There are few things more strange to me than funerals. Friends and family gather together under the premise of celebrating the life of the deceased person, but often get so overwhelmed with tears and consoling each other that the celebration can sometimes be overlooked. And when you’re all there to honor someone you know so well, you often come away with stories that you’ve never even heard. And that was the case this weekend as I traveled to Atlanta to say my goodbyes to my grandfather, who passed away last week. Like most grandsons, I had a tremendous amount of admiration for the man we affectionately called Grand Dad and spent the last 18 months of his life exchanging letters with him weekly, at his request. They always discussed our family and often strayed into talking sports, which meant I received constant harassment over the worst column ever written and frequent homework assignments to look up names from well before my birth. And that’s what made a story from his funeral particularly interesting. My grandfather’s fraternity brothers from Vanderbilt sent a letter that revealed that they called him “Bucky”, which was apparently a reference to Bucky Curtis, a Vanderbilt football star in the late ’40s and early ’50s, who also made appearances for the Vanderbilt basketball team. Naturally, I looked Curtis up when I got home from Atlanta this evening and found out that this no-name athlete was actually quite the name for his time, earning First-Team All-American honors in 1950 and still holding the school record for yards per catch at 29.3 for the 1950 season. He was a star of a generation that, for the most part, gets buried away to be forgotten as players continue to fill the jerseys year after year and time distances itself from that era. So, this morning, here’s a salute to Bucky Curtis and all of the other celebrated players of that era that we’re not even aware of. You might not have ever beaten Kentucky in basketball, but you had the finest man I’ve ever known carrying around your name. So this Tuesday is for you both.
Now onto a few UK notes…
– In a display of his classic use of the media (which, by the way, more often than not seems to just be the use of Andy Katz), John Calipari anointed Doron Lamb as this team’s best player. Considering the Cats welcome back All-American Terrence Jones, a four-year starter in Darius Miller and two freshman considered to be locks to be top picks in next year’s NBA Draft, the choice of Lamb was an interesting one. Is it possible that he is in fact the team’s best player? Certainly. He showed himself to be an explosive scorer last season and showed enough improvement on the defensive end of the floor that the usual leap between a freshman and sophomore season could put among the nation’s best players. But I think this is more of a little public mind game on Calipari’s behalf and I think there could be a couple of factors. First of all, I think Cal is sending a message to Miller and, more importantly, Terrence Jones, that they need to remain focused on getting better. If you remember, Cal said earlier this summer that he wants Jones to make a Derrick Williams-like leap in his sophomore season. In their brief relationship, Calipari has not been shy about issuing challenges to Jones and I think this public declaration serves as yet another motivational ploy for Jones. On another level, I still think there’s a very real possibility that Doron Lamb comes off the bench again as a scoring threat and a guy that can play a few minutes at point guard. Having him be the sixth man again seems to give the Cats more versatility to change their matchups. If that does end up being Calipari’s plan, what better way to help Lamb realize that he’s committed to helping him get to the NBA and remind him that the starting five is irrelevant than by supporting him publicly as the team’s best player?
– And while Lamb might be the Cats’ best player, it seems like everyone on the roster has treated this summer as an opportunity to improve themselves individually and make a push toward a national championship. We talked right after the Final Four about how this offseason was going to present a number of unique opportunities for everyone on the roster to make a leap forward by the time Madness rolls around and it all seems to be coming together. Eloy Vargas played well in China and is now taking a shot at making the Dominican team and, at the very least, improving himself by playing with Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva. Darius Miller is headed to China. Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Miller and Michael Gilchrist were all invited to the various positional skill camps and Marquis Teague and Ryan Harrow shined at the adidas Nations week as counselors. Add all of this onto the regular pickup games, which are as high on talent as they’ve ever been, and the handful of locked-out NBA players back in town and it seems like this summer has created a unique opportunity for this insanely gifted group of kids to be more prepared for the regular season than any team has in recent memory. If the Cats are able to win a championship this season, we very well might look back to this summer as a major reason why they were able to climb to that level.
– Speaking of the adidas Nations, the event came to an end Monday night with a couple of televised games on CBS College Sports. The 2012 Blue team, whic featured Andre Drummond, Shabazz Muhammad and Purvis emerged as champions, but the entire event gave Kentucky fans a glimpse into what could be the future. One team featured a starting frontcourt of Kaleb Tarczewski and DaJuan Coleman (yes please!). I could tell you more, but I’d have to kill you. You can watch them this week on CBS College Sports. And while there’s no sign of Szczerbiak’s dad, the Satch Sullinger Threat Level has been raised to red.
– One name that seemed to be off of Kentucky’s 2012 radar entered the mix again Monday as four-star shooting guard Torian Graham de-committed from North Carolina State. Before he gave his verbal to the Wolfpack in May, Kentucky was keeping tabs on the Word of God (now Arlington Country Day) star and he said that he hopes the Cats will again come calling. With Kentucky focused on Archie Goodwin and Ricardo Ledo at the shooting guard position, an offer might not be in his immediate future, but you can expect the Cats to again be feeling him out and staying on him. It will be interesting to see if Graham’s status has any effect on the recruitment of Rodney Purvis. Graham has repeatedly said that he’d like to lure Purvis, who trimmed his list to Duke, NC State and Missouri in June, into playing with him in college.
– On a somewhat related note, if you didn’t see Sports Illustrated’s study of the commitment habits of top-100 players, you should definitely check it out. Luke Winn gives a very good look into what type of players decommit and transfer and what types of reasons play into it. It’s a pretty interesting read.
– Finally, the UK football team will go full pads Tuesday football after what Joker Phillips called a good practice Monday. Joker told UK Athletics’s blog that he is giving the team a phrase to commit to every day and Monday’s was “totally focused”. Considering the new responsibilities on defense and the handful of new starters on offense, that should most likely be what the team commits itself to for the entire season. If you haven’t read Matt’s takeaways from his weekend at UK’s football events, make sure you do so below. He talks a little about Rick Minter, who is pretty much the hottest name around the program right now and the guy that everyone thinks could end up being an exceptional pickup for the program. Everyone who has spent any time with Minter comes away feeling that he’s a guy who truly believes in what he is doing and brings the right type of mentality and creativity to a Kentucky defense that needs a little life breathed into it after last season.
That’s it for now. Make sure you stick around all day for the party that begins with Matt Jones on Kentucky Sports Radio at 10am on Talk Radio 1080. In the meantime, let’s make a few phone calls and get the 2011 University of Louisville quarterbacks, which are apparently being coached by our friend Sam McMurray, some shirts that fit. And maybe even a couple of smiles.
See you in a few…