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A Way Too Early Look at the SEC East

Times Free Press

The last week of May marks the arrival time for college football magazines. Athlon, Street and Smith, and several other periodicals are stocked at Kroger stores across the Commonwealth. All will proclaim to be the most accurate predictors of all things college football.

I’m still eagerly awaiting Phil Steele’s dissertation. Steele’s work fits my statistic-driven wheelhouse. Annually I’ll buy two of his books; one to mark up with highlighters that also features several underlined factoids. The other is used as a desktop reference. Respect.

The SEC East has been dissected in every format imaginable. I find it difficult to prognosticate the outcome of football games that are 90+ days out. Way too much time for teams to incur personnel losses with the dog days of summer probations-suspensions on the horizon. We’ll have a better grip on the situation following Media Days in mid-July.

So, here’s my way too early and abbreviated overview of the SEC East (In alphabetical order):

Strengths: All in the foot; kicker Eddy Pineiro and punter Johnny Townsend are excellent. The duo is perhaps the Gator’s most potent weapons.

Concerns: First year defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has to replace eight starters, many of which are now in the NFL. Freshman QB Felipe Franks will be charged with upgrading an offense that absolutely gasped in November.

Summary: Jim McElwain is one heck of a football coach. He could have his hands full in 2017 but don’t count him or the Gators out of contention.

Strengths: Personnel. The Dawgs are flat loaded. I mean flat out loaded.

Concerns: Must replace 3 starters off an underachieving offensive line. Sophomore QB Jacob Eason is poised to soar. TE’s Isaac Nouta and Jeb Blazevich are elite pass catchers. But, UGA lacks a go-to, downfield threat at receiver. Can Georgia effectively stretch the field in order to take the pressure off two, alpha-dog RB’s in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? We’ll see in September.

Summary: Ten extremely talented starters return from a 2016, Top 20 defense. Two of the best running backs in the country call Athens home. Georgia could be a tough out and should be the preseason pick to win the East.

Strengths: Lots of starters coming back.

Concerns: Defensive line depth and explosiveness.  Stoops also has to replace two homerun offensive threats.

Summary: Winnable but contested road games will define the 2017 Wildcats: @ Southern Miss, @South Carolina, @Vanderbilt, @Mississippi State.

USA Today

Strengths: Plenty offensive skill players put up huge numbers in a wide-open system could light up scoreboards. This group includes the conference’s top rated-returning passer in QB Drew Lock, the 5th ranked rusher RB-Damarea Crockett, and the league’s leading receiver-J’Mon Moore.

Concerns: Defense. Bad defense. The Tigers allowed 302 yards per game in 2015. 2016 saw an increase of 177 yards in the same category. Astonishing. And, it lost veteran defenders at critical positions.

Summary: Barry Odom limped to a 4-8 record in year one. Not much on paper indicates that his defense will be much improved. The Tigers can win games, but it will have to do so in Big 12 fashion.

Strengths: Momentum and youthful, rising stars at offensive skill positions. QB Jake Bentley started 7 games a year ago and completed 65% of his passes.

Concerns: Defensive personnel losses and inconsistency.

Summary: Which end-of-season, 2016 game will act as a precursor for the 2017 Gamecocks: demoralizing loss vs. Clemson (56-7) or an encouraging performance in a loss against South Florida (46-39)? I’m not as sold as many are on Carolina, but Will Muschamp surely overachieved in year one.

Bleacher Report

Strengths: UT’s offensive line returns 7 players that have logged time as a starter. Experience and talented offensive linemen will be necessary to pull along other question marked position groups.

Concerns: Who’s going to score the touchdowns? Gone are its QB, 2 RB’s, and its top receiver. An unsettled quarterback situation going into fall camp certainly won’t expedite the situation.

Summary: Butch Jones failed to capitalize on less than stellar East with a loaded roster. Back-to-back nine-win seasons would be a blessing on most campuses. However, a year-five rebuild may ignite the head Vol’s seat.

Strengths: Coach Derek Mason will field a depth chart compiled of juniors and seniors after getting a justified raise and contract extension.

Concerns: Replacing LB Zach Cunningham. Cunningham is arguably VU’s best all-time defender.

Summary: RB Ralph Webb returned. QB Kyle Shurmer finished 2016 with a flare. A bad showing (41-17 loss) vs. NC State in its bowl game is the only reason I’m not more bullish on Vanderbilt. The Commodores have a chance to be pretty darn good in 2017.

What does all this mean?

The SEC East is wide open even with Georgia’s pro-filled depth chart. Again, lots can happen between the first of June and September openers.

UP NEXT: My theory that SEC East RB’s NLF decisions are the most impactful personnel storyline of the offseason.


Kentucky Basketball’s 2017-18 SEC Opponents Released

Kentucky Basketball’s 2017-18 SEC Opponents Released

We do not know exactly when they will play, but we now know who Kentucky will play in this year’s SEC schedule.  The league released the matchups for each team and here’s who the Wildcats will face in the second half of the 2017-18 season.

As usual, the Cats will play Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt twice.  Texas A&M and Missouri earn the honor to play Kentucky twice as UK’s non-traditional SEC opponents.

The league decided to pit the Cats against the nation’s No. 1 player Michael Porter Jr. twice, rather than against Avery Johnson’s loaded Alabama team featuring McDonald’s All-American point guard Collin Sexton and former Cal recruit John Petty.


See What an In-Home Visit with John Calipari Looks Like in This Immanuel Quickley Documentary

See What an In-Home Visit with John Calipari Looks Like in This Immanuel Quickley Documentary

We’ve seen John Calipari in almost every kind of setting.  We’ve seen him in press conferences, ESPN’s All-Access, inside the locker room with KY Wildcats TV, the Calipari Call-In Show and even a 30 for 30.  There’s one place we’ve never seen Calipari perform and it’s the place where he is at his best: on the recruiting trail.

Snapshots are shared of Calipari at AAU events, but cameras never go inside an in-home visit with Calipari.  That changed today in a documentary about Immanuel Quickly’s recruitment titled, “My View From the Top.”

With a quiet Joel Justus beside him, Calipari starts by explaining some of what the family saw in the 30 for 30.  That is followed by a secondary pitch for a “lifetime scholarship.”  If Quickley completes his term, he can leave for the pros and return to Kentucky later to complete his degree.

“Your basketball window is four to five years.  Your academic window is fifty,” Calipari says.

That leads to Calipari’s primary pitch.  At Kentucky, he’s not sending guys to the pros for one contract, it’s to get their second contract, the one that changes families forever.  He stays on message while addressing his detractors, a.k.a. his competition that will spew lies about his program on the recruiting trail.  He puts the detractors in a bodybag.

“If it’s facts, they lose.  If it’s the truth, they lose.  They know what’s happened for our kids with how I coach, and what’s happened for their kids and how they coach.  They can’t beat us.”

Apparently the pitch worked.  On Monday Quickley cut his list to four: Kansas, Maryland, Miami and Kentucky.

A five-star point guard, Quickley is the only point guard to have an offer from Cal in the 2018 class.  He also reportedly has an invitation to try out for the Team USA U19 team Calipari will coach this summer.


Early CFB lines list Kentucky-Tennessee as a pick ’em

South Point Casino in Las Vegas released its opening lines for the games of the year in college football and Kentucky has two games on the board: Tennessee and Louisville, both at home in Commonwealth Stadium Kroger Field.

South Point lists the Tennessee game as a PK, which means the Vols would be about a field goal favorite on a neutral field. That game will be played Saturday, October 28 and the Cats are looking to win one in the series for the first time since Matt Roark ran wild in his first and only start as a quarterback.

Louisville is an 8.5 point favorite in the Governor’s Cup game in Lexington on Saturday, November 25. There is no prop bet for Lamar Jackson fumbling the game away again.

Here are all of the games of the year from South Point:

In related news, I’ve stayed at South Point and I do not recommend it.


Can Kentucky’s 2018 Team Shoot?

USA Basketball

During the 2017 preseason, college basketball prognosticators liked what they saw in the Cats, with one exception — Kentucky’s outside shooting ability.  The players laughed it off in interviews.  “Are you serious?” was a common response to the question.  The players proved the prognosticators wrong by shooting over 35 percent during the season.

Eight minutes after the Diallo news broke and four minutes before he confirmed it on Twitter, we heard that question about next year’s team for the first time: “Can anybody on Kentucky’s team shoot?”

Steve Jones of The Courier-Journal was the first to ask it, but he will not be the last.  This year’s skeptics have much more evidence to point to this year than they did last year.

Improving Shooters

Since Kevin Knox committed, an overwhelming majority of fans believe he will be able to play the two-guard next year because of his ability to make shots from long-range.  Would they be saying that if they knew Knox only made 25.8 percent of his threes in EYBL play last year?

adidas

Knox and Jarred Vanderbilt share a similar build.  Knox is the better offensive player.  Vanderbilt is the better defensive player.  Knox’s shot looks better when it leaves his hands, but a year ago neither were consistent outside threats.  The good news: a lot has changed in a year.

Knox’s three-point shot dramatically improved from the summer into his senior season, shooting 35 percent from three during his high school season for Tampa Catholic.  At McDonald’s All-American practices, Knox and Vanderbilt’s improved shooting ability from long-range was the greatest takeaway from recruiting reporters and analysts in the stands.  Vanderbilt’s change was the most impressive.  His unorthodox form didn’t change, but he extended his release point and added more rotation to the ball.

This pair can knock down open shots, but Calipari can not rely on them to be his primary outside shooting weapons.

Slashers

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo are both lengthy athletes who will make their money on their ability to get to the basket.  Diallo dunks, while SGA creates contact before a soft floater rolls through the rim.

From behind the three-point line, SGA is another player who improved throughout his senior season.  He finished the season shooting 31 percent from behind the three-point line.  Not too shabby.  He was even better in the Derby Festival Classic; he missed just three shots in the game and won the three-point shooting competition.

Diallo is a curious case.  We haven’t seen him shoot a competitive basketball shot in about a year, so I’ll tell you about the first time I saw him play.

Last July I was at the Peach Jam for the first time.  After figuring out the lay of the land, I found a spot in the corner to see Hamidou Diallo play.  A couple easy fast break dunks were impressive, but I wanted to see how the No. 1 shooting guard in the nation shot the ball.  I was disappointed, to say the least.  I spent the entire game trashing his flat shot.  He didn’t take many from deep because he didn’t need to, he could simply get to the rim, but every time he did launch a three, I was prepared to see it clank off the rim.

I actually enjoyed his awfulness for awhile, then proceeded to look through the program to find out where I needed to go to see the next candidate for “best shooter in the class.”  A close game for Diallo’s New York Rens, I couldn’t leave until the fat lady sang.  With about ten seconds remaining, Diallo’s team was trailing by three points.

“Okay, Diallo.  Show me what you got,”  I thought to myself.  He showed me he has ice in his veins.  Facing a triple team on the left wing, all he needed was a subtle jab to create enough space for a turn-around.  The fade-away three from 30 feet barely touched the net on its way through the rim.  He pumped his chest on the ground while the crowd erupted.  Hami’s opponents didn’t stand a chance in overtime as he carried his team to victory.

Just like every part of his game — excluding his vertical leap — the jury is still out on Diallo.

Quade and Baker

247

Jemarl Baker was targeted for his three-point shooting ability, but based purely off senior season numbers, he will not be the best shooter on the team next year.  Baker made 34 percent of his threes; Quade Green knocked down 38 percent of his three-pointers.

Baker can earn playing time by entering the “knock down three-point shooter” role, but it took Mychal Mulder a year at Kentucky to get comfortable on the floor.  Feeling comfortable won’t be a problem with Quade.  In fact, Quade’s biggest problem might be getting too comfortable.

At his best running the floor and creating for others, his step-back jumper is his primary weapon to get points.  Great at creating contact to get space, the ball looks good every time it leaves his hand inside 12 feet.  When he gets beyond the three-point line, he’ll stress you out.  Like Tyler Ulis, he prefers three-pointers that are five feet behind the line.  Unlike Ulis, he shoots the ball from behind his head.  It’s odd, but it keeps defenders from blocking his shot and it still goes in 38 percent of the time.

Green will hear comparisons to Ulis all year long. “I’m trying to be better than Tyler (Ulis).  I’m going in with a different mindset: be the best player I can be and be better than all the point guards that ever came through there.”

Calipari needs Quade to be one of the best shooting point guards he’s ever coached.  There are other options, but finding consistency from behind the three-point line could be the Cats’ Kryptonite in 2018.


UK’s 2017-18 Basketball Schedule As We Know It

With the announcement of Kentucky’s road game at West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, we now know six of the non-conference games and their dates on the Wildcats’ upcoming schedule.

You will find the confirmed games as of today in the list below. Plan your winter accordingly.

Big Blue Madness
Lexington, KY | Rupp Arena
TBD
Blue-White Game
Lexington, KY | Rupp Arena
TBD
Kentucky vs. Kansas 
Chicago, Il. | United Center
Champions Classic
Tuesday, November 14
Kentucky vs. Harvard
Lexington, KY | Rupp Arena
Saturday, December 2
Kentucky vs. Monmouth
New York, Ny. | Madison Square Garden
Citi Double Cash Classic
Saturday, December 9
Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech 
Lexington, KY | Rupp Arena
Sunday, December 16
Kentucky vs. UCLA 
New Orleans, La. | Smoothie King Center
CBS Sports Classic
Saturday, December 23
Kentucky vs. Louisville
Lexington, Ky. | Rupp Arena
TBD
Kentucky @ West Virginia
Morgantown, Wv. | WVU Coliseum
Big 12/SEC Challenge
Saturday, January 27

You’ll have to wait until late summer/early fall for the SEC slate and the full schedule in its entirety.


Kentucky to play at West Virginia in Big 12/SEC Challenge

You can now add another basketball game to your calendar as UK officially announced its Big 12/SEC Challenge game Thursday morning.

As predicted, Kentucky will travel to Morgantown to play at West Virginia in the Cats’ annual Big 12/SEC Challenge contest. That one will be played on Saturday, January 27 and will air on one of the stations within the ESPN family of networks.

The trip will be only the program’s third all-time to lovely Mo’town, but the Mountaineers are a familiar foe to Big Blue Nation, especially during the Calipari era. We last saw Bob Huggins’ team in the 2015 NCAA tournament when Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison and the boys dominated West Virginia in the Sweet 16 game and doubled them up on the scoreboard, 78-39.

As for the rest of the Big 12/SEC slate, here’s the full list of the head-to-heads:

Kentucky at West Virginia
Texas A&M at Kansas
Baylor at Florida
Oklahoma at Alabama
Ole Miss at Texas
Oklahoma State at Arkansas
Texas Tech at South Carolina
TCU at Vanderbilt
Tennessee at Iowa State
Georgia at Kansas State

So who’s ready for a trip to Morgantown?


Hamidou Diallo will RETURN to Kentucky

After waiting until the very last minute in the process, we now know that Hamidou Diallo will suit up for the University of Kentucky Wildcats for the 2017-18 basketball season.

The top-ranked shooting guard in the 2017 recruiting class, Diallo enrolled at UK in time for the spring semester but never left the bench, exclusively practicing with the team for the final three months of the season.  Diallo’s return to Kentucky gives John Calipari nine Top 50 recruits on next year’s roster.

Old enough to enter the NBA draft, the Queens native was projected to be picked at the end of the first round or the beginning of the second round.  His home town team was Kentucky’s greatest threat.  The Brooklyn Nets have picks at 22 and 27 and they worked out Diallo, but Hami decided to return to Kentucky to play his way into the lottery.

Prepare to see more of this next year in Lexington.

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If Diallo Returns to Kentucky

Chet White | UK Athletics

After waiting on pins and needles since the NBA Combine, the first report on Hamidou Diallo’s NBA Draft decision revealed he will return to Kentucky.  While we wait for that to be confirmed by Diallo and UK, here’s what is potentially in play for next year’s team with Diallo in the starting lineup.

The Cats have Their Best Player

You can debate on who is the best player on the team.  The 247 Composite ranks Diallo as the No. 9 player in the 2018 class, one spot ahead of Kevin Knox and two spots ahead of Jarred Vanderbilt.  I give the tie to the guy who has a one semester head-start on his peers.

For those people who love rankings, with the addition of Diallo John Calipari will be working with nine Top 50 players, eight five-star recruits and six McDonald’s All-Americans.

Kentucky will be an Elite Defensive Team

You will hear basketball bennies use the term “lengthy” incessantly when describing this team.  Jarred Vanderbilt and Kevin Knox look like your traditional, lengthy small forward that can guard multiple positions, but Diallo’s wingspan still might be longer.  At 6’11,” opposing guards will not be able to shoot over him on the perimeter.

Combine those three with P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel, you will have four guys in the starting lineup with wingspans that are close to seven feet long.  Try passing around that.

A Highlight-Making Penetrator

Prepare to see opponents get dunked on.  Diallo can hit threes, but he makes his money driving and creating while attacking the rim.  His length and athleticism make him the perfect player for John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense.  If you’re looking for a former UK player comparison, Archie Goodwin is a poor-man’s Hami.

An Experienced Perimeter Player

We’ve learned throughout John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky that experience is overrated, but it always helps to have an important player who’s been there before.  In his one semester he learned some important lessons from some of the best:

  • How to practice.  All of the initial growing pains are out of the way.
  • How to compete every single day.  Most of these guys have been able to skate by throughout their careers, but as you saw in the 30 for 30, Coach Cal doesn’t put up with you if you aren’t constantly playing at 100 percent.
  • How to balance basketball with everything else.  From the fans to the classroom, he’s been there and can help his new teammates ease into the difficult transition into college basketball.
  • How to guard GREAT guards.  Diallo spent a semester dueling against De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe and Dominique Hawkins; three McDonald’s All-Americans, two Top Ten draft picks and a Sweet 16 MVP.  That experience is invaluable.

That list is an abbreviated guess.  I’m sure the lessons Hami learned from semester one in Lexington are countless.

Cam Johnson is (Probably) Out of the Picture

It doesn’t put the nail in the coffin of the graduate transfer’s recruitment, but it might as well.  Diallo will give UK four guards on the roster to play with small forwards who excel on the wing.  Johnson’s options elsewhere probably look much better than the crowded court in Kentucky.

Momentum

Diallo’s decision to return is arguably the biggest draft decision since the Harrison Twins followed in Willie Cauley-Stein’s footsteps and decided to return to UK after appearing in the 2014 National Championship (giving raise to my favorite line ever uttered on KSR: “Before they split defenders, they split a zygote.  The Harrison Twins return.”).  We all remember what happened the following year.  I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

If this report turns out to be malarkey, the Cats will be just fine, but the addition of an excellent shooting guard bumps Kentucky from a Top 15/Elite Eight team to a Top Five/National Championship contender.


NY reporter says Diallo will stay at Kentucky (UPDATED)

I don’t know Bryan Fonseca from Brian Boitano but he says he has sources and those sources tell him Hamidou Diallo will stay at Kentucky for a true freshman season:

Fonseca’s bio says he is an NYPA Award nominee and an insider with Nets Daily, so he seems legit.

IS THIS HAPPENING

UPDATE

UK spokesman cannot confirm the report.

UPDATE No. 2

Another New York reporter contradicts the first report.

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WKYT

Guy Morriss is Battling Alzheimer’s

WKYT

Guy Morriss is fighting a battle he cannot win.  In an interview with WKYT, the former Kentucky head football coach revealed he has Alzheimer’s.

“It’s hard to accept,” he said as he fought back tears.  “Jackie (his wife) knew it.  I just kept denying it.”

Guy Mo had to accept the Alzheimer’s diagnosis nine months ago.  An estimated 5.5 million Americans live with the degenerative disorder.  Primarily a hereditary disease, Morriss can points to 15 years on an NFL offensive line as the primary reason why he needs help with everyday tasks.

“At first I couldn’t write my name. I could not write my name. I didn’t know my ABCs. I couldn’t do that little rhyme.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but that’s not the worst part of the disease.

“I’ve always been a great football player, a coach.  I could” — he held up shaky fists, unable to find the right words — “All the world! It’s not that way anymore.  You wake up one day and everything connects.  The next time you get out of bed, the same problem, then no problem.  It’s just day at a time.

He’s forgotten how to do a lot of things, but some memories are too dear to escape the 66-year old.  He still recalls Kentucky’s 2002 Governor’s Cup upset over Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.  He doesn’t remember pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate Dave Ragone’s name, “but he took a beating,” Morriss said with a laugh.

I began this post with a morbid line because it’s the truth.  Unlike cancer or any other ailment, you can’t beat Alzheimer’s.  It wins every single time.  In the early stages a person might forget names, but near the end they can forget everything, from knowing how to put on clothes or how to speak.

Every person in my family that has lived long enough to get Alzheimer’s has got the disease.  When one relative passes away, another person develops it.  Some are better than others, but all of it sucks.  The good news is that research and development, especially at UK’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, are making advances that could slow the disease’s roll, or perhaps even find a cure in the next ten years.

I applaud Morris for sharing his story.  Awareness is the best way to help; not the patient, but the patient’s family.  The more you understand the disease and how to cope, the better quality of life the patient can live.

To help fight the battle Morriss and Alzheimer’s patients everywhere cannot win, donate to the Alzheimer’s Association, a non-profit that devotes all of its resources to research and support programs for families who are taking care of loved ones.

[READ the WKYT story and WATCH the interview.]


Joe Craft Center locker room undergoing renovation

Back in February the UK Board of Trustees approved a renovation of the men’s basketball locker room in the Joe Craft Center practice facility. The privately-funded project was said to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million and would include changes to the locker and shower space, the lounge, and meeting rooms.

Well that project is now underway, seen here in these photos from the Kentucky basketball Twitter account:

In the end it will look something like this:


Without Bamba, Calipari’s Wildcats are in a Similar Situation

Without Bamba, Calipari’s Wildcats are in a Similar Situation

FullSizeRender 18

Mo Bamba is not coming to Kentucky.  Arguably the most sought after recruit in John Calipari’s 2017 class will head to the Big 12 instead of the Bluegrass.  A few hours after the decision, Calipari announced the addition of the three spring signees — Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox and Jemarl Baker — essentially calling it quits on the 2017 class.

Coach Cal did not finish the offseason recruiting season with a new Top Two player, but he’ll be just fine.  After all, he’s been here before.  Let me take you back to 2013.

All of the McDonald’s All-Americans

Entering the month of May 2013, John Calipari already had stacked the Kentucky roster with a record six McDonald’s All-Americans.  The No. 1 recruiting class in America, it was touted as one of the greatest classes ever, drawing “40-0” considerations early and often.  You can understand why:

  • Julius Randle — 6’9″ 250 lbs., No. 2 player overall
  • Andrew Harrison —  6’4″ 200 lbs., No. 3
  • Aaron Harrison — 6’4″ 200 lbs., No. 5
  • Dakari Johnson — 6’10” 250 lbs., No. 8
  • James Young — 6’6″ 200 lbs., No. 10
  • Marcus Lee –6’9″ 215 lbs., No. 14
  • Derek Willis — 6’9″ 200 lbs., No. 58
  • Dominique Hawkins — 6’1 170 lbs., No. 151

Four years later, John Calipari has the No. 1 class in the nation, but it’s received exponentially less hype, even drawing concerns from some fans.  Still, Calipari has five McDonald’s All-Americans  ranked in the Top 20 of the recruiting class (and maybe even tenth-ranked Hamidou Diallo?).

  • Jarred Vanderbilt — 6’9″ 213 bs., No. 8 player overall
  • Nick Richards — 7’0 240 lbs., No. 14
  • Kevin Knox — 6’9″ 206 lbs., No. 17
  • P.J. Washington — 6’8″ 230 lbs., No. 18
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — 6’6″ 175 lbs., No. 19
  • Quade Green — 6’1″ 175 lbs., No. 30
  • Jemarl Baker — 6’4″ 185 lbs, No. 83

Just like in mid-May of 2013, it was an impressive class that still had room to grow, with one top-ranked player at forefront near the end of the spring signing period.

Andrew Wiggins

On May 14, 2013, Matt Jones spent two hours on Kentucky Sports Radio calling every famous person in his cell phone to ask: “Where’s Wiggins going?”  Choosing between Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and his parents’ school, Florida State, the Commonwealth was buzzing like never before for a recruit’s decision.

The future No. 1 pick turned down the Cats and his parents to take his talents to the land of the Big 12 in Lawrence, Kansas.  The Jayhawks lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, while Kentucky went to the National Title.

Today on May 18, 2017, Calipari’s class “ended” with a whimper when the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick* opted for Texas.  Bamba and Wiggins are much different players, but their unbelievable impact on the game is comparable.

Stability at Center

SKJ by Mark Zerof | USA Today

SKJ by Mark Zerof | USA Today

When Calipari didn’t add a highlight-maker at the end of the 2013 class, the Cats were covered with McDonald’s All-American James Young ready to step in at the wing in Wiggins’ place.  In the post, he had an incoming McDonald’s All-American seven-footer, Dakari Johnson.  His raw offensive talent is not unlike this year’s McDonald’s All-American center, Nick Richards.

To ensure Johnson did not need to step in to play right away, returning sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein was ready to either temporarily fill the void, or take his game to the next level.  This year’s hyphenated returning sophomore finds himself at a similar crossroad.  Sacha Killeya-Jones wowed during summer practices, drawing comparisons to the former unanimous All-American, but he could never get comfortable during his freshman season, unable to find significant time on the floor.

By all indications, SKJ is prepared to take a Cauley-Stein-sized step up in 2017-18.

An Enormous Roster

I made it a point to list the heights for each of the two recruiting classes.  The first Harrison Twin team to reach the title didn’t have two-platoons with three guys over 6’10,” but they still had the kind of size rarely seen in college basketball.

As the game shifts toward perimeter-oriented style, Calipari’s 2017-18 team will look like his lengthy teams from the past.  Excluding Green and Baker, the rest of the team is at least 6’6,” with the ability to play a lineup ( with Kevin Knox at the wing) featuring four players taller than 6’8.”


Losing Bamba hurts, but there’s more than enough reasons to remain optimistic about next season based on Calipari’s proven ability to cater his style to his players.  Additionally, he’ll have extra time this summer to coach most of his new players for Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Cairo.

Any time there is extreme turnover, there’s a significant adjustment period, but if the team that didn’t get Bamba turns out anything like the team that didn’t get Wiggins, hold on, it’s about to be a wild ride.


Five Immediate Thoughts After The Bamba News

mohamed-bamba

Mohamed Bamba’s recruitment is over and it didn’t go in Kentucky’s favor. Here are five quick thoughts on his decision to pick Texas as we get back on our feet after the disappoint blow to BBN’s recruiting momentum…

 

1. Hey, at least he didn’t go to Duke.

If you’re going to lose a recruitment, you always want to lose to a school that’s not a threat. Texas will be a good team next season, but nowhere near as good as if Duke, our arch nemesis, had added Bamba to its roster.

2. He makes a good point about Jarrett Allen.

Bamba wrote:

I can’t say enough about the strides my friend Jarrett Allen made this past year. I saw his footwork improve. I saw the spots they put him in — where he was shooting, passing and stretching the paint like a modern five. Most importantly, I saw his confidence grow throughout the season as he distinguished himself as a possible lottery pick. I’m thankful for the blueprint he laid down and I hope to follow in his footsteps.

Now let’s look at Bam Adebayo and Sacha Killeya-Jones, two other five-star big men from Allen’s class who attended Kentucky. Bam went from projected lottery pick to fringe first-rounder after a year that didn’t live up to expectations; Killeya-Jones didn’t play at all. Calipari’s long-term record with bigs is good, but those are three guys Bamba has known most of his basketball life and probably kept close tabs on last season when Allen proved to make the most strides in one year. One point to Texas.

3. It’s really not a big deal for Kentucky next year.

As nice as it would’ve been to add a game-changer like Bamba, Kentucky is already pretty loaded in the paint, probably too loaded. A month ago you would’ve ranked Bamba third behind Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo based on need; well, you got Knox and Diallo is still TBD.

However, no Bamba puts pressure on Nick Richards and a sophomore Killeya-Jones to perform, but it’s not like Kentucky won’t have a big man because it didn’t get Bamba.

He would’ve been a great addition because he is special. It’s not the end of the world.

4. He is really, really, really smart and I’m a huge fan.

Unlike most (all) player contributions to The Players’ Tribune, I really believe Bamba wrote his own. Watch one interview with him and you know he’s a very special young man outside of his basketball talents. He clearly put a lot of thought into this decision and believes he is doing what’s best for his family, which is all that really matters in the end. How can you not love that he wants to, in his words, “build a long, successful career that will ensure that my father won’t have to drive a cab 70-plus hours a week, including nights and weekends”?  Consider me a big fan of Mo Bamba for life.

5. I still like my team.

When the ball tips next fall, give me the University of Kentucky over anyone.

They’re at the table waiting to eat.

mcdaag-uk


Mohamed Bamba commits to Texas

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Well, crap.

Mohamed Bamba is going to Texas. The five-star big man announced his commitment Thursday morning via his own words on The Players’ Tribune. In the end, he picked the Longhorns over Kentucky, Duke and Michigan in a disappointing decision for Big Blue Nation.

Bamba’s explanation of the decision is a long one and very well-written for the kid who is wise beyond his age. He explains living by a mantra of “filling his jar with big rocks first,” and he names Texas as the program that filled his jar the best, and Shaka Smart and academics as the biggest rocks:

Big Rocks

The Coach

Coach Smart may not have been aware of it, but I put him through a weeklong job interview last summer when he coached me on Team USA in Valdivia, Chile. We instantly formed a bond. Now, the tables have turned, and I’m the one interviewing with him, hoping to show I can play a major role in his team’s success next season. His attention to detail is truly unbelievable — I can’t tell you how many times he picked up on something I mentioned in passing and brought it back full circle several months later. I’ve seen firsthand how much he genuinely cares about me and my family and how he’s going to challenge me to be in a state of continuous improvement.

Beyond Basketball

How can a projected “one-and-done” college athlete get a real college education? That gets thrown around a lot and I want to go on record as saying that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. My academic focus is not just lip service. It’s extremely important to me and my family, but I also firmly believe that the best class I’ll ever take will actually be taught by the people I will surround myself with.

I feel especially fortunate to explore my academic interests within the McCombs School of Business, one of the nation’s top undergraduate BBA programs. Learning from world-class professors and classmates in Austin, a city that’s renowned for tech and innovation, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Oh, and that alumni network — man, the Horns are everywhere! I can see and feel their passion and I’m excited about aligning myself with them for a lifetime of support and learning. I’ve seen firsthand the power of this from my time at Westtown and Cardigan Mountain.

These two big rocks were the true keys to my decision — without the coach and without the “beyond basketball” element, the stones, pebbles and sand wouldn’t have mattered that much.

Bamba goes on to list strength, conditioning and skill development as his jar’s “stones,” followed by the campus environment and weather as the “pebbles and sand.”

It’s a very good read from a young man who just broke our basketball hearts.

Mohamed Bamba: “Ready To Rock”