Good morning and thanks for stopping by for the first Monday News and Views of 2011. A day of BTI posts aside, this new year is starting off on the right foot thanks to a toasting of the birds at the Chicken Shack on Friday and the potential for continued improvement in year’s early months. Before we get started on setting the table of the the first week of 2011, let’s first pause and close the book on the NFL regular season and give a brief shout-out to Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, the final Beisner Man Crush of 2010. Freeman finished a break-out second season by leading the Bucs to a victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, which was, incredibly, their 10th of the season and their last, as the Bears and Redskins couldn’t finish their end of the bargain and push Tampa Bay into the playoffs. Freeman finished the year just shy of 3,500 yards passing and an impressive touchdown to interception ratio despite having nearly no offensive weapons at his disposal, but did it in anonymity thanks to the Bucs’ lack of national interest and blackouts at home. Freeman’s impressive talents, as well as his knack for the comeback has turned me from a complete Bucs hater to a Bucs hater who likes Josh Freeman. I’d suggest you spend next year taking in at least a few of his games. At only 22 years old, he’s the NFL’s best young quarterback. And you won’t convince me otherwise.
Now onto a few notes…
– As we get further removed from The Beatdown at The Bucket, the hottest story hitting the net is the postgame fury over the prevalent Kentucky presence in the Yum! Center crowd. It seems as if every media outlet has talked about it, though it all seems sourced from the same Drew Deener radio comment that he’s heard that U of L officials are looking at shots of the crowd to determine which fans sold their tickets to UK fans. It’s nothing new, as UK fans have been taking up prime spots at every venue in which the Cats have played, but it’s the second time this year (the first being when the “Free Enes” shirt popped up behind broadcasters earlier in the year) that Cardinal fans have lost their minds on the subject. Some blame the corporate sponsors, who give away the seats on a game-by-game basis and some blame it on the individual fans who own the seats. But, the bottom line is the same as its been for the existence of both programs. Kentucky has the best fans in the nation. They will spend the money to get into the building to see their team whether its at the Yum! Center or Madison Square Garden or an ice skating rink in Nelson County (do they have those?). A $240 million building is not going to change that. It’s just another example of Louisville not being Kentucky and any efforts by the administration to change that or punish those who gave away the seats just looks foolish. Such a little brother move.
– We’re three days now removed from that win and another game is on tap for tonight (it’s against Penn), but the happiness for Josh Harrellson’s strong performance has still not subsided. Harrellson and his 23 points and 14 rebounds, which was good for the first annual MVP award given out by the Bluegrass Sports Commission, was a giant exclamation point on the incredible turnaround he’s had this season. In meeting with the media Sunday, Jorts attributed the increased production to improved conditioning and getting his confidence back (more on that in a second) in his first season as a starter. He acknowledged the outpouring of praise from UK fans and thanked them for what he called “sticking it out” and for “having his back through thick and thin”. We’ve said this before, but he’s been a fan favorite for a lot of reasons, but the connection he’s seemed to have with the fans since arriving under Clyde is one of them. He played himself into a historic place on Friday and he then took time to thank the fans. That’s why we love Josh. Well deserved. That being said, there’s a lot of basketball left to be played and he’s a very important piece to getting this team to where they need to be. It feels nice to be able to say comfortably that this success seems to be here for the duration.
– Along that same note, it’s important to point out that three of the biggest reasons Kentucky won on Friday were the performances of Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller, all Billy Gillispie recruits. But, more importantly, they were all Billy Gillispie science experiments gone bad as Harrellson spent time in the crapper, both literally and figuratively, Liggins was essentially cast-off and even quit at one point and Miller went from star recruit to victim of a million mind games. You can say with little doubt that had Gillispie remained as coach, these three guys would not only not be performing the way they have, but there’s a possibility that they wouldn’t even be around. The growth of all three – Harrellson and Liggins primarily – is a testament to the coaching the Coach Cal does off the court. He seems to have finally repaired the fractured confidence of Harrellson and Liggins and Miller took a huge step in the first half Friday. It’s not something that shows up in a stat sheet or get Coach Cal all suited up at an All-American or Player of the Year ceremony, but it’s one of the most important reasons for this team’s growth.
– On a different note, I’d like to welcome you all to Season 3 of “As the Enes turns…”. Season 2 ended with a cliffhanger as NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynnen said there would be no ruling until 2011 and Kentucky’s filing a review of new information remained undecided. What will the new season bring? New guest co-stars? A new, twisted plotline? Stay tuned…
– In another long, winding storyling, the world of college basketball recruiting continues to await the decision of DeAndre Daniels. It was reported on Friday that Daniels would chat with his family over the weekend and then make a decision at the start of the week. But, a number of Twitter-based rumors kept UK fans (and KU fans and Texas fans) glued to the internet over a holiday weekend. No one seems to know what the final decision will be, but it appears to be coming soon. Evan Daniels remains firm in his belief that Daniels will not play this season. We shall see.
– In other recruiting news, Clint Jackson of Rivals said that he’s had two people tell him this week that UK has “surged” for Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad, as I’m sure you know, is a five-star shooting guard in the 2012 class and ranks as Rivals’ #3 overall player. Jason Jordan of ESPN reported a couple of weeks ago that Muhammad and Rodney Purvis would visit UK together, but I’m assuming that’s not the case now. Since, you know, Purvis committed to Louisville. Muhammad has hinted in the past at possibly playing with fellow five-star shooting guard Archie Goodwin, who was unable to make his visit to UK this past weekend.
– Good news for those of you looking to get into the game tonight. Tickets are still available for the Penn game through ticketmaster. They are student tickets. So, again, party like you’re 19 again.
– The UK football team held their final practice in Lexington Sunday and will head to Birmingham Monday for the BBVA Compass Bowl. Phillips said the team had good energy in the session and said that he expects Pitt to be ready to play in their final game for Dave Wannstedt. He referenced how Maryland played for out-going coach Ralph Friedgen and said he expects the Panthers to be “tough, aggressive and physical in running the ball”. We usually do well with that.
– On a football recruiting note, three-star running back Marcus Caffey committed to Purdue. Caffey visited UK a few weeks ago and, with the addition of Josh Clemons, doesn’t become a huge loss. Just a note sandwiched between a bullet about the bowl and some props for Morehead.
– In a very important note in the world of the transitive property of sports. Morehead beat College of Charleston by 20 points. College of Charleston beat Tennessee Friday. Obviously, Morehead could finish second in the SEC. Honestly, they might be able to.
– Also, Obama. There. I said it.
– On a final Title IX note, it’s a big week for UK women’s basketball team. They will travel to #3 Duke Tuesday for an ESPNU game and then to #25 Arkansas on Thursday. Matthew Mitchell’s team is currently ranked 11th.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for a big day around here as we start a very busy week off right with Kentucky Sports Radio at 10am on 1080 AM. It’s going to be a fun day to be a Cats fan. In the meantime, try to figure out how you spent so much time out on New Year’s Eve and still never found a way to party with this guy.
See you in a few…