I arrived early this evening in New York, ready to take on one of the bigger challenges of my sports blogging career. Drew and I are doing our thing for Tennis Channel at the US Open, while still writing on this site and doing the morning radio show. Balancing the worlds of John Short and Rafael Nadal is exciting, but to also do it in my favorite city in the world only makes it that much better. My flight was nice (thanks for asking), absent the man from Nigeria (I know because he said loudly to the entire plane when he sat down, “MY NAME is (Indecipherable) AND I AM FROM NIGERIA!”) who smelled as if he had wiped himself down with Rick Bozich’s sweatpants. But once arriving, I got a recommendation for dinner (go to JP Clarkes) and upon entering saw the PGA Tour golfer with the wildest swing Jim Furyk. I have always liked Furyk for his “against the grain” mentality. In a world that says your golf swing should look like the model version, Furyk has taken the ugliest, hitchiest swing imaginable and turned it into PGA Tour success. For that, he should be commended. He was sitting at the bar drinking beer with some mates, and the two tell-tale signs of a pro golfer immediately stuck out to me. First, he was much balder than I imagined (significantly more so than in the picture above). He thankfully had made the decision to go full-Woody Harrellson (a decision that men should all do upon a certain time in their hair-loss lives), but since I am used to seeing him with his hat on, it was a bit striking. And second, the paleness of his head nearly blinded my eyes. We often forget that a life of a PGA Tour golfer means spending days upon days in the sun wearing a hat. That is all good if you are Rickie Fowler and you have more hair than you can handle (and as the Maxim House at the Master taught Drew and me, more women than he can handle as well), but for Furyk, it creates an odd two-toned skin color. His face was leather tan, but his head was limey-white. It caused me to stare momentarily, before realizing that this was rude, taking a seat and eating my chicken pot pie. Furyk seemed to be a likeable guy and I think my meeting (if you want to call it that) makes me like him even more. After a tournament in the area, he doesn’t get on his jet and fly home to his supermodel wife. No instead, he goes to a local restaurant, hangs out with his buddies and rocks his shiny dome with pride. An every-man golfer for the ages, that is our man Jim Furyk and he now drops in behind Teater, Perry and Holmes as the 4th member of #TeamKSR on the PGA Tour.
JD Salinger, who wrote “Catcher in the Rye” has become like rappers and now will apparently release a number of books after his death. He was famous for being a recluse and no one knew what he did for the last 40 years of his life…now we will find out. A little factoid for your Monday morning
Now let’s talk about the big story of the weekend. Kentucky lost Emmanual Mudiay to SMU and Larry Brown. The loss was a shock to most, but apparently had been in the works for the past month or so. It took me off guard, but rather than dwell on the silly decision (and yes it is silly…there is nothing besides being a little closer to home that SMU has that Kentucky does not…you will never convince me that a kid his age cares about Larry Brown and Kentucky has 500 things SMU doesn’t…but nevertheless I wish the kid well as he has all the talent in the world), it is time to figure out where Kentucky goes next. So I spent a good deal of Friday night and Saturday making phone calls and getting a decent idea of how the 2014 recruiting stacks up, and here is where we are now:
COMMITTED: Karl Towns:
It is easy to forget about Karl Towns because, like your cute friend in college that got engaged early, he has been off the market for a long time. But Towns is a player that not only gives UK a top 10 commitment at this moment, he is also one of the best 2 big men in the class. In fact, it occurred to me while watching the Elite 24 game (a travesty of a television broadcast) that UK fans severely underappreciate what they have in Towns. ESPN has only five centers in America ranked amongst their top 75 players. Towns is second (to Okafor) and guarantees UK a big man presence down low next season of supreme skill. While Mudiay was certainly a tough loss, few teams could lose a player of that caliber, but already have another top 10er in the bag. Calipari does.
LIKELY COMMITS: Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis
I feel comfortable putting both players in the “likely to play for Kentucky next season” category. Now this of course comes with a caveat…I would have had Mudiay in said category as of Thursday. But in recruiting things change, and while these may change as well, this is the best info as of now. Kentucky feels very confident about Lyles and they should. Since his decommitment from Indiana, Kentucky has been the leader and I think that position is only getting stronger as the days go along. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him pick the Cats in the near future. He is supremely talented and a player Calipari has targeted for a year. He will be great here. Ulis is more recent and the short Point Guard’s offer should have signaled to us that Kentucky didn’t feel good about Mudiay. He is a player who can do everything you want a point guard to do, distribute, score and shoot. His size is an issue…but Calipari loves his upside and his team leadership capability. And he might, for the first time since Calipari has been in Lexington, be a point guard that he can develop for a few years. I think both end up at Kentucky.
WILL GET AT LEAST ONE, MAYBE BOTH: Devin Booker, James Blackmon Jr
Kentucky needs a shooting guard (operating under the assumption they lose Aaron Harrison) and they love both of these players. It would not surprise me to see Kentucky get both as I don’t think Blackmon is against attending the same school as Booker. Booker is the primary target and a kid with dead-eye range that UK really covets. He is friends with Ulis and I am told the two like the idea of being in the same college backcourt. I am close to putting him in the likely to come to Kentucky category, but am holding off for the time being. Blackmon Jr has all the makings of a Kentucky player and his dad’s connection here certainly helps. If Kentucky ever feels that they won’t get Stanley Johnson (more on him in a bit), then I think they push hard for a Blackmon commitment. He can do it all as well but will probably take a little time to develop before becoming a college star.
BIG TARGETS UK IS STILL GOING AFTER FULL BORE: Jahlil Okafor and Stanley Johnson
Everything I hear coming out of Lexington suggest that Kentucky still covets these two players and believes they can get both. It is likely UK is not the leader for either at this moment however. Stanley Johnson is a presumed Arizona lean but Kentucky will have plenty of opportunities to convince him to leave the West coast and make his way to the Bluegrass. He is a big-scorer and like Shabazz, would excel in Calipari’s system. The question is whether UK can get him to make the leap East and that remains to be seen. The quiet storm to watch is Okafor. I think UK has a better chance than some realize as I don’t think the Jones/Okafor package deal is a certainty by any means. Okafor is also friends with Tyler Ulis (he is a friendly guy) and I think UK is situated much better than people realize. Getting him on campus will be huge and I wouldn’t call UK the favorite…but keep watching this one, as like with Julius Randle, UK sits in a much better position than most recruiting folks are suggesting at this point.
THE REST: Tyus Jones, Myles Turner, Dante Exum and others
It is hard for me to see Tyus Jones going anywhere but Duke. UK is still recruiting him and would certainly like him, but his mother is an avowed Duke fan, wears Duke gear all the time and has said she hopes her child ends up there. I am not saying that mom’s cant have their minds changed but 80% of the time in recruiting, mama plays a key part. Myles Turner is a player that I can’t really get a feel on and my guess is that he goes to a school different than Towns and Okafor. Kentucky is recruiting him but I don’t get the sense that they are in the top two. Dante Exum is the person to watch. He can join a college team in December of this year, but if he does, he has to stay for another season in college. However if he waits until January, he can then decide to go to college or enter the NBA Draft. Kentucky was probably third for Exum for the past few months, but that was when Exum thought (as we all did) that Mudiay was coming here. He was not interested in playing with a similar point guard. But now that Mudiay is off the table, it will be interesting to see if Exum and Kentucky heat up in the next few weeks. I also believe that Kentucky is after a number of other guys and probably end up with at least one (Kelly Oubre and others…potentially a transfer), but at this point other pieces need to fall before it is clear who that will be.
So that is where I see Kentucky basketball recruiting at this moment. I still like Kentucky’s position, but the unknown quality has risen in the last three days. UK looked as if, no matter what else happened, it would get at least two top ten players. Now it needs a commitment from either Johnson, Okafor or Lyles for that to happen. My guess is Kentucky gets at least one from that group and maybe two. If that happens, and UK gets the people back that I presume they will (at least Marcus Lee and then possibly James Young), then the Cats will be fine for the next season. I also think this is the year that UK looks for a transfer, probably of the 5th year senior variety. Many unknowns remain, and while things aren’t as positive as they seemed on Thursday, the chances of a top class are still very good.
We get the week of the WKU game started tomorrow morning with the radio show and the blog….there will be LOTS of FOOTBALL on the site this week with the WKU game coming Saturday. The Twins and James Young are both here and school starts Wednesday. Vacation is over…UK sports are back center stage and we have a site redesign ready for the new era. #9 is coming folks…strap yourself in.