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Tyler Herro is Proof that Kentucky ‘Produces’ NBA Players

Photo: @NBA

A few weeks ago, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas made headlines when he discussed an article about which college basketball programs produce the best NBA players. Bilas’ argument was that colleges don’t “produce” pros, they recruit them, with the premise being – as best I can tell – that most players in the NBA were born with physical gifts that would have gotten them to the NBA regardless of where they went to college.

And for the most part, I don’t disagree with Bilas. John Wall, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, De’Aaron Fox, Ben Simmons, Marvin Bagley – they all would have ended up lottery picks regardless of where they went to college.

Still, there are plenty of exceptions and we see them every year in college basketball. Virginia won a national championship with a lottery pick, DeAndre Hunter, who was ranked the 91st player in America coming out of high school. Was he recruited to be a pro, or did he develop at Virginia? How about Grant Williams at Tennessee? Isn’t it insulting to Rick Barnes to say that Tennessee didn’t help develop him into a first rounder? Texas Tech has had two lottery picks in the last two years (Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver) who were both ranked outside the Top 150 in their high school class. While both had natural physical gifts, I’d tend to think that Chris Beard had something to do with their success as well.

Which brings me to the main point of the article. With all due respect to Bilas (who covers college hoops as well as anybody) there might not be a single better example of the flaw in the “recruit vs. develop” argument right now than Tyler Herro. John Calipari used Herro’s name as proof that Kentucky “produces” pros a few weeks ago, and so far in Summer League – where Herro has been a breakout star – the former Wildcat is proving him correct.

Now look, I understand that playing well in Summer League isn’t a be-all, end-all to future NBA success. There are plenty of guys who play well every summer in Vegas, and it doesn’t translate to becoming a star in the NBA. Last year, Josh Hart won Summer League MVP, and he will never be anything more than a very good role player in the NBA. Lonzo Ball won Summer League MVP two years ago, and his career has been filled with injuries and up-and-down play on the court.

So again, to quote Denny Green I’m not going to “crown” Tyler Herro anything because he’s had a few good days in Vegas.

Still, it’s hard not to watch Herro ball out and feel like Kentucky and John Calipari didn’t at least play some part in his success.

For those who haven’t been paying attention (and I’m guessing most of you have been) Herro has been absolutely phenomenal in his short time as a pro. In the California Summer League (which was a precursor to Vegas) he averaged 19 points per game, and in his three games in Vegas has scored 21 per night. Over five games he’s averaging more than 20 points per game, and doing it all while hitting 40 percent from the field and adding five rebounds and two steals per contest as well.

So yeah, Herro is good. And please don’t tell me that it’s just because the “competition is bad” in Vegas. Keep in mind, RJ Barrett is averaging under 12 points on 28 percent shooting in his three games in Vegas. Let’s give a little bit of credit to Herro here.

Still, let’s also give a little credit to Calipari and Kentucky as well.

By now we all know Herro’s recruiting back-story, so we don’t need to take a deep dive here – but it is worth mentioning. This was a kid who ended up as somewhere around a Top 40 recruit in the recruiting rankings and a guy who – even after he decommitted from Wisconsin and ended up at Kentucky – wasn’t viewed as an immediate, unquestionable NBA talent. Most believed that even in Lexington, it would take two, three or four years for Herro to develop into an NBA player.

So yes, some of it was Herro’s natural talent, and yes, to a degree Kentucky did “recruit” a future NBA player when he signed his National Letter of Intent. To say otherwise would be to take away from Herro’s hard work.

At the same time, didn’t Kentucky play a role in how fast he got to the NBA, the fact that he was just a lottery pick after one season and that he’s been so successful so far in Summer League? I’d say the answer is yes when you consider, oh, I don’t know, that Herro got to play for a Hall of Fame coach in Lexington and was able to practice every day against NBA-level talent like PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans. I’d say that it didn’t hurt playing against other NBA caliber talent when Kentucky faced off against Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, LSU and others either.

And if there was any doubt that Kentucky helped produce him into a pro, Herro put it to rest, when he himself discussed the role that Kentucky played in his development on Tuesday night. When asked about Kentucky, he said:

“The first day I stepped on campus at Kentucky (Coach Cal) treated me like a pro. Without Coach Cal and really the rest of the coaching staff I don’t think I would be here right now. I think I made the best decision ever to go to Kentucky.”

If that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what it is.

It also proves that while some pros are recruited to college campuses, quite a few others are developed there as well.


Celebrate Mark Stoops’ Birthday with his 6 Greatest Moments at UK

(@Bbrez_11)

Mark Stoops just got another year further removed from his playing days at the University of Iowa. Today the Youngstown native and Kentucky head football coach turned 52 years young.

To celebrate the occasion, let’s look back at six of his greatest moments as the Cats’ coach over his first six seasons in Lexington.

“We’re just getting started, bro.”

After consecutive two-win seasons, Kentucky fans were starving for a significant win. In his second season at the helm, Stoops’ troops were a delay of game in The Swamp away from snapping The Streak to Florida.

Snake bit with a difficult second half of the schedule, one of the BBN’s favorite enemies came to town. Riding on the back of JoJo Kemp, Kentucky overcame a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to take down Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks with a Bud Dupree Pick Six.

After Kemp delivered a powerful message on the field, Stoops gave Matt Jones a call on the KSR Postgame Show. The first of many eventful and entertaining calls to the show, Stoops provided an exclamation point in his message to the fans, “We’re just getting started, bro.”

Schlarman’s Game Ball

Four years after the close call at The Swamp, Stoops finally got his victory in Gainesville. Kentucky’s first win over Florida in 31 years featured big plays from the defense, gutsy third down moves from Terry Wilson and most importantly, dominance at the line of scrimmage.

Florida simply could not slow down the Cats on the ground, punctuated by Bunchy Stallings’ fourth quarter pancake, Kentucky finished with 303 yards of rushing. Once the game was over, Stoops could have taken credit for the accomplishment. Instead, he poured praise all over the team and handed the ball to John Schlarman. A man who had never defeated Florida as a player or a coach, finally got his victory as he was battling cancer. The game ball was perfect poetic justice.

Hiring (and Keeping) Vince Marrow

Mark Stoops found early success on the recruiting front in the state of Ohio. That could not have happened without his righthand man, Vince Marrow. It’s hard to imagine Stoops without The Big Dog. Last year’s success could not have happened if Marrow departed for Michigan. Luckily, Vince kept his promise to Mrs. Stoops and remained in Lexington.

Signing Austin MacGinnis

Mark Stoops probably would not be here without the greatest kicker to ever lace them up for the Wildcats. MacGinnis played high school football in Alabama, but the Crimson Tide don’t offer kickers scholarships. Stoops gladly handed a scholarship to the man who beat Mississippi State and Louisville in the final minute.

Crowd Surfing

Has there ever been a better celebration for a walk-off win? I think not.

The REAL Blue and White

The Swaggy Stoops we first heard after the South Carolina victory reached a new level when Kentucky’s 2018 season culminated with a tenth victory at the Citrus Bowl. His final words took a shot at Penn State’s James Franklin, letting the world know who wears the real blue and white.


Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: N’Faly Dante, Jalen Johnson, and other pre-Peach Jam notes

(Photo: Instagram/@nfaly_dante12)

Good evening and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes. Last week, we discussed some of the top prospects in 2020 and 2021 and where Kentucky stood with each of them.

This time around, we’ll focus on N’Faly Dante’s visit/reclassification talk, Jalen Johnson’s decision, and a few other quick notes, keeping it a bit shorter than usual before going all-in on Peach Jam next week.

Let’s get started.

N’Faly Dante

When Kentucky brought in N’Faly Dante for an official visit last week, it became fairly obvious that signaled that while UK understood they were likely out of the Kerry Blackshear Jr. sweepstakes, they were serious about adding one more piece to the 2019-20 roster.

While there were initial reports that Dante would not be reclassifying, I was informed almost immediately that this was not true and that a decision on that had not been made. In fact, going into the visit, sources tell KSR that the five-star center was still working toward getting his academics in order to see if a jump to 2019 was possible. This remains the case.

As far as the visit to Kentucky is concerned, things went extremely well and I’m confident that they now are one of the co-favorites, if not the favorite, in his recruitment. Going into the trip, Oregon and LSU were seen as the top landing spots, while Kentucky and Kansas were not far behind as the dark horses. Now, I believe Kentucky and Oregon are the top contenders, with the Cats likely having the slight edge. In fact, I think he’s Kentucky’s to-lose if he is able to reclassify to 2019.

Oregon has been involved for quite some time, and I’ve been told that his guardian pushed for the Ducks a bit early on in Dante’s recruitment. Now, though, sources tell KSR that those close to the elite shot blocker are very much open to the idea of him ending up in Lexington. This bodes well for the Cats.

In terms of his reclassification decision, I am told that a jump is still very much on the table if Dante can get his academic situation in order. KSR’s Matt Jones reported on the radio show late last week that the five-star center is still waiting on a test score (among a few other things) before he can even entertain the possibility of reclassifying to 2019. While I’m not sure what that test is, I’m told that there is no update on the status of that as of yet.

Overall, it won’t be easy and there are several moving parts to make it work in a limited amount of time. As long as that window of opportunity is available, though, they’ll continue to make that push.

Regardless, Dante is set to participate at Peach Jam this week, something he has been openly looking forward to since last year. While the academic side of thing is the biggest area of importance right now, he would not have been eligible to participate next week if Dante officially announced his reclassification earlier, which I think has also played a factor in all of this.

Starting on Wednesday, I’ll be able to ask him personally about where things stand and when we should expect a decision either way.

Jalen Johnson

On Thursday evening, 2020 five-star small forward Jalen Johnson chose the Duke Blue Devils over Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Arizona, a decision that really didn’t shock anyone. He turned heads a while back when he said UK was his “dream school” growing up, but even then, nobody took it too seriously. While I think Kentucky was the No. 2 school on his list (I never bought the Wisconsin rumors), most conversations I’ve had with those familiar with his recruitment felt he has always seen himself eventually playing for Coach K in Durham, NC.

While the UK coaching staff will never back down to any program on the recruiting trail, it’s been fairly obvious that they’ve been prioritizing other top prospects over the last few months, likely understanding that Johnson was heavily favoring Duke. The main target of emphasis? 2020 top-five prospect Jalen Green, who the Kentucky coaches have visited all across the country and even overseas in Greece during the FIBA U19 World Cup last week.

Which leads me to my next topic…

Jalen Green

With Johnson headed off to Duke, momentum with Jalen Green is growing heavily in favor of the Wildcats right now.

Last week, I wrote that Kentucky had put themselves in solid position with the 6-foot-5 prospect, and today, that was confirmed by Larry Vaught of VaughtsViews.com.

In an interview with Vaught, Green’s trainer, Marcus Green, said Kentucky has always been one of the elite prospect’s favorite schools and he plans on exploring the Wildcats “in-depth” during his recruitment.

“He grew up following Kentucky,” Marcus Green told Vaught. “Kentucky is one of his dream schools. One thing I told Coach Cal was that it was rough on him because he offered some other players before him and Jalen was ranked No. 1 (in the 2020 class at that time). Calipari broke it down for him and kept it 100 percent truthful. That’s why he has put Kentucky in the spot it is now and that remains his dream school. … One of his priorities is to make sure he explores that in depth.”

Kentucky hasn’t landed a top-five prospect since Skal Labbisiere in 2015, and I think Green just might be that guy to end the streak this season. Seeing just how hard the UK coaching staff is recruiting him, especially over the last few months, I think they realize that too.

I continue to feel good about Kentucky’s chances with Daishen Nix and BJ Boston, as well, pairing those two up with Green to make up the team’s starting backcourt in 2020-21.

Boston recently picked up two predictions in favor of the Blue Devils on his Crystal Ball (from two Duke writers, mind you), though I think that mostly has to do with UK’s momentum with Green and the assumption being that Boston and Green wouldn’t play together in college. As I wrote last week, sources tell KSR that this narrative is false and that they wouldn’t mind sharing the same backcourt. I still believe Boston favors Kentucky.


We’ll have more on Kentucky’s top 2020 and 2021 targets next week at Peach Jam.

See you then.

@JackPilgrimKSR


Jared Lorenzen: Player, role model, rival, and friend

Jared Lorenzen: Player, role model, rival, and friend

As a 21-year-old and a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, I admittedly don’t have memories of Art Still wreaking havoc in the backfield, Dermontti Dawson mauling defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage, or Sonny Collins shattering rushing records. And while I’ve studied and analyzed plenty of film on guys like Tim Couch and Craig Yeast, even that was just before my time in terms of watching Kentucky games at Commonwealth Stadium and truly grasping the game of football.

And then came No. 22.

From the first moment I saw Jared Lorenzen play, I was hooked. Done for. The way he scrambled in and out of the pocket, flicked defenders off of him like flies, and rocketed the ball down the field with ease, it truly was poetry in motion for me. The sport was so fresh and new for me at the time, but the Hefty Lefty made me understand the craze. It just clicked for me. I got it. Jared was truly the reason I fell in love with football.

Not long after, I suited up on the football field for the very first time. Playing quarterback as a homegrown Kentucky kid who hadn’t quite lost his baby fat, Lorenzen was an obvious role model to me. In my eyes, if a guy like Jared could be a superstar athlete and write his name in the record books at Kentucky, what’s holding me back from finding a bit of success? I didn’t expect to become the next UK football legend, obviously, but I was at least inspired to give it all I had.

Fast forward three years from the end of his Kentucky career, and instead of being amazed by Jared’s on-field abilities, he was actually part of the reason why I cried for the first time during a sporting event. As a diehard New England Patriots fan (I had been for a whopping two seasons at that point, don’t judge me), Jared’s damned New York Giants ruined our potential 19-0 effort in 2007. I was heartbroken. Crushed. My little 10-year-old self simply couldn’t handle the pain, and Jared was a major part of it.

When I got to college and started with KSR, Jared obviously had a significant role with us with podcasts, radio, pregame shows, and occasional posts here on the site. As excited as I was to get started with my writing and join such a close-knit group of individuals, part of the intrigue for me was that I would likely cross paths with No. 22 at some point. For starters, I wanted to tell him how much I idolized him as a kid and enjoyed watching him in his time at Kentucky. I wanted to thank him for inspiring me when I played.

Then, I wanted to flip him the ole bird for his Giants ruining New England’s perfect season.

That time finally came two years ago at the KSR Christmas Party, my first as part of the crew. Lorenzen was standing there with Freddie Maggard and Nick Roush, two of the only people in the room I had talked to on a fairly regular basis. Again, I was still brand new with the company, so I was admittedly a bit nervous to be there in the first place. I figured if I was going to meet my childhood idol, it’d be easiest to do it with two of my other KSR buds.

Star-struck, I hesitantly walked up to him and immediately gave him hell for his Super Bowl victory. I promised myself I would do it the first time I met him, and I was pretty proud of myself for following through with it.

But instead of the quick exchange I expected, Lorenzen sat there and talked to me for about 30 minutes, breaking down that horrendous game, what it’s like to take down the greatest quarterback in NFL history, showed me a picture of his ring (he wasn’t wearing it, unfortunately), and continued to talk about the league today. He rubbed it in my face as any Super Bowl champion should. I loved it.

Then, Kentucky’s all-time passing leader asked about me and my life. He wanted to know about school, what I was majoring in, what my goals were, how my time at KSR was going, and what I hoped to get out of it. It wasn’t just to check a box, Jared continued to give a young kid the same respect he would give to any of his closest peers. Thoughtful, genuine responses after thoughtful, genuine responses. He cared.

Why? I don’t know. He recognized my name, but he didn’t know me from Adam that night. I could’ve been anybody in the world, and that conversation still would have likely been the exact same with each and every one of them. After reading countless fan memories and notes since Wednesday afternoon, I’m sure of it. That’s just who Jared was. He may not have known you, but he was going to make you feel like you guys had been friends for years.

The thing is, it didn’t stop there. Every time I saw Jared out and about from that day on, he’d go out of his way to shake my hand and catch up. When I would write in-depth posts or game breakdowns on KSR, he’d reach out and let me know what he thought. A stranger quickly became a friend.

In four years at Kentucky, the Hefty Lefty threw for a program record 10,354 total yards and 78 touchdowns. On the field, he was one of the greatest players in school history and arguably the most beloved former football Wildcat of all time. His talent was evident, and he had the numbers to back it up.

Off the field, though, he was one of us. As much as he loved re-living his glory days with a microphone in his hands or a headset on, Jared was the exact same fun-loving guy off-air as he was on. He sat in the stands and cheered on touchdowns, screamed at missed calls, held his breath in high-pressure situations, and got down in the dumps over tough losses. If there was one individual who truly bled blue through and through, it was him.

Simply put, there will never be another guy like Jared both on and off the field.

It breaks my heart that I only got to know him for a few years, but I thank God I at least got that.

Rest easy, No. 22.


A walk in Jared Lorenzen’s shoes

A walk in Jared Lorenzen’s shoes

They say to get to know a man, you have to walk a mile in his shoes; for me, that proved to be 100% true with Jared Lorenzen.

I got to know Jared early in my KSR career. He was a fixture at football games and KSR functions, a larger than life figure in every sense of the term. Any nerves I had meeting him, a Kentucky Football legend, quickly dissipated on contact. Jared had a unique way of making everyone feel like his friend, no matter if you were someone he’d grown up with or simply a fan outside Kroger Field. To me, that was his greatest trait and made the walk from the RV lot to the stadium in 2015 one I’ll never forget.

The lead-up to the Kentucky-Auburn game in 2015 was manic. The Cats were 4-1, the only loss being a heartbreaker to Florida (natch). ESPN picked the game for its Thursday night slot, and in turn, we decided to do an all-day pregame show, with me, Jared, Freddie, and Nick in studio and Matt, Ryan, and Drew prowling the tailgating grounds in the Gator. In true KSR fashion, a lot of crazy things happened that day — the Gator breaking down, for one — but somehow, we got through it and to the stadium. Jared and I arrived at the RV lot and began the walk through the tailgates, chatting easily about completely random stuff (in true Jared fashion).

I’d seen Jared interact with fans before during pregame shows, etc., but experiencing it alongside him for those 20 or so minutes was something different altogether. It was the same cycle with each group we passed: 1) Is that Jared Lorenzen? 2) Holy crap, that’s Jared Lorenzen 3) “HEY JARED!” Most fans would shout out one of Jared’s many nicknames, which he’d lobby back with, “What’s going on” and a wave. Occasionally, a football would get tossed to him and he’d grab it and flick it back effortlessly. As we crossed University Drive into the Blue Lot, a fan who’d clearly had a few jokingly mentioned the Florida game, which had come up during the pregame show. Jared rolled his eyes back and growled. When the guy apologized for bringing it up, he shook it off and smiled.

A few steps later, a fan in a No. 22 jersey stopped in his tracks and, after picking his chin off the ground, asked Jared for a picture. He didn’t just oblige, he made sure they got several. When we walked on, I told him I felt like I was walking with a rockstar. As we neared the stadium, I ran into an old friend from high school I hadn’t seen in years. We chatted for a bit and after we parted ways, Jared joked that he felt like he was walking with a rockstar.The high fives, shoutouts, and selfies continued until we got to the gate and morphed into warm smiles and greetings as we got to the press box. I made my way to my seat and Jared went to his, our journey over.

This isn’t my greatest memory of Jared — singing Fake Barney’s parody of “Crown Royal” with him in a bar full of Louisville fans is hard to top — but it is the most telling. So many times, you meet your heroes and they fail to live up to your expectations. Jared exceeded mine because, without knowing, he made people part of his experience. Just another day for him was, for me, an unforgettable glimpse into the life of one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. The world could use a few more Jareds.