We’ve reached the midway point of the season and Kentucky enters their bye week with an impressive 5-1 record. The Wildcats are currently ranked for the second week in a row and own a 3-1 mark in SEC play. It’s been a solid start for an offense that is averaging 29.3 points per game and 5.9 yards per play. There have been some groans lately, but let’s not forget about the impressive performances put on early in the season.
There is still a long way to go and it’s important to remember that three of UK’s conference opponents ranked in the top 25 of S&P+’s defensive efficiency rankings. The other two FBS opponents currently sit at 36 and 49. Eddie Gran’s unit has faced the roughest stretch of the season. Waiting on UK in the back half? Defenses that are ranked 53rd, 65th, 85th, and 87th in efficiency. Higher point totals are on the way.
When assessing UK’s quarterback situation, it is easy to have recency bias. Terry Wilson is fresh off his worst performance since the opener against Central Michigan and it was dreadful. On the season, Wilson is delivering the ball with accuracy but his passes are not going anywhere. He is only averaging 6.2 yards per attempt and this ranks 13th among starting quarterbacks in the SEC.
The wrap on Wilson going into the year was that he was going to make explosive plays but was going to struggle to consistently complete passes. Through six games it’s been the opposite. His completion rate of 66.4% ranks third in the SEC but he’s only produced passes of 25+ yards four times this season. That’s just not going to cut it and during the bye week UK must find a solution to this big play inability.
On the ground, the junior college transfer is second in quarterback rushing yards behind Nick Fitzgerald and is averaging 6.6 yards per attempt on non-sack carries. That’s a good rate but once again the big play element is falling up short. After rushing for a combined 185 yards with multiple 20+ yards runs in the wins over Florida and Murray State, Wilson has only recorded 81 rushing yards in the next three games. Defenses have adjusted and have been able to limit his big plays.
Turnovers have been an issue with Wilson. He has five interceptions on the season and two lost fumbles. Since the Florida game, he hasn’t had a turnover that has really hurt Kentucky. All of his interceptions have occurred on deep shots with no returns by the defense. That is the kind of giveaway you want to have.
In all, Wilson’s performance against Florida (256 total yards, three touchdowns) was the biggest reason for the Kentucky win. His performance against Texas A&M (112 total yards on 20 passes and 14 rushes) was the biggest reason for the loss. In the other wins outside of Central Michigan, the game has been managed by the raw quarterback prospect.
After playing some really tough defenses, the schedule lightens up in October and November. It will be essential for the young quarterback to have some good things happen against Vanderbilt and Mizzou to gain some rhythm and confidence for the rest of the year.
Running Backs: A
We entered the season knowing all about Benny Snell and he has lived up to the billing. The junior is a legit All-American candidate who is on pace for over 1,400 yards rushing and is currently second in rushing in the SEC. He’s been a bonafide star and is finally receiving the national recognition he deserves. But the biggest story in the running back room happens to be his sidekick.
Last season the offense took a big drop off whenever Snell left the field. That was obvious in the Music City Bowl. Kentucky totally had to scrap its ground game when Snell was unrightfully ejected from the game in the first half. One of UK’s biggest goals of the offseason was to find a legit secondary option to Snell and they sure have found that with A.J. Rose.
The former high school quarterback from Cleveland struggled last year and seemed to spend most of the season in Eddie Gran’s doghouse. But after an offseason of hard work and a brilliant spring game performance, Rose has emerged as the future of UK’s running back position.
The redshirt sophomore has 237 yards on 36 carries with four touchdowns and a 6.6 yards per carry average. Those are excellent numbers and the UK ground game hasn’t tailed off at all with him in the lineup. It’s hard to imagine things going any better for Eddie Gran’s position group.
Wide Receivers: C
Let’s start with the positives. Lynn Bowden has been very efficient in the slot with catches on 80% of his targets and he leads the Wildcats in receptions and touchdowns. The former blue-chip recruit has shown improvement in his route running and he has the potential to develop into one of the best receivers in the SEC.
In the run game, the Wildcats outside wideouts have been near dominant blocking on the perimeter. Both Dorian Baker and Tavin Richardson have a size advantage against every corner they face and they’ve been able to impose their will in blocking situations. This ability has helped UK’s ground game turn seven-yards runs into 20+ yard gains and that should be appreciated.
However, the outside passing game is really struggling and not all of the blame falls on the quarterback position. Dorian Baker has been the most targeted player on vertical routes and too many of these passes are coming up empty. Drops have been a bit of the issue for the senior. After recording 11 receptions in the final three games of 2017, Tavin Richardson has only been targeted eight times this season with two receptions. Sophomores Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps have yet to make a significant impact in their college careers.
UK is getting very good slot play from Lynn Bowden and David Bouvier, but the Wildcats must find answers outside. One of the biggest missing pieces for this offense is getting the outside passing game involved. UK must find some answers in the second half of the season.
Tight Ends: B+
Man, I really wanted to give this group an A. As expected, both C.J. Conrad and Justin Rigg have done a very good job helping the offensive line create running lanes for UK’s potent ground attack. The duo may be the best blocking group in the SEC and they’ve shown versatility. At times, Conrad is used as a glorified fullback and on many runs he is able to land a key block on a linebacker. They’ve been excellent at this level.
In the passing game, Conrad and Rigg have combined for a very efficient 16 catches on 17 targets but the problem is that these receptions aren’t going anywhere. In the past three games, we have seen Conrad begin to pick up more yards and that is a good sign moving forward.
Getting this position more of an opportunity to help the passing game further down the field with only help out Terry Wilson.
However, I want you to keep this in mind. Kentucky must find a way to create vertical shots in the passing game. A way to do this could be using max protection (using as many pass blockers as possible) to give Wilson time to launch the football. If that happens, that means extra blocking responsibility for the tight end position. In this offense, the tight end spot is a selfless position and these two appear more than willing to fill that role.
Offensive Line: B
The Wildcats came out of the gates on fire to begin 2018. Behind Drake Jackson at center, UK ran for over 200 yards in each of its first four games of 2018 with 13 rushing touchdowns. The offensive line dominated in the road win against Florida and more then held their own against a Mississippi State front loaded with future NFL draft picks.
But in the last six quarters they’ve hit some bumps in the road.
Starting in the second half against South Carolina, UK’s front began to struggle. It didn’t get any better in the next game against Texas A&M with the Wildcats only rushing for 70 yards. John Schlarman’s unit is still fairly healthy but pre-snap penalties and some defensive adjustments have caused some problems.
With the running game struggling, the pass protection becomes a liability. Kentucky is currently allowing sacks on 7.5% of dropbacks and this is one of the worst rates in the nation. For this group to succeed, the ground game must produce consistently.
The Wildcats are still very healthy, but depth at tackle has taken a major hit with the losses of Landon Young and Naasir Watkins. Keeping the starters out of the training room will be vital to the success of the group for the rest of the season.
I know the hot take of the moment is to hammer Eddie Gran for the team’s performance against Texas A&M, but it’s time to look at the big picture. Kentucky’s ball control, smashmouth offense has been a big key to the 5-1 start. Behind a solid offensive line and a stud running back, the Wildcats muscled their ways to wins over Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina in September.
The passing game has been a big issue and it is something that must be fixed. UK must find a way to manufacture some big plays in the passing game. Whether it’d be through the wildcat formation or another gadget play, UK has to be able to test the defense vertically. The Wildcats also need a receiver emerge as a big play threat in the next six weeks.
The Texas A&M performance was very bad and it should be used as a learning tool. It’s also important to remember that Gran and his staff put a great plan together against Florida that could’ve turned into a blowout if not for two first half turnovers. If you’re going to call out the bad, it’s only fair to recognize the good.
This group has much to work on but they’re in a good spot entering the second half of the season.
By TJ Walker on ©October 10th, 2018 @ 12:00pm
Kentucky fans were bummed when EJ Montgomery had to sit out the final three games of the Big Blue Bahamas Tour in August. Montgomery’s lower back only allowed him to play one game.
He finished with an impressive eight points and six rebounds, which isn’t too shabby for an 19-year-old kid playing against grown men. Montgomery didn’t care so much about his one solid performance, he was annoyed he had to miss the other three.
“I was kinda upset,” Montgomery said. “They were playing so well I just wanted to go out there and play with them.”
With the exception of the one game in August (he said he could have played if it were an NCAA Tournament game) and UK’s Basketball Pro Day on Sunday (where John Calipari said he was still slightly injured) we have to go back to the all-star circuit in the spring to see some tape on Montgomery.
But in the spring the action wasn’t with Montgomery on the court, it was off of it. At that time Montgomery was uncommitted and seemingly down to Duke and UK for his services. If you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, the Duke and UK rivalry is at its nastiest when the two recruit against one another.
People most in the know heading into the all-star circuit thought Duke was the leader, but shortly after the games he committed to Kentucky. Rumors quickly surfaced that Montgomery didn’t vibe with the Duke commits.
Montgomery denied anything happened during the McDonald’s All-American game, but the smile on his face when talking about it maybe said more than his quoted recollection.
“Nothing happened,” Montgomery said. “I had fun at McDonald’s All-American. There was nothing that happened. It was a regular McDonald’s All-American game.”
Now he will face the Duke Blue Devils in his first collegiate game. Whatever, if anything, happened between Montgomery and the Duke commits can be settled on the court, and Montgomery admitted he really wants to beat Duke. Although that’s not unique to just Duke.
“I want to beat those guys really bad, but I also want to beat everybody else really bad,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think it’s a rivalry, it’s just a game I want to compete in. It will be very fun. I know those guys, we’re very close and it’s going to be fun to compete against them.”
At this point, Montgomery is looking forward to competing against anybody that’s different than his teammates. With the exception of his one game against the Bahamas National Team you have to travel back to the all-star games since he faced unfamiliar competition.
Perhaps he’s looking forward to taking on easier opponents. Montgomery said his teammates are forcing him to play a variety of styles, and it hasn’t been easy.
“I have to come at those guys in different ways,” Montgomery said. “Reid is very physical, Nick, he is a big guy and P.J. can do it all. To score I have to do different things and it’s helping me with my all around game.”
“… Something I didn’t expect is how hard we work everyday. I knew it was going to be hard but it’s a different level here at Kentucky. We had hard workouts (at home) but workouts here are pretty different.”
Check out the rest of KSR’s 2018-19 Basketball Preview Series:
Coming soon: Nick Richards | PJ Washington | Quade Green | Jemarl Baker | Brad Calipari | Jonny David | Zan Payne
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©October 09th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Kentucky Basketball has had some decent schedule posters over the years, but this year’s is by far the best.
Kentucky worked with renowned sports illustrator and self-proclaimed “vector monster” Rob Zilla (Robert Generette III) to create the poster, which features UK’s season-long “Dream Big” theme and original artwork inspired by the style of popular 1990s-era basketball posters.
The posters will be distributed at Big Blue Madness on Friday and beginning Saturday morning at Kroger locations throughout the state. Limited quantities are available in each store, so fans are recommended to pick up their posters as early as possible.
Yeah, I’m going to need about five of those.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) October 9, 2018
By Nick Roush on ©October 09th, 2018 @ 8:00pm
Mark Stoops met with the media for the first time since Kentucky’s overtime loss at Texas A&M. The film review gave him many reasons to be optimistic, even though it wasn’t enough to win at Kyle Field.
“I really was very encouraged by so many things in that game,” Stoops said. “I really appreciate our players’ preparation, their work ethic, their fight and their desire to get that game won. Obviously disappointed we didn’t come up with a few more plays. We’ll work on that, but I love their effort. It’s a good time for the bye week to get out here and continue to build on the things we’re doing and work on the areas we need improvement.”
While some players like Drake Jackson will use the bye week to get healthy, others will use it as an opportunity to get more playing time and improve on the positives from a 5-1 start.
1. The Good and the Bad from Terry Wilson
Through six games we’ve seen Terry Wilson at his best, like his gutsy performance at Florida. Last weekend we saw him at his worst. He has completed 67 percent of his passes and accrued six total touchdowns, while mitigating turnovers since the season-opener.
“He’s managed the game well. In this last game well all know, and he knows, there’s things he could’ve done better and that was addressed. But he’s coachable, he’ll learn from that and he will get better from that alone and the experience. I think just managing the game, putting us in a situation to win each and every game has been one of his strengths.”
There is still plenty of room for Wilson to grow. His confidence seemed to wane in College Station. Stoops wants him to get more comfortable with his offensive weapons.
“Obviously in the passing game and vision, just the timing of things needs to improve, and the confidence in the people around him needs to improve as well.”
2. Penalty Problems
Through the first four and a half games, the Cats kept their cool as others committed penalties. In the last six quarters, UK has been flagged too often. Against Texas A&M and South Carolina, Kentucky committed 19 penalties for 167 yards.
“The situation affected us at times and that can’t happen if you wanna win consistently. We have to address that and part of it is the aggressive fouls that sometimes are gonna happen. But the pre-snap penalties of that nature we can’t have.”
The pre-snap penalties are unacceptable, but he doesn’t mind it if the flags are the result of aggressive play.
“Some of the best teams I’ve been on were highly penalized because of the aggressive nature of the team. I’m not saying I want that, obviously you can’t have some of that, but we’ll continue to work through it.”
On the other end, it’s obvious to see how often Josh Allen is held, only for the officials to keep the flags in their pockets. He can share his concerns with the SEC, but cannot share them publicly.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss what they tell me or I will be fined,” he said.
3. Welcome to the SEC, Chris Oats
Oats was spectacular in his first start. The true freshman had four tackles, 1.5 for loss and a sack during the first half, but he did have a few freshmen moments.
“Chris is one of those guys, he’s got a great attitude,” said Stoops. “He came off and he was telling one of the coaches, ‘That is a little more physical than I thought,’ and he’s a big physical guy. We said, ‘Welcome.’
4. Searching for Wide Receivers
Production from the wide receivers has been sporadic. Some of that falls on the quarterback’s shoulders, some on the coaches, but it’s also the wide receivers’ responsibility to get open. This week he’s looking for playmakers to emerge. One of those might be Ahmad Wagner.
“He is a guy that’s intriguing, that could step up as well,” Stoops said. “He is a guy that you think about because we’ve been working with him and as we go good-against-good, he has that great size and he can go up over people at times and create that play that we’re looking for.
“If you look at Texas A&M going into that game, Clemson was in the same situation we were. They just went up two different times and just simply went up over them and made great individual plays. Otherwise they had the same problem with three-and-outs, and we know how good they are offensively. We do got to look for options.”
Zy’Aire Hughes is another player that could see more opportunities. His speed turned into a spectacular touchdown against Murray State. Hughes’ speed could be used to help create more home run plays in the second half of the season.
5. Incredible Defense
Mark Stoops could not be more proud of his defense after their performance in College Station. The best part? There’s room to grow.
“I was really impressed. Coming out of there I thought our guys played exceptionally well. After watching the film I was very encouraged. It was arguably one of the better games since I’ve been here, the way we played defensively. And there’s still things we can do to get better.”
The difference with this defense is experience. They’re seeing the ball well and anticipating the action before it happens. Stoops is noticing it on the practice field and in the film room.
“They reiterate the messages sometimes before I get to it, which is a good thing.”
By Drew Franklin on ©October 09th, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Reid Travis is unlike any other player John Calipari has had at Kentucky.
He’s Stanford educated, old enough to order a beer, and enters his first season as a Wildcat having already played almost 3,000 minutes of college basketball in his career.
Yet, he’s still a one-and-done prospect under Calipari.
The soon-to-be-23-year-old Travis transferred into the Kentucky program from Stanford, where he was a two-time First Team All-Pac 12 selection, and ranks 16th on Stanford’s all-time career scoring list. He was with the Cardinal for four seasons, but a knee injury early in his sophomore year kept him sidelined for most of that season. He would return in 2016-17 to average 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a redshirt sophomore, followed by a sensational redshirt junior season with almost 20 points and nine rebounds per game. Today, he is one of three Stanford players to have at least 1,400 points and 700 rebounds in less than 100 games played in the program’s history.
But once last season ended, Travis knew he had a decision to make.
“Going back to when the season ended, we lost in the NIT, I took two weeks off basically and I sat down and just really figured out, okay, what do I want to do this spring and what do I want to accomplish,” he explained to KSR. “I knew that I had a fifth-year eligibility if I wanted to take that, I knew that I had a chance to get invited by some teams and do some pre-draft workouts and look at the NBA, so I decided to go all-in on the NBA and do pre-draft workouts.”
Travis had workouts in Brooklyn, Cleveland, Denver, Minnesota and Golden State. Meanwhile, he was still trying to complete his coursework at Stanford to earn a degree in science, technology and society.
“It was a lot going on,” he said of his spring schedule. “I stayed on campus and did all of my workouts while I was finishing my degree.”
Soon after his last workout, he and his family decided it was in his best interest to return to college for a fifth year of basketball. But he was still immersed in his studies at Stanford, so he relied on his family to lay out the best options for where he would play that fifth year of basketball.
“Do I stay at Stanford? Do I go to another school? What puts me in the best situation,” he wondered. “I really started to sit down and think about that, all the while I was still trying to finish my degree, which was taking literally a lot of hours out of my day. I put a lot of faith in my family and they did a lot of the research for me as far as talking to schools, doing their own research and trying to figure out what would be the best fit for me.”
A lot of the school-searching fell on his family members, but Travis knew what he wanted out of the next year.
“The biggest thing is I wanted to get better as a player, which is an easy thing to say,” he said. “I mean every year I want to get better as a player, but I want to be pushed on a different level and be pushed in a different way and be made uncomfortable in ways I hadn’t been before, and I think that’s what steered me to a new situation. I want to compete for a national championship and I want to put myself in the best position for the draft the following year, and those were kind of the biggest things that I was looking at.”
He considered several schools, including a return to Stanford, but one stood out above the rest.
“When that came down to it and I started looking at places, there was no better spot than coming to Kentucky to try to do those things,” he said.
Travis visited Lexington days after his Stanford graduation, and he claims he was too busy with schoolwork to do much thinking before his arrival. His family had narrowed his list while he finished school, and Kentucky was one of the most serious options for a decision that had to be made in only a matter of weeks. But once he took the visit, it did not take long to know Lexington would be his next home. He announced he was transferring to Kentucky while on his visit, three days after he walked across the stage to receive his Stanford diploma.
I want to thank everyone who has helped me with this process of taking the next step to pursue my dreams. I couldn’t be more excited for the future! pic.twitter.com/xIwtBfFzLr
— Reid Travis (@2ReidTravis2) June 20, 2018
Now that he’s at Kentucky, Travis is enjoying his time as a Wildcat, but his day-to-day routine is unique compared to that of his teammates.
“I’m in the sports leadership program,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a little different experience than I had at Stanford or what most of my teammates are going through, because I’m going to night classes where I’m the youngest person in the class and everyone’s pretty old in there… so I don’t know if I’m truly living the student-athlete experience right now, but I’ve been enjoying it.”
He also has different interests than his younger teammates. They like video games, namely Fortnite. He does not even touch video games, he says.
PJ Washington, his roommate, told KSR, “All he does is talk to his family, that’s all I hear. He’s on the phone with his family or he’s in there watching TV or in the gym. That’s pretty much all he does.”
“He’s definitely the old-head around here. The young guys kind of mess with him a little bit and he doesn’t laugh about it at all. He’s always serious. He doesn’t play no video games with us. I don’t even think he owns a system.”
Travis doesn’t see a problem with the age gap, though.
“As far as talking to each other and things like that, I wouldn’t say that it’s every interaction that I have that I feel that much older,” he said.
On the court, he and the other Wildcats are pushing themselves to new levels and starving for a championship.
It’s why he’s here.
Check out the rest of KSR’s 2018-19 Basketball Preview Series:
The Kentucky football team entered unfamiliar territory Saturday night at Kyle Field. Like most of the BBN, I had no idea what to expect in College Station. I was warned to stay away from the Yell Leaders’ cult, but after two days at Texas A&M I’m all in on the 12th Man.
It’s no secret the two foes were not well-acquainted. There have been a few memorable trips to Reed Arena since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, but the football teams had not met in 65 years. Last weekend I got to witness the A&M pomp and circumstance firsthand, and oh my, it was something else.
Previously, my only encounters with the A&M fanbase were at the SEC Tournament. It was enjoyable to sit court-side as Drew Franklin mocked the Yell Leaders in all-white uniforms. After all, they’re a pretty easy target.
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) October 6, 2018
However, the role of the Yell Leaders is much more significant at Kyle Field than it is next to a basketball court. It came to light at the Midnight Yell.
The Midnight Yell is a Texas football-sized version of a pep rally. At least 25,000 people filled two lower bowls of Kyle Field the night before the game. Aside from the corny trash-talk, it warmed my heart to see the unity and camaraderie between Texas A&M fans.
The most rabid fans were students who arrived early to get a good spot to stand. The rest of the crowd was filled with generations of fans, alumni and future Aggies. From 60 to 6, all were welcome, even the Kentucky fans. There were so many people in the stands, yet they all were on the same page thanks to the Yell Leaders.
As the students are taught once they arrive to campus, each cheer begins with a signal. One indicator was the rolling of arms. The “Beat the Hell out of Kentucky” cheer began when the Yell Leaders slapped their biceps. Fans waited for the Yell Leader to progress before they all followed suit.
The choreographed cheers are fun to mock as a cult from afar, but are spectacular to witness in person. They didn’t even need music in-between timeouts. Instead, cheers from the 12th Man filled the air like a European soccer match.
I find it hard to believe there is a place more deep-rooted in tradition than Texas A&M. It isn’t just the fabled 12th Man.
There probably isn’t another non-academy school with a deeper military academy background. During World War I almost half of their graduates served in the military. In World War II there more more military officers that graduated from A&M than the Naval and U.S. Military Academy combined.
A&M honors their fallen alumni in a variety of ways. While walking to Kyle Field for the Midnight Yell, I was instructed to remove my hat as we made our way through the Student Center. It’s a small gesture of respect for those who lost their lives serving our country.
Symbolism is present throughout campus. It’s most evident at the Bonfire Memorial. The Midnight Yell featured a bonfire for 90 years until a tragedy in 1999 took the lives of 12 students. The History Walk toward the memorial features 89 stones that create a granite timeline. The Spirit Ring structure is a circle that features 12 portals. Each portal faces the hometown of a student who passed away in the tragedy. It honors the fallen and represents the spirit of the 12th Man.
What makes A&M a special place isn’t the symbolism and the tradition, it’s the people.
Kentucky fans everywhere were greeted with a “howdy.” If you were hungry, they fed you. If you were thirsty, there was a cooler of beer or a tap for you to enjoy. People were so nice, it made one skeptical. “Surely, there’s a catch,” went through my mind on more than one occasion. Every UK fan I spoke to had never been treated so kindly on the road. Most SEC football fans are nice to Kentuckians before football games because they are confident they will win. A&M fans are nice because it is the right thing to do.
Friday night I sampled the College Station night life. As I searched for a few friends at the Dixie Chicken, the first thing I heard were UK fans cheering. To be frank, the “C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS” chants were borderline obnoxious, even for a UK fan, yet the locals were just happy the BBN was enjoying their time in College Station.
Blue Got In pic.twitter.com/iZZKZQJZ1d
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) October 6, 2018
The Texas A&M fans were fantastic, but what made the trip an overwhelming success was the presence of the Big Blue Nation.
Throughout the weekend you could not look in either direction without seeing at least one Kentucky fan. Some were Texas natives, happy to see the Cats closer to home, but most made the 16-hour road trip to see the Cats in a new venue. For a select few, the trip to Kyle Field meant they had seen Kentucky play in all 14 SEC stadiums.
As game time drew near, thousands gathered at the Cat Walk. It was the most fun I’ve ever had during a UK football road trip. It was the best kind of chaos. Susan Lax has worked in media relations at UK for 23 years. She could only compare Saturday’s Cat Walk to the Music City Bowl where tens of thousands greeted Rich Brooks, Andre Woodson and Co.
Inside the stadium, the team could feel the BBN’s presence. When the 12th Man quieted in-between cheers, Kentucky fans roared.
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) October 6, 2018
Unfortunately, the UK Football road trip to College Station did not end with a win. Still, the experience is unlike any other environment in the SEC. If I wasn’t a Kentucky fan, I’d be the first to drink the Texas A&M Kool-Aid to become a part of the 12th Man.
By Drew Franklin on ©October 09th, 2018 @ 3:30pm
As John Calipari enters his 10th season as the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, he dug up his page of notes from his very first press conference in Lexington, and shared it with his fans on Twitter.
Here’s what all he had written down on April 1, 2009:
As Cal says in his tweet, “Putting players first, striving for titles, holding players accountable and making #BBN proud has never changed and it’s created the culture we have now!
By TJ Walker on ©October 09th, 2018 @ 1:00pm
The official visits are completed and now all that is left is the decision for five-star center Oscar Tshiebwe. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Kennedy Catholic (Hermitage, Pa.) star, born in Congo, returned home from his official West Virginia visit on Monday and will make a final decision in 7-10 days, his coach Tom Droney told KSR.
A decision date in that 7-10 day window will be decided on after this weekend.
WVU is the heavy favorite in Tshiebwe’s Crystal Ball logging 90 percent of the picks, but UK is thought to be right there with West Virginia. The Mountaineers have been recruiting Tshiebwe for years, but we’ve been told that Tshiebwe is impressed by UK’s pitch and track record with bigs. In what seems to be a head vs. heart decision for Tshiebwe, WVU continued to work on strengthening that bond over the weekend.
“Oscar had a good, productive visit at WVU,” Droney said. “He has obviously been to campus many times but this was his first time getting a tour of the campus, seeing school buildings, and getting to spend more time with the team away from the basketball facilities.
“He’s going to make his decision in 7-10 days and now he is weighing the pros and cons of all his options.”
Tshiebwe is also considering Baylor and Illinois, but those two schools are longshots to land a commitment from the bruising center.
Droney said coaches will be permitted to get in final pitches this week, so don’t be surprised to hear of coaching staffs from all four schools coming and visiting Tshiebwe one final time. John Calipari has already visited a couple times.
Droney told KSR last month that he believed WVU was the leader (before his visit to UK) but it’s unclear where things stand now.
“I don’t think there is a leader at this junction,” he said.
By TJ Walker on ©October 09th, 2018 @ 12:00pm
Everything had to work out perfectly for Ashton Hagans to end up at Kentucky.
Hagans was once a Georgia commit for a few months. He also was a class of 2019 recruiting target, meaning he should still be in high school. Luckily for UK, both those things changed.
Once former Georgia head coach Mark Fox was fired Hagans started looking at other schools. It was a slow process but eventually the Cats locked in on the 6-foot-3, 192-pound point guard. Hagans had to put in a great deal of work to even be in a position to play at any college for the 2018-2019 season
“(UK’s staff) were on me but they weren’t really talking to me like that,” Hagans said. “… I was getting all my schoolwork done, trying to get there, get there. I was working hard, still had to workout early in the morning. Everything that was going on I still had my classwork when I was still in the 11th grade. I had all that on top. My dad was telling me ‘Keep fighting son. You’ve been working hard, don’t give up now. Keep it going.’ That’s all it was. He was on me, my mom was on me. It was like just let me get this done so everything can get off my shoulders. Now that I’m here it’s like, dang, I really did it. Working hard.”
It’s almost impossible to imagine.
While Hagans was going through his junior year of high school he was having to continue to workout and practice basketball, while trying to do enough coursework to reclassify and still having his normal schoolwork from his junior year teachers at Newton High School in Covington, Ga.
Oh, and he was having to deal with his recruitment, a stressful and important process. Hagans committed to Georgia in December and he said that’s when he started getting serious about reclassifying.
But things would become even more complicated for Hagans. Thinking he could just focus on reclassifying the Bulldogs fired Fox. This added more to his plate because it meant Hagans was going to have to through another recruitment.
“Me and Fox had the relationship because I was always up there with my cousin (Trey Thompkins) cuz he played there,” Hagans said. “I was always up there. The bond we had got, when all that happened, I was like loyalty over anything. Cal wasn’t gonna talk to me because him and Fox were like best friends. He wasn’t gonna have no conversations with me but he was conversing with my dad. When that had happened I was like ‘Dang, I might as well go to a bigger step, next level.’ I just decided to make the decision to come here and see how everything happened from here.”
Kentucky was the bigger step but Hagans still had plenty to do to get the next level. One of John Calipari’s most frequently used recruiting pitches is UK isn’t for everyone. He tells recruits how much work it will be and how nothing is promised or guaranteed.
Hagans previous experience shows he’s not scared to put in the work.
“I did what I had to do to get back here,” Hagans said. “I’m just focusing on right now and what I have going on right now.”
Hagans looked at a few schools after backing off his Georgia pledge and said Tom Crean was frequently at his school but the Cats were the clear favorites once they offered in late March. Two weeks later he committed and two months later he officially reclassified and was on Kentucky’s campus.
Hagans has always been solid at balancing his time and making sure he gets things done, but he laughed when talking about how challenging the college workload was once he arrived to campus.
One big difference is he has managers to help him keep his life together in college.
“Crazy,” Hagans said. “We gotta wakeup early, go to class, when you come back you have like a three-hour practice. That’s when we start practicing for real. We practice, we lift. You gotta time management. Get everything right, do everything what they’re telling you to do. We have (student manager) that comes gets us in the morning and make sure we’re on time for everything. Just make sure you’re doing what you gotta do to get out of here.
“… It’s real crazy. I ain’t never did nothing like this in my life. I’m getting used to it. We are getting used to it. Sometimes I oversleep, my boys… if I’m late to something or about to be late they’ll come in there and wake me up. The managers are like coaches, really. If we’re about to be late they’ll be beating on our door all day until we get up. Really, you have no chance to mess up here. I really like it.”
Hagans says now is the busiest he’s ever been but admitted he still sleeps more than anyone on the team. While Doron Lamb wouldn’t be pleased, given how much work he’s done over in 2018 it’s clear he’s earned some rest.
Check out the rest of KSR’s 2018-19 Basketball Preview Series:
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©October 08th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Last month, John Calipari hosted a roundtable with local reporters to discuss his team’s progress heading into the 2018-19 season. You can view the entire transcript of the conversation here, but these ten things stuck out to me the most.
The “Brandon Knight” culture continues
From early morning workouts at the Joe Craft Center to late night sessions in a ballroom at the Bahamas, it’s clear this team is willing to put in the extra work it takes to be special. Once again, Calipari said this group’s work ethic reminds him of Brandon Knight, whose gym rat mentality propelled Kentucky to a Final Four in 2011.
“I told them yesterday — everybody keeps asking me — I said the biggest thing about this team is the Brandon Knight culture, which was time in the gym. That’s what this group that walks in here, they love being in the gym. They just love the game. They love getting better. They love competing. That’s fun for them. Not running around, [saying] ‘Can’t wait until this is over so I can go.’ That’s not who they are. They love being in the gym. The teams I’ve had that way, normally, they’re reaching beyond what you think they should be able to do.”
Kentucky always has talented players; having players that are talented and willing to sacrifice is what has Calipari “jacked” to come to work each day.
“Yesterday we practiced and I was so jacked to be practicing. We only went for an hour and did all defense, but I think they could tell I was excited to be back. I’m excited about the team because the culture that they’re creating is going to be one of personal and team achievement.”
Freshmen are refusing to back down
Kentucky’s got a great core of veterans in PJ Washington, Nick Richards, Quade Green, and Reid Travis, but Calipari said just because those four are older doesn’t mean the freshmen are letting them push them around.
“The young kids have no idea what they’re about to face; the veterans do. But if the veterans try to get these young kids to back up, literally, the young kids will laugh at them like, ‘You know, no. That’s not how we’re doing this.’ You can come out every time you miss a shot. ‘Well, I’ll get in the gym more.’ So, anything that’s thrown at these young kids, they’re like, ‘No. I’m not buying it.’”
There’s a lot of Keldon Johnson in that quote.
Searching for a catalyst
This interview took place a month ago, and at the time, Calipari was still searching to a “catalyst,” aka a player who can come in and take over the game. This group seems to have a lot of alpha dogs; which one is the meanest?
“What we walked away from [the Bahamas trip] with was, we’ve got a lot of guys. Who’s going to be the catalyst? And you need a couple. Who’s going to be the guy that can change the game for three or for minutes to help you win? Who is that? Still not sure who that will be. You try to have one or two or three of those if you can; if you do, your team is really, really, really good.”
Based off the Bahamas trip, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, and Ashton Hagans come to mind as candidates. Speaking of…
Ashton Hagans: Tyler Ulis 2.0 on defense?
Hagans’ defense was one of the highlights of the Bahamas trip, and when asked whom he would compare Ashton to on that side of the ball, Calipari named one of his most beloved players.
“He’s got a little bit of the stuff that Tyler Ulis would do, which is, you go and he’s there, and then you go, and he’s still there. And then you go, and all of a sudden, he took the ball from you. Like, where did he come from? He’s got a little bit of Tyler. Tyler had to play angles and really had to be advanced in what was happening next because of his size. Ashton hasn’t done that yet. Ashton just mauls you. He knows to stay in front and to body you. He’s not afraid to be physical.”
Could Ashton be the catalyst Calipari’s searching for?
“Yeah. Tyler was a catalyst on that team. And it was as much what he did defensively as what he did offensively.”
He wants Immanuel Quickley to stop trying to be perfect
Immanuel Quickley’s stat line from the Bahamas was as close to perfect as you’ll see from a freshman in a summer exhibition: 18 assists to only two turnovers. Calipari said he’s been thrilled with Quickely so far, going as far to compare him to Brandon Knight in terms of work ethic, but he wants the freshman to let down his guard and take more chances.
“I’m trying to get him – he wants to be perfect. And he almost was down there. I want him to be a little more aggressive, take more chances. He’s used to, boom, the ball comes out, alright, let’s hold. No. Boom, the ball comes out, get in that lane and keep coming. There will be a time where it’s a dead ball, where everything dies and you have to take it and get us back to what we’re doing; he’s learning that. But he was terrific.”
He’s open to a neutral site series with Memphis
Without even coaching a game, Penny Hardaway has reinvigorated the Memphis Basketball program to the point the Tigers are vying with Kentucky for five-star big man James Wiseman. Calipari, who revived the Memphis program himself in the early aughts, said he’s open to a series with Hardaway and Memphis, but only at neutral sites.
“I like Penny and I congratulated him and he and I talked a couple different times, but I don’t believe – look, it’s hard for us to go home-and-home with anybody; it just is,” Cal said. “I don’t think a home-and-home would be in the cards, but playing them, maybe we can figure out something.”
He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon
When asked how he feels going into his tenth season at Kentucky, Calipari broke out his usual jokes about aging at the rate of a president, etc., but also shared a conversation he had with Joe B. Hall when he took the job in 2009.
“I can remember asking Coach Hall, ‘How long a run is this?’ He said, ‘About ten years.’ [Laughter] He said about ten. You know, the lifespan of a president, an athletic director, this level of coaching, it’s usually about ten years. Then after that, stuff gets harder and harder.”
That being said, at 59, Calipari is showing no signs of slowing down, even throwing around the possibility of coaching into his 80s.
“You’re here and it’s a position that, like I said, it took me twenty years to get a job like this. And, so, not as anxious to leave and probably going to stay much longer than I ever thought I’d stay in coaching.”
He really does get the state of Kentucky
We say all the time that Calipari “gets” the Kentucky Basketball program and its fans; that understanding was on full display when he was asked what he’s learned during his tenure in Lexington.
“This is a generous state. And it’s not a rich state. Some may say it’s a poor state, but it’s a generous state. It’s a provincial kind of place. In other words, they’re from where they’re from and they’re proud of it and you ask somebody, they’ll tell you the county they’re from.
“The other thing they’re protective of is their basketball program. What’s beneficial to me is I’m their basketball coach. You come after me, this army comes after you.”
Stitch that on a pillow right now.
“I should be John Wooden. I should have won nine, ten, eleven.”
Inevitably, Calipari was asked why Kentucky only has one title in nine years when 35 players have been drafted by the NBA. In response, he joked that he should have won “nine, ten, eleven” titles so far ala John Wooden, but dismissed the preconceived notion that Kentucky fans expect to win it all every year.
“You know what’s funny? Everywhere I go, everyone says, ‘How do you do it there?’ I go, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘They expect you to win it every year, these people expect that’… I don’t feel that way. What I say to them is, ‘They want to be in the hunt for recruits, they want to have a chance to win it every year. They’d love to win it every year but they want to make sure we’re one of those teams every year.’ That’s fair, I think. Being at Kentucky, that’s a fair thing to want.
“Every year, I’m coaching to win a national title. That’s what I’m coaching for every year I coach here. Have we been in the hunt every year? I’d say every year but one. And if a kid didn’t get hurt, who knows if that would have been every year?”
Will someone please take him to Dunkin Donuts when he’s older?
Calipari said that as he gets older, he worries less and less about his legacy, but admitted that sometimes, he worries he’ll become so irrelevant that no one will care enough to take him out for coffee and a chat.
“This platform will go away at some point. No one’s going to worry about what I’m saying or what I think. I laugh at times. I said, I wonder if someone will say, ‘Hey Cal, let’s go get a coffee and talk basketball’ when I’m done. You laugh about it because I try to take care of veteran coaches any chance I can because of it. And everybody says, ‘Nah, no way.’”
I’ll take you, coach. My treat.
Check out the rest of KSR’s 2018-19 Basketball Preview Series: