The worst possible outcome for former Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins has come to fruition.
This morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Cousins had injured his knee during a workout in Las Vegas.
Now, Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that Cousins’ injury is, in fact, a torn ACL.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 15, 2019
According to Wojnarowski, the injury came this morning when Cousins bumped knees with another player, forcing him to leave the court and travel back to Los Angeles for testing.
Cousins signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in July, where he was set to team up with former Wildcat Anthony Davis and NBA superstar LeBron James.
In April, he tore his left quad but was able to return to the court in June to play for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. In January 2018, he tore his Achilles and had to miss an entire year.
Today’s injury means Boogie has torn his Achilles, quadriceps, and ACL in the last 566 days alone.
Prayers to Cousins during this extremely difficult time…
By Adam Luckett on ©August 15th, 2019 @ 12:00pm
After touching on the defensive front it’s now time to round out the front seven. The Wildcats have a new inside linebackers coach this season and the former Kentucky alum inherits a senior and team captain plus two sophomores who shined as true freshman last season. This group has a chance to be very, very good.
Since 2011, UK has produced three inside linebackers who went on to be drafted in the NFL. Both Danny Trevathan and Avery Williamson received big contracts in free agency and are now on different teams than the ones that drafted them. Josh Forrest was picked in the sixth round a couple years ago. This is not even mentioning Wesley Woodyard who has played 12 seasons in the National Football League after going undrafted. This program has produced some pros.
On the college playing field, Kentucky has had a lot of success with this position. Marty Moore, Jeff Snedegar, Wesley Woodyard (twice), Micah Johnson, and Danny Trevathan (twice) have all been named first-team All-SEC. For a solid 20-plus years running, the Wildcats have consistently gotten very solid linebacker play.
The Inside Linebacker Room
When you’re talking about this position you must start with the quarterback of the defense. No matter what scheme, you need to get very good play from your Mike linebacker (called middle by some) to have a chance at being good. Since the loss of Avery Williamson following 2o13, this position has been through a lot of ups and downs but this year Kentucky has someone who could become a star.
In his first year starting last season, Kash Daniel recorded 84 tackles and 9.5 run stuffs. The Paintsville native started 12 games (missed one due to a targeting suspension) and slowly became an integral part of the defense. The senior has slimmed down in hopes of playing much faster this season. He’s already an excellent gap shooter in run defense, but his pass coverage must improve so he can stay on the field for all three downs. At this point, there’s no denying that UK has a very good player at Mike.
Sliding into the Will spot (weakside linebacker) that was manned by Jordan Jones the last three seasons will be sophomore DeAndre Square. The Detroit native was a high three-star recruit in the class of 2018 and quickly broke into the rotation last season. The 6-foot-1 and 204-pound slashing linebacker played in all 13 games last season and drew a starting assignment in the Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State. Square recorded 35 tackles and has a chance to be a real force in pass coverage. UK seems ready to make a smooth transition at Will.
Backing up both Kash Daniel and DeAndre Square will be sophomore Chris Oats. The Cincinnati native was a huge recruiting win in the class of 2018 with Vince Marrow convincing the blue-chipper to turn down Ohio State and head down I-75 South. Last season, Oats made an immediate impact.
The rangy linebacker (6-foot-3, 227 pounds) was Kash Daniel’s primary backup at Mike and recorded 27 tackles, 4.5 run stuffs, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He got the start at Mike on the road against Texas A&M and played very well. He’ll serve as a backup this season, but Mark Stoops has already admitted that he’s pretty much a third starter and will play both inside spots. Expect Oats to be on the field a ton and there’s no doubt that he has the potential to become the position’s next All-SEC player and draft pick.
On the bench, Jamin Davis enters his redshirt sophomore season after playing primarily on special teams last year. The Georgia native has great size (6-foot-4, 224 pounds) and recorded an interception in the Murray State win. He can play both Mike and Will and will be an excellent piece off the bench.
In the latest recruiting class, Kentucky pulled in a pair of inside linebackers in Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff and Tra Wilkins. Both are projected to play the Will spot and it’s highly likely that each is headed towards a redshirt season. Back on signing day, Vince Marrow sang the praises of Knight-Goff and the staff thinks they got a steal out of Louisville with the Doss alum.
Jon Sumrall takes over for Matt House and the new Kansas City Chiefs assistant left behind plenty of talent. Kash Daniel is rock solid at middle linebacker while both Chris Oats and DeAndre Square are two youngsters with a ton of potential. Jamin Davis is in his third year in the program and has a chance to be one of the better reserves in the Southeastern Conference. UK should have the cushion to redshirt both Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff and Tra Wilkins.
With the secondary needing to answer a bunch of questions this season, it is imperative that Kentucky be very strong up the middle. They feel good about the defensive line, but you still need your inside linebackers to do a lot of cleaning up. The Wildcats will need their guys to play sharp and fast each Saturday for this defense to reach its potential. This position group has to be one of the strengths of the team this fall.
Our defensive previews roll on after checking in on Derrick LeBlanc’s defensive line and now it’s time to check on defensive coordinator Brad White’s position group. A year after producing the best defensive player in college football and the program’s all-time leading sack leader, UK is looking for some answers on the edge.
The Wildcats have recruited this position very well recently and have an upperclassmen who seems poised for a big season. The play of this position really improved under the tutelage of White last year and that coaching will need to be sharp this season to help replace the monster hole left behind by Josh Allen.
When Mark Stoops arrived, he inherited a very nice piece from the Joker Phillips administration. Bud Dupree was a mid three-star recruit in the class of 2011 who many projected to play tight end in college. However, the staff moved him to defense and he quickly became an impact performer. In two years under Stoops, Dupree recorded 14 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. He developed into a first round pick and first-team All-SEC selection during his senior season.
Right off the bat, this staff proved they could develop edges into pros but they have also recruited the position really well. In their first seven classes, UK has pulled in six composite blue-chip recruits to play the position (Jason Hatcher, Denzil Ware, Joshua Paschal, Jared Casey, J.J. Weaver, Xavier Peters) to go with some impressive development.
Both Josh Allen and Boogie Watson, who picked Kentucky over a few Group of Five and FCS programs, came into the program with not many outside expectations. We all know Josh Allen’s story and now Watson appears to be a candidate for a breakout season in 2019.
They’ve done it with blue-chips and unheralded recruits. Two players have been drafted in the first round and UK has consistently received good play from their outside backers. You could make the argument that this has been the best overall position during the Mark Stoops tenure.
The Edge Room
Brad White is back for his second season coaching the outside linebackers and this year the Wildcats have answers to find at the Jack linebacker spot. This hybrid defensive end/linebacker position was manned by Josh Allen last season and the now Jacksonville Jaguar was as dominant as a college football player could be. Kentucky must replace his 88 tackles, 24 run stuffs, 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, and five forced fumbles. He was an All-American for a reason.
To help fill this void, UK has moved redshirt sophomore Joshua Paschal out to the edge for some help. The DMV native successfully defeated cancer and will look to build off a successful true freshman season after redshirting last season. At 284 pounds, he will be quite the force in run support. In 2017, Kentucky used Paschal as an interior pass rusher in nickel and dime situations. That’s something to keep an eye on this season.
Next in line will be redshirt sophomore Jordan Wright who picked Kentucky over a handful of prominent programs. The Fort Lauderdale native notched 25 sacks as a senior in high school and the former basketball player might have the best pass rushing tools on the roster. Wright has been a bit of an enigma to this point, but balled out in the spring game when the lights came on. Kentucky needs productive snaps from him.
The wildcard at this spot is Florida State transfer Xavier Peters. The Cincinnati area native and former top-200 recruit is still currently awaiting word on his eligibility from the NCAA. That will hopefully come any day. On the field, Peters may have the most NFL ready body on the roster and will certainly be in the rotation if cleared.
Over at Sam, Boogie Watson is back for his redshirt junior season and is the dean of the group. The DMV native has played in 25 games the past two seasons with seven starts and seven sacks. After recording 24 tackles last season, UK needs a big step forward from their Sam linebacker. Watson ranked sixth on the team in run stuffs last year and was active in pass coverage (three pass break-ups). Only five returning SEC players had more sacks than him last season.
Running with the twos at Sam right now appears to be newcomer Jared Casey. The Louisville native was the highest ranked recruit in the class of 2019 and seems positioned to play right away. The young player bursted onto the recruiting scene in the summer camp circuit and Vince Marrow was able to score a major recruiting win by flipping Casey from Oregon. Expect him to be a big factor on special teams.
In the class of 2019, UK brought in K.D. McDaniel and J.J. Weaver to play Jack, but they are both likely headed for redshirt seasons. Junior college transfer Marquez Bembry has three years of eligibility remaining, but we’ve heard nothing about him during fall camp. He projects to the Sam spot. Alex King enters his redshirt sophomore season and looks to crack the rotation after contributing on special teams in nine games last year.
The shadow of Josh Allen looms large for Kentucky entering 2o19 and every day the players see his large draft poster hanging on the outside of Kroger Field right across from the football facility.
That banner everyone was talking about in Nashville has moved to Gate 12. @JoshAllen41_ might be off to stardom with the @Jaguars, but he’s always a Wildcat. #WeAreUK #BringIt pic.twitter.com/BJnrJxiB9P
— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) June 3, 2019
Even with the loss, there are some very promising things about Brad White’s position group. Boogie Watson is now an upperclassmen who appears ready for a breakout and should emerge into one of the SEC’s best pass rushers. At Jack, there is a ton of potential and this is a position that will be extremely deep if Xavier Peters is granted a waiver by the NCAA.
At the same time, there are some questions that must be answered.
At Jack, a position that must provide havoc plays (sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, etc.), Kentucky is talented but very green. Joshua Paschal is more of a run stuffer than pass rusher. If no Peters, can Jordan Wright give UK a consistent pass rush at this spot? At Sam, Kentucky is just one injury away from being really young. Can they get Jared Casey enough reps early in the season?
There’s no question that there is a ton of talent at this spot. In addition to the four blue-chippers, there are three high three-stars (Jordan Wright, Alex King, K.D. McDaniel). That’s not even counting Boogie Watson. The Wildcats have all the pieces to succeed on the edge this fall, but they need their young guys to grow up fast.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©August 13th, 2019 @ 10:59pm
This afternoon, Kentucky lost out on its final potential target to close out the program’s 2019-20 roster when 2020 five-star center N’Faly Dante announced he would be reclassifying to 2019 – as expected – and signing with the Oregon Ducks.
Dante, a 6-foot-11 center out of Wichita, KS, committed to Oregon over offers from Kentucky, LSU, Iowa State, and Tennessee, among others, though sources tell KSR that the decision ultimately came down to the Ducks and the Wildcats.
While the Big Blue Nation is understandably frustrated in losing yet another frontcourt prospect in the class of 2019 – Kentucky’s ninth miss overall – fans should take a step back from the ledge and see why there is still so much optimism within the program about the upcoming season and recruiting moving forward.
Kentucky swung and missed on big men in 2019
Before we get into the nitty-gritty on what this decision means for Kentucky and the pros and cons, we definitely have to address the obvious: UK swung and missed on just about every single big man target they had in the class of 2019.
Following today’s decision, this means James Wiseman, Vernon Carey, Isaiah Stewart, Matthew Hurt, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji, Oscar Tshiebwe, Kerry Blackshear Jr., and N’Faly Dante all turned down scholarship offers from John Calipari and the UK coaching staff. For a program that has seen elite big men come through such as DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Bam Adebayo, among others, there’s no doubt that this recruiting cycle has been a head-scratcher, to say the least.
That being said, the Kentucky coaching staff felt they had James Wiseman locked up for almost an entire year, and if it weren’t for Penny Hardaway – the 7-foot-1 center’s AAU head coach and closest role model – being hired at Memphis, he would be playing in Lexington this fall. Once it became clear that Wiseman was heading to Memphis, Kentucky was left playing catch-up elsewhere, most notably with Isaiah Stewart, who admitted that the Cats simply came on the recruiting scene too late.
In fact, at the McDonald’s All-America Media Day this past spring, Wiseman, Stewart, and Tshiebwe all told KSR that Kentucky finished No. 2 in their respective recruitments, with McDaniels later being added to that list after committing to the Washington Huskies over the Cats in May. With various ties to other programs already established and stronger, deeper relationships developed with other coaching staffs due to longevity alone, Wiseman’s late gut-punch proved to be more detrimental than it seemed at the time of the decision.
And it really had nothing to do with Kentucky and its efforts on the recruiting trail at all. Again, if it weren’t for Hardaway and Wiseman’s long-established relationship, the nation’s No. 1 prospect would be a Wildcat and all of these recruiting narratives would not exist. While the frustrations are understood – the coaching staff certainly feels it, as well – a tough string of bad luck is more to blame than any potential recruiting deficiencies.
… but the sky is not falling
While Kentucky missed on every top big man target in the class of 2019, with their lone true frontcourt signing being Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina, optimism is just as high as ever in Lexington. Yes, even after Dante’s decision to turn down Kentucky and sign with Oregon.
As I have mentioned in Pilgrim’s Insider Notes on a few occasions over the last several weeks, sources tell KSR that while the Kentucky basketball coaching staff was still actively recruiting Dante to Lexington and would have loved to have him for pure depth purposes alone, this decision was not one they were losing sleep over. From top-to-bottom, they are confident in the 2019-20 roster as it stands currently. In fact, I spoke to an individual close to the program two weeks ago – right in the midst of the reclassification process and prior to a decision either way – who said that with or without Dante, this Kentucky team is absolutely capable of winning a national championship.
Would this roster have been better with Dante in the fold? Yes. Did I feel the 6-foot-11 shot-blocker had the potential to be an instant-impact prospect at Kentucky? Absolutely, especially after a dominant Peach Jam.
That being said, the Kentucky coaching staff lined this roster with veteran leadership, versatility, scoring, shooting, rebounding, and defense both inside and out on the perimeter. To combat their odd cold spell on the recruiting trail with elite frontcourt prospects, they overcompensated by bringing back Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery – who should take major steps forward with consistent playing time and better-defined roles next year as the focal points of the frontcourt – and signed a surplus of long, versatile wings. They also added another grad transfer big man in Sestina to serve as a strong complementary piece with solid shooting, scoring, and rebounding abilities.
In terms of recruiting moving forward, sources tell KSR that the frontcourt remains the program’s top priority in the immediate future. With EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Nate Sestina all expected to be gone after next season, Kentucky is actively recruiting Isaiah Todd, Greg Brown, Makur Maker, JT Thor, Lance Ware, Cliff Omoruyi, and Dawson Garcia in the frontcourt alone, with Mady Sissoko and Bardstown’s JJ Traynor also being rumored as potential targets moving forward, too. Paolo Banchero, a top-three prospect in the class of 2021, will also be considering a reclassification to 2020 and would immediately jump to the top of Kentucky’s priority list, as well.
As a whole, after coming away empty-handed with elite 2019 frontcourt prospects, Kentucky is in position to hit a home run up front in 2020.
Small ball is coming
While the Kentucky coaching staff isn’t completely devastated about Dante heading elsewhere, it does mean they will have some decisions to make in terms of their rotation this coming season.
As we saw during the NCAA Tournament this past season, John Calipari isn’t afraid to experiment with small-ball lineups, and he’ll almost certainly have to implement them again this season. While he is confident in EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards this year (more on that in a minute), and Sestina should be a strong core rotation piece, Kentucky is now only one injury away from having absolutely zero depth in the frontcourt. Regular foul trouble – something both Richards and Montgomery are no stranger to – would also be rather troublesome.
In either case (and possibly regardless), Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. will be asked to slide down to the four in certain situations, with Kentucky then rolling out a three-guard lineup with Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey, or Johnny Juzang playing the three. Either way, Whitney and Brooks will be asked to use their impressive length as situational big men, something the coaching staff is confident in if the former can continue to work on his consistency and the latter can continue to bulk up and build the strength necessary to bang around down low a bit.
Sources also tell KSR that Calipari has been interested in utilizing his four-out, one-in dribble-drive motion offense moving forward, and following Dante’s decision, that could absolutely be the route he takes.
EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have to step up
The most crucial aspect of Dante’s decision lies solely on Kentucky big men EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards and the necessity for each of them to make massive leaps this coming season. Montgomery, who nearly kept his name in the NBA Draft after being discussed as a potential first-rounder, is on a mission to prove to teams that he is capable of becoming the lottery talent he was hyped up to be going into his freshman season. With smooth shooting mechanics, guard skills, and length, the 6-foot-11 forward out of Fort Pierce, FL will be called upon to not only take a step forward, but make a PJ Washington-esque leap into stardom as a sophomore.
Per-4o minutes, Montgomery averaged 10.0 points (48% shooting and 20% from three), 10.8 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per contest last season. With the “lack of opportunity” excuse no longer on the table as the team’s anticipated go-to playmaker down low, it’s not unheard of to ask for a ballpark range of 15 points, ten rebounds, and two blocks per game for the skilled sophomore. The talent is there, and if he wants to be the lottery pick NBA teams are expecting him to be, he simply has to make the jump happen.
As for Nick Richards, John Calipari has already commented on the expectations he has for his junior center in 2019-20.
“I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be,” Calipari said after Richards announced he was withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to Kentucky. “I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’ There is no reason he can’t be. There is nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”
Like with Montgomery, Richards’ opportunity excuses are no longer on the table. After averaging 4.0 points, 3.3. rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 12.1 minutes per game last season, doubling that production in 20-plus minutes per outing next year is not too much to ask of him. With confidence, the 7-foot-0 shot-blocker out of Kingston, Jamaica has shown the potential to be a 12-point, eight-rebound, three-block type of player in Lexington. They don’t need him to be Joel Embiid next year, but they do need him to be the competent rim-running big man threat with elite defensive instincts we all know he is capable of being.
With Dante headed elsewhere, both Montgomery and Richards have no choice but to step up this season.
After finishing up the entire offense (quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line), it’s now time to head to the other side of the football. Fresh off having one of the best defenses in program history last fall, Mark Stoops had a lot of changes to make in 2019. The head coach with a defensive background had to find a new coordinator, lost college football’s best defensive player, and every starter in the secondary. There were a lot of holes for Stoops to fill this past offseason, but defensive line was not one of them.
Since coming over from North Texas, Derrick LeBlanc has done a great job coaching this group and entering his third season on the staff he’ll have the best defensive line Kentucky has fielded since 2008. The Wildcats have the size, experience, depth, and talent to really make a difference this year in the trenches. This group has a chance to become one of the top half defensive line groups in the SEC.
Back in 2008, Kentucky had some units on the defensive line. It started with future third round pick Corey Peters at defensive tackle, but there were plenty of solid players surrounding him. On the outside, Jeremy Jarmon and Ventrell Jenkins combined to record 13 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and three forced fumbles. Next to Peters, Ricky Lumpkin came off the bench while senior Myron Pryor gave us one of the most memorable plays in program history.
Thanks primarily to that defensive line, the Wildcats finished 35th in defensive S&P+ and this was the highest finish in recent memory until last year’s defense finished 15th. To be good on that side of the ball you must have players on the line.
When Mark Stoops took over in Lexington, Kentucky had two NFL draft picks in their first starting defensive line. The problem was the depth and overall team talent was not there. After dipping into the junior college market nearly every recruiting cycle, Kentucky found itself with a bit of a revolving door within the defensive line room. Things started to change when Derrick LeBlanc was hired before the 2017 season.
After spending one year at North Texas, LeBlanc took over the group and was finally able to payoff some of the recruiting work done by some of the staff. In that time, Kentucky has turned a ton of three-star recruits into quality SEC defensive linemen. Now entering 2019, UK has a legit two-deep among the defensive line and this group will give the Wildcats a chance to have another strong defense.
Defensive Line Room
Much like we did with the offensive line, you have to start with the big guy in the middle of UK’s 3-4 attack. Quinton Bohanna was a low three-star recruit in the class of 2017 out of the Memphis area despite recording 91 tackles and 19 sacks during his senior season. As a true freshman two seasons ago, he quickly found his way into the rotation.
The 6-foot-4 and 361-pound nose guard started the last five games of his rookie season and gave UK some quality play on the interior. Expectations were high for Bohanna in his sophomore season, but the guy they call Big Bo was hampered by an ankle injury for most of the season. However, he played really well down the stretch recording 4.5 run stuffs (run stops at or behind the line of scrimmage). Bohanna has the talent to be an All-SEC type player and UK needs him to play at a high level to be their best.
Next to Bohanna on the inside will be redshirt senior Calvin Taylor, Jr. and the 6-foot-9 defensive lineman may have a better development story than Josh Allen. The Augusta, Georgia native was a late addition to the class of 2015 and picked Kentucky over Charlotte and Temple. Taylor was unranked out of high school and would spend two-plus years on the roster without cracking the rotation. In 2017, Taylor became a nice piece off the bench and led all defensive linemen in tackles. In 2018, he became a big time player.
Taylor started the final nine games of the season on his way to recording 26 tackles and 9.5 run stuffs. The tall defensive end was a force in short yardage defense and should be ready for a big season. After playing end most of last season, it’s likely that the big guy makes the shift back to tackle to get another senior on the field.
T.J. Carter was a low three-star recruit who was a late addition to the class of 2016. The Atlanta area native has played in 37 games with 16 starts, but has yet to emerge as a playmaker. However, all of the camp buzz tells us that is about to change.
Everyone you talk to has been showering the senior defensive end with praise with many claiming he is the star of fall camp. At the open practice, Carter stood out with great takeoff and a body that has gone through a clear change in the strength and conditioning program. After the first scrimmage, Drake Jackson called him the toughest guy block so far and many are expecting a breakout season. Look no further than the coaching staff who decided to move Joshua Paschal out to Jack linebacker for some evidence.
Off the bench, Phil Hoskins enters his senior season and the junior college transfer is looking for a big year. Last year, Hoskins recorded three sacks and you could consider him the fourth starter of the group. Redshirt junior Kordell Looney has played in 24 games in two seasons and will be a quality reserve. Marquan McCall enters his sophomore season and the former top-200 recruit has high expectations for this season at nose guard. This a two-deep that Kentucky should feel very confident in.
After that, it’s a lot of wait and see. Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald enters his redshirt sophomore season and is on a development plan similar to Calvin Taylor, Jr. Davoan Hawkins and Qua Mahone are both off redshirt seasons looking to crack the rotation. Cavon Butler and Isaiah Gibson are the two newcomers in the group who both have a bright future on the interior. If Kentucky can get one or two of these players to become apart of the rotation they should be in good shape.
It has taken a long time, but Mark Stoops finally has defensive line with SEC size, talent, and depth. After becoming a productive part of the defense in 2019, this group is set to develop into difference makers this fall. For Kentucky to be at their best, they are going to need high level trench play and Derrick LeBlanc has a group that can provide that.
In the two-deep, Kentucky has five upperclassmen with four of them in at least their fourth year in the program. Everyone in that defensive line rotation has taken their lumps earlier in their career, but has shown signs of next level ability in a small sample size. Now it’s time for this group to help carry the defense.
After last week’s scrimmage, Mark Stoops said “the strength of our team wasn’t the strength” and that seemed to be a direct quote about the defensive line. UK has high expectations for this group and they must play well for the Wildcats to be good on defense.
In celebration of International Left-Handers Day, let’s take a look back at some of the best lefties to wear the Blue and White at Kentucky.
We’ll start with the best left-hander in UK basketball history…
Jack “Goose” Givens
An NCAA champion and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 1978, the Goose is a legend in Kentucky lore with over 2,000 points scored in his career. He is one of only three players to hit the 2,000-point mark in the program’s history, and 41 of those points came against Duke in the championship game:
Four spots down from Givens on the all-time scoring list with 1,801 career points scored, is Kevin Grevey, a two-time All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year. Grevey and his 1974-75 teammates fell just shy of winning a title for the program, dropping the 1975 championship game to John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. But his #35 jersey hangs in the Rupp Arena rafters among all the other UK basketball legends.
One place beneath Grevey on UK’s career scoring list, you’ll find Tayshaun Prince, another great lefty. Of all the great things Prince did in his four seasons at Kentucky from 1998-2002, nothing will top his five three-pointers to open the game against North Carolina in Rupp Arena:
Prince played with another great lefty, Cliff Hawkins, his point guard. Hawkins’ crossover against Louisville was filthy:
Hawkins played four years with another good lefty in Erik Daniels. Daniels scored 1,000 points with over 500 rebounds for UK, plus this dramatic game-winner in Starkville:
You can’t make a list of left-handers without including Heshimu Evans, a key contributor off the bench in UK’s 1998 championship season. A transfer from Manhattan, Evans only played two seasons in Lexington, but he was a fan favorite for doing things like this:
Another left-handed, NCAA champion forward at Kentucky is Terrence Jones. He also liked to dunk:
When we’re talking about left-handed dunkers at Kentucky, it’ll be tough to top James Young’s slam on the entire UConn team in the 2014 championship game in Dallas. But Young’s best play in his one season at Kentucky was the three-pointer that helped end Wichita State’s undefeated season and sparked the improbable run through the 2014 tournament:
As good as Young was for that 2013-14 team, he wasn’t the best lefty in UK’s starting rotation. Julius Randle was also a lefty and one of the 10 semifinalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year. In one standout year for the Wildcats, Randle had 24 double-doubles, the second most double-doubles in school history, behind only Dan Issel’s 25, and the most double-doubles by a UK freshman, more than previous record-holders DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
Randle’s left hand beat LSU in the final seconds:
Lonzo Ball is right-handed, but his dad, De’Aaron Fox, is a lefty. Fox provided plenty of fun moments in his one season as Kentucky’s point guard in 2016-17, including the school’s first triple-double in almost 30 years and the time he dropped 39 on Ball in the Sweet 16:
And our favorite lefty to ever suit up for Kentucky, did it on the football field…
We’ll never see another one like him.
By Drew Franklin on ©August 12th, 2019 @ 10:15pm
Louisville’s stripper scandal is the gift that keeps on giving.
In a new story from WDRB, we now know J. David Grissom, the former chairman of the board of trustees at UofL, said under oath that a university trustee provided the cash for the strippers. Grissom was told this piece of info from former UofL President James Ramsey, he said, although Ramsey did not divulge which trustee was picking up the tab for the stripper stuff.
“He (Ramsey) told me that one of his board members was the cash source for paying off the strippers in the stripper incident,” Grissom said, according to WDRB.
A MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES PAID FOR STRIPPER PARTIES???? WHAT A PLOT TWIST!!!! Oh, man. I didn’t see this one coming on a random Monday afternoon in August. All this time we’ve been wondering who was coughing up the money for Katina and the girls and it might just end up being a member of the board. Don’t ever change, Louisville.
For what it’s worth, Ramsey, through his lawyer, denied it and said Grissom’s statement is “ridiculous.”
By Nick Roush on ©August 10th, 2019 @ 9:45pm
Benny Snell became a Kentucky legend by powering through tackles as an SEC running back. In his NFL preseason debut, we learned that Benny Snell football also includes catching passes.
The highlight of Benny’s performance did not come on the ground. On third and 20, the running back slipped out of the backfield for a screen. The Buccaneers gave him enough space to power past the chains and give the Steelers a first down. Two plays later, Pittsburgh scored a touchdown to take a nine-point lead.
— Asim Rose Sr. (@rose_asim) August 10, 2019
All of Benny’s best moments came in the passing game. In pass protection he nearly knocked one blitzing linebacker off his feet.
Dang. Watch @benny_snell pick up that line backer and knock him back! Love it! Go Benny! Never watched a preseason NFL game before but I'm loving cheering on all these former Wildcats #BBN @steelers pic.twitter.com/eJO5KPgQPq
— Katie McDowell (@Mrsk_mcdowell) August 10, 2019
Benny finished with two receptions for 25 yards. Finding production on the ground did not come so easily. Snell had a team-high 13 carries but not one went over five yards. He gained just 26 yards Friday night, good for a measly two yards per carry. Before you worry about his rushing stats, there are two things you must consider:
1. He’s running behind the second team offensive line.
2. It’s just the preseason.
It was a UK reunion of sorts at Heinz Field Friday night. Wearing No. 34 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Edwards made two tackles, one of which was against his former teammate. He shared the moment on Instagram.
It was not the only UK reunion this week. In a battle between the Jets and Giants, three New York Wildcats — Avery Williamson, C.J. Conrad and Jon Toth — posed for a photo following the game.
By Brent Wainscott on ©August 10th, 2019 @ 8:45pm
The offense excelled, while the secondary struggled the first scrimmage of fall camp. Here are ten things we learned from today’s scrimmage.
1. Lynn Bowden is Doing Lynn Bowden Things
Lynn Bowden is the undeniable star on this offense and after the first scrimmage, he is leading the way. To avoid the dreaded injury bug, Stoops only allowed Bowden to take 25 snaps in today’s scrimmage. He made the most of his minutes on the field.
“Lynn did what he did early,” Stoops said. “We did a nice job of getting him the ball and he created some plays.”
2. Wide Receivers are Elevating their play
Lynn Bowden is the clear-cut number one option at wideout this season, but there have been a lot of guys fighting for that number two spot for Terry Wilson. In a scrimmage where the offense excelled, it sounded like the receivers had a big day today.
After facing them on the field, Jordan Griffin was quick to praise a few players individually. “I think Clevan Thomas is doing a good job,” said the junior cornerback. “Ahmad [Wagner] is doing a really good job, of course, Lynn is doing a really good job…Bryce [Oliver] is doing a good job. The whole receiving corps is really stepping up and challenging us.”
3. “Banged Up” at Running back Today
More minor injuries mean more cautionary practices for the Cats, and no group felt that more today than the running backs. Kavosiey Smoke was sidelined after suffering a minor injury in Friday’s practice. He’s expected to return in time for Monday’s practice. Stoops added that Chris Rodriguez got banged up at the end of today’s scrimmage too..
4. A.J. Rose was “Explosive”
While other running backs missed reps, A.J. Rose used the opportunity to assert himself as one of the offense’s top playmakers in today’s scrimmage. “A.J. had some really good runs,” Stoops said. “He made some explosive plays, made some people miss. Again it’s nice to see he has another gear that can take it to another level.”
5. T.J. Carter is having a Great Fall Camp
Multiple players will shine on Kentucky’s front seven this season, but Drake Jackson thinks T.J. Carter is having one of the best fall camps of anyone thus far.
“T.J. Carter is having a great fall camp,” said Jackson. “I noticed from the way he worked out this whole summer, and just his explosiveness off the ball this fall camp. He’s got a motor like I’ve never seen before. He’s more powerful, he’s twitchier, he’s using more moves, so he’s been more disruptive.”
Carter wasn’t the only person Jackson praised. He also pointed out DeAndre Square, Chris Oats, Jared Casey and Xavier Peters.
6. Paschal REALLY wants to play
The best news to come out of fall camp is that Josh Paschal finished up his immunotherapy this week and he really wants to stay on the field. Stoops said Paschal finished up his treatment and was out of practice Thursday. The next day he was ready to go, even though it was a hot, humid afternoon.
“He doesn’t want to be out,” Stoops light-heartedly told the media.”A few days prior to his treatment, I pulled him out and told him to cool off, but we have to do a good job of managing him…he argued with me for about five minutes.”
Paschal confirmed Stoops’ story. “Of course I get upset [about being taken out],” the redshirt sophomore laughed. “I love my brothers, I love playing football, so it’s kind of hard for me to take a step back.”
7. Secondary Struggles Between the Ears
The secondary struggled a little bit today, but fortunately, it wasn’t for lack of talent or athleticism. More or less it’s just getting acclimated to the defense and adjusting, which should come together in time.
“It’s a struggle with a few guys,” Stoops said. “My message to the guys after the scrimmage was to have a high sense of urgency. No wasted time, no wasted reps…What worries me is their football IQ. Understanding down and distance and that’s extremely hard from those positions.”
Jordan Griffin agreed with his coach. The secondary just didn’t have and edge today. Their energy was off. Fittingly, Griffin said next time around they just have to “bring it”.
8. Who is stepping up in the secondary?
It’s no secret the secondary has a long way to go in fall camp. Jordan Griffin has seen quite a few players embrace the challenge. “We got some other guys doing some great things as well,” Griffin said. “Cedrick Dort, Tyrell Ajian, and Yusuf Corker have definitely stepped up and embraced that role [of being a leader].”
9. Brandin Echols is still Out
Junior college cornerback Brandin Echols was expected to start right away. Instead, he’s been on the sideline. According to Stoops, Echols has been dealing with a minor hamstring issue over the last month or two which has slowed him down at the start of training camp. Echols’ absence certainly doesn’t help the struggling secondary.
10. High Praise for the Tight Ends
Kentucky’s tight ends made plays in the first scrimmage. Stoops said Rigg and Upshaw looked really good in the middle of the field. Gran played both of them frequently at the same time in 12 personnel. Rigg believes he is apart of the best tight end group in the country. There will be more on that tomorrow morning on KSR.
Good evening, and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
While my notes are usually focused on recruiting news and updates, this week will be a little different. With the Kentucky basketball team now back home until school starts back up in three weeks, we will be taking a look at how the summer workouts went and what we should expect when the season begins in the coming months.
Let’s dive right in.
Summer workout notes
Instead of jumping into the big-name guys, I’m going to start by throwing a bit of a curveball. While the attention has been on players such as Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey, one note specifically stood out to me from the rest.
Sources tell KSR that freshman wing Dontaie Allen is currently the best shooter on the team and that the Kentucky coaching staff’s long-term expectations for the 6-foot-6 forward have spiked since he arrived on campus this summer. In fact, despite Kentucky having ridiculous depth on the wing and Allen still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered back in January, sources tell KSR that the staff will have a hard time redshirting him this season.
During the recruiting process, a source close to Allen told KSR that a high-major Division I assistant coach felt the Pendleton County star was going to be the next Kyle Korver. And since then, he has bulked up and looks the part, despite still being slightly limited in what he can do both on the court and in the weight room.
“His body has changed already, and that’s without being able to do leg stuff,” one source said.
Allen is sometimes overlooked in Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class because of his status as a four-star prospect, his recent spell of injuries, and the fact that he missed a good bit of his senior year, but as a long-term prospect, there is growing confidence within the program that he has a chance to be special.
Outside of Allen, another four-star freshman is also picking up serious buzz as time has gone on. 6-foot-7 guard Johnny Juzang was known as one of the best shooters in his class, and thus far, he has lived up to the hype in early runs at the Joe Craft Center. Matt Jones has talked about some of the whispers on the radio show and Kyle Tucker of The Athletic has touched on it on multiple occasions, including in a recent practice report post of his own, but Juzang’s skill isn’t limited to just perimeter jumpers. He has been able to score on all three levels, create shots for himself, and has been a strong finisher at the rim. He already came in with decent size and has never been afraid to take it to the basket, but one onlooker of several of the scrimmages the team has had throughout the summer was impressed with just how strong Juzang is in the paint.
John Calipari has been a guru when it comes to developing prospects deemed two or three-year players and turning them into one-and-done lottery picks, and there is already some buzz that Juzang very well could join that list.
In terms of the big-name guys, sources tell KSR that Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey have built great chemistry together and look the part of one of the best backcourt pairings in the SEC next season. As you’ve seen in his Instagram posts from basically the time he first got to campus, Maxey has been an absolute workhorse in the gym and has led the team’s “Breakfast Club” sessions in the mornings. In terms of specific on-court abilities, while I’ve heard Allen has been the best shooter on the team, Maxey and Juzang have supposedly been neck-and-neck for the No. 2 spot. I’m also told that the staff is feeling pretty giddy about Maxey’s defensive potential, especially alongside an elite perimeter defender like Hagans. Add in the fact that Immanuel Quickley has taken a major step forward – Kyle Tucker also went in depth on this – and Kentucky is in a great spot at the point guard position.
One note I will add about Hagans is that although he is thriving in getting to the rim and as a stud on the defensive end, as we saw during that elite stretch this past winter, I’m told that his jumper still isn’t where the staff wants it to be and that continues to be a work in progress. Hagans has been working with trainers and has been in the gym constantly trying to tweak it and find the right personal formula for consistency.
Moving on, I’m told that there have been some interesting battles between Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr., with one source adding that either of them could earn a starting position right now. Brooks is more mechanically sound right now, though Whitney has an NBA-ready body. With Calipari interested in experimenting with small ball this season, either of those players would move to the four, likely allowing for Quickley to enter the starting lineup.
“We’re trying to bulk [Brooks] up more, but he’s definitely got the potential [to play the four],” one source said. “[Kahlil has the motor], he just needs to be more consistent. One of those guys is gonna separate themselves.”
We’ve discussed this on several occasions here on the site, but as far as the frontcourt is concerned, depth remains a slight concern for the staff and their pursuit of N’Faly Dante has not slowed down. That being said, they are confident in EJ Montgomery’s growth – he’s looking to take a PJ Washington-esque sophomore jump as a perimeter shooter – and Nate Sestina to provide a physical presence down low the way Reid Travis did. I also got the chance to see Sestina shoot a bit during the John Calipari Draft Academy last week, and he certainly looks the part from the perimeter, as well. He shot 38.0% from three at Bucknell last year, and there’s no reason he can’t provide something in that ballpark for the Wildcats this season.
If Nick Richards can be an 8-and-5 guy in 20 minutes per contest, the staff is confident in everything else falling into place. Add in Dante, things could get scary. If not, Whitney and Brooks will be fine small-ball fours.
All in all, I assure you we will hear “I like my team” comments from John Calipari by the time UK Media Day rolls around.
A few recruiting notes
Earlier this week, I released a 2,500 word Kentucky recruiting blueprint to use as a guide moving forward (I updated that with a section on Greg Brown III, as well), so I won’t be going too in-depth on recruiting in this edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
Here are just a few quick-hitters in the meantime:
- Corey Evans of Rivals.com recently said with relative certainty that Jalen Green will be heading to Memphis. While I respect Evans and definitely think he does a great job, I do not think he is giving Kentucky’s coaching staff – Joel Justus in particular – for the work they have put in and the relationships they have developed with Green and his family. I also don’t think he is factoring in Green’s relationship with Josh Christopher and their desire to play together in college enough, either. Memphis is still a strong contender, but UK is just as much in it, if not a bit more. If I were a betting man, I would say the odds are roughly 50% Kentucky, 40% Memphis, and 10% overseas.
- Greg Brown‘s decision to include Kentucky in his final five may have been a shock to the Big Blue Nation, but according to sources, this is something that both UK and Brown’s camp have been putting together for several weeks now. I still think Texas is the favorite, and Memphis remains a sneaky threat, but Kentucky has made up a ton of ground. It benefits the Cats that he is planning on waiting until the Spring.
- There has been some worry about four-star forward and Kentucky target Lance Ware scheduling four official visits and the fact that, despite being a rumored heavy UK lean, none of his trips being to Lexington. That being said, sources tell KSR that this is simply a logistics issue and that a visit to Kentucky is still in the works. The same remains for Jalen Green, Josh Christopher, and Isaiah Todd.
Sources Say Podcast
Moving on, we finally have a release date for the very first edition of the Sources Say Podcast. Jake Weingarten and Travis Graf of Cats Illustrated will join me on Wednesday, August 21 to debut the new show.
Our logo, courtesy of the phenomenal Brandon Owen (@75toRupp), is complete, as well:
We are still looking to add one or two sponsors to join us by the time we launch in two weeks. We’ve also added a package deal to the mix, where you now have the option to be the lead sponsor on both the Sources Say Podcast and my weekly Pilgrim’s Insider Notes post.
We’ll have another jam-packed recruiting edition of the notes next week.
See you then.
DeAndre Square has been surprising others since he arrived on Kentucky’s campus in January of 2018.
An early enrollee from Detroit’s Cass Tech, nobody expected to hear much from the inside linebacker in his first spring practice. Injuries to Jordan Jones and Jamin Davis forced Square to spring into action at Will linebacker. The under-sized freshman played big, recording six tackles in the Blue/White Game, only two behind Kash Daniel.
Square carried the momentum from spring into fall camp. He did not beat out a three-year starter, but he earned enough respect from his coaches to play in every single game in the 2018 season. The freshman earned his first start in the Citrus Bowl and the moment was not too big, recording six tackles and his first career sack. Square was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman Team after recording 35 tackles, 3.5 for loss, three QBHs, one PBU and one forced fumble.
Square’s lengthy list of early accomplishments made him hungry for more. To take his game to the next level, he needed to make some changes. From year one to year two, DeAndre Square looks like a completely different person.
The most obvious change Square made was at the barber shop.
“I had them for four years,” he told KSR. “I felt like I was going through a big change in my life and I just felt like I needed a change in my hair.”
When the linebacker is wearing a helmet, you cannot see the haircut, but you will see him wearing a different jersey number.
“I never wanted 43 when I got here. I knew I was going to change my number, I just didn’t know it was going to be 17, but I like it.”
He reached 17 through his old number. Allow me to use some simple math.
4 – 3 = 1
4 + 3 = 7
If you put the digits together, you get 17. It’s also the amount of pounds he packed on this offseason. Square bulked up and transformed his body, despite a spring illness setback. After experiencing the physicality in small doses as a reserve, adding muscle in the offseason was the only way he could survive as a starting inside linebacker in the SEC.
“I put a lot of work in,” he said. “It was really important. My body was aching everyday. I had to go 100% because if I didn’t I was going to get ran over. It was very important to me to put on at least 10, 15 pounds this offseason.”
He surpassed that goal by gaining 17 pounds of muscle. While changing his approach to the game physically, Square has developed a more acute football IQ in the film room.
“He’s been a really conscientious, mature, kind of a silent assassin type. He’s not the biggest talker, but he goes about his work, he’s very serious and he’s really physically changed,” said inside linebackers coach Jon Sumrall.
“He’s sharp, man. He’s a really, really high football IQ kid in that room. Him and Kash both, but for him to be as young as he is and think the game the way he does and communicate the same the way he does, is extremely impressive for a guy who’s in his second training camp.”
Silent assassins can only take you so far on a football field, especially linebackers who make pre-snap calls. Kash Daniel has helped Square come out of his shell as a sophomore.
“I feel like I’m starting to become more like Kash. Kash is really vocal and I’m just trying to embody that,” said Square. “I’m probably not as intense as Kash, but I learned how to communicate.”
Daniel can already see the difference in Square.
“He’s done a really good job stepping up and being a leader on this defense and helping me out in our position room and especially on this defense,” said Kash. “He brings that dog mentality to practice everyday. He gives you his all, so we expect to give our all right back to him. That’s how we operate as brothers on this defense.”
DeAndre Square may have surprised a few fans by his exceptional freshman year. He’s made big changes to surprise the rest of the SEC in 2019.
For most of the offseason, we’ve heard Mark Stoops talk about how his program has no intent on taking a step back in 2019. After a 10-win season and losing two generational talents in Josh Allen and Benny Snell, most expect the Wildcats to fall back down to earth. However, no one at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility agrees with that sentiment. A big reason for that is what Kentucky returns on the line of scrimmage.
We’ve covered the entire offense to this point (quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends) but have saved the best for last. John Schlarman returns to coach the trenches for the seventh season and in 2019 he has his best offensive line to date. Lynn Bowden, Jr. and Terry Wilson get most of the fanfare, but UK has a chance to be very good offensively because of who they have setting the tone at the point of attack.
When it comes to the NFL Draft, the offensive line has long been a weakness for the Kentucky football program. Outside of Larry Warford, Kentucky hasn’t had an offensive lineman drafted since 1993. Until Jon Toth in 2016, Kentucky had only one first-team All-SEC selection since 2003. The play on the line wasn’t getting the job done and John Schlarman has done his best to change that.
Mark Stoops realized quickly to win in the SEC you needed size combined with tough, physical play in the trenches. For Kentucky, it was always going to be hard to go out and find blue-chips that you could plug-and-play. Therefore, development was going to be a huge part of the program. On the offensive line, redshirting has been a key tool for the program with only three offensive linemen (George Asafo-Adjei, Landon Young, and Darian Kinnard) playing in their first seasons on campus. But at the same time, getting some blue-chips has helped build this current crop.
Drake Jackson, Darian Kinnard, and Landon Young were each top-200 recruits in the 247 Sports rankings and sometimes that makes life much easier. Since Eddie Gran arrived in 2016, this group has become one of college football’s best run blocking units and they show no signs of slowing down this fall.
One thing John Schlarman has done very well since 2016 is establish a rotation. Logan Stenberg and Landon Young each received reps during their rookie seasons in 2016. Luke Fortner, Mason Wolfe, Darian Kinnard, and Naasir Watkins received rotation snaps last year. This over most anything else has allowed the Wildcats to have continual success.
Offensive Line Room
When discussing Kentucky’s offensive line, it must start with the guy in the middle. After having a snapping fiasco in the first month of the 2017 season, Drake Jackson was inserted into the lineup and has now started in 20 consecutive games. If you remember back to that season, the Wildcats were having all kinds of problems with their ground game. Jackson finally got into the lineup and Benny Snell rushed for over 100 yards in five of the next seven games. After averaging 254.2 team rushing yards in their first five games of 2018, Kentucky posted just 120.4 yards per game in the next five as Jackson nursed a groin injury suffered against Texas A&M. UK desperately needs him healthy and he is the engine that drives this unit.
Surrounding the center at guard will be a pair of upperclassmen. Logan Stenberg has started 26 consecutive games at left guard after becoming part of the rotation his redshirt freshman year. The redshirt senior brings a nastiness to the position and he’ll certainly hear his named called in the next NFL Draft. After playing 19 games the last two seasons, Luke Fortner will finally get a chance to start as a redshirt junior. The 6-foot-6 guard has been moved all over the place and may even emerge as the team’s primary backup center this season. Rotating in with these two will be redshirt senior Mason Wolfe who brings experience (25 games played) to the position. It will be imperative that either redshirt sophomore Austin Dotson or redshirt freshman Kenneth Horsey crack the rotation for the future of the position.
On the outside, Kentucky has pair of former top-200 recruits starting the season for them. UK gets redshirt junior Landon Young back from injury this fall and his presence should certainly help an offense that ranked 109th in sack rate last season. After cracking the rotation as a true freshman, Young started six games as a sophomore in 2017, and then the injury bug bit last fall camp. He could be due for a big season.
On the right side, Darian Kinnard will take over a starting role after getting two starts at the end of last season. Kinnard was only the third offensive line player to play as a true freshman and it appears Kentucky has a future star in the Cleveland St. Ignatius product. Naasir Watkins will be the primary backup at tackle in his redshirt sophomore season while mountain man Nick Lewis (6-foot-9, 367 pounds) looks to get involved after a redshirt season.
Kentucky has size, experience, and depth on the offensive line entering the season. The starting rotation owns an average weight of 316.8 pounds while Mason Wolfe bring beef (6-foot-6, 323 pounds) and Naasir Watkins provides length (6-foot-5 with long arms) off the bench. Among their first five, the Wildcats have a combined 54 starts while Drake Jackson and Logan Stenberg figure to be in the running for All-SEC honors. Expectations are high for this group and there’s a reason why.
Pass protection is something they all must work on, but there’s no doubt that this will be one of the best run blocking offensive lines in the FBS as long as Drake Jackson is in the lineup and healthy. It’s likely safe to say that John Schlarman’s offensive line room has four future draft picks with some others looming. The position coach has been excellent at creating depth and has his most talented offensive line set to take the field in 2018. Eddie Gran stated at this week’s media session that ““Up front, we’re further along than we ever have been.” That should perk your ears up.
Mark Stoops has talked nonstop about how the program has no plans on taking a step back in 2019. Once doing some digging, it’s easy to understand why. The Wildcats return experience at quarterback and have the best offensive line this program has seen in quite some time. If the starting five stays healthy, this group is going to surprise some people and will be in contention for the Joe Moore Award if they can clean up that pass protection.
By Nick Roush on ©August 08th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
Josh Paschal’s fight against cancer has inspired many. One in particular cannot be more grateful for the lessons he learned about life and football from his friend.
A day after the outside linebacker completed his final cancer treatment, Paschal did not practice, thanks to lingering side effects from the immunotherapy. His coaches and teammates certainly understand. After all the fighting he’s been through, Paschal has earned a little break, even though he did not want to take one the day before his final cancer treatment.
“This is a testament to what kind of worker Josh is,” Kash Daniel began his story. “The other day I was in there working out. We got done working out earlier and it was only a 30-minute lift, so I felt like I needed to do something more. I was in there and low and behold, here comes JP. He starts doing some flies with me and here comes Coach White, pretty pissed off at Josh. I was like, ‘Why in the hell is he pissed off at Josh for?’ He (White) said, ‘You’ve got treatment tomorrow.’
“You didn’t tell me that,” Kash exclaimed. “All you said was, ‘Hey, can I do some work with you?’ You didn’t tell me you had effing cancer treatment tomorrow. That just shows what kind of guy he is and what kind of heart he’s had throughout the whole process.”
A melanoma diagnosis is scary. Everyone would have understood if it put him down in the dumps. That was never the case with Josh. He fought cancer tooth and nail and never complained. His mentality inspired his teammates, especially Kash Daniel.
The defensive captain told Paschal after his final treatment: “How you’ve handled this has been remarkable because every table was turned against you. You had every reason to quit and nobody would’ve said a thing to you because, knowing the situation, that’s a lot of shit for a young kid, especially trying to be on a college football team, with everything trying to figure out life and how you’re gonna go about things.
“The way he handled it and how he came to work everyday knowing that he was going to beat it, knowing that his brothers had his back and knowing that he always had a smile on his face. He never complained, never once was in a bad mood. I told him it’s helped me, keeping me with a positive mindset and a positive attitude, no matter what’s going on.”
How Paschal handled adversity isn’t just lesson for his teammates to use on the football field. He’s shown the entire Kentucky football program that no matter how many punches life throws, you can take them to the chin before delivering a knockout.
“For Josh to go through what he did and be back out here with us, it’s unreal,” Kash said. “He’s an unbelievable human being, an unbelievable teammate and I’m just honored to have him as a friend, first and foremost. Football is great, being a part of a team is great and I’m really thankful that this football team has helped me form a friendship with Josh that ain’t going to be broken.”
By Jack Pilgrim on ©August 08th, 2019 @ 10:00pm
After managing yet another top-two recruiting class in 2019, John Calipari and the Kentucky basketball program is now all-in on what is expected to be a massive haul in 2020. They’ve already locked up commitments from top-ten guard BJ Boston and four-star forward Cam’Ron Fletcher, and we’re still three months away from the start of the early signing period.
So where does Kentucky turn next?
Note: this post will be updated as prospects are added and taken off the recruiting board, offers come, and/or levels of interest change.
Let’s take a look at the entire UK recruiting blueprint from top-to-bottom:
|Brandon Boston Jr.
Shooting Guard | 6-7| 175 lbs.
Chatsworth, CA | Sierra Canyon
AAU: Athletes of Tomorrow (AOT) (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 7 | 3 SG||Top247||No. 15 | 3 SG|
|Rivals||No. 10 | 2 SG||247 Comp.||No. 10 | 2 SG|
Offers: Chose Kentucky over Duke, Auburn, Oregon, and Florida
Quick analysis: Smooth, pure scorer with phenomenal length. Brandon Ingram comparisons are legitimate. Boston is also a popular player in his class, with several elite prospects wanting to team up with him in college. Securing a commitment from him this early in the game was massive for the program.
Small Forward | 6-6 | 195 lbs.
Saint Louis, MO | Vashon High School
AAU: Bradley Beal Elite (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 45 | 11 SF||Top247||No. 37 | 8 SF|
|Rivals||No. 37 | 9 SF||247 Comp.||No. 36 | 2 PF|
Offers: Chose Kentucky over Missouri, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Alabama
Quick analysis: A strong, athletic wing with elite perimeter defender potential. Kentucky recruited him to play like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Lexington, a pitch the St. Louis native was extremely fond of. Projects as a two-year player.
Combo Guard | 6-6| 170 lbs.
Napa, CA | Prolific Prep
AAU: Team Why Not (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 3 | 1 SG||Top247||No. 4 | 2 CG|
|Rivals||No. 3 | 1 SG||247 Comp.||No. 3 | 2 CG|
Offers: Kentucky, Memphis, Kansas, Oregon, Florida State, UCLA, and Arizona, among others.
Interest in Kentucky: Very high
Rumored favorites: Kentucky, Memphis, and overseas
Commitment timetable: Announcement date set for December 25
Quick analysis: Kentucky has a dream scenario in mind, and it includes Jalen Green. Memphis remains a serious threat and are currently neck-and-neck with the Wildcats at the top of the list, with other outside whispers circling that he could end up playing overseas, as well. Those are the three options for the consensus top-five prospect.
Shooting Guard | 6-6| 200 lbs.
Bellflower, CA | Mayfair
AAU: Vegas Elite (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 10 | 2 SG||Top247||No. 8 | 1 SG|
|Rivals||No. 11 | 3 SG||247 Comp.||No. 9 | 1 SG|
Offers: Kentucky, Arizona State, Missouri, Michigan, and UCLA, among others
Interest in Kentucky: Very high
Rumored favorites: Kentucky, Arizona State, and Missouri
Commitment timetable: No decision date set, rumored to commit during early signing period
Quick analysis: Kentucky is seen as the heavy favorite to land the top-ten shooting guard prospect, though family ties to Arizona State and Missouri are worth noting. There are also rumblings that UCLA is the darkhorse here due to his relationship with Shareef O’Neal, though I don’t see the Bruins being the landing spot. I believe Christopher will begin taking visits in the very near future and make a decision in the coming months. Christopher, Green, and BJ Boston have been in discussions about playing together in college, so Kentucky securing a commitment from Christopher early to join Boston could be huge in their chances to land Green.
Power Forward | 6-11| 200 lbs.
Raleigh, NC | Word of God Christian Academy
AAU: Nightrydas Elite (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 8 | 2 PF||Top247||No. 20 | 3 PF|
|Rivals||No. 13 | 2 PF||247 Comp.||No. 14 | 2 PF|
Offers: Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan, and Memphis
Interest in Kentucky: Very high
Rumored favorites: Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and overseas
Commitment timetable: No decision date set, rumored to commit during early signing period
Quick analysis: With superstar potential as a face-up scorer, I get the sense that Todd is John Calipari’s favorite prospect in the class of 2020. Kentucky will have to fight off North Carolina and Kansas in the college ranks, and there is also rumored interest in a move to play professionally in Australia, but I like the Wildcats’ chances right now.
Power Forward | 6-9| 215 lbs.
Burlington, NJ | Camden
AAU: NY Renaissance (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 48 | 10 PF||Top247||No. 41 | 6 PF|
|Rivals||No. 52 | 8 PF||247 Comp.||No. 47 | 7 PF|
Offers: Kentucky, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, and Providence, among others
Interest in Kentucky: Very high
Rumored favorites: Kentucky
Commitment timetable: Ware is expected to take five official visits in the coming weeks and make a decision this Fall
Quick analysis: While Michigan recently received a Crystal Ball pick at 247Sports recently, Kentucky is still seen as the heavy favorite in Ware’s recruitment and will likely be the choice when it comes time for a decision. The 6-foot-9 forward has seen his stock spike this Summer, and there is a sense that he could wind up being a top-20 prospect by the end of his high school season. Strong, athletic, and fundamentally sound, there is a bit of PJ Washington to his game.
Center | 7-0| 230 lbs.
Wichita, KS | Sunrise Christian
AAU: MoKan Elite (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 18 | 4 C||Top247||No. 13 | 4 C|
|Rivals||No. 9 | 3 C||247 Comp.||No. 12 | 3 C|
Offers: Kentucky, Oregon, LSU, Kansas, Iowa State, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, and St. John’s, among others
Interest in Kentucky: High
Rumored favorites: Kentucky and Oregon
Commitment timetable: A decision is expected in the next few weeks, with a reclassification to 2019 still on the table.
Quick analysis: While Dante’s camp has gone mostly silent over the last two weeks, the general consensus in recruiting circles right now is that the 7-foot-0 center is right on the cusp of a reclassification to 2019. He told KSR at Peach Jam that he would make the jump if he could get his academics in order, and this is looking to be the case. I’d likely lean Oregon over Kentucky 60/40 right now, though both remain legitimate options for him.
As a player, Dante has seen his game take a major leap, being named MVP of Peach Jam last month. Considered one of the top shot-blockers in the nation with a legitimate NBA body, the project player we once saw is now considered an instant-impact talent at the college level.
Center | 6-11| 230 lbs.
Roselle, NJ | Roselle Catholic
AAU: NY Lightning (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 51| 10 C||Top247||No. 46 | 11 C|
|Rivals||No. 54 | 10 C||247 Comp.||No. 51 | 11 C|
Offers: Kentucky, Florida, Louisville, Auburn, Arizona, Maryland, Connecticut, and Rutgers, among others
Interest in Kentucky: High
Rumored favorites: Kentucky
Commitment timetable: Expected to take visits in the coming weeks and make a decision this Fall
Quick analysis: Omoruyi is extremely raw and is seen as a multi-year project player with high-level potential at the college level, making his recruitment an interesting one. Kentucky is his favorite school – he has said as much – but it just depends on how much of a priority the UK coaching staff makes him. If they truly want him, there is a sense around Omoruyi’s camp that they can get him. If other serious opportunities – reclassifications, high-risers in the rankings, etc. – present themselves, the four-star prospect out of Roselle, NJ could wind up elsewhere.
I will also note that Omoruyi looked the best I’ve ever seen him at the tail-end of the NBPA Top 100 Camp a while back back, so maybe he ends up being that high-riser in the coming months. If that’s the case, even better. It will be interesting to see Kentucky’s level of contact in the near future.
Greg Brown III
|Greg Brown III
Power Forward | 6-9| 205 lbs.
Austin, TX | Vandegrift
AAU: Texas Titans (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 5 | 1 PF||Top247||No. 9 | 1 PF|
|Rivals||No. 7 | 2 SF||247 Comp.||No. 8 | 1 PF|
Offers: Kentucky, Texas, North Carolina, Auburn, and Memphis, among others
Interest in Kentucky: High
Rumored favorites: Texas
Commitment timetable: Expected to take visits in the coming months, but will likely wait until the Spring to make a decision
Quick analysis: An uber-athletic forward with an endless motor, Brown is a sure-fire top-ten talent and would be a massive get for any of the five programs on his list. The 6-foot-9 big man recently shocked the world by including Kentucky in his final five after leaving the Cats out of his top ten and failing to talk about them in any recent media opportunities. Little did we know, UK extended a scholarship to Brown after Peach Jam, with sources telling KSR that both the Kentucky coaching staff and Brown’s inner-circle have made a point to keeping their mutual interest as quiet as possible and that the shock value we saw on Tuesday night when he included the Cats was by design.
To take it a step further, another source told KSR on Wednesday afternoon that Jalen Green is also interested in playing with Brown in college, as well, which makes plenty of sense given UK’s recent spike in interest. Green is Kentucky’s top target in the class of 2020, after all.
Texas has been seen as the heavy favorite dating back to 2017, as the Longhorn staff has done a tremendous job building a personal relationship with Brown and his family. Anything can change when visits are made, and with the five-star prospect opting to wait till the Spring to decide, there is plenty of time to make up ground. As of today, though, I’d still put Texas ahead of the pack.
Waiting on offers
Center | 6-11 | 235 lbs.
Orange County, CA | Pacific Academy
AAU: Dream Vision (adidas Gauntlet)
|ESPN||No. 11 | 2 C||Top247||No. 2 | 2 C|
|Rivals||No. 5 | 2 C||247 Comp.||No. 5 | 2 C|
Offers: UCLA, Oregon, USC
Interest in Kentucky: High
Rumored favorites: Overseas
Commitment timetable: A decision date is unknown, but the expectation is that he waits for the Spring
Quick analysis: The “7-foot guard” is one of the most interesting prospects in the class of 2020 simply because no one has any idea what he will do moving forward. Declared ineligible Orange Lutheran High School for this coming winter due to using up all eight semesters of athletic eligibility, Maker moved to Pacific Academy for the remainder of his high school career. His guardian recently told Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader that Maker will absolutely be playing college basketball in 2020-21, though just about all the speculation out there right now is that he will follow in the footsteps of family members Thon and Matur Maker by going straight to the pros out of high school.
If he’s serious about going to college and there are no eligibility concerns, I expect Kentucky to offer, and the interest would be mutual. He told KSR at the NBPA Top 100 Camp that he’s highly interested in the Cats and hopes to visit. As of today, though, Maker’s status isn’t clear, and an offer likely won’t come until that happens.
Point Guard | 6-5| 205 lbs.
Las Vegas, NV | Trinity International Schools
AAU: Simply Fun Basketball
|ESPN||No. 22 | 5 PG||Top247||No. 10 | 1 PG|
|Rivals||No. 14 | 2 PG||247 Comp.||No. 15 | 1 PG|
Offers: UCLA, Kansas, Maryland, Gonzaga, Arizona, and Alabama, among others
Interest in Kentucky: High
Rumored favorites: UCLA, Kansas, and Maryland
Commitment timetable: Nix is in the process of scheduling visits and is expected to make a decision during the early signing period
Quick analysis: The elite passing guard told KSR at the NBPA Top 100 Camp that he is very interested in Kentucky, wants to visit, and is hoping for an offer sooner rather than later. After playing with BJ Boston throughout the week, he also said he loved the chemistry they built together and would love to play with him in college. That being said, his shooting is still a major concern and there is hesitation within the UK coaching staff about bringing in another liability on the perimeter, thus making a scholarship in question. They believe he is one of the best passers in all of high school basketball and appreciate that aspect of his game, but worry about another Isaiah Briscoe situation coming to fruition.
If Kentucky were to lose confidence in either Jalen Green or Josh Christopher, I could see the Cats prioritizing Nix in the coming months. With a decision expected during the early signing period, though, I don’t know if the timing will work out.
Power Forward | 6-9| 190 lbs.
Huntington, WV | Huntington Prep
AAU: Boo Williams (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 14 | 5 PF||Top247||No. 13 | 6 PF|
|Rivals||No. 53 | 9 PF||247 Comp.||No. 12 | 6 PF|
Offers: Kansas, UCLA, Arizona, Maryland, California, Florida, and LSU, among others
Interest in Kentucky: High
Rumored favorites: Kansas and Kentucky
Commitment timetable: After reclassifying to the class of 2020, Thor is expected to make several visits in the near future and make a decision during the early signing period
Quick analysis: Thor has visited Kentucky twice – once in October 2018 and again this past January – and the expectation is that he takes another trip to Lexington. Kansas is also seen as a strong contender to land the five-star forward. Known for his athleticism, strong face-up capabilities, and versatility on defense, Thor is expected to fit in seamlessly with the ever-popular positionless style of play the college basketball world is utilizing more and more by the year.
Combo Guard | 6-7| 215 lbs.
Arlington, TX | Montverde
AAU: Texas Titans (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 2 | 1 PG||Top247||No. 3 | 1 CG|
|Rivals||No. 2 | 1 PG||247 Comp.||No. 2 | 1 CG|
Offers: Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Florida, North Carolina, and Washington, among others
Interest in Kentucky: Medium
Rumored favorites: Oklahoma State
Commitment timetable: A decision is expected during the early signing period in the coming months
Quick analysis: Kentucky will continue to monitor Cunningham’s situation and an offer is still on the table, but the general consensus is that the five-star guard’s “wide open” declaration simply isn’t true. Cunningham is favoring Oklahoma State and it will be a shock if he doesn’t end up there. Maybe the NCAA comes down on the Cowboys following their alleged involvement in the FBI scandal, but as of today, it’d be silly to pick anyone but OSU to land the consensus top-three prospect.
Power Forward | 6-8| 215 lbs.
West Palm Beach, FL | Montverde Academy
AAU: Nightrydas Elite (EYBL)
|ESPN||No. 9 | 3 PF||Top247||No. 5 | 1 SF|
|Rivals||No. 6 | 1 PF||247 Comp.||No. 6 | 2 SF|
Offers: Kentucky, Oregon, California-Berkeley, Kansas, Miami, Florida State, Ohio State, and Duke
Interest in Kentucky: Medium
Rumored favorites: Oregon
Commitment timetable: Barnes told KSR at Peach Jam that he plans to commit in the Spring
Quick analysis: Despite an offer still being on the table, I don’t see Kentucky as a legitimate landing spot for the five-star forward at this point in time. Oregon is seen as the rumored leader, though he also included Kansas, Ohio State, Miami, and Florida State as the other schools he is focused on at Peach Jam. Back in May, I wrote in Pilgrim’s Insider Notes that that those close to Barnes never felt the 6-foot-8 forward was all that serious about Kentucky, and this remains true.
Point Guard | 5-10| 160 lbs.
Marietta, GA | McEachern
AAU: Athletes of Tomorrow (AOT)
|ESPN||No. 19 | 4 PG||Top247||No. 21 | 3 PG|
|Rivals||No. 15 | 3 PG||247 Comp.||No. 19 | 3 PG|
Offers: Kentucky, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas A&M, among others
Interest in Kentucky: Medium
Rumored favorites: Auburn
Commitment timetable: A decision is expected in the coming weeks
Quick analysis: Cooper will not land at Kentucky, as conversations between both sides have stalled out over the last few months. Barring a major surprise, the five-star guard will be an Auburn Tiger.
Other names to watch
Kentucky has reached out to and visited five-star power forward Dawson Garcia on multiple occasions, and for a brief period, it seemed like an offer was coming sooner rather than later. In fact, if the 6-foot-10 forward hadn’t dealt with an illness that kept him from competition during the July evaluation season, I’m fairly confident one would have already come. Kentucky buzz has slowed down just a bit, but with elite scoring ability at all three levels and length to become a force in the paint on both ends of the floor, Garcia very well could be included in the “Waiting on offers” category above. Marquette, Kansas, and Minnesota are just of the few schools rumored to be in solid position with him.
Five-star forward Jaemyn Brakefield has visited Big Blue Madness of the past two seasons and there are a few ties to the Kentucky basketball program, sparking many of his early pro-UK Crystal Ball picks at 247Sports. Now, though, Ole Miss and Louisville are two of the schools with the most buzz and Kentucky’s contact has seemingly slowed down a bit. Jake Weingarten of Cats Illustrated and KSR’s upcoming Sources Say Podcast reported on Tuesday that Brakefield is “wide open,” but will cut his list to ten later this month.
There has also been speculation about Kentucky ramping up interest with five-star point guard Jalen Suggs, though a source close to the Minneapolis native told KSR that he would likely not entertain an offer from the UK coaching staff this late in the game. “We have moved on,” the source said. He said in June that he was focusing on Gonzaga, Minnesota, and Marquette during the home stretch of his recruitment.
On August 3, 2018, a teary-eyed Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops took the air out of the room at UK Media Day when he announced that Josh Paschal had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
A little over a year later, the redshirt sophomore is officially cancer-free.
This afternoon, Paschal announced on his Twitter page that he underwent his final immunotherapy treatment for his melanoma.
“I’m excited to announce that today was my last immunotherapy treatment for melanoma!” he said. “I have a lot of people to thank. First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior for guiding me through this difficult time. My faith has only become stronger. I want to thank my family and girlfriend for being there every step of the way and never missing a treatment.
“I would like to thank my family and brothers from back home for continually supporting me. I want to thank the surgeons, doctors, and nurses at [the UK Markey Cancer Center] for taking good care of me. Lastly, to the athletic trainers, my teammates, my coaches, and everyone in the [Big Blue Nation], thank you for supporting me, praying for me, and getting me back to [100%]. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next. See you this fall.”
Here was the announcement:
— Joshua Paschal (@JPaschalx) August 7, 2019
After three surgeries and continued monthly treatments, Paschal finally started his very first game of the season against Middle Tennessee in November. He was named SEC co-Defensive Player of the Week on November 19 following his season debut. The Wildcat defensive lineman was also named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
As a true freshman, Paschal played in all 13 games, including one start. He totaled 17 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, three QB hits, and one blocked kick on the year.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©August 07th, 2019 @ 6:20pm
Last night, 2020 five-star forward Greg Brown III shocked the world by including Kentucky in his final list of five schools left in contention.
While it’s no surprise that an elite prospect is interested in UK, the 6-foot-9 big man didn’t have a confirmed offer from the Wildcats and left them out of his top-ten back in February. During media opportunities at various recruiting events, Brown never even mentioned Kentucky as a realistic option, especially throughout this past AAU season.
Tonight, however, David Sisk of Rivals.com spoke with the high-flying athlete’s father and confirmed that Kentucky had, in fact, offered a scholarship after Peach Jam.
I just spoke with Greg Brown III’s father and he confirmed to me that his son does indeed have a Kentucky offer. He said it occurred in July and they have kept it quiet. I will have the full interview up on @KentuckyRivals this evening. @RowlandRIVALS
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) August 7, 2019
Sources close to the Kentucky basketball program told KSR last week that after keying in on their top guard targets – Jalen Green and Josh Christopher – and securing commitments from BJ Boston and Cam’Ron Fletcher, they were ready to shift their attention to the frontcourt in the class of 2020.
Now, it looks like Brown will become one of those top targets moving forward, joining the likes of Isaiah Todd and Lance Ware, among others.
While it’s fairly obvious that things have been almost completely quiet on the Brown-to-Kentucky front considering no one had any idea that an offer was even extended, sources tell KSR that both the UK coaching staff and Brown’s inner-circle have made a point to keeping their mutual interest as quiet as possible and that the shock value last night in including the Cats was by design. It should also be noted that another source told KSR this afternoon that top-three prospect Jalen Green is interested in playing with Brown in college, as well, which makes plenty of sense given UK’s recent spike in interest. Green is Kentucky’s top target in the class of 2020, after all.
247 Sports Director of Basketball Scouting Jerry Meyer loves Brown’s game, specifically when it comes to his elite athleticism:
“Long and freakily athletic. Runs like the wind. Needs to physically fill out. Terrific finisher in transition. Quick straight-line driver in half court. Jump shot progressing and has potential. Shot blocker with defensive versatility. Shaky ballhandler. Has tremendous upside that could place him in lottery at the draft.”
Check out some of his most recent highlights in this quick Overtime feature:
Come on down, Mr. Brown.
We’re only a few weeks away from the 2019 Kentucky Football season, so why not get a head start on planning for 2020? Today, the SEC released the 2020 football schedules for all 14 schools. Here’s the Cats’ slate:
|September 5||EASTERN MICHIGAN|
|September 12||at Florida|
|September 19||KENT STATE|
|September 26||SOUTH CAROLINA|
|October 3||at Auburn|
|October 10||EASTERN ILLINOIS|
|October 24||at Missouri|
|October 31||Open Date|
|November 7||at Tennessee|
|November 14||MISSISSIPPI STATE|
|November 28||at Louisville|
To those of you planning weddings next fall, you may want to consider a Halloween theme.
To see all of the schedules, click here.
We’ve touched on every other skill position (quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers) but now it is time to slide over to recruiting dynamo Vince Marrow’s group. Even after losing C.J. Conrad and his 42 starts to the NFL, expectations are still very high for this position group.
Behind a proven redshirt junior who has waited his time there are a couple of hotshot freshmen who have a ton of potential. Similar to the running back position, the Wildcats feel good about what they have heading into the season.
Kentucky fans have always had a unique infatuation with the tight end position. A large vocal portion of the Big Blue Nation wants the tight ends to be heavily involved in the passing game and they are not afraid to verbalize these expressions for the offensive coordinators to hear. We all know Eddie Gran has heard plenty of them.
If you go back two decades, you can begin to understand why the fan base values this position so highly. The year after Tim Couch left for the NFL, Dusty Bonner stepped in to run the show in 1999. The Valdosta State transfer had some clear arm talent limitations and the Wildcats had no star at receiver. Therefore, Hal Mumme decided to to make tight end James Whalen a target monster and it worked.
The former walk-on became a first-team All-American his senior season after he collected a school record 90 grabs, 1,019 yards, and 1o touchdowns. That reception record still stands today. A few years later, Jacob Tamme came to Lexington and recorded 84 grabs and eight touchdowns his last two seasons. Kentucky fans know what greatness looks like at the tight end position.
After a long stretch of mediocre play, C.J. Conrad arrived on campus in 2015 and immediately became a star. The Ohio native and blue-chip recruit was a very dependable blocker and made plays in the passing game when his number was called. It wasn’t called enough in the eyes of some, but he left some big shoes to fill.
The Tight End Room
Justin Rigg is entering his fourth year in the program and the former low three-star recruit has done pretty well after many predicted he would have to move to the offensive line. The Springboro, Ohio native played just three games as a true freshman before missing the year for injury. After that he’s established himself as a dependable blocker and a guy who can be a threat in the passing game.
The 6-foot-6 and 263-pound redshirt junior has eight career receptions and is averaging 12.1 yards per catch. Keep that yards per catch number up in a higher sample size and he could be quite a weapon. Kentucky may have some other tight ends who can athletically make more plays than Rigg, but it’s clear that he will be one of the most dependable parts of the offense in 2o19.
Last year many were high on Keaton Upshaw before he had to sit out all of 2018 due to a knee injury and would also miss most of the following spring. Last weekend’s open practice was likely the first time many saw the athletic tight end in action and the redshirt freshman oozes potential.
At 6-foot-6 and 247 pounds, the Ohio native already has next level size but what separates him from the rest of the roster is his athletic ability. Keaton Upshaw glides when he runs and has a very large catch radius due to his size and long arms. In high school, he flashed some big play ability by averaging over 17 yards per catch. This season, Kentucky could spread him out wide in order to create some mismatches when they go into 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). Keeping him healthy will be the biggest challenge due to recent injury history. Upshaw missed all of last season and currently nursing a hamstring injury at the beginning of fall camp.
Brenden Bates is back for his redshirt freshman season and the Cincinnati native has great size (6-foot-4, 250 pounds). He will be in the rotation this season and will be Kentucky’s best blocker at the position not named Justin Rigg. Nik Ognenovic is a true freshman that has a lot of potential. He’s is the second best athlete in the group behind Keaton Upshaw and could be used if absolutely needed.
With the questions surrounding the wide receivers, you could see Kentucky heavily lean on the tight end position. Justin Rigg can be used in a lot of different scenarios and will play a ton of snaps this fall. Look for Kentucky to use him similar to C.J. Conrad as a key blocker on numerous run schemes in addition to the work he’ll do in the passing game. But what is going to take this unit to the next level will be Keaton Upshaw.
Kentucky has not had an athlete like Upshaw at the position since Jacob Tamme and that alone should get you excited. The redshirt freshman has the ability to spread out and give this offense a ton of versatility. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see him become a vertical threat in the passing game in addition to being a very good red zone weapon.
Despite the loss of a program great, things are looking up for Vince Marrow’s position group. We could be entering a season where Kentucky is very heavily reliant on the the tight end position and it could mean that all four guys on scholarship will get some burn. We know what they’re going to get from Justin Rigg, but if the freshmen step up to the plate this is a unit that could be the surprise of the season.
The “Which table you sitting at” meme has swept the internet over the past 24 hours, so of course KSR is getting in on the fun. If you had to choose to sit at one of the tables in the picture above, which would it be?
Leave your answers in the comments.
By Brent Wainscott on ©August 06th, 2019 @ 12:11pm
Kentucky’s wide receiver depth just got more depleted.
Today at practice Eddie Gran told the media that Isaiah Epps will miss six weeks with a small foot fracture. Epps underwent surgery to insert a screw into his injured foot.
Last season Epps had eight catches for 76 yards, but with Epps being counted on as a reliable option for Kentucky’s wide receiver corps this season, this injury is short term bad news.
The time table for his return will fall close to the Florida game. There were hints that Kentucky would try to air the ball out to start the season with Toledo and Eastern Michigan coming to Lexington. Now, with Epps being out for six weeks, that could affect Kentucky’s offensive scheme to start the season.
Prior to the injury, Epps had played all 26 games of his career.