Kentucky Sports Radio

University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.
July 25th, 2015

Kenny warns Topix: “Hugging Idiot” attacking the town of Harlan

ryan

What better way to spend your Friday than hanging out on Topix? I cant’ think of anything better. Luckily, Matt found this gem posted on the site yesterday. Someone took to Topix to complain about a man harassing people on the Harlan streets this week asking for hugs:

 

Ryan Topix 1

 

 

 

 

Some people explained the situation to him and thought he mayyyy have been overreacting:

Ryan Topix 2

Ryan Topixx 4

 

 

 

 

Others took Kenny’s side:

Ryan Topix 3

 

 

 

 

Either way, after a good night’s rest, Kenny calmed down and realized Ryan meant no harm:

Ryan topix 5

 

 

 

I REALLY hope Kenny joins us in Harlan next year. Maybe he can join in with Ryan on the traditional hugging? Here is a link to the post if you want to look at the thread in all its glory.

 

@Hessler_KSR


Saturday Morning Links

links

Lots of news floating around today. Don’t forget Tyler will have a complete recap of the Women’s Clinic in a few hours, so keep checking back for that. Until then, here are some links to start off your morning reading: 

 

–           While Kentucky has a great offensive line ahead of them with next year’s recruiting class, Stoops seems to just be hoping the line can step up a little bit this year. He believes the key is Geroge Asafo-Adjiei who joined the team in the spring. Read a couple quotes from him on Vaughts Views here.

 

–           Not University of Kentucky related, but still important. Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told a Louisiana newspaper this week that Eastern Kentucky has been in contact about maybe joining.

 

–           Murray isn’t the only Cat doing well in the Pan Am games, Kentucky track and field sophomore Sha’Kella Saunders claimed the bronze medal while competing for the US in the long jump at the games Friday. Saunders needed her sixth and final attempt to vault skip from eighth place into medal position entering the last round. She grabbed third place after reaching 21-feet, 10.75 inches.

 

–           Guy Ramsey wrote up some notes on the Stoops luncheon. If you are still looking for information on the event, it’s a great read.

 

–           Finally, ICYMI, it’s probably best Donnie Tyndall picked a life of wrestling over college athletics because the NCAA has outlined serious rules violations committed during his tenure at Southern Miss. The charges range from academic credit to obstructing a governing body’s investigations. There were seven alleged Level I violations. I hate to think it, but I hope this didn’t flow over to his time at Tennessee.

 

@Hessler_KSR


Let’s Do This Saturday Morning Wakeup

Wake up, everybody. It’s Saturday. It’s time to carpe the diem.

I overslept a little bit so we’re going to have to hit this pretty quickly. It doesn’t help that there’s not a lot going on right now, but Mama always said you have to do the best with what God gave you.

So I’m going to let out a big yawn and put some words on the internet to kick this day off here on KSR…

 

Jamal Murray is going for the gold medal today.

Murray will play his fifth game in five days as Canada goes for the gold against Brazil later today. Last night the Canadians upset the United States in the semifinal to reach the Pan Am ‘ship. Murray was the star of that game, scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was his show and no one was interrupting it. My man was unstoppable.

Like Matt wrote last night, it was really bizarre actively rooting against the Americans. Gotta back the Cat, though.

Here’s what Murray has done through four games:

vs. Dominican Republic: 12 points (5/7), two assists, two rebounds
vs. Argentina: 20 points (6/15), one assist, two rebounds
vs. Mexico: 14 points (6/9), two assists, five rebounds
vs. United States: 22 points (8/18), six assists, four rebounds

DeMarcus Cousins is in Israel to boycott Israel.

According to this website, the trip is part of an effort to fight the international movement to boycott Israel, led by his Kings teammate, Omri Casspi.  Rudy Gay, Caron Butler, Chandler Parsons, Tyreke Evans and Iman Shumpert are also there for two events with Israeli basketball teams. The NBA approved the trip.

Pretty random, right? Read about it here.

Skip-Bo is awesome.

I grew up playing Skip-Bo at my grandparents’ house and had completely forgotten about the game until my dear friend Abigail broke out the Skip-Bo cards last night. I don’t know if Skip-Bo is a thing in your househould, but it will be making a comeback in mine. I’m not ashamed to say we played until early in the morning. (Like a few hours ago.)

This is the last weekend of July recruiting period. 

Calipari has today and tomorrow to evaluate the 2016 class and then it’s back to Lexington. He’ll be in and out of gyms these next two days to see check out his targets one last time, or in Cal’s case, be seen by his targets.

More on that grind throughout the day.

Tonight is Mark Stoops’ bourbon and cigar event.

Anyone going?

See you there.

 

That’s about all I got. Back to bed.


July 24th, 2015

I Saw UK Basketball’s Future…and It’s Jamal Murray

jamalbiggame

I know it’s Friday night and thus many, if not most, of you were out doing other things. But you missed it. You missed the chance to see the future of UK Basketball. The future of UK Basketball is Jamal Murray and he was special on Friday night. Helping Team Canada knock off Team USA in Overtime, Jamal Murray did something that rarely happens in non-UK basketball games…he got me out of my chair and openly cheering for a team not in the Blue and White. The fact that the team I was rooting for was in red and playing against the Stars and Stripes was even more bizarre, but I couldn’t help myself. If you are like me and Kentucky basketball will always be your #1 sports team, then you couldn’t help but be thrilled as you watched the future of UK hit the spotlight right before your eyes.

Murray was amazing…22 points, all of which were in the 4th Quarter and Overtime. But that doesn’t even tell the tale of his dominance. After not scoring during the first three quarters, Murray started the 4th with his team down six and proceeded to take over the game and elevate the entire spectacle to another level. His passing was exquisite, hooking up multiple times with Anthony Bennett for perfect dimes that led to dunks. He played strong defense, rebounded efficiently and showcased a flair for the dramatic, hitting shots from all angles. During Overtime, he hit two back-to-back threes that gave Team Canada its final lead, both of which were so sweet that ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla began to chuckle at the show being put on before his eyes. The Canada coach realized that even on a team with NBA pros in the lineup, Murray was the star and the future, and every big moment saw the ball in his hands, including a regulation buzzer beater that he just missed. It was thrilling to watch and provided one of the better random basketball viewing experiences I can remember. Take a look at some of his best plays:

Some may say that after this game we should all take a step back. It is true that Murray didn’t score for the first three quarters of the game and did have three turnovers during the closing minutes of regulation. Plus, the American team was an odd assortment of players, ranging from college stars such as Ron Baker to journeyman European league pros like Damien Wilkens. But such attempts at stealing my joy will be treated as lame party-pooping nonsense. The reality is that in a game on a big stage in his home country, Jamal Murray was a revelation. Everything we thought he might be able to do, he can and better than we thought. When Kentucky lost out on Malik Newman, Jaylen Brown, Stephen Zimmerman and others, many wondered if Calipari’s recruiting magic had slipped and UK could be in for a down year. Wonder no more. Jamal Murray is the best of that bunch and along with Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere, he will challenge for the honor of best Freshman in college basketball.

Tonight I saw the future of Kentucky Basketball and he is a Maple Leaf ready to win his country the Gold Medal tomorrow night before coming to Lexington this fall and electrifying Big Blue Nation on the chase for #9.


Friday Night Football Food For Thought

football bullet point  28 days from now, football stadiums will be filled across the state when the KHSAA kicks off their high school season.  It may be 90-degrees but I can still feel the crisp autumn air.

football bullet pointLuckily, the construction crews at Commonwealth Stadium have 15 more days than the high schoolers to have the Cats game-ready for the Ragin’ Cajuns.  Even though it looked pretty rough during the media tour, I’m confident it will be 100%, good-to-go by the time Kentucky upsets Florida.  After dealing with Old Commonwealth for years, I can handle one game without all of the bells and whistles.

I could deal with all of the “this amenity will be here” Tweets, but I CAN NOT handle any complaints about the turf.  Okay, the logo still looks weird, but the only people that prefer natural grass to turf, have never played on turf.  The media’s reaction was the same one I had when I first walked on a turf field at age 12: “Why is it so hot on my feet?”  Ahhhh, I’m sorry doe’s wittle toesy woesy’s are warm.  You need a kiss to make it feel better?

STOP IT!  These guys have been playing on turf, probably more than they’ve played on natural grass.  Even if they haven’t traveled to other SEC schools, most of the big high schools in Ohio (and many in Kentucky) are equipped with similar, less advanced turf.  If they aren’t used to it yet, they can workout at Nutter, or the turf outdoor field at the practice complex.

Where it will make the biggest difference is in the rain.  Freddie Maggard said Commonwealth was notorious for being a slick field.  Even if that statement is false, the truth is that you easily lose a step in the mud compared to turf.  Instead of running on your front spike, you’re stuck running on the middle spikes making the quick cuts much slower.

If you want to whine about anything, whatever you do, don’t whine about the new field.

football bullet pointEarlier this week, the BBN was in shock and awe over a video released by Ky Wildcats TV featuring an assortment of one-handed catches from Alex Montgomery.  The video has since been taken down, but nonetheless, it left the BBN impressed.

I gotta admit, I wasn’t that impressed.  I’ve shaken his hand before – THOSE THINGS ARE MASSIVE.  Him catching a football one-handed is comparable to me catching a tennis ball one-handed.  Alex’s hands are so big, the equipment staff has a special stack of 4X “Alex gloves,” they set aside especially for Mr. Montgomery.

Hopefully those hands can be put to good use this Fall after an 18+ month absence, following a knee injury from a post-touchdown chest bump.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed, because it’s been nagging, forcing him to miss the second half of this Spring season to have cartilage in his knee cleaned out.  If he can be consistent, he’ll look like a tight end with a big (6’2″) and wide (220) presence in the middle of the field, except with the athleticism of an outside receiver.

football bullet pointMaurice Clarett’s appearance on campus is one of the smartest moves Mark Stoops has ever made.  Super Bowl Champion Richard Sherman was an impressive guest, but I don’t know if there’s a person better to motivate Stoops’ Troops than Clarett.

First, consider that Clarett was a hero to most of Stoops’ players that grew up in Ohio.  I wasn’t a crazed Buckeye fan, but even I remember the intense drama that unfolded during the national championship game against Miami.  They knew him at his highest, and now he’s telling them how quickly it can all go away.  If there is ever a moment of weakness in the future, where one might consider to give up or make a poor decision, Clarett’s words will be in the back of their mind.

If you ever wanted to know if Mark Stoops “gets it,” this is all the proof you need.

clarett and team cjconrad1


Jamal Murray and Canada defeat the US in OT 111-108

Via Twitter

With no points scored heading into the fourth quarter Jamal Murray took over. The Canucks were trailing 80-74 when Murray came alive. He scored 14 points to help get the game to overtime and then added 8 more, including the game-sealing 3, to take down the Americans. He also found his teammates several times to finish with 8 assists. This win will send the Canadians to the finals of the PanAm games for the first time where they will be facing Brazil. Murray appears to be the real deal after another stellar performance against several professionals.

Can we get this kid in Lexington already?


Wendy’s KSR Top 10 Tweets of the Day

BaconatorFries_Mobile_500x500


This summer enjoy Wendy’s® new Baconator Fries. Applewood-smoked bacon cooked fresh in our kitchens every day, and melty cheddar cheese, on top of our signature natural-cut fries. Now at a Wendy’s near you.
For a limited time only. Price and participation may vary.


You can be a part of Wendy’s KSR Top 10 Tweets by using hashtags like #KSR #BBN or #KSRtop10. You can also nominate tweets by mentioning them with the hashtag. If we like what we see, it could be posted the next day. Now. On to the tweets:

#10 AARON Wood

It almost makes me feel sorry for them….almost

 

 

 

 

 

 

#9 Celia


I can’t tell if that’s his “I’m so happy to be around KSR” face or his “this is my seventh one of these and a can’t feel a thing” face. Either way, it’s great to see fans happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#8 Kindsey Bernhard



WHAT? No. No. no. This is too easy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Billy D


That’s the only stat you need to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#6 Rodney Lipps


I am in. Especially if Matt and Ryan go. Let’s do this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#5 Walter McCarty


Don’t worry. It’s not personal. Drew got left out when she came here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4 Rock Blesnar


If he would just say yes to this question we could really get the Bobby Bones-KSR friendship going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3 UK Equipment Staff


IDK what is more interesting; the size of the shoe or the design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#2 Whitney Butler


Matt does have a nose whistle sometimes and I will not stop until he recognizes it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#1 John Short



I am so excited for this. Does anyone want to carpool?

 

@Hessler_KSR


Compare and Contrast Part Two, the Defense

josh forrest hit stick ukfootball

Part two will focus on comparing and contrasting the 2013 and 2015 Kentucky defenses. Our offensive analysis of the same subject unveiled that the current edition has superior talent. Is today’s defense significantly more skilled than their 2013 equivalents? Below are the starting line-ups for the 13 and 15 openers (15 is projection). You decide.

August 31, 2013 vs. WKU

DE – Bud Dupree
DT – Donte Rumph
DT – Mister Cobble
DE – Za’Darius Smith
OLB – Kory Brown
MLB – Avery Williamson
OLB – Khalid Henderson
FS – Eric Dixon
SS – Ashley Lowery
CB – Nate Willis
CB – Fred Tiller

 

September 5, 2015 vs. Louisiana Lafayette

DE – Farrington Huguenin
DT – Melvin Lewis
DT – Cory Johnson
OLB – Denzel Ware
OLB – Jason Hatcher
MLB – Josh Forrest
ILB – Ryan Flannigan
FS – AJ Stamps
SS – Marcus McWilson
CB – Fred Tiller
CB – Cody Quinn

 

Linebackers

Starting with the linebackers, Denzel Ware and Jason Hatcher may be new to the position, but both are significant upgrades over 2013’s Kory Brown and Khalid Henderson. On the inside, Avery Williamson vs. Josh Forrest would be a ferocious cage match. My take on this comparison is debatable, but I’m calling it a push. In 2013, Williamson’s supporting cast did him no favors. Presently, Forrest will have the luxury of defensive linemen with the ability to fend off blockers. Thus, Josh could amass more season tackles. The evolution of Josh Forrest is a classic player development case study. Forrest’s running mate, Ryan Flannigan, is also a significant skill increase. Collectively, the 2015 linebackers are just plain better. However, the position’s depth is an urgent concern.

Defensive Ends

2013 defensive ends, Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, are better than any DE combination that DJ Eliot can produce vs. ULL. Last season, Dupree and Smith’s production was adequate. Given their draft status, 14’s result didn’t match pre-season expectation. Why? There were numerous underlying factors. Remember, defense is an 11 man operation. In the permanent move to the 3-4 defense, Farrington Huguenin is scheduled to start at strong-side defensive end. He’ll be technically sound, but that position will be a revolving door until one player can consistently influence opposing quarterbacks. Advantage 2013.

Current Cats Melvin Lewis-Cory Johnson over 13’s Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph gets the modern-day unit back on the scoreboard. I greatly enjoyed Rumph and Cobble’s personality and effort. But in terms of ability and production, the Lewis-Johnson combo plays at a higher level. Melvin Lewis is a run stuffing, All SEC candidate. CJ Johnson is an athletic pass rush specialist. Combined, the duo has a chance to be the best DT pair since the Brooks era’s Corey Peters and Myron Pryor. 2015’s DT depth dwarfs that of its 2013 counterparts. This fall, there are four to five DT’s with starter-level ability. On Stoops’ first squad, defensive tackle depth was razor thin and proficiency challenged. I am comfortable in saying that today’s unit is the deepest in recent memory.

Safeties

2015 Safeties AJ Stamps and Marcus McWilson score yet another superiority sticker over their predecessors. 13’s Ashley Lowery and Eric Dixon were physical by nature, but lacked necessary speed and skill to effectively enforce the middle of the field. AJ Stamps is an SEC upper echelon safety. Marcus McWilson has the honor of playing a position that’s coached by Mark Stoops. He’ll either be enormously improved or suffer hearing loss from the head coach’s “motivation.”

Cornerbacks

Cornerbacks are the conundrum. Fred Tiller’s starting role’s continuation could be considered both good and bad. Good in the fact he’s gained invaluable experience. Bad due to recent recruiting classes have yet to produce an enhanced replacement. Tiller has played a great deal of football. He’ll be lined up correctly and be schematically sound. Prior to his campus arrival, UK’s other 2013 starting cornerback, Nate Willis, proclaimed his intent to be a one and done player. That did not happen. He was however a serviceable cornerback. This fall, Cody Quinn is slated to start opposite of Tiller. On and off, the pair have been together for the past three years. For Cody Quinn, copy and paste Tiller’s analysis. Another veteran player that needs an excellent camp performance. CB will be a heated pre-season competition. This situation will be fun to watch. For comparison purposes, I’ll call it a push.

Paraphrasing, Stoops was once asked about player development and said that upon his arrival, Za’Darius Smith was the most fundamentally sound player on his first team. Telling. 2013 was Z’s first year on campus. Kentucky’s defensive personnel issues are common across college football. In today’s pass happy world, both pass rushers and pass defenders are hard to find. For both the offense and defense, inconsistent player development was a major cause of initial roster woes.

In summary, 2015’s talent at linebacker, safety, and interior defensive line is notably more skilled and developed than its 2013 colleagues. But, the jury is still out on defensive end and cornerback. Thus, pass rushers and pass defenders are my main concern for the upcoming season. Only time will tell.

And remember, it’s not personal, it’s personnel.


Tobias Gilliam is all in with Kentucky

Three-star cornerback Tobias Gilliam confirmed today on Twitter he will be a Wildcat in 2016 and his recruitment is over. Gilliam, who Drake Jackson said is the centerpiece of the Ohio bunch, has been drawing attention from other schools, but he’s all in with Kentucky.

Here’s what he posted on Twitter:


Jamal Murray vs. America starts now

Sooooooo do we root for Murray? I love America as much as anyone, but I have no loyalty to anyone on the U.S. roster and Murray is one of us. I think we go Canada here. It’s the only time you’ll hear me say it but I’m pushing the chips in on Canada. Is this treason?

Anyway, the game is on ESPN2 right now. For those of you who have been unable to see Murray on WatchESPN all week, this is your chance to see him on a television.

Let’s go Canada. Eh?


The Suns love Devin Booker

Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight have the starting backcourt locked up in Phoenix, but Devin Booker is going to see some serious playing time right away. In a story on NBA.com, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek suggested Booker will be the first off the bench for his team.

“He’s pretty solid all around,” Hornacek said of the former Cat. “Obviously, he can stroke it. And defensively, when I look at him, most of the time he’s in the right position.”

Sounds like Booker is on his way to being the man out in Arizona. But it looks like his heart is still here…


20% off all KSR gear at KentuckyBranded.com!

ksr_20_off

Football season’s almost here; what better way to prepare than stocking up on KSR gear from KentuckyBranded.com? All KSR items are 20% OFF right now, including the popular visors, so you really have no excuse.

Use the coupon code KSR20 at checkout to receive the discount. Happy shopping!

20% off KSR items at KentuckyBranded.com


Takeaways From The UK Football Luncheon

IMG_5317

I took the afternoon off for Mark Stoops’ football luncheon earlier today with the Joey Palumbo. I didn’t attend as media, so I didn’t approach it as work, but I guess I’ll still write a few words about it…

 

Mark Stoops made me laugh.

Highlight of the day: New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was raving about his offensive personnel, saying something along the lines of being blessed to have so much depth across the board.

Stoops chimed in with, “You’ve been blessed to not be here the first two years.”

Solid joke there, Coach.

Back to Dawson, he said it’s the most depth he’s had anywhere he’s coached. That’s positive.

Here’s a picture of the food, because taking pictures of food is so in right now.

IMG_5314

IMG_5316

Whoa there, guys. Don’t be so generous with the vegetables.

Stoops did not say “progress” one time.

We set the line at seven and I was all-in on over. “Progress” has been the word of the summer for Stoops and I didn’t hear it one single time. That’s progress.

Stoops suggested there was some tension with Vince Marrow when Marrow was talking to Michigan.

Stoops and Marrow have known each other forever, and that made things harder when Marrow was listening to offers from Michigan. Stoops said at one point he almost had to revert back to their “South Youngstown” ways when he found out Marrow was considering leaving after he thought they had agreed on a deal. Stoops was ready to take it back to the playground to settle it.

The younger players aren’t afraid to stand up to the veterans.

Stoops wouldn’t mention anyone by name, but he said one of the newcomers confronted a veteran in the weight room for his effort. Words were exchanged and the veteran “ended up on his back.”

“We don’t encourage fighting,” Stoops said. “But we like to see that.”

There’s so much excitement around the program right now.

I’ve been to many of these luncheons and they’re always about feeding the hype leading into the season. It’s expected and always feels forced and unrealistic. However, this time it really got me fired up for September 5th. Something about this staff, the new stadium, the swagger around the program… It feels different this time. Maybe I’ll be disappointed, maybe it’s just another round of that false hope we’ve been served every summer, but this one seems different.

43 days. Let’s do this.


Maurice Clarett is still enjoying Lexington

Maurice Clarett stuck around Lexington after speaking to the team yesterday and he seems to be enjoying his stay. The former Ohio State star running back made his way over to the other side of campus to check out the basketball facilities today and he shared a photo of the Joe Craft Center, claiming he “was like Anthony Davis out there on that practice court.”


NBA Summer League VS. Nike Peach Jam

IMG_5564

The perennial Jones/Franklin/Tomlin road trip has taken on many forms, from lonely, long desolate road trips through snow-blown Iowa to beer-guzzling at on-campus bars in Marquette, but the last few have seen our trio head to luxurious not-luxurious North Augusta, South Carolina for the Nike Peach Jam. North Augusta is a garbage town, forgive my saying so, its amazingly beautiful golf course notwithstanding. It’s the kind of town where you literally see cockroaches scurrying across the dimly lit sidewalk in front of you as you walk through the center of downtown (THE CENTER OF DOWNTOWN!) and as you approach most stores and restaurants you quickly realized they are closed. Forever. But the Peach Jam, for all its southern, sticky humidity is a fascinating look into the world of high school basketball and college recruitment; it remains a strange and unique thing happening out in the middle of nowhere, and it can frequently be a blast.

If there was ever a time to visit the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas it was this year and it helped that our decision was made for us in that we got the dates wrong for the Peach Jam altogether. The multitude of Wildcats past and present on display for their new teams — or, alternately, returning to the States in a last-ditch attempt to secure a roster spot — offered surely enough fodder for our purposes, and, let’s be honest, it was Las Vegas. So off we went, crammed into middle seats and barely making flights through Atlanta before landing at McCarran, with its trap-snare airport slots, epic cab lines and five thousand baggage claim carousels.

The next few days we’d head to the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV or, in many cases, the much smaller Cox Pavilion, to see what Summer League had to offer and check out how our beloved Cats were performing. In many ways the NBA Summer League was similar to the stakes of the Peach Jam, but with very subtle differences. So if you’ll indulge one more non-absurdist post from me this week, let’s throw out this question for a layman like me to answer: If one is an evaluation ground for high schoolers and one was an evaluation ground for future pros, how would the two events stack up against one another?

Unknown-2  Unknown-1

1. Venue: Thomas & Mack Arena Vs. Whatever the Sports Center Is Called for the Peach Jam

It’s telling who wins this simply on the fact that I’ve now been to the Peach Jam three times and still have no idea what the name of the place where the Peach Jam is held. Thomas & Mack is in the middle of the desert and is air-conditioned as a meat locker while the Peach Jam’s joint is hot and acrid and feels like your local YMCA on church league night. You can come out of Thomas & Mack feeling like a million bucks after a day of games while you walk out of Peach Jam-Town feeling like you’ve just spent a full day licking underneath the bleachers of your high school gym. I’d say that the Peach Jam would take edge because of the intimate setting, but NBA Summer League nails that too with games in Cox Pavilion, which is like a very nice smaller gym with plenty of nice seats and cool music and between-quarter audience competitions. I don’t know what the locker rooms are like for the players, but Summer League has crowd comfort down. In spades.

2. Star Quality: A Hundred Top Name NCAA Coaches Vs. LeBron James

While player quality in North Augusta is mainly of the maybe-they’ll-be-big-someday variety, you can go to the Peach Jam a million years in a row and you’ll never not feel that it’s kinda cool you’re standing next to Tom Izzo eating a chili dog or overhearing Josh Pastner on his phone telling his kids to go to bed. The sheer magnitude of all these coaches in the same location is so impressive and yet no one seems to care who anyone is. On paper, one might think the NBA Summer League would be teeming with familiar faces, and it sometimes is (we ran into Heshimu Evans in the concourse and Jason Kidd sat two rows behind us as we watched Devin Booker play), but largely the NBA’s most famous names don’t go to Summer League. A mighty exception to this rule was when LeBron James walked into Cox before the Timberwolves/Cavs matchup and took a seat on the front row with Cleveland top brass. The room, when that happened, became crazy electric and you could truly sense James’ star power. Every phone camera in the house was clicking at once. To put the excitement over LeBron’s appearance into perspective, later that night Chris Paul would literally sit six feet away from us at a slot machine and no one would even realize it. Plus, most NBA teams don’t even send their head coaches to mind the teams; the sheer impressiveness of the Peach Jam’s roster of stellar coaches makes it a little more star-striking.

images  IMG_0619-1

Afterhours: Sin City Vs. Raccoon City

There is no universe where I’d rather be in North Augusta, South Carolina than Las Vegas, Nevada. NONE. At the Peach Jam, you come home to a coupon book for O’Charley’s and Keith’s Dry Cleaning; at the NBA Summer League, you come home to THE MOST FUN PLACE IN THE WORLD. You could be having a four dollar beer at the hotel bar in North Augusta and listening to an assistant coach at Southern Illinois State talk about his lost bags or you could be having an six dollar beer at a place where people pour shots directly into your mouth and patrons are getting violently thrown from a mechanical bull. You can go for a walk and see a squirrel eating out of an empty McDonald’s wrapper or you can go for a walk and see AN ERUPTING VOLCANO. You can bet on craps or you can bet on how long it would take you to be lured into a dark alley and brutally murdered by a cash-strapped local. Your choice.

Level of Play: Talented High Schoolers Vs. Bored NCAA Stars Vs. Guys With One Last Shot

Here’s where, I think the rubber meets the road (is that the right metaphor? I’m sticking with it): it’s very interesting to gauge the level and excitement of play for both events. At the Peach Jam, you have high school kids trying their hardest to catch the eye of your Jim Boeheims and Kevin Ollies, knowing that their entire lives — prep schools, AAU teams — have led up to this moment in the spotlight. It’s fun to watch real high school talent shine at the Peach Jam; when you see a kid who’s good you’re generally seeing a kid who’s REALLY good. At the NBA Summer League, on the other hand, you see these former, exciteable high schoolers after their NCAA fortune and glory, after their first or second round draft pick, confident and cocky and knowing they’re someone now. It’s why Tyus Jones, who I saw playing his heart out at the Peach Jam a couple of years back and last year in the NCAA Championship, is now leisurely dribbling the ball up the court with no passion — he knows he’s making the team, why put himself out there too much? YAWN, he says, let’s get this over with, right? I’ve got groupies to meet. I’m a star now.

The great equalizer at NBA Summer League are the guys who only have one or two more shots to make it in the pros, and these are the guys who make the Summer League interesting to watch. We commented on Archie Goodwin last week — dude was practically auditioning for a cartoon role in Space Jam — but he was working it. He knew in any given game he probably had nine to eleven minutes to show them EVERYTHING he had. Ditto DeAndre Liggins, returning from tours in Russia and Germany to work his way back onto an NBA roster in Sacramento (he was playing hard, and was high point man at the game we watched). Josh Harrelson had a solid turnout as well after playing in China. You pull for these guys, and not just because they’re ex-Cats, but because they’re as close as you get watching these games to seeing someone who’s just like you, having to work for it. Having to earn it. These are the stories and figures who are the most fun to watch.

summerleague_website.jpg

At the end of the day, while the Summer League has its charms — mainly a Vegas locale, some scrappy prodigal sons and the ultra-chilly Thomas & Mack Center — I feel like the more pivotal moments I’ve seen were at the Peach Jam. After all, the NBA Summer League players were, many of them, once Peach Jam players themselves. This is their next proving ground — and it’s fitting that it’s in a gambling city like Vegas, since for many of these players the chips are all on the table. We watch it as entertainment but at the NBA Summer League, many of these guys are playing for their lives. It’s this or go back to Czech Republic basketball. That would certainly make me play my heart out. It’s just a shame that the big name rookies all seem to take it so much in stride. I understand this on some level, and many of the Cats we saw were playing really strongly (have no worries about our first-rounders, gang), but you’d just think the level of each game would be so high with potential and excitement. I guess when all’s said and done, however, those who loaf at the NBA Summer League are only dooming themselves. There are no more scholarships, there are no more Cals and Coach Ks visiting your homes or calling to see how things are going. It’s all on you by this point, lonely and solitary. All you can do in Vegas, I guess, is hope you don’t crap out.