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It almost feels criminal to lead off with news of two football commitments in the middle of December, but that’s where we are these days with the buzz around the football program and the silence from the basketball team as they endure Camp Cal 2012. On Wednesday, Mark Stoops landed his first two commitments since taking over at Kentucky: two highly sought after junior college prospects who will be able to come in and compete right away. The first is Steven Borden, the tight end from Kilgore College in Texas and, more notably, the son of Sting. A commitment from Borden was expected this week after he said UK was No. 1 on his list following a visit to Lexington last weekend.
Stoops spoke about Borden in a press conference Wednesday afternoon, saying an upgrade at the tight end position was a priority. “We felt like we needed to go out and address the tight end situation and bring somebody in,” Stoops told reporters in his first press conference from the Wildcat Den. “As we started looking at junior college tight ends, obviously Steven jumped right up at the front of the list because coach Brown was recruiting him at Texas Tech, so they were already familiar with him. Once Neal brought him to the table, we were able to watch film on him. I loved him and felt like it was a need and felt like he was a versatile player, so we are very excited to bring Steven into the program.”
The second commitment of the afternoon came as a surprise to Big Blue Nation, as it was a name we weren’t familiar with prior to the news of his signing. Za’Darius Smith, a defensive end from East Mississippi Community College, signed his scholarship papers to play at the University of Kentucky on Wednesday morning, the first day of the junior college signing period for college football. Smith is a 4-star prospect and the second-ranked junior college defensive end in the country, according to ESPN’s JUCO 100. He had offers from Miami, Florida State, Texas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and West Virginia, among others. (That sounds much better than: “He had offers from Troy, Middle Tennessee State, Miami (Oh) and interest from Mississippi — what we’re used to hearing.)
“This is a unique situation to be able to land a player like Za’Daruis in a short amount of time,” Stoops told reporters on Wednesday. “We had two weeks to recruit him, he was out of official visits, so (defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh) and I flew there to see his mother and him at Greenville. Again, he was back on break and he didn’t have a visit.”
Smith used up his five official visits on Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, West Virginia, and, most recently, Texas on December 7. Therefore he committed to Kentucky without visiting Lexington, but his relationships with the UK staff and the potential to play immediately were enough to make up his mind.
“Obviously, the relationship Za’Darius had with coach Jimmy Brumbaugh and with coach (D.J.) Eliot and with myself helped. Coach Eliot and I were recruiting him at Florida State and Jimmy (Brumbaugh) coached him, so relationships were a big thing with that,” he said. “It is very rare, but I could not be more excited. It was a great need for us. Here is a player that has tremendous physical gifts, 6’5”, maybe 6’6”, 250, and a tremendous player. He is an every-down guy, could be great against the run, great pass rusher and just an impact type of guy.”
He said Smith’s signing sets the tone and set the precedents for the new Kentucky football. It shows other elite prospects that it’s okay to sign with Kentucky.
Stoops also suggested that he’s told some of UK’s current signees in the 2013 class to look elsewhere. He said has talked to every recruit from the previous staff, and told some that it would be in their best interest to explore other opportunities. “I don’t think you want a player that you’re going to sign come in here and be unhappy if he doesn’t fit the system and have to sit out for four or five years,” he said. “That wouldn’t be the right thing to do to those players, so we’ve addressed all of those.”
In basketball recruiting news, Dakari Johnson took a page from Nerlens Noel’s book and trimmed his list down to Kentucky, Georgetown and Syracuse. He had previously been considering Kansas, Ohio State, and Florida. Johnson told reporters at the City of Palms Classic in Florida that he has a great relationship with John Calipari, he admires the Kentucky program, and has many close friends in Lexington. Still, Rivals.com’s Jerry Meyer is hesitant to call Kentucky the leader and said Johnson would be a better fit at one of the other two schools. Meyer thinks it will take Johnson a year or two to become an impact player, comparing his athleticism to Randolph Morris but in a thinner frame. He said UK signee Marcus Lee is more of the Davis/Noel mold that John Calipari likes; he’s more athletic than Dakari Johnson and plays higher above the rim.
I had to take down the video of Andrew Wiggins from Boyd County because it was stuck on Auto-Play, but it’s still worth checking out if you don’t mind leaving KentuckySportsRadio.com for a minute or two. Just make sure you come right back, please.
Don’t forget: Going Big, the ESPN documentary on Sam Bowie premieres Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. on ESPN. The one-hour program, part of the SEC Storied series, chronicles Sam Bowie’s trying career, which was plagued by injuries in college and the NBA and overshadowed by his draft placement ahead of Michael Jordan. It’s already made news recently for some of the quotes from Bowie, including one where he admits to lying to the Portland Trailblazers about his leg pain in order to protect his draft stock. It should be a great documentary, especially for Kentucky fans.
With 25 points & 12 rebounds Wednesday night, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist joins LeBron James as the only two players in NBA history to post 25 and 12 twice before their 20th birthday.
I miss him so much.
Also on Thursday’s schedule: new Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown will make a guest appearance on Kentucky Sports Radio radio in the morning with Matt Jones to discuss Air Raid 2.0 and his return home to the Bluegrass. Be sure to tune in and we’ll post the podcast as soon as we can for those of you who can’t catch it live.
The Salvation Army has launched a True Blue Online Red Kettle Campaign to help local people in need this holiday season. Coach Cal is participating in the fundraiser and has donated a signed piece of the Final Four floor to be awarded to the largest donor. All donors will be entered in a drawing for prizes including, UK basketball tickets, a basketball signed by Coach Cal, UK/UL football tickets, a Keeneland box for a day during the 2013 spring meet, UK sweatshirts, Kentucky Corner gift certificates, Malone’s gift certificate and a catered dinner by Selma’s Catering in the winner’s home. For more information go to http://www.onlineredkettle.org/TrueBlue.
And if you’re one of the people who like to have a little fun while helping others, the DeerPack and Lexington Tin Roof will be hosting a Christmas party this Friday to raise money and collect toys for children in need. Show up dressed in your favorite Christmas attire with a $10 donation or a new, unopened toy or a gift card to a local eatery. The donations and a generous portion of Tin Roof’s food sales that night will go to the kids at the UK Children’s Hospital.
That’ll do it for now. We’ll see you back here bright and early Thursday morning for the Neal Brown interview, more from Mark Stoops, and Tomlin gets you ready for the end of the world.