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Two veterans star in two-platoon attack

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Aaron Harrison and Alex Poythress combined for 25 points as UK opened its Big Blue Bahamas tour with a win on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison and Alex Poythress combined for 25 points as UK opened its Big Blue Bahamas tour with a win on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASSAU, Bahamas -- As promised, John Calipari served as a mad scientist in Kentucky's exhibition opener in the Bahamas, rolling out a two-platoon system to mix and match lineups and experiment with a talent-loaded roster.

The different looks certainly whetted the appetite of Big Blue Nation, and some of UK's newest pieces definitely wowed. But when it came down to it Sunday, it was two Wildcat veterans who put on the best shows in Kentucky's 74-49 victory over the Puerto Rico national team reserves, the first of six games in the Bahamas over the next eight days.

Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison, who provided the heroics during last season's dramatic national championship game run, took on a steadier, more balanced role Sunday with a team-high 15 points, while junior forward Alex Poythress put on a stunning display of athleticism and toughness.

"One of the things he wants to do," Calipari said of Harrison," ... was his comments to me, 'I don't ever want to evaporate on the court. I want to have a presence on the court whether I'm scoring or not.' Which defensively means, you saw him pressuring the ball today, going up and playing. You saw him in pick and rolls. You saw him rebounding the ball. You saw him fighting in there. That's when you have a presence."

Poythress had the biggest presence in Sunday's game though.

Officially, he finished with 10 points, six rebounds and a block, but a few reporters/UK staff members had him for several more rebounds, a couple of them of the sky-high variety. Unofficially, it looked like a big step forward for Poythress heading into an important junior season.

"He was terrific," Calipari said after the game. "That's as good as he's played. And again, you have to understand those are older professional players (he went against)."

Poythress not only showed those professionals the power of youth with his superior athleticism, he quieted some doubters who have questioned his position and wondered where he fits on this deep and talented team. He did so with a couple of strong offensive rebounds in the first half, an impressive block against a 6-foot-10, at least 250-pound Puerto Rican center, and a nearly jaw-dropping alley-oop dunk that Harrison threw about a foot too high.

"He just does things the normal players can't do," Coach Cal said. "To be honest, the stuff he does, I can't teach. I wish I could, but I can't."

That's high praise from a coach who has sent 24 players to the NBA Draft over the last seven years. What separates Poythress from some of his peers is not only his athleticism, Calipari said, it's his toughness.

"Not many people are athletic like I am," Poythress said. "I just try to use my God-given abilities."

Where those God-given abilities are best utilized has been a topic of debate for the past season or so, especially in this preseason.

Should Poythress stay at power forward where he's clearly more athletic than most fours but a bit undersized? Or should he move to the three where he can dominate opponents with his strength but needs to develop better ball handling and a more consistent shot?

"Both of them feel natural to me," Poythress said. "I can play any position. It just was the lineups we had today, I had to play the four. Coach said he's going to switch up the lineups, so I'll probably get to play the three some more games later."

Calipari cautioned anyone from assuming that Poythress' time at the four Sunday meant that's what he is going forward. He said he used Poythress at power forward to evenly split up his two rotations.

"Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist) was exactly the same thing (as Poythress)," Calipari said. "Consistent shooting, we've got to work on that. But I tell you, he was aggressive, came up with balls out of nowhere. ... It's all this process that he's going through. But where he is physically right now, where he is mentally right now, the toughness he's shown, you're starting to see it now in games."

Calipari - at least for the first game - kept his word on what he's calling a two-platoon system. He started the Harrison twins with Devin Booker, Poythress and Dakari Johnson, but the first five split time with the second rotation of Tyler Ulis, Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis, Marcus Lee and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Other than a first-half substitution for Towns when he picked up three quick fouls and some last-minute action for EJ Floreal and Tod Lanter, the two rotations stayed intact throughout the afternoon and played nearly the exact same minutes.

Outside a shaky start for the second five and a slight lull for the starters in the second half, both groups impressed.

"Everybody touched the ball and had opportunities to do things," Coach Cal said. "Loved our ball pressure. Loved the fact that we're passing the ball to each other and making extra passes. Aggressive. Our ball pressure was great and we were pushing the ball and attacking. The things that we worked on we did. Transition defense, we're still not - but, you know, it's Aug. (10) for God's sakes."

The second five went on a 10-0 run midway through the first half after a Booker 3 and steal, a layup from Harrison, three straight points from Lee, and a layup by Hawkins. Puerto Rico briefly regained the lead, but the starters closed the half strong with a 10-2 run, which featured a slick crossover dribble and pass from Andrew Harrison (four points, four rebounds and four assists) to Poythress for a dunk.

The players liked the two-platoon system.

"It was real good because you can go as hard as you can, burn out, play hard, get steals, press, and then you got another five coming in for you in a couple minutes, so you know you can go all out," Poythress said.

Whether or not playing two units is even realistic when injured big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles join the rotation remains to be seen.

"We can do it," Aaron Harrison said. "Not many teams, college or pro, can say you have 10 guys that can actually be on the floor and compete. So we're just a special team. I mean, if Coach decides to do it, I think it wouldn't be a bad thing."

The second half opened the same way the first ended as the Cats took control of the game. The coaching staff drew up an alley-oop dunk from Towns to Willis to open the half, and then Lee scored back-to-back baskets to take firm control.

By the time 5-9 point guard Ulis settled in and started to wow the crowd with zippy passes and pestering defense, the Cats had blown the game open.

"He really pushed the ball and found his teammates, but he also - it wasn't so much his command of the offense -- he put great pressure on the ball," Calipari said of Ulis, who finished with a team-high five assists. "And in the second half, the guy, it's like he's a gnat; all the sudden you just kind of let him steal one. He had a couple plays like that. So it's really - it changes the dynamic of our team right now, because we didn't have that (last year)."

Booker and Lee scored nine points apiece, Towns had 10, and Johnson finished with six points and six rebounds to round out the action for the Cats, who return to Kendal G.L Isaacs National Gymnasium at 1 p.m. ET on Monday to play Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket, a professional team from France.

"I didn't think anybody gave us a bad effort," Calipari said. "I didn't think anybody did, and that's amazing Aug. (10) and 10 practices (in)."

John Calipari


Alex Poythress and Andrew Harrison


In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Bria Goss writes about the group's final hours in Ethiopia and looks back how a memorable trip changed her forever.


Today is the last day in Ethiopia and I feel like I just got here. I feel like I need to stay longer because there was still more to be done. I knew I had to make the best of the last day!

After breakfast we went to visit kids while they were learning at school. There were so many kids learning their ABCs and learning to count. We completely distracted a class by our entrance. We were so energetic and ready to play with the kids. Some were shy, but most were pretty open. They were first and second graders and for their age, they spoke pretty clear English. I noticed how well they got along with each other. They were very polite and generous to each other and really tried to show the same generosity and politeness to me even though we just met.

They were so eager to show me what they know. I was blown away by their willingness to learn. This was considered to be optional and the kids did not have to be there, but the class was full. There were no seats left open. The kids told me it was because everyone there cherishes school and wants to have a good education. I was in shock. Kids see the school as a way out. They are passionate because it can provide for their families.

There was one little girl that really stuck out to me. Her sassy attitude and outgoing personality is going to lead her to a bright future. She stole the show by showing us her dance moves and spirit. She swung her hips and put her hands in the air as we sang our tune. The girl had skills! I could see her as the next winner on Got Talent!

After the fun time with the kids it was time to go. We went to a market to get some food supplies for the next city we were going to. The market was very busy and muddy. It smelled terrible and people were shoving things in your face to get you to buy their product. There were flies everywhere, which gave me goose bumps! After we got the food we left to the market to go to drop off the food to the widows. They were so thankful for the blessings we brought them. They repeatedly said "May God bless you" and "Thank you, God bless"! This put a smile on my face. I fell in love with serving others! I want to help people with nothing in return. I get the utmost joy when I put smiles on other people's faces.


After passing out the food it was time to pack up and leave. We had about an hour to shower and get our things together and get something to eat. We gathered downstairs to eat and after we all finished, we gave Girma money to get his driver's license. He was thrilled and surprised. We wanted to do this for him because to get his license was very expensive and he had just about given up on his dream of one day being able to drive. Now, he will be able to take his test and get his license. We were happy to help him and be a part of something so special.

We then left for the airport and said our final goodbyes! It was so hard saying goodbye to our new friends. They were a big help and made the trip so much easier. I love how well this team came together and became friends. We weren't ready to leave. We got to the airport around 7 and we board at 9:30. This plane ride was a little different than the first. We were all close now so this made the flight more enjoyable.

Eighteen hours later, we were back in the U.S. The trip was life-changing. I know more than I ever thought I would about Ethiopia and had the chance to experience it firsthand. This trip will stay with me forever. The thing that really sticks to me is that life is not about what you do or don't have. It's about the relationships you build. It's about the friendships you cherish. It's about the people you reach out to. I learned how to give willingly and what that feels like. I learned to put others before myself to lift them up. I am not perfect, but living for God you don't have to be.


Video: Football Fan Day 2014

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Due to renovations at Commonwealth Stadium, UK football held its annual Fan Day -- normally an evening event complete with fireworks -- in the morning on Saturday.

Combine that with rain in the forecast and Mark Stoops wasn't sure what to expect.

For far from the first time since his arrival in Lexington, Stoops was pleasantly surprised by Kentucky fans when he saw a line wrapping around the outside of the Nutter Fieldhouse.

"I was shocked, because I thought in the morning there would be less people," Stoops said. "But we couldn't come in here at night and didn't want to risk with the rain. So with the weather and being a little cooler going inside, I thought there would be less people. But I was amazed, as usual, and greatly appreciate the support and the kind words."

Stoops, his coaching staff and players signed autographs for more than an hour before making the short walk to Commonwealth Stadium for their first of two practices on Saturday. An estimated 4,000 fans were in attendance for the autograph session. UK will hold three more open practices during fall camp.

"That's the thing, ever since Coach Stoops got hired and I came back here the fans have been great," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Very, very supportive, standing room. Lots of young kids, which I think is important. ... It was really good for our kids, them to understand what they represent. When they put Kentucky across their chest, what they represent, the people."

The crowd saw plenty of big plays on both sides of the ball, including a number by members of a talented freshman class, in what was close to a full practice. Wide receivers Dorian Baker and T.V. Williams and defensive back Kendall Randolph were among the headliners, while Stanley Williams drew some cheers of "Boom" -- his high school nickname -- from the crowd after a run for a long gain.

"You've got to earn 'Boom' around here," Brown said, smiling. "Stanley, he can play at a different speed. He shows signs. He's still learning. I think we've got to be careful. We don't want to anoint him too early. We're pretty talented at that position. He's got a long way to go as far as learning what to do, but he plays at a different gear."

In spite of those big plays, Stoops said UK had been cleaner in its execution earlier in the week, especially in the passing game, but having a crowd in the building added exactly the kind of dynamic Stoops was hoping for.

"I think we need that," Stoops said. "They need to feel that pressure or whatever you want to say to get out here and perform in this stadium and do well."

Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Timmons agrees.

"It gives the team a lot more energy," Timmons said. "The fans are out here watching so everybody wants to make a name for themselves so everybody goes a lot harder. We like the excitement. Can't wait for three weeks."

Those three weeks before UK takes on UT Martin, however, are important.

"Believe me, this team wants to deliver for this fan base," Stoops said. "They've been so loyal, and just can't thank them enough for their support. I promise you, this was not a finished product here today. We're gonna work hard and get better."




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The Wildcats held their first practice of the 2014 season Saturday morning. The two-hour session was filled with plenty of energy as Kentucky prepares for the 31-match regular season and the opener on Aug. 29 in Memorial Coliseum. While the team had their first team meetings yesterday, today it was time to get to work.

After a 22-win season in 2013, UK will look to notch a 20-win season for the seventh time in the past eight years and earn their 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. While the big goals are clear for the 2014 Wildcats, today the focus was on taking a good first step as a team. Twenty days remain until Kentucky takes on Wichita State in the season's opening match, and Craig Skinner and the Wildcats know that every moment of the preseason matters.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.







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Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics) Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics)
In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Haley Mills writes about some inspiring children the student-athletes met on their last full day in Ethiopia.

We started our day like every other morning on our trip which included an early awaking followed by a delicious breakfast. We loaded up in our Toyota Coaster and dodged through the crazy traffic of Addis Ababa.

We first arrived at a little shop to buy a few souvenirs for loved ones back home. We then ventured on to a boys' home called Hope. The owner used to live on the streets of Addis and he was in and out of jail 32 times. After he turned his life around, he started a home for street boys to try and make a difference and change their lives. We introduced ourselves to all the boys and we were overwhelmed the most with their kindness and love, amidst the adversity.

A few of the boys shared their story and I was inspired as I related it back to my life. They had lost their parents and were left with nothing. They were destined to live sad lives as street children, yet these boys did not give up. They were doing everything they could, going to school, making enough money to live, learning English, all the while wrapped in God's will.

One boy told me his dream was to attend the University of Virginia and study psychology. He then went on to explain that he realized it was an impossible goal to reach. This broke my heart because here I am living his dream at UK. We take so much for granted and the events from today will make me think twice when complaining about something in my life. After we played soccer and football with the kids, we had pizza brought to the home for all of us to share. I was shocked when I saw almost half of the boys raise their hands when asked if this was their first time to ever eat pizza. These children have nothing and the joy in their eyes from a simple slice of pizza is truly inspiring.

Later that day we went to dinner at a place called Cupcake Delight. At first everyone thought we were having cupcakes for dinner and there was confusion on all of their faces. I did not think twice about it but the others were thinking about their "performance athlete diet". The restaurant ended up having a full menu and we all enjoyed a fantastic meal together. This was our last full day in Ethiopia and all of us were getting a little sad. We did not want to leave, especially to get on a 17-hour flight. Altogether it was a great day in Addis Ababa and it is one that I will never forget. Today's events left a huge impact on each and every one of us. The boys from Hope were such an inspiration and made me rethink the way I live.

A rendering of the southwest corner of UK football's planned training facility. A rendering of the southwest corner of UK football's planned training facility.
Kicking off Kentucky football's annual Media Day, Mitch Barnhart joked he was the warmup act for Mark Stoops, his staff and players.

Fortunately for UK's athletics director, he had some pretty good material of his own.

Barnhart brought with him draft renderings of the new training facility that will house the entire UK football operation.

"We think we'll finish up schematic design later on this fall, and we'll be able to begin the process and get into the construction process," Barnhart said. "So real excited about that and be able to move forward with that."

When completed in 2016, the new facility will cover between 95,000 and 100,000 square feet off the back side of the Nutter Fieldhouse. It will feature three practice fields, a weight room, offices, meeting rooms, a locker room and much more.

"That will give us an opportunity to do some really, really cool, unique things, tying this whole facility and one stop shop, our players in an area where they can get everything they need for the University of Kentucky football in one area," Barnhart said.

Work will begin on the training center while renovations on Commonwealth Stadium are still ongoing. The designs will complement the look and feel of the renovated stadium, complete with Kentucky limestone.

Barnhart and Russ Pear, UK's senior associate athletics director for facilities and operations, have worked closely with Stoops and his staff on the project since plans were approved in late January by the Board of Trustees. Friday was the first time any renderings were shown publicly.

It will still be a couple years before the team moves into its new facility, but the unveiling adds to the momentum built in the 20 months since Stoops arrived in Lexington.

"That makes us excited as a coaching staff, as a football team," Stoops said. "Our players, our recruits, everybody feels the excitement that's going on right now. There's been a great buy-in from the whole state and certainly from our administration."
One of the practice fields at UK football's planned training facility. One of the practice fields at UK football's planned training facility.

A rendering of an interior corridor. A rendering of an interior corridor.

Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball: 21 Days

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Kentucky has 21 All-Americans, including Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan, who were honored last season. Billings, who was named to the second team in 2013 in 2012 and the honorable mention team in 2011, is UK's first-ever three-time All-America honoree. Morgan captured an honorable mention nod to become the ninth different player in head coach Craig Skinner's nine seasons at UK to be named All-American. Fifteen of UK's 21 All-America accolades have come under Skinner, with at least one in each of the past seven seasons.

Today, the Wildcats had their first official team meeting of the year, and tomorrow, UK will hold its first practice of the 2014 season. When the first whistle is blown tomorrow, that's when it starts to get real. August 29th's season-opener is almost here, when Kentucky and Wichita State square off to open the season as part of the Commonwealth Classic in Memorial Coliseum.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


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