After 17 days on the road, I am back from my yearly June swoon and ready for the Summer of KSR. While it may never be quite as good as my time playing youth basketball above (this picture is one of my favorite things of all time for a variety of reasons…I am the handsome guy in the goggles), I expect this to be a big summer. The KSR Tour will be awesome (40 days and 36 locations), the inaugural KSR Scramble will end the summer (more on that later) and we have some exciting things coming to the site in August. All in all, a big time around here. But we can’t act like the time when I was gone didn’t happen. We had some great guest hosts on the radio and this site was ably run, one week by Drew and Tyler and the next week by Tyler herself. They weren’t huge news weeks, but they were important so lets take a quick look back at the 10 most important stories on the UK Landscape these past two weeks:
10: Kentucky signs Football Series with Southern Miss
One of the more talked about football issues of the past couple of months ended with a whimper early in June when it was announced that Kentucky would play a home and home with Southern Miss beginning next season in Commonwealth. This was a long process for UK that began when UAB disbanded their football team and left a hole on the Cats’ schedule for 2016 that the Blazers filled. Mitch Barnhart and UK were left with a difficult decision…wait out UAB and see if they could get their program back going for what would surely be an uncompetitive game, play a second FCS team (in a game that would not count towards bowl eligibility) or schedule a different FBS team. The latter made the most sense but was a tough sell because virtually every team had already completed their schedule. The Cats nearly had a two game deal with Army set, but Ohio State swooped in at the last minute and took the game. UK considered a series with Buffalo and Akron, but both teams were requiring a trip to their place to do it, prospects UK didn’t love. So instead the Cats got a home and home with Southern Miss, traditionally a good program but not necessarily a road game that the Cats would have preferred to play. For UK, they get a home game next year that they can win, and they lose the eight game home season for 2017 but play an opponent that is close enough for UK fans to travel and see. Hattiesburg, Mississippi is not fun, but Brett Favre did go there so it might be a cool trip. Not a perfect ending to the problem, but probably the best UK could do.
9. Jamal Murray Still Undecided:
The Jamal Murray saga creeped along for the past two weeks with little in the way of news. Murray visited Oregon and most now believe he is choosing between three scenarios…Kentucky, Oregon and remaining in prep school. The latter can make sense for Murray since some believe it would be the best option for his Draft stock (since it is so high now and there is no risk of it lowering in college). That strikes me however as a weak way to look at it and I hope/assume Murray ends up choosing to go to a college. When I left for vacation, the folks in Lexington felt very good about where they stand. I have yet to hear if that feeling has changed but hopefully we will know more early this week. Either way, nearly everyone expects a decision by Murray by July 4.
8. Calipari and Dan Patrick are Awkward together
I have to admit, I didn’t get this. While I generally stayed unplugged during my travels, I did see this clip while resting by the pool. It made me uneasy. Calipari went on the Dan Patrick Show and seemed to get defensive when asked about the platoon system. He made an awkward joke about Patrick’s basketball playing ability, said no one liked him and seemed at least slightly miffed. It was odd for me because I rarely see or hear Calipari in anything that doesn’t seem like complete control. But for that minute, something was slightly off. Now Calipari insisted it was nothing, he went on the show the next day and all was well. But I still consider it one of the stranger Calipari media interactions I have ever seen and odd at best. If it is illustrative of any larger point it is this…the word “platoon” has hurt UK on the recruiting trail. Calipari wants it buried in the past and when it is brought up, he likely won’t be the most joyous form of himself.
7. UK Sets Records and finishes 2nd in Womens’ Track
We don’t cover a lot of Track here on KSR but maybe now we should because Kentucky is officially a player in the sport. UK produced the greatest performance in the history of its Track program this weekend at the NCAA Championships, finishing 2nd overall on the womens’ side to Oregon. It was the highest finish in school history and part of the revamping of the program by Edrick Floreal, the coach (and father of EJ) who has taken it to new heights. Kendra Harrison won the 100 m Hurdles for the Cats and Dezerea Bryant won the 200 m, with a time of 22.18 seconds, the third fastest time in the world this year. The UK women also saw success in the 400m hurdles, shot put and other individual events, culminating in a point total that far outranked where pundits believed they would finish. It was a great moment for a rising program at UK and one that will almost surely be a springboard to bigger and better things.
6. Willie’s Outfit
I am going to miss Willie. He is one of the most unique kids we have ever had at UK and his personality will be hard to replace. Plus he wears things like this, a shirt and pant combo that he rocked at the LA Airport today when two UK fans ran into him. Not sure which is more baffling, the shirt or the pants but as I always say, Do your thing WCS…
5. Landon Young Reaffirms His UK Commitment
UK Football recruiting was a nonexistent topic in Kentucky until Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow arrived here, turning this into an attractive target for talent that in the past would have never considered the Cats. While UK has still moved mountains, the loss of some players last year (including Damien Harris) has put some pressure on the 2016 class, one in which coincidentally the state of Kentucky has collectively its best high school players ever. Two of those are on the offensive line and in the past three weeks Drake Jackson and Landon Young have both confirmed that not only are they committed to UK, they are not wavering. These two young men are both nationally ranked and have offers from some of the best schools in America. To keep them, both potentially as offensive line anchors for years to come, is massive and sets the precedent for the rest of this class. With UK already having commitments from five in state kids and hoping for a sixth (Kash Daniel will decide on July 4th), the decision by Young to turn down the other top schools who have offered (including Florida and Auburn) was huge.
4. Demarcus and Willie Love Each Other
The next week and a half will be heavy with NBA Draft talk as the Cats are on the precipice of putting a record number of players in the league at one time. However the chatter that is the most exciting to me has been the mutual love affair from Demarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein about the possibility of them playing together in Sacramento. Willie and Demarcus compliment each other well in terms of skills and would immediately make the Kings the favorite team of virtually all of the Bluegrass (and at that point why not just move the whole operation to Louisville). However with those two personalities, anything is also possible from total combustion to potentially the best reality show in the history of modern entertainment. I am not sure if the world is ready for Boogie/Willie in the same place at the same time, especially when that place is tiny Sacramento. But I do know if that happens, KSR will be in Sacramento next season to watch a couple of games and the League Pass sales in this state will skyrocket.
3. Charles Matthews Getting Work Done Early
It is a realization that we all must come to at some point that the team from last season is not coming back. 38-1 was amazing, but its over and at we all are going to have to move on. That is easier said than done and the hangover from the end of some a magical ride has lasted a solid 2 1/2 months. This goes even for me, whose job it is to sit and talk about the team next year. I don’t wanna…I want last season to continue. But sorry, that isn’t happening and we must move forward. With that in mind, it was great to see last week that not only has Charles Matthews arrived, but that he is putting in late night work. That is the thing we often forget…the new batch will be eager, talented and ready to roll and as soon as the season starts, we will be into it. We didn’t think we could replace Wall/Cousins/Patterson..but we did. No one thought any year would be better than the 2012 title…but we moved on. And as great as last season was, this one will be exciting as well. Matthews’ work on campus just reminded me of this fact and has helped snap my mind back into place. Kentucky basketball is coming back relatively soon and it will be a crazy amount of fun, as always.
2. Commonwealth Stadium Construction Almost Complete
If UK football is going to hit a next level (and we all hope that is the case), then the next 2-3 years are crucial. And if you believe all of those around the program, the first requirement for that happening was the upgrade of facilities around Lexington. We are now in the midst of that being close to reality. The new practice facility is being built and the upgrades to Commonwealth Stadium are nearly complete. There is now a live Construction cam at the place for all of us to follow along on the updates and count down the days until what will be one of the great home schedules we have ever had. Louisville, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn (on a Thursday), Missouri and three other games will all be in the newly revamped model and the excitement should be amazing. We may look back at this summer down the road and say that the changes made to the stadium during it were the final step needed to finally make a leap in football in the hardest conference in America…or maybe we won’t. But I can tell you this, without them the dream would be close to impossible.
1. Kentucky and the rest of the SEC get rich
In my view, the most important story that occurred in the past two weeks was the news that the SEC paid each of its schools $31.9 million from last year’s conference payout, an increase of $10 million from last season. This is massive and is the first step in what will continue to be a reshaping of college athletics. By creating the SEC Network and making what is arguably the most successful launch of a television network ever, the SEC has now become the leader in all of college sports from a revenue perspective and the effect on all playing fields is sure to follow. By making $10 million more than last season and significantly more than every other school in the nation, the SEC becomes the rich brother that everyone will have to try and catch up with in every sport. Texas with its own deal and the Big Ten (who make strong money due to the Big 10 Network) are in the ballpark, but every other conference will be scrambling. Take the ACC payout this year, $19 million, a lot of money to be sure but with a $12 million deficit every year to every SEC school, the effect on recruiting of coaches, facilities, etc is sure to manifest itself even more. The SEC revenue will only grow…the Network will get in more homes, the rights fees will expand and the money is only going to flow greater and greater. In fact, it is fair to say the financial discrepancy is lower now than it will be in any year in the future. The days of the SEC as financial king are here and the announcement this week only confirms that even more.