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Friday’s Top 10: Happy Opening Day at Keeneland

keeneland

Happy Friday, friends. I’m sure many of you will find excuses to slip out of work early today to go enjoy the opening day of the spring meet at Keeneland, a time of year I get so homesick it hurts. If you do head out to the racetrack today, bundle up; highs are only supposed to get in the low 50’s, but something tells me that won’t stop girls from wearing sundresses and cowboy boots or wedges.

For the rest of us, there’s plenty to do, so let’s run through the agenda.

1. Calipari offered Mark Smith

The recruiting dead period ended yesterday at noon and John Calipari went straight to work to shore up Kentucky’s bare cupboard at guard, traveling to Edwardsville, Illinois to visit Mark Smith. Cal extended a scholarship offer to the Illinois Mr. Basketball on that trip, a sign of how serious this fast and furious this recruitment has become. Smith also has offers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Missouri, Butler, and Michigan State and is expected to visit the Spartans this weekend. Also of note: Smith will play in the Derby Classic in Louisville later this month.

2. Don’t forget about Jemarl Baker and Cameron Johnson

 

Calipari is headed to California today to visit Jemarl Baker, a four-star shooting guard that decommitted from Cal when Cuonzo Martin took the job at Missouri. Yesterday, 247 Sports recruiting guru Jerry Meyer told the Herald Leader he believes Baker’s the best fit for the Cats next season.

“I think the idea here is to get shooting, and I like him best as a shooter,” Meyer said. “All three are good, solid players. Baker just makes the most sense to me. I think he’s the better of the three, and I think he’s the better shooter of the three.”

As I told you in the post directly before this one, Kentucky has reportedly also offered Pitt grad transfer Cam Johnson, who will be able to play right away and have two years of eligibility remaining. Not only is Johnson an impressive shooter, making 41.5% of his threes last season, he’s also 6’8″, meaning he has the size Calipari loves. For more on Johnson, read Roush’s profile on him from last week.

3. ICYMI, Isaiah Briscoe is gone

One of the reasons Kentucky needs guards so badly next season is that three of this year’s have announced plans to go pro. Yesterday, Isaiah Briscoe followed in De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk’s footsteps by announcing that he’ll go to the draft and sign with an agent, ending his two-year career at UK. This move doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s talked to Briscoe in the last year, and although he’s not included in any of the major mock drafts/prospect rankings, here’s hoping he lands somewhere good. We know he’s got the drive.

4. Is Isaac Humphries leaving too?

We’ve heard rumblings for a while that Isaac Humphries was thinking of going pro in his native Australia. Humphries told Joe Mussatto that he was rethinking his future at UK during the tournament and Calipari said that an Australian scout watched Humphries in practice last month. Yesterday, Evan Daniels added fuel to the fire when he tweeted that Humphries is “seriously contemplating pursuing professional options.” Daniels said Humphries hasn’t made his mind up, but with a loaded frontcourt coming in, this is something to keep an eye on. Although, it would be such a shame coming off a game after which Humphries would have likely been considered a folk hero had the Cats won.

5. A CNN analyst compared the US bombing Syria last night to Kentucky basketball

After US warships launched at least 50 tomahawk missiles at Syria last night, CNN analsyt Major General Spider Marks compared the bombing to Kentucky basketball in one of the most ridiculous and inappropriate statements I think I’ve ever heard.

Stick to war, General Marks, and keep Kentucky Basketball outta your mouth.

6. The Nike Hoop Summit is tonight

If you like your all-star high school basketball late at night, you’re in luck because the Nike Hoop Summit tips off tonight at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2 from Portland, Oregon. Shai Alexander and Nick Richards are on the World Team, and will face Jarred Vanderbilt, Mo Bamba, and Kevin Knox on Team USA. Quade Green is also a member of Team USA, but suffered a concussion yesterday and is unlikely to play tonight.

7. Mo Bamba’s wingspan is insane

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Yesterday, the Nike Hoop Summit released the measurements for Team USA, and the ones that stand out the most are Mohamed Bamba’s 7’9″ wingspan and 9’6″ standing reach. If you’re looking for a comparison, Wilt Chamberlain’s famous wingspan was 7’8″ and Anthony Davis’ measured at 7’5.5″ at the 2012 Draft Combine and has reportedly grown to 7’7.75″. The largest wingspan in NBA history belonged to 7’7″ Maunte Bol, whose arms spread a ridiculous 8’6″.

Just another reason we’ve gotta get Bamba.

8. I’ll have a review of Calipari’s 30 for 30 for you later

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a screener of Calipari’s 30 for 30 last night and it’s really, really good. I’ll have a complete review for you this afternoon, but until then, do yourself a favor and make sure your DVR is set to record the documentary, which debuts next Thursday night (April 13) at 9 p.m. on ESPN. Here’s the trailer:

9. The Masters rolls on

It’s Friday at The Masters, which means it’s going to on my second computer monitor for most of the day. After yesterday’s windy start, only 11 players are under par, led by Charley Hoffman, who leads at -7, four strokes ahead of William McGirt in second place. Phil Mickelson is tied with Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, and a bunch of players at -1, while JB Holmes is tied for 74th at 6+ after bogeying his last five holes. Ouch.

You can see all the tee times here.

10. Go see De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Dominique Hawkins, and Derek Willis on their signing tours this weekend

The Signing Tours start in force this weekend, so get on out there and say thank you to this year’s Cats before they take the next step:

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Isaiah Briscoe will enter the draft and sign with an agent

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In a move most of us saw coming, Isaiah Briscoe just announced he is declaring for the draft and will sign with an agent. Briscoe tested the waters last year, but decided to return to Kentucky for his sophomore year. Now, he’s ready to take the leap for good.

“BBN, thank you to the greatest fans in the entire world,” Briscoe said in a release from UK. “Thank you to Coach Cal, Coach KP (Kenny Payne), Coach Tony (Barbee), Coach JJ (Joel Justus), Coach Robes (John Robic), and (strength and conditioning coach) Rob (Harris). You helped me develop my game on the court and helped me grow as a man off the court.

“Thank you to my brothers. We’ve been through so much together and accomplished even more. Thank you to my family and friends. Without your support, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

It was a dream to play in front of BBN and an honor to wear K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y across my chest. I’m ready for the next step and can’t wait to begin the next journey.”

“Isaiah is a winner,” John Calipari said. “Physically and mentally he’s a pit bull with skills with the ball. We averaged nearly 30 wins a season over the last two years and Isaiah played a big part in all of them. Isaiah defends, he rebounds and he creates shots for others. I am so proud of his improvement over his time here and am looking forward to seeing his continued growth at the next level.”

Over two years, Brsicoe started 69 of the 70 games he played in and averaged 10.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists. As of now, he’s not included in any of the major mock drafts, but after he tested the waters last year, he told reporters several teams promised to take him if he had come out.

Best of luck to Briscoe as he takes this next step.


Hello, Friends: Everything You Need To Know About The Masters

Hello, Friends: Everything You Need To Know About The Masters

masters

Hello, friends.

Tomorrow begins a tradition unlike any other, the storied PGA golf tournament known as the Masters. Played each April at the beautiful Augusta National Golf Club in front of tens of thousands of “patrons” eating $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches, the Masters is one of the best weekends in all of sport. (And the best couch Sunday of the year.)

To get you ready for golf’s first major of the year, I have a full primer for you this evening so you’re up to speed when Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit the ceremonial tee shots to start the tournament at 7:40 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Give it a read and then stock your fridge for a long weekend inside.


HOW TO WATCH


Save your energy and let me tell you where to find the TV coverage.


THURSDAY | FIRST ROUND

ESPN… 3:00 – 7:30 p.m.
ESPN… 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (Replay)
Masters.com Live Stream… 7:45 am – 7:00 p.m.

FRIDAY | SECOND ROUND

ESPN… 3:00 – 7:30 p.m.
ESPN… 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (Replay)
Masters.com Live Stream… 8:30 am – 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY | THIRD ROUND 

CBS… 3:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Masters.com Live Stream… 10:15 am – 7:00 p.m.

SUNDAY | FINAL ROUND

CBS… 3:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Masters.com Live Stream… 10:15 am – 7:00 p.m.


WHERE TO WATCH


Where you should physically be while golf is on this weekend.


Your Couch

If you’re anywhere but your couch with your cell phone off and a Do Not Disturb sign on your front door, you are doing it completely wrong.


THURSDAY TEE TIMES/PAIRINGS


Here’s your first-round schedule.


8 a.m. Daniel Summerhays Russell Henley
8:11 a.m. Trevor Immelman Brendan Steele Jhonattan Vegas
8:22 a.m. Mike Weir Billy Hurley III Scott Piercy
8:33 a.m. Larry Mize Brian Stuard Stewart Hagestad (A)
8:44 a.m. Soren Kjeldsen Kevin Chappell Jim Furyk
8:55 a.m. Sandy Lyle Sean O’Hair Scott Gregory (A)
9:06 a.m. Zach Johnson Louis Oosthuizen Adam Hadwin
9:17 a.m. Tommy Fleetwood Gary Woodland J.B. Holmes
9:28 a.m. Adam Scott Kevin Kisner Andy Sullivan
9:39 a.m. Francesco Molinari Daniel Berger Thomas Pieters
10:01 a.m. Fred Couples Paul Casey Kevin Na
10:12 a.m. Russell Knox Rickie Fowler Hideki Matsuyama
10:23 a.m. Branden Grace Brooks Koepka Jeunghun Wang
10:34 a.m. Jordan Spieth Martin Kaymer Matthew Fitzpatrick
10:45 a.m. Phil Mickelson Rafael Cabrera-Bello Si Woo Kim
10:56 a.m. Brandt Snedeker Justin Rose Jason Day
11:07 a.m. Rod Pampling William McGirt
11:18 a.m. Mark O’Meara Hudson Swafford Roberto Castro
11:29 a.m. Ian Woosnam James Hahn Brad Dalke (A)
11:40 a.m. Ross Fisher Pat Perez Byeong-Hun An
11:51 a.m. Jose Maria Olazabal Ryan Moore Webb Simpson
12:13 p.m. Ernie Els Jason Dufner Bernd Wiesberger
12:24 p.m. Danny Willett Matt Kuchar Curtis Luck (A)
12:35 p.m. Vijay Singh Emiliano Grillo Toto Gana (A)
12:46 p.m. Angel Cabrera Henrik Stenson Tyrrell Hatton
12:57 p.m. Charl Schwartzel Steve Stricker Mackenzie Hughes
1:08 p.m. Charley Hoffman Chris Wood Yuta Ikeda
1:19 p.m. Sergio Garcia Lee Westwood Shane Lowry
1:30 p.m. Bernhard Langer Alex Noren Patrick Reed
1:41 p.m. Rory McIlroy Hideto Tanihara Jon Rahm
1:52 p.m. Marc Leishman Bill Haas Justin Thomas
2:03 p.m. Bubba Watson Dustin Johnson Jimmy Walker

Friday tee times can be seen here.


THE FAVORITES


One of these three will win it. (So they say.)


DUSTIN JOHNSON

World Ranking: 1
Odds to Win: 11/2 (Although moving with injury news)
Best Finish: T4 (2016)

DJ is dominating the PGA right now having won three consecutive tournaments — the Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Match Play — and earning the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career. With a sixth and a fourth-place finish in his last two trips to Augusta, expect Johnson to be in the hunt once again on Sunday (assuming this new back issue isn’t a real problem).

RORY MCILROY

World Ranking: 2
Odds to Win: 7/1
Best Finish: 4 (2015)

Rory McIlRoy’s mantle lacks one trophy from holding golf’s career Grand Slam, and it’s the one he and 93 other golfers will attempt to grab this weekend. A win will also serve as redemption for his collapse in the 2011 Masters, when he shot an 80 in the final round after leading through the first three days. It was the worst round by a three-day leader in tournament history.

McIlRoy has three top 10 finishes in his last three trips to Augusta.

JORDAN SPIETH

World Ranking: 6
Odds to Win: 8/1
Best Finish: Win (2015)

Spieth missed the cut last week at the Shell Houston Open in his home state, but you’d be crazy to count him out this weekend. Spieth hasn’t finished worse than second in his three career Masters appearances, and if not for last year’s collapse of epic proportions, he’d be entering this year’s tournament as the two-time defending champion. Instead he has the one in 2015, plus second-place finishes in 2014 and 2016.


THE NEXT THREE


Not the favorites, but close.


HIDEKI MATSUYAMA

World Ranking: 4
Odds to Win: 18/1
Best Finish: 5 (2015)

Will we see our first Japanese Masters champion? Hideki Matsuyama hopes so. The fifth-year pro is off to a good start in the 2017 season, ranking second in the FedEx Cup with two wins and two second-place finishes already this year. He has two top 10s in his last two trips to Augusta; however, his putter has gone somewhat cold in recent weeks, and it’s impossible to win the green jacket without rolling the ball well.

RICKIE FOWLER

World Ranking: 8
Odds to Win: 18/1
Best Finish: T5 (2014)

Never mind the fact he shot an opening round 8-over 80 and went on to miss the cut last year, Rickie Fowler is a contender this year. Think back to 2015 when he finished in the top five in all four majors —  that is the Rickie Fowler we will see this weekend.

The 28-year-old is coming off a third-place finish in Houston and he has the lowest scoring average on tour, while ranking among the top 30 in strokes gained for driving, approach shots, chipping and putting. Puma could be in for a big weekend.

JASON DAY

World Ranking: 3
Odds to Win: 18/1
Best Finish: T2 (2011)

Day has been down by his standards this season but we recently learned he has been dealing with family issues (his mother’s lung cancer) outside of the golf course. With that now known by his peers and fans, expectations for Day are low, which means he will have a little less pressure on his shoulders, along with the motivation of playing for his mother. How he will respond remains to be seen. He could literally finish anywhere on the board.


OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH


Three more to keep an eye on


JUSTIN THOMAS

World Ranking: 7
Odds to Win: 35/1
Best Finish: T39 (2016)

Justin Thomas finished 39th in his first Masters last year, but who really does well in their first time out at Augusta?

Meanwhile, present day Justin Thomas is riding high in third place in the FedEx Cup standings after firing a 59 in the first round of the Sony Open back in January (the youngest to ever do it) and finishing fifth in Mexico last month. His confidence is higher than ever and he’s ready to jump to the next tier of great golfers in the game today.

The only problem is he is a Louisville fan.

PHIL MICKELSON

World Ranking: 18
Odds to Win: 25/1
Best Finish: Win (2004, 2006, 2010)

With three green jackets in his closet already, it’s hard to not consider Mickelson one of the favorites. He may rank 166th of 213 golfers off the tee this year, but Mickelson is always one to watch at the Masters.

PAUL CASEY

World Ranking: 16
Odds to Win: 40/1
Best Finish: T4 (2016)

Paul Casey was in the hunt in the 2015 and 2016 Masters with a sixth and fourth-place finish in those years. Throw in two other top 10 finishes earlier in his career and there aren’t too many golfers out there who have been in the mix as often as Casey without ever winning one. He’s due. (And at 40/1, he’s a bargain.)


SUPER SLEEPER PICKS


Do you like the longshots? Consider these three


J.B. HOLMES

World Ranking: 40
Odds to Win: 50/1
Best Finish: T4 (2016)

If you’re going to take a longshot, you might as well take the Kentuckian. Go Big Blue.

LEE WESTWOOD

World Ranking: 54
Odds to Win: 80/1
Best Finish: T2 (2016)

In his last seven trips to the Masters, Westwood has three top-three finishes, a seventh-place finish, an eighth and an eleventh. He tied Jordan Spieth for second last year.

The same thing I said about Paul Casey goes for Westwood, maybe even more. He is experienced, proven, and due.

THOMAS PIETERS

World Ranking: 35
Odds to Win: 80/1
Best Finish: —

The 25-year-old Belgian will become a star sooner or later, so why not this weekend?

If you watched him go 4-1 in the Ryder Cup, you know he isn’t afraid of the big stage.


GLOSSARY OF TERMS


Know these words for your Masters conversations


Amen Corner – Nickname for the stretch that includes the second shot at the 11th, all of the 12th, and the first two shots at the 13th hole

Azaleas – The colorful spring shrubbery throughout the course, a signature of the tournament, although this year’s bloom came too early

Butler Cabin – Where the previous year’s winner presents the new champion with the green jacket

Eisenhower Tree –  The 65-foot-tall loblolly pine tree on the 17th hole, approximately 210 yards from the tee on the left side of the fairway

Founders Circle –  The roundabout at the end of Magnolia Lane, in front of the clubhouse, where patrons like getting their photo taken by the flower bed shaped like the Masters logo

Hogan Bridge – The arched footbridge over Rae’s Creek that takes golfers to the 12th green

Magnolia Lane – The entryway to Augusta National, lined by 61 magnolia trees

Nelson Bridge – The stone bridge that takes golfers back across Rae’s Creek as they leave the 13th tee and head up the 13th hole

Pine Straw – If a golfer finds himself out of the second cut (the rough), he will likely be hitting from the pine straw

Rae’s Creek- A creek that flows in front of the 12th green and behind the 11th green

Sarazen Bridge – The flat bridge that crosses the pond in front of 15’s green

White Dogwood – The nickname for the par-4, 505-yard 11th hole that starts Amen Corner; considered the toughest hole on the course


STORYLINES


Narratives to keep an eye on this weekend


Poor Jimmy Walker

Jimmy Walker drew the unfortunate pairing with Dustin Johnson this year. If you don’t know their alleged past, this tweet should give you a decent idea. If you do know their alleged past, do you blame Walker if he puts a putter through Johnson’s face?

Spieth’s Revenge

Spieth held a five-shot lead at the turn in last year’s final round, only to bogey the next two holes and then put two in the drink for a quadruple on the par-3 12th hole. He went on to finish second in one of golf’s biggest choke jobs ever and had to present the winner with the green jacket. So how will he respond in 2017?

Rory Chasing Career Grand Slam

Is this the year he joins Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win all four in their careers?

Johnson On Fire, Playing Against History

Dustin Johnson has three straight wins entering the Masters, but only one golfer since the 1950s has won four straight PGA Tour events. Also going against him: it has been 12 years since the world No. 1 golfer won the green jacket. Can he end the streak and become the second to win four straight tournaments?


HYPE VIDEO


Cue the CBS promo


Happy Masters weekend, everyone.


The Kentucky Quarterback Situation

The Kentucky Quarterback Situation

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Pic by The Desert Sun

The easy out here is to quote “sources” about the Kentucky quarterback situation. But, for argument sakes, let’s go with what we’ve heard from coaches during spring practice press conferences and historical data to make our argument on the Wildcat QB situation.

We have to discuss scenarios before we dive into the three candidates.

  • Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has insisted that all positions are up for grabs and competition exists across the depth chart.
  • Stephen Johnson led his team to a New Year’s bowl game after resiliently filling in for the injured starter. Johnson has experienced the most sustained positional success as per the eye test.
  • From all accounts, Johnson has carried over his late-season achievement into spring practice. Words such as “composed,” “leader,” “efficient,” and other complimentary terms have been used while describing the senior signal caller.
  • Johnson dilemma: Will Darin Hinshaw reward Johnson’s 2016-season saving performance and spring practice efficiency with the starting job? Can he afford not to name Johnson as the offense’s leader while Stephen is actually leading the team?
  • Eddie Gran has been highly complementary of his offense’s execution and potential with Johnson at the helm. Will continuity win out?
  • Drew Barker was the starting quarterback in 2016. Barker blistered Southern Miss in the first half prior to his team’s pending, second half meltdown. His next week’s performance in the Swamp was putrid. But, was that game an indication of Drew Barker’s quarterbacking abilities or did his injured back impede execution? I tend to think that Drew was in serious pain and limited but decided to gut it out.
  • The main dilemma here pertains to an old football method of operation: Starters cannot lose their position due to injury.
  • Dilemma II: With the NCAA’s 20-hour rule, can Eddie Gran afford to present Barker with practice reps IF his back continues to be an issue and on-field presence remains in doubt? Coaches have very little time to prepare two QB’s to be game ready. Three is nearly impossible.
  • Tough, tough situation. Regardless of what Drew Barker has or has not done both on and off the field; the northern Kentucky native’s status on the team cannot be understated. He was a critical part of signing the university’s most heralded recruiting class and remains a popular figure in the locker room. Agree or not; former starters are to be shown reverence and respect.
  • Gunnar Hoak has separated from the pack and is the established and at this point in time, “mythical” number two on the depth chart. Hinshaw recently told the media that he is confident that Hoak could win in the SEC. I agree.
  • Much like Stephen Johnson, Hoak has methodically developed into a legitimate, SEC starting quarterback. While he doesn’t move the public perception needle as much as the other two, it would be unwise to count the redshirt freshman out of the equation. Hoak may be the best passer of the three. 

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Stephen Johnson File

  • Enrolled at UK in January of 2016
  • Entered 16 season as backup. Led Cats to 7 wins in 11 games
  • Completed 145 of 265 passes (54.7%) for 2,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. Also had 327 yards rushing and 3 scores
  • Team MVP in Governor’s Cup: 16-27, 338-yards, 3 TD’s in Kentucky’s 41-38 win over Louisville
  • Team MVP of Taxslayer Bowl: 19-34, 175 yards, 1 TD. Also led the Cats with 49 rush yards and 1 touchdown
  • Had zero interceptions in the 4th quarter or in the Red Zone in 2016

The Case for Stephen Johnson the Starter

I can’t imagine a scenario in which Johnson is not the starting quarterback come September 2nd. As a proven entity that is reportedly improving on a daily basis; he brings consistency, leadership, balance, and composure.

Teammates follow leaders. Simple as that. Leaders also must be on-field producers and maintain sustained performance. Stephen Johnson has checked those blocks.

As you can read above; Stephen Johnson threw zero-4th quarter or red-zone interceptions in 2016. I’ve been searching for a statistic that properly explained the difference in Mark Stoops’ first four teams. I think I found it. That stat summarizes the variances in a five and seven-win season.


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Pic by Scout.com

Gunnar Hoak File

  • Enrolled at Kentucky in January of 2016
  • Redshirt
  • Was 4-5 for 57 yards and a touchdown in spring game

The Case for Gunnar Hoak the Starter

I’ve been high on Hoak since National Signing Day. The youngster has a similar sense of calm leadership that Stephen Johnson possesses. With his QB coach proclaiming that he could win games in the Southeastern Conference, it’s clear to me that Gunnar Hoak is the quarterback of the future and is at a minimum a highly capable backup. Hoak’s strengths are his accuracy and decision making ability.


drew-barker-ksr

The Drew Barker File

2016

  • Missed final 9 games of 2016 with a back injury
  • First UK QB to have 4 TD passes in a half (vs. USM) since Andre Woodson
  • Career high in Southern Miss loss: 323 yards, 4 TDs

2015

  • Played in 5 games, making the final two starts vs. Charlotte and Louisville
  • Connected on 35 of 70 passes for 364 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs
  • Was 7-9 for 42 yards in relief role vs. Mississippi State

The Case for Drew Barker the Starter

Again, tough situation. Matter of fact, I was in an eerily similar situation many years ago. Based on personal experience, I do not agree with nor do I like it when a starter loses his job due to an injury. I think most old school football folks would agree. But, with a back injury; accurately projecting future on-the-field, full-contact availability is an inaccurate proposition.

Barker did lead the offense to a touchdown on a 10-play drive in the Cat’s latest scrimmage. This can only be taken as an encouraging sign. But, drives can be scripted. QB’s wear red (no-contact) jerseys. Enormous difference in real-life football games. Regardless, a positive.

My first and foremost hope for Barker is for a complete recovery and long-lived health. If sustained football activity becomes a reality, then there is nothing to prevent him from competing for the starting job. However, time is not on his side. There will come a moment when a decision will have to be made whether to give Barker practice reps or not. Most likely this call won’t have to be made until Southern Miss prep work begins.

Kentucky has three capable starting quarterbacks. Who will be the starter and when will that decision be made? Notice I didn’t say, “when will that decision be made public”; two totally different matters. Only time, and not spring game performance, will tell.

Meeting room chemistry is a touchy subject. I do not think that this will be an issue with this team. A rocky QB situation can significantly inhibit and poison team. There’s too much at stake for that to transpire. There are far too many strong-vocal leaders for that to occur. The Kentucky Football program has matured too much for that to happen in 2017.


Bam Adebayo declares for the draft but will NOT sign with an agent

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Turns out the rumors were true. Kentucky just announced that Bam Adebayo will submit his name for the draft but will NOT hire an agent, which means he will have until May 24 to decide whether or not he wants to stay in the draft or return to Kentucky.

“This process we went through at Kentucky was a tough but a rewarding one,” Adebayo said. “It was everything I wanted when I decided to come to Kentucky. It taught me a lot. It taught me how to be a better man on and off the court. I have improved so much since the beginning of the season thanks to the hard work of the coaching staff. They helped me with every step of the process along the way and they never gave up on me.

“I want to thank my teammates. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to grow with. We were all like brothers. I also want to thank the fans for their support and everything they do for us. Their passion is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

“I feel I’m making the right step in declaring for the draft, but I want to be absolutely sure that I’m making the right decision for me and my mom. I’m looking forward to the process and I appreciate the support of the coaches, my teammates and the fans. No matter what happens, it’s been an unbelievable ride.”

Adebayo is the third Kentucky freshman to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft following De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk earlier this week. This year, he averaged 13.0 points and a team-best 8.0 rebounds per game. He also led the team in blocks per game (1.5) and double-doubles (eight), including five double-doubles over his last 11 games.

“Bam was our hardest worker this season,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “You’re talking about a player who can guard all five positions, has more perimeter skills than people know, and someone with size and a physique that immediately translates to that league. Bam is a great kid with a ton of upside. Should he decide to stay in the draft, he will be an outstanding four man in the NBA. Every organization needs character and Bam is a high-character kid who only cares about winning.”

Again, Bam will have until May 24 to decide whether or not to return. Right now, he ranges anywhere from 19th to 30th in the major mock drafts. He’ll likely get the bulk of his feedback at the NBA Draft Combine, which takes place May 9-14.

So now, we wait.


Wednesday’s Top 10: It’s Malik Monk Day!

Wednesday’s Top 10: It’s Malik Monk Day!

Good morning, everyone. It’s a been a frustrating day so far here at the KSR South compound, as I woke up early to write the wakeup post only to find out Comcast had turned my internet off. After a half hour on the phone with a nice woman named Jasmine, I’m back online, but still annoyed with the whole ordeal. I could go on and on, but for your sake, I won’t. Let’s roll through today’s top 10 before they turn the internet off again.

1. Malik Monk will be on the show

After declaring for the draft yesterday morning, Malik Monk will start his farewell tour of the Bluegrass on KSR today. With the help of The Players’ Tribune, Monk penned an emotional thank you letter to the Big Blue Nation for their support during his time in Lexington, particularly in the tense aftermath of his decision to come to Kentucky and not home state Arkansas:

Kentucky fans made one thing crystal clear to me: They had my back. No one made me wait until the fall, until I got to Lexington, to be accepted into Big Blue Nation. Man, it was just right off the bat: Like, Once you’re one of us, you’re one of us. And whether it was defending me on social media … or sending me messages about how excited they were for me to come play there … or alums getting in touch and letting me know what an amazing experience was in store for me in the fall … it really helped a lot. It helped turn an extremely tough situation into an extremely positive one. And it helped me realize that, just by committing to Kentucky, I was already a part of something special.

And I’ll never forget that.

😢 You can read the rest here.

2. De’Aaron Fox came on the show yesterday and was great

Fox has always been great with the media, and yesterday, he showed that side of his personality off to fans in his most candid interview yet. Fox gave some great insight into his year at Kentucky, his bond with his teammates, and, of course, his hair. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the podcast:

3. Catch De’Aaron on the #TourDeFox

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4. While you’re at it, check out Derek, Dom, and Makayla Epps

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Makalya Epps will also sign autographs at Cardboard Heroes at the Florence Mall on Sunday right before the guys, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

5. Practice continues at the Nike Hoop Summit

Preparations roll on for Friday night’s Nike Hoop Summit, and while Team USA (which includes Quade Green, Jarred Vanderbilt, Mo Bamba, and Kevin Knox) seems to still be making its way to Portland, the World Team has been there all week practicing. Nick Richards and Shai Alexander have been putting in work, and since Alexander is the recruit we know the least about since he didn’t play at the McDonald’s All-American Game, here’s 30 seconds of him shooting threes to enjoy with your morning coffee:

6. Calipari hits the recruiting trail tomorrow

The dead period ends tomorrow at noon, which means Calipari will fire up the ole private jet and start making the rounds to check on his 2017 and 2018 targets. With the spring signing period starting next week, here’s a reminder of who he’s still pursuing in the 2017 class:

5-star game changers: Kevin Knox and Mohamed Bamba

Picking up Bamba would take next year’s team to the next level, as he’s considered the next franchise player, while Knox would ease concerns about shooting. Picking one up would be big; picking up both would monumental.

Guards to provide depth/consistency: Jemarl Baker, Mark Smith, Thomas Allen

Calipari is expected to visit Baker and Smith this week in an attempt to shore up Kentucky’s depth at guard, while Allen, a former NC State signee, has also received interest. Don’t sleep on Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson either.

7. Want to feel better about Kentucky’s chances with Knox?

People seem to think Duke or UNC lead for the five-star small forward, but which coach did he say he’d choose to save over all others if he were in a life boat? John Calipari. For more on what the heck that’s all about, click here.

8. Kentucky seems to be a popular top pick in everyone’s “Way-Too-Early” rankings

It’s really, really dumb to me that people are putting out preseason polls and even more so, Bracketology, right now, but hey, writers gotta write, and even though we don’t really know what next year’s team will look like, for some reason they all feel great about the Cats. Kentucky was ranked 1st in ESPN and Yahoo! Sports‘ Way-Too-Early rankings, 2nd in Sports Illustrated‘s, 3rd in Sporting News‘, and 8th in CBS Sports‘. I hate to say it, but I kind of agree with Gary Parrish (CBS Sports) on this one, even if he says he expects Isaiah Briscoe to return.

9. Dick Vitale also thinks the Cats will be #1 next season

Gotta love Dickie V.

10. I realize it’s been a few days, but did everyone see the new “Game of Thrones” promo??

If not, you’re about to, because I really want to watch it again this morning:

Malik Monk in an hour…


How De’Aaron Fox Will Be Remembered

How De’Aaron Fox Will Be Remembered

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It’s fitting that the first memorable image we got of De’Aaron Fox was a picture of him alongside John Wall, to whom he would be compared throughout his career at Kentucky, and probably, beyond. Wall saw Fox’s mixtape in the summer of 2015 on social media and tweeted about it, and from there, a friendship — or rather, a mentorship — was born. The two connected, and Wall came to see Fox play at his high school in Katy when the Wizards played the Rockets in nearby Houston. They stayed in touch, with Wall doling out advice and praise to Fox about his game, and, his future at Kentucky. Inevitably, the two were asked which of them was fastest and while both always play the question off, it’s one that will probably be debated in living rooms, coffee shops, and bars in the Bluegrass for years to come.

Now, with Fox set to become Wall’s peer in the NBA, how will he be remembered in his own right at Kentucky? Like Wall, the first thing that comes to mind is speed, but I don’t think I’ve sat back and said, “Man, that kid’s fast” as many times as I did with Fox this season. Fox’s speed is awesome in the truest sense of the word; he’s a blur in the open court, and while a lot of players with his speed lack finesse, most of the time, when Fox barrels towards the basket, the ball’s going in. We’ve been blessed with a lot of great basketball in the John Calipari era, but I’d argue that Kentucky basketball has rarely been as fun that it was this season with Fox burning teams in transition and Malik Monk dashing their dreams from the outside.


Speed is obviously the biggest component to Fox’s game, but it helps that his mind moves just as fast as his feet. I remember traveling to Katy, Texas to meet Fox over a year ago when he was still a high school senior, and him telling me about how he spends his time off the court.

“At home, I have a setup, two TVs and an iPad. I have a lot of electronics. I call it my man cave. So, I’ll watch the game, be playing my PS4 then have something on my iPad. If I have to do homework, I can’t just sit there and do homework. I literally have to be doing something else while I’m doing my homework, so I’ll probably be playing a game and doing homework at the same time.”

At the time, I didn’t really think much about this, chalking it up to how kids these days multi-task. Yet, I came back to this quote once I read Reid Forgrave’s profile of Fox a few months back, in which he explained that juggling multiple tasks at once actually helps him focus on a singular task at hand.

“Watch this,” Fox says, sitting in the team’s film room. “You’re going to think I’m weird.”

He removes the wireless headphones that had been in his ears. He switches the music to his phone speakers. It’s an R&B song called “Without You,” and it’s loud. It hadn’t even been noticeable that music was playing up to that point.

“Right now, I’ve actually been listening to music this whole interview,” he says. Then he laughs.

Anyone who follows Fox on social media knows his affinity for video games, particularly “Dragon Ball Z,” which is based on a Japanese anime show. Over the past year on Snapchat, he’s posted countless clips from the show, which seems to also be the inspiration for his trademark spiky hairstyle. Because this is the #BBN, Fox’s hair became its own character this season, inspiring parody Twitter accounts and even making headlines. When Fox showed up to the fourth game of the season with his hair “twisted up,” which he has to do occasionally to help maintain its style, and missed three free throws after going perfect from the charity stripe to start the season, everyone — even John Calipari — blamed the hair.

“One game, I had it twisted and everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, he’s changing his hair, he’s changing his hair!,” Fox said on KSR this morning. “I think that was the first game — I was 25-25 from the free throw line and I missed three free throws, right? So Coach Cal said, ‘You have to go back to the other hair. I don’t like it.'”

Later on in the season, Fox’s hair was in the news again when he wore it in a man bun for a handful of games, a move he chalked up to laziness. Was it a coincidence that Fox had his worst run of games while sporting the man bun? Yes. Come on guys, it’s hair.


Sometimes I feel like trying to pinpoint a player’s legacy is impossible, especially in the Calipari era; not only are players here for such a short time, there have been so many talented guys come through the program in the past eight years that it’s simply unfair. I’ve already fallen victim to comparisons at the start of this piece, but I do think it’s important to point out that Fox had the unenviable task of following Tyler Ulis, one of the most beloved players in Kentucky basketball history. Trying to walk in Ulis’ larger than life footsteps would be impossible for 99.9% of players, but Fox forged his own path and in the process, did something Ulis didn’t: record the school’s second triple-double in history. Fox had 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in Kentucky’s dominating win vs. Arizona State in the Bahamas, and even though one of those assists was called into question, there’s no doubt that had Calipari kept Fox in the game, he would have ended up with many more.

It’s no coincidence that Fox’s triple double happened during the same game in which we all realized this team’s potential. The Cats dipped and soared on the roller coaster that is the regular season, but by the time March rolled around, they were once again playing their best basketball. After battling illness and injuries, Fox returned to form in the final month of the season, and when pitted against Lonzo Ball — who many believe is the greatest point guard in the draft — in the Sweet 16, Fox took his game to another level, scoring a career-high 39 points, the most ever by a freshman in an NCAA Tournament game. This morning on KSR, Fox shied away from directly dissing Ball, but did say that he always believes he’s the best player on the court.

“I’m going to say I am the better player if you put me up against anybody,” Fox said.

In fact, ever the competitor, he seemed more bothered that he didn’t end up with 40 in that game, which Malik Monk teased him about.

“After I saw (the scoreboard) I put my head down and thought, ‘Man, I could’ve had 40.’ But then I saw it’s the most a freshman has had in the NCAA tournament game in history so I am fine with it.”


Sadly, the final image I’ll have of Fox is from the locker room after the loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight. A leader until the very end, Fox held Bam Adebayo and spoke through tears when his brothers could not.

“We went through that stretch and we lost those games and everybody talked about how we didn’t care. This isn’t a locker room that looks like guys don’t care. I love my brothers, man.”

That video went viral, I believe, in part, because it showed not only Kentucky fans how much this team cared about the season, but the rest of college basketball how much one-and-done players can care about a program. Even the biggest haters can’t deny the raw emotion in that locker room.

“It was very emotional,” Fox said. “It was tough, letting that sink in. Sometimes the emotions just spill out. They did.”

Like many of us, Fox said he didn’t watch a single second of the Final Four or National Championship games because he knew it should have been Kentucky there instead; as we close the book on his career here, I’ll take some solace in that because, with him playing at the level he was, it was really starting to feel that way.


FAQ: A Preview of the NCAA Championship

FAQ: A Preview of the NCAA Championship

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We’re under two hours away from tonight’s tip-off in the NCAA championship, so let’s preview the game by answering many Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the game.

 

Q: Is Gonzaga really in the national championship?

A: Gonzaga is really in the national championship. After a lifetime of failed NCAA tournament runs under Mark Few, the Zags finally broke through and reached this year’s Final Four, proving all Gonzaga doubters (read: everyone) wrong.

Q: So Gonzaga finally proved itself by beating other title contenders?

A: Well, not exactly. Gonzaga had the easiest run in tournament history, topped off with a narrow semifinal win over seventh-seeded South Carolina. No. 11 Xavier was the opposition in the Elite Eight game and did all the work in eliminating No. 2 Arizona in the Sweet 16.

Q: How’d North Carolina get there?

A: Officiating.

North Carolina got there because of the officiating.

Q: Speaking of cheating, don’t you think it’s a little messed up that UNC is in the title game when the NCAA still hasn’t punished them for cheating?

A: It is very messed up. UNC’s men’s basketball program is at the heart of the university’s academic scandal that may never get resolved. The NCAA’s ongoing probe into the blatant cheating and fake classes in Chapel Hill should strip the school of its 2009 banner, yet here we are, on the heels of the Heels possibly adding another one to the rafters.

Q: Remember that paper the UNC athlete wrote about Rosa Parks? That was funny.

A: It was the final essay for AFAM 41 and the player received an A- for the entire class.

Here it is:

Q: That’s only 146 words LOL.

A: LOL.

Q: Who is going to win tonight?

A: If I knew, I’d be in Las Vegas right now. Most everyone thinks we are in for a close game that could go either way.

North Carolina is currently a 1.5-point favorite.

Q: Who’s the best player on each team?

A: Gonzaga is led by Nigel Williams-Goss, a consensus All-American guard with averages of 16.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. However, freshman center Zach Collins has emerged as a star and a potential one-and-done player. The seven-footer had 14 points and 13 rebounds in the semifinal win.

For North Carolina, forward Justin Jackson is the team’s consensus All-American and its best playmaker. He is averaging over 20 points per game in the tournament.

Q: What about that guy with the beard? Is he good?

A: You’re talking about Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski, and yes, he is good. He and Collins make a great duo inside for the Zags.

Q: How’s Joel Berry’s ankle doing?

A: Berry is dealing with two sprained ankles but he will play tonight.

He admitted there is lingering pain from the injuries, adding, “At this point, I can’t think about it. I just have to continue to play.”

Q: How is Kennedy Meeks still at North Carolina? Dude’s like 30.

A: While it does seem he has been there since the Dean Smith years, Meeks is a legitimate fourth-year senior playing in his last game for UNC.

Q: Wasn’t North Carolina in the championship last year?

A: Correct. UNC is making its second consecutive title appearance after losing last year’s game to Villanova on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. It’s consider one of the best college basketball games ever.

Q: Has Gonzaga ever played in the championship?

A: No. This is Gonzaga’s first and the first for the West Coast Conference since 1956.

Gonzaga had never been to a Final Four before this week.

Q: What does it mean for Mark Few?

A: Few looks to join the elusive 38-win club while grabbing his first national championship trophy, which will likely punch his ticket to the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Q: What about Roy Williams?

A: For Williams, he could join the three-title club, along with John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight and Jim Calhoun. That is pretty good company.

Q: Well who should I root for?

A: Gonzaga.

Q: Why?

A: Because North Carolina cheats.

Q: Was that Rosa Parks essay real?

A: Unfortunately, yes.

Q: Well Go Zags then.

A: Go Zags indeed.


UK makes it official: De’Aaron Fox headed to the NBA Draft, will sign with an agent

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After Jon Rothstein broke the news this afternoon, UK is following suit, issuing this press release announcing De’Aaron Fox’s declaration for the NBA Draft. According to UK, De’Aaron will sign with an agent, which is expected given that he’s a projected top five or top ten pick. Fox thanked his teammates, coaches, and the BBN in a lengthy letter via UK.

“First of all, I’m grateful for the unbelievable season we had,” Fox said. “Although the ending didn’t turn out how we wanted it to, this team came together as a family and we achieved things that a lot of people didn’t think we could because we were so young. I want to thank my teammates for being on this ride with me as well as the seniors and specifically Zay (Isaiah Briscoe) for guiding me this season. It wouldn’t have been such a smooth transition from high school to college without their leadership.

“I want to thank God for blessing me with this talent to play at this level. I also want to thank my parents and my brother for always being there for me. I want to thank Cal, KP (Kenny Payne) and the entire coaching staff for recruiting me and for having the confidence in me to lead this team. Throughout the season they helped me grow as a player and as a person.

“With that being said, I’ve decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft and I will be signing with an agent. I think I’ve had a pretty good freshman season through the guidance of our coaching staff and I think it’s time for me to live out my dream.

“Last but not least, I want to thank the Big Blue Nation. There is no other fan base like you in the country. I’ll miss playing in front of you, but I know you’ll continue to support me at the next level.”

Fox finished his career at Kentucky averaging 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals, one of only four freshmen in the country to average at least those numbers in all four categories. His 165 assists are the third most by a UK freshman in a single season. John Calipari says Fox’s speed will set him apart from other guards in the league, as well as the defensive intensity we saw in the latter part of the season.

“De’Aaron’s speed, length and ability to pick up defensively from 94 feet set him apart from his peers,” Calipari said. “De’Aaron came in here focused from day one, and to see his improvement from the beginning of the season to the end was special. What you saw from De’Aaron over the last month and a half of the season I think is what NBA teams will get for the future.”

Best of luck to you, De’Aaron, and thank you for the memories.


Listen to Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins on today’s podcast

If you missed the show this morning, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins were in studio for the second hour to tell stories from their four years in Lexington. As you might imagine, they had quite a few to share. The podcast is now available for your listening pleasure, but here’s a quick rundown of my favorite parts…

Dominique confirmed the Russ Smith trash talking story

Dominique first made a name for himself as a lockdown defender in the 2014 tournament, and today, he confirmed the story we’ve heard for years: he told Russ Smith he was going to take his girlfriend when he went in to guard him during the Sweet 16 showdown with Louisville.

“I just told him I was going to take his girl,” Dom said, laughing. “I didn’t look at him. I kind of looked away because I didn’t want to see his reaction. I thought he was going to put 30 on me, to be honest.”

Dom said he’s not much of a trash talker, but John Calipari told him to have something ready to say to Smith to throw him off, so he came ready.

“I did not know how to talk trash, but coach said to go in there and talk trash to him. I had this in my head the whole day just ready to say to him. I didn’t know how he was going to react or anything.”

Hilarious.

Derek Willis embraces his Bullitt County persona

For years, we’ve made jokes about Derek being “So Bullitt County,” and today, Derek said he embraces his Mt. Washington background.

“I loved it,” Willis said of the ‘That’s So Bullitt County’ jokes. “There were people — I’d have fake Twitter profiles made of me about how I drink Mt. Dew. I used to drink it, actually. I used to spit dips and stuff and all that in high school.”

LOL.

Derek’s favorite game at UK is the South Carolina game

…”Because I ‘yammed’ on that one kid.”

“That felt so good,” Derek added.

Of all their former teammates, both would pick Karl Towns to be president

We ask the departing guys every year to pick one of their former teammates to be president, and Karl is by far the most popular choice. Because he’s Karl.

“He doesn’t ever get mad,” Dominique said of Karl. “He’s just always nice no matter what.”

Isaiah Briscoe has the best Calipari impression on the team

Assuming Isaiah declares for the draft, I can’t wait to hear him do some on the show.

Both are looking forward to playing professionally

Both Derek and Dom want to continue their playing careers, whether it be in the NBA, D-League, or overseas. Derek’s playing in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a postseason NBA draft camp, next weekend in Virginia, and Dominique’s on the waiting list, so both have opportunities to make it on the next level. We know they’ve got the drive.

Thanks again to both of them for coming on the show. Do yourself a favor and check out the complete podcast:

If you’d like to thank them for representing Kentucky so well during their four years, here’s a list of the autograph tour stops:

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Barleycorn’s Top 10: Derek & Dom Day, Big NBA nights for Alex & Tyler, and Opening Day

Barleycorn’s Top 10: Derek & Dom Day, Big NBA nights for Alex & Tyler, and Opening Day

Barleycorn's Logo

Looking for a place to hang out with other UK fans? Take your family and friends to Barleycorn’s! Barleycorn’s has over 30 beers on tap, jumbo wings with 10 delicious sauces, sandwiches, salads, and our famous handcrafted burgers!

Barleycorn’s has three locations in Northern Kentucky – Cold Spring, Lakeside Park, and Florence – and is open seven days a week! For hours and information, follow them on Facebook or visit Barleycorns.com. Get over here!


Hello, friends. After seven months of working weekends, I did my best to stay away from the computer from Friday to this morning, and, other than spending WAY too much on an all-weather adirondack chair online, I’m happy to report I was successful. Kentucky not being in the Final Four sucked, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to have life get a little bit back to normal. With that in mind, let’s hop right into today’s top 10.

1. Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins will be on KSR today

Derek and Dom started their statewide autograph tour yesterday, and, in turn, will come on KSR this morning to share stories about their four years in Lexington. After stellar senior seasons, it’s hard to put into words how much the two Kentucky boys mean to their fanbase, and I for one can’t wait to hear them join Matt, Ryan, and Shannon this morning.

2. Want to thank Derek and Dom in person? Here’s their autograph schedule:

Per future Mrs. Willis, Keely, more dates are coming. While you’re at it, go see Makayla Epps tomorrow at All Sports in Fayette Mall from 6-7:30 p.m.

3. Who else will be doing autograph tours soon?

With the season over, that’s the big question in the Big Blue Nation, and after we learned last week that Bam Adebayo is considering declaring for the draft but NOT hiring an agent, we don’t have any more news. We know that Bam was in Phoenix this weekend and De’Aaron Fox in California, but other than that, all is quiet on the Kentucky front. Stay tuned…

4. So…go Gonzaga, right?

Unfortunately, Oregon failed to upset North Carolina on Saturday, meaning Gonzaga’s the only team left that can stop the Tar Heels from getting their sixth national championship (seventh if you count the Helms title like most of their fans do). Because of that, I’m all on the Gonzaga bandwagon, and I hope you join me. Can the Bulldogs stop the Heels? More importantly, will you watch the game tonight at 9:20 p.m. on CBS?


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5. Coach O and Slice reunited in Phoenix this weekend

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Two of Cal’s former assistants reunited in Phoenix this weekend. Both are looking for new jobs after parting ways with their previous employers, Antigua South Florida and Slice St. John’s. Odds one of them is back in Lexington next season? Pretty good (we hope).

6. Is Marques Bolden transferring?

This time last year, all we could focus on was Marques Bolden, who ultimately picked Duke over Kentucky only to sit on the bench the entire season. Not surprisingly, reports came out last night that Bolden is considering transferring. If he does, he’ll the third Blue Devil to do so in the past month following Chase Jeter and Sean Obi, and the seventh player to be gone off the team many believed would win it all. It feels like only yesterday that Bolden was about to commit to Kentucky at the McDonald’s All-American Game until his mom convinced him not to. What mama wants…

7. Big NBA nights for Alex Poythress and Tyler Ulis

Alex Poythress made a great first impression in his NBA debut with the 76ers on Sunday, finishing with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 blocked shot in 24 minutes. Two of those points came off this big slam, a classic Poythress roar:

Meanwhile, Alex’s former teammate Tyler Ulis had himself quite a night as well, putting up a career-high 34 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists in the Suns’ loss to the Rockets. I’ll have a full breakdown of his performance in the BBN roundup a little later.

8. I started “S-Town” and I’m hooked

After taking about two weeks off for sickness/basketball/life, I got back into half marathon training this weekend, which meant getting into a new podcast for my Saturday long run. “S-Town,” from the creators of “Serial,” did the trick. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will, because the seven-part podcast about a mesmerizing mystery in rural Alabama is spreading like kudzu. I’m only a few episodes in and like it so much I’m torn between just binging the rest and trying to savor it. Funkhouser’s Matthew Mahone has a great review of it coming up on the site in about thirty minutes if you’d like to know more.

9. It’s Opening Day for the Reds

For you baseball fans, today must feel like Christmas. Yesterday was opening day for many teams, and today, the Reds will follow suit. I’ve heard opening day in Cincinnati is practically a holiday, so cheers to you headed out to Great American Ball Park this afternoon. Hopefully the rain gets outta there before the festivities begin.

Speaking of baseball…

10. Blue got into Opening Day in St. Louis

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@ljlocasto

Cheers to these Cats fans for repping the blue and white while in St. Louis for Opening Day between the Cardinals and Cubs.

Radio in an hour…


The Depth Chart Podcast: Halfway Through Spring Practice

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Just like that, we are less than two weeks away from the 2017 Spring Game.  Freddie and the crew put the basketball season to bed by giving you an outlook on where each position group stands ahead of the Blue/White game and much more, including:

—  Jack’s Elite Eight experience was as bad as it can get.

—  Why it has been a quiet spring practice.

—  Stephen Johnson is the man, even if he doesn’t consume all 5,000 calories.

—  How immaturity cost players years of eligibility.

—  What forced us to mute Jack’s microphone.

 

—  The differences in the defense under Matt House.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes, streaming on Podbay, or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


To Watch or Not To Watch? How to cope with the Final Four as a Kentucky fan

To Watch or Not To Watch? How to cope with the Final Four as a Kentucky fan

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If a Final Four happens and nobody in Kentucky watches, does it really count? Unfortunately, it does, but since Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight on Sunday, I’ve been debating whether or not to watch this weekend’s games. By now, I’m over the loss, but there’s still some mild resentment and, yes, jealousy that Kentucky’s not a part of it all, especially given the fact that had the Cats beaten North Carolina, they probably would have won the whole damn thing. Focusing on that too long will definitely make you not want to watch, but as hardcore basketball fans, will you be able to resist the temptation to switch the channel to CBS on Saturday night? This is something I’m grappling with, so I broke down the scenarios.

Option 1: Go all in on South Carolina

The fact that South Carolina is in the Final Four and Kentucky isn’t is absurd, but if you’re looking for the easiest way to digest Saturday’s games, getting on the South Carolina bandwagon is it. Not only is there the whole “SEC brotherhood” thing (although, really, do other SEC teams cheer for Kentucky when they get to the Final Four? I doubt it.), the Gamecocks are a great story. Frank Martin is charmingly intense, possibly insane; Sindarius Thornwell is great and has a name from a bad Harry Potter fanfic; and well, who the heck expected them to get this far? Probably only Gamecock Jesus, the hippie superfan that is so beloved in Columbia that his fellow fans raised over $7,500 to send him to Phoenix to cheer on the team.

Plus, if South Carolina somehow does win it all, we can brag that the Cats beat them by 16 back in January.

Option 2: A.B.C. (Anyone But [North] Carolina)

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Honestly, this is the option I’m most likely going with. Sure, South Carolina’s story is charming, and “SEC SEC SEC,” but the only thing I care about is North Carolina not getting another title. Not only did the Tar Heels beat us, I don’t want them getting them getting their sixth national championship, which would bring them one step closer to Kentucky’s eight. Of course, this being Carolina, most Tar Heel fans would probably call it their seventh title because they count the Helms championship, which makes me want them to lose even more. We’re already destined to see the Luke Maye shot for years to come, but if the Tar Heels win it all, it will be shoved in our faces even more. And there’s the whole irony of them winning a title while being under NCAA investigation, but I doubt that will ever be mentioned on the CBS broadcast this weekend.

So, I’m going with Option 2, which could, in some cases, also be Option 1A. For a reason I can’t really express, I’d rather Gonzaga or Oregon win it all than South Carolina, but that’s probably because I want to be able to write this season off as a fluke and not listen to Gamecock fans remind us every year how they won it all that one time. I fully accept you judging me for that.

Option 3: Cheer for North Carolina

Nobody’s really going to do this, right?

Option 4: Don’t watch at all

I did a Twitter poll earlier today asking Kentucky fans if they will watch the Final Four, and the results are pretty resounding: 70% No, 30% Yes.

I have a feeling that by Saturday, I’ll have convinced myself I’m okay with watching at least the first game, South Carolina/Gonzaga, only to panic when the CBS fanfare comes on. But, pretending the Final Four doesn’t exist is probably a much more painless option. Think of all the other ways you can spend your Saturday night: checking out the new restaurant in town, seeing “Beauty & the Beast” or some other movie, reconnecting with friends and family you haven’t seen because of basketball, binging something on Netflix (I hear “13 Reasons Why” is supposed to be good), playing with your dog, laundry, drinking good beer, drinking bad beer, cleaning the gunk around the inside of your washing machine, clipping your toenails, clipping your dogs’ nails…

Okay, fine. The games are probably going to be the most entertaining thing on TV Saturday night. But, just know, you’ve got options. Which will you choose?


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Breaking Down the Game for Each of UK’s Four Commits

Breaking Down the Game for Each of UK’s Four Commits

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It’s been a treat watching Kentucky’s four McDonald’s All-Americans develop since I first watched them play a year ago.  When you watch guys once, you get a good feel for their strengths and their weaknesses.  Over time, questions are answered.  It was a joy to see how much they’ve improved over a year and what is possible in the future.

Jarred Vanderbilt

I first saw Vanderbilt play in a Grind Session event at Pulaski County High School before Sacha Killeya-Jones took the floor.  It only takes a quarter of basketball to draw Michael-Kidd Gilchrist comparisons.  Vanderbilt has similar measurables, he’s an inch taller with a wider wingspan, but his style of play is what draws you to the former National Champion and No. 2 pick in the draft.

Vanderbilt isn’t a guy that plays hero ball; he gets his teammates involved.  Whether he’s running the break, playing off a pick-and-roll or defending the other team’s best player, he is the the gear that makes the clock tick.  Passing isn’t something you see in highlight reels, but it’s what he does best, using his length to get around multiple defenders to find the open man.  Defensively, he can guard anybody at any spot on the floor, using his long arms to force deep, contested shots.

The biggest question mark for Vanderbilt was his shot.  Lefties never look bad when they shoot it, but like Tayshaun Prince, a lefty with long-arms always has a weird-looking form.  You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it doesn’t like right, especially when you see how little elevation Vanderbilt has when he shoots.

At the two open practices, Vanderbilt was lights out.

From 15-18 feet, he was consistent.  Off the dribble in pick-and-roll action or with a little catch-and-shoot, Vanderbilt was money.  It was not forced, he simply took what the defense gave him.  Guarded by Kevin Knox, nothing came easy, but he was so smooth he made it look easy.  Vanderbilt has spent many extra hours working on his shot and it’s paid off.

“Before school, after school, even late nights.  I’ve been sacrificing a lot to get that right.  It seems like it’s been paying off so far,” Vanderbilt said yesterday.  “It’s just great seeing all that hard work pay off.  All the work I put into my shot, it’s finally coming along.”

Vanderbilt needed to play hero ball for his prep school, but when surrounded by talent, he excels, taking what the defense gives him and making them pay.  Nobody has been more impressive in Chicago.

Nick Richards

It’s hard to pin down Richards.  During games, he’s either feast or famine, struggling with foul trouble or earning a scrappy double-double.

During individual drills, Richards’ midrange game surprised, consistently knocking down jumpers from from 10-15 feet.  Once they got into a team setting, you never knew what you were gonna get.  On Monday, he looked overwhelmed at times by Mohamed Bamba and Mitchell Robinson.  Lacking a consistent post move, the physicality disrupted his game.  On Tuesday, it was a different story.  He was a patient, using the extra time to find the defensive weakness and exploit it for an easy two.


Why can’t Richards find an easy medium and play consistent? “I’m not really trying to make excuses, but I’ve only played three years of basketball,” Richards said yesterday.

Born in Jamaica, the 7-footer’s gained experience by playing on the EYBL and at The Patrick School, the alma mater of MKG and Karl-Anthony Towns.  It’s turned him into the second-best center in the 2017 class, but he has a lot of room to grow.  He’s happy to have Kenny Payne and John Calipari next year to help make a transformation similar to Bam Adebayo and Karl Anthony-Towns.

Richards’ left-handed grab from Green on the fast break was the best highlight from the two practices. 

P.J. Washington

Washington is unlike any other player Calipari has ever recruited to Kentucky.  His best asset is rebounding, comparable to Julius Randle, but his offensive game is unlike Randle’s.  He’s at his best facing the basket, stretching the floor and knocking down threes or attacking the rim off the dribble.  His ball-handling and passing ability is also exceptional for his size (6’8″ 200 pounds).  He often ran the point guard for Findley Prep, one of the top ten programs in the nation.

Trying to compare him to another UK player is perplexing, but his game complements Vanderbilt’s well.  Much more physical, it will be shocking if he doesn’t get at least eight rebounds a game next year.  He does not pull-up quite like Vanderbilt, but he can spot up from deep, and he’s much more likely to bang with the bigs inside.  If you want a comparison, Draymond Green is as close as you’ll get.

Quade Green

This post is meant to describe each players’ physical skill set, but his intangibles are much more important.  Quade’s step-back is phenomenal.  In the final minutes of preliminary Peach Jam games, he used the move to carry his team to victory multiple times, eventually reaching the championship.  His ability to create space makes his size (6’1″) insignificant.  He also has an exceptional three-point shot, starting his shot from almost behind his head to keep it away from defenders.

His ball skills are exceptional, but it’s not what makes him great.

Green is a fearless leader with the ball in his hands.  He does not hesitate when the game is close.  He makes the difficult pass, and he makes it look easy.  Players gravitate to him because they know he will get them the ball.  Matt is not overselling his significance in this recruiting class; players want to play with Quade because he commands the floor and draws attention to get the ball to others.

Being an above-average shooter and a great passer will get you far, but his attitude is what will make him another elite point guard in Calipari’s lineage of NBA talent.  This statement says it all:

“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.”


Must-Listen of the Day: Matt Jones vs. Paul Kuharsky

Must-Listen of the Day: Matt Jones vs. Paul Kuharsky

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You’re looking at Paul Kuharsky, an NFL writer for ESPN.com and co-host on “The Midday 180,” a sports talk show here in Nashville. Kuharsky is infamous in Music City for being a curmudgeon, especially when it comes to journalism, John Calipari, and, apparently, us. Today, Kuharsky and co-host Chad Withrow led off the show by discussing the John Higgins fiasco and what role they believe KSR played in it. Matt heard the conversation and called in, which led to a spirited debate between him and Kuharsky over “journalism” vs. fan sites such as the one you’re reading right now. As you might imagine, Kuharsky and Withrow are not fans of ours because they believe we perpetuate “fake news,” so this was a lively conversation to say the least.

The conversation then switched to Paul’s claim that Kentucky fans chanted “SEC” at the SEC Tournament (which didn’t happen, he misheard the “MVP” chant directed at Dominique Hawkins) and the UCLA game (which honestly, I don’t even recall). That part’s not as entertaining, but you should stop and listen to the segment because it’s not only great radio, it’s an interesting debate about traditional journalism vs. fan-based sites. Personally, I think Kuharsky and Withrow’s complaints that KSR only prints the good stuff about the team and not the bad is totally bogus and proves they’ve never read this site, but it’s an argument I hear a lot and, as someone who strives to be as fair as possible in my coverage, it annoys me. I listened to the show for about an hour afterwards and want to give to all of the KSR fans who called in to defend us a big shoutout. We do this for you, and we thank you.