picture by Victoria Graff
Rupp Arena was a special place to be on Saturday, as Rupp Arena produced one of its best atmospheres of the year. The crowd was lively, the Cats played relatively well and the Firecrackers performed (always a fan favorite). But the most touching moment and the one that caused Rupp to get a bit dusty was when a true American hero, Matt Bradford, was introduced to the crowd. Bradford is a Marine who was wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb that cost him both of his legs and his eyesight. While lucky to survive the attack, Bradford did not allow the difficulty to ruin his productivity and he made history when he re-enlisted into the Marines following the attack. His story has gotten a great deal of attention over the years, and his strength has proven to be an inspiration for many. And on Saturday, the Winchester, Ky native got to fulfill one of his dreams, and be introduced to the Rupp Arena crowd. All those in attendance will remember the moment as everyone, including fans, media and even the officials, stopped what they were doing to give Bradford a standing ovation. I was moved by his appearance in all UK gear, but became even more so at halftime when I was able to meet Matt. He told me that he listened to KSR every day in Lexington and that he looked forward to 10 am every morning to hear us “do our thing.” Matt told me that he is interested in broadcasting and is currently attending college classes pursuing his degree. It was an inspiring, and humbling, moment for me to realize that we are able to entertain, in some small way, as heroic an individual at Matt. Meeting him was the highlight of my weekend and I encourage you to watch the video below to learn more about Matt’s story and his proclamation on national television that he is a “Kentucky Wildcat.”
To the much more frivolous sports news of the weekend:
— Cats Set the Table for Florida by Dispatching Auburn
Nothing is easy with this group. It’s just the way it is. Even though the team is improving game by game, the same frustrations and deficiencies occur and that causes games to be closer and more tense than they should be. But I have learned to accept the situation of this version of the UK basketball team because even with the difficulties, Kentucky is still in a place to make some noise in March. On Saturday, we got another example as to why, with Kentucky winning a game in which none of its best players played particularly well, but the Cats were nevertheless able to get an important win. Auburn came in with one mindset…rough up the Cats and try to get them out of their game with physical play. And while that gameplan did keep the score close, Auburn never threatened to actually win the game. Kentucky matched the physicality at times and maintained their composure during a couple of highly questionable acts by Auburn players. Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Julius Mays all made important baskets at key moments and the Cats were able to keep a comfortable double digit margin through most of the second half. It wasn’t the prettiest performance in the world, but it was effective for a team that has one of its biggest games of the year Tuesday night. The Auburn game plan is one that was employed by Alabama in Tuscaloosa and will be seen many more times throughout the rest of the season. The Cats did make strides towards handling that gameplan more effectively, and for that, Saturday should be considered a success.
The 1978 team had their 35th reunion at the game on Saturday. Here is how the team looked in 1978 on the way to a national title:
And here they were on Saturday during their loud ovation:
— Jarrod Polson Cements His Role
Jarrod Polson played 20 minutes on Saturday, while Archie Goodwin only played 17. That says a lot about both players at this point, but more importantly showcases just how far the young man from Wilmore has come. When he first arrived, Polson was simply the boy band-looking, end of game-shooting victory cigar that was best known for inspiring the UK student section serenade him with never-ending “SHOOOOOOOOT” chants. But now, two years later, Polson has not only had his one shining moment (versus Maryland), he is also an important contributor to the team. He comes in and gives energy, ball-handling and isn’t afraid to take the ball to the basket. With the unfortunate Archie Goodwin point guard experiment over (remember when that was a thing?), Polson is now the team’s legitimate backup point guard and in certain situations (such as Saturday), when Goodwin isn’t’ playing well, he can be an effective backcourt mate with Ryan Harrow. I continue to be impressed with just how far he has come and how confident I am when he is in the game. He still struggles against defending elite guards, but the reality is that outside of Florida, there simply aren’t that many in the SEC. So when called upon, Polson can do his job and he has done it really effectively. If all of the rest of the team (some already do, but unfortunately not all) approached their time in the game with the same determination that Jarrod does, this team could hit its stride. There is still time and if Calipari’s comments after the game are any indication, Polson may be utilized as the model for the rest of the team going forward.
— UK Football Makes a Strong Impression
The two young men above are QB Drew Barker and WR Derek Kief, 2 of around 20 High School Juniors and Sophomores who visited Kentucky’s campus this weekend and took part in Mark Stoops’ first Junior Day. This is the first major step in creating the next UK football recruiting class and it is an event that UK is preparing to make huge in the years to come. Over the course of the next few days, we will give you info on a lot of those visitors and who some of the major targets are for next year. And throughout the weekend, many of the pay sites have interviewed a few of these players to get their reaction and it can best be summed up like this. People were REALLY impressed. Player after player spoke about what a great experience the weekend was and how much the UK coaching staff won them over throughout the process. This comment from elite 2015 RB Damien Harris of Berea (yes one of the best running backs in America in the Sophomore class lives in Berea) is indicative:
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) February 9, 2013
This is the reality. The new UK coaching staff is impressing EVERYONE they come in contact with, utilizing an approach to recruiting that is blowing people away. From explaining in detail how each player will be utilized to showcasing their revolutionary training and monitoring methods (more on this later in the week too). Kentucky’s recruiting class finished #27 in Rivals rankings and there may still be one or two more to come, but it wouldn’t shock me if the one next year does even better. It is a new Kentucky football mindset folks.
— Finally, a couple of quick things. I have never laughed harder during a game than during the UL-Notre Dame game. The poor Cards found every way imaginable to lose to a team that by the end of the game, looked like one in a church rec league. Yes, I know the Cats lost to both teams, and I understand that. But if you didn’t at least chuckle as Russ Smith missed six end-of-game heaves that were produced with virtually nothing resembling coaching, then you were either (a) a frustrated UL fan or (b) asleep.
Also, take a minute and read this story about former Dukie Jay Williams. It is a tremendous look at Williams’ life, where he went from a top athlete at the pinnacle of his craft, to someone who nearly had to have a leg amputated after a poor decision. Williams has struggled to talk about the accident in the past, but his openness now is quite refreshing. Jay has been on our show a few times and he is one of the good guys in the game. We wish him the best on his new television calling.
We get going with radio and a new week at 10 am in the morning. Come join us…