Yesterday, I made the drive up to Lexington for the UK Basketball Women’s Clinic, my fifth time covering the event. After the football team’s disappointing performance in Starkville, spending the afternoon with the basketball team and 750 basketball-loving ladies was just the medicine I needed. Here are my takeaways from three hours in Memorial Coliseum…
1. John Short was a rock star
When I walked into the clinic, the buzz in the building didn’t surround John Calipari or his players; it surrounded John Short, who attended the clinic as an invited guest. Thanks to Tina Cox, DeWayne Peevy, and the UK Media Relations staff, John Short finally got to meet Cal, an introduction a long time in the making. Tina was with John and wrote about the experience for CameronMillsRadio.com:
Cal: “Are you THE John Short?”
John: “Yes, I am.”
Cal: “What about all these women and me and you?”
John: “Well, alrighty then.”
I got to meet John Short too, and the picture of us together is now one of my favorites:
2. It’s become an autograph session
The main draw of the Women’s Clinic (and most Calipari clinics, for that matter) is getting autographs from the coaches and players. With a record 750 attendees, autograph lines dominated the event, leaving organizers scrambling to switch up the schedule on the fly. Because the players were busy signing 85% of the time, the scheduled scrimmage had to be postponed until the event was over. In years past, the practice has been part of the clinic, giving fans an exclusive glimpse of the team and bragging rights over their husbands and fellow UK fans.
Calipari accepted the blame for this and apologized at the end of the event, taking the mic and telling everyone that because the players are currently going through two-a-days, he wanted the autograph session to be a part of the event instead of the guys having to hang around for hours before or afterwards like years past. As a consolation prize, Calipari allowed fans to stick around after the clinic to watch the team go through warm-ups for the scrimmage before moving the team to the practice gym.
3. Jamal Murray was great with fans
I’ve only had a few interactions with Jamal Murray, but my impression of him coming in was that he was a little homesick. In preseason interviews, he seemed pretty shy, talking mainly about his dad and adjusting to life away from home; he has clearly done the latter, and came out of his shell with fans at the clinic. Murray, Skal, and Humphries snuck out onto the floor during registration and took pictures and chatted with fans. Murray was one of two players that danced during his intro at the “fashion show,” and took the mic from Marcus Lee to greet fans:
Jamal Murray just wanted to say hi to everyone pic.twitter.com/WSL9mntry9
– Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) October 25, 2015
4. Everyone wanted EJ Floreal to dance
The annual “fashion show” has become a tradition at the Women’s Clinic. Players show off each of the uniform and warm-up combinations and the bravest of them dance. As I mentioned, Jamal Murray dove into this opportunity head first, and after a lot of pressure from the crowd and his teammates, hype man EJ Floreal busted a move as well:
A good indicator of how young this team is? Most of them have never been part of EJ Floreal’s pregame dance circle. #perspective
Here’s the fashion show in full. Enjoy the bonus commentary from Ellen Calipari, who sat next to me.
5. Tyler Ulis is embracing his role as a leader
Leading a team like Kentucky is no easy task; UK is easily the most scrutinized team in the country with the biggest target on its back. Last season, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis shared the spotlight, but now, Ulis shoulders it alone. From all the preseason talk, we know this is Tyler’s team, and he acted like it yesterday, oozing confidence and poise. Tyler hasn’t just accepted the role Calipari’s given him, he’s embraced it. I’m going into this season with tempered expectations; however, when I think about Ulis, I can’t stop thinking about March.
6. Three fans cleaned up Ulis’ locker
Before the clinic started, fans were allowed to tour the facilities, including the locker room. Three UK fans peeked inside Tyler Ulis’ locker and were floored by how messy it was. They told Tyler as much and offered to clean it for him. He accepted, and they organized the mess, throwing out weeks old Chick-Fil-A and other fast food, folding clothes, and sorting each of the 16 pairs of shoes. Check out the before and after above, and the ladies posing with the locker afterwards:
After Ulis saw the finished product, he asked if they would also clean his buddy Isaiah Briscoe’s locker. Always looking after his boy, that Tyler.
7. It was good to see Shannon Spake again
ESPN’s Shannon Spake has been a familiar fixture on UK’s sidelines the past few years and helped Jennifer Palumbo host the clinic this year. It’s always great to see Shannon, who was gracious with every fan she met. Hilariously, one fan asked if Shannon if ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith was as pompous in person as he was on TV, and, like the company woman she is, Shannon said she’d only met Smith once and he was perfectly nice to her. Shannon’s part of the crew covering the Champions Classic in Chicago next month, so get ready to see her on the sideline soon.
8. Robert Harris is already making a difference
Robert Harris has been around UK Athletics off and on for years, going back to an internship with the football strength and conditioning program in 2009. He worked with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arkansas Razorbacks before coming back to UK in 2014 as an assistant strength coach for the basketball program. Harris took over the job as head strength coach when Rock Oliver moved to an administrative role this summer, and his impact is already being felt. Several players, including Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews, showed off before and after pictures on social media after a summer with Harris, who led one of the demonstrations yesterday. Harris took volunteers through some of the workouts the players do, including drills, medicine ball slams, squats, etc. He also answered questions, telling fans that because Tyler is smaller than the rest of his teammates, he eats around 4,500 calories a day. (Jealous!) Harris also joked that he and Ulis were “bite size Snickers” compared to the others because of their slight stature. I’m hoping to do a feature on him soon, so stay tuned.
9. Isaac Humphries really likes to smell wood
And yes, I’m aware how that sounds, but there’s no other way to really phrase it. One woman asked the players to sign a cutting board in the shape of Kentucky, and when she got to Isaac, he asked if he could smell the wood. Apparently that’s a big thing in Australia. And he’s not even the one that’s the son of a woodchopper. That guy gets here in December.
10. Custom t-shirts were a hit with Cal
Over the years, group t-shirts have become a thing at the clinic, and at the end of the evening, Cal asked every group with a custom tee to come up to get their picture taken with him. Here are some of the best:
The backs of these shirts were great, and included a KSR reference:
When the group went in front of the crowd to get their picture taken with Cal, everyone clamored for them to turn around and show off the back. Calipari glanced at it and quipped, “No, I won’t take a picture with the back.”
Can’t hide that smile, though.