Sunday night is my writing night. If you read KSR consistently, you know that since I have given up the daily work on the site, I have stayed involved by writing the Sunday Night Post for the past few years. This has changed recently into the Monday Morning Wakeup Post (still often written at night), but it has caused me to miss the interaction of writing my random thoughts at a time when the internet is slightly less packed with people and interesting discussion can follow. With that in mind, I decided to throw in some things I have been hearing from around the world of UK Basketball and Football this weekend as a way to reconnect with my former Sunday night writing self.
When I do these Summer radio tours, the good part is I get to see the fans and the state as a whole, while keeping the show filled with energy during an otherwise slow time. The bad part is that I am never home and I often feel disconnected from my regular world. Thus I spent some time this weekend during a rare couple of days at home to catch up on the UK world and here is what I am hearing about the summer
— This is of course the time of year when the players are doing their initial workouts and pickup games and coaches see what they have with the new guys and who has come back improved. All of the buzz in Lexington, like the buzz around the state, is about Jamal Murray and just how good he can be. While he still hasn’t been to Lexington thanks to his Team Canada work, everyone is watching him play and there is a growing consensus that the best perimeter recruit in America is headed this way. The question is whether he will make the Team Canada group for Olympic qualifying, which could keep him from Lexington until mid-September. If so, that would put him behind the rest of the team in development, but the experience of playing with GAM can still only help.
— When I ask people what the big stories are from the summer, a few things get repeated. One that is consistent is that this is Tyler Ulis’s team. He is the unquestioned leader on the court and off in both play and organization. He has developed a good relationship with the two younger guards (Briscoe and Matthews) and along with Devin Booker, they have spent a great deal of time with each other. One source told me, “Tyler is exactly what you would think he would be…and that is really good.”
— The surprise of the summer has been Mychal Mulder, who virtually everyone believes is better than they thought he would be. He was brought in to shoot, but his athleticism has been a pleasant surprise. During pickup games, he has had a couple of instances of apparently eye-popping athleticism and his game is much more well-rounded than we believed. I am told that the idea of him starting (potentially with Ulis and Murray as well) is being floated about, an idea that would have been insane to many just a few weeks back.
— Skal Labissiere is everything as advertised. Because pickup games are not great showcases for big men, his offensive skills are still up in the air a bit, but his ability to dominate on defense and make unbelievably athletic plays are unquestioned. Most everyone believes he will be helped when he gets to work more with Calipari and Kenny Payne but as one source told me, “he has all the talent to be the top pick in the Draft and contend for SEC Player of the Year.” I will take it.
— There has been some pleasant surprise at the progress of Derek Willis coming into the summmer, not so much on the court as in his work ethic. Talent has never been an issue for Derek, who can look as good in individual practices as anyone on the team. But what has been lacking for his time at Kentucky, especially in the last year, was the showcase of a desire to work to be great. Apparently those around the program have seen more of that from Derek this summer that at any time during his tenure in Lexington. As one person told me, “it is all up to Derek. He has the tools to be an important part of this team and can do some things that we don’t have anyone else that can do. Now he is actually working hard as well, so that is really exciting.”
— Finally the rehab for Alex Poythress is still going and remains on target. There is cautious optimism that he can be close to 100% when the season starts, as he is hitting all the rehab goals up until this point. With Alex, everyone knows what he can do but the question will be how he rebounds from this injury mentally and what he believes he can accomplish this next season. The good news from my end? Every time I hear someone who knows talk about the team, it is done with the expectation that Poythress plays a crucial role. That makes me feel confident that he is headed to a place where he can be fully healthy and ready to have his best season in a UK uniform.
— With football, one overall feeling lingers over everything…this staff is insanely optimistic about this next season. Everyone believes that the team is much improved and is close to getting where they need to be to really compete. Depth is much stronger and you can see a swagger with everyone as they believe that this season they won’t be competing with one hand tied behind their back.
— I am sure lip service will be paid to a Quarterback competition, but the sense I get is that Patrick Towles is the guy. His Spring was great but I am told he continues to impress in the summer and everyone is all-in with him as the leader of the team. Tim Couch was telling me this weekend that he thinks Patrick is ready to make the leap this year and as one source told me, “people nationally fell asleep on Patrick because of the way the season ended…I bet they jump right back on board after the first few games.” You can’t win without a Quarterback and I get the sense that those around UK Football believe they have theirs.
— I asked what position would see the most improvement to a number of folks over the last few days and all said the same thing, the Wide Receivers. One coach told me that the team has 7-9 guys that can really play and that there will “be some really good players who don’t get in because of the depth we have.” The question is only if any guys can step up to the next level and take off. People seem to feel really good about Garrett Johnson and Jeff Badet, but there are lots of players with a chance to make a move, and a name I continue to hear as improving and needing the football this season is Ryan Timmons.
— I asked one source with knowledge of the program to predict at the end of the season, which 10 guys would we look back on as having had the best years. He told me (in no order):
Solid lineup…also watch out for George Asafo-Adjei who may be the player most ready to make a massive leap this season.
I will have more on football in the coming days….