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8 Notes from a fun night in Bowling Green with Karl, Trey, and Dakari

8 Notes from a fun night in Bowling Green with Karl, Trey, and Dakari

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Over the past few weeks, the Cats going to the pros have been circling the state to meet fans and sign autographs. When Drew Franklin kept sending me pictures from Karl Towns’s signing in Pikeville last Saturday, I was green with envy and prayed for a Bowling Green appearance.

Lo and behold, a few days later, BBN Legends announced that Karl, Trey Lyles, and Dakari Johnson were coming to Bowling Green to meet fans and throw out the first pitch at a BG Hot Rods game. That’s an hour from my house! I cleared my plans for Thursday night and got ready for a road trip to Bowling Green. Here are my notes from a great night at the ballpark.

The Bowling Green Ballpark is really nice

I haven’t been to a lot of ballparks, but I was pleasantly surprised by how nice Bowling Green’s is. There was a decent crowd for “Thirsty Thursday,” with a huge line for Karl, Trey, and Dakari’s autograph signing. After paying $7 for a ticket, I walked in and surveyed the scene. After talking to one of the organizers, I found out the guys were upstairs in the Corvette Club for a VIP signing. They were nice enough to take me up to there, and I must admit, it was really nice, if bars in minor league baseball stadiums are your thing. There were only about twenty fans in the room when I went up, and I could tell the guys appreciated having their own space to hang out in before the festivities.

Karl had a brand new Knicks hat on

The Knicks have the second best chance at winning the draft lottery and given his choice of headwear, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Karl, a New York area native, hopes they have the #1 pick. I hope so too–can you imagine a better person to rebuild an historic franchise around than Karl?

This video is reason #4,205,299 I’ll miss these guys

The guys got to warm up a bit before taking the mound and watching them do that was more entertaining than the first pitches themselves. What goofballs.

If you thought Karl would have the best pitch, you were wrong.

Given his baseball background, I figured Karl would have the best first pitch of the three players, but I was wrong. Dakari was the only player to get the ball over the plate, while Karl and Trey’s bounced:

As he tweeted later, Dakari’s got a  arm.

If you thought that first pitch came frighteningly close to my head, you were right

Okay, it wasn’t that close, but when Karl’s ball bounced off the plate and flew towards me, I have no shame in saying I ducked. I didn’t realize how awkward it looked until I saw KSTV’s video of it:

Karl was so happy to be back on a baseball diamond

Outside of the movie “Major League,” I know very little about baseball. Karl Towns does. Karl played baseball growing up and was thrilled to be back on a diamond. While Karl was excited to throw the first pitch, he said he really wanted to hit the ball and gave me a five-minute education on the different bats he’s used. Karl told me all about the BBCOR regulations that discontinued the use of bats that would put another 40 feet on the ball and how he prefers a wooden bat (“I love the pine tar,” he said wistfully). Thanks to him, I now know more about baseball bats than I ever could have imagined.

Karl told me that his goal was to get his pitch to the plate in one try–to Willie Cauley-Stein’s three–and technically, he did that; however, Karl the perfectionist wasn’t satisfied, and before going up to sign autographs, threw a couple in the bullpen:

Now that’s a strike.

Watching the players interact with fans was awesome

I’ve seen these guys in a number of settings now–on the court, in the locker room, with the media, in the Bahamas–but it was refreshing to see them just interact with fans for a few hours. Each player was gracious and polite, smiling and signing but not hurrying anyone along. The line was LONG, but kudos to the BBN Legends staff for keeping things rolling. Of course, the best was seeing the players with the kids, and watching all three interact with the young boy pictured above was awesome.

If you haven’t yet, I really recommend coming out to the signings (here’s an updated list). If anything…

I got some closure

TylerKarl

I’ve been honest with you guys about how depressed I’ve been about the loss. I hate that the last image I had of this team was a sad one, but going to see Karl, Trey, and Dakari last night allowed me to have a proper goodbye. Instead of remembering the players’ sad faces after the game, I’ll remember the happy ones I saw in Bowling Green, players and fans alike. Instead of looking back at the loss, I can look forward to these kids’ futures, which are so incredibly bright.

The bond between player and fan is notoriously strong at Kentucky, but sometimes, it feels like the guys are in a crystal fishbowl, held at arm’s length from the fan base. At events like last night’s, that barrier is down and fans and players can finally get the up-close interaction that makes this program so special. Instead of tweeting the players or calling into radio shows, we can thank them in person for an amazing season and see the impact it has–because it does have an impact. In this day and age, we so rarely do things in person, which makes it that much more raw and powerful when we do. A team like this deserves a proper goodbye, and only with a proper goodbye can you achieve closure.


Get To Know Mychal Mulder

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If (or when) Malik Newman commits to Mississippi State tomorrow afternoon, all eyes will turn to Mychal Mulder to be that scoring threat in the backcourt with Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe. (And hopefully Jamal Murray.)

Mulder will visit UK this weekend and there are reports that he is expected to sign while in town. He received an offer from John Calipari last weekend and his interest in becoming a Wildcat is very high. All he needs is a quick tour of campus to try out the Lodge’s mattresses, the rims in the Craft Center and the water pressure in the showers and he should be good to go.

So as we await Mulder’s John Hancock on his scholarship papers, let’s get to know what Kentucky will be getting if (or when) he signs this weekend.

*****

He is Canadian.

Mulder hails from just across the water from Detroit in Windsor, Ontario, a city near and dear to our hearts. (The UK basketball trip of 2010, never forget.)

He was considered one of the top ten players in Canada coming out of high school when he chose to attend Vincennes University in Indiana, citing its track record of sending players on to four-year universities as the reason behind his decision. The year before Mulder signed with Vincennes, the Trailblazers sent nine sophomores to Division I and II programs to finish their careers. One of those players was Darius Carter, a key component to Wichita State’s success the past two seasons.

Man, that Vincennes coach must be really good at his job. I bet he’s a good guy, too. Probably from a really great family with good genes. I heard he lost to his cousin in HORSE on Thanksgiving a couple times, though.

Moving on…

He knows what it’s like to win.

While Kentucky was chasing perfection last season, Mulder was on an undefeated streak of his own with Vincennes. He and his Trailblazing teammates were unbeaten through 32 games before losing to John A. Logan in double overtime in the District 16 championship game.

A perfect regular season? That sounds familiar.

He can shoot. I mean he can REALLY shoot. Maybe better than Devin Booker.

Mulder shot over 46 percent from downtown in his sophomore campaign at Vincennes, and that’s with 190 three-point attempts on the season. No one in Division I college basketball shot 46 percent with 175 or more attempts last year.

It’s not crazy to say he can be next season’s Devin Booker (or better), although he is an inch or two shorter than Booker with a slightly smaller frame. He does have a longer wingspan, however.

He can dunk.

Mulder is being labeled as an outside shooter, but don’t think for one second he won’t rise up on someone and throw it down.

Let this video called “Mychal Mulder dunks” from his senior year of high school serve as an example:

Or you can ask the poor defender caught on the wrong end of this drive:

Then there’s that one time when…

He dunked on James Young.

See what I mean?

Mistake him for a limited outside shooter and you will get crammed on.

He finished the year strong.

Here, have a look at how he closed out the season…

Pts. (FGM-A / 3PM-A)
21 (7-10 / 6-7)
17 (6-10 / 2-4)
8 (1-5 / 0-3)
24 (9-14 / 4-7)
38 (13-20 / 6-11)
20 (9-13 /2-4)
12 (5-12 / 0-3)

Then again, those numbers aren’t too different than several other games throughout the year.

He was the top priority for Wichita State and Creighton from Day 1.

Both of those programs recruited him all season long and he would’ve started at either school right away. (I suppose he still can, should he choose one over Kentucky.)

Several top tier programs jumped on him later in the year before Coach Cal and UK reached out about a month ago, essentially changing the entire game.

Rick Pitino made a trip to see him hit six of seven three-pointers in mid-February, while Michigan State, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Indiana also got involved. Indiana eventually extended an offer as well. (Way to go, Tommy Crean. He was under right your nose the entire time.)

He wanted to commit to Wichita State in the fall.

Mulder was ready to sign with the Shockers in the early signing period, but his coach has a policy prohibiting VU players from committing to schools in the fall. Catholic Central High School in Windsor even posted a congratulatory message to Mulder on its website, thinking he had signed with Wichita State.

But that was not the case. Mulder had to wait until the spring to make any final decisions, leaving his recruitment open until now.

Insert Kentucky.

He was named First Team JUCO All-American.

And averaged over 15 points, coming off the bench in 18 of Vincennes’ 35 games.

He will play in the NJCAA All-Star game on May 9th in Las Vegas.

Did I mention he can dunk?

NorthPoleHoops.com

 


How He’ll Be Remembered: Dakari Johnson

How He’ll Be Remembered: Dakari Johnson

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Over the next several weeks, we’ll be profiling each of the seven Kentucky players going pro. Drew kicked things off with a profile of Willie Cauley-Stein, and last week, I profiled Karl-Anthony Towns. This week, we’re keeping up the big man theme with Dakari Johnson.

His laugh

When I think of Dakari, the first thing I think of is his laugh. It’s a deep, booming thing that takes over a room, pulling a smile from even the biggest cynic. Dakari’s laugh lasts a while and lingers into his comments, which usually start with “Oh, you know,” like he’s talking to his best friend, because when you’re talking to him, that’s what you feel like. While it’s sometimes hard to get through all the coach speak and media training to some players, one laugh from Dakari breaks down that barrier.

Middle school in Lexington

Dakari first popped up on KSR’s radar back in September 2010 as a 6’8″ power forward from New York. Unlike most Kentucky recruits, Dakari already had Kentucky ties: he spent his middle school years in Lexington playing for Sayre. Dakari’s mother, Makini Campbell (more on her in a minute), said that after elementary school, she moved her family to Lexington from Brooklyn in search of a quieter pace of life.

Freshman year with MKG

After two years in Kentucky, Dakari and his family moved to New Jersey, where he played at St. Patrick’s High School with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This is where Dakari first caught John Calipari’s eye while Cal was in town to recruit MKG. This was also the season HBO filmed a documentary on the St. Patrick’s program, and while Michael and the most veteran players on the team were the focus of the film, Dakari told us that he had an appearance.

After one year at St. Patrick’s, Dakari transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida. Dakari reclassified from 2014 to 2013 at Montverde, becoming the number one center in the class. Because of his time in Lexington, connection with MKG and John Calipari’s reputation of putting players in the pros, Kentucky was an immediate leader in his recruitment and on January 5, 2013, Dakari committed to the Cats in a ceremony at his school:

(Check out Dakari’s little brother, Kamani, in the background in the gray sweatshirt. Like his older brother, Kamani plays at Sayre, and was a staple around the Kentucky basketball program the past two seasons.)

“The one kid who has fun with it”

On a roster full of big men, Dakari didn’t really assert himself until SEC play his freshman year. When the rest of the team was lost, Dakari came off the bench to inject them with some much-needed energy and enthusiasm, whether it be by…

Slapping the floor…

dakari-slap

Celebrating a dunk…

dakari-cheer

Getting the crowd into it…

dakari-crowd

Or yelling…

dakari-yell

His role as a starter

SEC play wasn’t the happiest of times for the 2013-2014 Cats, but Dakari did his best to remind his teammates that basketball is fun, which is why Calipari made him a starter over a slumping Willie Cauley-Stein after a miserable loss at LSU. With Dakari in the lineup, the Cats got off to quicker starts, but a few games later, Cal went back to Willie. That didn’t last long. After Florida routed Kentucky to close the regular season, Calipari knew it was time for another change.

“Dakari needs to be starting, and that’s what we’ll do,” Calipari said. “He’s the one kid who has fun with it.”

Dakari started the rest of the season, helping the Cats to the National Championship game.

His dedication

After the season was over, Dakari’s real work began. Dakari dedicated himself to his conditioning, working daily with Rock Oliver and the team nutritionist to shed the extra weight. Dakari’s diet was strict, and he had to give up fast food, soda, and his favorite meal, O’Charley’s shrimp linguine and a Shirley Temple with cotton candy on top.

It worked. Come August in the Bahamas, Dakari looked like a different person, or, at least, one that’s lost 20 pounds. The new, improved Dakari was able to run the floor quicker and get (a little) higher for rebounds; however, as many of us know, keeping the weight off is a lifelong battle, and Dakari admitted to KSR that during team dinners, his eyes often wandered to Marcus Lee’s plate, which was always piled high with food as the staff attempted to bulk the string bean up. The struggle is real, Dakari. Stay strong and allow yourself a cheat day.

dakari-mom

His awesome mom

It’s clear that Dakari gets his outgoing personality from his mother, and I’ll never forget watching Makini in her “MOMMY 44″ jersey cheer her son on at Rupp and in the Bahamas. I also won’t forget seeing Makini and her family walk to and from the gym in the Bahamas. I’m not sure if they were staying at a different hotel nearby or what, but if they were staying at the Atlantis, that’s a half hour trek BY BUS. But Makini and her brood looked happy as clams to make the trek by foot, repping her son across her back the whole way. Looking back, maybe we were the silly ones for sitting in stuffy buses in Bahamian traffic.

His silliness

Dakari is a goofball, something he attributes to his mother. “My mom, growing up, she always said ‘don’t take things for granted, enjoy life,'” Dakari said on KSR a few weeks back. “And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

That’s easy to see, whether it’s dancing:

dakarihappy

dakaridance

Goofing around with Mitch Barnhart:

Or singing Beyonce on the radio with Matt:

Keep having fun, Dakari. We’ll miss you.


What to Do and Watch Every Single Weekend of This Summer

What to Do and Watch Every Single Weekend of This Summer

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If you’re like me, you love summer but you hate the oppressive heat of a white hot sun. Unfortunately, the pop culture landscape all but requires us to get out in that humid mess almost weekly (weekly!) if we want to enjoy all the sweltering months have to offer. In order to keep your non-air-conditioned traveling at a minimum, I present to you today precisely what you’ll need to do or watch each weekend of summer 2015. (Mostly mosquito and sweat-free, guaranteed.)

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May 1
Best pick: Avengers: Age of Ultron
C’mon. Like this isn’t going to be what everyone’s talking about. Joss Whedon’s second foray into the Marvel Universe is a safe bet, if you can handle all the merchandising you’ll have to endure for the next two months.
Also check out:

Welcome to Me (Kristin Wiig does quirky/indie.)
Hyena (Brutal British crime flick.)

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May 8
Best Pick: Mumford & Sons, album, Wilder Times
Those tuning into SNL a few weeks ago may have been confused by hipster darling Mumford & Sons’ re-emergence into a hard-driving Foo Fighters-esque rock band, but early word on the group’s third album is that ditching the banjos recreated them into an entirely new — and still viable — act on the scene.
Also check out:
Maggie (Arnold Schwarzenegger protects his zombie daughter. Of course.)
I am Big Bird: The Carol Spinney Story (The voice of Big Bird gets his spotlight. The voice of Snuffleupagus still waits in the wings.)

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May 15
Best Pick: Mad Max: Fury Road
Look, I’m not the world’s biggest Mad Max fan, but I defy you to tell me this isn’t the wildest trailer you’ve seen in some time. It’s insane. If the actual movie contains a fraction of this insanity — especially in IMAX — it could be a huge surprise.
Also check out:
Pitch Perfect 2 (You know you’re going to, anyway, and I can’t stop you.)
A$AP Rocky, album, At.Long.Last.A$AP (He puts dollar signs where the letter “S” goes!)

Unknown-2
May 22
Best Pick: Poltergeist
Will the reboot of Steven Spielberg’s spookiest Poltergeist scare anything up at the box office? Normally I’d say no, but the fact that this is on the summer slate might signal that it’s bigger and badder than we might think. With Sam Rockwell in the title role and, presumably, scary clown doll still in tow, Poltergeist may be a fun summer flick.
Also check out:
Tomorrowland (Brad Bird’s Clooney-helmed sci-fi will probably be fantastic; too bad it’s so under wraps so far and no one seems to know anything about it.)
Faith No More, album, Sol Invictus (The band’s first studio album in 18 years.)

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May 29
Best Pick: Taylor Swift/Barry Manilow/NKOTB at the Yum! Center
(Not together; separately.) I know, I know. “But Chris! It’s going to cost me SO MUCH money to see these three nearly-consecutive shows at Louisville’s YUM! Center in the span of June 2-7!” That’s true, but can you really put a price on destroying your musical street cred in six days? What a rare opportunity to become a person no one relies upon for musical recommendations ever again.
Also check out:
San Andreas (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson battles an earthquake. Can you smell what the rock is discovering in the fissures of the earth?)

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June 7
Best Pick: Bunbury Music Festival, Cincinnati
There’s something for (mostly) everyone at Cincinnati’s fourth Bunbury Music Festival, which this year features The Black Keys, the Avett Brothers and Snoop Dogg as well as Walk the Moon, The Decemberists and the Reverend Horton Heat. Bonus: Rhinegeist and cheese coneys, everybody!
Also check out:
Entourage (Bro! It’s the Entourage movie, Bro! I laugh but I will watch the hell out of this.)
Love & Mercy (Paul Dano and John Cusack both play Beach Boy Brian Wilson at different points in his life.)
Spy (Melissa McCarthy + Paul Feig = Always a good idea.)

Unknown-2
June 12
Best Pick: Jurassic World
Think back to the thrill you felt the first time you saw Jurassic Park. It blew your mind, right? Knocked you out, right? Imagine if that had been in IMAX 3-D. While we’ll never have the luxury of seeing life-sized dinosaurs on the screen for the first time again, we have an opportunity here for a great movie thrill…IF Jurassic World delivers.
Also check out:
Live From New York! (It’s a documentary chronicling the ins and outs of Lorne Michael’s SNL empire! Because we haven’t had enough of these.)

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June 19
Best Pick: Orange is the New Black (Season 3)
On Sunday the world will be chomping at the bit to start bingeing once again at Litchfield Prison, which is still reeling in the aftermath of a Red/Vee showdown, an administration shake-up and an stash of hidden heroin in the walls. I still say this isn’t technically a comedy, Golden Globes — but it is a solid show.
Also check out:
Inside Out (Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Lewis Black helm Pixar’s newest money factory.)
Dope (Strong word of mouth on this indie about a geeky high schooler with designs on a drug dealer’s girlfriend.)

Unknown-3
June 26
Best Pick: Ted 2
Truth is, Seth McFarlane’s original Ted, for all its crudeness, ended up being a strong, almost eighties-esque comedy with a decent sized hard underneath all the matted plush. The trailer’s not as good for this as it was for the previous Ted, but it’s still a solid bet for a good time.
Also check out:
Big Game (Samuel L. Jackson plays the president lost in the woods after Air Force One is shot down.)

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July 4
Best Pick: The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest 
Fireworks are great, but nothing can prepare you for a solid Fourth of July like the weiner-gobbling superstars of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. 2014 saw human spare tire Joey Chestnut win his 8th consecutive win. Can he do it again? And isn’t that kind of probably unhealthy? Joey Chestnut’s complexion these days is literally “gray.”
Also check out:
Terminator: Genisys (I hope Paramount pictures realizes its typo on “Genesis” before release)
Magic Mike XXL (Speaking of weiners.)

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July 10
Best pick: Minions
Best pick? Probably not, but no one’s even really going up against this film this weekend. So get ready to see these things everywhere for another two years. Seven years, including the two inevitable sequels.
Also check out:
Crippling heat
A pool

Unknown-2
July 17
Best pick: Forecastle Music Festival
Louisville’s biggest music event this year boasts acts like Widespread Panic, Sam Smith, Houndmouth and Modest Mouse. Always an impressive lineup.
Also check out:
Ant-Man (Paul Rudd enters the Marvel Universe)
Mr. Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen plays an aged, dying Sherlock Holmes.)
Trainwreck (Amy Schumer, directed by Judd Apatow. Big potential.)

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July 24
Best Pick: Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Technically having streamed the week before this weekend, this will be the best time to Netflix-binge on all eight episodes of David Wain’s prequel to the fantastic Wet Hot American Summer — and every single famous funny person on earth has signed on for this series. EVERY ONE.
Also check out:
Pixels (Based on a well-loved short, which Adam Sandler and Kevin James will certainly F*** all up.)
Pan (Hugh Jackman in a Peter Pan prequel. Er…just what we’ve been waiting for?)

Unknown-3
July 31
Best pick: The End of the Tour
Jason Segel channels David Foster Wallace in an adaptation of David Lipsky’s book, where the reporter followed the eccentric writer through a tumultuous promotional tour. It’s totes egghead bait and I love it.
Also check out:
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (You get the idea. I’m not even going to look this one up for you.)

Unknown-5
August 8
Best pick: A Midsummer Night’s Run
Choose to either run the race or drink a lot while your friends run the race; either way take part in the greatest Lexington running tradition outside of crossing Nicholasville road without getting run over.
Also check out:
Masterminds (Zach Galifiniakis and Kristen Wiig in a movie has the unfortunate curse of not possibly being able to be as good as it looks on paper.)
Fantastic Four (One more time, with feeling!)

Unknown-6
August 14
Best pick: Straight Outta Compton
Ice Cube’s son plays him in a bio pic based on the rise of the controversial mid-1980’s rap group. It also stars Paul Giamatti, presumably not as MC Ren.
Also check out:
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie takes on the old spy TV show, likely with a lot of gruesome face punching and cockney accents.)

Unknown-7
August 21
Best pick: Criminal
In case you needed any reminder that the summer is over, here’s one last actioner straggling in starring Kevin Costner as a convict who’s implanted with the memories of a dead CIA agent so he can finish a super-important mission. You know, that old yarn.
Also check out:
Sinister 2 (Yep. We’re definitely on our way out of summer.)
Digging for Fire (The reliable Joe Swanberg directs Jake Johnson and Rosemary DeWitt in a dreamed about a couple who find a bone and a gun buried in their backyard.)

Unknown-9
August 28
Best Pick: Hitman: Agent 47
Best pick? Really? Let’s just call the summer over at August 21st. Let’s not let it end with Hitman: Agent 47. Can we all agree on that? Okay then. Enjoy your summer. The pool closes in six days, dammit!


The 2014-2015 Kentucky Basketball season in emojis

The 2014-2015 Kentucky Basketball season in emojis

emojis

The BBN went through a LOT of emotions this season: happiness, giddiness, anxiety, and heartbreak just to name a few. In the social media/smartphone age, sometimes the best way to express these emotions is through emojis, or those little graphics in texts we all hated until we finally figured out how to use them, used them ironically, and now just use.

You know emojis are mainstream when your mother starts using them (a photoshopped blue cardinal in a UK jersey with 😝😝next to it, nonetheless), so in that spirit, here is my take on this season in emoji form.

🌴🏀 The Bahamas
😎 Basketball in August
👣 When Calipari saw footprints in the sand
😝 When Calipari tweeted that it reminded him of the poem “Footprints in the Sand”
🎉 Big Blue Madness
👋🎤 When Calipari dropped the mic
🍦🙌 The first Rupp ice cream of the season
😀 The Kansas game
😢 Alex’s injury
😁 The first half of the UCLA game
😍 The Louisville game
💬 The Ole Miss and Texas A&M scares
👍 SEC routs
👎 9 p.m. tip-offs
😂 The photobombs
💤  Waiting for all the trolls to chime in
💩 Oh wait, there’s Jeff Goodman
🔥👌 Devin Booker
👬 Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker
😉 The Arkansas game
🎯 Target on our backs
👆 31-0
👤👤 BBN before 31-0
👥👥👥 BBN after 31-0
👯 When Kentucky is on every channel
🍺🍷🍸🍹🍻 SEC Tournament
😏 When Arkansas talked trash before the SEC Championship
🎊 34-0
😕 Win over Hampton
😳 Hampton’s cheerleaders
😌 Win over Cincinnati
😜 “To me, they don’t play hard. To me, they don’t play as hard as we play.” – Daxter Miles, West Virginia
💃 37-0
😰 Whoa, Notre Dame
🍒 Aaron’s three
😈 38-0
😟 Where is Willie?
😠 No, really, where is he?
👿 Three straight shot clock violations
😳 Sam Dekker’s step back three
😱 Aaron’s airball
💀 38-1
💔 38-1
😭 38-1
😞 38-1
😑 38-1
🐸🍵 When Louisville fans troll you but they finished 27-9
😩 When all seven stood up
😌 When you heard Cal told Tyler he’s building the team around him
🌷 Oh hey, it’s spring outside
🏇 Keeneland therapy
🎧😄 Listening to the player interviews on KSR
😢 Remembering those players are gone
😂 Hearing Devin Booker say someone licked his car
😝 Seeing pictures of girls licking Devin Booker’s car
😡 Trying to figure out the 2015 class
😬 Waiting for Cheick Diallo and Malik Newman to announce
😐 Realizing you already care about basketball again.


A Saturday with Karl Towns at Hillbilly Days

A Saturday with Karl Towns at Hillbilly Days

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This past weekend was my first completely free weekend in as long as I can remember (going way back before football season) so I woke up early Saturday morning with options as to how I would spend my day.

The first option, the one with the most peer pressure involved, was to throw on a suit and go out to Keeneland. I had several friends in town and they had a big tailgate planned, so it was tempting. But nah. Not this time. With a trip to Las Vegas coming up in a few days, the last thing I needed to do was waste money on gambling and drinking and gambling and drinking. I’ll sit this one out for the greater cause, I thought.

The second option was to book a tee time and enjoy the first gorgeous Saturday of the year at the golf course. But all of my friends were going to Keeneland, so that one was out.

Then I remembered: Hillbilly Days.

Lesssssssggggggggooooooooo!!!!

Because I’m addicted to leaving Lexington, a long Saturday morning drive to Pikeville seemed like the logical decision. A little over two hours on the Mountain Parkway? I got that. Walking around Hillbilly Days by myself? It’ll probably get lonely, but on the positive side, no witnesses to judge me for how many deep fried Oreos I devour. So I hit the road alone.

I planned out my day along the way. First I would stop by Karl Towns’ signing at Deskins Motors, then head over to catch Dakari Johnson and Trey Lyles at Appalachian Wireless. After taking some pictures of their appearances, I would head downtown for the parade and all the other sights and sounds and cholesterol of Hillbilly Days. Perfect plan. Flawless. Let’s do this…

*****

11:00 am: I arrive at Deskins Motors to watch the madness of Towns’ signing and he had opened the doors early to get the massive line moving. Here’s a look at Big Blue Eastern Kentucky Nation waiting to see the future No. 1 pick…

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11:07 am: Once inside, I realize I have nothing to do but stand there. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but there wasn’t much for me to do but stay out of the way. I lean up against the glass window, pretending to have a purpose, and offer my help to the guys putting on the event. They tell me to hang out. Okay. Done. Hanging out is one of my skills.

11:10 am: Karl Towns is the nicest human being in the entire world and I’m amazed by how he treats every fan that comes through the line.

11:11 am: Scratch that. Karl Towns is tied for the title of Nicest Human Being in the World. His father, Karl Sr., who is accompanying Karl on his tour, is equally nice. They were genuinely appreciative of the fan support and they were patient with everyone who came through the line, no matter how long they wanted to talk about the shot clock violation or Karlito. There was no rush to get people in and out.

11:20 am: My favorite fan of the day shows up in his Karl Towns jersey:

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Why is he my favorite? Because he brought Karl a mini bag of M&Ms as a gift.

And because Karl signed his belly…

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11:30 am: A woman walks in and all she wants is a big hug…

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Karl obliges. Karl Sr. also gets a hug. At this point, Karl Sr. is getting as much attention as Karl. Fans love to thank him for raising such a kind young man. (And a baller.) He could do his own tour of the state.

11:35 am: Okay, it’s time to head over to see Dakari and Trey. But I can’t. I’m having too much fun watching Karl and his dad interact with their fans. There’s no way Dakari and Trey are having this much fun (no offense, guys) and I’ve gotten comfortable against my glass window. I decide to ride it out at Deskins for the entire day.

11:45 am: I make the mistake of offering to take a photo for a family so they could all be in it. Karl Sr. had been playing the role of cameraman, but I offered my help so he could stay seated. Big. Mistake.

11:47 am: “DREW! They need a picture.” – Karl Sr.

11:48 am: “DREW! HEY DREW! You’re slacking, man. These nice people need a picture.” – Karl Sr.

11:48:30 am: “DREW! Get off your phone. You’re killing me. Picture time.” – Karl Sr.

11:49 am: “DREW! Get over here!” – Karl

11:49:30 am: “DREW!” – Karl and Karl Sr.

11:50 am: I am officially the volunteer photographer at the Karl Towns Signing at Deskins Motors. Any chance of leaving early, gone. Any chance of walking away from the table, not happening. They now have my full attention because Karl Sr. is a big man with a deep voice and I’m terrified of what might happen if I don’t offer to take a picture for every single fan.

12:05 pm: MaKayla couldn’t make it to the signing so Karl holds a “Hey MaKayla, have fun at prom” sign…

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12:10 pm: A young fan named Bella brought Karl some fan art:

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12:20 pm: I ask Karl if we can go back to the Bahamas this fall. He tells me he’ll be busy around that time this year. I ask for floor seats to one of his games next season, preferably with the Knicks, instead. He laughs, like I was kidding. I was not kidding. The Garden, Karl. I want to sit courtside in the Garden.

12:45 pm: I’ve now taken 500 pictures on 500 different phones.

1:00 pm: Undoubtedly the funniest moment of the day: a sweet lady hands me a phone I’ve never seen before and asks if I can find the camera. I look at Karl and his dad, clueless; they also have no idea what kind of phone I’m holding, or if it has a camera.

“Is this the 7?” I ask.

A minute or four later, I finally find what I think is the camera. She poses with Karl, I press a button, and the phone makes an explosion sound. I jump back and fumble the phone (or whatever apparatus I’m holding) as Karl and his dad fall over laughing. I tell her the picture looks good (I didn’t see a picture) and then take one with my own phone for good measure:

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But really. What is this?

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1:05 pm: Karl and his dad are still laughing at how I handled the situation. She was super nice, though, despite me mocking her phone and. Karl made up for my poor attempt at photography by telling her she looks “stunning.”

There’s a good chance she doesn’t have a photo on that phone. Or a camera.

1:15 pm: They start wrapping things up at the signing so my unexpected part-time photography job is done for the day. I thank Karl and his dad for letting me hang out and, as payment for my services, I ask Karl to sign a photo of us playing one-on-one in the Craft Center.

He wrote, “Easy block!” when I clearly broke his ankles. See for yourself. He’s jumping as I’m about to drive left in flip-flops. Photo don’t lie, Karl.

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It’s the first autograph I’ve gotten in six years covering Kentucky basketball, but when you have a photo with the soon-to-be No. 1 pick, you have to break your own no-autograph rule.

Thanks again, Karl.

Goodbye, glass window.

1:30 pm: I arrive in downtown Pikeville, only to find parking is a nightmare and I don’t know anything about anything in Pikeville. It’s only my second time in the “City That Moves Mountains” — I’m from the other side of the state — and I’m intimidated by the massive Hillbilly Days scene, honestly. Considering I have no one with me to enjoy the action, I decide to drive back to Lexington without spending more than 10 minutes downtown. No deep fried Oreos. No deep fried honey buns. No parade. No risking my life on the rickety carnival rides. I never even got to take off my shirt.

But I’ll be back next year and I’m doing it right. No wimping out next time. As for 2015, it was just a long day with the incredibly kind Karl Towns, his equally kind father, and some of BBN’s finest from Eastern Kentucky.

And that’s how you do a spontaneous Saturday in April in Pikeville.


10 Things We Learned From Spring Football

Jon Hale, 247Sports

Today marked the 15th and final practice of the spring for Kentucky football. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Many of us, myself included, are still winding down from the basketball season, while some are still in mourning from how it ended. (And that’s okay; it sucked.) But sports keep rolling along with or without you on board and the book was closed on Mark Stoops’ third spring in Lexington today.

So if you’re in that aforementioned group of mourners, or you’ve been too busy worrying about basketball recruiting to follow football, allow me to give you a brief rundown of what you missed on the gridiron this past month. Give it a read and then put forth your best effort to get in football mode. Basketball is over, people, and Stoops is excited to reach a bowl this fall. (Spoiler alert: He will.)

Here’s 10 things we learned this spring…

 

1. CJ Conrad is going to be a star.

We’ve heard nothing but great things about CJ Conrad since he first set foot on campus as an early enrollee this past winter. Vince Marrow said Kentucky “struck gold” by landing the freshman tight end from Ohio and the praise for Conrad doesn’t stop with Marrow. Mark Stoops has been very impressed; the quarterbacks love him; and others are already tossing around the Jacob Tamme comparisons.

It’s all talk for now, but Conrad, who has added 20 pounds to his frame, will get his chance to shine as a true freshman this fall. He and Darryl Long will compete for grabs at tight end, a position that hasn’t seen much production since those Tamme days.

2. Stoops is pleased with Shannon Dawson so far.

“I’ve been very, very impressed,” Stoops said after today’s practice, when asked about his first impressions of Dawson. “I was very pleased with what we were doing (under Neal Brown). I really like what we’re doing right now. I just think it was exactly what I was looking for and I just feel like we made a lot of strides and I like what we’re doing schematically. I think our players are really enjoying it, like I said, and in some ways maybe eliminated a little bit of thinking, a little bit of pressure off certain guys. So overall, I’ve been very pleased.”

Stoops knew the offense would be better this season, simply because it’s the third year with better personnel, and he’s happy to see Dawson keeping the momentum Neal Brown was building before he left.

3. Boom Williams is the starting running back.

At least for now.

Boom has grown from a risky playmaker who relied on his raw talent to a well-rounded back with a better understanding of the position. He will have to fend off Mikel Horton and JoJo Kemp if he wants to keep the title of RB1, but for now, running backs coach Chad Scott has no problem naming Boom the numero uno on the depth chart.

“He has a chance to be a real special player,” Mark Stoops said of his sophomore back.

4. Ryan Flannigan is ready to perform at linebacker.

Ryan Flannigan’s progression ran a little behind schedule when he arrived on campus last fall as a JuCo transfer. The staff had hoped he would jump right in and contribute right away, but that was not the case. Flannigan found himself on the bench through most of the first half of the season, before breaking out late in the year, capped off with strong performances in Kentucky’s final two games. He ended the year as the Cats’ fourth-leading tackler, despite starting in only four games.

Now, Flannigan is ready to be a big time contributor for an entire season. Mark Stoops named him one of the four players who took the biggest leap this spring, his first at Kentucky. Flannigan missed last spring and summer while completing academic work to get into UK, so his final season in Lexington will be his first after a full year of preparation. It seems the early offseason work is already paying off.

5. Kentucky may send out the biggest fullback in all of football.

If 330-pound sophomore Jacob Hyde can’t crack the lineup at defensive tackle, the position he was recruited to play, fans may see him on the opposite side of the ball. And in the backfield, of all places. Kentucky tried Hyde at fullback this spring and it went surprisingly well, enough to possibly give it a shot in the fall.

Hyde is all for it if his number is called. Vince Marrow is all in, too: “Can you imagine a 330-pound fullback with a full head of steam coming at you, and you’re a 230-linebacker? It’s not going to be good for him.”

6. The Cats can go deep at wide receiver. 

Finally, Kentucky has a receiving corps it can be proud of. After years and years of dropped balls and flat-out disappointing play on the outside, UK is loaded with pass-catchers. Several of the guys vying for playing time made big plays this spring, which is unheard of around the Kentucky football program the last five or so years. Now we have plenty of receivers we can not only trust, but look forward to watching in the offense next season. It’s really lining up to be a fun year in the passing game. (If anyone can remember what that’s like.)

7. George Asafo-Adjei is strong as shit.

Freshman offensive lineman George Asafo-Adjei is already making noise, especially in the weight room. The three-star offensive guard from Ohio recently told reporters he benches 410 pounds, cleans 325 and estimates he squats something in the 600s, though he hasn’t maxed that one out yet. And to think, he’s been on Kentucky’s weight program for, oh, three months. At this rate, he’ll be throwing the students’ cars from Commonwealth’s parking lot to the library on gameday mornings.

Big George will see immediate playing time. He won’t get near a redshirt.

8. New linebacker coach Andy Buh coached Richard Sherman at Stanford.

The newest face on Kentucky’s coaching staff was at Stanford with one of the NFL’s loudest mouths and best players, Richard Sherman. Buh brought Sherman to the facility one day to speak to the Wildcats, maybe the biggest off-the-field moment of the spring.

Sherman’s message to the team: You don’t have to be the fastest or most athletic player on the field to be the best. He explained what he does to gain an edge on his opponent, and his words really connected with the players, especially the secondary.

“Our players really profited off of his talk,” said Buh.

9. Patrick Towles will likely be your starting QB.

Mark Stoops hinted earlier this week that the staff is close to knowing who will be under center in the season opener next fall. The two candidates, Patrick Towles and Drew Barker, each had their moments this spring while competing for the job, but Towles’ accuracy, leadership and experience will likely give him the nod.

Towles received nothing but positive reviews from Stoops and Shannon Dawson throughout the past month, from how well he listens to how well he threw the pigskin in practice. He outplayed Barker in Saturday’s scrimmage and seems to have separated himself from the two-man race as spring ball concluded.

Stoops said he believes he can win with either quarterback, but it sounds like it will be Towles’ time once again this season.

10. Stoops is pleased after his third spring at Kentucky.

Today he wrapped up the final spring practice by saying, “It’s definitely the most consistent we’ve been for 15 practices. We weren’t perfect for all 15 but the guys were really out there trying to make a conscious effort to improve on the things we point out in the meetings. We had great energy. Guys were really flying around this morning, having fun, competing, getting better the whole way through. Really pleased with the progress we’ve made. I feel like we have more depth. We have some good, young talent that we need to continue to work with. Overall very productive, very good spring. We need to keep that momentum, keep that consistency going here with the last two and a half, three weeks of school and have a great summer — physically and mentally getting tougher, getting stronger, getting bigger. And if we do that, then we’ll be excited heading into fall.”

 

142 days ’till kickoff…


How He’ll Be Remembered: Karl Towns

How He’ll Be Remembered: Karl Towns

KarlRemember

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be profiling each of the seven Kentucky players going pro. Last week, Drew kicked things off with a profile of Willie Cauley-Stein, and next up in the rotation is Karl-Anthony Towns. 


On the radar early

Karl Towns first popped up on our radar nearly four years ago as an eighth-grader. Karl–then known as Karl Towns, Jr.–was already playing on the U17 Dominican Republic team for Orlando Antigua’s twin brother, which meant he inevitably crossed paths with John Calipari, who began coaching the DR National team in the summer of 2011. Both a basketball and baseball star, Karl was already 6″10″, had a 4.0 GPA and interest from Kentucky, Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Almost a year later, Calipari’s recruitment of Karl Towns really ramped up and we got our first quote from Karl about Kentucky via Adam Zagoria. “Kentucky’s a great school. I already took a nice visit down there. I think the school is just amazing. It’s just seeing how the future unfolds for me.”

Karl played for Calipari and the DR National Team in the summer of 2012 and spent some more time in Lexington training with his squad. Unlike 99% of elite high school basketball players, Karl never played on the AAU circuit, choosing instead to spend his time playing with and against professionals on the DR National Team, a decision that would mold him on and off the court for years to come. After an impressive summer, Towns was named Scout.com’s #1 player in the 2015 class in July 2012.

In October 2012, Karl visited for Big Blue Madness, where he got his picture taken with fellow recruits and–unbeknownst to them at the time–future teammates Trey Lyles and the Harrison Twins:

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Karl becomes a Cat

On December 4, 2012, Karl Towns finally committed to Kentucky and reclassified to 2014. We were all excited then, but if we had known just how awesome Karl is, I bet we’d have the same reaction as his mother in that video. A few of Karl’s comments from that day:

  • On UK fans: “I feel like if (UK fans) were to trip and fall and start bleeding, no blood would come out; just basketballs would come out of the cut.”
  • Why he chose Kentucky: “I just felt the most comfortable there and they have a great kinesiology program, which is what I want to study. That had a lot to do with my decision.”
  • First impressions of Coach Cal: “I thought he was going to be really loud and really crazy and I was right on both.”

This was just the start “Karl being Karl.”

The Gatorade National Player of the Year speech

In March 2014, Karl was named the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year and in July, he accepted the award at a ceremony in Los Angeles. At this point, we knew Karl was a phenomenal player, but his acceptance speech showed he’s a phenomenal person as well. Karl became emotional as he spoke about the sacrifices his family made to help him achieve his dream, including his father working multiple jobs and building Karl his own backyard basketball court, complete with a rim Karl Sr. shaped by hand.

If that speech doesn’t make you a little emotional too, I don’t want to know you.

Those feet

Karl wears a size 20 shoe, the largest ever by a Kentucky basketball player. Karl’s feet became celebrities in their own right, with fans everywhere requesting “shoefies.” I couldn’t resist in the Bahamas:

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And again during a boring media opportunity in Louisville:

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Coming through in the clutch

Early on, Karl asserted himself on defense as a blocking machine. He and Willie locked down the post, and as the season progressed, Karl developed some go-to offensive moves, including his hook shot, which saved Kentucky against Notre Dame down the stretch. When in doubt, the Cats went to Karl, who helped drag them to 38-0 by going 8-8 from the field in the second half. Calipari said they tried to do the same thing in the second half against Wisconsin, but the passing lanes just weren’t there.

Karl is a perfectionist and the best example I can remember of that is after Kentucky beat Hampton in their first game of the tournament. Karl had an impressive stat line–21 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks–but instead of being happy in the locker room afterwards, he was noticeably frustrated with himself for missing a free throw. “Big thing for me is I missed a free throw which was very disappointing for me,” Karl said. “I’m going to have to sleep with that.”

What 19-year-old 7-footer says that?

His charity

There are a lot of great stories about this team’s work in the community, and this one from the Bahamas is no exception. While washing local children’s feet as part of a community service activity with Samaritan’s Feet, the team ran out of a certain size sock, which meant one child wouldn’t receive a pair. According to UK assistant media relations director Deb Moore, Karl took off his own new Captain America socks to give to the child, placing them carefully on his feet.

Awesome.

His theatrics

I like to think of Karl as a drama kid trapped inside a 7-footer’s body. On and off the court, Karl is not afraid to express himself, something he says his parents encouraged from the start. In fact, Karl’s teammates used to call him “Karl Kardashian” because he was so dramatic. For instance, remember when he flexed after shutting down Montrezl Harrell at the Yum Center?

Or his shimmy vs. Texas A&M?

Or his confetti bath at the SEC Tournament?

Or, regrettably, his technical for hanging on the rim at LSU? I won’t bother sharing that one, but Calipari was so pissed about it that three seconds later, he cheered after LSU made a huge three:

I would say Karl was done with the theatrics after that one, but about an hour later, we were treated to…

His Photobomb

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Karl snuck behind John Calipari during a postgame interview at LSU and gave us this unforgettable photobomb, which sparked a series of photobombs by the entire team. There were so many fun moments this season, but Karl’s photobomb ranks right at the top. Right next to…

His imaginary best friend, Karlito

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We first found out about “Karlito,” the little man on Karl’s shoulder, in mid-February when John Calipari told reporters that Karl often turns his head to the side and mumbles to himself during games.

“He’s such a great kid, he doesn’t want to talk back to you, so he turns his head to the side and talks to that little man on his shoulder,” Coach Cal said of Towns’ imaginary friend. “After he started doing it, I said, ‘Who are you talking to?’ And I can’t remember which of the coaches gave it the nickname: ‘He’s talking to Karlito.’”

From there, Karlito took off, to the point that we were all kind of tired of it a few weeks later; however, that didn’t stop the national media from picking up on the story during the postseason, and Karl being Karl, he politely answered each question about Karlito. Karlito even signed…

His handwritten letter to the BBN

We’ve seen a lot of great players go through the Kentucky basketball program, but I’d argue that Karl has a special bond with the Big Blue Nation. From the minute Kentucky began recruiting him, Karl talked about the importance of the fans at Kentucky and it became clear over time that it wasn’t just a line players say–he truly means it. Whether it was changing his name so his initials were KAT, becoming best friends with random UK fans in the Bahamas, storming the court at the Calipari Fantasy Camp, or writing forty drafts of a handwritten goodbye letter to the Big Blue Nation, it’s clear Karl “gets” what it means to be a Kentucky basketball player.

Back to that letter. Whereas most of his teammates posted a picture on Instagram or a message on Twitter to Kentucky fans, Karl told KSR listeners he felt obligated to go one step further, writing a series of handwritten letters to the fans, the coaches, the players, and the university. Here’s his letter to the BBN:

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When asked why it was so important to him to handwrite the letters, Karl simply said of the fans, “They deserve the best of me.”

(Confession time: I started writing this entire post by hand and was going to scan it to put on the site, but my handwriting–once really good if I may say so–has gotten so bad over the years that it was nearly illegible. This is what technology has done to us.)

If you haven’t yet, be sure to listen to Karl’s entire interview on KSR:

The #1 pick?

The best part about Karl is, if everything goes right, he may get the future he deserves. Right now, most mock drafts have Karl going first in the NBA Draft ahead of Jahlil Okafor, and there’s a good chance that #1 pick could belong to the New York Knicks, Karl’s hometown team.

Can you imagine a better player to rebuild a historic franchise around than Karl? I can’t.


Listen to Karl Towns on Kentucky Sports Radio

Did you miss Karl Towns’ amazing interview on Kentucky Sports Radio? You’re in luck, because we’ve already got the podcasts for you. Tune in to hear the most mature 19-year-old in the world describe his time at Kentucky and what it meant to him, his love for the fans, and just how long it took him to write that letter to the Big Blue Nation:

Thanks again, Karl.


The success of Bud and Z's replacements falls on the shoulders of this guy, OLB Coach Andy Buh. (Photo by 247's Darrell Bird)

8 Things You Might’ve Missed Since Spring Practice Started

Shannon Dawson teaches his QBs how to catch a pass. Wait a second...

Shannon Dawson teaches his QBs how to catch a pass. Wait a second…

1. Changing the Game with the Run

Last year’s run game was silly.  Four backs averaged 5 yards per carry yet none of them were ever subjectively consistent, showing flashes of greatness at different points in the year.  The runs were primarily power sets out of a full house/pistol formation with the offensive line drive-blocking.

The backs have improved, but much of their success comes from a change in strategy.  The field is much more spread out, giving them more space to make plays.  Misdirection has also become more important, using zone blocking schemes and pulling guards instead of trying to win ‘mono y mono’ battles in the trenches.  It gives the backs more freedom to make people miss, making big plays much easier.  Boom will likely be the starter, but Dawson will be sharing the wealth and running the ball more often.

2. QBs

The hottest topic for the common fan is the Quarterback position.  Shannon Dawson has given his QBs additional responsibilities; instead of having the whole team look to the sidelines for calls, it’s all on the QB now.  There’s a lot more deep balls being thrown, even though they aren’t too efficient…yet.

Patrick Towles looks great after bulking up in the offseason and has become much more accurate in the short game.  More importantly, 3rd and long is no longer impossible because Pat is excellent with 8-15 yard routes.  He seems comfortable with the added responsibilities, making last-second adjustments against blitzes with ease.  Barker doesn’t look like a young pup anymore, staying composed in the pocket on the field, while improving his composure off the field.

A starter will not be announced until the Fall, but I highly doubt Towles will let Barker take his job.

3.  C.J. Conrad is an immediate difference maker

It isn’t just the coaches who are impressed with the early enrollee.  From Patrick Towles to Mikel Horton, all of the current players are impressed with his early progress.  He catches pretty much anything you throw at him, regardless of how many hits he has to take.  He will be a valuable asset in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

He isn’t the only new guy turning heads.  Big George Asafo-Adjei might be Stoops first freshman offensive lineman that is not redshirtted.  Horton said that every player arriving early is far ahead of last year’s early enrollees.  That says a lot, coming from a guy who arrived early last year.

247

247

4.  Jeff Badet has gotten faster; the receivers have become more physical

Jeff Badet had to miss all of last season because of injury, but rather than missing a step, he’s gained one.  Cornerbacks simply can’t keep up with him.  The constant threat of the deep ball helps him get open in the medium-distance routes, getting DBs on the toes before planting his foot and breaking em off.

Many of the young guys that saw a taste of greatness last year – Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson to name a few – have matured, becoming more physical downfield.  All too often they let the defense dictate their positioning.  Now the tables have turned.  Bone’s length makes him a valuable red zone threat.  Johnson might be the biggest difference-maker with his ability to play inside or out.

5.  Dawson has a 330-pound fullback/noseguard

The Cats have more depth at every position, except fullback.  To fill the need the pride of Clay County, Jacob Hyde, has moved into the backfield.  He’s explosive, opening holes “big enough for him to run through.”  He’ll be featured in Jumbo packages, but don’t think when he comes in that it will be a run.  The first two plays he was in during the first scrimmage were passes…he even caught one yesterday.

6.  Flannigan and Forrest lead a solid, but thin linebacking group

Josh Forrest had never been a middle linebacker until last year.  He was great, leading the team in tackles, but was not consistent enough to satisfy Stoops.  Now he knows the defense well, and has become a leader for the unit.  Ryan Flannigan was also behind last year, a late arrival that was never comfortable with the nuances of the defense.  He’s become a formidable force, securing a spot at Will linebacker.

The success of Bud and Z's replacements falls on the shoulders of this guy, OLB Coach Andy Buh. (Photo by 247's Darrell Bird)

The success of Bud and Z’s replacements falls on the shoulders of this guy, OLB Coach Andy Buh. (Photo by 247’s Darrell Bird)

Replacing Bud and Z will not be easy, but new outside linebackers coach Andy Buh is in the perfect position to make a swift transition to Denzil Ware and Jason Hatcher.  Hatcher has put on 10 pounds of muscle and is prepared to start playing like an upperclassmen after spending his first two years splitting time.  Ware’s length makes him a valuable pass rushing asset, but it will take some game reps before he can become a true threat.

7.  The Safeties are great, but the corners have work to do

Stoops has always made sure his face is seen regularly in the secondary group, but even more so this season without a specific coach for the safeties.  “We’re playing excellent in the safety position.  If I could just get those corners straight,” he joked about earlier this week.

Most of the credit is due to the players.  A.J. Stamps was excellent last year as the free safety and Marcus McWilson has continually improved at the strong position.  Mike Edwards and Darius West were essentially out of all football activities in the Fall because of injuries, but the highly-ranked recruits have stepped in seamlessly as #2’s on the depth chart.

Determining the depth chart at cornerback, however, is much trickier.  Depth has improved, but no one has asserted themselves to secure a starting spot.  A player to keep an eye on – Jaleel Hytchye.

8.  The biggest takeaway: This offense will be really, REALLY good

We’ve been thirsty for big numbers since Neal Brown brought the Air Raid back, but the offense failed to consistently score.  After watching just a few practices, I would be shocked if this team didn’t average at least 30 points a game.  They’ve only been in this offense a month, but the players’ confidence is exponentially higher.

Patrick Towles has all of the tools and intangibles to be the best QB in the SEC East.  The receivers have depth and are not being pushed around by their defenders.  I can (and will) talk about the running game’s improvement for posts on posts on posts.  Dawson is spreading the wealth to as many players as possible.  He’s also spreading out the defense, giving his players more room in open space to make defenders miss.

It’s truly amazing to watch their improvements just over a few weeks.  What’s going to happen after Fall camp?  Lots of sirens.  Lots and lots of sirens.


How He’ll Be Remembered: Willie Cauley-Stein

How He’ll Be Remembered: Willie Cauley-Stein

cauley-stein

There have been many great players and many great people to play for the University of Kentucky, but none quite like Willie Cauley-Stein, who was both. In his three seasons at UK, he transformed from an athletic project, raw but with potential, to the best defender in the country and a Player of the Year finalist. Off the court, he marched to the beat of his own drum, and for that, and his time volunteered around the community, he became a fan favorite.

Today we said goodbye to Willie Cauley-Stein when he announced he will enter this summer’s NBA Draft, forgoing his final season of college basketball. He leaves behind a storied career at Kentucky, beginning with an NIT loss in his freshman season followed by back-to-back trips to the Final Four, both ending in heartbreak. His experience was one he said he will never forget, and every fan across Big Blue Nation can say the same.

So tonight, as both parties move on, let’s look back at how we will forever remember Willie Cauley-Stein:

 

— Kentucky’s 25th consensus All-American, having earned first team All-American honors from the Associated Press, National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Sporting News, and United States Basketball Writers Association.

— The first player in school history to collect 200 or more career blocks and 100 or more career steals. Also one of eight players in program history to have 500 or more rebounds, 100 or more blocks, and 75 or more steals.

— These glasses:

— This hair:

— And this shirt:

— His ferocious dunks that killed opposing players from a number of schools, including Florida, LSU and Cincinnati. Each one of those are in the conversation for best dunks in the history of the program.

— His ability to guard all five positions, whether it be protecting the rim or stepping outside on a switch and locking down the other team’s biggest scoring threat. Maybe his best defensive play of his career: tipping Jerian Grant’s lethal stepback jumper to force a shot clock violation on the Irish’s most important possession of the Elite Eight game. Grant said afterward, “I think that was one of my best step-backs of the night, and I felt like I had created a lot of space.”

— His injured ankle… and this scooter:

— A first team All-SEC Selection, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and SEC Tournament MVP as a junior.

— The Energy Bus, his favorite book. He hated reading when he got to Kentucky, so he and Coach Cal started a book club. Cal would assign him one book every week and the two would sit down and discuss it when he was done.

— The fact that he played football in high school. Did you know he played football in high school?

— For reasons beyond me, some fans felt the need to tattoo his face on their leg:

— That time he explained his plans to survive a zombie apocalypse and how the Wildcat Lodge is a dangerous place to be should one occur while he’s at UK. “There’s only a couple ways out and too much glass,” he said. “There’s too many glass windows and you can’t get past that.”

— His willingness to go out into the community and put smiles on the faces that needed it most. For every story we heard, there are probably three or four more that went untold.

— He flirted with what would’ve been the second triple-double in UK’s history with 15 points, eight rebounds and career-high nine blocks against Providence in 2013-14. He had two games with nine blocks in his career, a little over a week apart.

— That time he wore a GoPro during UK’s 2014 NCAA Tournament run:

— When he could’ve bolted to the NBA as a sophomore but stayed for one more year.  “I love school. I love being at Kentucky,” he said of the decision. “I love the fan base. I love the community. I love the people there. So it’s like, why not stay until they make you leave?” His decision to stick around for another shot at the title played a big role in the Harrisons deciding to stay a week later.

— After passing on the NBA the first time, following his freshman season at UK, he told reporters, “I’m still a kid. I’m not ready to pay taxes.”

— The fact that he played football in high school, a wide receiver nonetheless. Did you know this?

— The way he stared down his opponents after big plays:

— And undoubtedly his most impressive feat at the University of Kentucky, the time he swam the length of the infinity pool and back in the Bahamas without coming up for air. I’ll never forget it.

 

Thanks for everything, Willie. Make us proud in the NBA, so we can rub it in Chris Webber’s face.


Why You Shouldn’t Worry About The “Mass Exodus”

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About The “Mass Exodus”

mass-exodus

Kentucky could, and likely will, lose seven of its eight best players from this past season’s Final Four run. Most teams in this situation would be devastated by the roster turnover, but this is Kentucky. And what do we say at Kentucky? Rebuild. Reload. (And as of yesterday, “We do whatever we want.”)

So let’s assume Karl Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, the Harrison twins, Trey Lyles, Dakari Johnson and Devin Booker declare for the NBA Draft, ya know, just for the sake of tonight’s discussion. Let ‘em go. I’ll help them pack up and move. Would I like to see them back? Of course. But if they’re gone? No worries. Kentucky will be fine next season. Here’s why…

 

UlisLouisvilleBlood

Tyler Ulis will be one of the best point guards in America.

Maybe the best point guard in college basketball.

Ulis is currently the 11th-ranked PG in Chad Ford’s top 100 NBA prospects and eight of Ford’s top ten PGs will likely go pro, leaving only Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson and Melo Trimble of Maryland ahead of him in the early 2016 prospect rankings. And of those three, Ulis may be the best of the bunch at the college ranks, especially once he gets the minutes and the opportunity to lead.

Earlier this week, Coach Cal said he told Ulis next year’s team will be built around him. With all due respect to Andrew Harrison, that’s something Big Blue Nation can really get behind.

Plain and simple: Ulis is a savage. He fears nothing; ask Auburn’s Trayvon Reed, who Ulis did not back down from despite the 15 inches and 75 pounds Reed had on him. His court vision is second to none. His passing, ridiculous. He is a blur with the basketball. His defense drives opposing ballhandlers absolutely nuts. You can not give him an open three-pointer. He will rip out your heart and eat it in front of you. And I mean that.

Be excited about sophomore Tyler Ulis.

Skal Labissiere is one of Calipari’s best gets at Kentucky, though no one is really saying it.

For whatever reason, probably his bizarre background, Skal Labissiere isn’t receiving the hype he deserves. That’s okay. Fans will soon know all about him.

Labissiere could potentially be, dare I say, a John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins or Anthony Davis caliber freshman at Kentucky. Don’t believe me? Check out DraftExpress.com’s 2016 mock draft, where he is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick. There’s a good chance he moves up two spots to No. 1 in the current 2015 class rankings, too, after he dominates this week at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland.

Yesterday Scout.com’s Evan Daniels tweeted, “Kentucky bound Skal Labissiere looks terrific. Shooting the ball well. Been best player during this first practice … Hasn’t been close.” Some are even throwing around the Anthony Davis comparisons because of his size and athleticism.

So yeah. Get excited.

Kentucky will beat Louisville.

Next year’s game is in Lexington and Louisville’s roster is depleted.

Go ahead and put another victory for the Wildcats and an 8-1 record for Cal over Rick on the books.

No more “Why doesn’t Cal play Derek Willis?”

Unless Calipari is able to land Jaylen Brown and another stud forward, Derek Willis will get his opportunity in 2015-16. Willis has been patient through his first two seasons at Kentucky, when he would’ve seen quality minutes at any other program in the country, and his time will come in his junior season.

Now what Willis does with that time is up to him. He will still have to work. But those begging to see the Kentucky boy get some clock, next year is that year.

Isaiah Briscoe can play.

Let’s not forget, Kentucky signed the No. 1 point guard again.

Depending how things shake up, Briscoe will either play alongside Ulis or split minutes with him in the backcourt. Either way, Briscoe will come in as a guard that’s ready to go with the size to bully his way to the rim, right out of the gate.

“Pressure is not in my vocabulary,” he warned the nation at the McDonald’s All-American game last week.

Kentucky will probably beat Duke.

If Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow enter the NBA draft, as they’re expected to do, Duke will rely on a sophomore Grayson Allen, freshman Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson and a Plumlee to carry the load. That’s a good team, yes, but one that barely cracks the Top 25 to start the season.

Kentucky should beat that team in the Champions Classic on November 17 in Chicago. Only an unexpected Tyus Jones return and/or the signing of Brandon Ingram will make it a fair fight.

The veteran juniors: Dominique Hawkins, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee.

Hawkins will continue to improve his outside shot this offseason while bringing that stifling on-ball defense back for a third year.

As for Poythress and Lee, it’ll be another year of flying above the rim and posterizing opposing defenders for the Cats. Throw those two guys in with Labissiere then imagine Ulis lobbing it up for more of our favorite #SCTop10 plays.

Dunks. Dunks. Dunks.

Calipari is about to light up the recruiting trail as it winds down.

With plenty of minutes and touches to promise to the remaining stars in the 2015 class, Calipari should have no problem reeling in a few more five-star players to finalize his roster. Who he is able to get remains to be seen, but fans can go ahead and bank on Kentucky having the No. 1 recruiting class once again with a couple more additions before signing day.

Get Jaylen Brown or Malik Newman and the Cats are running it back.

You should be happy for the guys leaving. No, you should be ecstatic.

They will be missed, no doubt, but the players declaring for the NBA draft are living out their lifelong dreams and they will soon be filthy, filthy rich. As much as we hate to see them leave Lexington, Big Blue Nation should be thrilled their dreams came true.

Because at the end of the day, Kentucky is Kentucky.

And no matter who stays or who goes, at Kentucky, we do whatever we want.

 

190 days until Big Blue Madness…


(Clay Jackson | AM News)

A Day in the Life of a Kentucky Football Player During Spring Training

(Clay Jackson | AM News)

(Clay Jackson | AM News)

With only a week left, Spring Practice has flown by without too much attention. Part of it is because of the basketball team. Part of it is because there isn’t a Spring Game. But the biggest reason why is because we don’t really know what the hell is being done during the month-long practice session.

Last month I asked for those interested in covering football to apply, and the response was overwhelming. All of the applicants were exceptional, but nobody has the perspective quite like Thaddeus “Teddy” Kazunas. Kazunas spent the last two years playing for Mark Stoops as a walk-on tight end/wide receiver. Teddy knows the game and will be giving the BBN a look at the football program rarely seen before. Here’s a look at Spring Football through his lens.

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We all have those cinematic images of pre-season football training. Denzel Washington getting into your face while you complain about up-downs, Sandra Bullock teaching you how to protect your quarterback, even Tim McGraw running onto the field asking you ‘why can’t you hold on to the ball?’ Although these are great representations of football training, I can attest to you what Coach Stoops has these players doing is far different. Let’s take a look at a normal schedule for a freshman football player during spring training.

5:00 am- You hear that dreaded sound of your iPad alarm going off, and you have one quick instant to get out of bed and make it to Nutter or feel the wrath of Coach Ed.

5:30 am- You have just changed into your workout gear, and head into the nutrition room to see Ms. Monica (mom) and eat much needed food before workouts.

5:50 am- You get into the weight room. Not 5:51 or 5:55…..5:50. You are always 10 minutes early for Coach Ed.

6:00 am- Your workout begins. Depending on the day, you will begin with a stretch. These stretches last about 30-45 minutes and includes stretching everything from ankles to hips to groins to chest. You will run quick sprints to get that hurt rate up, and you will run over hurdles to loosen up your legs. The stretch is almost more tiring than the workout. After stretching you break off into your rack with a group of 2-3 other players and complete your designated lift. I can still hear faint sounds of DMX in the background while people are breathing heavy and screaming to get their weight.

8:30 am- Your workout is over and you end it with the C-A-T-S jumping jacks, but you better not be the one to mess up because you don’t want to know what will happen.

8:45 am- You are back in the nutrition room to load on carbs and other vital nutrients provided generously by the lovely Ms. Monica.

9:00 am- This is your favorite time of day. Class doesn’t start for 3 hours, lifting is over, you had some great breakfast food, and now you get to relax. That is unless you play ping pong or go into the players lounge and play someone in 2k, then that game is just as intense as lifting. However, you can be like me and go sleep for 3 hours

11:45 am- Time to get up and walk those shaking exhausted legs to class. You have thoughts of skipping class, but then you remember the last person who got caught skipping class and you know it isn’t worth pushing a 225lb. sled 300 yards.

3:00 pm- After classes are complete you decide it is time to go splurge yourself for lunch (you had a tough morning you deserve it). Chick-fil-a sounds pretty nice, and you have 45 minutes to relax until you have CATS tutoring.

6:00 pm- You finally are finished with CATS and the rest of classes and now get to eat dinner at the Training Table. You get to the Training table to see the lovely Ms. Monica checking everyone’s plates, and you aren’t a big fan of your vegetables…don’t let her find that out.

7:30 pm- You get to start that homework that is due in your first class…

9:30 pm- You finish up you homework and have just enough time to watch an episode or two of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air before you start heading to bed.

10:30 pm- You set your alarm on your iPad for 5:00 am, and have to do it all over again.


Why Duke’s win makes John Calipari a trailblazer

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Kansas v Kentucky

Like many of you, I didn’t watch last night’s National Championship. No need to rub salt into that wound, thank you; however, try as I might, I couldn’t escape some of the headlines this morning as they rolled through my Twitter feed. “Coach K wins another one!,” “All Hail Coach K!,” and quite possibly the cruelest, “Won and Done.” That’s supposed to be our thing, man.

From the major national writers, the narrative today is how Mike Krzyzewski has “adapted” to the one-and-done rule. Don’t get me wrong, Coach K is a brilliant coach, arguably the greatest in college basketball history. For years, he has been the pinnacle of “good” in the game to those that cover it, while John Calipari has been “bad.” For years, Calipari has been crushed for winning with freshmen, but suddenly, when Coach K does it, it’s brave and bold? The question I keep coming back to today is why is Duke’s title being title being celebrated more than Calipari’s in 2012? Don’t worry, I know the answer, but it still irritates me, a sore spot on skin that’s already sensitive right now.

You won’t be surprised, but here are a few examples of the national media’s hypocrisy, from the incoming president and vice-president of the USBWA:

“A guy whose program was the province of four-year players in the early ’90s has now beaten Kentucky’s John Calipari at his own game – the one-and-done game. The first titles were won with Christian Laettner as a junior and senior, which never would have happened had he come along later. This one was won with four freshmen in key roles, at least a couple of which are likely to be gone to the NBA this summer.”

— Pat Forde, “Mike Krzyzewski adapts, turns one-and-done into Duke’s fifth title”

What Forde fails to mention is that Calipari won the title in 2012 with four freshmen–six if you count walk-ons–three of which started and went pro after one season. Anthony Davis was the superstar, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the glue, and Marquis Teague the point guard. Kyle Wiltjer also contributed 5 points and 11.6 minutes a game in his role as the team’s seventh man. Not essential, but not unimportant. While Duke’s four freshmen were definitely the core of their team, only three started the National Championship game, just like Anthony Davis, MKG, and Marquis Teague in the 2012 National Championship game.

Also, no, Coach K did not “beat Calipari at his own game.” To my recollection, Duke and Kentucky did not play this season, nor were they on the same side of the bracket. Yes, Duke won the national championship this year and Kentucky did not, but if you’re talking about winning titles with one-and-dones, Calipari did that first in 2012. With one-and-done players as the core of most of his teams, Calipari has been to four Final Fours in the last five years to Coach K’s one. If being runner-up means anything (it doesn’t, really), Cal did that with eight freshmen, five of which started. But I guess Forde was too busy buying the bar a round of drinks when Cal lost to think about that.

“Back in October, he explained his philosophy, saying that he intentionally didn’t cast a wide net when he went shopping for special freshmen, preferring instead to focus his time on just a few players he truly wanted.”

— Dana O’Neil, “Duke, Coach K figured out how to rule a new world”

And then we have Coach K’s new “philosophy” of only recruiting the players he wants. That’s crazy, isn’t it?! What groundbreaking stuff. Except Calipari’s been doing it for years. The only thing unique about Coach K’s method are his connections with Team USA, an enviable advantage that gets him “in” with the most elite players. Fortunately, to this point, Calipari still gets his pick of the litter, although it will be interesting to see whether or not this title gives Coach K another bump. Something tells me UK will survive.

Here’s another part of the same article that burned me:

“They’re genuine,” Krzyzewski told ESPN.com as he walked off the court for the final time this season, stopping to fist-bump security guards and wave to the crowd. “When you have believers, you’re happy all the time. My wife would tell you that. When you can be creative instead of trying to figure out attitudes, it’s so much easier. I never had to figure it out. When you get kids like I have, it’s so easy.”

Wait, freshmen who go to the pros after one year can actually be good kids, too?! NO WAY. After watching six years of quality kids pass through this program, I never would have known. I’m so glad Coach K and Dana O’Neil are here to tell me that.

The only good thing that can come of Duke’s national championship? Maybe the national media will stop treating one-and-done like an evil enterprise. Except when it’s Kentucky, of course. That would be totally inconvenient. The true test will come the next few months, as players–including freshmen from Kentucky AND Duke–declare for the draft. Let’s see how the media treats them then. Jahlil Okafor and Karl Towns should receive the same congratulatory treatment–two kids with extraordinary talent who are blessed enough to achieve their dream sooner than most. Coach K and John Calipari will surely be there to see their players off on their biggest night. See who the spotlight lingers on more.

Congrats to Duke and Coach K for their win, but pardon me if I’m not patting him on the back for “adapting” to the times. They call it adapting because you have no choice. Because the conditions have changed. If anything, Coach K is following another man’s blueprint, walking on a well-manicured path. The one-and-done rule is responsible for the shift in college basketball, and John Calipari was the one who blazed the trail.


Thank You.

teamfinalfour

Thank you, Devin, for making this run fun. Even though you hit a slump at the end, the BBN was never happier than it was when your threes dropped through the net and you reloaded.

Thank you, Tyler, for your determination. The ultimate competitor, you are never satisfied, constantly pushing yourself and your teammates further.

Thank you, Trey, for making it look easy. Even through injury and illness, you made the most difficult shots look effortless.

Thank you, Karl, for your heart. You are one of the most talented players to come through this program, but your kindness and true understanding of what it means to play for Kentucky will be your legacy.

Thank you, Marcus, for your energy. You pick your brothers up when they’re down and make sure they never hang their heads.

Thank you, Aaron, for your balls. Both of them.

Thank you, Andrew, for your perseverance. Yours hasn’t been the easiest path, but in the end, you were the leader this team needed.

Thank you, Dakari, for your laugh. It takes over a room and always manages to make us smile.

Thank you, Derek, for your patience. Many people in your situation would have taken the easy route and left, but your love for the program and your team came first.

Thank you, Dominique, for your smile. It reflects the dreams of a million boys and girls across the Commonwealth.

Thank you, EJ, for keeping this group together. During a season in which the pressure would tear most teams apart, you were the glue, keeping your teammates loose and in the moment.

Thank you, Brian, for appreciating this.

Thank you, Sam, for having fun. Not since Boogie has the headband had so much swag.

Thank you, Tod, for living the dream and continuing your father’s legacy.

Thank you, Alex, for your courage. The only thing harder than being on the court when the clock struck midnight must have been being stuck on the sidelines.

Thank you, Willie, for your spirit and your journey. You are a breath of fresh air in a sport that often times gets way too serious. Watching your growth the past three years has been a pleasure.

Thank you, Cal, for bringing these kids here and finding a way to make it work.

Thank you.