“Welcome to the family.”
Those four simple words were said by 16 Kentucky NBA players to the crowd filled with former players, recruits and fans at this year’s Big Blue Madness. Mark Stoops doesn’t have the same professional pull as John Calipari, but he employs a similar strategy on the recruiting trail.
While interviewing Kentucky’s seven midyear signees, they all echoed a similar sentiment. After visiting other schools, some tried to sell their program as a family, but that wasn’t the case.
Wide receiver Clevan Thomas has only been on campus two weeks. He works out with the other freshmen, but the guys he’s competing with for playing time are still going out of their way to help him, most notably Dorian Baker.
“Every receiver here, they’ve played a part in helping me. You go to other colleges and they play my position so ‘I’m not going to help.’ It’s not like that here. It’s actually a family,” Thomas said. “They told me this in recruiting and I thought they’re just saying that, but it’s actually a family here. And that really shows a lot to me.”
Linebacker Jamin Davis saw it right away. “I knew early on that I was going to end up here.”
Quarterback Walker Wood always liked his hometown school. Once he visited and experienced the family-like atmosphere, it made his decision an easy one.
“When I came here it felt like family. On all my other visits, it really wasn’t like that,” Wood said. “I always enjoyed coming over here. It was laid back, relaxed and it’s not like they push you too much. If you don’t come, they’re not going to forget about you.”
One guy the staff hasn’t forgot about is Jedrick Wills. Even though he committed to Alabama months ago, the staff has continued to stay in touch. If he doesn’t change his mind, the staff will not forget Wills.
Other schools forgot about Cedrick Dort, but not Kentucky.
“They really show love. They don’t really hit you up one month, then not talk to you for two months.” Dort said he talked to Eddie Gran at least once a week. “If they want you, they’re really going to keep in contact with you. I had a lot of schools that texted me one month, then in three more months I don’t know what’s going on and they’ll text me again. That’s not how you do things.”
For some, the meaning of family is a bit more literal. Vince Marrow was the head coach at Bryant Koback’s Springfield High School when Koback was in elementary school. Even though Koback doesn’t remember much from that time, his aunt was Marrow’s boss.
Danny Clark got connected to Kentucky through Marrow. Clark first met Marrow in eighth grade. When the Ohio State commit was ready for a change, he knew who to call.
“When it came down to turning things around and making a better decision for me and my family I went straight to him. I said, ‘Coach, let’s make this happen.’ I’m so glad I did,” Clark said. “I was blessed to be in the situation I’m in and I’m so fortunate I got to build that relationship when I was 14-years old in 8th grade. It’s all paying off and I’m glad to be here.”
Tomorrow Stoops expects to add his best recruiting class to the Kentucky football family. At this rate, Stoops won’t have to wait too long before he has enough players in the NFL to create his own, “Welcome to the family” video.