The Olympics are well under way and if you are like me, you spent a good part of your weekend watching events that you never would have imagined you cared about. There have been a number of storylines over the weekend, ranging from the delayed television coverage, to Team USA’s basketball start to the British slightly stumbling out of the gate. But it is clear that the most compelling figure of the first two days of the Olympics is Ryan Lochte. If you saw the profile of Lochte on NBC (oddly enough, done by John McEnroe), you know that he prides himself in training harder than anyone and utilizing a crazy workout routine. He lifts 675 pounds tires, massive chain links and throws kegs in the air like this is the World’s Strongest Man Contest. And at the Olympics, he has utilized those skills to have both the best, and the worst, performances thus far. His takedown of Michael Phelps in the 400 IM was the biggest moment of the Olympics so far, giving him his “climb the mountaintop” moment that he couldn’t get in Beijing. But then he also had a dreadful Sunday, losing the lead for the US in the 4×100 meter medley to, of all people, a Frenchman. It was a shocking and disappointing choke job and one that led to a loss in the event that produced the best finish of the 2008 Games. So how does Lochte finish now? Do we see the Ryan Lochte from Saturday night that looked like a worldbeater? Or do we see the Sunday night version that looked like Adam Scott? Either way, he is the most compelling story so far in a Games that besides him has given me little but constant badminton.
To the news:
TICKET SALE RAMIFICATIONS: The biggest, and most important, story for UK Athletics of the past week was the announcement of the 27% reduction in season ticket sales this year. The amount of non-renewals for UK football is absolutely staggering and no matter what anyone tells you, represents a huge hit to the program. UK football is the driving economic force for all UK sports and if the situation does not turn around, it cannot help but have an impact on the UK Athletic situation as a whole. Some of the hit has been remedied by the 3 and 4 game plans (which I am told have been very successful) and the likelihood that many will buy tickets on the day of games. But the reality is that the feeling we were all getting during the offseason, mainly that a huge negative cloud sits around UK football for most of the fanbase, was confirmed by the news on Thursday. It cannot just be said that a few disgruntled media personalities or websites are producing negativity that is obscuring most fans’ opinions. Rather it is clear now that this talk is simply a reflection of a fanbase that while not lost, is slipping quickly.
JOKER FIGHTS BACK So what can be done about that? Well as we said on Friday’s radio show, Joker Phillips has to try to affirmatively win over the fans. And by all indications, Joker has set out to mount a PR campaign to win back the UK faithful. It started on Friday with an impassioned plea to those attending the UK football luncheon that the fans have to get behind this team to help move it forward. Joker made the very real (and correct) point that the fanbase is the primary selling point for UK football. If they lose them, there is little to pitch to incoming recruits or even, future coaches. He then took to Twitter with his account that was growing cobwebs this summer and live tweeted the UK Women’s Clinic and the Players’ Cornhole Tournament, both events designed to try to give the team personality and make the players part of what drives the fans to the game. This weekend has been a very good start at saving what I think has otherwise been a pretty terrible summer for Joker Phillips. As I said on Friday, there has to be a realization that he has lost a lot of fans and HE, not great spokesmen like Jeremy Jarmon or Andre Woodson, must win them back. At least this weekend we are seeing some good first steps.
UK CHANGES 2013 RECRUITING GEARS: I loved the story that came out late last week about John Calipari not making the trip to Atlantic City to see Andrew Wiggins’ team play an AAU Tournament. Calipari knew that his team had pulled out, while Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton (the primary competition for Wiggins) was there by mistake. It just showcased to me once again how on top of everything Calipari is when it comes to recruiting. And as further proof, the news comes that Xavier Rathan-Mayes is now firmly on UK’s radar screen. Rathan-Mayes was the revelation of the Peach Jam for me as I watched him outshoot Duke commitment Matt Jones (who not only has a great name but is likely the best shooter in America) in one game and carry his team in another in front of Calipari. After one coach told me, “Xavier would give his right arm to go to Kentucky”, I wondered if Calipari would see what I did and notice the kid’s rising stock. Clearly he did. Now the question is whether Rathan-Mayes gets an offer and how his status affects a player like James Young. I was certain Young would be a Cat, but his performance at the Peach Jam left us a bit unenthused and then right after he mentioned he would wait until the Spring to decide. Is Kentucky now possibly shifting its shooter priorities? We shall see.
JOHN CALIPARI SAYS WE ARE YOUNG: Calipari talked to Andy Katz this weekend about next year’s team and was quick to try and damped expectations going into the season. Unlike last year, when Calipari knew he had a good team and his comments suggested that he wanted the pressure and notoriety, Calipari was quick to say, “we may start three or even four Freshmen…so it is going to be a much slower process.” If last year’s team was a better replica of the 2010 group, this team is a lot like the 2011 collection. I expect struggles at the beginning of the year as the team tries to find their way and adjust to a lineup that has only one returning player who has ever contributed any meaningful minutes. The good news? College basketball sucks next year with the preseason’s two best teams (Indiana and Louisville) both obviously beatable. Six teams from last year (Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Ohio State, Syracuse and Michigan State) would enter this season as the #1 team in America. College basketball was up last season and down this year, so this collection of UK talent can compete, even though it isn’t quite the group UK had on the court last year.
ANTHONY DAVIS IN LONDON: Finally, I am not sure about you, but I love watching Anthony Davis not only play, but grow up in London right now. It is almost like a proud parent, or big brother from afar situation, as we see someone that less than a year ago was just a graduated high school player in Chicago, now playing on the world stage. Every time I hear an announcer talk about his future, watch his teammates give him love or see him hug the First Lady, I am happy that he is a part of Big Blue Nation. Two stories from today certified that feeling. The first was Doug Collins, announcing the game and noting that Davis had the respect of his teammates, as he said they believe he was “one of the guys.” The second was Kobe Bryant’s quote that he is talking Davis under his wings and wants to teach him everything he knows. Collins said Davis came in, shut his mouth and tried to learn and as such, he is having the experience of a lifetime. Watching him from afar makes me proud, as I know he is a good kid who is doing well. He is one of us, and his success feels like even more Big Blue Nation success too.
Our last day in studio in Louisville for radio over the next three weeks is tomorrow. We get started at 10 am, so tune in and check us out….until then, the tour stops:
Tues, July 31: Glasgow Glasgow Country Club
Wed Aug 1: Morgantown Farm Boy Restaurant
Thur Aug 2: Bowling Green Old Stone Golf Course
Fri Aug 3: UK MEDIA DAY
Mon Aug 6: Columbia Burger King
Tues Aug 7: Morganfield Verlie’s Restaurant
Wed Aug 8: Madisonville Hudson Toyota Chrysler
Thur Aug 9: Monticello Conley Bottom Resort
Fri Aug 10: Jamestown Jamestown TV Station
Mon Aug 13: Paintsville TBA
Tues Aug 14:Somerset Gatti’s Pizza
Wed Aug 15: Lexington TBA
Thur Aug 16:Middlesboro Cracker Barrel
Fri Aug 17: West Liberty