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KSR UK Player Interviews: Brad Calipari learning to play point guard

KSR UK Player Interviews: Brad Calipari learning to play point guard

John Calipari has a long list of successful point guards that learned to play the position under his coaching. Now his son, Brad, is trying to join the bunch.

The younger Calipari worked harder than anyone over the summer, trying to learn to play point guard to increase his opportunities in his sophomore season at Kentucky. He got a taste of what it’s like to run an offense while competing overseas in Croatia on an eight-day trip with Global Sports Academy.

“Since the season ended last year, the main thing they wanted me to do is handle the ball better,” he told KSR. “The months before I went (to Croatia), that’s all I was doing; just really focused in on that and I think that helped me a lot. Then when I went over there, I played point guard a lot over there so it was just getting comfortable with the ball in my hands. My main focus over there was getting people involved and just trying to do something different, and adding another dimension to my game than just shooting the ball. That’s been the thing I’ve been the most focused on — having more than one dimension.”

Calipari scored 17 points with seven assists and four rebounds in his first game of the trip. He finished with averages of 14.3 points, 6.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game against four professional teams from the region.

He hopes that experience of playing point guard against pros will have him better prepared to play the position in his second season in Lexington.

“That’ll be the thing that gets me on the court the most,” he said of the switch. “I’ve always had good vision passing the ball; it’s just getting my ball-handling up at a higher level because playing with guys like this, it’s different. Over there in Europe, it’s a completely different game. Guys aren’t as athletic; no one’s getting driven by and dunked on. But it’s still professional athletes and they’re still very skilled; great IQ, they play well together. It’s more execution than it is athleticism and pushing the ball up the court. I think that helped me a lot, to play a different type of game. But playing against these guys (at UK) made it seem easier.”

One person who has already seen his progress in action, and the work that has gone into it, is his dad. Coach Cal has been right by his side the whole way.

“He’s been with me week by week,” Brad said of his old man and head coach. “He sees the strides I’m making as a player. He tells me how proud he is of me and I think it’s good that he realizes that because he knows how hard I work and the hours I put in.”

Maybe his critics will realize it soon, too. I couldn’t let him could go without asking about them.

“It is what it is. Anyone in this gym who’s seen me or been around me, can tell you I put in more time than anyone. I work harder than anyone, so the people who are saying all that stuff is people who have an outside view and an uneducated opinion. It is what it is.”

Go Brad.

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo | Wenyen Gabriel | Quade Green | PJ Washington | Jemarl Baker | Nick Richards | Shai Alexander | Jarred Vanderbilt

Getting you caught up on the latest with college basketball’s FBI scandal

College basketball’s FBI scandal is now more than a week old, but even roughly 10 days or so after the news broke this still remains the biggest story in college sports right now. Frankly, I don’t think there is a close second. Take a handful of the sport’s biggest programs, a major sneaker company, hundreds of thousands of dollars changing hands, the FBI and very real possibility of more to come, and we’ve got a real life soap opera on our hands. It’s like Blue Chips meets General Hospital, with a little Law & Order mixed in.

Yet what is truly insane about this scandal is that there is no end in sight. Unlike the typical NCAA case which goes through a pretty standard cycle, with a resolution set after a certain amount of time (except at North Carolina, where their academic probe is going on roughly 47 years now) there’s no end in sight here. There’s also no telling how many schools, programs and coaches could be ensnared when it’s all said and done.

Therefore, I figured it would be a good time to get everyone caught up on where things stand. I know most folks don’t have time to sit around and follow every little detail of this case.

But you do have a lot of questions. And after talking with all sorts of people over the last week, here are my best answers to the biggest questions:

No, Louisville isn’t getting the death penalty:

Obviously any conversation about this case has to start with Louisville. And while the death penalty was absolutely in play for the Cards early – I believe I was actually the first person, at any point to suggest it – it isn’t in play here. For any fan hoping the NCAA brings the hammer on the Cards, it just ain’t happening.

The simple truth is that the death penalty was only put into the rulebook as a way for the NCAA to police schools that couldn’t police themselves. And when this news first broke, Louisville was a textbook case of exactly that. I mean seriously, how do you get busted paying for players when you’re already on probation? That’s the college basketball equivalent of “How do you get fired on your day off” from the movie Friday. You’ve got to be really dumb to not only attempt it, but then get caught doing it.

Only that’s exactly what Louisville did.

But since then, Louisville has taken what is really the only step necessary to make sure they don’t get the death penalty: They fired Rick Pitino. In essence that was Louisville’s way of saying to the NCAA “mannnnnnnnn, we really screwed up on this one. And we’re ready to start getting things cleaned up” (assuming of course you believe that any of college basketball can be “cleaned up”).

And really, that’s all the NCAA really wanted to see. Remember, the NCAA doesn’t actually want to hand out the death penalty, it’s too costly for too many entities (the city of Louisville, the ACC, TV partners). They will only hand it out when they absolutely have to, when the school leaves them no choice.

But – to use a really bad pun – Louisville used their “get out of jail free” card here. They got rid of Pitino to save the program. And it worked.

UofL president blasts Pitino over “pattern and practice of inappropriate behavior”

UofL president blasts Pitino over “pattern and practice of inappropriate behavior”

On Tuesday, UofL interim president Greg Postel sent Rick Pitino a letter as part of the university’s termination process, and man, it’s intense. In the three-page letter, which went public this afternoon, Postel blasts Pitino for his involvement in “two recent and highly publicized scandals” (the hookers and the money).

“Your involvement in these recent scandals cannot be considered isolated events,” Postel writes. “Instead, they are illustrative of a pattern and practice of inappropriate behavior.”

Postel also reveals that Christian Dawkins — an agent indicted in the FBI probe — was on UofL’s campus “for purposes relating to the basketball program” in late May, just before Brian Bowen committed to the Cardinals. That’s a new and pretty damning fact. Dawkins, as you might remember, was caught on tape discussing the scheme to funnel money from adidas to Bowen with UofL coaches in Las Vegas in late July.

All in all, Postel charges Pitino with violating his contract in eight ways between the two scandals. Per the letter, Pitino will have a chance to present evidence against his suspension and termination at a board meeting on October 16, the same day his paid leave ends.

Read the entire letter for yourself below:

Postel ain’t messing around.

KSR UK Player Interviews: Jarred Vanderbilt on this team’s versatility

KSR UK Player Interviews: Jarred Vanderbilt on this team’s versatility

Watching Jarred Vanderbilt’s preseason interview stings a little now that he’s out three months with a foot injury, but out of all the players, his interview got me the most excited about this team’s potential. Vanderbilt is one of many versatile forwards on this squad, but he insists that each of the 6-9 guys on Kentucky’s roster brings something different to the table.

“We’re very long, athletic, versatile. Everybody thinks we’re similar — we are in a way — but everybody has their own unique niche and we’re also kind of different. We all bring something different to the table. I think we can all play together and we’re going to have some crazy lineups. Lineups [John Calipari] can mix and match and stuff like that. We’re pretty deep. We’re loaded. We’re going to have a great squad.”

As you may have guessed, Calipari likes the word “positionless” (if he says it three times in a row, will another 6-9 forward appear?), but Vanderbilt is all in because he’s knows that’s the future of the game.

“Too many, I can’t even can’t count,” Vanderbilt said when asked how many times Calipari has used the word. “He’s really stressed that but I really believe that’s how we’re going to play and that’s how we’re going to have to play, because our team, we can create so many mismatches, I think why not play that way? That’s the way the game is moving anyways. At the next level, everybody’s playing positionless basketball, small ball, whatever you want to call it. That’s just the way the game is shaping up.”

What can we expect when Vanderbilt takes the floor three months from now? He’s often compared to Lamar Odom.

“I’ve been hearing that comparison forever, a smaller Lamar Odom. It’s a great comparison. Lamar Odom in his prime was ridiculous, the things he could do at his size. I think I have some similar attributes to him, also being a lefty as well. I can really see that comparison.”

In the meantime, he’ll focus on his recovery and take solace in the fact that everyone has setbacks, even the NBA stars that have come through Kentucky since Calipari took over.

“It’s a good thing the [former] guys actually come back and support us, try to guide us, give us advice. Even talking with them and seeing how it is in the league, the transition, it’s great. Just to know that those guys, they had struggles here too. Even the great ones went through adversity and stuff like that. People think they’re superstars now, but they went through the same stages and stuff. To see where they are now, it’s great.”

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo | Wenyen Gabriel | Quade Green | PJ Washington | Jemarl Baker | Nick Richards | Shai Alexander

KSR UK Player Interviews: Shai Alexander brings height to Kentucky’s backcourt

KSR UK Player Interviews: Shai Alexander brings height to Kentucky’s backcourt

What does Shai Alexander bring to Kentucky’s backcourt? Height. At 6’6″, Alexander will nicely compliment Quade Green, Kentucky’s other guard, who stands at only 6’0″. Alexander hopes that his height will create matchup problems and give an already versatile Kentucky team another dimension.

“I see things that a lot of shorter guards can’t see,” Alexander said. “Make passes and stuff like that, get my shot off over smaller guards.”

Alexander is most used to playing point guard, but he’s looking forward to sharing the backcourt with Green.

“I think we’re both good leaders. We can both get teammates the ball and stuff like that. We’re both really fun to play with. He’s really unselfish and really fun to play with. It’s fun.”

According to those who have seen practice and workouts so far, Alexander has been one of the most pleasant surprises. The one-time Florida commit reopened his recruitment once his stock rose last fall, and even though he had plenty of suitors, John Calipari made the biggest impression.

“I think Coach Cal was really genuine and honest with me when he came to visit and was different from a lot of coaches,” Alexander said. “It really caught my eye.”

Now, he’s ready to make his mark, even if it means not bringing the ball down the court every time.

“Coaches handle that type of stuff,” Alexander said when asked what role he envisions himself playing. “I’m just here to do what they ask of me and give the team my all and do whatever it takes to win.”

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo | Wenyen Gabriel | Quade Green | PJ Washington | Jemarl Baker | Nick Richards

Bol Bol considering UK again, but needs explanation for Team USA snub

(Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

After it seemed things had fallen completely off, the Bol Bol buzz is back on in Kentucky.

Bol is rumored to be considering the Cats all over again now that a black cloud hovers over USC and Arizona. The same goes for Shareef O’Neal, and there’s some talk that both could attend Big Blue Madness next week.

But for Bol, he and his family need an explanation as to why he was cut from Calipari’s U19 team earlier this summer, before they can move on.

His mother told SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker, “He’s kind of a little sad with Kentucky. The coach promise him — like really promise him — that he’s going to be picked to go to Egypt [for the FIBA World Cup]. And then it did not happen. He was really sad about that. I could see he was sad. [Calipari] never explained what happened.”

Kentucky was the presumed leader for Bol before he was sent home from the USA U19 training camp. Now it has an opportunity to get back in Bol’s good graces, but not until he understands why he didn’t make the trip to Egypt.

My understanding is Calipari could only take one naturalized citizen, and the committee chose Georgia Tech sophomore Josh Okogie over Bol. Whether or not that is the case, Cal should (and probably will) explain what happened and go all-in on Bol because there aren’t many big men available in the class.

Why Cam Newton’s sexist remark to a female reporter is not funny

Why Cam Newton’s sexist remark to a female reporter is not funny

Over the years, Cam Newton has been outspoken about racial equality, but his comments today show he doesn’t care about gender equality.

This afternoon, Newton showed his colors when Carolina Panthers beat writer Jourdan Rodrigue asked him about wide receiver Devin Funchess:

“I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers playing well,” Rodrigue said. “Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment, to see him kind of truck-sticking people out there?”

That’s a perfectly normal question — a good one, in fact — but when Rodrigue said the word “routes,” Newton smirked and looked at the podium before delivering this response.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about…routes,” Newton said, snarling on the last word. “Like…it’s funny.”

With a patronizing smile, he went on to answer the question, but the damage was done. Newton is facing a mountain of backlash on social media for his remarks, and apparently, his behavior was even worse when she addressed him afterwards.

The Panthers quickly put out a statement confirming that Newton and Rodrigue spoke and that he “expressed regret for using those words,” which she denies. After scrolling through Twitter, I’m certain that Newton does feel regret over the exchange, but not for the right reasons. His smug delivery of what he thought was a hilarious joke suggests he won’t change. Tomorrow, I’m sure he’ll do damage control and everyone will move on to the next thing to be outraged over, which is its own sad reality, especially because this is a very real issue.

Sexism is hardly a new problem, particularly for women who cover sports, and the fact that society isn’t past it in 2017 is unfortunate, but not surprising. Newton’s comments are a disappointing reminder that, for female reporters and women in general, there will always be men out there — whether it be players, coaches, or even colleagues — waiting for a chance to look down on you, doubt you, or in this case, laugh.

But Newton’s comments are also wrong. I’m hardly an X’s or O’s expert when it comes to football nor do I pretend to be, but thankfully, the industry is flooded with women who are, many who know more about routes than most male reporters or even Newton himself. I can think of two in our own backyard in Jen Smith and Christi Thomas. The only reason Newton found that question funny is because it was asked by a woman, which speaks volumes.

A few months ago, a man on Twitter dismissed my opinion about growing concerns over head trauma in football because I’m a woman, so therefore I could never understand the true value of football. That’s the most absurd argument I’ve ever heard. Are political reporters only worth listening to if they’ve been politicians themselves? What about people who write about space; do they have to be astronauts to understand? Why is it so easy — and important — for some men to belittle women’s thoughts on sports? Is it insecurity?

In many ways, it is an excellent time to be a woman in sports media. Now, more than ever, women are getting lead roles on major networks. Beth Mowins just called “Monday Night Football.” Doris Burke will be the first female full-time national NBA game analyst this season. Kara Lawson is now a primary TV analyst for the Washington Wizards. Just today, ESPN announced it has hired Katie Nolan, who will probably get her own show and podcast, and it’s about time.

But, in other ways, the fact that female sports reporters still have to deal with men questioning their intelligence feels inevitable. And it’s not funny.

KSR UK interviews: Nick Richards’ background in soccer helped kickstart his basketball career

KSR UK interviews: Nick Richards’ background in soccer helped kickstart his basketball career

Back in August, several videos leaked of Kentucky’s five-star freshman center Nick Richards playing pickup basketball in New York City with NBA stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony, among others.

And it wasn’t a “one of these is not like the others” situation. Richards looked like he belonged.

For Kentucky’s newest man in the middle, it was a surprise to play against his idols, but it was just a glimpse into his future as an NBA big man.

“It was a really good learning experience. It was pretty fun playing against most of those guys,” Richards said. “I knew in the back of my mind I would eventually have to play against them in the future, but to see them in person, t0 see your idols turn into your rivals that quick, it was a surprise.”

So how’d he play?

“Of course I held my own against them,” Richards said with a smile.

But before he solidified himself as one of the nation’s top centers and went head-to-head with some of the NBA’s top talent, he actually started his sports career as a soccer player.

“I was 14 years old, going on 15 (when I started playing basketball),” the Kentucky center said. “I did everything but basketball. Soccer was the first sport I fell in love with. I was a goalie and a midfielder.”

Richards said his passion for soccer has helped him make massive strides on the basketball court.

“Soccer helps me with my footwork, helps me guard guards, and move up and down the floor,” he said.

Richards said he spends his free time a bit different than some of his peers. The star big man told KSR that playing FIFA, cheering for Real Madrid, and watching competitive skateboarding are three of his favorite things to do outside of basketball.

“I watch the street leagues and street tournaments,” Richards said. “Like Nyjah Huston and Ryan Sheckler, I actually follow those guys on Instagram and see what they’re doing.”

But on-court, Richards is a whole different animal. Back in high school, the Queens, NY native was known as one of the best defensive-minded centers in the nation with tremendous athleticism. Teams had an unbelievably hard time scoring on him in the paint.

His first few months at Kentucky, however, have been quite the adjustment period.

“I’m actually just taking all of this in and being as good with it as possible. Kentucky is really one of the toughest schools to be at, it’s obviously going to get you ready for the next level. But it’s been pretty fun so far,” he said.

When asked about the improvements he has seen in himself since getting on campus, Richards said he has not only seen development on the basketball court, but growth as a person off the court, as well.

“I’ve noticed a lot of improvement in my offensive game,” Richards said. “I’m more mature, my parents noticed that when I went home. I guess just me being by myself made me grow up quicker.”

With a surplus of forwards on the team, someone has to take over as the primary big man to shoulder the weight on the inside. Richards is extremely confident that person is him.

“It’s most likely going to be me, and I don’t have a problem taking on that role. It’s what the team needs to win a National Championship, and that was my goal coming here.

With guys like Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, and Willie Cauley-Stein coming through the Kentucky program in recent years, it’s obvious Coach Cal loves elite shot blocking talent. Richards said he can step in and be that guy from day one.

“I’m always willing to go outside of my comfort zone, but rebounding and blocking shots have always been second nature to me. If that’s what they need me to do, that’s what I need to do.”

Many people compare Calipari’s newest point guard, Quade Green, to former Wildcat great Tyler Ulis for his ability to be a floor general and lead a team. Richards believes he’s easily one of the best point guards he has ever come in contact with.

“I’ve been catching lobs from Quade in pickup games, and that’s how I get the majority of my (baskets.) He’s definitely one of the best point guards I have played with in my entire basketball career.”

Richards is itching to get out on the court at Rupp Arena for the first time to play for the Big Blue Nation.

“I know it’s going to be crazy and the fans are going to be crazy. I just can’t wait for this season to start.”

He already has one game circled on his calendar this year.

I’m looking forward to that Louisville game. The rivalry with Louisville is crazy,” Richards said. “One day I went into the barbershop, and they told me a story about this one guy who walked in wearing a Louisville shirt. Everyone in the shop stopped what they were doing, looked at him, and told him to get out.”

Anyone surprised? I didn’t think so.

Needless to say, UK’s newest big man ready to lace up his sneakers and put on a show.

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo | Wenyen Gabriel | Jemarl Baker

KSR UK Player Interviews: Jemarl Baker ready to be pushed to his limits

KSR UK Player Interviews: Jemarl Baker ready to be pushed to his limits

Jemarl Baker is no stranger to hard work. In high school, his father would wake him up at four in the morning and the two would drive an hour to his school to be there by six so he could get a workout in before class.

“It was definitely tough,” Baker told KSR, recalling how he’d be so tired after school and practice he would pass out in the car. “The toughest thing I’ve ever gone through, but it definitely helped me. That’s how I got here.”

In fact, John Calipari’s promise that Baker would be pushed to his limits at Kentucky was one of the biggest selling points.

“Just like how my dad, he pushes me to be the best I can be, just working me out and pushing me to be great,” Baker said, describing Calipari’s pitch. “And in the meeting, for Coach Cal to say he’s going to push me to be the best version of me, that’s everything I could ask for.”

Baker’s courtship with Kentucky was a whirlwind. The 6-4 shooting guard from Eastvale, California originally committed to Cal, but when Cuonzo Martin left for Missouri, he reopened his recruitment and, all of a sudden, John Calipari was pulling up to his school.

“The first time I saw him, he actually came to the school,” Baker said. “I hadn’t talked to him on the phone. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really him.’ Just seeing him [on TV] all the time, every year, coaching — it was just a dream come true.”

Four days after meeting with Calipari, Baker committed to Kentucky. He saw no need to wait.

“I’m not a person that has to wait and make it a big deal or anything like that. Once I heard what Coach Cal had to say, it was everything that I wanted to hear. As a player, you worked hard to get this opportunity and I’m glad it came.”

Now at Kentucky, Baker — whose first name is pronounced “Jamal” (he’s still not sure why his grandmother put an “r” in it) —  is hard at work once again. Over two months of workouts, he put on eight pounds of muscle. He’s billed as a shooter, but he wants Kentucky fans to know he hustles on the defensive end as well.

“Definitely defending,” Baker said of what else he brings to the table. “I always pride myself on not letting anyone score on me, no matter who it is. I’m a playmaker, I have a high IQ. I’m just ready to start playing.”

After all of their sacrifices and hard work, what does Baker’s dad say to him now?

“We talk multiple times a day. He’s just proud of everything I’ve been through. Just him working me out and for me to be able to get here and all the NBA players that have been here and been in the same position that I am, it’s just everything I can ask for.”

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo | Wenyen Gabriel | Quade Green | PJ Washington

Karl Towns voted Best Center in the NBA by general managers

How impressive has Karl Towns been in his first two years in the NBA? According to the annual general manager survey, he’s the best center in the league. Towns led the category with 28% of the vote, followed by Anthony Davis at 24%, Marc Gasol at 21%, and DeMarcus Cousins at 14%. That’s a whole lotta Cats.

Towns was a popular choice across the board. He was also the top pick for best player to build a franchise around (29%) and player most likely to have a breakout season (21%). Towns was also fourth in the best power forward category (7%), which Davis dominated with 41% of the vote.

Other Cats mentioned:

  • John Wall finished fourth in the Best Point Guard category (3%), first in Fastest with the Ball (48%), and third in Best Passer (7%)
  • De’Aaron Fox got the fourth most votes for 2017-18 Rookie of the Year
  • Devin Booker was voted the third purest shooter (4%)

Check out the entire survey for yourself at

[ Annual GM Survey]

Calipari: College basketball should follow baseball and allow player representation

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of last week’s FBI probe into bribery in college basketball, many head coaches in the sports are speaking out on the current state of the game and what can be done to fix it. Yesterday, Jon Rothstein spoke to John Calipari after practice and Calipari called for the sport to allow players representation like baseball:

“Players should be allowed representation just like they have in baseball,” Calipari said following Tuesday’s practice at Kentucky. “They don’t need a new model because there’s already a model in place. That’s what they do in baseball. Players should be able to earn income because of their name, their signature, and their likeness. If a uniform is sold with a player’s name on it, the player should get a percentage on it. If they want to go out and sign autographs, let them sign autographs. The money should be deferred. They should be able to sign a shoe contract too, but the money should be deferred unless it’s used by the parents of the player for transportation or expenses to come and see the kid’s play. They’re not professionals if that happens and it probably eliminates a lot of stuff.”

Cal also called for the return of grad assistants on the staff and the need to “figure out summer basketball,” which seems to be the center of corruption.

Read more at the link below.

Rothstein | Calipari says NCAA hoops should take page from baseball


KSR UK Player Interviews: Quade Green born to be “the loudest one out there”

KSR UK Player Interviews: Quade Green born to be “the loudest one out there”

Even before he arrived at Kentucky, Quade Green assumed a leadership role. The point guard from Philly committed to Kentucky in November 2016 and immediately started recruiting others to join him. Some ventures were more successful than others (no hard feelings, Mohamed Bamba), but Green knew that in order for his recruiting class to be special, he had to take the lead.

I like playing with good guys, so I had to try to get the good guys on my team,” he said simply.

Why do good guys like playing with Green? Another simple answer: he gets them the ball, a trait which earned him a reputation as one of the most popular guards in his class.

“I’m a pass-first point guard. Everybody wants the ball. I’m not a selfish guy, so that’s probably one of the reasons why they want to play with me. I’m not selfish.”

At six-feet, Green is small in stature, but he devoted the summer to improving his speed through what he calls “the worst conditioning I’ve ever done in my life.” He still says speed is his biggest weakness, but he’s working on it.

“I’m getting faster and stronger and getting my foot speed right and getting quicker,” Green said.

He credited part of that improvement to fellow guard Shai Alexander, with whom he will share the backcourt this fall but spent the summer playing against in the gym.

“Shai is unbelievable,” Green said. “I can’t wait to get on the court together with Shai. We’ve been playing over in the gym, playing against him, making me better, making him better. I can’t wait until the real games start.”

Alexander will be great, but, let it be clear: Green is this team’s general.

“I would say leading my team to win, really,” Green said when asked about his biggest strength. “Being a vocal leader and being a leader on and off the court. Being that person guys can come to anytime they want and being a pass-first point guard and scoring when I need to score.”

“I’ve been doing it all my life,” he added later. “It’s natural to me now. I don’t care if we’re playing in the park, I’m going to be the loudest one out there. Even somebody’s grandma’s gonna hear me talking out there.

Brace yourself, lower arena.

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo | Wenyen Gabriel |

KSR UK Player Interviews: PJ Washington embracing alpha dog persona

KSR UK Player Interviews: PJ Washington embracing alpha dog persona

What did Kentucky freshman PJ Washington learn about John Calipari during this summer’s FIBA World Cup?

“He yells,” Washington laughed. “But it’s crazy because he wasn’t mad, but he was just yelling. I haven’t seen anything like it.”

Yelling aside, Washington thoroughly enjoyed the sneak peek of his freshman season.

“It was great getting a taste of what [Calipari] does and how he coaches and getting to play with Hamidou [Diallo],” Washington said. “[Calipari] is everything I expected. I feel like he didn’t lie to me at all in the recruiting process. He’s a player’s coach. As long as you fight for him, he’ll fight for you.”

Washington is the only true freshman who has been coached by John Calipari in a game, which he acknowledges will give him a leg up once the season starts.

I feel like it gives me an advantage because I know what he wants out of me. I know what he wants me to do. I just know how he coaches. I know his style. I know what plays he likes to run. It’s just great.”

Some players may treat that head start as a cushion, but Washington is using it as motivation. When asked what he’s enjoyed most about his time at Kentucky so far, he gave us an unique answer.

“I like the workouts. I like being competitive with these guys, pushing people to get better. It’s just a blessing.”

One of the most intense workouts this summer took place at the football training center, where the players ran stairs and did circuit training. Even Washington admitted he liked the end of that workout the best, but he’s pleased by how all of the extra work has helped his game.

“I’ve seen my game change a lot. I’ve seen my body change a lot. It’s basically motivated me. I’m happy to get better every day.”

Washington has been described as one of the most versatile players on the team, making him a perfect fit for Calipari’s positionless system. Speaking of, how much does Calipari love the word “positionless”?

“He says it almost everyday,” Washington said. “I honestly don’t think I’ve heard him talk without saying it.”

In Washington’s case, the term fits. With a solid jumper, a nose for the ball, and endless hustle on defense, the 6’9″ forward has been compared to Chuck Hayes by some, but point guard Quade Green has a different comparison in mind: Charles Barkley.

“I love it,” Washington said. “[Quade] thinks I don’t like it, but it’s a great comparison and I love it. It gets me wanting to play harder when he says it in pickup games.”

Barkley was three inches shorter and about 40 pounds heavier than Washington while at Auburn, but the two may share another trait: an alpha dog mentality. Calipari has already singled Washington out as one of three alpha dogs on the team (along with Green and Diallo) and wants him to embrace that persona this season.

“[He wants me to] play like I did in Egypt. He expects me to be an alpha dog, play hard. Do anything he asks me to do to win and just be who I am.”

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo | Wenyen Gabriel | Quade Green

KSR UK Player Interviews: Wenyen Gabriel committed to breakout year

KSR UK Player Interviews: Wenyen Gabriel committed to breakout year

Last year’s loss to North Carolina was the turning point for Wenyen Gabriel. Frustrated with an inconsistent freshman season, Gabriel shouldered blame for his team’s shortcomings and used it as fuel to get better.

I feel like a lot of that was on me, why we didn’t make [the Final Four], because I didn’t bring the production that I should have,” Gabriel told KSR. “Obviously, during the offseason, I feel like it helped me get better as a player. Just motivation for this year and to make this team come together so we could finish what we didn’t finish last year.”

The minute Gabriel got home to New Hampshire for his brief summer vacation, he went to work. Every morning, he woke up and drove an hour to the gym to lift with a trainer.

“I just made that my main goal every day: to start off the day, I had to go get that lift in and it just made everything else go easier for me,” Gabriel said. “Putting more emphasis on my body, trying to make sure this year [my body] doesn’t break down.”

By now, you’ve seen the picture of Gabriel’s three-week transformation. How did he achieve such results in such a short time?

“Obviously, since it was the offseason it wasn’t as intense, there wasn’t as much running and conditioning going on at the same time. I was eating more since I was at home. My diet, I was more focused on that.”

Gabriel said he immediately noticed the impact his time in the weight room had on his performance on the court.

“A lot,” Gabriel said on how adding muscle changed his game. “The balance, it helps everything with my game. The workouts we do are basketball specific. It helps with coordination, speed, endurance, everything with that.”

Only at Kentucky could a player who averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds his freshman year be the team’s top returner, but Gabriel is ready to use the lessons he learned last season.

“It’s great because you really know a lot of things,” Gabriel said of his sophomore status. “You know what to expect. Coming in as a freshman, you not sure what to expect, so you just have to listen and go with it. I know what to expect and how to prepare myself for it now, so I think that’s the biggest difference.”

Gabriel’s story should be a familiar one by now. Born in South Sudan, his family migrated to Egypt when he was a baby and came to America as refugees when he was three. Although his freshman season at Kentucky had its ups and downs, Gabriel sees his drive to succeed reflected in his younger brother and sister, who are moving up the ranks in AAU and high school basketball.

“It’s huge. I feel like we can really feel it coming already,” Gabriel said, proudly listing his brother and sister’s scholarship offers. “I have a little brother and sister out here trying to do the same thing as me so I’m still trying to set an example there.”

Gabriel seeks to be a role model not just for his family, but the city of Manchester, which has a large Sudanese population. His brief time at home was good for both body and mind.

“When I went home, I felt a lot of love from the city. All the places I went, I talked to a lot of little kids and visited schools. All of that positive energy came into me and me being a high energy player, I’m starting to learn how to control everything, and knowing what to expect, I can prepare myself for what I know is coming up. I have a plan coming up for this year and I’m trying to execute that.”

Back in Lexington, he put that plan into action. By all accounts, he’s been a different player in offseason workouts and early practices.

“I committed myself to having a breakout year the moment last season ended. I’m standing by my word,” he vowed.

Check out our other preseason interviews:

John Calipari | Kevin Knox | Hamidou Diallo |

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin says college athletes should get paid

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin says college athletes should get paid

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin went on a Paducah radio show Tuesday morning and said he believes college athletes should be financially compensated for all of the revenue they generate for the NCAA and their universities.

Bevin told WKYX, “I think we should pay college athletes. I really do. This idea that they’re not professionals is nonsense.”

When asked how the student-athletes should be paid, Bevin added, “I think we should maybe defer that comp — fair enough, they can defer it – but they and their families should be able to benefit from the sacrifices they make.”

“The coaches are making millions of dollars a year,” he continued. “Shoe contracts are dictating what happens on our college campuses. Athletics directors and others associated with it that are making exorbitant fees. I don’t begrudge people making a high living. Good for them, and I mean that sincerely. But if that comes at the expense of those that are delivering the athletic prowess on the field, then maybe we should rethink the fact that this is really like the minor leagues for the professional sports associations, and they should be compensated and treated accordingly.”

Bevin went on to say he doesn’t believe anyone is intentionally exploiting the student-athletes, but ‘exploiting’ is a word that can be used to describe what is happening in college athletics today.

Our friends at have more from the interview: “Gov. Matt Bevin says college athletes should be financially compensated”