By Drew Franklin on ©June 03rd, 2019 @ 10:45pm
Terrence Jones got caught up in some unnecessary roughness during a recent game with his new team in the Philippine Basketball Association.
It all got going when Calvin Abueva of the Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters (that’s a real team) gave Jones a hard shove to the ground, to which Jones responded with a direct shot to Abueva’s groin area on his way back up to his feet. Play was stopped for Abueva to recover, while Jones danced to the in-house music in front of his team’s bench.
Abueva would get revenge on the other end with a vicious clothesline to Jones’ throat while chasing down a long rebound.
The two had to be separated and Abueva earned an ejection from the game.
See all of it here:
Jones went on to finish the game with 40 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists for the TNT KaTropa (that’s a real team).
By Jack Pilgrim on ©June 03rd, 2019 @ 5:15pm
When Kentucky signee Tyrese Maxey committed to the school back in May of 2020, many penciled the 6-foot-3 dynamic scorer in as a guaranteed starter for the 2019-20 roster. And then when starting point guard Ashton Hagans made the surprisingly-quick decision to return for his sophomore season in April, he locked himself in as a starter, as well.
With most of the (admittedly-deserved) attention on Maxey and Hagans for the backcourt next season, where does former five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley fit into the equation?
Averaging 5.2 points on 37.2% shooting and 34.5% from three to go with 1.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per contest last season, the 6-foot-3 guard’s numbers certainly don’t jump off the page on first glance. In fact, in 15 of his 37 total games the Havre De Grace, MD native finished with three points or less for the Wildcats.
On the flip side, Quickley also managed scoring totals of 15, 12 (four times), 10, 9, and 8 (three times) throughout his freshman season, along with several clutch moments at the end of games at the free throw line and from beyond the arc. Some would even argue that between Hagans and Quickley, the latter was the better all-around player toward the end of the season.
Unless you’re one of the few elite prospects we see year after year (and even sometimes if you are), there are growing pains and inconsistencies for true freshmen at the college level. Quickley fell right in line with that common theme.
Now that we’re on to year two for the former five-star prospect, how can he find his groove consistently this season and shine as the consensus top-25 recruit he came to Lexington as last season?
Keep developing confidence as a shooter
While he certainly hit some big shots from three on occasion last season, Quickley has the potential and ability to be a consistent knockdown shooter in the Kentucky backcourt moving forward.
Next to Tyrese Maxey, who is also expected to be an elite shooter next season, the Wildcats can put out lineups that absolutely torch opposing teams from deep in 2019-20. Quickley would certainly be included in that.
In fact, Calipari can roll out a pure-shooting group of Maxey, Quickley, Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina, and EJ Montgomery at times, where each participant has the ability to knock down open jumpers at a consistent rate from three. In fact, one could argue every one those individuals has the potential to shoot at least 30% from three next year, with Maxey, Quickley, and Juzang all capable of shooting 38% or higher.
Quickley has already had eight games with two or more 3-pointers on 50% shooting (or higher), but his per-game ceiling is far greater than that. 34.5% certainly keeps defenders honest, but he has the ability to push upwards of 40% at a consistent clip. Confidence is the only thing limiting him from reaching that point.
When he finds his shot, he’s money on open opportunities both off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations. When that confidence slips, we see poor shooting displays such as Auburn (1-6), Abilene Christian (0-3), LSU (1-4), and at Florida (1-5).
The potential is there, he just needs to keep building his confidence to get to that point.
Look to be a facilitator
Back at the adidas Gauntlet Finale in Spartanburg, SC in 2017, Quickley was easily one of the most impressive prospects in attendance. In fact, his head-to-head matchup with Zion Williamson at the time was one of the most highly-anticipated games of the entire weekend, where Quickley’s Team BBC squad defeated Williamson’s SC Supreme 68-64. The Wildcat guard posted 20 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, while Williamson finished with 28 points and 16 rebounds in the loss.
While Quickley stuffed the stat sheet in that event and throughout his entire AAU career, the most impressive aspect of his game had nothing to do with his impressive shooting stroke or his ability to finish in the lane. It was the ridiculous court vision and passing ability he possessed that really turned heads. In fact, I would contend that if he had more talent around him on Team BBC, he could have averaged upwards of 12 or 13 assists per contest on the AAU circuit. One of the most frustrating parts of watching the Wildcat guard play was that he would pull off tremendous passes and find his teammates open time and time again, they would just miss the shots.
At Kentucky, Quickley mostly relied on catch-and-shoot opportunities to assert himself in the offense, completely ignoring one of his most impressive attributes. In year two, the UK point guard needs to continue to find his shot, but he can truly be a difference-maker from game one as a facilitator.
With ridiculous depth from top to bottom of the roster, opportunities for assists are there this season. He never finished with more than four assists in a single game last year, but I expect that to change this season.
Continue to get to the line
Quickley was inconsistent at times from a shooting perspective last year, but one thing that never changed was his ridiculous ability to knock down shots at the free throw line at an elite rate.
Shooting 83% from the line last year, Quickley was easily one of the most reliable players on the team, specifically when games went down to the wire. With the 6-foot-3 point guard in the lineup in the closing seconds, you could always rely on him to come through in the clutch in high-pressure moments. In fact, the only reason why his elite ability at the line wasn’t more publicized was because Kentucky just-so-happened to have the greatest free throw shooter in Kentucky history, Tyler Herro, on the roster and in the game down the stretch last year.
In 37 games last year, Quickley only missed 11 total free throws. In his sophomore season, he needs to continue to force the situation and get to the line more often. With Herro off to the NBA, they’ll likely need him on multiple occasions in 2019-20.
227 years ago in 1792, the Commonwealth of Kentucky became the 15th state in the union.
One might argue it is the greatest state in the union, but arguing is no way to celebrate a birthday. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of 27 destinations to see across the Bluegrass that will help you appreciate everything our wonderful state has to offer.
1. Churchill Downs — The iconic Twin Spires look over the home of the Kentucky Derby. Whether it’s Derby week, Downs after Dark or Thursday dollar beers, you can’t go wrong.
2. Keeneland — Where Churchill is the track in the middle of the city, Keeneland lies in the heart of Bluegrass horse country. The only racecourse where you can walk through the horse barns, if you take the scenic route down Old Frankfort Pike, you will see sights made for postcards.
3. Gray’s Arch — The 3.4-mile loop through Red River Gorge provides one of the most rewarding views of the area. A little more hidden than the Natural Bridge, it’s worth going off the beaten path to see this beauty.
4. Miguel’s Pizza — After your hike through the gorge, you need to refuel. Miguel is here to help.
5. Chain Rock — Ecology at its best, this rock that sits atop Pine Mountain is attached to enormous chain links. The chain was forged to prevent the rock from falling onto the town of Pineville (but was the rock really going to fall?).
6. Mammoth Cave — The state’s only National Park is the longest cave system known in the world.
7. The Corvette Museum — Kentuckians make the coolest American cars on the planet, no big deal.
8. The Louisville Slugger Museum — And we create the best baseball bats too.
9. Maker’s Mark Distillery — I could live without baseball bats and sports cars, but not bourbon. You can’t go wrong at any of the many distilleries throughout the state, but few are as beautiful as Maker’s Mark. Snuggled in between the Loretto, Kentucky hills, the smell of the sour mash and the sound of birds chirping makes this place feel like home.
10. Lake Cumberland — Unlike many of the manmade lakes around the state, Lake Cumberland has a rocky bottom that makes the green water clear. You can skip rocks on the shore, jump off a cliff or float in paradise.
11. Cumberland Falls — Before the river turns into a reservoir, there’s a 68-foot waterfall not far from Corbin, Kentucky. It’s the only waterfall in the Western Hemisphere where a Moonbow is regularly visible. The only other one in the world is Africa’s Victoria Falls. You can see the lunar rainbow coming off the falls during a full moon. Here’s when you can see it again this year.
12. Kentucky Fried Chicken — Before you check out the Moonbow, you can grab a bucket of the Colonel’s Original Recipe from the original location in Corbin.
13. Cumberland Gap — While I’m mentioning the Cumberlands, might as well throw this one in there. Even if you aren’t a kid, it’s kind of cool to stand in three states at once.
14. Newport on the Levee — With views of the Cincinnati skyline, the northern Kentucky Levee has excellent food and drink options near one of the best aquariums in the region.
15. The Big Four Bridge — Developed into a walking bridge in 2014, the recreational area is settled in-between Louisville Slugger Field and the new Louisville City FC Stadium. Of all the nice areas in Louisville’s Waterfront Park, this one is the best.
16. Muhammad Ali Center — Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, this center dedicated to the World’s Greatest is something you have to see.
17. Dinosaur World — Jurrasic Park ain’t got nothing on this Western Kentucky landmark.
18. Wigwam Village — Can you think of a better place to stay the night in Western Kentucky? I think not. (If you don’t enjoy your stay, blame this recommendation all on Coach Keith Madison.)
19. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill — Turn back in time by visiting the country’s largest collection of 19th century buildings.
20. Boon Tavern — The Berea, Kentucky landmark is the only place you can enjoy world famous Spoon Bread.
21. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn — Some will argue which Owensboro locale has the best mutton BBQ, but Moonlite has earned the “world famous” distinction. The flavor of Owensboro BBQ is unrivaled. You can’t find it anywhere else. And now my mouth is watering.
22. KSBar — While I’m shouting out restaurants, go to ours. Trust me, the wings are excellent.
23. Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace — Illinois likes to take credit for molding Lincoln into the man who led the Union through the Civil War, but it all got started in Hodgenville.
24. Iroquois Park Amphitheater — In the heart of Louisville’s largest Olmsted Park (the same Olmsted that designed New York City’s Central Park), the 2,300-seat amphitheater is one of region’s best outdoor music venues. Even if you don’t attend a concert, they host free movie nights, the Jack O’Lantern Spectacular and much more.
25. The Louisville Palace — The classic architecture is stunning. It is difficult to describe the interior, so I’ll just say this: the Palace is the kind of place you see in a movie in a big city. We are lucky to have such an incredible environment for performances in the Commonwealth.
26. Land Between the Lakes — The largest inland peninsula in the United States, the National Recreational Area in Western Kentucky is surrounded by Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. If you love the outdoors, you can do pretty much anything, even see elk and bison, at Land Between the Lakes.
27. My Old Kentucky Home — Birthdays are best celebrated at home.
By Nick Roush on ©June 01st, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Over the next month, elite football recruits will flood Kentucky’s campus for camps, official and unofficial visits. After an incredibly successful April gave UK an average four-star rating in the five-man class, Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow are poised to keep the positive recruiting momentum rolling.
In this edition of the 2020 recruiting class Big Board, you’ll see where elite targets fit into the roster-building equation. Obviously, it’s a fluid situation. Some prospects will rise while others fall. From top targets to a few under the radar prospects, allow this to serve as a baseline entering the summer football recruiting season.
Departures: Gunnar Hoak, Danny Clark
Returning: Terry Wilson, Walker Wood,
Incoming: Sawyer Smith, Nik Scalzo, Amani Gilmore
Committed: Beau Allen
Top Targets: The Cats already got their guy.
Departures: Benny Snell
Returning: A.J. Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, Chris Rodriguez
Incoming: Travis Tisdale
The nephew of Randall Cobb was expected to officially visit this spring, but that trip to Lexington was postponed. However, Hodge was in the Kroger Field stands for the Blue/White Game. Tennessee, Louisville, Ole Miss, Penn State, Michigan and Oregon have also offered Hodge.
One of the most explosive playmakers in America, Drennen is being pursued heavily by Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan and every other traditional college football powerhouse. Despite the big logos involved, John Young is leading the charge to keep UK in Drennen’s mind throughout the process.
Davis is eerily similar to A.J. Rose. Both are from Cleveland. Both are 6’1″ 210 pounds. When you see Davis cut through holes, his style mirrors Rose. Davis is choosing between UK, Michigan State, Penn State, Cincinnati and Pitt.
In 2018 McClain rushed for 1,754 yards and 35 touchdowns and caught 24 pass receptions for 416 yards and five more scores. Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State have offered the track star, but the Cats are the perceived leaders in his recruitment.
McClain plans on announcing his decision on July 4 with three other UK recruits from Greater Cincinnati, Winton Woods running back Miyan Williams, cornerback Miquan Grace and wide receiver DeMeer Blankumsee.
Holding offers from Michigan, Purdue and a slew of other Big 10 schools, the powerful running back rushed for 430 yards and six touchdowns in a playoff game in 2018. He finished the season with an astounding 2,824 yards and 38 touchdowns.
Departures: OT George Asafo-Adjei, OG Bunchy Stallings, OT E.J. Price
Returning: OT Landon Young, C Drake Jackson, OG Austin Dotson, OG Logan Stenberg, OG Luke Fortner, OG Kenneth Horsey, OT Darian Kinnard, OT Nick Lewis, OT Naasir Watkins, OG Mason Wolfe
Incoming: OG Eli Cox, OT Jake Pope
Committed: OT John Young
One of UK’s first commitments in the 2020 recruiting class, Leonard reopened his recruitment not long after visiting Lexington for the Blue/White Game. Feeling the heat from Florida State, Leonard most recently received an offer from Florida. Last weekend he officially visited Georgia Tech. Before he announces a commitment July 5, Leonard will take an official visit to UK next weekend.
Rogers, Allen, Young and Phillips committed shortly officially visiting in the spring. Buford is the final domino to fall from that wildly successful recruiting weekend. The Detroit native is also being recruited by Auburn, LSU, Pitt and Penn State recently got in the mix with a scholarship offer.
Just because he’s committed to Ohio State, doesn’t mean the Big Dog is backing down. Johnson visited UK’s campus unofficially this spring. Persuading him to use an official in Lexington is a more difficult challenge, but Marrow will remain in Johnson’s ear.
The tenth-ranked guard in the class was one of the first to take an official visit in the recruiting calendar year when the New Jersey native made the trip to Lexington in April. Purdue, West Virginia, Auburn and Maryland are also in the mix for Mayo.
Even though he has yet to visit UK, the Cats are in Jones’ top six along with Mississippi State, N.C. State, Florida State, LSU and the favorite, Tennessee.
By KSR on ©June 01st, 2019 @ 2:00pm
At 11:00 p.m. Thursday, May 30th, Ryan Lemond was free from KSJail. After failing to make a single putt in our “Putt for Prison” event, he completed his six day sentence at KSBar and Grille.
Our initial hope was that Ryan would make some of the putts and we would then donate the money he received to charity. When that didn’t happen, we still wanted to help the community (and try to reduce poor Ryan’s ten-day sentence).
Ryan selected three charities we would help during his stay at KSJail: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Lexington, the organization that helped Ryan and his wife adopt their children; Keith Madison’s SCORE International, a Christian mission organization that provides baseball equipment and instruction in the Dominican Republic; and the Epilepsy Foundation. Plus, our event title sponsor, Silent Guard, offered to make a generous donation on Ryan’s behalf to the Living Bread Soup Kitchen in Somerset.
After our challenge on the radio show, the community came through in an unbelievable way! The $10,000 goal set to reduce Ryan’s sentence was reached within a few hours of the GoFundMe account going live. But, we thought why stop there? Why not see how big of an impact we can have in the community?
The final tally for the “Putt for Prison” fundraiser was $36,121!! A ceremony to distribute to the individual charities will take place at a later date.
These two weeks have far exceeded our expectations. The great thing about these donations is where they came from. Young children came to KSBar to put their allowance in the bucket. People drive from out of state because they wanted to give Ryan a check in person and to thank him for helping these worthy causes. First responders chipped in alongside those who were personally impacted by these charities. Local businesses did what they could to help. Everyone played a part in making a difference in these communities.
First and foremost, we want to say thank you to all who donated! Also, thanks to Ryan Lemond’s big, caring heart (and being a good sport). Thank you to our sponsors Silent Guard and Revive Medical. Thank you to Clarkmanship for building such an awesome jail for Ryan Lemond and thanks to the staff and customers at KSBar and Grille.
Do it again next year, Ryan?
By Maggie Davis on ©May 31st, 2019 @ 11:00pm
Four-star offensive lineman John Young joined Matt Jones in the Hey Kentucky! studio Friday afternoon, and the future Cat gave us some insight into his college decision and what’s coming this summer for UK football recruiting.
Young says he took several visits during his recruitment, including stops at Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan, Purdue, Louisville and Auburn. But, after all of those visits, the University of Kentucky still felt like home.
“The coaching staff has been patient with recruiting, and they’ve gotten steadily better every year with their success. With success, comes good recruiting,” Young said. “When you’ve got a staff like that, that’s so personable… with them building a family atmosphere as well as having success on the field, that is just a recipe for some good recruiting.”
And Young doesn’t think that good recruiting mojo is going anywhere.
“In the coming weeks, I think we’re going to have a really big summer. I think we’re in a really good spot with some receivers, a couple running backs and a certain safety from the state as well.”
The safety he’s referring to is certainly four-star Bowling Green native Vito Tisdale, especially since Young confirmed with Matt he was talking about someone whose father has “Nappy Roots” ties. Tisdale’s crystal ball currently has Kentucky listed as a 60% favorite, with Louisville at a 30% and Oklahoma at 10%. Young’s recruiting pitches may be working.
Young might have also been referencing Izayah Cummings, a three-star wide receiver from Louisville Male High School. He’s clearly still working on that recruiting pitch, too.
Even though helping bring in the state’s top talent isn’t necessarily a primary goal for most fellow high schoolers, Young says it’s a position he’s come to enjoy.
“It’s been great. I love being able to talk to all these guys and kind of get to know them better and see what they’re thinking. Everybody I’ve talked to… I haven’t talked to anybody who hasn’t had anything but good things to say about Kentucky.”
Here’s a look at the entire Hey Kentucky! interview.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©May 31st, 2019 @ 1:45pm
Massive news in the world of college sports this afternoon.
According to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, the SEC has officially lifted its ban on stadium-wide alcohol sales, with its effective start date being August 1.
News: The #SEC has lifted the ban on stadium-wide alcohol sales, with restrictions, source says. Effective date is Aug. 1.
? ? ?
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) May 31, 2019
While there will be restrictions, the decades-old bylaw prohibiting SEC schools from selling alcohol in general seating areas at athletic venues is no more. The general guidelines limit sales exclusively to beer and wine. Vendors will be restricted from selling alcohol inside the stands.
Last season, Arizona, Oregon, Boston College, Oklahoma State, and Colorado allowed alcohol sales in both general seating and premium areas, while Illinois, Rutgers, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech will be doing the same this fall. Over 55 Football Bowl Subdivision programs also serve alcohol throughout their respective stadiums.
According to a report by Sports Illustrated last weekend, “many” of those schools and venues made the change due to the opportunity for “an additional revenue stream, fewer reported binge drinking incidents and an enhanced game-day experience that boosts attendance.”
With the SEC’s attendance average of 73,994 being the lowest since 2002 and nearly 5,000 below the conference average in 2015, there were several rumors that this was a strong possibility during the league’s annual spring meetings in Destin, Florida this week.
Now, it’s official, as the SEC will now give member schools permission to sell alcohol to all fans at games. Each school can make its own decision on whether they want to do so.
Ready or not, alcohol is likely coming to Kroger Field, Rupp Arena, Kentucky Proud Park, and the rest of the SEC athletic facilities starting in August.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©May 30th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
The deadline has passed for those testing the NBA Draft waters, and for Kentucky, it went as well as you could’ve hoped.
The only two players on the roster left with decisions to make, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, each decided that they would be returning to school. Now, Kentucky has a roster capable of making a Final Four run next season.
But is the UK coaching staff done?
In this edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes, we break down the decisions of both Wildcat forwards, whether or not Kentucky will be recruiting Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., and if they’ll look to 2020 for another big man.
Let’s dive right in.
Last night, Kentucky forward EJ Montgomery announced he would be withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to school for a sophomore season.
And while it’s massive news for the roster and the team’s depth top-to-bottom, the news certainly wasn’t the expectation.
In last week’s edition of my notes, I said that the momentum had shifted back in Kentucky’s favor and that those on Montgomery’s side of things expected him back in Lexington this season. Originally, I had heard that while his first run of workouts had gone okay, teams encouraged him to return to school and develop for one more season before making the jump. At the time, I felt fairly confident that both Montgomery and Kentucky center Nick Richards would be back.
During his second round of workouts, though, I heard that a few teams had promised him the guaranteed contract he was looking for in the second round, with some rumblings indicating that he might even slide in at the end of the first. From there, Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader posted the article of former Wildcat Tony Delk, who worked out with Montgomery last week, saying he thought the Wildcat forward was staying in the draft.
After the back-to-back set of not-so-positive news for Kentucky, I definitely admit that my gut feeling flipped in favor of the NBA, and it stayed that way through the final decision.
I tried reaching out to some of the individuals in Montgomery’s inner-circle after his workout out in California on Tuesday to see if their optimism for a return had wavered at all after the fact, but I didn’t get much of anything back. On Kentucky’s end of things, John Calipari told reporters down at the SEC Meetings in Destin yesterday early afternoon that he still wasn’t certain of Montgomery’s decision. Sources tell KSR that not only was Calipari unaware of what the Kentucky forward was going to do in the hours leading up to the announcement, but so was the entire UK coaching staff.
After getting through to some folks after the decision was made, I definitely believe that Calipari’s advice tipped the scales on a truly 50/50 decision that went well into the day on Thursday. While there was significant interest in Montgomery from multiple NBA teams, the Kentucky head coach’s confidence in him to follow in PJ Washington’s footsteps and become a potential lottery pick next year pushed the scale in Kentucky’s favor.
While Montgomery’s return was more of a surprise, seeing Nick Richards’ announcement on Wednesday was not.
There was a very brief time that Richards contemplated keeping his name in the NBA Draft and exploring the professional ranks, but I’m told it was never an option that he seriously considered. While he obviously wants to get his professional career started sooner rather than later, he knows he still has work to do at the college level before he’s ready to make the jump.
From the minute he put his name in the draft, the Kentucky coaching staff expected the 6-foot-11 big man to learn what he needed from NBA teams and return to school. That’s exactly what happened.
As Calipari said when Richards made his announcement, those at UK are waiting for things to click for the former No. 1 center in the class of 2017, and they think it’s coming soon. When he realizes his true ability and builds up his confidence to play with consistency, they genuinely feel he can be one of the best big men in college basketball.
“I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be,” Calipari said in a press release. “I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’ There is no reason he can’t be. There is nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”
Physically, there’s no denying he’s gifted. If he can match that mentally? There is confidence within the program that he can have a Willie Cauley-Stein-esque impact on the team.
Kerry Blackshear Jr.
With Montgomery and Richards now back for next season, Kentucky will now turn its attention to closing out the 2019-20 roster with Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr.
And even with ten legitimate scholarship players on the team, sources tell KSR that the UK coaching staff is still hoping to bring in the 6-foot-11 big man and will be heavily involved in the recruiting process.
The fact that we’re even at this point, though, is surprising to me.
When Blackshear originally put his name in the draft, I was told on multiple occasions that he did so with the intention of keeping it in. He has already been in college for four years, put up solid numbers, made a decent run in the NCAA Tournament, etc. As much as he’d enjoy winning a national title, he’s already enjoyed a full college career, and the hope was that he’d do enough in the pre-draft process to give him a reason to start his professional career.
Unfortunately, that simply didn’t happen.
I talked to one individual who was actually at his Professional Basketball Combine workouts at the Mamba Center in California, who said it wasn’t a major shock that he decided to withdraw from the NBA Draft afterward. While he showed off solid versatility and shot fine, he just didn’t separate himself from the pack the way scouts hoped he would. Same goes with team and individual workouts.
In the end, Blackshear Jr. was almost certainly not getting drafted, and his journey to the NBA would have likely been dominated by years in the G-League. While he was (begrudgingly) open to either taking that route or playing professionally overseas, he decided it’d be beneficial to take one last stab at using what he learned during the pre-draft process to build his stock a bit more, competing for a title, and working toward his Master’s degree.
In terms of what’s next, I heard from someone I trust about a month ago that if Blackshear ended up withdrawing from the NBA Draft (highly unlikely in their mind at the time), Kentucky would be the likely landing spot. This was after Kentucky met with Blackshear’s family in Florida, mind you, so the confidence likely came from just how well that went. Blackshear’s camp has confidence in Calipari and his ability to put the 6-foot-11 star in position to thrive at the next level.
Outside of Kentucky, the main schools in contention are Florida and Texas A&M, along with a possible return to Virginia Tech.
For Florida, there is a legitimate need for him down low, and the coaching staff is selling him on being the missing piece for a potential Final Four contender. Beyond pure fit, he’s also from the Orlando, meaning he could spend his final season of college playing in front of his closest friends and family.
With the Aggies, his former Virginia Tech head coach, Buzz Williams, was hired this offseason and there is obvious familiarity there. As for a potential return to the Hokies, he’s already familiar with campus and new coach Mike Young seems confident that he’ll at least consider the opportunity.
I expect to hear of visits being scheduled in the very near future, with Blackshear ultimately ending up at either Kentucky or Florida.
We’re still early in the process, but I like UK’s position.
If Blackshear opts for another school to close out his college eligibility, the next big question is whether or not the Kentucky coaching staff will push for a reclassification from a prospect in the class of 2020.
The main targets? Five-star center N’Faly Dante, five-star center Makur Maker, five-star forward Isaiah Todd, and four-star center Cliff Omoruyi.
On Wednesday, Corey Evans of Rivals.com said that the Kentucky coaching staff is still “pushing” Dante to reclassify and join the 2019-20 roster.
“The Wildcats might not land N’Faly Dante, though they are pushing for his early enrollment,” he said.
At one point, sources told KSR that Kentucky was hoping Dante would remain in the class of 2020 to develop, but his dominant play during the winter and spring led UK to be more open-minded to a jump to 2019. I’m not certain of an updated status on that since Montgomery and Richards announced their return, but I do know that they love his game and think he has the potential to be next in line as a dominant shot blocker in Lexington. Oregon is seen as the slight favorite right now, with LSU also firmly in the running.
Omoruyi is also a possible option, and I definitely think he’d be open to taking the opportunity if it presented itself. As of today, I feel fairly confident that Kentucky leads for the four-star big man out of Roselle Catholic in New Jersey, though I think it’ll likely be for the 2020-21 season.
As for Maker, there are rumblings that he’s looking to either reclassify or go the professional route, but I’m not certain which is more likely right now. We’re still waiting on Calipari to offer a scholarship at this point, so if he does decide to make the jump, I don’t see him landing at Kentucky.
And finally with Todd, I think the only way he was playing for UK in 2019 was if Coach Cal found himself in desperation mode following the NBA Draft deadline. With his pair of former five-stars back in Lexington, the Kentucky coaching staff hopes to snag him in 2020.
In short, if a 2020 prospect begs Kentucky for a roster spot this coming season, I believe Calipari would be open to it, but it’s not a necessity. The UK coaching staff is confident in what they have currently and are not in desperate need of adding another piece. If Blackshear ends up elsewhere, my gut tells me the 2019-20 roster is set as-is.
Six months ago Nik Scalzo’s football future was dramatically altered…or so we thought.
Playing in the 5A Florida regional semifinals, Scalzo suffered a torn ACL in his left knee after catching a pass on a trick play. An injury that could sideline some for up to a year, Scalzo went back into the game and led his team to a game-winning touchdown drive. Cardinal Gibbons High School went on to win the school’s first state championship.
Even though he fought through the injury for a series, many UK fans feared Scalzo would not be prepared to participate in practice at the University of Kentucky this fall. After a grueling rehab schedule, Scalzo is playing playing fullcourt basketball and doing backflips in his spare time.
My goal was to be able to backflip before I leave for college? finally hit one? pic.twitter.com/H7gnAdQ2zQ
— Nik Scalzo (@NikScalzo) May 29, 2019
Cleared to participate in all team activities when he reports to campus June 15, Scalzo spoke to KSR about the devastating injury, the rehabilitation process and more, including his upcoming appearance on the Netflix documentary QB1.
KSR: What was going through your head when you took that hit in the playoffs?
Scalzo: Really the only thing was — when I got hit we were up by a couple points — and the only thing I thought about in that game was just winning. After the backup came in and threw a pick six, I went back in. We drove down the field and we scored on that drive and they took me back out. Just the idea of winning that game basically.
KSR: Did anyone tell you not to go back into the game?
Scalzo: Yeah, everyone (laughs). My whole training staff and my coach too, but I told em, ‘I’m gonna go play.’
KSR: Was it a ton of pain? I can’t even imagine playing through that.
Scalzo: Yeah, you couldn’t really put pressure on it, so I relied on my left leg a lot. When I was throwing the ball, I was using my arm, only arm.
KSR: You got that win and Cardinal Gibbons ended up winning state. What was it like watching them go through all of that from the sideline?
Scalzo: It was definitely humbling, just because I was not there and that was our plan was to win state my senior year. I had to stay as positive as I could. I tried to talk to and coach the backup quarterback at the time. I was like, ‘This is your team now. Next year it’s going to be yours. Might as well take it over now.’ I told him he needed to get his mind right. And honestly, I enjoyed it because I got to watch the team from the sidelines a little bit, as much as I’d love to be playing. It humbled me, I could say that.
With the commitment of Justin Rogers now on the books for the class of 2020, Kentucky landed their 28th blue-chip prospect (four or five-star ranking) in the Mark Stoops era. Playing in the SEC, Kentucky is always going to be fighting an uphill talent when it comes to the recruiting game, but Stoops and recruiting ace Vince Marrow have helped close the gap.
When Kentucky lands a top notch prospect, it is imperative that they are spot on with their evaluation and are able to develop the player to get him on the field to be a contributor to the team. Early on in the Stoops era, we saw Kentucky miss on some guys and attrition took some out of the program. This played into the fact that it took Kentucky four years to finally post a winning record.
In the first two recruiting classes, Kentucky reeled in nine blue-chip prospects and only Za’Darius Smith became a draft pick. The cornerstone of the first class was Jason Hatcher and the Louisville Trinity alum was dismissed from the team following his sophomore season. Drew Barker and Matt Elam were hailed as big time recruiting wins, but neither could become a full-time starter at Kentucky. Boom Williams, despite not getting drafted, was very successful at the college level. The highest rated wide receiver Kentucky has landed was Thaddeus Snodgrass and the member of the 2014 class transferred to the Division III level after not making an impact at UK.
Where it all began to change for the program was with the class of 2015 despite it being the lowest ranked recruiting haul of the Stoops era. The highest rated commit was Eli Brown who would transfer to WKU after three seasons to what appeared to be a family decision. After that there were not many misses. C.J. Conrad was the only other blue-chip and he was a four-year starter and a third-team All-SEC performer his junior season. Josh Allen and George Asafo-Adjei became draft picks and it looks like Logan Stenberg will be too in the 2020 draft.
Following the 2015 class, Kentucky came through with a very strong instate haul in 2016. Kash Daniel, Drake Jackson, and Landon Young each became quality starters and will be integral parts for the 2019 team. Each will have a shot at all-conference honors while Young has the size and skillset to turn into a day one NFL Draft selection. This began a very hot run of hits on blue-chippers.
The class of 2017 has a very strong chance to become the best signing group of the Stoops era and it starts with the star power. That year Kentucky reeled in five blue-chip prospects headlined by Lynn Bowden. The junior bursted onto the scene last season and all signs point towards a monster junior season. After that, Joshua Paschal, Tyrell Ajian, and Yusuf Corker have all played a reserve role on defense after each taking a redshirt season. It’s clear that they will be a big part of the defense moving forward. UK lost Ja’Vonte Richardson after one season when the big bodied receiver moved to junior college.
This past season we saw Kentucky continue this hot streak. Chris Oats started one game and flashed signs of future stardom in a reserve role. He’ll be a day one starter this season. Darian Kinnard joined the offensive line rotation as a true freshman and he’ll be RT1 entering his sophomore year. Marquan McCall flashed signs of potential and if he’s able to stay in playing shape he’ll be an excellent nose man in UK’s 3-4 scheme.
In the class of 2019, Kentucky was able to have more defensive success by pulling in edge prospects Jared Casey and JJ Weaver out of Louisville in addition to Ohio safety and legacy recruit Moses Douglass. Kentucky continues to add some big time line of scrimmage talent in the class of 2019 with Lamar Goods and John Young on the board with Justin Rogers.
We’re seeing Kentucky turning their top recruits into big time players and that is a very good sign.
The Kentucky football program is as hot as it has ever been on the recruiting trail and it looks like the staff will continue to reel in four-star prospects. In the last two seasons, we’ve seen Kentucky land two major transfers (Ahmad Wagner and Xavier Peters) who were both top-300 recruits out of high school. It will be vital for Kentucky to have a strong hit rate on these players because that is how you turn 7-8 wins into 9-10 wins with consistent top 25 finishes.
With that said, Kentucky’s success is always going to be related to how they evaluate three-star prospects. For every blue-chip there is going to be a couple three-stars and Kentucky must continue to develop these types of players. They’ve had a ton of success with this in the past (Benny Snell, Josh Allen, Bunch Stallings, Josh Forrest, Jordan Jones, etc.) and that will need to continue in the future.
Apparently we aren’t done with 2019-20 roster news after all. According to Al.com’s Matt Zenitz, Brad Calipari has entered the transfer portal.
The possibility of Brad transferring has been mentioned before. He redshirted this past season and graduated from Kentucky earlier this month, so he will have two years of immediate eligibility left. John Calipari even mentioned the option in an interview with Jim Rome during the tournament.
“He can go to another school, a smaller school where he’ll play more,” Cal said, before adding he believes Brad will stay at Kentucky.
Will Brad finish his college career at Kentucky or go to a school where he can get more playing time? If it’s the latter, somebody on the team needs to step up their sartorial game.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©May 29th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
This evening, Kentucky forward EJ Montgomery announced that he would be withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to UK for a sophomore season.
In an official press release, the 6-foot-10 big man said that he enjoyed his first season in Lexington, felt the team did great things, and appreciated the fans for all their support.
“Big Blue Nation, I just want to say thanks for all you’ve done for me and my family,” Montgomery said. “I enjoyed putting on a Kentucky uniform with my brothers and playing in front of the best fans in the nation. I appreciate your support for me and my teammates this season. I want to say thanks for Coach Cal, Coach KP, Coach Joel, Coach Robic and Coach Barbee for pushing me every single day to be the best I can be on and off the court. I got to compete against the best of the best every day in practice. We had a good season on the court because of our love for the grind. I’m proud of what we accomplished together.”
That being said, he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to the NBA yet.
“BBN, I’m back. Year two,” he announced.
So what does today’s big decision mean for Kentucky moving forward?
Montgomery can be one heck of a player
Averaging 3.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and a block per game as a freshman, the 6-foot-10 forward didn’t make a major impact from a pure numbers standpoint, and his NBA Draft stock reflected that. After originally testing the waters, Montgomery wasn’t invited to the NBA Combine and there wasn’t a single mock draft from a major media outlet with him included.
Looking at his potential, though, it’s also obvious why teams were fascinated with Montgomery as a potential late second-rounder or undrafted free agent to bring on as a two-way player.
In very short spurts, the Fort Pierce, FL native showed the ability to be an elite rebounder, comfortably bring the ball up the floor, make solid passes, knock down mid-range jumpers, and possess a soft touch around the rim at various moments. He showed he can put it all together at the high school level, hence why he was considered a top-ten recruit in the class of 2018. With another year of college, there was always a chance he would’ve been able to put it all together at Kentucky and turn himself into a lottery pick.
Instead of pulling the trigger on his professional career and potentially getting lost in the shuffle as a G-League player, we get to see if Montgomery can live up to his star potential in Lexington for one more season.
If you ask Kentucky head coach John Calipari, he thinks the now-sophomore can make that happen.
“I’m thrilled to be able to continue to coach EJ,” he said. “He has a special skillset and he’s only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. EJ knows how hard this is going to be, and I know he’s ready to embrace the grind and do everything he can for this team while continuing to develop into the best version of himself.”
Depth at every position
Before yesterday, the only scholarship player Kentucky had listed as over 6-foot-7 was Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina.
With EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards now back for another year, Kentucky has legitimate depth at every position and flexibility to work in several different fun and unique lineup next season.
Here is what the loose depth chart looks like as of today:
PG: Ashton Hagans/Immanuel Quickley
SG: Tyrese Maxey/Johnny Juzang/Brad Calipari
SF: Kahlil Whitney/Dontaie Allen
PF: EJ Montgomery/Keion Brooks Jr.
C: Nick Richards/Nate Sestina
Ten legitimate scholarship players, including eight 5-stars, one 4-star, and a graduate transfer who averaged nearly 16 points and nine rebounds per game last year.
If Calipari wants to utilize a traditional lineup, he can go with Hagans, Maxey, Whitney, Montgomery, and Richards. Small ball lineup with elite versatility? Hagans, Maxey, Juzang, Whitney, and Brooks. Shooting lineup? Quickley, Maxey, Juzang, Brooks, and Sestina. Pure size and length? Hagans, Juzang, Whitney, Montgomery, and Richards.
As mentioned in my “Five reasons to be excited for Junior Nick Richards” post yesterday (you can find that HERE), Calipari is looking to get out and run in transition next season with a roster full of versatile players, and Montgomery fits that mold perfectly. He’s always been incredibly skilled, and if he can slow down and let the game come to him as a sophomore, he can really take that next step forward as a high-level starter in the SEC.
Kentucky can still add one more piece
Now that we have a decision from Montgomery, we can now sit back and relax the rest of the way with little-to-no pressure. Following Nate Sestina’s decision to sign with Kentucky (and when Montgomery and Richards seemed like a lock to return to school), a source within the basketball program told KSR that there is “plenty of room” to add another piece if one presented itself.
At the time of this post, the obvious piece to look at is potential Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. If he decides to withdraw from the NBA Draft, the UK coaching staff is expected to still push for a commitment from him, hoping to give the Wildcats a high-level starter from a Power-5 school for the second year in a row.
If not, 2020 prospects N’Faly Dante, Makur Maker, Cliff Omoruyi, and Isaiah Todd have all been included in reclassification rumors. If the Kentucky coaching staff feels a bit feisty and wants to make a push for one of them to make the jump to provide even more depth, they have the flexibility to.
No matter what happens with Blackshear or what the Kentucky coaching staff decides to do moving forward regarding reclassification candidates, they can do it without the worry of being, for lack of a better word, screwed in the frontcourt. There won’t be any begging and they certainly aren’t desperate.
As it stands right now, the 2019-20 roster is loaded from top to bottom with no real glaring holes. Anything else would be icing on the (already-massive and packed-with-flavor) cake.
Make no mistake about it, Kentucky now has the pieces in place to contend for a national championship next season.
It’s already been a big day for Kentucky’s 2019-20 roster thanks to EJ Montgomery’s decision to return for a sophomore season, and the night is far from over. Kerry Blackshear just made things even more interesting.
The Virginia Tech grad transfer just announced he has withdrawn from the NBA Draft, meaning he’ll be eligible to compete on the collegiate level next season. Blackshear made the announcement on Instagram.
“After taking the time to weigh my options, I have decided to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft. I am still evaluating my options for my last year of eligibility and feel extremely fortunate to be in the position that I am in. I look forward to continuing my education and earning a Master’s degree while competing in the sport that I love as I continue working toward my goal of playing professionally.”
View this post on Instagram
Blackshear, listed at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, was a second team All-ACC selection last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He also led the Hokies with 28 blocked shots and ranked third with 83 assists. He entered his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal after Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams left for the Texas A&M job, and ESPN named him the No. 1 ranked college basketball transfer on the market.
Several insiders predicted Blackshear would leave his name in the Draft or even try his hand at the G League, even though he wasn’t one of the players invited to this year’s NBA Combine. On the other hand, Blackshear was high on Kentucky’s list after announcing his decision to transfer, and the UK staff met with him right away. At one point, Kentucky even seemed like the favorite in the grad transfer’s recruitment. Now, could a Montgomery-Richards-Sestina front court hurt the Cats’ chances?
It’s important to acknowledge his decision to withdraw from the Draft does not necessarily mean Blackshear is heading to Lexington, as he clearly states he’s still evaluating his options. Other contenders include Florida, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Tennessee and Texas A&M, or he could decide to return to Virginia Tech. However, with the NBA officially out of the picture, he could be Kentucky’s to lose.
By Maggie Davis on ©May 29th, 2019 @ 6:22pm
Reports of an EJ Montgomery return were released a few minutes before 6:00 ET Wednesday afternoon, but things weren’t necessarily official until Montgomery eventually confirmed the news himself. He made the announcement on Instagram.
“Hey Big Blue Nation: I just want to say thanks for all you’ve done for me and my family. I enjoyed putting on a Kentucky uniform with my brothers and playing in front of the best fans in the nation. I appreciate your support for me and my team this season.”
“I want to say thanks to Coach Cal, Coach KP, Coach Joel, Coach Robic [and] Coach Barbee for pushing me every single day to be the best I can be on and off the court. I got to compete against the best of the best everyday in practice. We had a good season on the court because of our love for the grind. I’m proud of what we accomplished together. BBN, I’m back – year two.”
The folks with UK confirmed the news soon after his video was posted.
We (REALLY) like our team.
Spread the word, EJ is back for his sophomore season.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) May 29, 2019
John Calipari also weighed in, saying Montgomery has only “begun to scratch the surface of his potential.”
“I’m thrilled to be able to continue to coach EJ. He has a special skillset and he’s only begun to scratch the surface of his potential,” Calipari said in the press release. “EJ knows how hard this is going to be, and I know he’s ready to embrace the grind and do everything he can for this team while continuing to develop into the best version of himself.”
Calipari also acknowledged it was a tough choice for Montgomery and his family.
“When EJ and his family set out to go through this NBA Draft process, I told EJ he had my full support no matter what he decided,” Calipari said. “I know this was a tough decision for EJ and his family because of the positive feedback he received throughout this process. EJ improved so much during the season and I know how much he wants to show our fans what he can do with another year.”
By Maggie Davis on ©May 29th, 2019 @ 5:46pm
EJ Montgomery will return to Lexington next year for a sophomore season with John Calipari and the University of Kentucky, according to NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
It clearly came down to the wire, but Montgomery ultimately decided a second lap around Rupp Arena is the best move for himself and his future career.
Kentucky F EJ Montgomery will pull out of the 2019 NBA Draft and return to school for his sophomore season, source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 29, 2019
Last season, the freshman averaged 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while totaling 38 total blocks, 16 steals and 15 assists.
We still haven’t received any official news from Montgomery himself or from the University, but Woj typically knows what he’s talking about. We’ll have more as the story develops.
Jeff Goodman has also announced Montgomery’s pending return.
Kentucky’s EJ Montgomery will return to school, source told @stadium. Much-needed for the ‘Cats.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) May 29, 2019
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©May 29th, 2019 @ 5:16pm
This is not the Kentucky Basketball news you’re waiting for, but the SEC just revealed the home-and-away matchups for each team in the league for the upcoming season.
Kentucky’s permanent home-and-away opponents remain Florida, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. In the 2019-20 season, the Cats will also play Auburn and Georgia twice in the regular season. They’ll also host Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Missouri and travel to Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina, and Texas A&M. That’s a little confusing in words, so here it is in a nifty chart courtesy of UK:
|2019-20 SEC Home Games||2019-20 SEC Away Games|
|Mississippi State||South Carolina|
My main takeaway? Thank goodness we only have to play LSU once. Also, this gives me a chance to knock Baton Rouge off my SEC bucket list.
Dates and additional non-conference opponents will be released at a later time. Here’s the non-conference schedule as we know it:
- Nov. 5 – vs. Michigan State | Madison Square Garden | New York | State Farm Champions Classic
- Nov. 8 – Eastern Kentucky| Rupp Arena | Lexington
- Nov. 12 – Evansville | Rupp Arena | Lexington
- Dec. 18 – Utah | T-Mobile Arena | Las Vegas
- Dec. 21 – Ohio State | T-Mobile Arena | Las Vegas | CBS Sports Classic
And a nifty graphic from Craig Pinkerton so you can see each team’s draw.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©May 28th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
This afternoon, Sophomore Nick Richards officially graduated to Junior Nick Richards, as the 6-foot-11 center announced he would be returning to Kentucky for another season.
“These past two years have been the best of my life,” Richards said in a press release. “It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve learned a lot, but the job’s not done yet. BBN, are you ready for year three?”
We know it’s a big decision for the Wildcats and the layout of the 2019-20 roster, but why?
Here are five reasons why Kentucky fans should be excited about Richard sticking around for another season in Lexington:
It was a necessity
Before we get into the specifics of what Richards brings to the table as a player, the fact of the matter is that Kentucky needed a body in the frontcourt, and they needed one badly.
We’re still waiting on a decision from freshman forward EJ Montgomery, but looking at the roster as it currently stands, they are loaded in the backcourt and incredibly thin up front. Before Richards made his decision today, Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina (6-foot-9) was the only confirmed scholarship player on the roster listed as taller than 6-foot-7.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari has flirted with small-ball lineups as of late, and he certainly has the tools to utilize them a lot more next season with Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. both being solid post threats. Having just one legitimate big man, though, is far too risky going into the year.
If Montgomery leaves for the NBA Draft, Kentucky would still like one more piece to add to the frontcourt, with Kerry Blackshear Jr. being the obvious replacement option. If the Virginia Tech forward stays in the draft, that would leave the UK coaching staff scouring the graduate transfer market (slim pickings) and/or forcing their hand to convince a 2020 prospect or two to reclassify to 2019.
One more piece is certainly doable. Adding two solid contributors this late in the game, though? That’s an awful lot of pressure on the coaching staff.
With Richards now back for a junior campaign, the Cats have a bit of flexibility and far less weight on their shoulders to hit a home run to close out the 2019-20 roster.
Potential for spike in production
As much as Kentucky needed Richards to return from a pure numbers standpoint, it’s also important to factor in that we could see a massive jump in the 6-foot-11 center’s game next season.
Looking at Willie Cauley-Stein’s statistics from his time in Lexington, specifically during his phenomenal junior campaign, the 7-footer managed PER-40 numbers of 13.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per contest. Taking an even deeper look, Cauley-Stein finished with an offensive rating (points scored or produced per 100 possessions) of 119.8 and a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 80.
As for Richards last year, the sophomore big man had PER-40 totals of 13.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 4.2 blocks per game to go with an offensive rating of 123.1 and a defensive rating of 93.4.
Obviously Cauley-Stein was the superior player and was a consensus First-Team All-American and National Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, but Richards is no chopped liver.
When he announced he was returning to school this afternoon, John Calipari said that he believes Richards could be the best big man in the nation.
In fact, he expects it.
“I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be,” he said. “I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’ There is no reason he can’t be. There is nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”
With confidence, Richards has proven he can be that dominant player. He’s had point totals of 25, 14, 12, 11, and 10 (five times), rebound totals of 19, 15 (twice), nine (twice), and eight (five times), and has finished with two or more blocks 21 times in two seasons as a Wildcat.
We joked a lot about “Sophomore Nick Richards” last year, but if he can combine his natural gifts as a pure athlete with just a slight bit of confidence in his abilities, the forward out of Kingston, Jamaica can be a high-impact player for Kentucky next season.
Style of play
As mentioned earlier, Coach Cal toyed with small-ball lineups a bit last season, and judging by how he has constructed his roster with long, athletic wings, he’s interested in doing something similar this season. In fact, sources have told KSR that the Kentucky head coach is trying to go back to his four-out Dribble Drive system this season and play in the open floor as much as possible.
Richards is the perfect big man to make that happen.
The current roster is loaded with players that thrive in transition and are comfortable making plays with the ball in their hands. Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Johnny Juzang, Whitney, Brooks Jr., and Dontaie Allen are all stellar at grabbing rebounds and/or loose balls and just taking off. With Sestina having the ability to knock down deep jumpers at a consistent rate, the only obvious hole on the team was a rim running big with the ability to run the floor, catch lobs, and defend the paint.
Richards is that guy.
He was compared to Cauley-Stein as a high school recruit, and unfortunately, we’ve only seen flashes of that in his first two years in Lexington. In his third, the fit is perfect for Richards to finally unlock some of that hidden potential.
This is an easy point to make, but it’s always an important and valuable one.
In two years, Richards has been to a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight. He’s had his ups and downs as a player, but he knows what it takes to win basketball games in the SEC and in postseason play.
We’ve seen sophomores like PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, Isaiah Briscoe, and Tyler Ulis play major roles in recent memory, and we’ve also had graduate transfers such as Reid Travis, Julius Mays, and now Nate Sestina provide guidance as college basketball veterans. That being said, we rarely see third-year players with two full seasons under their belt in Lexington with the ability to provide that much-needed leadership in the locker room. In fact, this is the first time in three years that Kentucky has had a scholarship junior on the roster.
To take it a step further, it’s entirely possible that Kentucky boasts a starting lineup with a true freshman (Maxey, Whitney), sophomore (Hagans), junior (Richards), and senior (Sestina) next season.
Keeping Richards around for another year was huge for team chemistry and overall leadership.
Time for more phenomenal quotes
During his first season at Kentucky, Richards told KSR at UK Media Day that he enjoyed sitting in the dark in his free time. No television, no phone, no distractions, nothing.
“Nick Richards, he loves to sit in the dark. I don’t know why,” former UK point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said in 2017. “A lot of times when I go to his room, he’s just in the dark. His blinds are always down, he just loves the dark. I don’t understand why.”
When asked for his response, the Kentucky center had no rebuttal.
“Yeah, I do,” Richards said. “(I don’t meditate, either), I just… Whenever I’m by myself, I love sitting in the dark. It’s just how I’ve been since I was a little kid. I didn’t really like being around lights that much. I guess that’s a bad habit of mine.”
(Proof is HERE if you don’t believe me)
And then oddly enough, when Drew Franklin asked him about it this past season, Richards acted like he had no idea what he was talking about. Whether he dropped the habit, forgot he ever did it, or just lied, the quote was an absolute gem.
Fast forward to the end of this past season, Richards gave us yet another fascinating quote during the NCAA Tournament that certainly made headlines.
Prior to Kentucky’s Round of 32 matchup with Wofford, the Wildcat big man said the UK frontcourt was simply “better than them overall.”
“It’s a really good advantage for us,” he said. “They’re not really as athletic. … Their bigs are really skilled around the basket, they know how to move on the floor, but we’re just better than them overall, I think, so the advantage is our way, in my opinion.”
Probably wasn’t the best idea to give the Terriers locker room material with the season on the line, but it was priceless either way.
Hopefully a confidence boost this offseason will provide more great quotes and even better on-court performances.
Sophomore Junior Nick Richards.
After going through the NBA Draft evaluation process, Nick Richards has decided to return to Kentucky for his junior season. The big man just announced the news on Instagram.
“First off, I want to thank God, the man up above, for without him I couldn’t do any of this,” Richards said. “Next, I want to thank my family: my mom, my aunt, my sister (and) my brothers. I want to thank my teammates and the coaching staff, for without them I wouldn’t be here. They pushed me in the right direction that I needed to be to where I am today.
“These past two years have been the best of my life. It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve learned a lot, but the job’s not done yet. BBN, are you ready for year three?”
Last season, Richards averaged 4.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game, shooting 59.8% from the floor and 69.0% from the free-throw line. He led the team in blocks with 47, including a career-high five swats vs. Kansas. During his two-year career in Lexington, he’s appeared in all 74 games, making 40 starts and averaging 4.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
“I was fully supportive of Nick going through the NBA Draft process for the first time in his career to see where he stood,” John Calipari said. “I’m happy with where Nick and his family ended up and I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be. I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’ There is no reason he can’t be. There is nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”
Junior Nick Richards has a nice ring to it.
By Drew Franklin on ©May 28th, 2019 @ 9:15am
Taylon Vail’s life was cut short when he was struck by stray bullets from a drive-by shooting in West Memphis this past April. Vail, a 16-year-old with a promising future in basketball, was asleep on his grandmother’s couch when he was killed.
Vail’s family is having a hard time coping with the loss of such a young life, especially Taylon’s mother, Tabatha Vail; but John Calipari was able to put a smile on her face with a recent act of kindness.
In a new story in The Memphis Commercial Appeal, we learn Calipari shipped a custom UK basketball jersey with Vail’s name across the back, in addition to an official scholarship offer to the University of Kentucky, Vail’s dream school.
“When I opened it up – oh my goodness – I was bawling crying,” Vail said. “I was so excited.”
Inside was a custom, blue Kentucky jersey marked with her son’s last name and his favorite number. On the front, it was signed by Wildcats coach John Calipari.
Accompanying the gear was a letter and an official scholarship offer, intended to fulfill a dream that was tragically stopped short his freshman year of high school.
It was a moment that had been in the works for several weeks, spearheaded by Brown-McCormick, who initially emailed the university and kept the gifts a secret until Mother’s Day.
Taylon Vail always wanted to play college basketball, and his hope was to attend Kentucky just like fellow Arkansas prospect Malik Monk.
Calipari was able to fulfill the young kid’s dream, to which Vail’s mother said, “It’s sad that it had to come true in this way, but just to know that he’s still loved, and that John Calipari took the time to sign the jersey and offer him a full-ride – based on a story – that is the most amazing thing ever.”
Read the entire story here and be proud of your favorite basketball coach.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©May 27th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
Last week, Drew had some fun with SnapChat’s Gender Swap filter, showing you what your favorite Kentucky Wildcats would look like as members of the opposite sex. Today, let’s do the same with another SnapChat feature taking social media by storm: the Baby Filter, which instantly transforms users into childlike versions of themselves.
John Calipari’s been known to throw a temper tantrum or two on the sidelines, which makes this picture especially fitting:
Here’s Baby Cal talking about Brad’s “Earned Not Given” tattoo a few years ago:
What about Cal’s counterpart on the gridiron? Mark Stoops already has a baby face, but the filter makes him look especially cherubic:
Eddie Gran’s transformation is much more satisfying:
Look how young the Big Dog looks!
Snapchat apparently doesn’t believe babies should have neck tattoos:
On to basketball. Coach K may be 72, but he doesn’t look a day over seven as he runs to embrace Grayson Allen:
Was Bruce Pearl the inspiration for the Surplus Sales billboards that you see all over Eastern Kentucky?
The filter really worked miracles on Rick Pitino:
Meanwhile, Louisville’s current coach Chris Mack looks like the Startled Baby meme:
It’s okay, Chris. I had the same reaction when I heard “L1C4” for the first time, too.