler Ulis as “the little blueberry.” I know this stuff is kind of fluffy, but it was really refreshing for me to see the guys having fun and relaxing. After witnessing the low point in South Carolina, that will never get old.

11) This picture gave me goosebumps

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It hangs right outside the locker room in the Joe Craft Center so that the guys see it every time they go out to practice. Maybe we should all make some for our offices.