Thursday night, when you and I are settling in for the Knicks-Pacers game, the University of Kentucky’s men’s tennis team will be competing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats advanced to the round of 16 for the fourth consecutive season over the weekend, and now they’re going up against 9th-ranked Duke for a spot in the Elite Eight. The showdown is scheduled for approximately 8:00 p.m. ET Thursday night at the Adkins Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. I’d be going, if not for a prior commitment in Lexington.
UK men’s tennis is led in singles by No. 4-national seed and fifth-ranked Anthony Rossi, who has compiled a 23-5 record this season on the No. 1 singles court. The First Team All-SEC selection was one of two Wildcats honored with postseason awards, as junior Tom Jomby was also elected to the First Team All-SEC. Rossi has won five consecutive matches this season, with four of them coming against ranked opponents inside the ITA top 70. (UK)
If the Cats can #SurviveAndAdvance tomorrow night against the Blue Devils, they will make their second appearance in the Elite Eight in the last three seasons. When that happens, they will play the winner of the 1/16 match-up between UCLA and Vanderbilt for a trip to the Final Four.
And if you haven’t learned by now, KSR loves some UK tennis.
Good luck, guys.
John Calipari spoke to the local media on Wednesday for the first time since the end of the season and he had A LOT of things to say. In tonight’s night post we’ll run through the key points and noteworthy quotes of the 35-minute press conference for those of you who didn’t catch the video. It went like this…
The return of the alpha male.
Calipari expects to have at least two players next season who will be what he calls “alpha males.” Think Anthony Davis, John Wall, Brandon Knight or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Those are alpha males. Last season needed one, and it showed.
“What happens is, when you have multiple (alpha males), which we had on my team two years ago, different guys can lead at different points in the year,” he said. “There are times where a guy’s not playing well or he’s not into it, something happened, he’s sick. Well, he steps back and someone else steps forward. When you don’t have that alpha male at all, you have to do things to try to lead yourself as a coach, and your team never can have the kind of success you want.”
He pointed out that the 2012 team with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t have a single bad practice all season. Last year? About five GOOD practices.
Cal learned a lesson last season.
You have to have more than eight scholarship players. If he had to do it over again, they would’ve added a couple more guys.
Former players will be pushing this group hard.
You and I know what it’s like to have to answer to rival fan bases when Kentucky basketball is down, and it’s no different for the former players. The NBA locker room is like any other workplace and the players want to be proud of what’s going on back in Lexington when the discussion comes up.
“They’ll probably get on these guys that they don’t want to go through what last year meant to them,” Calipari said of the NBA players returning to Lexington for the summer. “They’re going to come back and probably challenge these guys. You have an obligation, the history and tradition of this place, understand what it means. That’ll be great for our guys coming back.”
Calipari also hinted at some stuff in the works with the NBA players that will “drive fans nuts.” It’ll be around the fantasy camp in September.
He also confirmed that Jodie Meeks is back in town to finish his degree.
He won’t address going 40-0.
But he knows that chatter will be out there.
“What I like about that, people say, ‘Pressure!’ Man, pressure brings out the best. ‘You’re gonna be fired if you don’t get this done! You’re not going to make it if you don’t get this done!’ Wakes you up earlier in the morning. I don’t mind a little pressure. I’ve had it my whole career. I’ve had the gun to my head for 20-something years. And you know what? I’m at my best when the gun is to my head,” he said.
No Wiggins, no problem.
Calipari said he is just as confident today as he was prior to Wiggins’ commitment to Kansas. He was confident in his team before and nothing changed. Losing Wiggins to Bill Self had no effect on his expectations.
Five scholarship players coming back…
Willie Cauley-Stein: “Has a chance to be one of the better players that I’ve ever coached.”
Kyle Wiltjer: “Body’s got to change. Sixth man of the year but has to get better, physically.”
Alex Poythress: “If he (changes), and the competition brings out the best in him, it is scary how good he can be.”
Jon Hood: “By the end of the year, for the first time, had a breakthrough. And I was excited for him.”
Jarrod Polson: “Ended up being one of our better guards at the end of the year.”
And the eight new guys…
Aaron Harrison: “Will be and is expected to be and will be demanded to be a lock-down defender.”
Andrew Harrison: “My hope is by the end of the year, he’s just like some of the other point guards we’ve had. You look at him and say, hey he can do things that other point guards can’t do at his size, his scoring ability.”
Dominique Hawkins: “A young man from in state that just kind of blew me away with his will to win, his temperament on the court, his demeanor in helping his team win a championship.”
Dakari Johnson: “He’s a kid that will get up at six in the morning and work out. He’s a great student. He does all the things, and he wants to be better.”
Marcus Lee: “Pogo stick, active, high energy, 6-10, 6-11, long armed. Another player who, again, wanted to be here.”
Julius Randle: “He’s truly a hard worker who can play multiple positions, who can play inside and out. He’s a beast. He’s an alpha beast who will drive the team. Has a little bit of Micheal (Kidd-Gilchrist) in him, in a different way. In my mind, there are good players out there, he’s as good as any of them.”
Derek Willis: “6-9, 6-10, long, skilled big man from the state. Again, where his game goes…He wanted the challenge of this. ‘I want to go every day against players this good to see how I can be.’”
James Young: “Gives you that 6-7 wing who flat can shoot the ball.”
Watch the entire press here.
Moving on… ESPN’s Chad Ford updated his Big Board: Top 30 Prospects and Archie Goodwin is still hanging in there at No. 30. Ford writes, “Everyone still wants to love Goodwin, but every time they go to the tape it’s brutal. Goodwin is going to show well athletically, but what he really has to prove is that he’s in the process of fixing a very broken jump shot.”
Nerlens Noel is still sitting comfortable at No. 1.
In football news, UK confirmed on Wednesday that Ashely Lowery will be back in Lexington in June for summer classes. How he was tossed 100 feet from his vehicle and escaped with only a few cuts and bruises is nothing short of a miracle, and it’s amazing that he’s already enrolling for school again. As far as his football life goes, UK says the team doctors will evaluate him before setting up his summer program.
Joe Lunardi updated his Bracketology on Wednesday, because, he’s Joe Lunardi and he has the easiest job in America. The new bracket features Kentucky as the one-seed in the St. Louis with a second round matchup versus the winner of Northwestern State and Texas Southern. Syracuse is the two-seed in the region, ahead of Ohio State, Marquette and Indiana. Michigan State, Louisville and Arizona are the other one-seeds.
According to 247Sports, 2014 football recruit Darius West will announce his decision in a week or two. West was close to ending his recruitment last month but pushed the announcement off to explore new options. Now, he’s ready to make his commitment again and Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin lead the way for his services. The good news for Kentucky is, the Cats’ current commits have big bugging West about joining them in Lexington and he’s been high on UK for a while. If he picks UK, Mark Stoops will be adding yet another four-star talent out of Ohio.
And last but certainly not least, be sure to tune in to Kentucky Sports Radio radio tomorrow morning to hear Coach Cal on your radio waves. Calipari will join Matt and Ryan around 10:30 to elaborate on everything he said on Wednesday.
Until then, Go Cats.