Normally August is a dead month for news around the Big Blue Nation, but August, 2014 has been so insane that I’ve nearly blogged away my eyeballs and brains. The Big Blue Bahamas Tour has been a Christmas in August for Kentucky fans. We didn’t expect them to dominate every game, but there hasn’t been a competitive second half yet. The football team is well into fall camp, having shown their stuff more often than usual by opening up three practices for the fans over the last four days. The excitment in the atmosphere is greater than the play, but the Cats continue to show signs of improvement.
After three games in the Bahamas and three open football practices, here are three things we’ve learned from each team since Saturday.
1. This team knows how to pass the ball
John Calipari Kentucky teams rarely start the season playing clean basketball. Senseless turnovers happen often, but that’s what it takes to break young guards into a new level of play. This year’s team shows an unselfishness that you rarely see, let alone this early in the season. Usually summer ball looks more like street-ball, but Coach Cal’s first practice “extra pass” emphasis has already become a staple of this team. It isn’t just Andrew and Ulis making pretty passes in the break, it’s Karl Towns making the no-look dish to Dominique Hawkins. This team’s unselfishness will make them the toughest team to defend in the country.
2. The new guys all bring something unique to the table
One of the biggest questions entering the Big Blue Bahamas was how the new guys would fit into a veteran Kentucky team. Now it’s figuring out how they can get more playing time. Tyler Ulis has been terrific at every single aspect of the game, displaying some long-range when he isn’t dropping dimes in traffic. His play in the pick-and-roll with Karl Towns makes you think they’ve played together for years. Towns is playing like a Gatorade National Player of the Year, with 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in only 20 minutes. The only thing he hasn’t done is hit a three-pointer. Devin Booker hasn’t found his shot yet in the tiny Bahamian gym, but unlike most shooters, he hasn’t let that affect the rest of his game, scrapping away five steals. What’s going to happen when he finds his shot and Trey Lyles is inserted into the equation? *Mind Explodes*
3. So many good players, so little bad to say
In any post following a game, it’s wise to make sure it isn’t completely one-sided by inserting a paragraph about where they need to improve or who struggled at times. You’d have to have a degree in Hate from the University of Louisville to find something negative from the games in the Bahamas. There have been sluggish starts, but the Cats have never shown signs of regression. If anything, we’re seeing positives that we did not expect to see. If Dominique Hawkins is a Bulldog, than Tyler Ulis is an ankle-biting Boston Terrier. We knew Derek Willis had range, but we didn’t know he had the athleticism to defend smaller opponents or sky high above them for dunks. Oh, and Aaron Harrison is dunking on people now.
I’m sorry College Basketball, but this could get ugly.
1. We still haven’t found THE guy at quarterback
The quarterback situation has ALMOST reached a frustration point. Reese Phillips was excellent during the first four practices, but that Reese Phillips didn’t show up for the two open practices. Drew Barker has never looked out of place and has excelled against the 2nd and 3rd teams, but going against the 1st string defense was a whole new world for Barker. Patrick Towles hasn’t had a terrible day, but in between amazing throws he has had some head-scratchers.
There’s no denying that whoever assumes the role will be much better than last year, but somebody NEEDS to assume the role as THE man. A lot was thrown at them over the last week, but I will be worried if we do not see someone take a giant leap forward next Monday when KSR will be LIVE from practice with Tim Couch and Jared Lorenzen as hosts. If anyone can break down the quarterback position, it’s those two.
2. The new guys are talented, but have A LOT to learn
Stoops’ highly-heralded second recruiting class has lived up to expectations, if not exceeded them. I did not expect Matt Elam to play this year, but he’s too much to handle for most double-teams. There are so many running backs that I wasn’t sure Boom Williams could find a place to play, but his athletic moves haven’t been seen at Kentucky since……………..
The freshmen talent will provide us with some highlights that we haven’t seen in awhile, but there are many young mistakes that come along with big plays. Dorian Baker had an excellent catch on a 10-yard out route, but if he got his head around quicker he could have gotten 5-10 extra yards. They can’t get away with what they used to in high school. The coaches’ constant attention to the young guys is promising, making my imagination run wild with what the future holds.
Some guys who will HAVE to play this year: RB Boom Williams, DT Matt Elam, WR Blake Bone, WR Dorian Baker, WR Thaddeus Snodgrass, Nickel Kendall Randolph, Safety AJ Stamps, WR TV Williams and DE Lloyd Tubman.
3. Kentucky football will be fun again
My job was very difficult last year, mostly because there weren’t enough pieces to the UK football puzzle to judge the team. Stoops finally has all of the pieces he needs to put together an acceptable football team. When receivers drop passes or running backs don’t pick up the blitz, there’s someone ready to replace them.
The added competition will reveal improvements, but you can’t see the biggest improvement from this team. Their excitement and passion put forth everyday has created a different atmosphere around the practice facility. They’ve seen the exciting plays in practice and want to show the BBN a brand of football they’re proud of. The defense’s tenacity has increased and should show drastic improvements, like all of Stoops’ other second-year defenses. The Air Raid finally has guns big enough for plays that are reminiscent of “Couch to Yeast” and “Stevie Got Loose.”
I can’t predict the wins and losses, but I can predict that you’ll have a team worth watching on Saturdays.
Since I didn’t dedicate this post to someone’s birthday, I’d like to wish a Happy 21st Birthday to my roommate, John Sither. If I’ve learned anything during my four years in college, “It ain’t easy, being Steezy.”