I consider myself to be a young person. Even though I have passed the age of 30, partially due to my job (in which it is very hard to feel like an adult) and partially due to the company I keep (a collection of relatively immature people), I rarely if ever feel that I am aging at the rate that I actually am. But then occasionally, certain tidbits of information cannot help but make me feel old. One was my realization this year that the incoming Freshmen at UK were each born in 1994…two years into the Clinton presidency. The notion that these players were all conceived after the Christian Laettner hit his devastating shot in Philly is almost more than I can process. Similarly, age hit me again tonight when I realized that former “Jerry McGuire” actor Jonathan Lipnicki is turning 22 years old today. You may remember Lipnicki from the movie, due to his spiky, Gary Parrish-esque hair and his tendency to say “oh so cute” lines at an alarmingly high rate. And if you do, you probably don’t think it was that long ago. But time is catching up on us people. Back then Renee Zellweger was hot, Cuba Gooding was a star and Tom Cruise was considered normal. Now, none of those are true and Lipnicki is a full-on grown-up. I tried to search the internet to see what he is doing now and it mostly seems to be “B” level movies and taking his shirt off. So while he might not be a star now, he once was and to think that little person is now old enough to be a veteran on a Calipari-coached team…well it is a little mind-blowing.
To the news:
— It is time for the beginning of actual games, as the Blue-White game takes place this Wednesday and we get ready for the best time of the year, college basketball season. The unknowns about this Kentucky team are as great as any in the history of the program. As Calipari has reminded us often, there is not one player on this team that has ever started a game for the Blue and White. That is an insane fact and one that is hard to imagine. But it is reality for this group and one that we all need to expect. My hope is that fans temper their expectations dramatically with this team. When the season starts, it will be the weakest of all the groups that Calipari has had at Kentucky. As the year progresses, it has the potential to develop into a national title contender, but the road to get there is going to be long and arduous. How this team will score, defend and even the system that it will run, is still up in the air and the coaching staff is having to fill a great deal of time trying to understand what they have. We will learn much more about the team this week, but much of what we learn could make some folks nervous. But just sit back and enjoy it…this is a team that will grow before your eyes, but its initial height may be much lower than you currently imagine.
— The college basketball landscape that this team will face is starting to shape up after another weekend of kickoff festivities. The team that I think is the best in the land (as much as I hate to say it, Indiana) got started in Bloomington with its “Hoosier Hysteria” and the Indiana fans (a pretty difficult lot to like in general) are at a fever pitch. Here in the city where I reside, Louisville fans are already hanging their third banner with a nervous optimism that is kind of amusing to see. The Cardinal fans know that if Rick Pitino does not win it this year, he will never win it in Louisville. The Cardinals have 11 players who can play and while watching them today it occurred to me that it could genuinely be said that they have “two of everything.” While I don’t think he is their best player, Peyton Siva is their most important. But he is not elite, and neither is anyone else on the Louisville roster. Thus this Louisville team will be a test of the old idea that you can win with lots of good, but no great, pieces. I am not sure that is possible anymore but this year we will find out. And whatever occurs with either IU or UL, we should pay attention for this reason. If these are the two best teams in the land as many believe, then a Kentucky team that can compete with them can compete with anyone. And by the end of the year, I think the Cats will be right there knocking on the Hoosier and Cardinal doorsteps.
— I am going to be honest here for a second. When I left my house to go to the rather cold Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night, this was my attitude on the drive:
However while at the game, I ended up as pleased with the UK performance as in any game this season. A team that is decimated by a lethal combination of inexperience, injuries and negativity has rallied around itself and produced a solid game on Saturday night. The Cats came in as a 27 point underdog, but played toe to to with Georgia and gave them everything they could handle until the final moments. In the end, the Kentucky secondary simply had no answer for Georgia’s passing attack and the injury to Jalen Whitlow, which left him out of the game during the third quarter, prevented Kentucky from putting enough points up to win the game, However three positives emerged from the proceedings:
Young Talent: Kentucky will have the players next year to be competitive. The young receivers, Linebackers and Secondary are each improving every week and are setting a foundation that will make the team potentially quite good next year. If this team is going to go South, having young players get important reps in the process, is a good the best possible option.
Jalen Whitlow: While we have no idea what will happen next year at Quarterback with Max Smith and Patrick Towles returning, we do know this…Whitlow can play. He is a great athlete who is elusive in his runs and seems to make good decisions. Is he a future star SEC Quarterback? I don’t know. Will he even stay at Quarterback during his entire UK career? I don’t know. But I do know he has signs to be a great player in some form for the Cats…and that is a positive.
Fans: It wasn’t a great crowd that showed up in Commonwealth. That we know. But the ones that did come, made noise and helped make the environment exciting. Clearly a lot of UK football fans have given up on the team this year, but more importantly, a lot have not. And it was good to see those people out on Saturday, pulling as hard as possible for a UK win.
— With all of that said, I don’t think the big picture has changed. Absent a tremendous finish (4-0 or maybe 3-1), Joker Phillips likely won’t be the coach next season. You judge a program and coach on his overall body of work. That simply hasn’t been acceptable this year. The last four games could conceivably change that…but it hasn’t been changed just yet.
Tomorrow we start another week on the radio by recapping the game and picking the contestants for the KSR Dating Game. It should be much fun so tune in and join us.