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Mark Stoops Expects Consistency from his Defense in 2018

Entering Mark Stoops’ sixth season at the University of Kentucky, the expectations have been raised.  After consecutive seven-win seasons, to take the next step UK’s defense must improve in 2018.

That sentiment is unanimously shared throughout the Big Blue Nation.  Mark Stoops echoed that this afternoon when asked about program expectations in an appearance on “3 Man Front,” a program co-hosted by Cole Cubelic on 95.5 Jox-FM in Birmingham.

“We have some very good football players with some experience coming back defensively,” Stoops said. “We need to make a big jump there because we have the personnel to do that and I feel like we have some experience.  Now we’re getting some decent depth, so I feel like defensively we need to make a big jump as far as being more consistent.  I think we’ve shown some flashes and done some really good things at times, but across the board I’d like to see the consistency there.”

In 2017 Kentucky finished 12th in the SEC in total defense (426.9 yards per game) and 13th in passing defense (251.6 yards per game).  There are a few reasons why Stoops believes Kentucky’s numbers will be better in 2018, starting up front on the defensive line.

“I feel like we’re in a better position than we have been in some years.  Quinton Bohanna at nose is a guy who was just a true freshman a year ago and did some really good things.  He’s a big, strong guy in the middle there that I like.  I feel like with Josh Paschal — we moved him from an outside linebacker to an inside position playing with his hand in the dirt every snap — he’s a very athletic guy and looks really good inside.

“Another guy, Adrian Middleton, has played a lot football for us, but battling with him is Phil Hoskins.  He’s a junior college transfer that was a three-for-three (years of eligibility) a year ago who was coming off a couple shoulders (injuries).  He did a couple things good a year ago, but now you’re starting to see him with an offseason getting stronger, more athletic.  I like the presence he brings us inside as well, along with T.J. Carter getting another year and another offseason under his belt.  So I feel like we have some options inside.”

Not far behind the deeper defensive line is a playmaker that could be a first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Josh Allen.  Stoops said Allen has used the offseason to build muscle, something I can confirm after spotting Allen at Saturday night’s football camp.  All the way up to 260 pounds, Allen is doing all of the right things before a big year.

“I expect him to be if not the top, one of the top outside backers in the country.  He’s a difference-maker.  He’s a guy that does a lot of things well,” Stoops said.  “Josh really is the whole package and we’re really excited about his senior year.”

Mark Stoops talked about more than his defense during the 11-minute interview that you can find here. Highlights:

Who’s the Starting Quarterback?  Naturally, Stoops responded with a chuckle and a “we’ll see.”

“We’ll see where it goes.  Gunnar and Terry both have some very good qualities, look calm back there and make good decisions.  They’re getting better with every opportunity so I don’t feel the need to rush that decision.”

Will Ahmad Wagner Play?  The former Iowa basketball player and current 6’7″ UK wide receiver has all the athleticism in the world to become a playmaker on UK’s offense, but Stoops preached patience as he explained how Wagner got to UK.

“We knew Ahmad out of high school recruiting him to play football, and he was a dual-sport guy and decided to go play basketball.  When he reached out to us and felt like he wanted to give football a shot, it was worth the scholarship to us because we knew how athletic he was coming out of high school.

“Visiting with him when he came here to see us face-to-face, I just liked what he had to say and the direction he wanted to go.  He’s a very, very athletic big man.  We’re excited about him and the options we have.  We know he’s going to take some time, it’s going to take some work for a while, but we feel like he has big upside.”

Is Rose Ready? After a big spring and a promising summer, Stoops is anxious to see what A.J. Rose brings to the table this fall.

“A.J. was a guy that we felt like has an awful lot of talent.  He’s been working hard, but he needed to be more productive.  He did that in the spring.  He really stepped up and had a great spring.  He’s working hard right now this summer, so we’re excited about getting back into camp and seeing what he can do.”

During the 11-minute interview, Stoops also talked about Dorian Baker, Benny Snell and shared some old stories about Frank Gore.  Check it out.

Jared Casey to Visit Kentucky for Third Time in Three Weeks


Jared Casey will be on Kentucky’s campus tomorrow.  The four-star linebacker from Louisville Ballard told KSR he will make the trip to Lexington to work with defensive coordinator Matt House during the Cats’ single-day camp.

After the linebacker earned MVP honors at a Rivals Camp in Nashville, Casey received a scholarship offer from Kentucky.  Tomorrow’s trip to Lexington will be Casey’s third unofficial visit since UK extended an offer on May 21.

Casey will not be the only local talent in attendance.  Sources tell KSR that two other prospects from Louisville, Moore defensive end J.J. Weaver and Butler wide receiver TaeTae Crumes, will be in Lexington for unofficial visits.  Weaver and Crumes hold UK offers, and along with Casey, are considered top ten players in the state of Kentucky by the 247 Composite Rankings.

The players from the state of Kentucky will not be alone.  UK is hosting four-star Michigan defensive end Michael Fletcher and three-star Georgia outside linebacker Tra Wilkins on official visits.  There’s also another big name on UK’s board that may join the recruiting party tomorrow in Lexington.

Where UK Football Stands with Kentucky’s Top In-State Football Prospects

Marrow with Frankfort’s Wandale Robinson (@Robinson_era)

The state of Kentucky is not well-known for producing top high school football talent, but the class of 2019 features five consensus Top 300 players.  It’s not a top-heavy class either.  Two of the next six players in the 247 Composite Rankings are considered four-star prospects by at least one recruiting service.

Over the last two months, Mark Stoops reassigned Vince Marrow to recruit the state of Kentucky.  Marrow’s addition gave Kentucky quite a bit of momentum entering the summer.  Here’s where UK currently stands for the state’s top ten eleven football prospects according to the 247 Composite Rankings.

Stephen Herron  
Defensive End | 6-4 | 235 lbs.
Louisville, Ky. | Trinity
Committed to: Michigan 
ESPN No. 137| 14 DE Top 247 No. 140 | 9 DE
Rivals No. 51| 4 DE 247 Comp. No. 83 WR | 6 DE

The top-ranked player in the state visited Kentucky multiple times before committing to Michigan 11 months ago.

Jacob Lacey
Defensive Tackle | 6-2 | 300 lbs.
Bowling Green, Ky. | South Warren
Committed to: Notre Dame
ESPN No. 116| 14 DT Top 247 No. 119 | 7 DT
Rivals 18 DT| 2 KY 247 Comp. No. 142 | 9 DT

Lacey had a scholarship offer from Kentucky, but the Cats were never really in the picture.  He committed to Notre Dame on the same day Herron committed to Michigan, July 29, 2017.

Milton Wright  
Athlete | 6-3 | 190 lbs.
Louisville, Ky. | Christian Academy of Louisville
Committed to: Undecided
ESPN No. 274 | 44 WR Top 247 No. 54 | 3 ATH
Rivals No. 188 | 33 WR 247 Comp. No. 149 | 12 ATH

The No. 3 player in the state has kept his recruitment close to the vest.  We know his top five — Ohio State, Alabama, Purdue, Kentucky and Louisville — but everything else remains a mystery.  A receiver at the next level, Wright could pick any of the five schools and it would not be a surprise.

Bryan Hudson  
Offensive Lineman | 6-4 | 295 lbs.
Georgetown, Ky. | Scott County
Committed to: Virginia Tech
ESPN No. 250 | 13 OG Top 247 No. 184 | 8 OG
Rivals No. 242 | 25 OT 247 Comp. No. 214 | 10 OG

Kentucky extended the three-sport star a scholarship offer during his freshman season, but Hudson was set on attending college outside of the Commonwealth, ultimately choosing Virginia Tech in April.

Tanner Bowles 
Offensive Tackle | 6-5 | 280 lbs.
Glasgow, Ky. | Glasgow
Committed to: Alabama
ESPN No. 217 | 23 OT Top 247 No. 146 | 19 OT
Rivals 53 OT| 6 KY 247 Comp. No. 250 | 27 OT

Kentucky was Bowles’ first offer, but that didn’t matter after he attended Alabama’s Spring Game.  Bowles committed the day after unofficially visiting Tuscaloosa for A-Day.

Jared  Casey 
Inside Linebacker | 6-3 | 220 lbs.
Louisville, Ky. | Ballard
Committed to: Undecided
ESPN — | — Top 247 20 ILB | 8 KY
Rivals — | — 247 Comp. 18 ILB | 6 KY

After an injury forced him to miss his junior season, Casey surged onto the recruiting season at Rivals’ Nashville Three Stripes Camp.  After earning MVP honors, he picked up scholarship offers from anybody and everybody.  He’s visited Kentucky twice since Vince Marrow extended a scholarship offer, but Louisville, his favorite team as a child, appears to be in the lead.

JJ Weaver 
Defensive End | 6-6 | 235 lbs.
Louisville, Ky. | Moore Traditional
Committed to: Undecided
ESPN 52 DE| 7 KY Top 247 21 DE | 6 KY
Rivals — | 8 KY 247 Comp. 35 DE | 7 KY

Weaver gave rave reviews after he visited Kentucky for the first time last month, but he’s since visited Louisville and taken an official visit to Purdue.  Those trips have put Kentucky back behind the 8-ball for the Louisville athlete that grew up in Florida.

Shawnkel Knight-Goff 
Outside Linebacker | 6-4 | 215 lbs.
Louisville, Ky. | Doss
Committed to: Undecided
ESPN 54 DE| 11 KY Top 247 47 DE | 9 KY
Rivals 33 DE | 5 KY 247 Comp. 44 DE | 8 KY

Knight-Goff committed to Kentucky on May 18, only to reopen his recruitment less than two weeks later on May 31.  Kentucky is still an option as Louisville tries to steal the Cats’ former commit.

Demontae “TaeTae” Crumes  
Wide Receiver | 6-1 | 165 lbs.
Louisville, Ky. | Butler Traditional
Committed to: Undecided
ESPN –| — Top 247 93 WR | 11 KY
Rivals –| — 247 Comp. 79 WR | 9 KY

Crumes pulled a reverse-Knight-Goff.  After committing to UofL in February, he de-committed in April.  Crumes made the move after UK, Oregon, Michigan State and Michigan extended scholarship offers.

Wandale Robinson  
All-Purpose Back | 5-9 | 180 lbs.
Frankfort, Ky. | Western Hills
Committed to: Undecided
ESPN 35 ATH| 6 KY Top 247 5 APB | 7 KY
Rivals — | 9 KY 247 Comp. 5 APB | 10 KY

Robinson is at the top of UK’s recruiting board for in-state prospects.  After an unofficial visit last month, it appeared that UK made a move to the top as Robinson neared a decision.  Then Ohio State offered.  The Buckeyes’ move, and an official visit to Purdue, completely opened up Robinson’s recruitment and pushed Kentucky back with the rest of the pack.

Aidan Robbins 
Running Back/Linebacker | 6-3 | 225 lbs.
Louisville, Ky. | DuPont Manual
Committed to: Undecided
ESPN 40 ATH| 8 KY Top 247 47 RB | 10 KY
Rivals — | 10 KY 247 Comp. 51 RB | 11 KY

Once considered a lock at Vanderbilt, Vince Marrow changed the game by pitching Robbins the opportunity to play either running back or linebacker.  He scheduled an official visit to Kentucky for June 22, after official visits to Purdue and Missouri.  A day after returning from Mizzou, Robbins announced he will commit Wednesday afternoon.  That’s not a good omen for Kentucky.

Kentucky stuck with the early offer strategy that’s worked before for in-state recruits.  When that did not work, Vince Marrow entered the picture and moved the needle in recruiting battles with Louisville.  After temporary gains, Purdue and Ohio State have emerged as the most-credible foreign threats to Kentucky’s in-state recruiting success.

Q&A: Tyrese Maxey talks Calipari, reclassification and Cole Anthony

Q&A: Tyrese Maxey talks Calipari, reclassification and Cole Anthony

Tyrese Maxey spoke with the media after Monday’s game. The USA thumped Panama 118-26 and Maxey finished with 14 points, three assists and three steals.

Maxey was asked about playing for Bill Self (his USA coach), his relationship with John Calipari, playing with Cole Anthony and plenty more.

On what Bill Self said at halftime when leading 70-8: Coach was just telling us to work on our stuff, work on our half court defense and stuff that we’re going to have to do down the road.

On college coaches watching: They’re just showing their face. They have to show some interest in guys they need to see.

On recruiting Cole Anthony and Matthew Hurt: I always talk to them. I joke with them about Kentucky but it comes down to their decision.

On not having to worry about his recruitment: I’m happy. I’m probably the most happy person in the world. I know when I committed I was at peace with my decision. I know that’s where I wanted to go. I’m at peace.

On possibly reclassifying: I talked with my family a lot about it. A lot of long nights, and we just came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to keep progression of my game and get a little bit stronger before I head out to college.

On playing with other good guards on team USA: It helped a lot because of course Coach Cal likes to be guard heavy, which is also really good. If you have a lot of guards on the floor, a lot of good guards that can make good decisions that’s always good. Just playing with these guys helps me a lot.

On wanting to play in all-star games as another reason to stay in high school: Of course. You work so hard all your life to play in certain games and certain all-star games and have certain experiences. That’s one thing I wanted to do.

On playing for Self, who will be a rival when he’s in college: It’s great. I mess with him all the time about it. He’s really cool. He really pushed us today and gave us a long speech just talking about playing for USA and how he would be happy everyday. I think that’s one reason why we came out here so strong and started so fast today.

On how often he talks with Calipari: He just tries to help me get better always. He tells me little things I need to work on and he checks in and says hello all the time. He asks me how I’m doing.

On if he thought it was going to be a shutout: We were just trying to get better honestly. I was just trying to work on my stuff. The real competition starts tomorrow. We have Puerto Rico and they’re 2-0 as well, so we’re trying to win this pool.

On his relationship with Cole Anthony: We see each other a lot at camps. All of us actually see each other a lot at camps but I first talked to him at NextGen USA and down at the Final Four we talked a lot then. He’s really cool. He’s high energy. He’s very high energy and he’s always up. He’s a good friend to be around.

On if they text: We talk sometimes.

On if he’s looking ahead to playing Canada: No sir, I’m looking ahead to playing Puerto Rico tomorrow.

On if he was surprised to see P.J. Washington return to UK: A little bit. I was kinda surprised. I’m glad he came back and did what was best for him and I think he’s going to have a great year this year.

On if he looks ahead to what the roster could look like when he gets to UK: It’s just pretty much who’s there is there. I like to compete, but either way I hope we have a lot of really good players to make me better and we can win a national championship.

On UK fans: Kentucky fans keep going. They mean business. That’s one thing I really like. I like when the fan base is behind you and it brings the best out of me.

On Calipari’s personality when he’s not talking recruiting: He’s not gonna tell you no bluff. I call it bluff. If someone comes in tells you they like you and you’re gonna do this and do that with the ball in your hands. If he says it he means it. He’s gonna tell you what you need to get better at. That’s one reason I wanted to go to Kentucky. I feel like he’s gonna push me to get better and help me get to the next level.

On if he’d be able to reclassify if UK asked: Yes sir, I would. I think I have to take a certain class. Maybe two classes, but I haven’t thought about it so far.

John Calipari photobombs iconic moments in sports

John Calipari photobombs iconic moments in sports

As you’ve surely seen by now, John Calipari was at the Belmont this weekend to cheer on Justify, resulting in this great photograph. Turns out Cal has a habit of photobombing iconic moments in sports

Muhammed Ali vs. Sony Liston, 1965

The Miracle on Ice, 1980 Winter Olympics

The 1988 Slam Dunk Contest

Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997

Tiger Woods at the 2005 Masters

Usain Bolt in the 2016 Rio Olympics

Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes

Okay, that last one might have been a little photoshopped.

Junior College Outside Linebacker Marquez Bembry Commits to Kentucky


A junior college edge rusher from the state of Georgia has committed to Kentucky.  Marquez Bembry, a former Tennessee signee, announced he will join the Kentucky football team.

A three-star prospect from Atlanta in the class of 2017, Bembry was committed to play at Tennessee for more than a year before signing with the Vols.  After failing to academically qualify, Bembry enrolled at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss.  Bembry is expected to be a member of Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class.

Check out highlights from his high school playing days.

Since his high school days, Bembry has transformed into a grown ass man.  He’ll play Josh Allen’s role as an outside linebacker for the Cats.

Bembry with outside linebackers coach Brad White (via @wadabbs22).

The KSR crew actually watched Bembry’s team play last year.  East Mississippi C.C. (of Last Chance U fame) hosted Jones County during KSR’s road trip to Southern Miss last fall.  Jones County’s logo shares a striking resemblance to another area logo.

Insider Notes: Reid Travis, visit updates and 2019 nuggets

I hope everyone is having a great Monday afternoon. I’m coming live from the Regional Municipality of Niagara in Canada, eh. I’ll be covering Tyrese Maxey and UK targets Cole Anthony and Matthew Hurt over the next couple days as they represent team USA in the FIBA U18 Americas Championship. Bill Self is the coach and I’ve already spotted a dozen coaches/assistant coaches walking around the town. UK’s Tony Barbee is here and Joel Justus will come later in the week, so UK will be represented for every game.

Let’s get to the notes.

Reid Travis: I understand the urgency for Travis news because he could be such a big piece for the Cats, but nothing has changed in the last week regarding his recruitment. He will visit UK in about a week and the plan is for him to also visit Villanova. Obviously UK would love it for him to visit UK and commit and not make the Villanova visit, but my guess is he takes both and potentially another school could join the mix.

Kentucky remains confident and until that changes there’s not much else left to say. UK has known this is a possibility for awhile and it’s pretty much just a waiting game until Travis wants to make it official.

Villanova’s frontcourt may look more appealing from a minutes perspective, but Travis wants to win a national championship. I’m shocked to see Villanova in so many top 10 and top 15 preseason rankings. I think (those) Wildcats will really struggle losing all those pieces from a title run. Winning will be one of the biggest factors for Reid and UK holds that advantage over Villanova.

Photo: M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs

Visitors: UK hosted Dontaie Allen and Kira Lewis Jr. over the weekend and please excuse my “the visit went well and both enjoyed themselves” recycled phrase. I really just want one time where the visit went horribly and a school is eliminated because of an unofficial visit. The closest one that comes to mind is when Patrick Patterson visited Duke and “wasn’t feeling those guys”, but it’s almost always a “nice” visit.

Lewis Jr. told KSR that the visit went well and he enjoyed the campus and talking with Joel Justus (Calipari was out of town).

Neither player received offers like we said last week, but the Cats will continue to recruit. While at this stage Lewis Jr. may be the better player, I think it’s more likely that Allen receives an offer, although both certainly could down the road. UK will have a plethora of guards next season and Tyrese Maxey will join, too. The Cats are already recruiting several elite guards to join Maxey.

UK really, really likes Lewis but they like other guards more and it’s a year the Cats can be picky because of the returning players.

However, the guard dilemma doesn’t apply to Allen. The Kentuckian is a scoring wing and with UK likely losing Keldon Johnson they will need wing players next year. I expect at some point Allen receives an offer but it may be a few more months. Allen’s recruitment is blowing up and he will continue to take visits this summer (WVU this weekend) so the Cats probably shouldn’t wait too long if they want a chance at landing him.

UK’s only other wing target is Keion Brooks, who recently cut his list to 10. UK was included and will be a major player. I expect MSU, UNC and UK to battle it out for Brooks, with the Spartans and Cats being the leaders.

Scott Jacobson / Post Bulletin

USA Guys: This week I’ll be watching Tyrese Maxey, Matthew Hurt and Cole Anthony. Just being around town I’ve heard a few nuggets worth passing along on the three.

Tyrese Maxey: I had an assistant coach from a Big XII school tell me that Maxey was the best player in last night’s win. He said he thinks overall that Maxey is every bit as good as Anthony but it was clear those two were a step ahead of everyone else. Remember, Quentin Grimes is also playing on this team and he will lace them up for the Jayhawks next season. Anthony and Maxey will be waiting until 2019-2020 to play college basketball. I can’t say it enough- get on the Maxey hype train. UK may land James Wiseman and Vernon Carey in 2019-2020, but I honestly think Maxey will be the Cats best player, even with some the likely returners from this year.

(And no, I haven’t heard anything new on Wiseman or Carey)

Matthew Hurt: UK is going to continue to recruit Hurt, and he would be a nice piece for UK, but it seems like Kansas has a decent lead for the score-first forward. Hurt playing with Bill Self this week will only help Kansas’ chances. I don’t feel great about UK’s chances here.

Cole Anthony: One of the most mysterious recruitments I can remember. And the only reason it’s mysterious is because Anthony doesn’t want to talk about his recruitment. I respect the move, but it makes my job difficult. I actually think UK has a better chance than most people think, but I still don’t think the Cats are the leader as of today (if that makes sense). I was told that Anthony playing with Maxey this week will only help. Those two could find themselves wanting to play with each other at the next level and win a championship. Maxey has been on him for over a week and that’s not changing in Canada. Do your thing, Tyrese.

Stay plugged to KSR all week for USA coverage.