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April 2010 Archives

Video: NBA.com analyzes the 'Kentucky studs'

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Very good, in-depth analysis on some of the Kentucky stars in this year's NBA Draft. Kyle Montgomery of NBA TV goes into great detail about three of UK's players.

Also, Rivals.com lists Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton among the 10 players facing the toughest NBA Draft decisions.

Thursday afternoon notes

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- Rivals.com released its final rankings for the 2010 class, and as expected, a handful of UK signees dotted the top of the rankings. Four official UK signees -- Enes Kanter (No. 3), Brandon Knight (No. 6), Doron Lamb (No. 21) and Stacey Poole Jr. (No. 33) -- are in the top 33 in the overall rankings, giving UK more than any other school as the signing period slowly comes to an end. Knight dropped from the top overall spot to No. 6 while Kanter, long considered a five-star prospect, debuted in the rankings at No. 3.

- Feature story worth reading on MLS.com on former UK goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum and his fight to become a No. 1 goalkeeper with the Columbus Crew. Check out the story here.

- The NCAA Tournament expansion to 68 teams is official. The Division I Board of Directors approved last week's proposal today, the final hurdle in the expansion. Read the full release on the newly expanded tourney.

Early-entrant draft list

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for nba1.jpgBelow is the complete NCAA early-entrant (underclassmen) list for the 2010 NBA Draft. As you'll immediately notice, the list is long and accomplished. In all, 80 underclassmen have declared for the NBA Draft -- well more than the 60 picks in the two-round NBA Draft.

Twelve players from the Southeastern Conference are on the list, including five Kentucky players.

When you consider the upperclassmen and international players that are in the draft, one would have to assume that many of these players are going to either A.) withdraw by the May deadline or B.) go undrafted. 

Never seen a list quite this long, but it should make for an interesting draft on June 24 

Solomon Alabi, Florida State
Cole Aldrich, Kansas
Lavoy Allen, Temple
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
James Anderson, Oklahoma State
Kevin Anderson, Richmond
Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Armon Bassett, Ohio
Talor Battle, Penn State
Keith Benson, Oakland
Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky
Anatoly Bose, Nicholls State
Dee Bost, Mississippi State
Craig Brackins, Iowa State
Avery Bradley, Texas
Carlon Brown, Utah
Derrick Caracter, UTEP
DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
Jordan Crawford, Xavier
Ed Davis, North Carolina
Mike Davis, Illinois
Paul Davis, Winston-Salem State
Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
Courtney Fortson, Arkansas
Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Tiny Gallon, Oklahoma
Charles Garcia, Seattle
Paul George, Fresno State
Anthony Gurley, Massachusetts
Manny Harris Michigan
Gordon Hayward, Butler
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
Xavier Henry, Kansas
Darington Hobson, New Mexico
Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb
Armon Johnson, Nevada
JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
Ravern Johnson, Mississippi State
Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
Cameron Jones, Northern Arizona
Dominique Jones, South Florida
Mac Koshwal, DePaul
Sylven Landesberg, Virginia
Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech
Kenny Lawson, Creighton
Tommy Mason-Griffin, Oklahoma
Demetri McCamey, Illinois
Elijah Millsap, Alabama-Birmingham
Greg Monroe, Georgetown
E'Twaun Moore, Purdue
Arnett Moultrie, UTEP
Andrew Ogilvy, Vanderbilt
Daniel Orton, Kentucky
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
Rico Pickett, Manhattan
Eniel Polynice, Mississippi
Herb Pope, Seton Hall
Jeff Robinson, Seton Hall
Samardo Samuels, Louisville
Larry Sanders, Virginia Commonwealth
John Sloan, Huntingdon (AL)
Tracy Smith, North Carolina State
Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
Lazar Trifunovic, Radford
Evan Turner, Ohio State
Alex Tyus, Florida
Ekpe Udoh, Baylor
John Wall, Kentucky
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Quinton Watkins, San Diego State
C.J. Webster, San Jose State
Terrico White, Mississippi
Hassan Whiteside, Marshall
Elliot Williams, Memphis
Stevy Worah-Ozimo, Slippery Rock
Chris Wright, Dayton
Jahmar Young, New Mexico State

Kentucky 16th in latest Directors' Cup standings

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Kentucky slid three spots to 16th place in the latest Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings, released Thursday by the National Association of College Directors and USA Today, just one spot outside the top-15 goal set by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart in the athletics department's 15 by 15 by 15 Plan.

The rankings, the final of which will be released July 1, rate the top athletics departments in the country. Kentucky will have to rank in the top 15 by the year 2015 to achieve the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletics programs by 2015.

The latest sports to be included in the rankings are women's bowling, men's and women's gymnastics, and men's hockey. Because UK only participates in one of those sports (women's gymnastics, which received 46.5 points for an NCAA Regional appearance), it slid from April 3's 13th ranking to 16th at the conclusion of the winter sports.

Despite the drop, Kentucky is still on pace to break last year's 34th-place Directors' Cup finish of 607.80 points and currently ranks second among all Southeastern Conference schools. With a current total of 534.00 points, UK would need only 73.8 points in the remaining spring sports still in action (men's tennis, track and field, baseball and softball) to top the 2008-09 total.

More importantly, if the race were to end today, Kentucky's 16th-place standing would be the best in school history. UK's current Directors' Cup high is 26th place, set during the 1996-97 athletics season.

UK finished the winter sports with a total of 445.00 points. Only Stanford, Ohio State, Florida, Minnesota and Nebraska scored better in the winter.

The next standings will be released June 3 at the conclusion of the women's water polo, men's volleyball, women's golf, men's and women's lacrosse, and men's and women's tennis seasons.

We will continue to report on the updated standings over the next couple of months. Should Kentucky finish in the top 15 at any point prior to 2015, it would fulfill one of the two criteria set in the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan.

Live blog: UK baseball vs. No. 11 Louisville

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Full relase from the NCAA ...

INDIANAPOLIS -- University of Washington President Mark A. Emmert was named today by the NCAA Executive Committee as president of the organization. Emmert will become the fifth CEO of the Association and is expected to assume his duties on November 1, 2010.

Emmert fills a vacancy created by the passing of NCAA President Myles Brand in September 2009 and will take over duties of the office from interim President James L. Isch.

"We are gratified to hire an individual of Mark Emmert's stature and experience to head the NCAA," said Executive Committee chair and Oregon State University President Ed Ray. "President Emmert emerged from a field of exceptional candidates who presented a broad range of skills, knowledge and experiences.

"Our options were considerable and the decision was difficult," Ray said, "but we are confident in our decision that Mark is uniquely qualified to lead the organization."

Emmert has been president at his alma mater, University of Washington, since 2004 where he has led the university to its standing as second among all public and private institutions in research funding with $1 billion in grants and contracts per year. Prior to his presidency at Washington, he was chancellor at Louisiana State University from 1999 to 2004. "It is my great honor to accept this assignment," Emmert said. "It is more than a new job for me. This is special. This is an opportunity to help shape one of the great American institutions."

A Washington native, President Emmert earned his bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Washington and has both a master's degree and a Ph.D in public administration from Syracuse University.

Among his administrative appointments in higher education, Emmert was chief operating and academic officer at the University of Connecticut (1995 to 1999), provost and vice-president for academic affairs at Montana State University (1992 to 1995), and associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Colorado (1985 to1992).

Included among his many professional activities, Emmert is a member of the Higher Education Working Group on Global Issues as part of the Council on Foreign Relations, chairs the Executive Group of the Worldwide Universities Network, and serves on the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board.

He was a National Academy of Public Administration Fellow, an American Council on Education Fellow, and a J. W. Fulbright Administrative Fellow. He has written extensively on higher education and public administration over a career that spans the last 30 years.

Thumbnail image for BSB 09_10 UK_FL Game3 Web 18.jpgSome of the most significant contributors in Kentucky's recent baseball upswing have been junior-college transfers.

The most notable names that come to mind are 2006 Southeastern Conference champions Ryan Strieby and Sean Coughlin as well as the sweet-swinging Sawyer Carroll. All three came in as highly touted transfers and all three first-team All-Americans played integral roles in two of UK's best years of the decade.

Lance Ray, in some respects, was projected to fit that mold. As the top player on one of the best junior-college teams in the nation at Western Nevada College in 2009, Ray hit .373 with 80 hits, 62 runs, 20 doubles, 12 home runs, 52 RBI and 20 stolen bases.

It wasn't out of the question to think Ray, an outfielder/first baseman, could come in and be an immediate contributor on a team in search of a shot of offensive firepower.

"I wanted to come in and make an immediate impact on the team and start a lot and find myself in the middle of the lineup playing every day and helping my team win," Ray said.
But sometimes expectations can become a burden. As much as Ray wanted to come in and be the next Strieby or Coughlin, it didn't happen right way.

Ray began his career with Kentucky with a hit and an RBI in each of his first three games, but he soon found himself mired in a 0-for-16 slump just a handful of games into his junior season. Following a 0-for-2 performance against Murray State, Ray's average dropped as low as .120.

Head coach Gary Henderson kept faith in Ray and didn't nail him to the bench, but his role was certainly reduced. Primarily as a pinch hitter or late-game substitution, Ray flirted with the Mendoza Line into early April.

Whether it was the expectations to be an immediate-impact player, the transition to Division I ball or a broken bone he suffered in his right hand the previous summer that stunted his development, Ray was pressing.

"Kids come in and the competition is stiffer than what they've seen in the past," Henderson said. "You get a little bit of early failure there and the next thing you know there is a little bit of stress and pressure and that leads to pressing and more failure. It's a pretty common cycle. What you hope is at some point is they step back and get comfortable."

As if a switch was suddenly turned on, the reverse in fortune came in a crucial series against Alabama, one of the teams UK is in a dogfight with for the eighth and final spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Facing a one-run deficit in the Friday night opener against the Crimson Tide, Henderson placed confidence in Ray by calling him to pinch hit with two runners on and the game tied in the eighth inning. Entering the game, Ray was hitting a measly .206.

"Coach just called my name to come up to hit," Ray said. "I was excited. It was a big situation. The adrenaline was pumping and I just wanted to get up there and get something up in the zone to hammer."

Ray laced a line drive to the left side of the infield that bounced off the chest of Alabama shortstop Josh Rutledge. Although Ray was already going to beat the throw at first, Rutledge errantly sailed a throw out of play, allowing two runners to score. Ray was awarded one RBI on the play, the game winner in an all-important comeback win against the Crimson Tide.

Ray has ripped the cover off the ball ever since. Over the last eight games, including that first Alabama game, Ray is 15-for-25 with six runs, 10 RBI, three home runs and nine extra-base hits. Just last weekend at Auburn, Ray was 6-for-12 with six RBI a home run, five doubles and two runs.

Since that at-bat against Alabama, Ray's average has risen more than 150 points to .362 to go along with four home runs and 14 RBI.

"It was a big situation that kind of turned the season around for me," Ray said.

In hindsight, it would be easy for one to pinpoint that Alabama was where it started, but Ray isn't alone in his assessment. Whether it was by coincidence, hard work or matter of just finally getting a break, Henderson sat in the dugout and prophesized the rip would be the hit to turn around Ray's season.

"(Hitting coach) Brian (Green) and I are in the dugout and we said, 'That's going to be the one. That ball was crushed. There it is; that's the one he needed,' " Henderson said. "It's not like that's the only time we've ever said that, but we absolutely noticed it. It was pretty obvious that that was a different stroke and different result than he had had happened at any point in time."

Now Henderson can't keep Ray off the field. With the confidence boost of one at-bat, Ray has become one of Kentucky's hottest hitters and a fixture in the middle of the lineup as the Cats get ready to journey down Interstate 64 for a Wednesday night (6 p.m. at Jim Patterson Stadium) showdown with archrival Louisville.

"He's much more comfortable," Henderson said. "His swing is a lot looser and his body is a lot freer. The body language is much more confident and the presence in the box is much more relaxed. The game is slowing down for him a little bit and now he's seeing the ball a lot better."

The old cliché in baseball that it's a game of inches might very well be true. For all we know, Rutledge could have fielded the ball cleanly, tossed to first and Ray may have never have been awarded the opportunities he's been granted the last few weeks. With it would have gone the hitting streak, a possible everyday starting spot and, perhaps, a UK win or two.

But it didn't, and fortunately for Kentucky and Ray, it might have been the jumpstart Ray has been looking for.

If we one day look back at Ray's career and place him in his hopeful company of Strieby, Coughlin and Carroll, we could look back at that at-bat against Alabama as the single biggest plate appearance in his Kentucky career.

It gave him the confidence to believe he belonged here.

"It's all confidence," Ray said. "You go up there and right now I feel no matter what the pitcher throws, no matter what spot he throws it in, I'm going to hit it hard."

Tuesday evening notes

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Couple of quick hitters before I head out of the office:

- There was a report today that freshman Eric Bledsoe had signed an agent and was staying in the NBA Draft. UK officials spoke with Bledsoe on Tueday, who informed UK that he has not signed with an agent and will make a deicision on his future on May 8.

- Baseball travels to No. 11 Louisville on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. pitch with the nationally ranked Cardinals. UK upset its archrival 5-0 earlier this season at Cliff Hagan Stadium. But that you already knew. What you didn't know is that the Cards are ranked No. 5 in this week's RPI ratings. Combined with UK's brutal Southeastern Conference schedule, five of the teams UK has played or will play this season are ranked in the top 11 in the RPI. Additionally, 10 teams are ranked in the top 25. What's it all mean? Well, as tough of a road UK has had this season, if it can find a way to make it into the SEC Tournament, the strength of schedule might be enough to vault the Cats into the NCAA Tournament.

- We will have a live blog from Jim Patterson Stadium in Louisville on Wednesday for the game. I'm hoping to hear from the baseball team at some point for a feature/preview story.

April 25 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, April 25:

Baseball: Lance Ray

Week Stats: 4 GP, 4 GS, .563 (9-for-16), 5 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1.250 SLG%, 2 BB, 1 SO
Season Stats: 25 GP, 13 GS, .362 (21-for-58), 7 2B, 4 HR, 14 RBI, .690 SLG%, 7 BB, 9 SO

Junior Lance Ray had a breakout week, registering four starts and reaching base safely in 12-of-19 plate appearances ... Ray charted five doubles during the week, all coming in the series at No. 29 Auburn ... Ray added a homer in the midweek game at No. 26 WKU and belted a game-tying three-run homer in the late innings at Auburn in the rubber match Sunday ... The native of Las Vegas, Nev., started the week going 3-for-4 at WKU, adding a two-run homer ... In the series opener Friday night, Ray contributed a 3-for-4 night, with three doubles and an RBI ... In a game-one win Sunday, Ray went 1-for-5 with two RBI, with his double bouncing off the top of the fence in right-centerfield, narrowly missing a homer ... In game two Sunday, Ray went 2-for-3 with three RBI and a walk, pelting the top of the 30-foot wall in leftfield and ripping a game-tying homer in the top of the sixth inning - of a seven inning affair - evening the game at 4-4 with the three-run homer ... During the week, Ray batted .563 (9-for-16) with five doubles, two homers and eight RBI ... On the year, Ray is batting .362 (21-for-58) with seven doubles, four homers and 14 RBI, slugging .690 and reaching base at a .433 clip ... Before Ray's current five-game stretch of starts in all games, the left-handed hitter was batting .231 through his first 20 games, battling a wrist injury that limited his at bats ... In the last five games, Ray has charted a .632 (12-for-19) average, with a 1.211 slugging percentage and a .696 on-base percentage, reaching base safely in 16-of-23 plate appearances.

Softball: Megan Yocke

Junior Megan Yocke had a terrific week at the plate for the Blue and White as she led the squad with a .533 clip. Against Austin Peay, she was a perfect 6-for-6 at the dish. Yocke finished the week with five RBI and two home runs. Yocke also tossed out two base stealers from her catcher position. Her home run against LSU marked just the third home run given up by LSU's Brittney Mack this season.

_R6L2304.JPGThe CATSPY Awards are about celebrating the year, honoring the achievement of the Kentucky athletes and looking back at the memories made in the previous athletics season. In between, there is a little glitz, glamour and laughter sprinkled in during an awards ceremony that mixes the world's best sports awards shows and transforms it into a college edition of the ESPYs.

It is also about looking forward to next season. At the end of every CATSPYs, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart uses the opportunity to springboard into the upcoming athletics year in a state-of-the-department-like speech addressed directly at the student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff in attendance.

Last year the topic was about finishing the job. Halfway through the third and final season of the athletics year, UK appears to be on its way to finishing a banner 2009-10 year. Kentucky ranks 13th in the Director's Cup standings, which rates the top athletics programs in the nation.

In the 2010 speech, given Monday night at the CATSPY Awards inside Memorial Coliseum, Barnhart touched on the difference between good intentions and intentional actions. The speech was inspired by an anonymous individual Barnhart recently heard speak.

"He said that there was a difference between good intentions and intentional actions," Barnhart said. "We all intend to do things. A lot of people begin the year and they think they're going to lose weight; they intend to lose weight but they don't do anything about it. We intend to start the season to be in better shape but don't do much about it; I don't do the workouts I'm supposed to do and I don't take care of my business. Sometimes we just think if we manage it or if we believe it or say it often enough people will buy into what we're doing because it's a good intention."

As the program looks ahead to next year, Barnhart stressed that the department not only has good intentions in becoming a top-15 athletics program by the year 2015 but takes the necessary actions to get there.

"At Kentucky, we came here eight years ago and said we were going to be a top-25 program," Barnhart said. "We moved that up a little bit. We said we want to be a top-15 program. We have very good intentions to do that, but it means nothing unless our actions are very intentional in the way we do it in the way we take care of business. We can say we want to be that. At the end of the winter sports, our athletic department was ranked 13th in the country because of the efforts of (our student-athletes and coaches)."

For eight years, the goal has been to build the program and make it better based off five principles. Barnhart said UK has experienced success at all five principles and he is proud at how far the athletics department has grown, but there is still progress to be made.

In two of those areas - character and integrity - Barnhart is pleased at where UK is at. Where he would like to continue to see even more headway is in academics, being thankful and good stewards in what they've been given, and competing.

While Kentucky has enjoyed a breakthrough athletics season, Barnhart made sure to remind everyone in attendance that it's not over yet. Ranked 13th in the nation, there are still eight sports competing that could move the program closer to - or farther away from - its goal.

In the community, UK's student-athletes have given, but Barnhart wants to see even more, and it must be done with sincerity.

"Everyone has worked to get better," Barnhart said. "It's not enough."

For years, Barnhart has watched his student-athletes grow from more of a hands-off approach. As he and the department enter the next step in its evolution, he wants the entire staff to become more involved in the student-athletes' development.

One of the steps in getting there will be a monthly captain's roundtable, a breakfast meeting with each of the captains of the 22 sports at UK. Together, Barnhart hopes to meet with each sport to make sure everyone understands what's going on from a university perspective, what's going on from an athletic department perspective and how it all fits together, especially during trying financial times.

The responsibility also falls back on the athletics department and its staff, Barnhart said. Instead of talking about improving the infrastructure of the program, the staff needs to do a better job of building it, Barnhart said.

"As a staff, we talk about a lot of things," Barnhart said. "We talk about how we want to do things better, we're going to be selfless, we want to see you do all these things and be humble in the way you approach it. We better be willing to do it, too. We've got to do a better job of taking care of others. We talk about that. We've got to get better at doing it, too."

Specifically, Barnhart addressed the ongoing process to update UK's facilities. Barnhart promised the student-athletes that there are "more things on the docket from a facilities perspective," while apologizing to the track and field team about their subpar facility. UK's athletics director called it a top priority to fix and upgrade the current condition of the track and field facility.

In closing, Barnhart made sure to reiterate his pride in how far the program has come. To get to the final destination, Barnhart categorized three people. He said there are givers, there are takers and there are fakers.

For the program to achieve its goals, they must all learn to be givers.

"I've never seen many championship teams who weren't built off givers," Barnhart said. "That's how you win. That's where leadership comes from, that's where humbleness comes from, and eventually from the love of a team, that's where it's built from.

Johnson invited to New York Giants' minicamp

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Still no free-agent deal for former UK linebacker Micah Johnson, but the four-year star has been invited to the New York Giants' rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to the Giants' official website.

Johnson is one of 54 players who are currently scheduled to attend the rookie minicamp to be held Friday through Sunday of this week. Twenty-three of those players, including Johnson, will try to earn a spot and contract during the three-day tryout.

Monday afternoon notes

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The news season might be slowing down a little bit as the 2010-11 athletics season slowly comes to a close. We'll have a couple of things on tap this week, such as Wednesday's UK-Louisville baseball game, but apologies ahead of time if things get a little slow on here.

- The eighth annual CATSPY Awards, celebrating the 2009-10 athletics year at the University of Kentucky, will be held tonight at 7:30 in Memorial Coliseum. Tickets are still available to the public (at least until the ticket office closes at 5 p.m.). Tickets cost $5 each and may be purchased in advance at the UK Athletics Ticket Office (Joe Craft Center) or by calling 800-928-2287. All persons must have a ticket to enter, regardless of age. All general public will enter through the Lexington Avenue entrance of Memorial Coliseum. We will have a release after the event on the home page with award winners. I'm taking tonight off to enjoy the event and celebrate the year, so there will be no blog post on here. 

- ESPN blogger Chris Low has a short review of Kentucky's spring game on his Southeastern Conference blog. Low seems to think senior-to-be Mike Hartline still has the edge at the starting quarterback position and believes he will win the three-way battle. Read the full post here.

Report: Undrafted Cats picked up by NFL teams

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nfl-logo1.jpgMel Kiper Jr. can put the hair gel away for a day, Todd McShay can breathe and NFL hopefuls can finally sit back and relax. After three days of drafting, seven rounds and months of speculation, the 2010 NFL Draft is over.

Three Wildcats were selected in this year's draft, the most since four players were selected in the 2008 draft. Defensive tackle Corey Peters, who we profiled last week, was selected in the third round (83rd overall) by the Atlanta Falcons cornerback Trevard Lindley was taken in the fourth round (105th overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles and fullback John Conner was picked in the fifth round (139th overall) by the New York Jets.

Several UK hopefuls, including linebacker Micah Johnson, linebacker Sam Maxwell and offensive lineman Zipp Duncan, did not hear their names called. However, several are reportedly signing deals with respected teams as undrafted free agents and will still have a chance to fulfill their lifelong dreams.

According to www.nepatriotsdraft.com, four different Cats have signed a free-agent deal. Reportedly, tailback Alfonso Smith has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, tight end T.C. Drake has agreed to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs, Duncan has inked a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles and offensive tackle Justin Jeffries has signed with the San Diego Chargers.

All of this, of course, is unofficial for the time being. Tony Neely, UK's sports information director for football, is in the process of calling the former Wildcats and confirming with each player. He will likely have an official updated release on the website later Monday.

One name you might notice missing is Johnson, who led Kentucky in tackles last season. While unfortunate, there is still time for Johnson to be signed. Should he get picked up, don't be surprised to see a Wesley Woodyard-like career.

Woodyard, if you remember, did not get selected in the 2008 draft but has since gone on to start a very successful career with the Denver Broncos.

Spring Game wrap-up: QB battle to continue

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FB 09_10 UK_TN WEB 32.jpgJoker Phillips wishes he could have named a starting quarterback Saturday, but that doesn't mean he came away disappointed.

"I'm not disappointed," Phillips said. "The reason I'm not disappointed is because I think we can win with all three of those guys. I really do."

Senior-to-be Mike Hartline came into Saturday's Blue/White Spring Game with a slight edge over sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski, but none of the three quarterbacks did anything to separate themselves heading into the summer.

"I think this competition is way too close to decide in April," Phillips said. "We'll carry this competition into August and hopefully we can come up with a decision quickly because we need that guy to get the majority of the number one snaps."

Hartline started the day with the "ones" and actually played quite well in spurts, but he still showed signs of inconsistency and tossed an opening-drive interception to linebacker Danny Trevathan.

"Personally I thought it was a sloppy game," said Hartline, who finished with 124 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-24 passing. "I think offensively we didn't play very well. The score says something entirely different. Out of the three scrimmages, I think it was the worst one we played. ... Little throws that we missed and receivers falling down - we just can't have that."

Hartline expressed his desire to take hold of the starting position following the final scrimmage of the season, but Phillips said Saturday was more about the younger quarterbacks' ability to catch up than it was about Hartline falling back to the pack.

"The thing I like about Morgan and Moss is they played in the stadium (in scrimmages) better than (they had early on in spring practice)," Phillips said. "They closed the gap more so than Mike came back to them. I'm happy with the progress those two guys made from day one. In day one there were some concerns with me. But since day 15 I've been happy with all three of them."

Newton, who started last year's second half of the season when Hartline went down with a knee injury, continued to show signs of both his potential and inexperience. On one such play, Hartline eluded two sacks, scrambled to his left and fired a 19-yard dart back across the field to wide receiver Gene McCaskill.

A few plays later, however, Newton (6-of-12 for 92 yards) came right back with a poorly underthrown interception in the end zone.

"We know that Morgan Newton can get himself out of trouble with his legs," Phillips said. "He has the ability to erase a lot of good plays."

Rumors have circulated that Mossakowski, who redshirted last season as he recovered from a shoulder injury, is making a push for one of the top two spots, and he showcased why Saturday. Although the stats (6-of-12 for 37 yards) didn't necessarily prove it, Mossakowski showcased a big arm and good pocket presence.

"It's basically just managing the game," Mossakowski said. "This is basically my first game that I've played in a year, year and a half since I got injured. Getting out (of the huddle), making sure the play clock had enough time and all those things was real important for me."

Former UK great Andre Woodson won the job four years ago during the summer progression. Hartline said he's hoping to do the same.

"I've just got to keep improving," Hartline said. "You don't take a step back. When there are chances to practice, you do them and you work with your guys. You stay on top of things and you don't take things for granted. I think right now, with me and my senior season, I don't want any what ifs at the end of my senior season. I'm putting it all out there on the line."

And so are Newton and Mossakowski. Phillips had hoped he would have a starter in place by the end of spring practice, but having three guys step up for the position isn't such a bad thing either.

"If I thought I couldn't win with any of them, I'd be disappointed because someone didn't step up," Phillips said.

Video: Blue/White Spring Game news conference

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FB 09_10 UK_EKU web 93.jpgPostgame quotes | Postgame video | QB battle to continue

For all the talk about the three-way battle for the starting quarterback position, it was a sophomore battling for the backup running back position that caught the eye of most fans during Saturday's annual Blue/White Spring Game.

Behind an offensive line that features four new starters, the Kentucky ground game rushed for 307 yards and two touchdowns in front of approximately 9,000 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.

Sophomore Donald Russell, one of two tailbacks vying for the running back position behind senior Derrick Locke, carried the ball nine times Saturday for 118 yards and two touchdowns in leading the offense (Blue team) to a 60-25 win over the defense (White team).

The offense vs. defense scrimmage scoring system didn't tell the full story of Saturday's game, as the defensive line put pressure on the quarterbacks all afternoon, but Phillips was pleased with what he saw on both sides of the ball.

"In the scrimmage today, I liked the competition," Phillips said. "Some of you got with the players and talked about the scoring system, but I think it is fair. We have to get the defense off of the field. We weren't very good last year on third downs and getting off the field. That means third-and-1, third-and-2 and even third-and-longs weren't very good. That has been a huge emphasis to get off the field. I think the offense did a good job moving the ball. There were some big plays, but the offense didn't get the ball in the end zone enough, especially our number 'ones (first team).' I thought the 'twos' (second team) did a good job getting into the end zone and we made some big plays with our running backs."

Russell did most of his damage on a 70-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, all but icing the game at 47-24. The sophomore tailback out of West Palm Beach, Fla., took the initial handoff out left before busting through a seam 70 yards untouched.

"I opened it up and all I saw was all daylight," Russell said. "I just took it from there."
Redshirt freshman Jonathan George, who redshirted last season with an injury, added 45 yards on the ground and sophomore CoShik Williams tallied 85 yards, but it was Russell who shined brightest on the final day of spring practice.

"Donald Russell continues to plead his case," Phillips said. "He's building a nice little résumé in why he should be the second-team running back. I was telling Jonathan George, No. 23 is making a case for himself. You better start making one for yourself also."

The headline entering the game, as it has been throughout the spring, was the three-man race at quarterback. Senior Mike Hartline was thought to be the frontrunner after a solid spring - and he did nothing to squash that notion Saturday after throwing for 124 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-24 passing - but Phillips said the quarterback race will continue through the summer and likely into August.

"I always want to stand behind the quarterbacks and see how they handle themselves in the huddle and I thought all of them commanded respect when they got in the huddle and also managed the line of scrimmage," Phillips said. "The thing I liked about all three of them is they were able to get themselves out of trouble with their feet, with their legs."

Hartline started the day with the "ones" and was moving the ball down the field until he threw back into pressure on a third-and-2 from the 34-yard line. Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan, who drew positive reviews from Phillips for his ability to fly to the ball Saturday, intercepted the pass to give the White six points under the scrimmage scoring system.

Hartline redeemed himself three drives later at the end of the first quarter. The 6-foot-6, 206-pound quarterback out of Canton, Ohio, rolled right on second-and-15 and hit sophomore E.J. Fields on a fade route in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. The score gave the Blue a 13-7 lead.

 "I thought I made somFB 09_10 UK_Bama WEB 21.jpge really good plays," said Hartline, who was also under center for the game's final touchdown drive, capped by an 8-yard scoring scamper up the middle by Russell. "The biggest thing I tried to do was just keep drives alive, keep getting first downs (and) keep them moving. There were a couple of three-and-outs, but overall I drove the ball pretty well and my offense did pretty good every time of converting third downs. There were just little throws that I need to make, a few throws that got away, but we need to keep our composure and technique all the way down the field."

Redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski (6-of-13 for 37 yards), who sat out in 2009 while he recovered from a shoulder injury he suffered in high school, started strong on the day. Mossakowski scrambled 18 yards on his very first play and later connected with junior wide receiver Matt Roark for 16 yards. The offense eventually settled for a 34-yard field goal from junior Ryan Tydlacka to go up 8-6.

Last year's second-half starter and wildcard in the quarterback race, sophomore Morgan Newton, started slow but played well late in the second half. His drive just before halftime epitomized both the potential and inexperience he and Mossakowski are trying to balance.

Newton started the drive with a 41-yard bomb to senior wide receiver Chris Matthews, the longest pass play of the day. A few plays later, with just seconds left on the clock, Newton showcased his feet with a brilliant scramble to elude two tacklers before firing a 19-yard dart to senior wide receiver Gene McCaskill.

The play appeared to set up a touchdown late in the second quarter, but junior safety Winston Guy picked off an underthrown 2-yard pass by Newton to end the first half. The six-point pick by Guy cut the offense's lead to 26-21 entering the half.

Still, Newton (6-of-12 for 92 yards) and Mossakowksi have closed the gap on Hartline, making for an even more interesting summer as the UK football team heads into the 2010 offseason.

"I'm not disappointed (with not naming a starter)," Phillips said. "The reason I'm not disappointed is because I think we can win with all three of those guys. I really do."

A Williams-led drive to start the third quarter was capped off with a 2-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Ryan Phillippi to junior tight end Gabe Correll. Russell's 65-yard touchdown run increased the offense's lead to 45-24 before the third quarter ended at 47-24.

A 28-yard field goal by sophomore Pat Simmons started the fourth quarter and Russell scored again in the fourth with 7:44 left in the game. A pair of first downs by the Blue team and a defensive stop by the White team brought the game's final score to 60-25.

As lopsided as the scoreboard indicated the game was, the defense had its share of highlights. Redshirt freshman Mister Cobble, who at 308 pounds already looks the part of a starting Southeastern Conference defensive tackle, continually brought pressure up the middle.

Sophomore linebacker Ridge Wilson led the defense with six tackles and redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan Mosby added a sack, but it was Trevathan (four tackles, a sack and an interception) who impressed Phillips the most because of his leadership.

"You saw Danny Trevathan showing up all over the field," Phillips said. "I've been pressing Danny Trevathan to be a leader. Sometimes guys don't think they're leaders. I think Danny has been sitting in the background and watching Sam Maxwell and Micah Johnson to lead, and I'm not sure if he sees himself as a leader. We expect Danny Trevathan to be a leader of this defense and he showed it today with the way he played."

The team will now head into Phillips' first offseason before summer practice in early August. UK's first game of the 2010 season will take place Sept. 4 at Louisville.

Asked what he was looking for from his team in the offseason, Phillips said he wanted his players to stay out of the headlines and continue to develop under "Operation Win."

"We've been in the hunt before in the SEC East," Phillips said. "We expect to be in there longer."

Live blog: Blue/White Spring Game

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Patterson made right decision - both times

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MBSK 09_10 UK_FLA Web 07.jpgIt seems like we were here a year ago, right in this room.

I can remember Patrick Patterson sitting front and center at the Memorial Coliseum media room table. The clicks of a dozen cameras still registers in my head. I can still see Patrick Patterson's parents, Tywanna and Buster, in the corner of my eye sitting just a few feet to the left of Patterson. The topic of the NBA Draft still resonates in my eardrums like a vivid dream. 

That memory still seems ever present.

Well, truth be told, last year's flashback wasn't just your ordinary case of deja vu. Nearly one year ago, the media, fans and coaches sat in that very same room and listened to Patterson announce an important, albeit predictable decision.

Last year he made the right choice in returning to the University of Kentucky. This year he has made another one in announcing his decision to remain in the NBA Draft and turn pro.

"I thought it was time for me to go, time for me to start a new chapter in my life (and) time for me to move on," Patterson said Friday. "I've had a great collegiate career here these past three years. I've had a lot of fun and created a lot of memories."

And with that, the centerpiece of Kentucky basketball -- the one constant in three rollercoaster, exciting and sometimes tumultuous years of basketball -- is gone. Patterson is NBA bound. It's the right decision, as it was last year when he decided to turn down a likely first-round selection for one more stab at championship glory.

When Patterson signed with UK, the program was on unstable ground. The hiring of a new head coach, one Billy Clyde Gillispie, was a shot of rejuvenation in a suddenly leveling program, but it wasn't a sure thing.

UK had been without a big-name signee in some years, it was void of a Final Four appearance since the 1998 season -- the longest such drought in school history -- and was (as we all now know), headed for darker days. 

Kentucky suffered embarrassing losses to Gardner-Webb, San Diego and VMI in Patterson's first two seasons at UK. The team went from a borderline NCAA Tournament pick in 2008 to a National Invitation Tournament team in 2009. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Gillispie was fired.

"The first two years here at the University of Kentucky were not the true Kentucky years that we've had in the past," Patterson said. 

And yet the one constant bright spot on those two turbulent years was Patterson.

He burst onto the scene in 2008 and shouldered the pressure and weight of the program as a freshman. In that first season, Patterson averaged 16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds en route to Freshman All-America honors. Last season, even in the midst of the program's struggles, he remained the rock of the team and averaged 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds.

His stock was bullish. The consensus from NBA scouts was Patterson was a first-round, borderline lottery pick. The opportunity to turn pro was there and nobody would have thought twice about it if he would have stayed in the 2009 NBA Draft.

"I thought about it a lot," Patterson said. "I talked to Jodie (Meeks) about it. I was definitely considering it."

Even Patterson's mom, Tywanna, was unsure if Patrick would fit in with a new coach, a new system and new players.

"At first when he decided to (come back last year), I was like, 'Are you sure?' " Tywanna Patterson said.

Ultimately, though, the bitter taste of two years that didn't meet his team expectations, the prospect to improve his individual game under head coach John Calipari and the chance to truly compete for a national championship for the first time in his career was an opportunity too tantalizing to pass up.

"No regrets on coming back," Patterson said of his final season. "I'm fully satisfied with my decision to return. I developed my game, got confidence in my jump shot, improved my jump shot, knocked down threes, just broadened my game. Ball handling, driving from the perimeter -- just overall confidence in myself skyrocketed this year."

MBSK 09_10 UK_FLA Web 17.jpgKentucky fell short of the national championship and Patterson was sometimes overlooked, even underappreciated on a team full of stars -- he was even criticized by a minority of UK fans when the team suffered its first loss of the season at South Carolina. But Patterson turned in another solid season and helped push UK to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005. He was once again the quintessential leader.

Tywanna Patterson said the decision to return last year was the right one. As all mothers can do, Mrs. Patterson could visibly see a different, happier person in her son, one who was satisfied with his decision to return last year.

Although UK didn't win that national title -- the one glaring void that Patterson said "definitely" made him think about return again -- Patterson has once again made the right decision. It is his time to go.

Even if it's only a few spots higher in the draft, as Calipari said on multiple occasions this year, he has improved his stock immensely. (It's arbitrary, but look at the contract Patterson will sign in a couple of months and consider what that would have been last year.)

"Last year I wasn't really confident with my jump shot or things on the perimeter like guarding perimeter players," Patterson said. "I was pretty much just post-oriented with my back to the basket and guarding big men. Coming back this year, I definitely improved foot speed, quickness and being able to guard on the perimeter. Coming back for my junior year I improved tremendously."

Patterson cited meeting new people, his teammates, his coaches, the NCAA Tournament and, oddly enough, Calipari tripping over his own feet at practice among his favorite memories.

Asked what he hoped people at Kentucky will remember him by, Patterson described the ultimate basketball star.

"Somebody who wore the jersey with pride," Patterson said. "A great ambassador for the university,  somebody who worked hard on and off the court; accomplished things on the court (by) winning an SEC championship; off the court, getting his degree and someone who pretty much put everyone else before himself. He put his teammates before himself and also he was just a hard worker. He did things for the university. He went around with a smile on his face. He never turned down an autograph or a picture. He was always there for the fans and the fans were always there for him."

Patterson was all those things.

From the coaching change, to the new faces, to the injury in 2008, to the NIT and even a No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament, Patterson has experienced it all.

"I definitely feel like a veteran," Patterson said. "I feel like this is my fifth year here at Kentucky. I've been through so much."

In the end, Patterson will go down as one of the most revered players in Kentucky basketball history. He didn't win a national championship and was never named a first-team All-American, but Patrick Patterson leaves Kentucky as one of the most important players to ever put on a Kentucky uniform.

"Finally, to be a part of history and part of a team that got Kentucky back to its rightful place among the elite programs across the nation, I definitely think that I was a part of the progression of getting Kentucky back to the true spot, to the true top point where it needs to be and where it should be," Patterson said.

His work is finally done. It's his time to go.

Lamb the latest signee

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UK just received the paperwork of shooting guard Doron Lamb, marking the fourth official signee of the 2010 men's basketball recruiting class.

Lamb, rated the No. 21 overall recruit in the 2010 class according to Rivals.com, averaged 23.0 points and 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his senior season at the highly acclaimed Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. You can read the full release on Lamb on the home page.

The addition of Lamb means UK has now signed three players in ranked in the top 27 in the Rivals.com 2010 rankings. The only other school that can boast that feat is Memphis.

Below is a rundown of the signees UK has officially confirmed for the 2010 class. Remember, we cannot talk about a recruit until he/she has signed a National Letter of Intent or financial aid agreement.

Player

Position

Rivals.com rank

Hometown

Height/Weight

Brandon Knight

Guard

1

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

6-3, 185

Doron Lamb

Guard

21

Mouth of Wilson, Va.

6-4, 175

Stacey Poole Jr.

Forward

27

Jacksonville, Fla.

6-5, 200

Enes Kanter

Forward

NR (five-star recruit)

Simi Valley, Calif.

6-10, 225




Could Bledsoe come back?

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Interesting to note that as Patrick Patterson, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins have announced they are forgoing their remaining college eligibility and staying in the 2010 NBA Draft, the uncertain situation of freshman point guard Eric Bledsoe has gone unnoticed.

Bledsoe, who declared for the NBA Draft a couple of weeks ago, has yet to announce whether or not he's staying in the draft.

Friday afternoon, DraftExpress.com posted an interesting tweet about the NBA Draft process of Bledsoe.

"Eric Bledsoe is very much keeping option open regarding possibility of returning until (he) conducts workouts (and) gets feedback on draft stock," DraftExpress.com wrote.

DraftExpress.com did not say what its source was in the report, but by all accounts the website is one of the more reputable NBA Draft sites.

Bledsoe was never thought to be a one-and-done player until he exploded onto the scene this year. Bledsoe averaged 11.3 points and 2.9 assists for the 35-3 Wildcats. His ability to hit the outside shot -- Bledsoe hit 49 three-pointers on the season, second best on the team -- seemed to vault him up draft boards, especially late in the season.

Asked, via twitter, if Bledsoe could be a lottery pick in 2011, DraftExpress.com tweeted, "Who knows? Too many variables to account for. For sure nothing nothing's guaranteed," before going on to say that "he's years away from contributing."

Underclassmen that don't sign with an agent have until May 8 to withdraw from the NBA Draft. There has been no word as to whether Bledsoe or freshman forward Daniel Orton have signed with agents.

Stay tuned.

Tywanna Patterson: Patrick's passing the baton

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Behind Patrick Patterson, always in the background but very much in support of their son, stood Tywanna and Buster Patterson.

One of the more vocal and visible parenting duo in recent Kentucky men's basketball history, Tywanna and Buster Patterson played a key role in Patrick Patterson's development, growth and decisions at UK.

On Friday, the day Patterson announced he will stay in the NBA Draft, effectively ending his collegiate career at Kentucky, Patterson's parents sat a few feet off the left. Both were visibly beaming with pride.

"I consider it like he's passing the baton," Tywanna Patterson said of Patrick's decision to turn pro. "Everybody that is leaving is basically passing the baton to someone else, so therefore we're back on top. We'll always be great at Kentucky. He's not leaving (the program) in disarray or anything like that. He's just passing the baton on. I can live with that and feel good about stepping away and letting someone else carry that baton."

Tywanna Patterson both smiled and fought back tears during Patrick's 15-minute news conference inside the Memorial Coliseum media room.

A year earlier in the exact same place, the Pattersons talked about their pleasure in Patrick's decision to come back to school and get his degree in three years. Although Kentucky fell short of its national championship aspirations, Tywanna Patterson said she was satisfied with Patterson's final year at UK.

"I think I'll remember most of the good times, like this year, and him smiling a lot and winning games and just having fun," Tywanna Patterson said. "I'll remember this year more so than the other two. Him coming back and just being a different person and being a happier person and jelling with his teammates and everybody getting along, I think I'll remember this as a special team."

Video: Patterson announces he's staying in draft

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FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 003.jpgFor the final time this spring, helmets will clash and pads will collide. On Saturday at 1 p.m., the UK football team will hold its annual Blue/White Spring Game at Commonwealth Stadium. For those of you thinking about coming out, here is some last-minute information you might need to know:

Time: Saturday at 1 p.m.

Location: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.

TV coverage: None

Radio coverage: Big Blue Sports Network, including WLAP in Lexington (630 on the AM dial), WHAS in Louisville (840 AM) and WCKY in Cincinnati (1530 AM)

Digital Coverage: Cat Scratches' live in-game blog

Game-time weather: 71 degrees with a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms

Admission/Parking: Admission and parking are free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Parking lots open at 8 a.m. and fans are welcome to tailgate. Stadium gates open at 11:30 a.m.

Season tickets: The stadium ticket office outside Gate 4 will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for current season-ticket holders to renew their tickets. Current season-ticket holders should receive their renewal forms in the mail this week.

Revised format: Because of some injuries at key positions, the coaching staff has decided to make the Blue/White Game offense vs. defense instead of a standard game format.

The scoring system for the offense features:
First down = 1 point
Field goal = 3 points
Touchdown = 6 points
PAT = 1 point

The defensive scoring system features:
Three and out (force punt on first series) = 3 points
Stop on downs (force punt during the series) = 1 point
Stop on fourth down = 2 points
Turnover = 6 points
Touchdown = 10 points

April 23 From the Pressbox

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UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography

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In writing about our conversation with college football writer Tony Barnhart earlier this week, we noted how he thought taking a program from good to great was harder than trying to turn around a program that was down and out. Joker Phillips understands the point, but he's not overwhelmed by the challenge either.

"Some might view it as a challenge. I view it as a huge opportunity," Phillips said. "As a person that's been around this program, I understand where this program needs some fire in it and (I) understand the strength of the program. We've tried to up the ante as far as where we thought we needed to improve."

Phillips said his team has pretty much accomplished the goals he set at the start of spring practice and he's just looking for a good finish in Friday's Blue-White Spring Game.

= = =

It could be a very interesting summer for college sports in the area of conference expansion. Right now, everyone seems to be waiting to see what move the Big Ten will make.

"There is no question that the Big Ten, after keeping this issue on the back burner for a long time, it is now on the front burner," Tony Barnhart told tomleachky.com last week. "I talked to people in the Big Ten at the Final Four and those people are looking at everything from doing nothing to adding one team or going as high and as many as 16 teams and putting together the first mega conference.

"I think the big television deals are coming up and they want to make a splash. They saw the SEC and the 15-year, three-billion dollar deal that the SEC did with CBS and ESPN and they say, 'We need to do something big.' When those dominos fall it will be interesting to see what everyone does."

How will other leagues counter the Big Ten's moves?

"I think the Pac 10 definitely wants to expand because they are not happy with the television package right now," Barnhart said. "They don't get nearly enough. They get very little exposure on the East Coast because they play so late on Saturday night. I don't know where they go. They talk about getting BYU and Colorado. I don't know what that gives you in terms of television exposure.

"The ACC has an interesting decision to make because if the Big Ten goes to the Big East and takes two or three of their teams, there is a possibility that the Big East can be out of the football business. You can see a West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville, and Cincinnati sitting out without a home. What would the ACC do? Their contracts are coming up and they are not happy with their earnings. I am not so sure that the SEC has to do anything. They might, but I am not sure they will have to.

"One thing I learned that if you expand, you need to bring in teams that give you value. What I mean by that is if you are a 12-team league and are making 120 million dollars a year in shared revenue, so everyone makes 10 million dollars a year. You bring two more teams -- you need to make 140 million dollars. One thing I learned in this league is that nobody wants less money. So, who could the SEC add that could give them the value of their television package with two more teams?

Barnhart answered his own question. 

"There is only one team I feel that even comes close and that is Texas," Barnhart said."With Texas ready to entertain a larger money offer from the SEC? That would be the question. If that happens and the SEC wants to expand, the first phone call I make if I am Commissioner (Mike) Slive is the University of Texas. I think it will be a crazy summer."

SBL 08_09 UK MissSt3 24.jpgSenior Days come every year for every program. They are special, heartfelt and emotional for everyone involved, and certainly the 2010 Kentucky softball senior class of Molly Johnson, Natalie Smith, Destinee Mordecai, Amber Matousek and Jennifer Young will be no different.

"You can really credit the turnaround of the program to these five," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "They have to move on with their lives, and it's good, but they'll forever be remembered as the class that absolutely changed everything around."

From the depths of mediocrity to program firsts, the 2010 class has done it all. When the then-freshmen arrived in 2007, the program struggled just to win a series. Since the team's inception in 1997, the team had never whiffed postseason play - not the NCAA Tournament and only the Southeastern Conference Tournament twice before.

A coaching change, some player development and a pair of highly touted recruiting classes later and Kentucky is on the verge of making its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, a downright unthinkable notion for this year's senior class.

You already know the cornerstones of the turnaround: All-American Johnson, second baseman Smith, and sophomore pitching aces Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley.

What you maybe didn't know is none of it would have been possible without a pair of former starters that have been reduced to role players. Without the loyalty of Matousek and Young, the program might have blown up before it was ever built.

When Lawson took over the program three years ago, it was void of talent and barren with leaders. Without much of a pitching staff, either, Lawson had to lean on Matousek and Young to keep the program moving in her transition year.

They didn't set strikeout records like Bell and almost certainly didn't throw many shutouts like Riley, but they kept the ship pointed in the right direction when it would have been so easy for everybody else to jump off.

"Sometimes when people (transfer), everybody just looks at it is as it's just a change for a different atmosphere," Lawson said. "Another way you can look at it is you're quitting the current thing to get to something else. They didn't do it. They stuck by the team and the program. They were our mainstays when things weren't going great. They continued to stay the course the past year when things didn't always go the way they wanted it to."

And believe the two when they say it - they thought about transferring.

"My freshman year was really hard," Matousek said. "I considered going somewhere else, but there was no way I could leave the program. I loved Kentucky. I loved being a Wildcat and being a part of this."

They stayed as the glue of the program. Now in their senior seasons, they've had to accept reduced roles on a team of stars.

Young, once one of the two top pitchers on the team, changed positions last season and is now a backup outfielder. She sees the field primarily as a pinch runner. Matousek, who led the team in innings pitched her freshman season and sophomore seasons, still sees the circle and boasts a modest 3.93 ERA - Lawson calls her the most underrated player on the team - but she's a distant third in a three-man pitching rotation.

Matousek and Young could have all easily butted heads with Lawson when she took over the program and their playing time was reduced, but to their credit, they've stuck around and actually taken on more important roles as leaders.

SBL 08_09 UK_Kent Game2 Web 51.jpg"I didn't know anything about her," Young said of Lawson. "When she came to this program, it was totally different from our other coach. It was hard to get used to, but after a couple of days and weeks you realized that she really wanted to change the program and she wanted us to become something."

Like any good athlete, they still want more playing time, but they've never let it affect the team or their desire to play for Kentucky.

"They've shown as much if not more loyalty to the program than anyone else has," Lawson said. "They've done exactly what the program has required of them and they've gone above and beyond to help us win."

Matousek has epitomized what it means to be a team player. When Bell started setting strikeout records and Riley emerged late last year, the elder could have complained, become distant and left the team. Nobody would have found fault with that.

Instead, Matousek embraced the young hurlers and became a mentor, helping Riley and Bell with their pitches. Riley has developed a nasty changeup from Matousek and Lawson said Bell looks at Matousek for guidance.

"She's probably been the greatest teammate from a perspective that she's given the other two pitchers a ton of knowledge and really helped them with their pitches," Lawson said. "I don't know many other kids that would do that because the more she helps them, the more it kind of hurts her playing time. It's really a tough position. She's handled herself with grace and class."

Lawson said Matousek would make a great coach one day, even adding a vote of confidence that she would hire Matousek in a second if she ever had the chance.

"I love that role," Matousek said of being a mentor. "Anytime that they have any problems I would love for them to come to me. I like to help people. Even if Rachel or Chanda just need me to watch a pitch and see what they're doing, I love that. Watching them and helping them is helping me learn."

Although Matousek has never considered the coaching route, she has thought about it more lately as her playing career winds down.

"I want other players to feel what I feel," Matousek said.

Although it's unlikely that many will ever get the chance to feel what it's like to give up so much to gain so much more. That's a feeling that only a handful of people like Matousek and Young will ever get to experience.

"You can't explain to somebody how freshman year was to how it is now," Matousek said. "No one else can understand what we've been through except the seniors. Those are the people you go to. When you think about the sophomores with Chanda's class and Rachel and all them, they haven't seen what the program was before. All they know is us going to the NCAA Tournament. My class has seen the worst of it and how good it is now."

UK will bid farewell to the seniors Sunday in the final home game of the season at noon against LSU.

"It's going to be hard to walk away from it," Matousek said as tears streaked down her cheeks. "It's going to be really hard. I've grown so much from working and being a part of this program that it's going to be hard to leave it."

NCAA tourney likely to expand to 68 teams, not 96

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for NCAAenhancedlogo.jpgFull release from the NCAA is below:

The NCAA on Thursday announced a new 14-year television, Internet and wireless rights agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., to present the Division I Men's Basketball Championship beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2024 for more than $10.8 billion.

As part of the agreement, all games will be shown live across four national networks beginning in 2011 - a first for the championship.

CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting also have been licensed and will collaborate on the NCAA's corporate marketing program.

Late Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase the tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 championship. The Division I Board of Directors will review the recommendation at its April 29 meeting.

The new agreement sustains the long-term financial stability of the Association. About 96 percent of all NCAA revenue, including money generated from this new agreement, is used to benefit student-athletes through either programs, services or direct distribution to member conferences and schools. The agreement also ensures student-athletes across all three NCAA divisions will continue to be supported through a broad range of championship opportunities, access to funds for personal and educational needs, and athletically related financial aid in Divisions I and II.

Beginning with the 2011 Division I Men's Basketball Championship, opening- , first- and second-round games will be shown nationally on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. CBS and Turner will split coverage of the regional semifinal games. CBS will provide coverage of the regional finals, as well as the Final Four (including the national championship game) through 2015. Beginning in 2016, CBS and Turner will split coverage of the regional finals with the Final Four and the national championship game alternating every year between CBS and TBS.

CBS Sports has broadcast the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship since 1982.

Under the new rights agreement, NCAA March Madness on Demand − the Emmy Award-winning video player that provides live streaming video of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship − will continue to be launched from NCAA.com and CBSSports.com. Turner also has secured the rights for any Time Warner digital property. The player will be operated and developed by Turner and have enhanced digital rights, allowing the NCAA to deliver content for multiple Turner and Time Warner platforms.

"This is an important day for intercollegiate athletics and the 400,000 student-athletes who compete in NCAA sports," said NCAA Interim President Jim Isch. "This agreement will provide on average more than $740 million annually to our conferences and member schools to help student-athletes in 23 sports learn and compete.

"We're excited this agreement continues our long-standing relationship with CBS, a partner company that has captured the unique spirit of the collegiate model of athletics, and brings a new partner in Turner Broadcasting to the championship and NCAA basketball."

Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports said: "This agreement with our colleagues at Turner and the NCAA secures CBS's standing as a year-round leader in sports television well into the next decade. In this agreement, we have created a new strategic partnership that not only makes this prestigious property an ongoing core asset in our stable of major television events but a profitable one as well. We look forward to working with our friends at Turner as together we combine our industry-leading media assets to maximize the value of this great NCAA championship."

David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports at Turner Broadcasting, also praised the new agreement.

"This is a landmark deal for Turner Broadcasting and we're extremely pleased to begin a long-term relationship with the NCAA and our partners at CBS and to have a commitment that extends well into the next decade," he said. "The NCAA men's basketball tournament has a rich tradition and is one of the most talked about sporting events every year, highlighted by the Final Four and the national championship game.

"We are well-positioned to monetize our investment in NCAA programming across three nationally distributed networks. With the combined linear and digital assets of these two large media companies we'll be able to maximize the exposure of the tournament, as well as provide incomparable access for viewers."

An NCAA Division I committee headed by Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, will study and recommend prospective revenue-distribution formulas to the Division I Board of Directors.

Currently, 96 percent of all NCAA revenue is returned to membership either in direct payments or in programs and services; 60 percent is distributed to directly to Division I members through a series of funds.

The committee will follow principles of the current formula that ensure access to funds by student-athletes for educational, personal and emergency needs; that favor a broad-based approach to sports sponsorship; that continue to encourage more grants-in-aid rather than less; and that promote enhanced academic support of student-athletes.

Additionally, the committee will examine the need to strike a balance between Division I Men's Basketball Championship performance and academic achievement through either the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate or Graduation Success Rate metrics or both.

ESPN, the longstanding home for NCAA championships such as the Division I Women's Basketball Championship, the College World Series, the Men's Frozen Four and others, will continue to broadcast a full complement of events over the coming years.

"The economic challenges of the day are being felt on campuses across the country," Isch said. "The amount of revenue from this agreement isn't the focus of this moment; rather it is the long-term security it provides, as well as what is done with the money. We put our money where our mission is...supporting student-athletes so they can be successful in the classroom and in life."

Wall came to college a star, left a legend

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MBSK 09_10 UK_UL Web 18.jpgEven with a multimillion dollar contract and the likely No. 1 selection in the 2010 NBA Draft looming in the near future, John Wall, dressed in his one and only suit, had to quickly bounce from his news conference announcing his intentions to stay in the draft and get to class.

Wall had a geology test to take.

"I want to thank everyone for coming out but I've got to go take this test," Wall said as he exited stage right for class.

While fame and fortune waited just a few steps away, Wall remembered a promise he made with his father at the tender age of 9 to go to college and get his degree. Thursday's announcement to remain in the NBA Draft means getting the diploma will be spread out in between NBA seasons, but the experience of college is one Wall would have never passed on, even if the NBA age limit rule wouldn't have been in place.

"I never would have went," Wall said as his mother, Frances Pulley, head coach John Calipari and other UK Athletics staff sat in the background. "I promised my dad before he passed when I was 9 that I would go to college, no matter for how long and that I would come back and get my degree. I always wanted to experience life in college."

Though the writing turn pro early was always written on the proverbial Wall, the point guard proved pessimists outside of the program wrong. The one-year stay at UK wasn't just to bypass his time until the NBA deemed him eligible, Wall said.

This was about becoming a better ballplayer, a better person and a student-athlete, a word he used nearly a dozen times Thursday. That much was clear when Wall threw off the pinstripe suit and lavender tie and picked up a pencil for a test Thursday morning.

"I'm finishing my school year," Wall said. "That's what I came here to do. I didn't just come here to be a basketball player. I came to be a student-athlete. I'm finishing up the semester and taking my exams."

Wall, after leading UK to a 35-3 record and an Elite Eight appearance, spoke to reporters at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday to talk about his decision to stay in the draft, his time at UK and what he will remember most about Lexington.

Although he admitted he never learned how to do his own laundry or cook a meal, Wall said the one-year experience was well worth it; one he or UK fans will surely never forget.

"It was a tough process," Wall said. "The last year or two, people have said I could be the number one pick but when I  came to college it was not my expectation to go one-and-done. I came here to work hard, mature as a player, become a better player and learn a lot and be a student-athlete. The coaching staff ... helped me out a lot. The managers, they helped me become a better player this year and people ... all helped me as a student-athlete. I worked hard all year to be a student-athlete and after all this hard work I put in, I felt like it was my time to go."

Wall's stardom in college is likely a precursor to even brighter days ahead in the pros. In leading the UK renaissance, Wall led UK in scoring (16.6) and assists (6.5), providing such moments as the game-winning shot against Miami (Ohio), the clutch three-pointer in overtime of the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals and the often imitated but never duplicated John Wall Dance.

"I never thought college would be like this fun for me," Wall said. "I say I had fun in high school and AAU, but every time I sit back and watch a highlight video of this team this year I sit back and cry in my room because it's so emotional. I never thought that this team would be as special and to play with a coaching staff like I had meant a lot to me."

But even the thought of coming back to Kentucky for another season to win a national championship couldn't stand in the way of a dream Wall has long had. The NBA is the next step for Wall. It always was.

"When I was 14 or 15 I really started getting into the scene and getting to be seen by a lot of people," Wall said. "I started getting recognized nationally and that's when realized I could be something special. Coach Cal told me I had a chance and that it was just going to take a lot of hard work and dedication and that's the type of person I am. I always want to work hard, stay humble and hungry and I came in and did what I was supposed to this year."

He did a little more. Wall could have gone to class occasionally, signed a few autographs, scored a few baskets and bolted for the NBA as soon as the final buzzer sounded in Syracuse. Instead, he embraced his teammates, the tradition of Kentucky, and his all-encompassing role as student, athlete and ambassador of the program. 

More and more athletes with Wall's talent are going to do what he did. Calipari has said that will happen and he will continue to recruit like that's going to happen. But those one-and-done players should all follow in Wall's lead.

Enjoy college. Enjoy the court. Enjoy the classroom. The NBA will almost certainly wait. But college only comes once. If you're a one-and-done, make it the best year of your life.

Wall did that much. He came to Lexington a star and left a legend.

"I am always going to be a Kentucky Wildcat for the rest of my life," Wall said. "With the fans and the people that support us all season long, why wouldn't you want to play here? I would recommend any other player to come here. Not just to play basketball but to be a student-athlete, also."

Video: Wall announces he's staying in NBA Draft

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Calm, collected Peters isn't sweating NFL Draft

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FB 09_10 UK_Georgia Web 30.jpgAnxious times are upon nine fortunate former Kentucky football players as they await word on the immediate future of their football careers.

The NFL Draft gets underway Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Although no UK players are expected to hear their name called Thursday, nine hopefuls will anxiously await through Saturday's three-day draft.

Among the Kentucky players at large: fullback John Conner, tight end T.C. Drake, offensive lineman Zipp Dunan, offensive lineman Justin Jeffries, linebacker Micah Johnson, cornerback Trevard Lindley, linebacker Sam Maxwell, defensive tackle Corey Peters and running back Alfonso Smith.

Some players like Lindley, Johnson and Conner are mid- to late-round hopefuls. Others, like Drake, Duncan, Jeffries and Smith, are just hoping to hear their names called.

Peters, one of the players that benefited most from the 2010 season, has heard he could go anywhere from the third round to the seventh and final round.

"I am really anxious but not nervous at all," Peters said by phone Wednesday. "I am anxious to see what happens and I am really confident that everything will work out for me and that I will get the opportunity to do what I have always wanted, which is to just be in a camp and have an opportunity to compete to make the team."

The Louisville, Ky., native notched four sacks and 12 tackles for a loss during UK's fourth consecutive bowl season, propelling him into draft consideration by season's end. Peters continued to move up draft boards as he impressed NFL teams in individual workouts, but there's no telling what could happen Thursday when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell takes the podium.

"They don't really show their hands, but I am getting a lot of good feedback," Peters said. "I have heard I may go third round or around there. It is kind of a whirlwind. You don't really know. You just prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

Seven teams took particular interest in Peters prior to the draft, three of which he worked out for and the other four he interviewed with.

"I will go with anything. I am fairly confident that I will be around (Kentucky)," Peters said. "The teams that have shown the most interest, but are not limited to are the teams that are within six hours of here. I wouldn't be surprised at all if I find myself close to Kentucky, like Atlanta or maybe Chicago or as far as New Jersey."

While some sweat it out, the cool, calm and collected Peters is relieved in a way just to have the draft here. Although the benefits are numerous, Peters wasn't hesitant about voicing his dislike for draft process.

"I enjoyed meeting with the teams, but it is such a nerve-racking experience and I have to fight for it and just let it all go," Peters said. "It is difficult because you want to be everything that every team wants, but you don't know what they want so you have to just do your best and be who you are and hopefully they like that. It isn't something enjoyable, but it is necessary and I think it is good to have an interest."

The pre-draft process is long, arduous and sometimes cruel. Players are picked, prodded and scrutinized despite years of tape on the collegiate field. If anything, Peters was bewildered that one of his best features was considered a concern among some NFL teams.

"The main thing that teams question is my passion for the game or if I really have the hunger to play," Peters said. "That kind of thing reflects my personality and the type of person that I am. I feel that I am a well-rounded guy, but I do enjoy playing football. Honestly it just feels like I try my best not to let football define me because that's not who I am."

That's part of the reason the next few days will not be as stressful as it will be for hundreds of other college hopefuls around the nation. No matter what happens Peters is confident his future will work out for the best.

To pass the time during the NFL Draft, Peters said he will spend time with his family and friends in his hometown of Louisville.

"I will do my best to kind of get away from the draft, but I know I will watch some of it but not every minute of it," Peters said. "I will have my phone on me and just keep my eye on it during the picks for the teams that have shown the most interest in me."

If and when his name is called, it won't define him.

"It is going to be an interesting experience and I am looking forward to it," Peters said. "However it turns out, I won't have my mind set on falling a certain place. I will not be upset whether it is the first overall pick or the last pick. I am just looking for that chance to shine."

Cheerleading squad announced

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Arguably Kentucky's greatest team -- and no, we're not talking men's basketball -- has set its squad for the 2010-11 season.

The 18-time national championship Kentucky cheerleading team announced its squad for next year on Wednesday. The full roster is below.

UK has captured the Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship four years in a row and 14 of the last 16 seasons.

Blue Squad

  • Zach Alviar - Bartlett, Ill.
  • Dan Jacus - Nicholasville, Ky.
  • Chris Rodonis - Palatine, Ill.
  • Rob Ellery - Middlesex, N.J.
  • Ryan Heinrich - Paducah, Ky.
  • Maurice Grant - Clarksville, Tenn.
  • Mason Levy - Midland, Ga.
  • Blake Johnson - Prattville, Ala.
  • Alli Greer - Birmingham, Ala.
  • Olivia Rink - Granger, Ind,
  • Lindsey Goderwis - Florence, Ky.
  • K'Dee Kriz - Grapevine, Texas
  • Ashley Carnes - Canal Fulton, Ohio
  • Mandi Banahan - Lexington, Ky.
  • Ashley Phillips - Campbellsville, Ky.
  • Sarah Masters - Lilburn, Ga.
  • Kaitlyn Chamberlain - Los Alamitos, Calif.

White Squad

  • A.J. Coatney - Lewisville, Texas
  • Ashlee Anciro - Somerset, Ky.
  • Collin Coble - Lewisville, Texas
  • Aubree Canestrale - Wallington, N.J.
  • Adam Davis - Madison, Ala.
  • Christine Habeeb - Louisville, Ky.
  • Alex Hull - Atlanta, Ga.
  • Stephanie Johnson - Alexandria, Ky.
  • Nick Persondek - Wyandotte, Mich.
  • Michelle Smith - Chicago, Ill.
  • Nick Roten - Shepherdsville, Ky.
  • Kyle Pierron - Portsmouth, Ohio
  • Lowell Douglas Jr. - Hazel Green, Ala.
  • Teresa Sargent - Acworth, Ga.
  • Tim Greyling - Kinston, Canada
  • Alissa Sebastian - Cobin, Ky.
  • Tony Holubik - Homewood, Ala.
  • Addison Targosz - Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Jordan Kiser - Picaynne, Miss.
  • Megan Murdock - Walton, Ky.
  • Michael Culver - Williamsburg, Ky.
  • Tiffany Earwood - Taylorsville, Ga.
  • Logan Ochsner - O'Fallon, Ill.
  • Kelsey Caruso - Fort Wayne, Ind.
  • Clifford Naiman - La Jolla, Calif.
  • Kyrie Cloud - Lexington, Ky.
  • Carlos Realpe - Louisville, Ky.
  • Haley Imel - Louisville, Ky.
  • Dylan Smith - North Smithfield, R.I.
  • Annie Turner - Roswell, Ga.
  • Matt Springs - Bowling Green, Ky.
  • Lauren Grady - Monroe, La.
  • Mitch Winchester - Fort Wayne, Ind.

Video: Emery previews SEC Tournament

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The Kentucky men's tennis team, one of the best kept secrets in the UK athletics program right now, is getting ready to host the Southeastern Conference Tournament this weekend at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.

The No. 12 Cats, winners of their last 12 of 13 matches, enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. UK has won seven straight matches and six matches during the season against top-16 opponents.

Sophomore Eric Quigley, ranked the 13th-best individual player in the nation, hasn't lost a match in April (9-0) and will lead Kentucky against one of the toughest fields in all of college tennis.

The tournament kicks off Thursday but the fourth-seeded Cats have earned a first-round bye and will not play until Friday at 3 p.m. against the winner of No. 5 seed Ole Miss and No. 12 seed South Carolina.

Head coach Dennis Emery talks about his team entering the tournament in the above video. For more details, check out the full release on the home page.

Basketball notes

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- As I tweeted earlier on the @UKAthleticsNews account, John Wall and Patrick Patterson will hold news conferences on Thursday and Friday to, presumably, discuss their decisions on the NBA Draft. Wall's is set for Thursday at 10 a.m. and Patterson's is scheduled for Friday at 2:30 p.m. We'll have news conference coverage on the blog afterwards.

- Kentucky signee Brandon Knight was named to the 2010 All-USA boys basketball team, announced by the USA Today on Wednesday. Knight, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2010 class according to Rivals.com, after averaging 32.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists at Pine Crest High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Knight joined North Carolina signee Harrison Barnes, Ohio State signee Jared Sullinger, Duke signee Kyrie Irving and Tennessee signee Tobias Harris.

ESPN takes a glance at UK football

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ESPN blogger Chris Low visited Kentucky football practice at the Nutter Training Facility earlier in the week to get an inside look at the Wildcats before the team wraps up the spring season.

Low has a handful of great stories and videos on the current crop of Cats, including Randall Cobb and DeQuin Evans. Check out the stories directly at the Southeastern Conference blog or see the individual story links below.  

- Bigger picture for Phillips is winning games
- Video with Randall Cobb
- The book on Cobb: 'Just a football player'
- Video with DeQuin Evans
- Video with Mike Hartline

Video: Defense steps up as spring winds down

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One bit of news to report from Wednesday's spring practice. Head coach Joker Phillips said they will no longer break up the team into two different squads for Saturday's Blue/White Spring Game because of injuries at some key positions.

The lack of numbers has forced Phillips to scale down the game to offense vs. defense in which the defense will have a scoring system as well.

"We just feel like where are numbers are, we would have to be switching people back and forth," Phillips said.


We're currently en route to Bowling Green, Ky., for Tuesday night's UK-Western Kentucky baseball game. We'll have all the action live from Bowling Green Ballpark. WKU won the first meeting in Lexington 6-3.

April 20 From the Pressbox

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UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography

= = =

Thumbnail image for SEC LOGO UK BLUE.jpgFew in the media know Southeastern Conference football better than the man known as Mr. Football, aka Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and CBS Sports. And he's bullish on the prospects for Joker Phillips in his head coaching debut at the University of Kentucky.

"I think that there is no question that Coach Phillips has been waiting his time and doing very good work at the University of Kentucky," said Barnhart, who recently had a chance to visit with Phillips in Atlanta. "He is known for what he can do offensively. It has already been seen and I think that the bar has been set pretty high by Rich Brooks and (Joker) knows that.

"I think what he wants to do is build on what Rich Brooks started there and sort of take it to another level and put Kentucky in a position to compete for an SEC East championship. We talked about a lot of things. We talked about recruiting, quarterbacks, we talked about the offensive line. I think that Kentucky will be a very, very competitive team this fall. There are some concerns I have but I think long term, Joker will do very well there."

What are those "concerns?"

"The biggest concerns I have are on the offense," Barnhart told tomleachky.com. "There is a lot of work to do there. People will spend a lot of time talking about the quarterback but the quarterbacks will be fine. I am more concerned with Kentucky and how you replace a Micah Johnson, a great linebacker. How do you replace a Trevard Lindley that was, for my money, one of the best cover corners in college football? How do you get those kind of players? Kentucky needs what I call a difference maker. When they had (Andre) Woodson and those guys, those were difference makers and those are the guys they need to have."

If you're following the coverage of spring football, you'll notice that Barnhart's analysis is in step with a lot of what we're hearing. Mike Hartline has been solid at QB with Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski showing flashes of brilliance, too. But the concerns Phillips has mentioned most often are on the defensive side -- tackling, not getting off the field on third down, etc.

Barnhart has covered a lot of coaching transitions in the SEC and he says inheriting a successful program is a different challenge from coming in as the new guy who is going to make big changes.

"It is a completely different challenge," Barnhart said. "When you come in with a completely new guy, you want to do things in the opposite of what the other guys did. In the case of Kentucky, you are talking about four straight bowl games, talking about competing extremely well and being a tough out every week. What Joker Phillips has to do is say, 'OK, I was handed a really good football program and how can I make it better?' That is a tougher challenge and there have been tons of books written about the fact that getting from bad to good is a much easier process than getting from good to great. That is where Joker Phillips is.

"He has taken a good football team and has got to make it better and that is infinitely a more difficult challenge. The building blocks are in place, the infrastructure of the program. It's about going out and finding good players to come to Kentucky, who fit the profile of players that go to Kentucky and now you want better players. It is tougher to get, particular in this division and this conference. It is so good that you can build up to a certain level, but to get it to the Florida level or the Georgia level, it is a much bigger jump than going from the bottom to the middle part of the league."

And Barnhart knows doing that is easier said than done.

"We talked about what he would have to do in terms of that," Barnhart said of his conversation with Phillips. "There is no question that the Kentucky recruiting structure is good but they need to go into Louisville and win the state. To win the state means Louisville and oh, by the way, Charlie Strong is over in Louisville and is a good recruiter and has guys that are good recruiters, so it is going to be a challenge. Kentucky has established itself well enough that kids know about Kentucky. Kids have seen Kentucky go on the road and win games. They watched them win at Georgia. So, Kentucky has got, thanks to Rich Brooks and his staff, and the faith Mitch Barnhart had in him, Kentucky has a better product than it was in the early part of (the decade)."

Guy preparing for 'big year'

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_DSC2331.jpgMissed tackles can drive even the sanest of coaches bonkers.

Joker Phillips, who has been pleased with his first spring as head football coach, expressed some frustration after Saturday's scrimmage with the Cats' ability to tackle.

"Defensively, the thing we did not do is get ourselves off the field on third down and a lot of that had to do with our tackling, especially in the secondary," Phillips said. "We have to be better tacklers."

Tackling is the most rudimentary techniques - or at least one of the most important - in the long list of fundamentals a football player has to master, but even the UK football team has had to take time this spring to hone and relearn the most basic of techniques.

See safety Winston Guy.

"The main thing (about spring) is being consistent on tackles," Guy said. "It's hard making open field tackles. You've got to be disciplined and be at the right place at the right time."

Guy enters his junior season as one of the keys to the 2010 Kentucky football team. A first-team all-state defensive back coming out of high school, Guy is dripping with all the tools and athleticism to be a premier safety in the Southeastern Conference.

But he's not there yet. 

"Winston has a lot of potential," Phillips said. "Potential means you haven't done it yet. We think Winston can be a big-time player for us. We expect Winston to be one of the leaders on defense also because he has been around here a long time. He has to continue to come for us and he has to carry himself like a leader."

It isn't as if Guy has underperformed in spring practice, but he also hasn't quite jumped out yet either like the coaching staff knows he is capable of achieving.

On a defense searching for a new identity, the team believes Guy can be one of those leaders. Now they're waiting for the converted cornerback out of Lexington Catholic High School to embrace the role.

"It takes time to become a leader, especially the things you do on the field and off the field for you to become a leader as far as how other people look at you," Guy said. "That's my goal is to become a leader. It takes time."

When Phillips criticized the Cats' tackling over the weekend, he wasn't necessarily pointing to Guy, because, by most measures, Guy is one of the hardest hitters on the team. However, Phillips has been looking at Guy's body language after a missed tackle and wants to see improvement.

"When there is a missed tackle, his body language changes," Phillips said. "We need to get him to play the next play. You have to have a quick conscious and get to the next play."

Part of Guys' up-and-down spring has been a battle of his own emotions. Guy called himself his own worst critic.

"I criticize myself a lot because the safeties are the last line of defense," Guy said. "That's my job to make that tackle because if I miss it there is nobody else there to make the tackle."

Guy played in all 13 games as a sophomore last season, starting 11. The returning starter at free safety totaled 60 tackles in 2009, including five pass breakups.

Randall Burden possesses playmaking talent at cornerback and Paul Warford offers some much-needed experience and knowledge in the secondary, but the Cats are looking for a centerpiece in the last line of defense with the departures of All-American cornerback Trevard Lindley and safety Calvin Harrison.

Guy possesses the necessary skills to be that player.

"Winston is a talent, but the thing is in the SEC, everybody is talented," longtime defensive backs coach Chris Thurmond said. "The only thing that matters is are you focused and are you consistent, because talent means nothing. Everybody in this league has talent. The thing he has to do is he has to be focused, be physical and be consistent."

Guy figures to hold on to his starting spot at free safety by the time fall arrives, and Burden and Warford have a pretty good lockdown on the two corner positions because of their game-time reps in 2009. The lone open battle appears to be at strong safety, where junior-college transfer Josh Gibbs has impressed.

"Josh Gibbs was probably the most consistent guy Saturday," Thurmond said. "He ran to the ball well and made some plays. Josh, as far as leadership potential and the overall toughness and intelligence, he is probably showing as many as those attributes as anybody."

"If we had to play tomorrow," Thurmond said, (the starter at strong safety) would probably be Josh."

Depth in the secondary is a concern, but young players like cornerbacks Martavius Neloms, Cartier Rice and safety Taiedo Smith received trial-by-fire experience last season because of injuries. Dakotah Tyler has voluntarily made a switch from running back this offseason to help booster the depth.

Then again, that depth may not matter as much if Guy lives up to his potential.

The coaching staff certainly isn't placing the success of the secondary on Guy's shoulders, but everybody, including Guy, knows this is an important year in his growth and development.

"I feel like this is a big year for me," Guy said. "I'm trying to stay focused and do the little things to help me be a better person. I want to be at that next level so I'm preparing myself for that. I know I have a lot of work to do. There is always room for improvement for anybody. I'm trying to get my mind right.

"It takes time, but when that time comes and that first game is here, I'm going to be ready."

Wall makes best of the decade team

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Freshman point guard John Wall wasn't your ordinary one-and-done player. He was one of the all-time greats, according to Rivals.com.

College basketball staff writer Steve Megargee compiled the all-decade team for the one-year players in the 2000s, selecting Wall to a five-man list of some of the all-time greats.Wall, who declared for the NBA Draft last week, was chosen alongside Texas' Kevin Durant, Kansas State's Michael Beasley, Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony and Ohio State's Greg Oden.

Just to make the team, Wall had to beat out players like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.

Wall averaged 16.6 points and a league-best 6.5 assists per game in his first (and likely only) season as a Wildcat. In leading UK to a 35-3 recrod and the East Regional final, Wall was awarded the Adolph Rupp Trophy, given annually to the nation's top player.

Full story is on Rivals.com.

April 18 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, April 18:

Baseball: Walter Wijas

Week Stats: 0-0, 1.69 ERA, 2 APP, 1 GS, 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 SO, .250 opp. avg.
Season Stats: 0-0, 2.25 ERA, 8 APP, 1 GS, 12.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 8 SO, .209 opp. avg.

Notes: Freshman Walter Wijas had an excellent week for UK, pitching in relief on Friday night against No. 7 Florida and making his first career start against the Gators on Sunday ... Wijas pitched two shutout innings Friday night as UK mounted a comeback rally against the Gators, allowing two hits and striking out two, setting a career-high for both strikeouts and innings pitched ... Wijas wasn't done for the weekend, as he made the surprise start Sunday with UK Sunday starter Alex Meyer out for 3-4 weeks due to illness ... Wijas tossed a career-best 3.1 innings, allowing three hits and one run, walking one and striking out a career-high three against the high-octane Gators, helping lead UK to the crucial win ... The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder retired the first 10 hitters he faced in his first career start, carrying a perfect game into the fourth inning ... On the season, Wijas has totaled a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings, allowing only nine hits and three runs, striking out eight.

Rose representing more than herself at nationals

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GYM 09_10 UK Regional Web 55.jpgOne run, one vault, one landing. That's all Whitney Rose gets. That's the only chance she will have to represent the Kentucky gymnastics team.

As the lone athlete to qualify for nationals, Rose will have the honor -- or burden -- of carrying the Wildcat torch in this weekend's NCAA Championships. UK failed to qualify as a team after finishing fifth at the NCAA Lexington Regional, but Rose qualified on the vault with a 9.9 performance two weekends ago in Memorial Coliseum.

When Rose steps onto the floor Thursday in Gainesville, Fla., she will shoulder the eyes and the pressure of UK's first national championship appearance since Krystle Cook made it in 2006.

Most people would wilt under the pressure. Rose relishes in it.

"It is more of an honor than pressure," Rose said. "My best vault was at regionals and it was because I kind of knew we were finished as a team. I also wanted to finish strong, so it was less pressure. That is how my mindset is going to be at nationals, that there is nothing to really lose. I'm just going there to honor UK."

During regionals at UK's Memorial Coliseum on April 10, Rose carried Kentucky's national championship appearance hopes on her back. On the last rotation of the evening, the chance for the team to place second and advance to the final meet of the season was bleak.

It was UK's last chance to send somebody to nationals. Rose nailed it with a near-perfect effort.

A similar situation will present itself this weekend in the Sunshine State, but Rose and head coach Mo Mitchell are looking at it is an opportunity for the entire team.

"My goal is to get the team to go," Mitchell said. "We really felt like we had a shot to get the team to go. It just didn't pan out for us this year. The great thing is she gets to set the path work. When she gets back, she can explain to them, 'Guys, this is where we want to go. We need to be there as a team.' That's why this is so important."

Rose, calling it the biggest meet of her life, described it as opening the door for next year's team.

"When we come home, she's going to be able to explain that whatever it takes, we need to do this," Mitchell said. "That's what it's all about. It's about making the NCAA Championships. It's not just about regionals. I've been there and I say it all the time, but to have their own peer there to experience it will be huge for us."

Rose has been a big-time athlete since arriving at Kentucky two seasons ago. As a freshman, Rose did not disappoint, earning Southeastern Conference Freshman honors for only the fifth time in school history.

"I didn't know that I was that respected in the SEC, but it did build my confidence," Rose said. "It gave me more voice on the team. They respected me more."

Although a back injury has plagued her this season, Rose has stuck a 9.900 or better on vault six times this year.

Before practice Monday, one of UK's athletic trainers described her as the John Wall of gymnastics. Mitchell had no qualms with that assessment because she doesn't settle for mediocrity. Although a lot of college athletes have the raw ability and talent to be stars, Rose doesn't rest on it.

"Her consistency level has been tenfold," Mitchell said. "Her confidence has been up there and her expectation level has been up there. That's why she's going to nationals is because she expects to go. That's the biggest difference. Last year she was a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman who didn't know where she was going or how she was going to get there. This year she was more focused."

Rose will make her national championship appearance Thursday at 7 p.m. in the in the second of two semifinal runs. The top four from each session in each event (plus ties) from the preliminary runs will advance to Saturday's finals. Also, the top 16 performers from each event are named All-America.

All that riding on a run, a vault and a landing. It's a lot of pressure in just a few split seconds, but it's one Rose has mastered over the course of the season.

"You have to have the ability to say, 'I can do this in my sleep,' " Mitchell said. "The bottom line is her vault is great. It's going to come down whether she sticks it or not."

There isn't as much thinking involved as say the floor exercise, but that's what makes the vault even more demanding.

"In vault, I'm more or less trying to be as strong and as powerful as I can be and it's over with like that," Rose said. "I just want to be explosive."

Mitchell and assistant coach Heather Hite had a meeting with Rose early Monday afternoon, not to discuss this weekend's big meet but to talk about the opportunity at hand for next season.

Rose, who Mitchell said will be next year's captain, has the opportunity to set a precedent for her team at nationals and show them what it takes to get there. Mitchell no doubt wants her to perform well and earn individual honors, but he's more concerned with how she handles the big stage and how she will take the next step for next season's team.

"What are you going to do? How are you going to lead us? What is your mindset?" Mitchell asked Rose.

She hopes to answer it by sticking it again.

Video: Phillips looking for defensive leaders

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UK's postseason hopes involve a familiar face

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BSB 08_09 UK_Vandy Game 3 web 42.jpgAs conference play is now officially halfway over, the race is on for the last spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament:

1. Arkansas (12-3 SEC, 31-6 overall)
2. LSU (11-4, 30-6)
3. South Carolina (11-4, 28-8)
4. Florida (10-5, 25-10)
5. Vanderbilt (8-7, 29-9)
6. Auburn (8-7, 24-13)
7. Mississippi (8-7, 24-13)
8. Kentucky (5-10, 22-14)
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9. Alabama (5-10, 22-15)
10. Mississippi State (5-10, 19-17)
11. Tennessee (4-11, 18-19)
12. Georgia (3-12, 11-25)

After salvaging a game in its most recent SEC series against No. 7 Florida with a 6-5 win Sunday, the Kentucky Wildcats (22-14, 5-10) still have postseason life when it comes to the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

If the season ended today, the Cats would qualify. Above, you'll see UK in a three-way tie with Alabama and former UK head coach John Cohen's Mississippi State Bulldogs (all three have 5-10 league records) for the eighth and final spot in Hoover's annual postseason tournament.

Kentucky has a tiebreaker advantage over the Crimson Tide after a 2-1 series win at home versus Alabama last weekend. The Mississippi State tiebreaker gets a bit hairy, however.

According to SEC rules, the tiebreaker would be contingent on won-lost percentage of tied teams versus the No. 1 seed and proceeding through the No. 8 seed. Since both teams were swept by Arkansas, the LSU/South Carolina results will likely determine who qualifies, unless Florida can jump up in the standings.

Since the Gators swept Mississippi State earlier in the year, Kentucky's win on Sunday could be huge in determining its postseason fate, as it would give the Cats the tiebreaker over MSU. In this scenario, the Cats get the nod for the eighth spot over Cohen's Bulldogs.

Since UK doesn't play MSU this season, it will take some time to see who is left standing.

There are few teams in the country that have faced more adversity than Gary Henderson's Wildcats so far this season. An NCAA eligibility issue resulted in the departure of LHP James Paxton, the highest-drafted player to return to college for the 2010 season. Kentucky's next-best arm, sophomore Alex Meyer, is currently out for three-plus weeks with mononucleosis.

All-American second baseman Chris Bisson broke his nose after being hit by a pitch in San Diego against Monmouth and is still trying to get back into the "swing" of things at the plate. Standouts Andy Burns (finger) and Braden Kapteyn (back) have also battled nagging injuries in 2010.

Kentucky has been right in the mix in nearly all of its games this season. Ten of its 12 losses have been by four runs or less, as the Cats have fallen in four one-run games, three two-run games, and a pair of three-run contests.

Dealing with injuries and tough losses is something that every team faces, especially in the SEC.

With five remaining SEC series, Kentucky will face (in order) sixth-place Auburn, 11th-place Tennessee, third-place South Carolina, second-place LSU and 12th-place Georgia. Mississippi State faces off against (in order) ninth-place Alabama, seventh-place Ole Miss, sixth-place Auburn, fifth-place Vanderbilt and second-place LSU. Here's what to do if you're a UK baseball fan hoping for Hoover:

April 23-25: Hope the Cats can take one or two on the plains at Auburn next weekend, as Mississippi State and Alabama are likely to beat up on each other. What you don't want to see here is a series sweep.

May 2-5: UK needs to keep the SEC's bottom-dwellers on the bottom, and it would be great to come out of Knoxville, Tenn., with a series win over Tennessee. Also, keep an eye on the Ole Miss-MSU series, which is a huge rivalry. A Rebels series win would be huge here, especially considering that they'll be in Starkville, Miss., going for it.

May 7-9: MSU travels to Auburn, where you'd like to see the Tigers play well. Kentucky has a stout South Carolina team at home, where at least one win would be great (MSU won one game in their series with the Gamecocks earlier in 2010).

May 14-16: Vanderbilt travels to Starkville on the same weekend where UK will stay at home against another top opponent. The second-to-last SEC weekend pits the Cats against LSU and is likely to decide who's going to Hoover and who will watch it on TV.

May 20-22: Kentucky travels to Georgia for their last three regular-season games and will try to take advantage of a Georgia team that will be looking to end to a dismal season in Athens, Ga., on a good note. Mississippi State travels to LSU, who will likely be playing for an SEC crown and a No. 1 overall tournament seed.

Tip your caps to the Cats so far for hanging in there in 2010 after losing two of their three weekend starters for extended amounts of time and dealing with a plethora of injuries to their lineup. Obviously, we'll know a lot more about Kentucky's postseason chances as the next couple weekends take shape. But even though the Cats don't have MSU's Bulldogs on their 2010 schedule, you'd be a fool to think they won't be facing off against each other this year.

Kentucky's next two midweek games are also huge. This Tuesday, UK travels to No. 18 Western Kentucky, looking to even the score with the Hilltoppers, who are having a great year. Next week, the Cats shoot down Interstate-64 as they go for the sweep at top-10 foe Louisville.

Kernel book relives men's basketball season

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The first year of the John Calipari era was unlike any season Kentucky has ever experienced and now the Kentucky Kernel has a book to relive it.

The independent student-run newspaper has published "Blue is Back," a book that commemorates and chronicles every step of Calipari's first season as head coach, from his first day on the job to the Cats' final shot in the Elite Eight.

Kenny Colston, editor in chief of the Kernel, said they have already sold more than 700 copies and have received a very positive feedback.

The book, which costs $19.95, is a compilation of season flashback with abbreviated versions of articles about each game, photos of the most memorable moments and news stories that accompanied the cultural and economic impact the Cats had on the community.

The book is on sale online and locally at Joseph Beth Bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Fan Outfitters, Kennedy Bookstore and Wildcat Textbooks. It can also be purchased on campus at the Kernel office in the Grehan Journalism Building.

Video: Knight officially signs with Kentucky

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The ink has dried and the paperwork is in. Brandon Knight is officially a Kentucky Wildcat.

Two days after verbally committing to the University of Kentucky, the nation's No. 1 overall player, according to Rivals.com, has signed a financial agreement to play basketball at UK. It marks the second year in a row the nation's top overall recruit has signed with Kentucky.

"When you hear the name Brandon Knight, you think about a warrior on and off the court," Calipari said in a news release. "This young man is as driven as any other player that I've ever coached. The possibility of having a year of credits before he enters college is unbelievable and he also has a 4.3 GPA.

"As a basketball player, when you are rated one, two or three in your class you know where you stand on the court.  He's already being projected as a 2011 NBA Draft pick and rightfully so."

Knight, a senior at Pine Crest High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is rated the No. 1 point guard by Scout.com after averaging 32.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his senior season. Knight, a McDonald's and Jordan Brand Classic All-American, hit the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer of the 2010 McDonald's All-American game to give the West a 107-104 win.

With Knight's signing, Kentucky's 2010 recruiting class is quickly shaping up to be one of the best in the nation. The Cats have already signed international star Enes Kanter and Stacey Poole Jr., who is rated No. 27 overall on Rivals.com. UK is expected to be in the mix for sevearl other high-profile recruits as well. 

Make sure you read Ethan J. Skolnlick's column in the SunSentinel.com about a kid is far more than just a basketball star. Kentucky is getting a stud in Knight.

"I try to balance education and athletics by just trying to keep my head on straight, just knowing that it is a privilege to play basketball," Knight said at his news conference Wednesday. "Education is important. Your mind is going to last you a lot longer than your legs."

Jerry Tipton also has a great story in the Lexington Herald-Leader on the player that isn't afraid to walk in John Wall's shoes.

And finally, for the real purpose of this post, check out some video highlights of Knight below. The videos are from WildcatWorld.com and The Miami Herald:

April 16 From the Pressbox

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UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography

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Saturday features the last major scrimmage before the Blue/White Game that brings spring practice to an end on April 24 and it sure sounds like Mike Hartline is emerging as the favorite to lead the three-man race for the starting quarterback position.

Head coach Joker Phillips continued to praise Hartline's passing after this morning's practice at Commonwealth Stadium.

"I think Mike is throwing the ball well," Phillips said. "The other two have to continue to come so tomorrow is a big day."

Tight end Nick Melillo said Hartline's confidence is coming through in how he serves in his role as a leader.

"Mike's been a leader since I got here two years ago," Melillo told tomleachky.com. "Randall (Cobb), Mike and Derrick (Locke) are the leaders of our offense. If there's any confusion -- the defense makes a change -- he knows the offense like the back of his hand and he's playing with a lot of confidence."

= = =

Melillo is a tight end candidate who hopes to follow the path of Jacob Tamme -- a converted wideout who learned to blossom as a tight end because of his pass-catching and route-running skills.

That's the book on Melillo, who got spot duty -- primarly in passing situations -- last fall. He knows that his ability to improve his blocking will improve his chances of staying on the field longer.

"I definitely need to get better on my blocking," said Melillo, who caught two touchdown passes in last year's Blue/White Game. "My quickness gives me an edge. I just need to learn how to use that to my advantage.

"If I go and watch film and want to learn how to do something, I watch Jacob. We need a tight end that can block in the run game and make plays in the passing game. I just want to add that part of the game to my game and become a great blocker."

What needs to improve?

''I'd say 90 percent of it is technique," Melillo said. "I'm 235 (pounds). It's just about being able to use my quickness."

Steve Ortmayer, who coaches the tight ends, said Melillo is making good progress and he adds that two untested redshirt freshmen, Jordan Aumiller and Anthony Kendrick, have made significant strides forward this week.

Adams a two-way star in the making

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adams brian1.jpgOne of the best kept secrets of the spring is Brian Adams.

Catch a spring football practice and listen to the coaches afterwards and you'll hear about a player that oozes with playmaking ability and NFL-type speed. Follow Adams just a few hundred yards over to Cliff Hagan Stadium and you will see a baseball player dripping with raw, albeit unpolished, talent.

Adams is the type of two-sport star that few programs are fortunate enough to be blessed with, but that talent was almost stripped away last summer with a rare life-threatening condition.

Shortly before he made his journey to UK to enroll in his first summer camp for the Kentucky football team, Adams was diagnosed with a blood clot. An initial medical evaluation did not detect the condition, and had UK athletic trainer Jim Madaleno not diagnosed the clot as soon as he did, the young man might have been lost.

"It went into his lungs," former UK football coach Rich Brooks said over the summer. "We almost lost him."

Adams redshirted the 2009 football season but made a full recovery and is back on both the football field and baseball diamond this spring. In less than a year's time, Adams has watched his life flash before his eyes, only to rebound stronger than ever in time for a potential breakthrough year in 2010.

"It is a tremendous blessing to be back out here," Adams said at football practice Wednesday. "It is a lot of fun and a great opportunity. I am loving every minute of it. You can't take it away. I am just living the life and having a good time."

Adams is the type of kid that people want to be around. His smile is infectious and his exuberance is admirable. 

We will never know why people like Adams are forced to face something as scary as last summer's blood clot, but it never altered his outlook on life. It is one of the main reasons Adams was able to recover so quickly and find his way back on the field.
 
"Being 18 years old, I don't think I knew the significance of it," Adams said. "I was more scared I wouldn't be able to play football again. After everyone started talking about it when I got back up here and about all the dying and stuff, then it got a little more serious. It was kind of a crazy thing. It kind of strengthened my faith in God a little bit and my family and brought us all a little closer together."

But Adams isn't just a feel-good story of a kid who made it back to the field. This is a story of a kid who plans to make an impact on it.

Blessed with 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, Adams has already made an impact on the baseball team and is quickly moving up the depth chart at spring football practice.

"It's so good to see him out here," UK football coach Joker Phillips said. "Yes, he can help us, because he's big, fast and he catches the football, too, which is what a wide receiver should do. I'm so happy to have him out here. This game's important to him."

Because of Adams' speed and versatility, he actually has a realistic shot of earning some playing time in the fall as a redshirt freshman.

"His 40 time was the fastest time in our group," first-year wide receivers coach Tee Martin said. "He plays fast, (which) is what l like about him. He doesn't run a 4.4 on the field but then run a 4.6 with pads on. He runs like a 4.4 guy which is what you want to see."

Adams played primarily quarterback at South Forsyth High School in Gainesville, Ga., but has been projected as a wide receiver from day one because of his quickness. While he's still learning the nuances of the position, he shined in UK's first major scrimmage of the spring season.

"I think the biggest thing is at the top of the routes, making moves and doing the small things," Adams said of the adjustments he is having to make at wide receiver. "Using your hands at the line of scrimmage, getting off the line, making blocks, stuff like that. There are small things at receiver that you don't really learn at quarterback. As far as catching the ball, I feel well."

As impressive as Adams has been catching the pigskin, it's on the base paths where Adams has really turned heads this spring. As a part-time contributor, Adams has seen action in eight games this season, getting three hits in seven at-bats while pinch running in several key situations.

Head coach Gary Henderson raved about his outstanding speed, strong arm and raw talent in an interview earlier this week and believes he could be a huge addition to the team down the line .

Adams was actually selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 45th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, and Henderson made a huge statement in his conviction of Adams when he placed him on the 25-man travel roster as a freshman.

Quite frankly, athletes like Adams don't come around the baseball diamond very often.

"There's been some, but there's not very many," Henderson said. "The type of athlete that Brian is that when they have baseball skills to go along with it, sometimes they just go into professional baseball because the bonuses are so high. He's in a small group. College baseball does not see a lot of those types of athletes. But can he get enough time with the repetitions that will get him to the point where he can be a successful player in the conference? "

Because Adams' first priority is football, he's been forced to miss a large chunk of baseball practice during the spring football season.

Henderson would certainly like to have his hands on Adams a bit more than he's been able to of late, but he made no hesitation in approaching Adams to join the baseball team when he discovered his ability.

"It was a no brainer," Henderson said. "He's bigger, stronger, and faster (than most athletes we get). He's very bright. He has good instincts of the game. He plays with legitimate aggressiveness and there's no fear in his game. It's just a matter of time in getting practice in to help improve his game."

Splitting time between the Nutter Training Facility, Cliff Hagan Stadium and class hasn't been easy for Adams, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

Adams was given a second chance over the summer and he plans on making the most of it.

"It keeps you busy, but it keeps you out of trouble," Adams said. "It is a good thing and it is a lot of fun. It is definitely tough at times, but everybody makes sacrifices. I think it will be worth it in the long run."

Mock draft predicts Orton in the lottery

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For the remaining critics that are still left over the youngsters that have decided to skip their remaining eligibility for the NBA, I have one last bit of evidence of why each made the right choice.

Please check out the latest Draft Express mock draft and scroll down to the Grizzlies' first-round pick at No. 14. Yes, that name you read for the final NBA lottery pick is Daniel Orton, the same guy who averaged 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game this season.

I know it sounds ludicrous when you see his first-year numbers, but that's the potential and talent that resided at Rupp Arena this season. Orton will have a legit opportunity to make it in the NBA and will certainly make some money in the process, as will the other four stars (Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe) who declared early.

Could they have come back and become even bigger stars? Sure. But let's not forget these kids have a future to worry about.

The latest Draft Express mock draft has all five early draft entrees going in the first round. Should that happen, it would be the first time in school history five players from the same school have gone in the first round.

The NBA Draft takes place June 24 in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Cousins sad to leave but ready to go

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RHT_0562.jpgEven as his foot was figuratively halfway out the door, DeMarcus Cousins took one step back to reflect on his time at Kentucky.

"I will never forget this part of my life," Cousins said Thursday in his farewell news conference at Kentucky. "This is probably one of the most precious times I've ever had. I've never been accepted like this and I just felt loved from day one."

Cousins' career at the University of Kentucky is officially over. Last week, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound forward signed with John Greig, an agent out of Seattle, effectively ending any possibility that he could return to Kentucky if he were to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

Like a young hatchling ready to take flight for the first time, Cousins said he was pushed out of the nest by head coach John Calipari and into the open air of the NBA. Cousins expressed sorrow in his decision to leave a place that saw him transform from an immature, unproven high school kid into a mature, NBA-ready player, but Cousins admitted it was time to move on.

"I have proven myself this year and right now my stocks are high and they believe this is the time for me to go," Cousins said. "Cal has been pushing me and telling me to go, and he's been like that with all of his other players and they haven't proven him wrong.

"He told me it was my time to go."

Cousins scored 575 points in his first and only season at UK, second most in school history (fellow freshman John Wall set the record with 616 points). The big man from Mobile, Ala., averaged 15.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, notching 20 double-doubles on the season, the fourth most in single-season history at UK.

"Boogie," as Cousins was affectionately nicknamed, was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and an All-American.

And yet he will always be remembered as the lovable, eccentric 6-11 teddy bear that helped redefine UK basketball and reestablish its national prominence.

Cousins, sitting at a table in front of reporters and UK Athletics staff that included Calipari and assistant coach Orland Antigua, looked like a man torn between his decision to stay or go. Ultimately, though, the risk of injury and the chance to be a top-five NBA pick proved to be too enticing.

"The people here and the coaching staff made it easy to adjust and I've never been accepted like this," Cousins said. "Everywhere here just felt like family."

Cousins may best be remembered for his unique personality.

Upon his arrival, Cousins was a misunderstood player characterized by some as lazy, childish and a "thug." The labels couldn't have been more wrong.

In between the ushanka, the Peter Parker glasses, phone tag with the Mississippi State fan base, the cut-ups with the media (one could go on and on and on), people began to see the person beneath the chiseled layer of muscle and tattoos.

Maybe it was just a change of environment or the setting of college. Whatever it was, Cousins grew up and blossomed into a star at Kentucky.

To say he'll be unforgettable would be stating the obvious.

Even as he tried to explain his decision for leaving, Cousins couldn't resist from giving the media a few more pieces of gold to work with. When asked what the first thing he would buy for himself with his first big paycheck, Cousins said it wouldn't be some fancy, decked-out car. Why not?

"Because I don't have a license," Cousins said to the laughter of everyone in the room.

Cousins may have the keys to the good life, but he said he'll never forget his time at Kentucky, vowing to return to the school long after the buzz he created subsides.

As the next crop of Kentucky greats get ready to take the place of him, Cousins was asked what advice he would give to players that could potentially be one and one like him.

"If you come to Kentucky, you're going to love it," Cousins said. "I don't know about any other school, but you'll love it here."

The love affair was mutual.

Video: Cousins bids farewell to UK

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Maybe days like Wednesday are still big news to Kentucky basketball fans -- which honestly it shouldn't be considering the rich history of the program -- but signing days like Wednesday's and like last year's signing class is nothing new to head coach John Calipari.

The man has been doing it for years.

While he's quickly gained a nationally renowned reputation as the mastermind of the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, he was known as a recruiting guru long before this year. Calipari's knack for hauling in the nation's top recruits -- most notably the nation's top point guards in Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall -- is uncanny.

Over the last six seasons, Calipari has signed some of the nation's best recruiting classes. No class over the last six years has ranked worse than 23rd in the Rivals.com team rankings, and one -- last year's star-studded class of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins -- ranked No. 1 in the nation. Overall, Calipari's last six classes have averaged a team rank of ninth.

Rivals.com has yet to unveil its 2010 rankings since its early in the spring signing period, but expect another top-15 recruiting class to come together.

Class School National rank
2009 Kentucky 1st
2008 Memphis 4th
2007 Memphis 10th
2006 Memphis 23rd
2005 Memphis 7th
2004 Memphis 9th

Calipari discusses UK's signing class

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FB 09_10 UK_Camp 06.jpgHuge day, obviously, for the state of men's basketball on the first day of the spring signing period.

As I've alluded to multiple times on the blog the last two days, we cannot talk about a prospective student-athlete until he/she has officially turned in a National Letter of Intent. As of now, that list includes Enes Kanter and Stacey Poole Jr., who signed with Kentucky in the early signing period.

Head coach John Calipari was on the ESPNU signing day show just a little bit ago to talk about Kentucky's recruiting. Here is the transcript of what he had to say:

ESPNU: When you got the paperwork of Enes Kanter, what came to your mind about what he can potentially mean for the Kentucky program?
Calipari: He's going to obviously help us. ... Obviously we're having to replace a team. It's not like we recruit one-and-dones. No one would have ever thought four guys would leave, but we recruit talented players who want to work hard, who want to be challenged, who want to elevate their game, who want to change their mentality. When it all comes together, stuff like this happens. It's the first time, so we're treading water that's never been treaded before. This is something that we're trying to figure out. Wow, four guys, but when you get (Kanter) and a few other kids signed, with the kids we have coming back, I think we're going to be fine.

ESPNU: When you're in the stature that you are in and with your position at Kentucky, people want to speculate about the way certain things will go down. People are already doing that with Kanter playing professionally overseas, but there were some questions as to whether he would be eligible. Clear that up.
Calipari: There is a lot of misinformation out there. He's been cleared by the (NCAA) clearinghouse already, academically. He was born in Switzerland because his father was in med school then. So now, his father is an educated man (and) he wants his son educated. What all of the people need to understand, out there in Europe every player - 12, 13, 14, 15 (years old) - they play on a club team and those club teams have professional teams. That's why the NCAA is going back on these rules and looking them over again and saying, 'If a young man is not 18, he cannot sign a FIBA contract so he cannot be professional.' This young man, Enes is 17 years old today as we speak. He's not allowed to have a professional contract. He's allowed to get per diem and travel and education and stuff like that. One school in Benetton, they bring those kids in and it's like they're in prep school. They're housed, they're fed, they're worked, basketball is twice a day, academics, so it's different in Europe. I think the great thing the NCAA is doing now, instead of if you played in five games when you were 16 years old, that means you miss five games, they're going back and they're changing that. That's what they're going back and addressing, based on European basketball is not like basketball here in the states.

ESPNU: You mentioned Kanter's background with his pops there with that great education, which brings us to Stacey Poole. His dad was the fourth-leading scorer in school history with the Florida Gators. You're bringing Poole now into the fold as one of the top shooting guards in the nation. How do you see him fitting into that dribble-drive?
Calipari: First of all, I love him. He's one of the great kids. You know who he's going to be like for us? Antonio Anderson (previously of Memphis) - the glue of the team, the guy that does it all. He'll rebound and he'll defend. His assist-to-turnover ratio will be good. He's going to be terrific. I watched Enes in that (Nike Hoops Summit) game and I've watched Stacey throughout. I'll tell you what, we're getting the kind of guys that we want to go with, that are tough and that are good teammates. Here's the dynamic that has changed in college basketball the last two to three years: Where kids would go just for the program name, now they're going, 'Will these coaches help me improve and change my game?' If not, they don't care about the name of the program. The second thing is, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Before, you wouldn't go where someone else went. If he went, I'm not going. I want to be the only guy. Now they're going three and four together, and that is changing. That is changing and making things different.

ESPNU: According to my count, there are still five of the top 100 ESPNU prospects all considering Kentucky. Explain to me how much room is left and how that works out as far as numbers, who you end up taking.
Calipari: You can't say, 'Well, they've got too many players at Kentucky, you won't play.' You won't be able to say that. We've got room for nine, 10 - we've got a lot of room. I'm hoping our thing is we have 11 guys on scholarship. That's what I've always had when I was at Memphis, when I was at Massachusetts. There were times when we had 10 because I really want all nine, 10 guys to really have that opportunity to go do their thing. When you're talking about 13 kids on scholarship, those last three, it's hard. It's hard to get them minutes. With the way I coach, it's hard to get them in practice. So we're looking at possibly bringing in five or six players in this class.

Men's basketball twitter list

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Twitter1.pngThe twitter world has been buzzing the last two days with the news that Kentucky basketball stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Jon Hood have joined the Internet craze.

We've received a lot of feedback from fans on who is and isn't on twitter. To help you out, I thought I would post the current twitter list we have of the men's basketball players who are official on twitter.

Darius Miller - @uknum1
Jon Hood - @jdhood4
Ramon Harris - @chasin_a_dream_
John Wall - @jimmywa11
DeMarcus Cousins - @boogiecousins
Perry Stevenson - @PSteve2122
Daniel Orton - @danielorton33
Patrick Patterson - @pdpatt
Josh Harrellson - @Bigjorts55

The page needs to be updated, but for future reference on our social media list of players and coaches, please check out the social media page.

UK Hoops nabs top-5 recruiting class

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The men's basketball team is trying to gather one of the nation's top recruiting classes in the late signing period but it might not even be the best recruiting class at its own school.

The UK women's basketball team has inked another signee in the spring signing period -- Samantha Drake, a 6-foot-3 center from Nelson County High School in Bardstown, Ky., -- adding yet another star to an already star-studded recruiting class.

With the signing, UK's recruiting class moves up to No. 5 nationally, according to BlueStar Basketball. It is the highest ranking in school history.

UK's highly touted class includes McDonald's and WBCA/Nike All-American Jennifer O'Neill, a 5-6 guard from Saint Michael Academy and Bronx, N.Y., 2010 Kentucky Miss Basketball Sarah Beth Barnette, a 6-2 forward from Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, Ky., the Star-Telegram's Super Teams Player of the Year Maegan Conwright, a 5-8 guard from Mansfield Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas, Connecticut High School Coaches Association Player of the Year Kastine Evans, a 5-8 guard from Salem, Conn., and LaQuinta Jefferson, a 6-0 guard from La Vergne High School in La Vergne, Tenn.

Drake is rated the eighth-best post player and one of the top 50 players in the nation by two recruiting services. ESPN HoopGurlz ranked Drake the 74th-best player in the 2010 class. Read the full release on Drake, who set a school record at Nelson County High School for career points with 3,068.

In other news, sophomore guard Rebecca Gray decided Wednesday to leave the UK women's basketball team and plans to play basketball at Union College.

Video of Kanter, men's basketball's newest signee

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Enes Kanter dominates at the Nike Hoop Summit

The first official men's basketball signee of the spring signing period is in.

International star Enes Kanter has signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at the University of Kentucky.

Kanter, a five-star player according to Rivals.com and Scout.com, is widely regarded as one of the up-and-coming recruits in all of basketball following his 34-point, 13-rebound performance at the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Ore., over the weekend.

I'll save the repetition of reposting everything we have on the front page, but please check out the full release, including a quote from head coach John Calipari.

I will state the obvious and say this is a huge get for the team on day one of the signing period given the voids left by the DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Patrick Patterson in the middle. While Kanter isn't the prototypical center like Cousins was, he can still bang down low as well as step out and hit the midrange jumper.

Calipari actually talks a little bit about Kanter and his recruitment in a story by Mike DeCourcy. Check out the full story at sportingnews.com.

Spring football notes - April 14

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Stopped by the Nutter Training Facility Wednesday for spring football practice to do a story on wide receiver Brian Adams, which I will likely post Friday. While I was over there, I listened in on what head coach Joker Phillips had to say. Here are a few notes from his comments, which, coincidentally, had a lot to do with Adams' position group - the wide receivers.

- Phillips called it another "upbeat, positive practice." Phillips said they have to continue to work on the little things that could get them beat, which he pointed to turnovers.

- The biggest emphasis this spring season, Phillips said, has been the passing game, which of course includes the receivers. Phillips wants to be more balanced this year. Phillips said both sides, the receivers and the quarterbacks, are a part of the passing game. UK is expected to throw the ball more this year.

- EJ Fields, who has not seen the field in his first two seasons, has impressed at wide receiver in the spring. Phillips said he has been up and down in practice because of his foot, but Phillips was impressed with him in Saturday's scrimmage. Fields is a guy who Phillips believes can stretch the field for UK. This Saturday's scrimmage is another big test for him. Phillips said the biggest thing for him is confidence. The coaching staff believes in him. Now it's up to Fields to believe in himself.

- The wide receivers looked like a liability over the last two seasons, but the coaching staff really believes it could be strength this year because of the returning experience and raw ability of players like Adams, Fields and Randall Cobb. There is a possibility that eight, nine and even 10 guys could see the field this season. Phillips and wide receivers coach Tee Martin said it's a good problem to have because they'll need that many players and some of them can play special teams.

- Phillips said they need safety Winston Guy to keep improving. Phillips said he's blessed with great ability but they'll need him to continue to make plays. The coaching staff moved him down the depth chart a couple of days ago to send a message. Guy responded by taking the starting spot back over. Phillips said it remains to be seen who will take the other starting safety spot. Junior Josh Gibbs and redshirt freshman Dakotah Tyler have impressed Phillips early on.

Calipari to talk signing day on ESPNU at 4

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On his Lexy.com update Tuesday, UK head coach John Calipari suggested good news could come Kentucky's way for the first day of the spring signing period.

"There will be some big things announced Wednesday," Calipari said. "Hopefully there's going to be a lot of Kentucky attached to it."

Later Wednesday we could find out. To talk about the potential recruiting class and Wednesday's opening festivities, Calipari will join the ESPNU crew of Paul Biancardi, Lowell Galindo and Adrian Branch at 4 p.m. for the signing day show.

A warning to those trying to hear Calipari talk about the entire recruiting class: There's a chance Calipari might not be able to talk about any of the prospective student-athletes for several reasons.

No. 1, just because Wednesday starts the spring signing period doesn't necessarily mean UK will receive any commitments. Even if the Cats do, UK must have a National Letter of Intent in hand before any school official or representative can talk about the recruit. Also, it must be pointed out that a National LOI and a scholarship agreement are two different things, so there could be several potential road blocks from hearing Calipari talk specifics.

Unfortunately, the same rules that apply to Calipari apply to me or any other employee of UK. Until a prospective student-athlete signs that LOI, I'll be prevented from talking about him.

UK is certainly hoping to have one or two in hand, but if you're curiously scratching your head as to why there is no news on the Web site, now you know why.

Meyer out 3-4 weeks with mononucleosis

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BSB 08_09 UK_AU Game3 Web 07.jpgThe UK baseball team suffered a major hit to its starting pitching rotation when it was announced sophomore standout Alex Meyer would miss the next 3-4 weeks with mononucleosis.

Meyer, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound right-hander, leads the team with 52 strikeouts in 40.2 innings pitched. A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer (4-2, 7.30 ERA) has made eight starts and appeared in nine games for UK in 2010. Over his two-year career, Meyer has struck out 132 in 100.1 innings, allowing 99 hits.

"I feel really bad for Alex," head coach Gary Henderson said. "He has really been making some good strides and is obviously getting better daily. This will only be a temporary setback for him. What this will do is provide an opportunity for some of our guys to step up and fill a vital role on our club."

Meyer, long regarded as a future MLB first-round pick, has looked tiresome on the mound of late. He lasted just five innings against Alabama on Sunday and had not pitched more than six innings since the Ole Miss game on March 21. It wasn't known until this week that mononucleosis was the reason for the fatigue.

The baseball team had been picking up steam of late, winning three out of the last four games over nationally ranked Louisville and Alabama.

Without Meyer, Henderson will have to quickly find a Sunday starter to fill his role during a critical stretch that includes Florida, Auburn and Tennessee over the next three weekends.

Sunday's starter is to be determined, but the job will likely come down to four candidates, three of which have made weekday starts this year: Jordan Cooper, Sean Bouthilette, Sam Kidd and Braden Kapteyn.

Bouthilette (two starts) is 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA this season, Cooper (two starts) is 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA and Kidd (four starts) is 1-1 with a 6.86 ERA. The wildcard is clearly Kapteyn, who, of the four candidates, has the most electric stuff.

Kapteyn (1-0, 0.93 ERA in eight appearances) has not started a game this season but was sensational over the summer as a starter in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. Kapteyn pitched in eight games with seven starts, totaling a 4-1 record with a 2.47 ERA. Kapteyn led the NYCBL with 72 strikeouts in 47.1 innings and allowed just 23 hits.

Cooper is 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his two starts.

Rock-solid Yocke the hidden gem of UK softball

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SBL 09_10 UK_USC 3 Web 30.jpgBehind the mask is a hard-nosed, vocal, sometimes sarcastic jokester, a mother-like figure, the captain of the infield and the one constant in one of the Southeastern Conference's best battery units.

Behind the mask, Megan Yocke wears a number of faces, but the only one the Kentucky softball team sees on and off the diamond is a leader.

"She pretty much does everything," said sophomore pitcher Chanda Bell, who leads the UK pitching staff with 14 wins and 2.16 ERA. "She's vocal and she's one of the funniest people on the team. She's just a great leader all around. She takes care of us in a way. She can be the mom of the team. If you're down she'll come over and tell you that you're going to be OK and be fine next time."

On Sunday, Bell broke her own single-season record for strikeouts in a season. It's been easy to praise Bell, fellow sophomore Rachel Riley and senior Amber Matousek for their dominance in the circle - and rightfully so - but some of the credit is due Yocke's way.

"Catchers make pitchers look good," Bell admitted. "Yocke is one of the best catchers I've ever pitched to. She makes my pitches look even better."

Without Yocke's tutelage and guidance, UK's dominant pitching trio, which has combined for a team ERA of 2.49, wouldn't be as successful, Lawson said.

"If she's not doing well, we won't do well," Lawson said. "Luckily she never has bad games. I don't think our pitchers would have been as successful without her. I've never seen a successful pitcher without a catcher who isn't incredibly strong and mature." 

The position of catcher is universally overlooked. It's only natural for people to associate their role models with a face. Physically, the role of catcher creates no such chance.

But day in and day out, Yocke does the dirty work. Squatting behind the plate in sometimes brutally hot conditions, Yocke has caught more than 95 percent of the pitches thrown this season. It's not a glorious role, but it's one that Yocke relishes.

"I like being someone that can help younger kids and the team excel because I've been in the roles in both sides," Yocke said. "In high school I was in the leadership role but I was also at the bottom of the totem pole. You have to have someone to look to when things aren't going your way. You've got to have somebody to go to, to say everything is fine. I like that role because I don't like panicking. I don't like when everyone around me panics, so I like to keep everyone calm."

That might be her most important role. Between every inning, batter and pitcher, Yocke is the general of the diamond.

In addition to adjusting to the drastic pitching styles of her three pitchers - no small feat, according to Bell and Lawson - Yocke is responsible for communicating the hitters' strengths and weaknesses to the defense, for aligning the defense and for relaying the pitching signs from Lawson to the pitcher.

By virtue of the position, Yocke is required to be a leader, but it's a quality that Yocke has displayed since the first day she stepped on campus. Lawson has employed so much trust into her three-year catcher that Lawson admitted Yocke could probably handle the pitching duties by herself.

"I can pretty much look at her and she knows what pitch I'm going to call and what pitch the pitcher wants," Lawson said. "The hard part about Yocke's job is it's a very selfless job. She has to give the pitcher what she wants. It kind of goes from them through her to me and then we try to figure it out, but she's always on the right page."

Even when the mask is off.

Whether it's giving teammates a ride to class or lightening the mood with a sarcastic joke, Yocke is the rock of the team. Sure, her .276 average this season isn't spectacular, but her leadership presence is irreplaceable.

"She's 21 going on 30," Lawson said. "She's very calm. She doesn't get rattled easily on the field. She's good at keeping everything in perspective. She's the same thing off the field. She's definitely got a wonderful personality and she's funny, but she's down to earth and not much bothers her."

Yocke credits her family for instilling the leadership values that have helped the Kentucky softball team continue its historic leap into relevancy. With the losses of Natalie Smith and All-American Molly Johnson next year, she'll likely have to step out from the shadows of the catcher's mask and into the spotlight as the face of the program.

Losing players the caliber of Smith and Johnson would be devastating to most teams, but the Cats should be able to sustain the blows because of the steadiness of Yocke.

"I don't want the glory," Yocke said. "I just want to win."

Wall joins the twitter world

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Looking for something to do on a rather slow spring news day? Well, I've got two things for you.

The twitter world just broke with news that freshman guard John Wall has joined twitter. The first thing I suggest you do if you're a part of the twitter network is follow Wall. His user name is @jimmywa11. The best way to find him is by going to www.twitter.com/jimmywa11.

The second thing I suggest you do after you click follow is refresh the page and watch the power of Big Blue Nation. Since news broke that Wall is on twitter, the masses have poured onto his page. What started as just over 1,000 followers at the beginning of the day is exponentially increasing by the minute. At last count, Wall was just under the 3,000 mark, and I expect that number to get close to 10,000 by the end of the day, if not more.

UPDATE: UK has also confirmed that freshman guard Jon Hood has a twitter account as well. His user name is @jdhood4. The best way to find him is by going to www.twitter.com/jdhood4.

UPDATE: Add one more to the twitter list. And I guarantee you'll want to follow this guy.

According to John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins has joined twitter as well. The freshman forward's user name is @boogiecousins or click on www.twitter.com/boogiecousins.

I haven't verified this with UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy yet, but with Wall's tweet and the information on Cousins' page, it looks to be the real "Boogie."

Expect hilarity to ensue.

April 13 From the Pressbox

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FB 09_10 UK_FL  WEB 017.jpgThere's nothing like a quarterback debate to stir up interest in a football team's fan base, so many Wildcat fans are following this particular set of spring practices sessions with a closer eye than usual.

No doubt many of them figured one of the two highly touted young signal-callers (sophomore-to-be Morgan Newton or redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski) would seize the job but Mike Hartline is making a strong case thus far to keep the job he had to start the 2009 campaign.

Hartline was the sharpest of the three in last Saturday's first major scrimmage of the spring and if maintains that level of play in the next scrimmage and the April 24 Blue-White game, it'll be hard to see anyone unseating him in the fall.

Hartline's play through a season and a half as the starter was inconsistent but it's worth noting that one could have said the same about Andre Woodson heading into his junior season in 2006.  Woodson blossomed as he matured as a leader and as the weapons at his disposal improved.

This fall, Hartline, or whoever is under center, should have an arsenal that moves closer to that 2006-07 group than we've seen in the last two years. It starts with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, but what if Chris Matthews has the kind of breakout year that junior-college transfers Stevie Johnson and Aaron Boone had after one year in the program?  And could Nick Mellilo evolve into a Jacob Tamme-like tight end? 

If the answers are "yes"-- or some other player at those spot emerges to make a statement with his play -- then all of a sudden, any quarterback is going to look a lot better.

"We've got big, tall, strong receivers," Hartline said after going 10-for-15 for 153 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium. "We've got an athletic guy in Randall who can do pretty much whatever you want him to do (and) the quickest tailback (Derrick Locke) around. To have the weapons we have, we can stretch our offense into something we've never seen before." 

Hartline was having the best game of this career in October at South Carolina when the Cats put up 17 first-half points on a defensive unit that was playing as well as any in the Southeastern Conference.  Then he injured his knee on the first series of the second half and wasn't the same again for the rest of the year.

Was that just a good day at the office or was it Hartline's breakout performance, to announce that he was taking his game to a higher level? If it was the latter and he picks up where he left off that day in Columbia, S.C., then Newton or Mossakowski is going to have come with a very strong challenge to overtake him.

The challenge for Hartline is to demonstrate consistency of performance over the next two Saturdays. To me, the most important to see this spring was for one quarterback to take charge of the position, because having all three being in the hunt would suggest that nobody was ready yet to be very good or great. 

Whichever QB it is, it'll just be good to see one guy can control. 

It's important for the offense to improve this year, to be able to carry a bigger share of the burden for victories while the defensive unit plugs the holes left by the loss of several key players.

Spring signing period begins Wednesday

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Starting Wednesday, the University of Kentucky athletics department will be hoping to receive a couple of key signatures that could shape the future of the athletics department for the next few years.

Wednesday begins the spring signing period, marking the first day prospective student-athletes can sign a National Letter of Intent to play at an institution.

The first day of the spring signing period doesn't traditionally carry the type of holiday feel that football signing day carries, but that doesn't mean it's any less significant. Beginning Wednesday, UK will be able to accept letters of intent from prospective basketball student-athletes until the final signing date on May 19. In all other sports, a student-athlete may sign until Aug. 1 2010.

Now does this mean UK will definitely receive some big-name letters of intent Wednesday? Certainly not. While the department is hopeful it will obtain a couple of key faxes, don't expect an outpouring of news.

If you can remember back to last year, only DeMarcus Cousins signed on the first day of the spring signing period. High-profile recruits John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Darnell Dodson signed in the following weeks.

The good news for us on the blog is that once a recruit signs, we can finally address them by name and talk about their credentials. Because this is a part of the official site of UK Athletics, I'm barred from talking about a prospective student-athlete until he/she signs.

April 11 Performances of the Week

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SBL 09_10 UK_GA 1 11.jpgEvery Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, April 11:

Softball: Chanda Bell

Sophomore Chanda Bell has been UK's top option in the circle this season and has continued to improve as the season has progressed. Bell went 2-0 in three appearances this week with an astounding 0.46 ERA while allowing just 11 hits in 15 innings of action. She struck out 24 batters, which is a rate of 1.6 strikeouts per inning. With the 24 strikeouts, she claims UK's single-season strikeout record with 228 on the season. She betters her own mark set just last year when she had 216. She also sits just 100 strikeouts from the UK career record. Bell tossed the first one-hitter of her career in a shutout victory to complete the sweep of South Carolina on Sunday. She allowed just one hit and only one other runner to reach base. Over the last four innings of play against the Gamecocks she threw a perfect game and struck out nine batters. The win on Sunday marked the 14th time this season she has struck out 10 or more batters in a single game and it is the fourth shutout of the season for Bell. In single-season allure this year, Bell holds the record in strikeouts and opponent batting average at .186. She ranks fourth in single-season history with four shutouts, fifth with 14 wins on the year and 10th in complete games thrown with 19.

Softball: Molly Johnson

Senior Molly Johnson had another terrific week for the Wildcats as she led the squad with a .636 batting average, an .818 slugging percentage and a .692 on-base percentage in UK's 3-1 week. Johnson also scored seven times last week to claim her fifth UK career record with 148 career runs scored. (She already possesses school records in career batting average, slugging percentage, doubles and home runs). Additionally, Johnson has a hit in 28 of UK's last 32 games. Since the SEC season began, Johnson has a hit in all but two of UK's 19 games against league opponents.

Baseball: Taylor Rogers

Freshman southpaw Taylor Rogers had a dominating performance in leading UK to a series-clinching victory over No. 19 Alabama on Saturday night. Rogers tossed 7.2 innings in his fourth win of the season, allowing only five hits and two runs, not issuing a walk and striking out five. Rogers held Alabama to a .192 average in his outing. He forced 13 ground outs against the Crimson Tide and is now averaging 13.86 ground outs per nine innings pitched. On the year, Rogers owns a 4-3 record and a 4.86 ERA, starting eight games in his true freshman season. The Littleton, Colo., native has pitched 50 innings with one complete game, allowing only eight walks and striking out 22.

Baseball: Keenan Wiley

Senior center fielder Keenan Wiley had an excellent offensive week in leading UK to a win over No. 7 Louisville in the midweek and a series victory over No. 19 Alabama during a pivotal Southeastern Conference weekend. Wiley led the team during the four-game week with a .600 average, charting nine hits in 15 at-bats. He added a double and a triple, driving in three RBI, drawing one walk and stealing three bases. Wiley laid down a sacrifice bunt and had a sacrifice hit. In the win over Louisville, Wiley added a magnificent diving, run-saving catch in center field in the middle innings. Also in the win over Louisville, Wiley had a clutch RBI double, adding a stolen base. In Friday's win over Alabama, Wiley went a perfect 3-for-3, drawing a walk. Saturday, Wiley continued a stellar weekend, batting 3-for-4 with two RBI, a triple and a stolen base in leading UK to the series-clinching win. In the Sunday contest, Wiley batted 2-for-4 with a stolen base and a sacrifice bunt. On the year, Wiley is batting .364 (43-for-118) with five doubles, one triple, four homers and 27 RBI, drawing nine walk and striking out 10 times. Wiley has stolen 11-of-15 bases on the year, adding one outfield assist from his center-field post.

Burden changes sides, shores up O-line

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FB 09_10 UK_Miami web 007.jpgChandler Burden has been swamped with homework. Pages upon pages of it.

Every night before going to bed, Burden opens up the playbook and dives into a world he's never lived in before.

"They're throwing a lot of plays at me," Burden said. "Today they threw like eight new plays at me. Everybody has a head start on me."

Burden, a two-year player at defensive end, is currently going through a spring practice crash course at offensive line. After hearing for two years of how he had the look, the skills and the potential to be a great offensive tackle, Burden approached the coaching staff after last season's bowl game and asked to move to change sides of the ball.

Although Burden would have likely challenged for a starting spot on the defensive line in the fall, UK desperately needed extra bodies and a familiar face to patch up some gaping holes at O-line. Just one starter - left guard Stuart Hines - returns.

"We're climbing a steep mountain right now with some guys that have been on the field that are basically inexperienced, especially inexperienced with playing with each other," first-year offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "We're spending most of our time on fundamentals and technique. I see improvement in that, but as an overall group we've got a long ways to go before we can be a cohesive unit."

That's where Burden, a 6-foot-4, 296-pound lineman out of La Salle High School in Blue Ash, Ohio, could come in.

Although he only played one season of offensive line during his sophomore season in high school, he brings an unmatched advantage of being a former defensive lineman. Having thought and played as a defensive lineman, Burden can recognize certain stances and fronts and anticipate different moves by his former brethren that his current offensive linemen are just now learning how to defend.

"You can pick up little things that you can't pick up unless you've played defensive line, like when they're going to stunt, when they're going to drop," Burden said. "I can recognize defensive fronts quicker than most people would because I've played there."

Burden is largely a work in progress. In addition to learning the new techniques, Burden must work his way through a playbook that is twice as large as he was accustomed to on defense. Four days a week, he's put to the test at spring practice.

One won't see plays and formations scribbled on his forearms, but all things considered, Burden is cramming for a full-time job in just four weeks.

"I was going through them last night, writing all of them down and writing what I need to do," Burden said. "There was 30-something plays they're throwing at me in less than a week. It's not huge, but it's more than I'm used to."

But don't overlook the possibility that Burden stars at left tackle in the fall.  Junior Billy Joe Murphy has the early lead over Burden because of three starts in 2008, but the offensive line as a whole is inexperienced and in training.

New terminology from the introduction of Summers will make the line better in the long run but has temporarily impaired the line in the short term.

Summer said the line is "paralyzed" by the ability to think because of some of the new terms and schemes. When the mind thinks too much, the rest of the body parts (the linemen) don't move as fast.

"When they hear words, there is a little bit of a delay between what those words are and what they mean and us being able to translate that into execution," Summers said. "The more that we cut down the time between understanding and the execution, then the better at offensive line we will be. We'll play faster and we'll be more efficient."

In that aspect, Burden isn't at as much of a disadvantage because everyone is starting from scratch.

In fact, before spring practice started, head coach Joker Phillips said they wouldn't have made the move if they didn't believe Burden could start immediately.

"He runs off the ball and gets his hands on people, controls people," Phillips said. "He has the athleticism to play the position at left tackle. He has the strength, he has the power, he has the snap in his hips. It's important for him to get reps also and he's getting a lot of reps. He has to believe in himself and quit being hard on himself. If he can just relax and play ball, we think we'll have something big in him."

Summers and Phillips both agreed that Burden has to reel in his own expectations a bit. Burden expects to jump in the rotation and experience immediate success, but rarely do things go so smooth.

"I'm not going to stop until I start," Burden said. "That's how I live my life. I try to be the best no matter what. I work as hard as I can to be the best. Until I'm the starting left tackle I won't be satisfied."

As it stands right now, senior Brad Durham sits atop the depth chart at right tackle alongside sophomore guard Larry Warford. Matt Smith, Sam Simpson and Marcus Davis are entrenched in a three-way battle for the center position and none of the three have separated themselves from the pack.

Burden, in a way, epitomizes the entire unit. The line is rich with talent and potential but lacking in inexperience and reps. Phillips is aware of the line's deficiencies but has raved of the play through the first two weeks.

"I love this offensive line," Phillips said. "I love what coach Summers is doing with them. They are starting to take pride in their play. They're playing fast. He's got them running fast off the ball instead of oozing off the ball. I'm excited about those guys."

Former coach Rich Brooks called last year's line the most athletic line in his seven years at UK. Phillips might have one-upped him in his first season.

"I think this one might be even more athletic than the one we had. I think they're much more physical also. They've got a lot of pride in their play. Four of them are from Kentucky. I think it means just a little bit more for those guys that are from Kentucky. That's what I'm happy about."

Video: Softball sweeps first SEC series of season

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Hartline separates from quarterback pack

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The race has only reached the midway point, but if there's an early leader in the battle for the starting quarterback position it's Mike Hartline.

The senior-to-be has distanced himself in the first two weeks of spring football practice and did nothing Saturday in the first major scrimmage of the year to let the underclassmen - Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski - overtake him.

"Mike Hartline is playing better than the other two young ones," head coach Joker Phillips said after Saturday's scrimmage. "All of it has to do with game-ready snaps. He's had a lot and he's played for two years around here. The two young ones have not played much."

Hartline was the first quarterback on the field Saturday, leading the first-unit offense down the field for a touchdown against the first-unit defense in just six plays. Hartline connected with wide receiver Randall Cobb to cap the drive and he never let up from there.

On the day, Hartline was 10-of-15 for 153 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"I thought Mike Hartline did a really good job of getting us in the end zone and managing the team and making plays," Phillips said.

Hartline showed poise and leadership in the pocket, continually standing tall and connecting with his wide receivers despite pressure from the defensive line.

"I just planned on the first couple of days seeing how the knee feels and going as hard as I can and not hold back," Hartline said. "It's going well. I'm just trying to do the things that I need to. I need to try to take more of that leadership role and I feel like I have. When you do those type of things and you do everything right and you be accountable and make plays, it's easy to be a leader."

He coached up Newton and Mossakowski verbally when he was on the sidelines and it looks as if he has matured into a better leader after injuring his knee midway through last year. Hartline credited his experience for his success.

"I see (the players) all the time," Hartline said. "It's not a new group of people. They're here, they have playing experience and they're very athletic. The limits are endless."

Newton and Mossakowski did little to hurt themselves in the race, as both also threw the ball well. Newton finished 8-of-16 for 116 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and Mossakowski, despite being the victim of a few dropped balls, was 5-of-11 for 88 yards with a touchdown and two picks. 

Phillips said he liked the demeanor of all three quarterbacks.

"I thought the two young ones did some good things also, but they've got to protect the football," Phillips said. "Three of the interceptions were between the two young guys. They've got to protect the football for us. That's the thing that a quarterback has to do is make sure we don't have negative plays. I liked the way they bounced back and go their units in the end zone."

Although Hartline has the early lead, no quarterback decision has come and likely won't happen until the end of the spring at the earliest.

"If the separation is wide enough then we'll make a decision," Phillips said. "If it's not then we'll continue."

Full video of the three quarterbacks is below.


Live blog: UK baseball vs. No. 24 Alabama

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UK on pace to meet 15 by 15 by 15 plan

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Barnhart.JPGIt isn't 2015 yet, but Kentucky will already be halfway to achieving the 15 by 15 by 15 plan at the end of this athletics season if it can finish the 2009-10 year strong.

The plan, which was set into motion by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart two years ago, is a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletic programs by 2015.

According to the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup rankings, which were developed as a joint effort between the National Association of College Director of Athletics and USA Today to rate the top athletic departments in the country, the University of Kentucky athletics department sits in 13th place in the April 6 standings, second best in the Southeastern Conference. UK finished in 34th last year.

Coupled with Kentucky's four championships in the last two years (two rifle championships in 2009 and two men's basketball championships in 2010), Kentucky is well on its way to accomplishing the 15 by 15 by 15 mission.

"We had set our sights on being top 15 in all sports by the year 2015," Barnhart said Friday. "This would obviously accelerate that pace, which pleases me greatly in that it means our teams, specifically our coaches and athletes, have really done some special things so far this year."

UK has tallied 487.50 total points in the Directors' Cup race with the winter and spring seasons still to be completed. The department scored 89.0 points in the fall before amassing 398.50 points to date in the winter, fourth highest among all schools in Division I. Only Stanford, Ohio State and Texas A&M, who currently rank first, second and 10th in the overall standings, respectively, have scored higher in the winter.

"There have been some great athletes that have been at Kentucky over the years in many sports," Barnhart said. "They seem to come in bits and pieces, but never as a collective departmental unit. I can't speak to the historical piece of it as much as others might be able to, but in recent times, this is the first time that we have had a collective movement of all sports to that upper echelon nationally. It is our goal and our commitment to do things necessary to keep quality student-athletes coming to Kentucky in all sports and to keep quality coaches at Kentucky that we have brought in."

Kentucky is on pace to shatter last year's 34th-place Directors' Cup finish of 607.80 points. The school would need just 120.3 points in the spring and the remainder of the winter to top the 2008-09 total. More importantly, if the race were to end today, Kentucky's 13th-place standing would be the best in school history. UK's current Directors' Cup high is 26th place, set during the 1996-97 athletics season. 

Barnhart put the 15 by 15 by 15 plan in motion in pursuit of excellence across the entire athletics department. Kentucky is currently in its highest Directors' Cup standing because of the department-wide success.

Among the best finishers in the 2009-10 athletics season have been the men's and women's basketball teams, the rifle team, and the volleyball team.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach John Calipari, the men's basketball team made it to the regional finals for the first time since 2005. Calipari's Cats finished in fifth place among all basketball schools this year with 73 points.

The women's basketball team went into uncharted territory this season when it set a school-record 28 wins. By advancing the NCAA Tournament regional finals, UK picked up 73 points, fifth among all women's basketball programs.

But as the nation is quickly learning, Kentucky is more than just basketball.

The rifle team has picked up the most points among all UK teams with 80 points after its national championship appearance. The volleyball team totaled 64 points following its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

The men's and women's swimming and diving teams and the men's and women's track and field teams have accumulated the final 172.5 of UK's 487.50 total points.

"I think the focus tends to be on football and basketball, but what it says to me is that the breadth of our program is getting deeper and our athletes are beginning to perform at a higher level," Barnhart said.

The final 2009-10 Directors' Cup rankings will be released July 1. UK can still pick up points in gymnastics, men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and field, softball, and baseball.

For UK to meet the 15 by 15 by 15 plan, it would have to hit or exceed the 15 championship benchmark and rank in the top 15 by the Directors' Cup in the 2014-15 athletics season.

"We need to make sure that we find a way to stay in the top 15 at the end of the year," Barnhart said. "That's the goal. As we talked about a year ago, it is important to finish the deal."

Pitch and catch with softball's Natalie Smith

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SBL 08_09 UK_Kent Game2 Web 33.jpgWhile the baseball team claws to get back into the Southeastern Conference race, the gymnastics team prepares to host its first NCAA regional and the football team gears up for its annual Blue/White Game, another team is quietly making a push for yet another historic run.

Just a year removed from the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance, the UK softball team has put itself in decent position to make the school's second postseason appearance with a little more than a month left to play.

The Cats, at 22-16, 7-9 in the Southeastern Conference, certainly have a lot of work to do to make the tournament, but the mere thought of making two straight NCAA Tournaments two years ago after years of mediocrity seemed like something out of a fairytale for the players.

One of the biggest reasons Kentucky is back in the mix to make the postseason is senior second baseman Natalie Smith. A year after hitting .255 at the plate, Smith has inflated her batting average to .353, second on the team.

On Friday, just a day before UK kicks off a critical three-game stretch with South Carolina, Cat Scratches sat down with Smith to talk about the Cats' postseason push, her change in her approach at the plate and the progress the program has made in her four years at Kentucky.

Cat Scratches: Can you tell me about how the year has gone so far as a team and for you individually?
Natalie Smith: Well it has been an interesting softball season so far. We have had some ups and downs as a team, but we are always looking to improve and we are looking forward to winning as many SEC games as we can. That is definitely our main goal and then to make it to the NCAA tournament."

CS: You all are in the middle of the pack in the SEC. Can you talk about how critical these next few weekends are coming up in order to make the NCAA Tournament?
NS: We play LSU and Florida and those are going to be dog fights, but if we can pull a couple of games out of each series, that would definitely be a bonus. The South Carolina game this weekend is number one on our minds. We need to take these three games to have a shot at postseason.  We are in the middle of the pack right now, but to get into the tournament, you only need to be ahead of two or three teams, so hopefully we can make the tournament and that can confirm a four or five spot in the regionals somewhere.

CS: Did the team making its first NCAA tournament appearance last year put some pressure onto the team or did it build momentum, or was it a combination of both?
NS: It was a little bit of pressure last year because after a few years of experience that winning was great and everything, but no one was expecting us to win last year.  When we came out and were beating teams, I think that caught everyone off guard, so that was definitely to our advantage.  This year, everyone knows we are a lot better than we were, and everyone is looking to beat us, so there is definitely some pressure to get back to the tournament and to make a real change in the program, but that is what we are trying to do.

CS: Do teams seem a little bit tougher this year since they know that you all can't be taken lightly anymore?
NS: I would say so. It's great playing in this conference and I wouldn't want to be on any other team. Every game, anybody can win and you just have to go out and play hard, and that is why it is so much fun. Competition is at such a high level. Now that teams are gunning for you, it makes it that much more exciting when you beat them.

CS: Do you feel like you are in good position right now to make the NCAA Tournament again?
NS:Yeah, we will be fine. As long as we take care of business, we can afford a few losses here and there, but we really need to take care of business this weekend and Ole Miss in a couple of weeks during finals will be a really big series for us, too.

CS: Can you talk about your offensive game this year? You are hitting in the mid 300s right now. Talk about how the year is going for you individually.
NS: Well I just have been slapping a lot more and trying to get on base. I don't have a ton of extra-base hits. I just really try to create an offense and put the ball in play and it is really fun to get on base. Last year my goal was one RBI per game and this year my goal has been more to just try to get on base and create offense for the rest of the team. I just try to do what I can. This is my last year and I think that kind of helps being a senior and having experience and just going out on a good note, there is going to be a lot of motivation to try to help the team.

CS: Did you know you were going to be in a different role this year as a slap hitter and did you have to make any adjustments in the offseason to kind of change your game a little bit?
NS: I started to change around postseason last year and I had great results, but I was hitting in the five spot last year behind a power hitter trying to drive in runs and it just wasn't as acceptable last year as it was the first two years when I had much more slapping in. I decided to mix it up more this year and really try to play the defense to my advantage, so I made some adjusting in the offseason and worked on my slapping and my bunts because I'm not that fast. Hopefully the hard work will pay off and I will have another great year.

CS:
Can you explain the differences in the approach at the plate between slapping and trying to drive runs in?
NS: If there is no one on base, I am looking more towards slapping or bunting. I usually hit away if there are scorers in scoring position or if I am really hitting well off of the pitcher. But if the pitcher has my number then I am going to go to the slap because I want to put the ball in play. As a personal goal of my own is that I don't like to strike out that much so slapping guarantees that I at least put the ball in play and I am going to make the defense work to make a play. I think that is the biggest difference, just looking to get on or to catch somebody off guard and I can slap or bunt, plus I can slap for power, too, so it is really nice to get an outfield that really doesn't know how to play me.

CS: Are you surprised how far this program has come?
NS: I'm really not surprised. I enjoyed my first year even though it was under a different coaching staff than we have now, but Rachel Lawson came in and really gave this team some heart and some tradition and has really been working hard in changing this program around and it has definitely paid off, bringing in great players and just building everything up. I think this senior class has a lot of pride in what we have accomplished and I think as a group we are really proud of the mark we are going to leave and hopefully we can say that we were part of that change.

CS: You and Molly Johnson and Amber Matousek came in at the same time and knew each other before coming to UK. Talk about the benefit of having two other players your age to lean on during the tough times the first two years and how gratifying is to be winning together now.
NS: They were definitely part of the reason I came here. I knew I was going to have two friends from home that I had already played summer ball with. Me and Molly have played the infield together for six years now, so it's really nice to know that you don't have to communicate that much. We just know where the other person is going to be. She's a great a player and Amber is a great player and it's just nice to know that you're having an off day that somebody can pick you up. With Molly, I've played against her since I was a little kid. I always knew whatever happened to her and where she went that she was going to be a stud. I've been following her my entire career so I was happy to go to the same school as her and not have to play against her.

Spring practice notes from April 9

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- I went out Friday to talk to offensive tackle Chandler Burden, who is making a switch from the defensive line to the offensive line. I'll have that story and a preview of the offensive line next week.

- While I was out there, I witnessed a little altercation between the offensive and defensive line. While he doesn't condone fighting, head coach Joker Phillips welcomed the extra aggressiveness. "You've got to mix it up every now and then," Phillips said. "It's a violent sport. Sometimes you wear your emotions on your sleeve and you get caught up in it. We're fine with what's going on as long as we leave it on the field. A lot of energy here today."

- Phillips hopes that part of the extra energy was for UK's first major scrimmage of the season, which will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium. The scrimmage is open to the public. Phillips called it an important scrimmage for the young players to see where they're at.

- Of course, there is an important three-way battle going on at quarterback. Phillips said all three - Mike Hartline, Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski - threw the ball very well at Friday's practice. Phillips liked their ability to throw the ball down the field. He's anxious to see not only who gets the ball in the end zone but how they run the offense. Tempo and getting in and out of the huddle quickly will be important in Saturday's scrimmage. The quarterbacks are expected to get equal reps in Saturday's scrimmage.

- Phillips said the development of the receivers has also helped in the improvement in the quarterbacks and said the receivers are just as big a part of the passing game. "That helps the quarterback's confidence," Phillips said. "Andre (Woodson) felt comfortable throwing it up because he knew Stevie (Johnson), Keenan (Burton) and Dicky (Lyons) were going to make a play for him. Sometimes those guys have to make plays for them also."

- The first-year head coach raved about the offensive line, telling reporters that he "loved" what the linemen have done in spring practice. Phillips said they're taking pride in their play. Despite losing four starters, they're playing fast and running off the ball instead of "oozing off the ball," as Phillips described it. Former coach Rich Brooks called last year's line the most athletic line he had while he was at UK, but Phillips believes this line might be even more athletic. He also liked the fact that four of the linemen are from Kentucky because it means a little bit more to them to see this team succeed (more on this in the Burden feature).

- Kentucky remains in good health heading into the first scrimmage. Only defensive end DeQuin Evans, who is still recovering from a sprained right knee he suffered in last week's practice, will not participate.

April 9 From the Pressbox

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UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography

= = =

It's possible that four of the five freshmen that played for the Kentucky men's basketball team last season will be leaving in hopes of fulfilling a dream to play in the NBA. That no doubt causes much consternation in the Big Blue nation but it's not like John Calipari set out to recruit players that he would lose after one season. As a coach, you get the best players you can and go from there.

We all knew John Wall was almost certainly going to play only one season for the Wildcats. But that was the only sure thing. Yes, Demarcus Cousins was highly rated, but few observers thought he would dominante -- and mature -- the way he did at Kentucky in one season. And nobody was talking about Eric Bledsoe or Daniel Orton as one-and-done type players.

Had UK's season fizzled out after a fast start -- like Texas' did -- you wouldn't be seeing this kind of shakeup for the roster. But when you win at the level Kentucky did, everybody looks better individually than they might on a team that struggled.

I'm sure coach Cal wants to build a deeper core of veteran players to carry over from one season to the next. But while he's getting to that point with his program, I'm guessing fans will still get a lot of enjoyment from another team or two having to rely heavily on freshmen wins like this one did.

===

Thumbnail image for FB08_09 UK_GA web 59.jpgLinebacker Danny Trevathan figures to play a more prominent role in Kentucky's defensive plans this coming football season and the junior from Florida is excited about some tweaking that defensive coordinator Steve Brown is doing with the approach.

"We're doing a lot more nickel and we're also running a 3-4, in certain situations," Trevathan said. "Our base defense is still the same. Last year, we were more slow-paced, read the offense and this year, we're more attacking.

"(It's) more chances for the defensive lineman to go out and attack. (We) won't be blitzing more but more effectively. That's the whole defense's mindset, attacking more this year."

Trevathan knows his coaches are counting heavily on him for next season.

"(Linebacker) coach (Chuck Smith) said everyone year he's had an All-SEC linebacker and I'm trying to step up and be the next one," Trevathan said. 

How does he go about doing that?

"(It's) a mentality you gotta have. Sam (Maxwell) and Micah (Johnson) had it and they did a good job of teaching me," Trevathan said. "I think I'm achieving it."

===

New offensive line coach Mike Summers has inherited just one returning starter (Stuart Hines) but he does also have a couple of guys with a good bit of game action under their belts in Larry Warford and Brad Durham. Still, Summers knows that's a long way from the veteran group Kentucky took into last season.

"Probably the worst word you can hear for an offensive line is inexperience," Summers said. "Playing side-by-side and building cohesiveness between those guys is something we're trying to do. That's a pretty steep mountain we're trying to climb and every day we chip away at that."

The offensive system isn't going to change much since head coach Joker Phillips was overseeing that side of the ball already, but for the guys under Summers tutelage, it is a big change.

"I'm pretty sure everything has changed for them," Summers said. "How I call blocks, how we teach blocks, how we practice. That kind of slows some of our development right now, in this transition period. And we're trying to build the respect between my coaching style (and them) and over time, our relationship will strengthen."

Chandler Burden has been moved from defensive end to left tackle and Summers said Burden brings a lot to the table.

"(He) probably possesses more speed and strength than anyone else that we've got up there," Summers said. "He has a mental toughness that adds to that group. I think just his passion to be a great player is something that spreads (to the other players)."

Much is required of the center in the offensive line in terms of calling out assignments and having to handle some large and strong SEC opponents. Summers said UK is a long way from where it needs to be at that position right now, where three very inexperienced players -- Marcus Davis, Matt Smith and redshirt freshman Samuel Simpson -- are battling it out.

"I think it's a slow development," Summers said. "That position is going to have to be a whole lot better. We've got a long way to go before we feel good about that position. You would like to have a dominant player at center and we don't have that yet. The better comprehension they have of the offense will add to (their) confidence. And trying to be a more physically dominant player. We haven't seen that yet."

Opportunities abound for next year's players

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MBSK 09_10 UK_ARK Web 77.jpgThe hammer fell hard Wednesday evening, but it fell as expected.

The mass exodus of Kentucky's core that led the Cats to a 35-3 season has ended just as soon as it seemed to start.

With the announcement that John Wall intends to enter his name in the June 24 NBA Draft after one season in college came the additional news that DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton will all enter their names the draft. Come one, come all, as they say. 

No one decision came as much of a surprise and no one player should be criticized for turning pro. With stocks soaring, a potential NBA lockout looming in the near future and the risk of injury always nearby, their decisions were smart ones, ones that you and I would both  likely make if we were in their shoes.

So ease up, Big Blue Nation. Commend the kids for the work and rebuilding that they did at UK. If it wasn't for them, UK isn't back near the top of college basketball.

As for the aftermath? When the dust settles, it will paint an uncertain picture that will likely create a mild-to-medium panic in the Bluegrass State.

As the roster stands now, only five players will return from the 2009-10 team. That includes starters Darius Miller and Darnell Dodson and reserves DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood.

MBSK 09_10 UK_ARK Web 70.jpgEach player is talented in their own right.

Miller, a former Team USA member, averaged 6.5 points per game this season and possesses the type of skills set (driver/slasher) to flourish in head coach John Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion Offense. Dodson was one of UK's best three-point shooters this year, hitting a team-high 50 shots from behind the arc, and Liggins became one of Calipari's go-to players off the bench because of his defensive intensity.

Although Hood and Harrellson didn't see significant minutes this season, they're expected to be key reserves next season.

It goes without saying that plenty of opportunities will be open for the returners and next year's incoming recruiting class.

Still, the returning five depicts a cloudy future for UK solely because of how much will be lost if each of the five early entrees stay in the draft. Coupled with the graduation of Kentucky's seniors, the Cats will lose 72.9 percent of their total point output from this season and 75.0 percent of the minutes (or for better perspective, UK is set to return just 27.1 percent of the scoring and 25.0 percent of the minutes).

That makes for one tough job for Calipari and a feat that few teams in recent history have been able to conquer.

Of the last five national champions (Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Florida twice), no team has returned less than 55.6 percent of its points production from the year before and gone on to win the title.

Full breakdown of the last five national champions are below. The statistics are what each of the past national champions had returned from the year before the team won the title. For instance, Duke, the 2010 national champion, returned eight players this season that accounted for 60.1 percent of last year's minutes and 64.1 percent of last year's scoring.

The years next to each team indicate the year the team won the title. The statistics are from the year entering each team's national championship season.

Duke (2010)
Players returned: eight
Minutes returned: 7,425/4,483 = 60.1 percent
Points returned: 2,867/1,838 = 64.1 percent

North Carolina (2009)
Players returned: 13
Minutes returned: 7,900/6,727 = 85.2 percent
Points returned: 3,454/3,162 = 91.5 percent

Kansas (2008)
Players returned: 11

Minutes returned: 7,675/5,928 = 77.2 percent
Points returned: 2,978/2,281 = 76.6 percent

Florida (2006)
Players returned: 10
Minutes returned: 7,824/7,064 = 90.3 percent
Points returned: 3,052/2,84 - 93.2 percent

Florida (2005)
Players returned: nine
Minutes returned: 6,450/3,585 = 55.6 percent
Points returned: 2,438/1,465 = 60.1 percent

Now, let's make one thing clear: This isn't to say Calipari can't and won't replace the bulk of this year's team. Just because it hasn't been done recently doesn't mean it's unprecedented.

Need I remind you what Michigan's Fab Five (a starting lineup of all freshmen) did in 1992? For that matter, do I need to bring up this year's freshman-laden team? A lineup led primarily by four freshmen cushioned the blow of several key losses, including leading 2008-09 scorer Jodie Meeks, and guided UK to the doorstep of the program's first Final Four in more than a decade.

MBSK 09_10 UK_ARK Web 18.jpgHeading into this season, UK returned seven contributors (most of them which saw minimal action the year before), 64.5 percent of its minutes but only 56.7 percent of its scoring.

If Calipari can piece together a team in just a few short weeks like he did at this time last year, imagine what he can do this recruiting season with his feet now firmly entrenched at UK. The guy is known as one of the best recruiters for a reason.

Calipari has already signed the highly touted Stacey Poole, who is ranked No. 27 overall in the 2010 class, and UK is rumored to be atop the lists of several of the nation's top high school talent. Unfortunately, until a player signs a National Letter of Intent to play for Kentucky, I cannot post the names of the recruits interested because this is the official site of UK Athletics.

The UK coach told reporters, fans and players that this day was coming. When he signed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last year, he warned that many of them would be one-and-done. Calipari welcomed and encouraged the notion, vowing to try to repeat that year after year with top-notch recruiting classes.

He brought up a great point earlier in the season when he said that if his players are leaving school after one year, Kentucky must have a pretty darn good arsenal of players.

Some have made their mark and left. Now it's time for the next group of Kentucky stars to arise.   

Final ESPN/USA Today Coaches' rankings

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The men's and women's basketball teams finished off historic seasons ranked in the top 10 in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches' polls.

The men, fresh off a 35-3 season that resulted in an Elite Eight appearance, checked in at No. 5 in the final rankings. It's the men's highest finish in the poll since the 2002-03 season when UK finished No. 4.

Meanwhile, the women, after a record-setting 28-8 year that also ended in the Elite Eight, finished in a tie at No. 9, the highest finish to a season in school history.

The two teams combined to average a final ranking of No. 7 in the final ESPN/USA Today polls. Only Duke, which ranked No. 1 in the men and No. 5 in the women, had a higher average (averaged No. 3 ranking).

The Associated Press does not release a final poll after the NCAA Tournament.

Men
1 Duke (31)  33-5 775
2 Butler 32-4 739
3 West Virginia 31-6 696
4 Michigan State 28-8 654
5 Kentucky 35-3 650
6 Kansas 33-3 604
7 Kansas State 29-8 573
8 Syracuse 30-5 554
9 Tennessee 28-9 494
10 Baylor 28-8 487
11 Ohio State 29-8 483
12 Purdue 29-6 448
13 Northern Iowa 30-5 344
14 Xavier 26-9 271
15 Villanova 25-8 267
16 New Mexico 30-5 229
17 Cornell 29-5 225
18 Maryland 24-9 201
19 Saint Mary's 28-6 198
20 Pittsburgh 25-9 182
21 Washington 26-10 163
22 Brigham Young 30-6 161
23 Gonzaga 27-7 141
24 Wisconsin 24-9 140
25 Texas A&M 24-10 136

 Women
 1. Connecticut (31)  39-0 775 
 2. Stanford 36-2 744 
 3. Oklahoma 27-11 678 
 4. Baylor 27-10 676 
 5. Xavier 30-4 652 
 6. Duke 30-6 591 
 7. Nebraska 32-2 550 
 8. Tennessee 32-3 538 
 9. Kentucky 28-8 537 
 9. Florida State 29-6 537 
11. Notre Dame 29-6 500 
12. Gonzaga 29-5 397 
13. Iowa State 25-8 357 
14. Texas A&M 26-8 336 
15. Ohio State 31-5 306 
16. West Virginia 29-6 287 
17. Georgetown 26-7 218 
18. St. John's 25-7 215 
19. Georgia 25-9 202 
20. San Diego State 23-11 174 
21. Mississippi State 21-13 170 
22. Oklahoma State 24-11 121 
23. UCLA 25-9 106 
24. Vanderbilt 23-11 74 
25. LSU 21-10 53 
25. Texas 22-11 53 

April 7 From the Pressbox

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UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography

= = =

It doesn't seem that long ago that true freshman running back Derrick Locke burst on the scene with 48 rushing yards in the fourth quarter in a come-from-behind win at Arkansas. But now, the Hugo, Okla., product is preparing for his final season wearing blue and white and Locke is committed to making sure both he and his team realize their full potential.

FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 010.jpg"I want to make sure everything is like it needs to be," Locke told tomleachky.com after a recent spring practice session. "Am I doing everything I need to be doing? Am I over-cutting? People don't understand a running back's got to set up blocks. That's my goal. I don't want to be like 'Locke didn't do this ' "

That's just the kind of attitude Joker Phillips needs to hear from a senior.

Last season, Locke rushed for 907 yards and caught 31 passes, accouting for eight touchdowns. He added another score on a key kickoff return in the win over Louisville and emerged as one of the Southeastern Conference's top return guys. But Locke says the team was capable of more wins that it produced and he takes his own share of accountability for that.

"It came down to one selfish play and then another selfish play," Locke said, noting that "selfish" refers to not always sustaining the committment to finish off assignments. "Let's say on a run, maybe if I had been a little more patient, it would have been an 80-yard run. Or one bad throw or one missed route. We should have had a 10-win season but we didn't. Right now, we need to make sure everybody does their part. They do theirs and I do mine."

Locke considered putting his name into the NFL Draft but opted to return for his final season at Kentucky. He has a 3-year-old son (who Locke says -- with a big smile -- now refers to daddy as "his best friend") and that is powerful motivating force for Locke to be all he can be.

"I talked to my coach and I wanted to let him know that I want to know how to watch film," Locke said. "What do I need to study? What do they like to do? When they're in this front, what do they like to do? If I can learn my opponent, I can be a better player. Trying to take everything to the next level. I don't want (anyone) to have any doubts."

This time a year ago, there was still a question about whether Locke would be able to fully recover from a serious knee injury in the middle of the 2008 season. Locke worked like a demon in his rehab and quickly erased any doubts about getting all of that NFL-caliber speed back. He said it feels great to be back on the field this spring, without any doubts.

"You don't have to worry about 'can he handle it?' " Locke said. "I can handle it. I came off the injury and had an alright season, but now it's time to up the bar. I've got to make sure I'm progressing."

And Locke likes the tone Phillips is setting in his first year as the Cats' head man.

"Intensity is through the roof," Locke said. "Everything's got to be fast, so we're getting a lot more reps. We're trying to get as many reps as we can. All the young guys, that's the only way they're going to get better. I like that."

Emery's success withstands the test of the time

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MTEN 09_10 UK_USC Web 01.jpgAs the wins piled up, Dennis Emery carried on obliviously, unaware of the longevity of his career at Kentucky and a historic milestone that quickly approached.

Nearly two weeks ago, Emery, the longtime men's tennis coach at UK, notched his 500th career win at Kentucky.

"I didn't really realize we were coming up on that until the night before," Emery said. "I didn't really have a lot of time to think about it."

Emery has been at UK so long - 28 seasons, to be exact - that it's become easy to overlook the sustained success Emery's tennis teams have had. Twenty-six NCAA Tournament appearances, a Southeastern Conference championship in 1992, three Elite Eights and two NCAA singles finalists are only half the story of Emery's success.

In this day and age where the durability of coaches to sustain consistent success is replaced by the knee-jerk reaction to find instant triumph, Emery is in a shrinking pool of coaches -- tennis, basketball, football, etc. -- that has remained at a school for a long period of time.

His longevity, more than the number 500, is the true testament to his success at UK. Emery ranks only behind men's basketball coach Adolph Rupp (876) and baseball coach Keith Madison (735) for all-time wins at Kentucky.

"In today's college athletics, it's very difficult in any sport to get to 500," said assistant coach Cedric Kauffman, who has spent the better part of the last decade-plus playing under and coaching with Emery. "In tennis, it's very difficult with the amount of matches we play. I think there are only a handful of coaches or less that have reached his plateau. He's one of the best coaches in college."

When Emery took over the UK program in 1983, the program was underwhelming. Just a year earlier, Emery's little-known team at Austin Peay defeated UK twice, and yet Emery jumped at the chance to take the UK job when the position opened.

Upon accepting the job, Emery had only a few but important objectives in his vision for the team.

"When I came to Kentucky, I decided I wanted to stay at one place for 30 years and see what you could accomplish if you were actually committed to do that," Emery said.

What he's accomplished speaks for itself.

Emery, who has a career record of 589-387 in 33 years of collegiate coaching, has led 15 players to 29 All-America honors. Among active coaches, Emery ranks No. 8 on the career wins list and is second in NCAA Tournament berths.

Among his most crowning achievements were Jesse Witten's national runner-up finish in 2002 and Carlos Drada's national runner-up in 2000. Drada now coaches the women's team at UK.

Win No. 500 against Alabama on March 28 was a chance for Emery to finally bask in some personal glory. Emery received a crystal ball during the South Carolina match last week to commemorate his 500th win at UK, but the longtime tennis pro took more satisfaction in the celebration of his players.

"The thing that meant the most to me is it seemed to mean a lot to the current players on the team and I got a lot of texts from former players," Emery said. "That really put it into perspective more than anything. I felt better about the fact that our players, current and former, took so much pride in it."

Emery called the secret to his prolonged winning the ability to recruit good players and shepherd talented assistant coaches, but Kauffman said Emery doesn't give himself enough credit for his high tennis IQ and for building one of the nation's top tennis programs.

"I think you must be patient," Kauffman said of Emery's best attributes. "That's No. 1. I think he is very competitive, No. 2. And No. 3, I think he does his homework. I think his skill is to be able to grow players from freshmen to seniors. Everybody that comes around here gets better."

This year's men's tennis team is what one would come to expect of an Emery-led team. The 11th-ranked Cats have a star in sophomore Eric Quigley and a budding compliment in sophomore Alex Musialek. From top to bottom, it's probably one of Emery's most balanced teams.

UK, which will host No. 13 Illinois and Murray State on Wednesday, has displayed traits of a top-tier team, defeating then-No. 2 Virginia earlier in the season. In fact, Emery calls it one of his best-suited squads to make a run for a national title, the only void on Emery's sparkling resume.

"My goal was to win a national championship," Emery said. "We haven't done that yet. We feel like we've got in place the team that we need to be able to do that over the next three years."

Even if Emery never captures that ultimate dream, it's clear he's become one of the best coaches in the ranks of men's tennis. Win No. 500 was only a reminder of that.

"I have never felt lucky to be at Kentucky," Emery said. "I've felt blessed to be at Kentucky. I don't believe there are any coincidences. I feel like things work out the way they're meant to work out. I'm just really pleased that on my personal journey that I've been able to do most of it at the University of Kentucky."

Thumbnail image for Maker's Mark bottle 2010.jpgTwo things we all know about Kentuckians: They love their bourbon and the head coach of the men's basketball program.

That's why it came as no surprise when 24,000 numbered, limited edition charitable Maker's Mark "Coach Cal" bottles were snatched up early Friday morning in less than an hour.

To quench the proverbial thirst for the limited edition bottles, The Calipari Family Foundation for Children and Maker's Mark has released 8,000 additional bottles, available to the public for $49.99.

There is a catch. Although the bottles are identical to the first 24,000 bottles, the latest release will not include a drop of the Maker's Mark bourbon.

"Ellen and I would like to thank Bill Samuels, Maker's Mark and Keeneland for making this special edition empty bottle to help support our Foundation," head coach John Calipari said in a news release. "By not including alcohol in the bottles, we are able to ship these keepsakes all across the world and allow the Big Blue Nation to share in the commemoration of our first fabulous year in the Bluegrass."

The bottles went on sale April 3, two days earlier than originally planned because of the high demand. Bottles are still left through the CFFC by going to www.coachcal.com or www.caliparifoundation.org.

The proceeds from the original Maker's Mark-Keeneland collaboration went to a music outreach program where public school students throughout the state will now have the opportunity to see performances from UK student musicians.

The latest collaboration between Marker's Mark and the CFFC could raise nearly $250,000 for the CFFC.

The current Maker's Mark limited edition charitable bottle is the second in a series of three. Last year's bottle honored former UK football coach Rich Brooks.

Live blog: UK baseball vs. No. 7 Louisville

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Apr. 4 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Apr. 4:

Softball: Kara Dill

Freshman Kara Dill started all three games in a conference series for the first time in her career - and she was outstanding at third base and in the lineup for the Wildcats. Dill led the UK offense as the only player to register a hit in all three games and batted .375 for the weekend. Dill hit her first career double in the third game of the series - and brought home a run in the first game of the series in which UK only won by a single tally. She was terrific in the field registering three assists and a putout on the weekend.

Softball: Molly Johnson

Senior Molly Johnson continued her offensive explosion this week in Starkville. Johnson has a hit in 24 of UK's last 28 games - and this weekend she was also walked three times. She continued to improve on the UK record books with her 52 nd career double in a win over Mississippi State. Johnson was also terrific in the field with a 1.000 fielding percentage with nine assists and six putouts. She single-handedly kept All-American Chelsea Bramlett off of the base paths with two incredible plays in game two of the series in helping UK pull off the series win. Johnson also swiped two bases this weekend to run her tally to a team-high 14 on the year.

Softball: Rachel Riley

Sophomore Rachel Riley was incredible in the circle in helping UK earn a series win over Mississippi State for the second consecutive season. It marks the first time in school history UK has won the series over the Bulldogs in consecutive seasons. Riley stifled the Bulldog offense and allowed just two hits with no runs and no runner advancing beyond second base in her fifth shutout of the season - the third most in a single season in school history. She also did not allow a base runner to reach on a walk. Even more impressively, Riley did not allow a ball out of the infield as all 21 outs came on either groundouts, pop-ups in the infield or strikeouts. Not known as a strikeout pitcher, Riley earned her eighth win of the season by recording a game-ending strikeout to preserve the flawless effort.

Mock NBA Draft boards

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for nba1.jpgEven I've been a little surprised with the reaction and rumors from Kentucky fans regarding the potential mass exodus of its basketball stars.

One day Daniel Orton is leaving. The next day he's in California. The day after he's supposedly returning.

First and foremost, everyone, these are just kids; 18- and 19-year-olds faced with life-altering decisions. Let's cut them a little slack if they a.) take some time on the decision, b.) change their minds a couple of times and c.) ultimately decide to go pro.

Stop for a second and put yourself in their shoes. What would you do? It's so easy for an outsider to say they'd return to college because it's a "once in a lifetime opportunity," but try saying that when you have millions of dollars staring you in the face.

Morale of the story: relax. No decisions have been made one way or the other despite the rampant rumors of the last week or so. I've done my best to stay away from it because there has not been an official decision on UK's end or by any of the players.

To help ease your anticipation, check out the following mock NBA Draft links. I've compiled links from what I consider the best NBA Draft Web sites out there.

To save you some time, I'll give you the gist of the mock draft boards. John Wall, as you would expect, is No. 1 on every board. DeMarcus Cousins is also a consensus top-five pick. Every single link I clicked on had Patrick Patterson going in the first round, and Orton -- gasp! -- was projected as a pick on every draft board.

If there is a silver lining for you fans, it's that point guard Eric Bledsoe was not on the NBA Draft board on DraftExpress.com (one of the better sites out there) and is no longer on ESPN draft insider Chad Ford's lottery board.

Full mock drafts are below. Expect plenty of movement until April 25, the final day to declare for the NBA Draft. NCAA rules state that an underclassman who has not hired an agent must withdraw his name from the draft by May 8. The NBA Draft will take place June 24 in Madison Square Garden in New York City.  

- CollegeHoopsUpdate.com

- MyNBADraft.com

- NBADraft.net

- DraftExpress.com

- ESPN.com

BSB 08_09 UK_AU Game3 Web 40.jpgEvery season has a turning point, when things can go from bad to good or bad to worse.

That pivotal point looked as if it was found during the Kentucky baseball team's trip to Fayetteville, Ark., last weekend. Down eight runs Sunday against No. 10 Arkansas, UK scored 11 unanswered runs to take a 16-13 lead.

An improbable comeback looked like it had sealed an unlikely series victory at Arkansas, what would have been the first in 17 years, but a devastating walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning slammed the door shut on a potential turnaround at Arkansas.

Now at 2-7 in the Southeastern Conference, UK is on the wrong side of the SEC Tournament cutline. Plenty of time still looms for the season, but the Cats are definitely hurting and in need of some signs of optimism.

"We don't feel like we're that far off," Henderson said. "Obviously we've had some tough losses. We've lost four one-run ballgames and lost two in the bottom of the ninth. Those are tough losses, there's no question about it, but for the most part we've been in them and we've got to figure out a way to win a close one."

Tuesday's twice-annual rivalry game with Louisville (7 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium) offers another chance to crack the proverbial door back open. The Cardinals, ranked No. 7 in the nation by three major polls and No. 8 by Baseball America, present an opportunity to gain some positive momentum over what will surely be a critical stretch in the coming weeks.

"It's still early," senior first baseman Gunner Glad said. "We've only played three (conference) weekends and we still have seven left. The majority of them are at home, so we don't feel very much pressure right now. We still have a good shot to be in it."

It would be easy to win a big game like Tuesday's and label it the as the beginning of the turnabout, but Henderson would much rather look back in hindsight and say "this is where it started" than to prophesize it before it happens.

"To say, moving forward, that winning one midweek game is going to propel us on the weekends, I think that would be a stretch," Henderson said. "Win or lose tomorrow, we need to win a series against Alabama. That's what we really need to do. Obviously tomorrow is a big game. It's in-state, it's a rivalry, it's Cats and Cards, it's all we know it to be. But in terms of us getting this thing going, we've got to win an SEC series."

When Louisville is good, it's painful for the Cats. But going all in on one midweek game is not something Henderson is willing to concede. There are far too many games left in a season for a coach to do that.

"What I can't do is tell them that tomorrow is the World Series and it's do or die," Henderson said. "Then what if you get beat by the seventh-ranked club (in the nation) and have them go in flat against Alabama? Tomorrow is an important game for the program, one we're looking forward to playing, but we need to be ready on the weekend."

After all, as important as winning the rivalry games is, Louisville means very little in the synoptic season. Win or lose, it will have no bearing on UK's inclusion into the SEC Tournament, which generally includes an invite to the NCAA Tournament.

If anything, it's an opportunity without a catch - a win-win situation, if you will. UK can lose and it still won't matter for the SEC Tournament. But win, and maybe, just maybe, the Cats start a turnaround similar to the one Vanderbilt pulled off a season ago when the Commodores lost the first three league series of the season, only to make an NCAA Regional.

"It can turn around at any point," Glad said. "It doesn't matter who you play as long as you have that feeling in the dugout. If we can come up with a good win against Louisville, I definitely think it can give us some momentum."

Henderson's avoidance of an all-in mentality could also be applied to Sunday's crushing loss to Arkansas. It would be easy for a team to fold and go all doom and gloom after an emotional loss like that one, but 27 regular-season games still remain on the schedule, the next seven of which are at the friendly confines of Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The UK skipper is not worried about his team's ability to respond.

"Not at this point," Henderson said. "We've come back and the kids have responded well this year when we've had some disappointing losses. I guess you're always concerned about how your club is going to respond after a loss just as a coach, but I think the kids are going to respond well."

Henderson actually took a positive from Sunday's loss. Although the Cats blew a three-run lead in the ninth, the fact that they were one out away from actually winning after falling behind eight runs to the No. 10 team in the nation is a testament to the fight that's still left.

"There are only so many positives you can get from a loss," Henderson said. "But that in of itself was a very positive thing for our club. It would have been real easy to go status quo for the rest of the game when we're down 13-5 and just play it out, but they didn't. That was really a positive thing in my mind."

Another sign of optimism looks to be the arrival of the offense. Although the Cats struggled with hits in key situations at the beginning of the year, which is partly to blame on inexperience, the "ping" of the bats has returned to UK's offense.

In three games against Arkansas, Kentucky scored 29 runs. Over the last six games, the offense has averaged 8.67 runs per game and the season batting average has risen to .294, 18 points higher than UK's opponents.

"I think early we were looking at the person next to us wondering if they were going to get a hit rather than taking the initiative and just doing it ourselves," Glad said of the early struggles.

Glad has been a big part of the offensive outburst, leading the team in average (.364), RBI (28) and runs (24) in addition to six home runs and seven doubles. In Fayetteville, Glad went 6-for-12 with seven RBI and two home runs.

"He's been very tough with runners on base, he's been tough with two strikes and he's come through several times when we've needed a key hit," Henderson said. "He's grown up as a hitter. He's a much more complete hitter than he was last year."

If the Cats can follow Glad's lead and continue to hit the cover off the baseball, the turnaround may not be far behind.

"You've got four one-run losses," Henderson said. "You turn two of those around and we're not having this discussion. We're just a club that needs to figure out how to win a close game."

Louisville would be the perfect time for comprehension.

Evans wants, working to be the next Peters

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FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 063.jpgDefensive end DeQuin Evans hit the turf during spring practice over the weekend and the collective heart of Big Blue Nation hit the floor.

"I almost quit," new defensive line coach David Turner joked at Monday's practice. "It scared me to death."

Evans will be that important to the success of the Kentucky defensive line this year. Without the services of defensive tackle Corey Peters, who is expected to graduate in the spring and move on to the NFL, UK's defensive line and its football team is in search of a voice and identity that Peters so honorably carried with him.

Evans is expected - and wants - to be one of those guys to fill the void of Peters.

"He's one of our leaders," head coach Joker Phillips said. "I would hate to lose a guy in your first stint as a head coach that early that you're counting on."

Fortunately for UK, Evans avoided a major injury and suffered a minor sprain in his right knee. Phillips said he expects Evans to miss only a few days.

"We got lucky," Phillips said. "He got rolled up on but he rolled out of it. He'll be fine."

Evans panicked during the tumble because of the sheer pain. The trainers told him the sting he felt was from scar tissue he accumulated during a knee injury he suffered during last year's Georgia game.

Although Evans watched from the sidelines Monday with a medial collateral sprain, he was upbeat and exuberant. The chance to build on a promising first season in which he notched six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss has established confidence in the defensive line in spring practice.

"DeQuin is a kid that shows up every day and is going to go wide open," Turner said. "Sometimes we've got to throttle him down a little bit, but I would rather do that than have to get a guy going. He's taken a leadership role. Being a (junior-college) guy, he's played a year in the league and understands what it takes."

As is the case for most junior-college transfers, there were ups and down in his first year in major college football. Evans provided uncanny quickness on the outside at 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, but he struggled with consistency, the strength of the Southeastern Conference and the complexity of UK's playbook.

Evans learned his lessons in year one and has returned with the goal of becoming UK's playmaker on the defensive line. The senior DE said he is more attentive in film sessions, has embraced a more strenuous work ethic and has even changed his diet.

The Long Beach, Calif., native has even traded in his late-night meals for a chef's hat.

"I switched it up a little bit," Evans said. "Coach is always talking to us about nutrition, so now instead of going out and eating McDonald's and eating anything when I'm hungry, I try to cook my own meals. I bought a couple containers to pack my own lunch to bring to school."

Evan's new diet is light on the fast and fried foods and heavy on the baked foods and greens.

In lieu of the fast food has come an impressive menu of home-cooked meals, especially for a self-described momma's boy who didn't know how to cook before this year.

Evans calls his mother in California routinely to get recipes. His dishes include everything from chicken breast, shrimp, tuna, steaks, egg whites and vegetables. When he uses mayo, it's almost always fat free. Protein is a must, but sugar is almost never preferred. The fryer has been unplugged for the much healthier oven.

"I cheat a little bit on the weekends," Evans said. "You've got to cheat a little bit on the weekends."

Evans' roommate, wide receiver Chris Matthews, has been the biggest beneficiary of Evans' newfound love of culinary.

"Chris can't cook for nothing," Evans said. "He's loving it. He cleans up the kitchen and I cook."

Matthews, who endured the first-year transitions with Evans from Los Angeles Harbor College to UK, said he's noticed a difference in how him and Evans play and feel.

"It keeps us under control with our weight," Matthews said. "I'm not a morning person but we wake up in the morning with a lot more energy. When we're out here running around, we feel like we're on top of our game."

The change in nutrition might seem small, but it is all part of the maturation process of a player who wants to fill a leadership role.

"I'm trying to change everything that I didn't do right last year," Evans said. "Everybody talks about the little things. Nutrition is a little thing but really it's a huge thing. I try to be the first guy in the weight room and the last person out of the weight room and try to carry the team along with me. I'm trying to lead out here by showing them my work ethic."

As for the rest of the line, senior Ricky Lumpkin, who recorded 26 tackles in 2009, is a guy who Phillips believes can make a huge impact at left tackle now that he's been given an opportunity to start. Senior Shane McCord will assume the duties at right tackle vacated by Peters, but don't look past redshirt freshman Mister Cobble, who pressed for playing time as a freshman last year before being redshirted.

Sophomore Taylor Wyndham, who made a name for himself in 2009 with big plays, including a crushing hit on former Heisman winner Tim Tebow, will miss the spring with an injury but is expected to push for the starting position opposite of Evans.

Coaches have also raved about redshirt freshman Tristan Johnson in the early going.

"He likes to play," Turner said. "He's typical of the LaGrange kids. He likes to play the game. He's physical. He loves contact. Right now we've just got to get him going in the right direction, but all the other things in terms of physical play and playing hard and fast are there."

Turner, who has injected a new intensity and fire into the defensive line with his in-your-face passion and coaching, has liked what he's seen in the first four days of spring practice.

"It's going pretty good," Turner said. "Guys are working hard. I think they're adjusting to me now in terms of terminology and what we're teaching. It's just a little different. We still want to be fundamentally sound. I like their enthusiasm. We don't have a big-name guy. There is no Corey Peters this year."

If Evans has his way, you'll hardly notice Peters is gone.

Thumbnail image for Hartline.jpgWell I'm back in the saddle after a nice little four-day break. The batteries are recharged and should be ready to roll for the rest of the athletics season. In the midst of doing some interviews today, so it might take a day for the stories to catch back up.

I stopped by spring football practice this morning and will have a feature on DeQuin Evans and the defensive line later today. In the meantime, just quickly wanted to go over a few notes from this morning.

- Evans suffered a scary knee injury in practice over the weekend when a player rolled into his right knee, but head coach Joker Phillips confirmed today that the injury was not as serious as some initially thought. Evans sustained a right knee sprain and is expected to miss a few days of practice. Phillips called the Cats "lucky" to still have Evans because he's such a leader, and defensive line coach David Turner joked that he almost quit when Evans went down.

- Phillips insists there has been no separation at the quarterback position - the three players vying for the starting position will be available to the media for the first time Saturday - but veteran Mike Hartline took the majority of the snaps with the first team Monday. I wouldn't look too much into at this point, but the quarterbacks all looked considerably better than they did a week ago, Phillips said.

- A couple of the interceptions the QBs have thrown in practice really won't be picks during the games, Phillips said, because a lot of them have come on offsides penalties. Phillips said he's encouraging his quarterbacks to take a chance when they draw the defense offsides because it's a free five yards if they don't complete the pass or throw an interception.

- Phillips continues to be pleased with the new energy. The enthusiasm and effort have been great in the first week of practice. The next step, Phillips said, is completing assignments.

- Wide receivers Aaron Boyd and E.J. Fields, both of whom did not play last season, are a little behind the first unit and a half, Phillips said. The first-year coach called it an important spring for those guys.

- Chandler Burden's transition from the defensive line to the offensive line has been smooth so far. Phillips believes he can make an immediate impact at left tackle, otherwise he wouldn't have switched the likely starter. Phillips called him big, strong and athletic, "exactly what you're looking for at offensive tackle."

- There have been slight adjustments with two new line coaches (Turner on the D-line and Mike Summers on the O-line), Phillips said. The schemes remain basically the same, but the terminology is different with the new coaches in terms of technique.  

April 3 From the Pressbox

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UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography

= = =

The expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams looks inevitable. In this economy, there's no way the NCAA folks are getting more money out of CBS, or anyone else for that matter, so the only way to increase revenues is to expand the number of games offered for telecast.

Personally, I don't get too worked up about this debate. Yes, I'd like to see little or no change -- maybe add three more play-in games and expand to 68 would be the least disruptive way to grow. But there's no use tilting at windmills here -- expansion is coming.

What they're essentially doing is folding the National Invitation Tournament into the NCAA Tournament and just adding one more round of games, with the top eight seeds getting byes (eventually, this will open the door to expansion to a fully balanced 128-team bracket).

As a fan, it's fun to listen to the annual bubble debates but this expansion would seem to put the Joe Lunardis of the world out of a job. Are you really interested in debating who's the 96th-best team? The other thing this does, to me, is further decrease the significance of conference tournaments.

Years ago, I was a purist arguing against the postseason league tourneys but then I started attending them and saw how much fun they are for the fans. It's like it was for me and my friends going to the state tournament when we were in high school. And it's something that is fun for the fans, I'm all for it. With an expanded NCAA Tournament, will more fans -- other than those from UK probably -- save their money and attend the NCAA Tournament, which surely about any SEC team with a winning record will not qualify for?

===

I'm rooting for a Butler-West Virginia matchup in the national championship game -- but I'm picking Michigan State v. Duke.

Both semifinal games Saturday figure to be close. Tom Izzo has had a week to prepare for Butler and I think that will help give Michigan State an edge, plus the Spartans may well be the most physical team Butler has seen on its improbable run to the Fina Four.

As for the other game, West Virgina has allowed only 17 three-point baskets in four tournament games but Duke makes its living at the arc. The Mountaineers had a freakishly good first-half shooting the three against Kentucky but that's not the kind of thing one would expect to be repeated. WVU won't win a shootout with Duke, so Huggy Bear better find a way to keep throwing ice on these shooters or the Blue Devils will advance.

By the way, I saw a note on espn.com that said Butler and West Virginia have the lowest tournament shooting percentages (both under 41 percent) of any Final Four participants since 1985.

Afternoon notes from a day off

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81419352.jpg- If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm taking a little time off over these next few days to recover from the basketball season and to get ready for the final stretch of the athletics season. I'll probably throw up a post on the remaining athletics season sometime Friday or Saturday, but after that I might close the laptop for the week. I hope you all can understand.

- John Wall and John Calipari were in Indianapolis on Thursday to receive the Adolph Rupp Trophy and Adolph Rupp Cup, respectively, given to the National Player of the Year and National Coach of the Year. Believe it or not, it's the first time in school history a men's basketball player has won National Player of the Year honors.

- While I was gone today, Brett Dawson from the Courier-Journal churned out some pretty good notes from Indianapolis. Although the rumor mill continues to spin with talk of Daniel Orton and Darnell Dodson leaving the team, it appears Wall hasn't even made a decision yet, according to Dawson's report. Wall reportedly said that he hasn't made a decision yet but will announce his intentions in the coming weeks. In his acceptance speech, Calipari said Wall wants to become the first player to leave school after one year to come back and complete his degree.

Phillips institutes strategic command

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Atten-hut!

The Kentucky football team won't be trading in its helmets for military berets anytime soon, but new head coach Joker Phillips has instituted a military approach for his team.

His first step as coach of the Wildcat Program was to establish "Operation Win," a military-like strive for excellence in every possible area of Kentucky football. Phillips followed that by hiring strength and conditioning coach Ray "Rock" Oliver, one of the toughest, hard-nosed coaches in the business.

Now the army-like approach is taking place on the field. Instead of calling the kicking teams the "special teams," Phillips has changed the name to "special forces."

"I've always been intrigued by the military and how they can on one command get thousands of people moving in the same direction" Phillips said. "That's the approach that we're taking along with what we call 'Operation Win.' "

Every unit on the "special forces" will be renamed, although Phillips hasn't rolled out the complete military vernacular yet. So far, only the punt team has been renamed, which will be called "bombers."

"I don't know if it's a huge change," Phillips said. "We're emphasizing it more."

Phillips wasn't parading around the football field the first day of spring practice like a drill sergeant, but there was a noticeable difference in the approach of the team. New defensive line coach David Turner made his impact felt on the field almost immediately with an emotional, in-your-face teaching approach.

Between drills, players sprinted from place to place to speed up practice and condition between drills. Although not major, adjustments have been made in the coaching change from Rich Brooks to Phillips.

"There is a little bit of both (differences and similarities)," wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "With coach Brooks, he was a laidback guy. Coach Phillips is more of an up-tempo guy. There are some similarities with the way that practice is ran and the things that he's trying to do. There's also difference, like with the tempo."

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