Note from Matt Jones: We are very excited to have Josh Hopkins from ABC/TBS’s “Cougartown” joining KSR as a guest columnist over the course of the next year. Josh is the ultimate fan and like you, he bleeds blue and follows every part of Kentucky basketball. The difference is that Josh lives in Hollywood, is on television and gets to see the program as the ultimate fan would. His fandom is unparalleled amongst the “famous” UK fan set and we are looking forward to his thoughts here on KSR. He starts with this post on the summer practices by the UK team:
It was the middle of the summer in 1984 and I was Thirteen. I had just received my “Cats Pause” (thank god for Oscar Combs) and I couldn’t have been happier. I read it about six thousand times until the next edition was printed…TWO MONTHS LATER! Yeah, that’s what the coverage was like in the off season for the basketball team.
I dissected every ounce of information no matter how trivial. I obsessed over tidbits like how big John Pittman’s hands were, and I was convinced he would be the best center in UK history. Sure, Pittman never came to UK, nor did he amount to much of a ball player either, but it didn’t matter because I ate up every morsel of UK information. Now, no longer do I need to wait months for UK basketball news, because it is there immediately and honestly I couldn’t be more thrilled. That’s why I love me some KSR.
I click on this site no less than 10 times a day. I get all the Cat news in a clear, succinct package, which makes it easy, for a kinda dim guy like me to understand. Even better, KSR is a destination that turns the entire BBN into a massive Internet force. When Matt asked if I’d like to write a semi weekly piece for the site…I was honored.
Many ideas have come in and out of my thought process regarding my first post. Should I write about my own fandemonium? About how I’m still reveling in the Cats’ national title? Or, how exciting it’s gonna be to watch our guys in the NBA? None of these… I’m gonna actually switch gears…and give you a glimpse of the impressions I have on the Cats’ future.
I recently had a chance to see the 2012-2013 Cats practice. It was a lucky opportunity for which I am feel unbelievably fortunate and so I thought would share some of my thoughts. I get so annoyed by critics that say Coach Cal is “just a recruiter”. After seeing him with these kids at practice, Coach is probably best described as a master motivator and a focused teacher. I wish there was an opportunity for people to see how Cal crafts his practices. It is fascinating to watch him teach position and angles, footwork and proper screening. Yeah, he recruits one and done talent but it’s how he prepares and teaches those kids in that one season that has continually impressed those of us really paying attention.
You know what the returning players bring so here’s the impression I came away with from the new guys during my limited time watching with my very untrained eye:
NERLENS NOEL : Not around yet. Dang.
FRESHMEN: As should be expected, the new guys were a little lost and seemed slightly frustrated. They’ve had a very limited time thus far with the system. The transition to college as well as the expectations of playing for the defending NCAA champs is a not a simple process. I’m NOT worried, but you could sense the frustration of these guys as they tried to grasp the system. One thing I’ve learned about watching these early practices and pick up games, is that, for the most part, the freshman shoot very poorly. It’s not because they are poor shooters, or lost, or intimidated. In general, it’s because this is the first true big boy weight lifting/conditioning these kids have ever attempted. Their legs and arms are jelly by the time they get to the court and this year’s class was no exception. The frosh were struggling to hit shots, but that was hardly their biggest issue. Coach Cal told them the biggest challenge is to get their bodies to continually move fast, while training their minds to not panic, and just slow down. I’ve heard it from Coach Cal in the past, and we’ve all seen it happen as the season
progresses. It’s just part of the learning process.
WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN: WCS, doesn’t roll off the tongue like MKG, but that’s what I’ll call him now. He IS what you have heard. Super physically gifted, but still learning the game. His physical gifts are enough to really excite. Runs like a deer, jumps out of the gym, and has good hands. If you thought he’d be this years Vargas you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you have heard the early hype and have convinced yourself he’s another one and doner, you’ll probably be disappointed. I can’t wait to see what Cal does with him.
Plus he’s a Goonie and I like The Goonies.
How about WCS and Nerlens on the court together? Fagetaboutit! Nasty defensively! Also, you can tell he’s a team favorite as the guys and coaches are all constantly encouraging him.
ALEX POYTHRESS: Alex honestly was pretty lost. However nobody seemed to mind but Alex himself. His athleticism is not just freaky. It’s FREAKY FREAKY. He must have giant hands as his one hand dunks are scary in their power. There’s going to be times he dunks this year and the sound of the rim cracking back into place won’t hit upper Rupp until Alex is crossing back past the mid court line. I think he could have a slightly slowish start, but come February, lottery talk will be everywhere.
RYAN HARROW: All I want is a slow motion montage with Ryan Harrow (I wish we were best friends and not someone he refers to as “sir”). We could go get ice cream and play video games together. Make videos of us dunking on a nerf goal… anyway, I digress. Ryan looked great. He’s a little fella in stature, but he’s got everything else. We all know he has stupid hops, but he’s also got a really nice stroke. From my outside position, he looks comfortable and confident being the Cats point guard. His year under Cal is obvious as he had that second year swagger that I love to see. It’s hard to think of someone that he reminds me of in The League but Sacramento’s Isiah Thomas (the former Washington player) would definitely be a favorable comparison. Ryan will have to show he has that same kind of bulldog like competitiveness if he’s to be a first rounder but he has the athleticism and i know Cal’s the right coach for him. I’m all the way out here in Los Angeles now and I miss him. I hope we can be BFFs one day.
ARCHIE GOODWIN: Just looking at Archee Goodwin is impressive. If Michael Jordan and Len Bias had a younger, slightly shorter, brother, this is what he’d look like. Total stud and REALLY long. If he’s 6’5″, I’ll bet his wingspan is 6’10”. Crazy! It was just an early practice but he seemed to be grasping everything pretty well. Like I said, he wasn’t shooting great, but the freshman never do this time of year. I can’t really tell what kind of year he will have in this limited viewing but he was born to play in the NBA. I already want to order his Fathead.
JULIUS MAYS: Julius Mays was as advertised EXCEPT he ain’t 6’2″. He’s smaller, but aside from that he seemed to be a good ball handler, can stroke it from deep or mid range, and always was competing hard. Also, his new teammates already seemed to really like him. I might be making that up because I want it so badly and it really makes me happy if everyone on the team seems to also be friends. But it did seem like that to me, so I am just going with it.
JON HOOD: I’ll say Jon Hood was cutting very well on his knee and seemed confident. Love that Kentucky kid.
KYLE WITLJER Kyle ran well and said he’s lifting with the football team who he said were “animals” in the weight room. He said the whole “screaming and yelling” must be a football thing. Still has trademark feathery touch that will light up the scoreboard this year. Did I mention I like the Goonies?
JARROD POLSON: I’ll tell you who ain’t scared, Jarrod Polson. He’s a good athlete, third year in this system, and if he comes in to run the show for a few minutes, there isn’t a guard in college basketball who’s going to scare him. When you go head to head with Wall, Bledsoe, Knight, Teague and Harrow these last few years, a player from some lower tier SEC school wouldn’t intimidate you in the least…well maybe it would intimidate me, but it won’t Jarrod.
Last year we caught lightning in a bottle. This year, I look forward to the thunder clouds rolling in.
I am getting excited just think about it.