Good morning, fine KSR readers, and welcome to your Friday News and Views. This edition will be jam-packed full of recruiting goodness as we look toward UK’s future, so it’s only fitting that we get things kicked off by closing out this past season with a shout-out to the NBA Draft early entries, who must withdraw by tomorrow if they choose to return to school. Kentucky’s four super-freshmen and the rock-solid Patrick Patterson will remain available for selection in June, meaning it’s time to turn your focus to those that didn’t wear the UK jersey. The decisions of Mississippi State’s Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson could affect the power of the SEC next year and the decisions of AJ Ogilvy, Courtney Fortson and even Alex Tyus might bear watching. But, despite the sexy appeal of the SEC early entry candidates, it’s Butler star Gordon Hayward who has me passionately affixed to this keyboard this evening. You remember Hayward, right? He was the de facto face of America’s tournament darling and the go-to story for every lazy sportswriter in the country, who anointed him as the shining example of the true example of the “student-athlete”, one of the rare players who cared about his education and wasn’t just treating college as a stop for the NBA.
But, there’s an interesting twist.
According to multiple reports, Hayward is widely expected to keep his name in the NBA Draft, leaving mighty Butler after only two seasons and, presumably, not enrolling as a full-time student next year. So, I ask you, lazy sportswriters, is Gordon Hayward now a villainous symbol of all that’s wrong with college basketaball? Of course not, he’s one smart S.O.B. and so is every other player who is set to cash a professional basketball (not just NBA) check instead of hanging a community studies diploma on the wall.
The thing that irritated me the most during the tournament wasn’t the magnification of every four-year player’s accomplishments. It was the notion that these guys were still in school because they were taking some moral stand against early entries by not going pro. The fact of the matter is, there is not a single player in college basketball who doesn’t dream of earning an NBA paycheck and I can promise you that if Willie Veasley or Ali Farokhmanesh had the chance to go pro, they would. The notion that the guys who are blessed enough to live out that dream (i.e. Kentucky’s freshmen) are bad guys or any different from every other teenager who has picked up a basketball, is completely ridiculous. With Hayward’s declaration, it further proves the brainless nature of all of those lazy stories and provides a little vindication for Kentucky’s talented youngsters who were unfairly cast as heels by so many of the nation’s media members this spring.
But, on that note, while I can certainly understand the frustration of fans who watch star players leave their team before their eligibility expires, I don’t understand the out-right anger that so many fans – and media members especially – have for the guys who chase their dreams. The way I’ve always looked at it is like this. If Sports Illustrated approached me after my freshman year at UK and offered me a six or seven-figure check and an opportunity to live out a dream, I would have been out faster than Matt Jones in a beauty pageant. Everyone goes to college to prepare themselves for a career. For these guys, it just happens to be a professional basketball career and, if they’re highly attractive commodities in their chosen field after a few months, then God bless them. We should all be so lucky. So, keep that in mind the next time someone tells you that Eric Bledsoe or Daniel Orton are making a huge mistake. There’s not a person reading this that wouldn’t do the same thing. And, if you would, you’re either an idiot or a liar.
Now, I’ll step down from my pulpit and get to some UK news…
– The big recruiting story was the news that Georgia’s Mr. Basketball, Marcus Thornton, has removed UK from his list of potential destinations without taking his visit. Thornton, who is now ranked as a four-star player by Rivals, was viewed as the fall-back plan for not landing Terrence Jones and now, with him out of the fold, leaves Kentucky with Enes Kanter, Josh Harrellson and a lot of wing players. Kentucky was extremely fortunate to have NBA-like depth in the frontcourt this season, but it limited the ability to run Calipari’s dribble-drive for most of the season. On the bright side, the motion offense that Cal made famous will likely make it’s first real debut this coming season, but, on the other hand, Kentucky is painfully thin inside now. There are plenty of scholarship available and you’d have to assume that Calipari is going to have to soften a bit on his plan to not just offer scholarships to hand them out and start targeting players who would not normally be UK targets. It’s not a major crisis. Yet. But, make no mistake about it, the Cats need at least one more big body.
– On a positive note, thanks to Evan Daniels, a name emerged shortly after the Thornton news as that possible big man. According to Daniels, Remi Debo, a 6’8″ power forward from West Virginia is now a target of Calipari and crew. The big man made a visit to UK two weeks ago and, though he’s not on anyone’s All-American list, he would provide that additional big body that the Cats so desperately need. However, the schools named in various stories as pushing for his services are Drexel, Duquesne, St. Bonaventure, Wyoming, Nevada and Eastern Kentucky, so it’s I won’t blame you if you don’t get too excited. However, it does leave open the possibility for a number of profanity-laced Friday references, so it can’t be all that bad.
– While we’re talking about the sky falling, Chicken Little, Rivals released their new team rankings for the 2010 classes and UK has the #2 class. So, it’s not all bad, right? Memphis checks in at the top of the list and Tennessee (#9), Florida (#19), South Carolina (#22) and LSU (#24) represented the SEC.
– Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. Terrence Jones. There. That’s taken care of.
– In the coming weeks, after the draft deadline passes, Kentucky’s NBA-bound players will start their workouts, which means the internet will be flooded with little goofy interviews on NBA sites and Zapruder-like clips of one-on-one matchups. The thing I’ll be watching for the most, though, is how DeMarcus Cousins is viewed by NBA scouts. I’ve often thought that Cousins gets unfairly labeled as a head case or problem child when his issue is really with immaturity (not abnormal for a teenager) and focus. I think that in his individiual workouts and interviews, NBA teams find him to be engaging and appealing rather than off-putting. Over at ESPN on Thursday, Henry Abbot summed up some of my same thoughts on his True Hoops blog, saying he’d put Cousins at the top of his list if he were drafting a team until it was revealed that he actually had some serious issues, rather than just rumors of them existing. I still think Boogie is going to make a very good pro.
– We mentioned this earlier amid a handful of Louisville jokes, but Antoine Walker is prepping for an NBA comeback by working out at Louisville with Rick Pitino and his team. As much as we dog on Pitino, he has been very good to his former UK players and it’s an admirable thing he’s doing by helping a troubled former player get back on his feet. Hopefully, Antoine can make the most of it and get back in the League for another year or two for not only the paycheck, but for some personal redemption.
– Earlier on Thursday, the Card Chronicle tweeted that there was bad news coming for Louisville basketball, but none appeared to develop. Will something break on Thursday? I’m not sure. But, it’s not really Mike Rutherford’s thing to make statements like that, so it bears watching. Maybe something happens on Friday.
– This isn’t UK related, but it’s still a bit interesting. Especially if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you did the same. Apparently a former high school basketball player in Florida enrolled in a high school in Texas as a 22 year-old with a new name and a fake birth certificate saying he was 16. And then he got caught. Interesting subplot: if they find out he was “laying” in the biblical sense with his fellow high school students, it could get very ugly for him very fast.
– I don’t know if Lawrence Taylor is guilty or innocent. But, I do know I want to punch his lawyer in the face. That guy can’t be helping his case, can he?
– As a final note, former UK media relations director Scott Stricklin will be named athletic director at Mississippi State tomorrow. Stricklin, who I’ve heard was very kind to this site in its early days, was always very polite and accommodating to me when I was writing stuff for the Kernel or looking for media passes or access for a random website called Hoopville.com. Congratulations to him on a great opportunity.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned throughout the day for more recruiting buzz, NBA Draft early entry news and a heavy dose of Matt Jones as I spend the day taking little Boogie Beisner to his doctor appointments. It’s going to be a great day. I hope you’ll join us. See you in a few…