I pulled onto my street in Louisville last night at 2:38 am, after an 11 hour drive across Ohio/Pennsylvania swing-state interstates that seemed as if it would never end. Due to my new gig with ESPN doing the NFL Pre-game show, I find myself paying attention to NFL games with an attentiveness that I used to reserve only for UK affairs. 10 straight hours of NFL play by play (I highly recommend NFL Radio Channel 88 on Sirius/XM on Sundays….it is basically Red Zone with local broadcasts of the teams and you get some great homer cheering during the big plays) were exciting, but it was the last three that had my mind racing. We have had an amazing last few months around these KSR parts. We have seen the radio show expand, the TV show has reached record ratings, the website has received a huge Football bump and we opened a sports bar that has been a great success. It has been continued growth on all levels and I couldn’t be happier about what everyone around KSR has accomplished.
But I also realized that there is one thing that I do miss…I do miss the intimacy that defined KSR when we first began in 2005. Spending these last 10 days with Chris Tomlin (the only writer left who started with me back then) reaffirmed to me how special and unique this entire enterprise has been. We started from Hubby’s basement and now we do shows from the US Embassy Residence in Ottawa, Canada. It truly is a dream. But at the core of this entire enterprise, was just this….me at a keyboard, writing my thoughts and sharing them to people across the Big Blue Nation. In recent years I have all but stopped writing and I truly do miss it. I will never be able to recreate the output I once did, and with the work of Tyler/Drew, etc, there really is no need. But I do miss sharing my random thoughts and hope to add to them going forward. I have had this goal before and have usually flamed out (writing is hard…much more so than Radio and TV) but long trips listening to Tyler Childers give a man confidence. I hereby endeavor to write more…if not every day, at least once a week. And if I don’t…well I will buy you a drink (or hummus) the next time I see you at KSBar.
With that, some thoughts:
KSR Staff Changes
If you read the site earlier, you know this is the last week that TJ Walker will be writing for KSR as he leaves us to move onto another career as a real estate appraiser. While figuring out the value of Matt Bevin’s estate is much different than figuring out the meaning behind Tyrese Maxey’s Instagram posts, I am certain TJ will have a great deal of success as his work ethic and intelligence are of the highest rate. He has been a great addition here at KSR and helped us refocus our efforts in recruiting, once the lifeblood of this site. We appreciate his time with us and wish him nothing but the best…and if he hears scoop in the coming months, he will always be welcome to share it here.
With every loss, there must be a gain and so we are also happy to use this opportunity to announce the hiring of Jack Pilgrim as a full-time KSR Staff writer. Jack has been with us since his Sophomore year of College and now gets to join us as a full-time career. His work output is outstanding and I know of virtually no other student who has spent as much time balancing schoolwork, an outside job, volunteer activities and actually having fun as Jack has. I knew from the first day he began writing for us that I wanted him to eventually end up as a full-time staffer. That begins this week and we couldn’t be happier. Jack will focus on recruiting, but have a presence in many areas and we here at KSR are lucky to have him with us.
With his addition, we move Maggie Davis (who is also a tremendous talent both now, and for the future) up to our Sunday Editor and will continue to add to our staff in the coming months. We expect 2019 to be a huge year of growth for KSR and we are glad to have you along for the ride.
Madison Square Garden Misery
In 2005, I watched the Kentucky-Michigan State basketball game sitting by myself in my apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, desperately living and dying with each shot. When Patrick Sparks’s rim-bouncing three miraculously fell in the basket, not only did Austin, Texas erupt, but I went outside and screamed with glee as loudly as I have ever made a noise in my life. It still to this day remains the only time I have ever uttered a primal scream in my entire existence and I think of it often every time I see a fan acting out at a sporting event. It still to this day remains the most improbable big shot in UK history (considering the physics of it) and the follow-up fist pump to Billy Packer only makes it more amazing.
But as a great moment as that is, in my memories it doesn’t sit with pure joy. For along with Sean Woods’ free-throw line heave against Duke, Anthony Epps straight-away 3 pointer versus Arizona and James Young’s insane UCONN dunk, its memory is forever intertwined with the result of the game…in all cases a loss. In fact, with the exception of Aaron Harrison’s insane three-point string in 2014, it is oddly the case that the best shots in UK history have often come in losing efforts. Keldon Johnson’s halfcourt-heave on Saturday was just the injection of adrenaline this fan base needed to jumpstart the season. Well until it wasn’t. See since the Duke game, I have been shocked at the lack of energy around this UK basketball program. A combination of excitement over football, the lack of star power, the rise of Duke as the “cool” program of the day, a schedule lacking in fun and the deflation of unmet expectations has produced the largest sense of malaise I have seen since Billy Clyde was stumbling his way through 2009. Fans aren’t attending games (the fact that there are $15 seats for the game against Utah on Saturday is insane to me), our basketball conversation on the radio has been sparse and with the loss of top 5 recruits more commonplace, even the solace of recruiting can’t snap us out of our issues. With one beautiful heave from mid-court Keldon Johnson seemed ready to change that narrative. Now it goes into the dustbin of great moments in losing games and our fan base looks for a new reason to care.
I am not sure how to totally diagnose what is wrong with this group. The Sophomores haven’t improved to the degree they need to, our Point Guards all have defects that make playing any of them a choice in which defect will be spotlighted, Tyler Herro cant make a shot, Reid Travis is the team’s best player but is a step slow and can be exploited on Defense and John Calipari seems unable to connect with a group of good kids whose future seemed so promising. The Bahamas now looks to be a bit of a curse on this group, setting the standards high and giving them the burden of high expectations for a fan base that desperately wants/needs to be top dog again. I am unready and unwilling to give up…Calipari’s team turnarounds in 2011, 2014 and 2018 should have taught us that. But something is clearly missing with this group, not only on the court, but off in the connection with BBN. The back-to-back end of December contests against North Carolina and Louisville can bring everyone back…but losses could make the situation only worse. Trust Cal I do…but getting the team to call a timeout, run an inbounds play or simply guard the three point line would most certainly make it easier.
Feeling Better about Football Recruiting
College Football recruiting is not for the faint of heart. Kids commit/decommit and flip allegiances multiple times and it can cause even the most patient of us to become extremely frustrated. I can freely admit that the decision by Wandale Robinson to switch from UK to Nebraska one week after saying to me on TV that Nebraska was eliminated was head-scratching and bizarre. However I am a big believer that kids should go to school wherever they want and if the process that gets them there is convoluted, so be it. Since that decision though, many UK fans have thrown up their hands and said “WAKE ME WHEN THEY SIGN” and assumed that every UK commitment is going to flip. Case in point, JJ Weaver from Louisville, a 4 star talent who visited UL this past weekend, after committing to Kentucky. He posted the above picture and many UK fans wrote me, already assuming he was soon to be a Card. With that in mind, a few recruiting notes from me, someone who is admittedly not a UK football recruiting guru, but sometimes gets some good info:
1. I still think JJ Weaver will be a Cat. I believe him when he told Dave Lankford of Rivals.com that he visited as a favor to Vince Tyra (who had been nice to him when Bobby Petrino was not) but that he is still 100% committed to UK. The folks in Lexington still feel very good about him, and so do I.
2. I think UK is going to finish this class strong and probably keep all of their other commitments. Wandale was a unique situation and those around Lexington believe he always wanted to go to Nebraska but the pressure made him initially pick Kentucky. If that is true, I am glad he made the decision he did.
3. UK will get one Transfer that everyone who follows UK football will know…it could occur any time, although my guess is next week. I have said this for about a month and it is still the case. The only new scoop I have is that a 2nd transfer who is slightly lesser known to UK fans, but maybe equally (or more) important is considering transferring as well. If both come, it will be a huge coup.
With that, I will call it a night…we will be back on radio tomorrow, with an announcement about our $5,000 Bowl Challenge game, looking ahead to Utah and more. And later this week, for the 3-4 of you who care, I will write about my trip this weekend to see “Hamilton”, which was amazing. Adios