There has been a ton of talk about how well Kentucky played in the Bahamas, so much that it’s beginning to get repetitive. We all saw the same games and we all know the Cats looked awesome across the board. They good, folks. Real good.
But as we slowly close the book on the trip and switch gears to the upcoming football season, I have a few stories you may not have heard. Here’s the behind-the-scenes takeaways (at least the ones I can tell) from the action off the court during our stay.
Stefan Fundic did not understand why I wanted his jersey.
I made it my Saturday night mission to find Fundic (the big guy for Mega Bemax) and buy his jersey. I was so impressed by how he played and how pink the jersey was, that I had to have it for my basketball jersey collection.
There’s no scenario where I leave the Atlantis without Fundic’s Jersey.
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) August 12, 2018
When I finally found Fundic, he was confused as to why I wanted it. I offered him a significant dollar amount but he said he couldn’t do it because he only has one and it would be too hard to get another.
He also kept telling me his last name is pronounced Foon-ditch, but I insisted he’s wrong and I will only call him Fun-dick.
Nice guy, though.
Team Toronto was in the Bahamas to party, not play basketball.
They say snitches get stitches, but for the sake of being completely transparent as a hard-hitting journalist on the scene, I can tell you Team Toronto was having fun in the club. When I saw them it was the night before the night before they played Kentucky, and they were ordering bottle service and getting shout outs from the club DJ. Is that why they got killed by the Cats on the court? I have no idea. Maybe they’re able to rally. And who am I to judge? I just know they were enjoying their stay and the Atlantis nightlife as much as anyone.
I met some of the San Lorenzo de Almagro players and they had very nice things to say about UK.
When it gets late into the night and things are slowing down, you hang out with likeminded people. In my case Thursday night, it just so happened to be two of the starters from San Lorenzo de Almagro, the team Kentucky beat by 20+ points only hours earlier.
We chatted about non-basketball things, like the guy throwing up on the floor three feet away from us and how half the people in the casino at that hour are prostitutes, but we also talked a little bit about the game. The big guy with the beard (that played the most minutes) told me Kentucky is crazy good, especially “#3 and #14” (Johnson and Herro — he had never heard of them).
He also told me Reid Travis and Nick Richards are as physical as anyone he’s played against in his almost-decade of professional basketball. He compared it to being in a fight the entire game.
Immanuel Quickley likes to dance.
Mont Dawson from Bluegrass Sports Nation captured one of the many times Quickley danced around the resort.
I do not know why the team was singing YMCA.
John Calipari was absolutely coaching from the stands.
Coach Cal wants you to believe he was hands-off as he watched all four games from the top corner of the stands, but he was definitely in contact with his assistants and players on the bench. You didn’t really think he was sitting up there without coaching his new team in its first games, did you?
RJ Barrett’s cousin told me something RJ Barrett probably didn’t want out.
This is another “snitches get stitches” moment, but I don’t care. I’m spreading the word.
A player on one of the opposing teams, who claimed to be Duke star freshman RJ Barrett’s cousin, told me Barrett texted him after his game to say something along the lines of: “I watched the game. We’re going to kill Kentucky.”
I can’t confirm if this person is indeed Barrett’s cousin or if Barrett for sure sent that text, but that’s how the person told it (not knowing I’m UK media). The player also took credit in pushing Barrett to Duke, saying he doesn’t like how Calipari runs his program and Coach K does it the right way. Again, I have no idea if any of this is true. All I know is he was eager to tell me about it while we were in the casino.
There’s your inside scoop from the week.
By Nick Roush on ©August 14th, 2018 @ 4:00pm
For three Kentucky football players, practice was different today. For the first time, Zach Johnson, Miles Butler and David Bouvier took the field as scholarship athletes.
“I’m proud to be here,” said Bouvier, a senior wide receiver from Lexington Catholic. “It feels weird being on a full scholarship now. It’s such a blessing.”
Butler, a senior placekicker from Paducah Tilghman, was equally grateful.
“I first want to thank coach Stoops for the opportunity. He’s been gracious to me ever since I’ve been here. He’s supported me and given me every opportunity I could have asked for…Just a little 150 pound kid, for him to come to me, talk to me and trust me means a lot.”
During a team meeting, Mark Stoops called the three to the front of the room. Before Stoops could even finish speaking, they were mobbed by teammates.
“I’ve got the best teammates. I’m so thankful for them. They’ve always got my back. They’ve never said anything bad about me, even when I was just a scout team guy,” said Bouvier.
One thing these three guys have in common is they are all former walk-ons! pic.twitter.com/pZqceGe2gu
— Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) August 14, 2018
The excitement was also shared by former teammates. This fall Butler could be Austin MacGinnis’ replacement. UK’s all-time leading scorer was happy to see Butler’s hard work pay off.
“It’s well deserved,” MacGinnis told KSR. “Miles has done everything that is asked of him since he has arrived on campus. He is a 4.0 student and a great teammate. I am happy for the kid.”
Charles Walker was “ecstatic” when he heard that his former roommate finally earned a scholarship.
“He’s the type of the guy that would never talk about how he isn’t on scholly yet. He loves to work and I’m sure he’s been waiting on this day for a while now,” Walker said. “He had a personal goal and finally he obtained that goal. But that doesn’t mean he’s done working. As I said earlier, he’s one of the hardest working guys on the team and I know this season is going to mean a lot to him.”
Bouvier is off to an excellent start. Often compared to Walker, Bouvier is the top candidate to replace him as UK’s punt returner. He’s also impressed coaches during camp for his work at slot receiver. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran hasn’t been eager to praise the wide receivers’ play, but went out of his way to call Bouvier a “warrior.”
“You want to talk about a guy making plays…he’s our MVP. That young man is getting it, making plays, he’s playing with energy and I just love that young man,” said Gran.
The road from walk-on to a scholarship isn’t easy. It took Bouvier and Butler four years to achieve that ultimate goal. Butler never thought he’d be in this position. He initially planned on attending Alabama as just another regular student. That changed when Neal Brown asked him to work out for the Cats. His mother asked him to take some time to make a decision, but he refused.
“That’s a done deal. I’m there,” Butler recalled. “It’s really been quite a dream. It’s been fun.”
Behind MacGinnis, getting onto the field was a long shot, but Butler remained ready at all times. When MacGinnis was injured in 2015, Butler stepped in and made four field goals, including a 46-yarder. Last year he was asked to do something a little different when Matt Panton was suspended for the Vanderbilt game. He had not punted since high school, but Butler did not shy away from the challenge.
“I welcomed the opportunity. It was really good to do both. I try to be as versatile as I can — kickoffs, field goals, punt — whatever the team wants me to do to help, I try to work on it, master my craft and give them all I can. Anything I can do to help us win a game.”
This year the Cats may need him to win a few games with his leg. Becoming MacGinnis’ full-time replacement comes with lofty expectations, ones that Butler embraces.
“That’s definitely some big shoes to fill, but that’s a good problem to have…It’s an opportunity I welcome. I wouldn’t want anything else.”
Butler, Johnson and Bouvier earned scholarships by working hard day in and day out. That will not change now that they have scholarships, but Bouvier acknowledged things are different, but in a good way.
“I just don’t have to think about it anymore. Every practice I was thinking, I’m still a walk-on. I gotta make plays to get a scholarship. I’d overthink things too much. Now I got a scholarship. I feel free. I can just go ball and do my thing.”
Bouvier is a different player now that he doesn’t have the walk-on tag hanging over his head, but he will not forget what it took to reach this point.
“It’s been a crazy ride with lots of ups and downs. I always believed in myself and knew what I was capable of. There’s no way around hard work. You gotta put it in everyday. My parents were just incredibly thankful. My mom was crying. She was about to make me cry. It was hard talking to her, but I’m just really…my parents have done so much for me. Being able to get this scholarship for them really meant a lot.”
After previewing the entire offense (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight ends, offensive line) we now finish the defensive side of the football after covering defensive line and linebackers.
UK’s secondary enters 2018 with some very high expectations. Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, and Chris Westry enter their senior seasons as multi-year starters who have filled heavy roles since their rookie season in 2015. They’ll be joined by fellow seniors Lonnie Johnson and Darius West to fill out the rotation. Add in former high level recruits such as Jordan Griffin and Davonte Robinson and expectations are understandably high for this group.
It all begins and ends with Mike Edwards who has been a rock for a defense that has had their fair share of struggles in recent memory. The Cincinnati native broke into the starting lineup late in his redshirt freshman season and hasn’t looked back after collecting 235 career tackles to go along with eight career interceptions. In addition to his role at safety, Edwards has become this team’s nickelback and he’s one of the nation’s best slot coverage guys shown by his 15 pass break-ups in the last two seasons. Edwards gets everything out of his six-foot, 200-pound frame, is Kentucky’s most valuable defensive player, and will hear his name called in the next NFL Draft.
It just doesn’t stop with the man they call Badger, however, as cornerback Derrick Baity enters his senior season as the best corner to play at UK since Trevard Lindley. Much like Edwards, Baity stepped into the starting eleven late in his freshman season and hasn’t given up his spot as UK’s field corner since. Baity is often charged with taking on the best opposing receiver and he’s more than held his own with 18 career pass break-ups and five career interceptions. The Tampa native has great size for a corner and a solid senior season will have scouts drooling. He will be the third player off this defense to hear his named called in the NFL Draft.
Baity and Edwards are the stars but there is plenty other talent in the room. At safety, Darius West is back for his senior season after recording 85 tackles in his first year as a full-time starter. Chris Westry bursted onto the scene as a true freshman as he received All-SEC Freshman Team honors. Since then his play has tailed off, but the Florida native has been consistent starter. Last year, junior college transfer Lonnie Johnson stepped in and took away Westry’s starting spot halfway through the season at boundary corner. For the year, the Gary, Indiana native recorded 41 tackles and two blocked kicks.
It’s safe to say that UK is very senior heavy in the secondary this year so it will be important to get some younger players some reps. Jordan Griffin enters his junior season with 28 career tackles and he will man a safety spot when Edwards moves closer to the line of scrimmage to play nickel. Davonte Robinson played sparingly as a redshirt freshman and he is in a heated battle with redshirt freshman Yusuf Corker for who will be West’s primary backup at safety. Tyrell Ajian was a big recruiting win in the class of 2017 and the redshirt freshman has the ability to play both safety and nickel. In the most recent recruiting haul, UK went all out on corner pulling in junior college transfer Domonique Williams and rangy Florida corners Jamari Brown and Stanley Garner.
On paper, this secondary enters the season with a ton of experience and NFL talent. With the background Mark Stoops has a defensive back guru, you have to think that the ceiling is very high for this group.
However, there is no question that this unit took a step back in 2017. Opponents completed over 64% of their passes, averaged nearly eight yards per pass attempt, and threw for 21 touchdowns. That is just not going to cut it for a group that has the ability to be one of the finer secondaries in the SEC. It appears that Stoops realized this and made a staff change to fix some mistakes. Special teams coordinator Dean Hood will now manage the safeties while Steve Clinkscale will just be coaching the corners. Now with three coaches having defensive back play as an expertise, this unit must be a strength.
UK is going to need improved corner play and that could start with Lonnie Johnson winning the full-time gig at boundary corner. That move would allow UK to get creative and maybe play Chris Westry at safety. Kentucky will need Darius West to improve in pass coverage and for Jordan Griffin to be very steady as Mike Edwards is going to play the majority of snaps at nickel. UK will need its freshman and redshirt freshman class full of former high three and four-star prospects to start playing to their potential. It is very likely that Jamari Brown or Stanley Garner will have to play a big role this fall.
With the talent and production on the roster, expectations need to be high for this group. Kentucky must play up to its potential in the back half. If it doesn’t, that could mean a world of problems for a defense that is about to see plenty of quarterbacks that can slice up just about any average secondary.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©August 14th, 2018 @ 10:15am
Official KSR photographer Michael Huang was doing work in the Bahamas, shooting the games and even finding his way onto the sailboat with the team on their off day. He put together a collection of 10 of his favorite images from the week for your viewing pleasure:
1. Keldon Johnson posterizes Mega Bemax defender
This series of shots immortalizes the Quade-to-Keldon monster alley-oop, which already is legendary.
2. Sophomore Nick Richards slams one home
Drew Franklin called it first; Richards is a totally different player than he was last season, showing much more confidence and tenacity on the court.
3. Tyler Herro dominates
Herro was a pleasant surprise in the Bahamas, a dominating scoring machine with a surprisingly efficient mid-range game.
4. Immanuel Quickley: floor general, aspiring model
Not only was Immanuel Quickly a surprise star as the smooth, always-under-control floor general on the court, he was an all-star model on the catamaran outing, posing and showing of his great form jumping off the boat into the ocean.
5. The new and improved PJ Washington
Washington has really worked in the off-season, and looks to be having fun.
6. The fans were great
Pictured here is Dr. Mike’s wife Michelle in the #24 jersey, making this, of course, one of his favorite photos.
7. The players had fun!
8. But also were ready to fight for each other
9. They were great with the fans
10. Cal was swaggy as ever
Dr. Mike caught him looking calm, cool and collected on the sailboat.
Greetings from Lynden Pindling International Airport, where I’m killing time before my flight back to Nashville after nearly a week with the Cats in the Bahamas. Judging by the remaining fans I’ve seen around the resort and now the airport, we’re all a lot poorer and a little more sunburnt than when we left, but there’s no denying the extra spring in our step after watching the Cats roll over their competition.
While I have wifi, here are my ten major takeaways from my front row seat to seeing the Cats in paradise.
1. The power outage game is the one I won’t forget
There are certain moments in life you will never forget; for Kentucky fans on this trip, that’s when the power went out vs. the Argentinian team Thursday night. Power outages are apparently common on Paradise Island, but the fact that it happened right after Tyler Herro hit his third three had to be the work of the basketball gods. “Tyler Herro shot the lights out” is the new “Andrew told Aaron to shoot the ball” amongst fans, and just one crazy moment on a bizarre and wonderful night. From the KSR crew scrambling to provide coverage to the players refusing to let the game be called and even Dan Dakich and Seth Greenberg making children run wind sprints on the court during halftime, the surreality of that night is a high that’s hard to come down from. For me, that night joins the tornado game at the SEC Tournament in Kentucky Basketball lore.
2. Tyler Herro is a folk herro
Watching Tyler Herro in Wisconsin back in February proved to me that he’s not just the three-point specialist many billed him as; however, Herro’s versatility was even more impressive in the Bahamas. During his few months in Lexington, Herro has further expanded his game to the point that Kentucky can’t afford to keep him on the bench too long. Herro led the Cats in scoring on the tour with 17.3 points per game, and his high-flying style made the main talking point of the trip whose game his resembles the most. (I still think Devin Booker, by the way.)
3. Sophomore Nick Richards isn’t the same person
Credit Drew Franklin, credit Bob Rotella, credit whatever the heck he did during the summer, but Sophomore Nick Richards is a totally different player than he was back in March. The media had access to the locker room during the NCAA Tournament, and I’ll never forget how sad Richards seemed as reporters brushed past him to talk to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Kevin Knox. Richards’ improved confidence was palpable in the Bahamas, prompting Ellen Calipari to go into the locker room after the final game and note his transformation. We’ve always heard about Richards’ potential, but we’re finally starting to see it. I watched him in pregame warmups on Sunday and he didn’t miss a single shot from just inside the three-point line. He needed baby steps of confidence, and on this trip, he took a giant leap.
This brings me to my next point…
4. Where are the holes?
Coming in to this trip, I did not expect Sophomore Nick Richards to play like that, which is why I’m even more excited about this team. The Cats go two-deep at almost every position, and if Nick’s playing like that, there are no holes. If you nitpick, maybe there’s a question of who backs up Keldon Johnson at the three, but the versatility of this squad allows for countless combinations.
5. Immanuel Quickley is better than advertised
For one reason or another (perhaps the excitement over the late addition of Ashton Hagans?), Immanuel Quickley has been overlooked this summer, but he proved his worth in the Bahamas, registering 18 assists to only two turnovers through four games. Quickley won’t make as many highlight reels as Ashton Hagans, but he will fill up the box score, and his high basketball IQ and peskiness on defense make he and Ashton a formidable duo. Also, his family is awesome.
6. Reid Travis is a grown man
Yesterday, I finally got to speak to Reid Travis after the game, and man, he is impressive. After talking to 18 and 19-year-olds in this job for six plus years, Travis’ maturity is a breath of fresh air. Everyone who interacted with him prior to me raved about his intelligence and thoughtfulness, and they were right. Travis never loses eye contact with you during interviews and carefully considers his responses. His play on the court is also deliberate, and although he’s missing a lot of bunnies right now, his rebounding is remarkable. Yesterday, he told reporters that one of his biggest takeaways from the trip is how intelligent the Kentucky fanbase is and how much their support has meant.
“It really shows how plugged in and how much love and support they have,” Travis said of the fans. “Even when I was struggling the last couple of games, I had nothing but support from the fans. It really just shows how intelligent the fanbase is. They know their basketball and they’re not just standing around here clapping their hands. They know how the game goes and the progression of the season, things like that. That’s been really interesting to me, how much people are into basketball.”
Flattery will get you everywhere, Reid.
7. An openness I haven’t seen in years
Reid Travis was great, but all of the players I talked to were really impressive, and a breath of fresh air after a few years of coach speak interviews and canned responses. I realize it was the Bahamas and they dominated, but you could tell that each player was genuinely excited about this team and couldn’t wait to get back on the floor and compete. I’ve been asked a lot how this team compares to the 2015 team in terms of personality, and while there may not be a Karl (my all-time favorite), there are plenty of engaging personalities. From Keldon Johnson to Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Quade Green, this is a happy, engaging group, and they went out of their ways to make fans part of the fun. That speaks volumes to me.
8. Everyone was absolutely giddy on Saturday night
Thursday night was surreal due to the power outage, but Saturday night, the BBN hit its Bahamas high. Kentucky’s 36-point win over Serbian powerhouse Mega Bemax was the highlight of the trip in terms of basketball because we got to see what happens when this team doesn’t take its foot off the gas. As Keldon Johnson told Jon Hale after the game, the Cats were “going out there to take people’s hearts,” as evidenced by his barrage of ridiculous dunks. Calipari said he’s happy to have a few “dogs” back on his team, and Keldon is definitely one of them. He sets the tone for the entire team.
9. Cal may claim he’s pumping the brakes, but I don’t buy it
Similarly, pardon me if I roll my eyes at Cal’s “pump the brakes” talk. Cal is psyched about this team and it shows. He can disclaim it with all the “It’s just August” and “I’ve been doing this too long” lines he wants, but this team is good and he knows it. He tried to temper expectations by telling reporters he hasn’t even worked on defense much with this crew, and then raved about how well they did with the defensive rotations he did teach them. The team has a few days off before school starts, but you know the minute Calipari can get back in the gym with them to start working, he will. The taste of potential he got in the Bahamas has him starving for more; luckily, this group has an all-you-can-eat buffet of upside.
10. This team’s attitude is special
We’ve had three great teams during Cal’s time at Kentucky (2010, 2012, 2015), several good ones, and at least one clunker. The difference between them, in my eyes, is how badly they love the game and want to improve. More than once, I heard the players — including veterans PJ Washington, Nick Richards, and Quade Green — call this group special.
I don’t know what lies ahead for this squad, but after six days of watching them, I do know they love basketball, are desperate to succeed, and thrive on competition. And they have 85 days to get ready for Duke. Bring it on.
By Drew Franklin on ©August 13th, 2018 @ 3:00pm
The way Kentucky looked in the Bahamas completely changed the way many fans feel about the makeup of the team entering the 2018-19 season. Many of the guys — both old and new — played better than anyone expected. New fan favorites emerged as everyone on the team shined in their first real action of the season.
So now that we’ve actually seen the team, I’ll ask you: Who is your favorite player going into the year?
Tell us below:
By TJ Walker on ©August 13th, 2018 @ 12:00pm
Three weeks ago D.J. Jeffries decommitted. Two weeks ago it was Dontaie Allen joining the Cats and last week Kahlil Whitney followed his lead. It’s been a busier three weeks than we anticipated but everything played out great for the Wildcats. No disrespect to Jeffries, but having Whitney and Allen on board is better than just having Jeffries at the wing. People close to UK weren’t expecting such an action packed three weeks, but are happy with the results. Now the Cats can focus on their 2019 big targets. How the Cats do with Vernon Carey Jr., James Wiseman and Matthew Hurt will determine if this is an elite class for John Calipari in 2019.
Let’s get to it.
Kahlil Whitney: He commits last week and the Cats saw it coming, but before he officially visited they weren’t aware that he was so close to making a final decision. When UK offered Whitney it’s my opinion UK’s staff knew they were the leaders, but were unsure of his timeline and how quickly things may move. Whitney grew up a Kentucky fan. Once he started keying in on watching college basketball he preferred watching John Calipari and UK. It was a no brainer for Whitney. I know this is cliche but I do think there is something to landing guys that want to be at UK. Some people pick the Cats because it’s the smart business decision, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but others pick UK because they want to be a Kentucky basketball player. Allen and Whitney didn’t take any official visits to other schools and picked UK shortly after being offered/being on campus.
I think UK fans are going to love Whitney and he’s somewhat trending at a Keldon Johnson pace. Johnson wasn’t a “must-have” recruit (for UK standards) but was always highly regarded. He continued to get better and it seemed like every time he played in a big game he looked like he had improved. He played hard and with tenacity and all those similarities are there for Whitney. Johnson ended up top 10 for ESPN and top 20 for Rivals and 247. I’m guessing Whitney is a top 10 player when it’s all said and done. UK fans will love him and he will be a nightmare matchup problem for opposing teams.
A Change in Strategy?: Allow me to pull away from the “insider” part of these notes to make a point strictly based on my opinion. I can’t get any sources to confirm this (which may mean I’m grasping here) but it seems like John Calipari (or his staff) may be pushing kids to commit? Again, Allen and Whitney both wanted to be at Kentucky but Calipari in the past has told recruits to check out other places. Go home and think about it. It was part of his “I care about you, so I want you to make the best decision for you and your family” recruiting pitch. It was a unique and bold strategy, but the majority of recruits appreciated the approach and it showcased Calipari actually cared and wasn’t pushy. But it may have cost UK a time or two.
Shortly after D.J. Jeffries received attention from UK he committed. His dad said the Cats somewhat pushed for a commitment, so that may support my theory. Allen committed seconds after being offered and Whitney committed after returning home from his official visit. If UK isn’t pushing for commitments, they’re definitely not pushing kids to take their time and weigh all their options.
I think coaches that pressure and try and force commitments cross a line, but if UK is being more aggressive in recruitments I’m all for it. It’s just another small change in Calipari’s ever-changing recruiting strategy. Calipari has also extended more offers, he’s offering guys earlier and while Big Blue Madness will always be UK’s premier recruiting event Kentucky’s staff is more open to staggering official visits so top talent get enough attention. Calipari is far from stubborn in his ways, if something isn’t working he will gladly switch up his style.
Vernon Carey Jr.: Folks, I think UK leads. There’s a quiet confidence from folks close to UK about Carey and I’m starting to hear whispers from AAU folks that think the Cats have moved to the front of his recruitment. There’s not much of an obvious relationship between Carey and Whitney, but during basketball camps over the weekend the two spent a good chunk of their free time together. Whitney has already started recruiting on UK’s behalf, and while that’s generally overblown it doesn’t hurt.
People continue to sleep on UK’s chances with Carey Jr., and that’s fine for UK. I’ve actually heard that Kentucky’s biggest competition will be Miami (Fla.). So many assume that Duke is the clear leader and that doesn’t appear to be the case.
He’s my favorite big in 2019 and could put up nutty numbers for UK in 2019-2020.
Oscar Tshiebwe: Get to know Oscar because I think there’s a solid chance he ends up in UK’s 2019 class. Kentucky has kept tabs on Tshiebwe for months but the Cats are in a tough spot. They like Tshiebwe and would love to add him, but they wouldn’t want him to hurt their chances with Carey, Wiseman or Hurt. In a perfect world UK would land those three, but Kentucky’s staff even knows that’s highly unlikely. So, what people close to UK are trying to figure out is this:
- Who’s likely to stay/leave off the current team?
- Where do we stand with Carey/Wiseman/Hurt?
- Would Tshiebwe hurt us with any of those three?
- Can Tshiebwe play at this level?
I’m told the answer to four is yes. UK believes Tshiebwe can make an impact at a high level and if he’s not a one-and-done player he would certainly bolt for the NBA after year two. But that was the easy question to answer. The Cats are still surveying the first three questions and my guess is he ends up with an offer. West Virginia is the biggest competition for Tshibwe but if the Cats offer and get him on campus I think Kentucky can jump to the front.
James Wiseman: There is still a great deal of Memphis buzz. That’s not going to stop anytime soon. Remember when Wiseman said he planned a visit to Kentucky in August? I haven’t heard one way or the other if that visit will take place. My guess is UK is trying to keep things quiet but I would expect the visit to happen. Only 18 days left in the month so we’ll know soon, but if he visits soon that should calm down the Memphis buzz momentarily. If the visit doesn’t happen that won’t help the Memphis buzz but I’d be shocked if a visit didn’t happen in September or October. I wish I could confirm the August visit but I can’t at this point.
Cole Anthony: College coaches are salivating over the chances of coaching Anthony. One assistant that’s still in play for Anthony told me that they think Anthony could take an average team to the Final Four. I’ve said he’s the smartest basketball player I’ve ever watched at the high school level and believe if he were to end up at Kentucky he could be Calipari’s best point guard he’s ever coached. He’s that good. No decisions will happen until the spring but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a few fall visits.
Matthew Hurt: Like Carey, I think UK is in a better spot than national analyst believe. Hurt really loves UK’s style of play. He’ll visit this fall.
Jaden McDaniels: UK is still in contact with McDaniels but I don’t see this recruitment going much further. A visit isn’t out of the question but McDaniels is more of a wing than a PF and the Cats have two great wing players already.
Bahamas Trip: I’m told this trip was good for recruiting. The Cats were on SEC Network, not ESPN +, and I’ve already been told some recruits took time to watch. I don’t think it will matter that much for the 2019 class but it’s always good to plant seeds for 2020, 2021 or 2022. I think the Cats accomplished that this week.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©August 12th, 2018 @ 10:05pm
Kentucky finished the Big Blue Bahamas tour unscathed, knocking off four of four opponents in dominating fashion. Each presented a different level and style of competition, but the Cats came out on top each time by a significant margin.
An average margin of victory of 29 points against professional basketball players, to be exact.
Needless to say, there’s a lot to be excited for in the upcoming 2018-19 season.
Here are the top ten things we learned from Kentucky’s Big Blue Bahamas trip.
These Cats like to have fun
The biggest gripe Kentucky fans had last year was just how hard it was to connect with the Wildcats throughout the season. We all wanted to love them and cheer them on, but their personalities just weren’t as vibrant and bright as we’re used to seeing. We just weren’t as emotionally invested.
With this team, we get everything you could possibly ask for. We have the sheer passion for the game and intensity in Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans, bright smiles in Tyler Herro and Immanuel Quickley, mean mugs from PJ Washington, senior maturity and professionalism from Reid Travis, etc. If things are going well, they use that energy for positive momentum. If things aren’t, their killer instincts kick in to kill the cold spell. They’re resilient.
It’s the perfect mix of personalities to make this unit just flat-out likable.
And a lot of it has to do with the following section…
Their chemistry is already high
This trip was meant for team bonding, and it did the trick, and then some. We got to see them work together in the Bahamian community washing the feet of those in need, giving them shoes to wear in the process. We got to see them have fun at the waterpark, racing down waterslides and passing time on the not-so-lazy river. On their day off, they set sail on a catamaran, relaxing and snorkeling with the fish in the ocean. Whatever they wanted to do, the Cats did it as a team and loved every second of it.
On the court, that chemistry is just oozing off of them. John Calipari says they are already ahead in practice, one of the most advanced of any group he has worked with. In games, the passing is impeccable, the defensive reads are stellar, talking is loud and constant, etc. They just work together really well, very reminiscent of the 2014-15 group filled with alley-oop jams and no-look passes.
After games, they started a new-and-improved version of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s “Breakfast Club,” where the team hit the practice court and worked until the early hours of the morning. They have one common goal this season, and that’s bringing No. 9 back to Lexington. By the early looks of things, they’re going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans are the heart and soul of the team
As mentioned above, this team is just plain likable, and a lot of it has to do with Johnson and Hagans. Neither are going to be Kentucky’s leading scorers on a consistent basis, but their intensity on the court at all times is contagious and will directly impact the outcome of games this year.
On defense, they pick up all 94 feet of the court. They never give up on plays, never let their guard down, and never allow easy buckets. That killer mentality has allowed others to rise to the occasion and produce at a high level, as well. When their teammates make big plays, they are the first players to run up and congratulate them. Even if they have off nights offensively, and they did in the Bahamas, they will absolutely make up for it in other areas of the game.
We’ve heard the word “dog” in reference to both Johnson and Hagans this offseason, and now we know why.
Tyler Herro may be the leading scorer
Arguably the biggest takeaway from this trip was just how freaking good Tyler Herro is offensively.
He ended the Big Blue Bahamas tour leading the team with 69 total points (17.25 PPG) on 24-41 shooting (59 percent), adding 8-18 from three (44 percent) and 15-15 from the free throw line. He scored at all three levels, created his own shot, and did it all on ridiculous efficiency.
When I watched him play in the Jordan Brand Classic and the practices leading up to it, I saw an “it” factor with this kid that made me fall in love with him. Zion Williamson said he was the most underrated recruit in the nation, saying his offensive skills are second-to-none. By game three of the Big Blue Bahamas trip, announcers were saying Herro had the opportunity to be the biggest Lexington fan-favorite of all time.
Not too shabby for a four-star prospect.
The backcourt is interchangeable
One of the biggest arguments Kentucky fans had before this trip had to do with the team’s starting lineup, specifically with the backcourt. With so much talent and different skillsets, how do we know how to juggle starters/minutes?
Luckily for the Big Blue Nation, it doesn’t really matter, because they’ll all get a chance to shine.
Quickley, Hagans, Green, Herro, and Johnson all ran point guard at one point or another this trip. The Kentucky coaching staff put in all different kinds of lineups, and nearly all of them worked just fine. If the Cats had at least one shooter/dominant scorer in the backcourt at all times, things ran fairly smoothly without any real cause for concern. Quickley could be in with Hagans, Green could be in with Herro, and vice versa.
Side note: Quickley turned the ball over just twice this week (both coming this afternoon), just one of the many impressive aspects of the five-star freshman’s game we saw. The narrative going into this was that Quickely was a step behind the rest of the guards, but that was proven false rather quickly (no pun intended). He’ll be a major contributor this season.
There’s a whole lot to work with in this unit.
Kentucky was shorthanded again
Back in 2014, Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein missed out on all Bahamas game action due to injury.
Fast forward four years, and the Wildcats experienced two more injuries that forced the coaching staff’s hand when it came to different lineups during the foreign trip.
EJ Montgomery sat out the final three games of the event, while Jemarl Baker missed all four. They are each expected to be pieces of a likely ten-man rotation this season.
John Calipari will never admit to using a platoon system again, but when Montgomery and Baker come back, don’t be surprised to see some mass substitutions. We saw this week that every player expected to be in the rotation is deserving of major minutes, and the only way to do that may be going five-in and five-out.
Nick Richards, Quade Green, and PJ Washington have all improved
In the past, some players have returned for sophomore seasons at Kentucky, but their jump from year one to year two was minimal, at best.
This season, however, all three of Kentucky’s sophomore returnees showed major improvement during the Big Blue Bahamas tour.
Sophomore Nick Richards exploded on the scene in game one against the Bahamas National Team, and continued to show progress throughout the week. His timing was much better on shot-blocking, he looked comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he rebounded like a grown man. His on-court awareness was night-and-day from last year. He deserves a ton of praise for his quality minutes this week.
We didn’t see as much facilitating from Green, but his offensive production was a major improvement. The sophomore point guard is confident in his shot and with the ball in his hands. He’ll be a solid shot-maker from mid-range and three this year.
As for PJ Washington, have mercy. Sources within the program told me earlier this offseason that the team fully expects him to win SEC Player of the Year, and from what we’ve seen in the Bahamas, that wouldn’t be a surprise at all. He has cut weight, worked on his jumper, and still maintains the strength that made him so valuable in the post last season. Analysts compared him to Draymond Green this week, and I don’t think that’s terribly far off.
And his frontcourt-mate might be just as much of a problem.
Reid Travis will be a monster down low… in time
The fifth-year graduate transfer had the highest of highs and lowest of lows in his first four games in a Kentucky uniform. From the first Bahamas game, Travis dominated on the glass, but he wasn’t able to find his groove offensively. He looked sloppy, dropping passes out of bounds and fumbling the ball into the mitts of the opposition. Travis was able to use his body to create space and find open holes close to the basket, but just couldn’t find a way to put the ball in.
He got better, going for 11 points in game two and eight in game three, but the efficiency still wasn’t there. By the fourth and final game, Travis exploded for 19 points and 15 rebounds, proving to dominate in the post like we saw from his time at Stanford. He needed to get the rust off, and he seemed to really turn the corner this afternoon.
It may take a couple regular-season games before we see what Travis really brings to the table. When it comes, however, the Cats are going to be unstoppable.
There aren’t many weaknesses, if any at all.
After a 2-20 performance from three in their first game, many wondered whether or not this team would struggle from beyond the arc this season. They followed it up by hitting 24 of their last 48 shots from three to finish 38-percent from distance on the week. Check.
When it comes to mid-range scorers, Tyler Herro and Quade Green have that down to a science. Immanuel Quickley will continue to improve from there, while PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson have also proven they are more than capable from that distance. Check.
Down low? Look no further than Washington and Travis for easy buckets and/or free throw attempts. Montgomery and Richards are developing, but they will be extremely reliable as the year progresses, as well.
On defense, you have two lockdown defenders in Johnson and Hagans. Both will put their bodies on the line to make a winning play, something the Cats really didn’t have last year.
Beyond a pure numbers standpoint, their overall killer mentality is night and day from last season. When they built a lead against Mega Bemax last night, they just went after them harder.
Many times Kentucky fans begged the 2017-18 group to just beat the hell out of teams weaker than them. They just wanted to see them keep their foot on the gas pedal and steamroll someone.
But very rarely did they ever let it happen.
I don’t think that’s going to be a worry going forward.
This team is going to be special
So much talent, so little to complain about. So much personality. So much excitement. So much intensity.
When it comes down to it, it’s impossible to not get giddy about this group of kids.
I feel like I’m having déjà vu of the 2014-15 season. They may not be able to pull off the historic 40-0 feat the double-platoon squad came just inches short of, but they’ll dominate college basketball this year.
We’re just a few hours removed from the game, but I’m itching for basketball season already.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©August 12th, 2018 @ 8:15pm
After three up-and-down performances to open his Kentucky career, Stanford transfer Reid Travis finally had a breakthrough performance in the Bahamas.
He led the team with 19 points and 15 rebounds, showing off a little bit of everything in Kentucky’s 93-60 victory over Team Toronto. Travis knocked down two three-point jumpers, finished several buckets inside with gorgeous footwork, grabbed rebounds like a grown man, and even sent one opponent’s shot flying several feet from the basket.
For Travis, he understands it was a rough start, but his performance in the game-four victory was a step in the right direction.
“Oh, it felt good,” Travis said of his double-double. “It’s definitely nothing I’m sweating too much. I know those are a lot of plays I can make. I just missed some easy ones that I usually put in. It’s expected, especially playing summer basketball, trying to get used to a new team, competition, stuff like that. So it did feel good to cap the trip off, getting some more looks to go in.”
Part of it comes with trying to develop his game beyond pure bully-ball. He wants to show the NBA he can be versatile.
“Individually, I’m trying to change the way I play. Being more athletic, a lot quicker, running up and down the court faster. Subtle changes that seem like quick adjustments for normal fans, but for me, it’s a big transition from how I’ve played my whole career as far as playing a bully-ball system. (I usually) put the ball down, go into peoples’ chests. Now they’re asking me to go up, catch lobs, block shots, and run up and down the court as fast as I can. I’ve only been on campus for a month, so it was great to come down here and see where I was in the process, understanding it’s still really early on,” he said.
Calipari is excited Travis broke through, though he’s going to have to break some old habits if he really wants to find success at the next level.
“I like the fact that Reid [Travis] kind of busted through today because he struggled, but he’s still — he and I just talked and I said, your habit right now is to gather yourself. It isn’t going to work anymore. Not only here but if you want to be professional, that will not work. And he knows it. He says, ‘you read my mind.’ I said, anytime there’s any kind of pressure, you’re going to revert to what you know best. And that’s what he knows best right now because we haven’t coached him. So I said, we’re going to get you to where you’re getting balls to the rim quicker, you’re shooting some runners and then go rebound your miss and you’re not going to gather yourself down and bust your way through. There are games he can do that, but not against the good teams.”
As far as what he likes from Travis as a player, Calipari says the Wildcats got a physical freak of nature, but he needs to work on his athleticism.
“He’s the man… This kid’s a grown man. He’s not 18, 19. He’s a grown man. He’s lost about 20 lbs. Probably needs to lose another four or five. Defends, bouncy. How about he blocked a shot? I’m telling you, I watched all of his games. I don’t think he had a blocked shot last year. You’ve got to go show it. You’ve got to show your quickness, your athleticism. He has it but he’s never used it. It’s been more bully-ball.”
It was a step in the right direction, but Travis knows there’s still work to do. When he can work those kinks out, watch out.
“It’s going to be night and day when I get it to click,” Travis said.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©August 12th, 2018 @ 7:48pm
On if he still wants fans to pump the brakes on expectations after today’s win:
“Yeah, I do. What I liked is we started the game and couldn’t make a shot, and they come back and get it to four and there’s some adversity. You need some adversity. It’s the only way you can really learn. I like the fact that Reid [Travis] kind of busted through today because he struggled, but he’s still — he and I just talked and I said, your habit right now is to gather yourself. It isn’t going to work anymore. Not only here but if you want to be professional, that will not work. And he knows it. He says, you read my mind. I said, anytime there’s any kind of pressure, you’re going to revert to what you know best. And that’s what he knows best right now because we haven’t coached him. So I said, we’re going to get you to where you’re getting balls to the rim quicker, you’re shooting some runners and then go rebound your miss and you’re not going to gather yourself down and bust your way through. There are games he can do that, but not against the good teams.
I told the guys, I’m not intoxicated by this. I just told them, I’m not. At the end of the day, we should be a monster defensive team, we should be a great rebounding team, we should be a team that can fly up and down the court and take pressure on you, both sides of the ball. And we should be a team that shares because we’ve got a lot of guys that are skilled enough to play that way. It seems to me we’ve got some dogs. We’ve got a couple dogs and I like to have a couple dogs on the team that will not back away.
On not having to push guys like in years past:
What happens is, it’s contagious. If you remember, Brandon Knight came to Kentucky and kind of changed our culture and helped push us to where we were trying to go. This group of freshmen, I just told them, you guys are getting guys, like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did — you either get in there and become more skilled or you go by the wayside. And it’s forced all the guys — the same thing for the motor. If you play with a high motor, there’s a guy or two out there that aren’t and it’s obvious that you all see it. Like, why isn’t he playing as hard as those guys? We haven’t had that. This is a group that is driving each other. I told them, our practices were so competitive for ten days and they said, you’re right. That these became, let’s play somebody else. It became a little easier for them because they were going at each other the way you’re seeing them go at these other teams.
On the high basketball IQ of this freshmen class:
We’re keeping it simple. We literally did not bog them down with defensive stuff. What I did probably the last three practice days, maybe the last four, was spend time showing them rotations defensively, switching defensively, back line switching, in other words, away from the basketball. We showed them that and had to really walk through it, but they picked it up and then they were doing it here which is making me say, wow because most of this stuff is higher level than us. It was, this is the next step of what you’re doing. Offensively, you’re trying to get them in a groove of how they have to play, not verses how someone else is playing. Quade right now, away from the ball, he’s unbelievable. He can score it, he figures out spots to go, he doesn’t have to pull the ball out. I want him off the ball. I just told him, you’re on a team with Keldon in the NBA, Keldon’s a point guard. You ain’t playing point guard! So be this guy and let them all know this kid can really play basketball. He can score the ball, he’s skilled, his decision making. ‘You know what? I want him on my team.’ And so, he’s doing it and he looks good doing it.
Ashton [Hagans], Immanuel [Quickley], two different things we have to work on. Tyler is playing well. I just told him, it’s good to play well like you did, but now, that’s a standard to grow from. Now you’re going to have to go from where you are to grow. That’s the downside of it.
What would have to happen on this trip to make him “intoxicated” with his team:
Here? It’s August. I’ve been doing this too long. EJ [Montgomery] didn’t even play. Let me say this: I’m happy. And I’m happy with the guys. I really like this team. They like each other, and I’ll say it again, when you’re comfortable in your own skin because you’re not trying to trick somebody, you’re not trying cut into anyone, you’re not the last guy in the gym, if you’re that guy, you want to drag people down to your level. Play games, mind games, but when everybody’s putting in the time and work and you’re comfortable in your own skin, you drag each other. Be happy with me, so I’ll be happy with you. And I’m happy with your success. It doesn’t infringe on my thing. But if you’re not that way and you’re trying to trick somebody, normally you’re the guy that wants to bring people down. Not this team.
On this team having a “Midnight Club” ala the “Breakfast Club” in 2011-12:
What would you call it? The Midnight Club? These dudes are in here at midnight, 1 a.m. I was happy with Quade. He missed every shot the first game, every single one and at midnight was in this room. And then came out and made his first three shots. Is it something I said? Is it something that I did? No.
Nick, I just told him, I had my wife come in and say something to him. She said to me the other day, he’s not even the same kid. He doesn’t walk the same, he doesn’t look the same, he doesn’t carry himself the same. So when I met with him, I said, Ellen, tell him what you said. And she told him all that and said, ‘I’m really proud of you.’ It’s a year. Wouldn’t I like to have guys for four years? That’s one year with him. The scouts out there, the guy they’re amazed with? Nick? Oh, they love Keldon, they love Tyler [Herro], they think PJ [Washington] is way better than he was, but they’re looking at Nick. And he’s seven-foot. If you look at the tape, he’s flying up and down the court.
On asking Reid Travis to change his game and break old habits:
It’s hard. Here’s what I do, I don’t really tell a guy to break habits because you spent 12 years playing that way. We’ve got to create new habits. That’s what I just told him. You’ve got to get quicker to the basket, runners, some little seven-foot shots — not jump shots, just get it to the rim quickly. It’s thrown to you, the first thought is to get it to the backboard. And we’ve got to work with him. We have not worked with him. We’ve done nothing with him. But we will when we get back.
On his old habits coming back:
It’ll pop out. When things get really hairy, he’ll revert, and then we’ll have to go back in the gym. Let’s go. We’ve got to have these new habits. And he said, sometimes it’s mental. He’ll catch it and the first thing is he’ll [gather]. And you just can’t do it. That’s why he came here. That’s why he wanted to be here. You see him on the perimeter shooting and see him making free throws, but how about this: a veteran player, first team all conference, came here and literally, it’s like relearning and he started and he had the jitters. Think about, he has jitters at his age, what about these 18-year-olds, in front of that crowd on national television.
On Reid Travis:
He’s the man. He’s a man. I had a kid at Memphis, Chris Massie, a man. We ended games and I heard guys on the other team, ‘We had to play against a grown man. He’s a grown man.’ This kid’s a grown man. He’s not 18, 19. He’s a grown man. He’s lost about 20 lbs. Probably needs to lose another four or five. Defends, bouncy. How about he blocked a shot? I’m telling you, I watched all of his games. I don’t think he had a blocked shot last year. You’ve got to go show it. You’ve got to show your quickness, your athleticism. He has it but he’s never used it. It’s been more bully ball.
On EJ Montgomery:
He’s probably our most skilled big guy. Shooting the ball, passing the ball, dribbling the ball. Physically, mentally, that toughness that you need, he’s probably behind these other guys, but they’re veterans. They’ve been through the wars.
On Ashton Hagans’ defense:
Yesterday, when we beat the Serbian team, I said to the team, we had six guys in double figures. But you had three points, Ashton, and had as much of an impact on the game as anybody. Maybe more. Then you watch this, his pressure on the ball, he just stole one at halfcourt. Well, get two of those a game. Get your hands on like five balls. He had a cross court pass if you remember that he got a hand on it. I grabbed him in there and said, I am really happy. He’s got to shoot more. He pulled up and made one. He’s a good shooter, I don’t know why — again, what’s his habit? Head down and drive. That’s his habit. And now we’ve been really working on a consistent follow through which gives you a consistent shot. But he doesn’t do it all the time. But he’s a good foul shooter, he’s a good pull-up shooter. He can shoot threes. He’s not great.
I was happy Immanuel missed his first three or four shots. I told him. Now, here’s some adversity. How are you going to play? He comes back and makes a shot. This is a good group. I’ll say it again, every guy here is comfortable in their own skin. And if you’ve got a guy here that’s a little uncomfortable, you know, hoping I’m going to play — they’re a little uncomfortable, and they should be. But they also know that, ‘I’m playing on a team that’s for me, so I’ve got to be responsible for what I’m supposed to do, and these guys are going to help me.
On Final Four talk amongst fans:
I don’t — I’m just happy this is over. This has been a long eight days. Believe me, I’m not worried about anything except, when does the plane leave?
On being comfortable in your own skin and sacrificing minutes:
The max minutes you want to play if you’re smart is 27 minutes, maybe 28. You don’t want to play 34. Too many ugly things pop up. You want to play 27 if you’re worried about you. The team may need you to play more, but you want to play 27 or 28. I think we’ll have a lot of guys do that.
But here’s another one: how about Tyler Herro’s — I’ll use the term “swagger.” I grabbed him and said, that’s what I want from you. I said, I want you to expect every shot to go in and the other thing I told him was, you can’t hold the ball because you’re going to be shooting balls. You can’t then shoot balls and hold the ball. Either let it go or get rid of it to somebody. You’re not going to mess with it because that’s not fair to these guys. He said, I gotcha.
On Keldon Johnson:
I asked him, I said, I knew you were going to be good. We recruited him, and it took me a minute to say, you know what? Let’s do this. We were probably the last school recruiting him. I said, but you knew before I knew. How? He said, ‘Because I knew. I knew I was good enough and I knew what I would do here.’ And said, well, you’re doing it. I said, defensively, you’re going have to give space because you’re going to foul and then he won’t be playing and your length lets you be able to do that. But your motor and your enthusiasm is going to drive us. It is.
When you talk about good players, these guys are evaluating, if there’s five better players than him in the country, you’ve gotta tell me who they are. I don’t care what you read anywhere, I’ve been doing this a long time and I know who’s who. And if there are five better than him, tell me who they are. This kid is legitimate 6’5″, he can play point guard, two, three, and four, shoots it good enough, tough, will fight you, in the gym at midnight, loves the game, high motor, high energy — what! No coolness. Nah. Doesn’t matter where I go, I just want to have fun. Well, that ain’t this kid. This kid is like, okay. Proud of him. I really am.
On what stats stand out on the box scores from this trip:
I think rebounding and you should look at turnovers and say — they averaged like 10, 11 turnovers after ten practices and a brand new team. Wait a minute. That means you have a skilled team that’s unselfish. That’s what you have. Second thing, we’re not going to average 100 points a game. It’s not. I think we’ll probably average more than maybe any team I’ve coached, so my guess would be — I don’t know, what’s the most my teams have scored? It’s probably near 80. And I would say that’s what this team would probably average. That would be my guess. And that’s a lot for us because teams are not going to let us run. They’re going to try to shorten a game like some of my good teams if you played against us. We can’t play in the 90s, they’re going to kill us. This game has gotta be in the 60s. We’re trying to push it. Good. You get 60, we’ll get 80 and we’ll both be happy.
So, that’s what I see. But I haven’t done anything defensively, and I told them, when we get back, my focus is going to be making us the best defensive team because it starts with your point guards. And these guys can guard the ball. That’s the biggest thing. It means, do you have a shot blocker behind those guys? We do. Do you have toughness? We do. How do your wings guard? Okay. Need to be better, but they’re okay.