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May 2010 Archives

Vacation time

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With the baseball season officially over and all but one sport wrapped up for the 2009-10 athletics season (track and field still has nationals), I'm finally taking a break and heading on vacation.

I'll be at Lake Cumberland with the family for the next few days and am shutting off the laptop for the rest of the week. I'm hoping crossing my fingers that nothing breaks or happens while I'm gone. 

Hope everyone has an enjoyable week while I'm gone. I'll be back starting Monday. 

UK baseball left out of NCAA Tournament

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The rollercoaster season that was Kentucky baseball has officially come to a close with Monday's NCAA Tournament exclusion.

Despite a resume that included an RPI of 33, according to BoydsWorld.com,  and 16 wins over teams ranked in the top 50 RPI, UK did not earn an at-large bid into the tournament. It's the second straight season Kentucky has been left out of the field.

NCAA baseball committee chairman Tim Weiser, who spoke on behalf of the NCAA selection committee on ESPN's Selection Show, acknowledged Kentucky's body of work but said they did not have a resume worthy of the tournament.

"There are a number of teams that I think could make some good arguments," Weiser said. "Certainly Kentucky is one. I think that one was discussed late last night and again early this morning, and the majority of our committee felt strongly about other teams that have maybe either a better body of work or are trending upward."

That appears to indicate that a late-season collapse against the Southeastern Conference's last-place team, Georgia, cost the Cats. UK, which had seemingly played itself into the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament in recent weeks with series wins over nationally ranked South Carolina and LSU (which won the national title last year and this week's SEC Tournament), dropped two of three games at Georgia on the final week of the regular season, including a 20-0 loss.

It ultimately cost Kentucky a spot in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament.

"Anytime you do that you're going to have the potential for somebody to feel like they got left out or they weren't given full consideration," Weiser said. "Clearly our group spent a lot of time thinking about Kentucky and the other teams."

Eight teams from the SEC were chosen for the tournament, tying the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pacific-10 for the most bids.

Final projections: UK baseball is in

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We're approaching the final hour until the NCAA Baseball Selection Show at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN. By all accounts, Kentucky baseball looks to be in the NCAA Tournament. Of the final three major projections that I checked this morning -- Rivals, ESPN and Baseball America -- UK is projected in the field of 64.

The projections have UK to either Louisville, Charlottesville, Va., and Norman, Okla. We will find out the ultimate destination at 12:30 p.m. Below are the three projections:

- Rivals.com

- BaseballAmerica.com

- ESPN.com

UK statement on Bledsoe

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UK released a statement on Eric Bledsoe in regards to The New York Times story that was published Friday night:

"Often high profile student-athletes are selected for an extensive prospective student-athlete (PSA) review.

Eric Bledsoe participated in the normal academic review process and also an extensive PSA review by the NCAA Eligibility Center and was cleared academically."

UK baseball close to a lock?

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Believe me, that headline would have screamed crazy earlier this week.

But as we head into the final few days of conference tournaments and the NCAA selection committee prepares to meet, the chances that the UK baseball team makes the NCAA Tournament is looking more and more likely.

Because of a weak overall field and strong RPI by Kentucky, there have been several rumblings that the Cats, despite missing the Southeastern Conference Tournament, could find themselves in the tournament.

Earlier in the week, Kendall Rogers of Rivals.com projected UK in the tournament and had them heading to Cal State Fullerton. SEBaseball.com released its projections Friday and included Kentucky as well.

The website predicts Kentucky will head to the Coral Gables Regional, hosted by Miami, as a No. 3 seed. Miami, FAU and Minnesota are the three other teams in the regional.

UK will find out its ultimate fate Monday during the selection show, which is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Meeks returns, reflects on first year in NBA

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MBSK 08_09 UK_LSU Web 52.jpgWhen the majority of underclassmen turn pro, they're gone for good.

A lot of them vow to return to school and finish one day. Some actually do. Most don't. When the green paper starts to stack up, what's the sense in coming back to get a single piece of white paper with a school's name on it, they think.

Jodie Meeks isn't one of those people. Despite a year in the NBA and a promising professional future, Meeks made a promise to return to school to complete his degree.

"Before I made my decision last year, I told my family I would make a commitment to come back," Meeks said. "That was one of the big things for me was to come back and finish, not only for my family, but for myself. I wanted to get a college degree."

Meeks exchanged the limelight of the professional world for his old backpack and a couple of books- at least for a few weeks. The former Wildcat is in the midst of a four-week term of summer classes before heading back to the NBA.

The 6-foot-4, 208-pound shooting guard is mandated to play in the NBA Summer League this year so he can only take the one four-week session, but with only 15 hours left to graduate after this year's summer class, Meeks, a marketing student, plans to graduate in the summer of 2012.

"It's different going to class again," Meeks said. "In class, as soon as I walked in the teacher was like, 'Wow, you're back in school?' "

He would later answer with an 86 percent on his first test.

Meeks has used his time in Lexington to catch up with old friends and teammates as well as used it as a time to improve his game. His old stomping ground at the Joe Craft Center has once again become his basketball sanctuary.

Although the men's practice gym has been closed the last few weeks, Meeks has been putting in long hours in the women's gym to improve his jump shot. Meeks struggled a little bit with his shot in his first year in the NBA (38.8 percent from the floor, 31.8 percent from behind the arc), a bit surprising considering his shooting prowess in his final season in college.

"It went pretty well," Meeks said of his first year. "I obviously wanted to play a lot more but sometimes that doesn't happen for first-year guys. Overall, I think I learned a lot about myself, especially in Milwaukee. They taught me a lot about defense there. I was glad to get traded to Philly because they wanted me since last year's draft."

The biggest difference in the NBA was adjusting to his new role, Meeks said. As the go-to guy in the 2008-09 UK men's basketball season, Meeks said he became accustomed to having the ball in his hands. He's now learned how to play off the ball and adjust to limited time.

"It's a big adjustment just because you don't ever think about not playing," Meeks said. "When that opportunity comes, you have to be patient. You can't pout or feel sorry for yourself. You've just got to work as hard as you can to get on the court. Once the opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage of it."

Meeks, who averaged 12.0 minutes per game in his first season, which is actually quite large for a rookie, said he obviously would have liked to have played more but does not regret his decision to turn pro.

The thought of what could have happened had he stuck around with John Calipari and his star-studded recruiting class crossed his mind from time to time, but ultimately he had to do what was best for his long-term future.

"Sometimes I think about it, but I was happy with my decision," Meeks said. "All year long I was happy that I left. I'm sure I could have helped Kentucky out but that wasn't the best decision for myself."

Despite an average shooting percentage in his NBA rookie season, Meeks showed potential when given a chance, especially late in the season. He averaged 4.7 point per game but 13.5 points over his final six contests. 

The Norcross, Ga., native, who was part of a four-player trade that sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers in midseason, said he was happy with the trade. Meeks said he's felt at home in Philly because he's from a big city and said the 76ers were one of the teams that showed the most interest during last year's NBA Draft.

"That kind of stuff happens," Meeks said. "It's a business. Unfortunately I had to learn the business my rookie year, but I was happy to get traded where I wanted."

Meeks, who broke Dan Issel's single-game scoring record for points with 54 against Tennessee on Jan. 13, 2009, said he tried to keep up with this year's Cats but had difficulty following because of the arduous 82-game NBA schedule.

He was watching during UK's heartbreaking loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight and admitted that he thought about what would have happened if he was still playing with the Cats. Kentucky shot just 4-of-32 from 3-point range that game.

"They couldn't really hit anything so I was thinking if I was out there I could have helped them out, but all the other games they found a way to win even when they were off," Meeks said. "It was kind of tough to watch."

Five potential UK underclassmen will join Meeks in the NBA, including John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, all of whom are projected to go in the first round of the June 24 NBA Draft.

Meeks didn't know any of the freshmen that well but offered some advice to the future NBAers.

"I would just say be yourself around NBA people," Meeks said. "They want to see you play your game, but at the same time just be yourself. Be respectful. Be patient if you don't get to play right away. Your time and opportunity will come."

Meeks said Patterson talked to him when he was weighing his options last month.

"There is only a small window to go to the NBA," Meeks said he told Patterson. "It was great if he would have stayed, but if you want to leave you have to make the best decision for yourself."

Meeks' 76ers own the second pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, so the possibility of playing with one of Kentucky's freshmen stars is still a very real possibility. Both Wall and Cousins are thought to be top-five picks.

"I could be playing with John, I could be playing with DeMarcus," Meeks said. "That could be fun to play with those guys since I never got a chance to play with them."

UK fans would love to see what that would have looked like.

Friday morning notes

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- Looking for a Father's Day (June 20) gift? UK has a great idea for you. The UK Team Shop is still selling the 2009-10 men's basketball media guide for $15.00. Why buy a media guide after the season is over? Not only will it make a great memento, but one in 10 copies will be signed by head coach John Calipari. The books being sold are hardbound.

- A reminder that student season football tickets for this fall will go on sale Tuesday at 9 a.m. The UK Ticket Office is making some slight adjustments to the purchasing/ordering process for the tickets. The most significant change this year is the introduction of online ordering, eliminating the paper order forms we have used in previous years. For more information, check our previous post.

UK great Kovach named to Academic Hall of Fame

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Jim Kovach, one of the most well-respected figures in Kentucky football history and the medical world, earned a proud honor Thursday when he was named to CoSIDA's Academic All-America Hall of Fame, which is reserved for student-athletes who earned Academic All-America in college and have gone on to great distinction during their post-athletic careers.

Kovach and three other honorees - Dewey Selmon from Oklahoma, Adonal Foyle of Colgate and Connecticut College's Anita DeFrantz - will join 108 previous inductees in the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame, which was created in 1988. The four will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at CoSIDA's annual workshop in San Francisco in July 6.

"The CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame represents everything we all believe college athletics can be and the Class of 2010 certainly lives up to that standard," said Justin Doherty of the University of Wisconsin, the 2009-10 CoSIDA president. "These four individuals were high achievers as student-athletes and continue to make a positive impact on society to this day. They each add something special to the Academic All-America Hall of Fame and CoSIDA is very proud to recognize their extraordinary contributions."

An Academic All-America selection in 1978, Kovach was the first player in modern NCAA history to attend medical school while playing major college football. A three-time All-Southeastern Conference linebacker at Kentucky, he set a school record with 521 career tackles that still stands. A first-team All-SEC honoree in 1978, Kovach helped the Wildcats win the 1976 SEC championship. Selected to play in the Hula Bowl following his senior season, Kovach earned an NCAA Top Five Award, an NCAA post-graduate scholarship in 1979.

After being drafted by the New Orleans Saints, he played seven seasons in the NFL as a linebacker for the Saints and the San Francisco 49ers. He was the Saints' leading tackler from 1981 to 1984 and was named as the Saints' Most Valuable Player in 1983. He continued to play in the NFL while attending medical school during the offseason. 

Kovach earned his medical degree from Kentucky in 1984, and he earned a law degree from Stanford University in 1990.He is currently the president and chief operating officer for the Buck Institute for Age Research, the only independent research institute dedicated to research on aging and age-associated disease. There he has helped conduct research on brain injuries in the NFL and led the way in genetics research.

Kovach has been active in both local and regional community services throughout his business career, with a focus in the area of education, health and aging. He has been active with the Marin County School-to-Career Partners, the NFL Retired Players Association, the Consortium for Translational Research in Advancing Imaging and Nanomedicine while serving as an adjunct professor at Dominican University of California.  Dr. Kovach also serves on the board of directors for the Alliance for Aging Research and the North Bay Leadership Council.

Rivals.com tabs UK's class No. 1

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MBSK 09_10 Uk_Morehead Web 33.jpgNow we can tab it the top recruiting class in the nation.

For the second year in a row head coach John Calipari has hauled in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com. The recruiting-based website tabbed UK's No. 1 over Memphis, Ohio State, North Carolina and North Carolina State, respectively.

UK's recruiting class features five top-33 recruits in addition to junior-college transfer Eloy Vargas. No other school can boast five recruits in the Rivals' top 33.

Here is what Rivals had to say about Kentucky's top-ranked class:

"For a second straight year Kentucky is at the top of the national team rankings. Coach John Calipari has four five-star prospects and a couple four-star prospects joining the 2010-2011 roster. Kanter is a Turkish import who dazzled during the Hoops Summit. Fellow five-star standout Knight should be able to step right in and take over the controls of the dribble-drive offense. A highly-skilled, left-handed power forward, Jones fits in perfectly with Calipari's system. Lamb, the fourth five-star prospect, is a reliable scorer and defender. Poole gives the Wildcats an athletic slasher on the wing who can get hot from 3-point range, and Vargas, a fellow four-star prospect, will provide frontline depth."

Proving once again that Kentucky's 2010 signing class might be the top class in the country, SLAM Magazine has selcted several UK signees to its SLAM All-American team.

Point guard Brandon Knight, rated the No. 6 overall recruit by Rivals.com, was selected a first-team All-American by SLAM. Knight, from Pine Crest High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., joined Baylor's Perry Jones, Duke's Kyrie Irving, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes.

In addition to Knight's first-team honors, power forward Terrence Jones and center Enes Kanter were named honorable mention.

Kentucky has signed five recruits in Rivals' top 33, more than any other school in the nation.

Q & A with Cobb: Fox Sports South has a Q and A with junior wide receiver Randall Cobb. An excerpt is below, but you can you check out the full interview here.

Q. Talk about developing your skills as a WR as far as route running, etc., and what your goals were for improving this offseason at the WR position.

A. Personally, the biggest thing I wanted to work on was making sure that I'm quick in getting out of my cuts. I noticed that I was tending to be a little slow because it's not as natural to me, this being my second or third year playing receiver. I never really played it before, so there is a lot of stuff I've had to learn. 

I'm still trying to master it and get it all down but it's going to take time and take reps and that's what I've been trying to do this spring and summer.  Doing a lot of drills with cutting and making sure I'm getting better at route running.

Q.  During the biggest wins last season -- against Auburn and Georgia specifically (223 all-purpose yds, three touchdowns) -- you were front and center. What is it about when the clock gets to the fourth quarter and the lights are shining brightest that triggers something inside of you?

A.  As the game goes on, I get hungrier and I want the ball in my hands more. We've had a few big wins last year and played in a lot of close games but I just want to make sure we can capitalize and finish this year. The thing that triggers me is just my heart. I've always played with so much heart and pride in what I do, and I think it just really shows when everybody else gets tired.


Rivals.com says UK baseball in the field of 64

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Kentucky baseball hasn't played a game since dropping two of three to last-place Georgia last weekend, but suddenly the team's stock is back on the rise thanks to its strong RPI.

Kendall Rogers of Rivals.com has the Cats (No. 32 RPI according to boydsworld.com) in the field of 64 in his latest NCAA Tournament projections. Rogers, who just a few days ago said UK had likely played itself out with a disappointing series in Athens, Ga., has Kentucky traveling west to play at the Cal State Fullerton Regional.

A weak overall field and a strong Southeastern Conference -- Rogers projects nine(!) SEC teams in the tournament -- is certainly helping Kentucky's chances.

Rogers predicts the Cats will be the No. 3 seed along with host and No. 1 seed Cal State Fullerton, No. 2 seed Stanford and No. 4 seed Fresno State. Should the team make the tourney, it would be the third postseason appearance in the last five years.

One might wonder why the NCAA would send Kentucky all the way to California. Quite frankly, the NCAA isn't going to reward UK for barely sliding into the tournament. Right now, Rogers has Kentucky as one of the last five teams in the tournament alongside California, Texas State, N.C. State and Western Kentucky. Nonetheless, UK will hold out hope for the Louisville Regional if it were to make the tournament.

Remember to have to take these projections with a grain of salt. A lot can happen between now and Monday at 12:30 p.m. when the field will be announced on ESPN. If you're a Kentucky fan and hoping the projections come through, hope that the teams that are favored to win the mid-major conferences win their respective championships. Upsets on the mid-major level will only damage the Cats' chances.

UK VB in Europe: Home Sweet Home

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The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. UK volleyball manager Ryan Suckow is sending in photos, blog entries and video about their experiences while in Europe. 

Photo Gallery photo gallery icon

Hey Wildcat fans and family,

We have finally arrived back home from our European trip, and while we had a great time, it always feel good to be back in the Bluegrass. The experiences we had in Europe will last us all a lifetime, and now we hope to use what we learned about ourselves us people and as a team to prepare us for a great season here in 2010. The women seemed to learn a lot about themselves by having limited access to phones and the Internet, giving them more free time to spend with each other to bond and share some of these unique and special experiences.

We were gone for two weeks, visiting Prague, Czech Republic, Maribor, Slovenia, Vienna, Austria, Pula, Croatia, Venice, Italy and Rome, Italy. All of these places were unique and special, and I think that every one of us took something great away from these places. We were able to learn about each culture's lifestyle, language, currency, architecture, style, beliefs, and the list goes on. It really makes you appreciate the things you have but also opens more doors for the future by allowing you to see other parts of the world. By experiencing it, it makes you respect and appreciate those cultures rather than just learning about it, or hearing about it through the media or school. We did not just learn about another part of the world; we lived it.

We are so lucky and blessed to have been able to make this journey, and every one of us wants to thank Athletics Directer Mtich Barnhart and Lisa Peterson, along with the rest of the athletic department at Kentucky for making this happen. We can't thank you enough for this opportunity, and we will do our best to make sure that it was worth it for our team and the rest of the athletic department.

So with that said, thanks again for following us on our journey. We appreciate you staying with us, your interest in and support of the UK volleyball team. We look forward to seeing you all this fall at Memorial Coliseum as the Wildcats look to capture the Southeastern Conference title and build on last year's success. We are happy to be back in Kentucky, and as always, GO BIG BLUE!!!

Men's basketball notes

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tx_rondo_cover.jpg- I'm sure most of you have already seen it, but former Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo (right) is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. Rondo continues to be the story of the NBA Playoffs as he emerges from the shadow of "The Big Three" (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) and becomes the catalyst of the Boston Celtics. Rondo has averaged 16.7 points, 10.5 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals during the 2010 playoffs and is on the verge of leading the Celtics to their second NBA Finals in the last three years. I've said it once and I'll say it again: His periods of domination remind me of his days at Eastern High School when he used to dominate the Louisville high school scene. But remember, this isn't high-school kids he's making look foolish anymore. Some of these guys are 10-year NBA veterans

- President Barack Obama showed his affinity for former UK freshman guard John Wall again on Tuesday night's NBA Playoffs coverage. In an interview with TNT play-by-play announcer Marv Albert, Obama basically lobbied for Washington to selected John Wall in June's 2010 NBA Draft.

"(John) Wall is a terrific player," Obama said. "He's got NBA speed, NBA body, great jump shot, unselfish, really impressive. There's only upside for that kid. And I think it'd be great for him to come to Washington.

"I became very close to Abe Pollin, who was a great supporter, he and his wife. He just passed away recently, but there's an example of a guy who constantly gave back to his community. I mean, almost single-handedly, he invested in downtown Washington at a time when it was in really bad shape, and you know, generated huge affection in this city and it was wonderful to see his widow there getting that number one pick. I only wish the best for that franchise."

Wall responded on twitter by saying, "Thanks president Obama for the shoutout!!!"

- If there is anyone out there who could be furious at UK coach John Calipari, it's Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar. But despite losing two of his top recruits in Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones to Calipari and the Wildcats, Jones showed a tremendous amount of respect for Calipari in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle on Friday. Romar showed no ill will towards the UK coach in the interview and joked that he almost sounded like a Kentucky recruiter. You can read the transcript on ESPN's college basketball blog

Cal on recruiting and more

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In addition to head coach John Calipari's post on CoachCal.com about the men's basketball's team grade-point average that I linked in the previous post, Calipari also talks about the team's recruiting as well as breaking the news that his mother, Donna, is battling breast cancer.

Calipari hints in his blog post that UK might not be completely done with the 2010 class.

"We are just about done with our current class and I am so excited to get these young men on campus and begin to show them what it means to be a Kentucky Wildcat," Calipari writes.

Calipari warns fans in his post not to compare the 2010 signing class with the 2009 signees, pointing to last year's early games as a warning to how "enormous" the learning curve can be.

"Coming out of the gate, Maui may be the most difficult challenge any team I have ever coached will have," Calipari says in his blog post. "But we all look forward to the challenge of blending our new players with the returnees and continuing to build on our 35-3, Elite 8 and SEC Championship season."

Calipari also writes about some bad news he and his family have received. His mother, who Calipari credits with giving him his drive and his mindset to "dream big dreams," is battling breast cancer.

The second-year UK coach said he will take some over the next few days to figure out the best course of action for her medical care.

"Right now my family's focus is on getting her the care she needs," Calipari writes. "I hope you understand this will take me away from Lexington and my focus will shift away from basketball and to providing support, help and comfort for my mom. Anyone who has gone through this knows it's devastating for all involved.

"It would mean so much to our family if we could get the prayers and thoughts of the (Big Blue Nation) directed to my mom as she bravely fights her battle with this dreaded disease. I hope you all understand and I thank you for your compassion and well wishes."

Read the full post on CoachCal.com.

Patterson_Patrick- GRAD 09_10 01.jpgThe goal Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart set eight years ago to mold an athletics department that competed with integrity, won championships with class and succeeded in the classroom is coming to fruition as Kentucky closes the 2009-10 athletics year.

Currently ranked 16th in the Directors' Cup standings and with four championship banners already hung over the last two years, the final and arguably the most important step in forming the complete athletics department that Barnhart envisioned eight years ago is academics.

Consider the program one step closer with Tuesday's release of the cumulative team grade-point averages for the spring semester.

UK's 22 varsity sports averaged a cumulative department GPA of 3.04 in the spring for competing scholarship student-athletes, which includes fifth-year student-athletes. The mark achieves Barnhart's annual goal for the department to achieve a GPA of 3.0.

The 3.0 is also the highest semester mark since Barnhart took over the program in 2002. In fall 2003, a year after Barnhart's arrival, the collective GPA of the department was 2.84. UK is only required to keep annual graduation rates and did not begin recording the cumulative GPA of the department prior to the Barnhart hire (the school recorded only the GPAs of each team prior to 2003).

"We've been trying for eight years to get to a consistent academic level and we felt like if all of our student-athletes could get to a 3.0 collectively, it would be a great benchmark for us considering when we came here the number was lower than that," Barnhart said. "Our coaches have done a good job of changing the expectation level and our athletes have responded. We finally have crested that goal and now the challenge is to stay there and to not back off the effort that it took to get there."

Among the highest team GPAs for the spring semester were the women's cross country team (3.49), the softball team (3.48) and the women's soccer team (3.42). Thirteen of UK's 22 sports averaged a 3.0 GPA or better.

Overall, the department's team GPA of 3.04 is above the average for all undergraduate students (2.95) at the University of Kentucky for the spring semester despite the added responsibilities, obligations and time it requires for a student-athlete to balance academics with athletics.

"I think you've got to be incredibly organized to be a student-athlete at this level and manage your academic workload," Barnhart said. "I'm really proud of our student-athletes. We have traditionally, for the last three or four years, been at a high level for academic all-conference selections. To have the grade-point averages move above a 3.0 validates the effort of the people that have been working so hard in the classroom."

Maybe the biggest reason for the department-wide improvement could be attributed to the football program's rise in GPA from 2.35 in the fall to 2.66 in the spring. The sheer numbers of the program carries heavy weight in the collective GPA of the department.

"Football has a tendency to be able to move the needle because there are such huge numbers in the sport," Barnhart said. "When you've got 85 guys in a sport, and for those 85 guys to get a 2.66, that is significant. It can move the needle the other way if you don't have a great semester."

Even with the time demands involved in an Elite Eight run and regular-season travel schedule, the men's basketball team did see improvement from the fall's 2.025 cumulative GPA, a step in the right direction considering five underclassmen declared for the 2010 NBA Draft.

"Considering all the challenges that go with that transition, and we had some athletes having to take big course loads, I was pleased that we made some progress," Barnhart said. "I'm also pleased that from an (Academic Progress Rate) perspective, our student-athletes took care of their business so that we could continue to have opportunities for other student-athletes coming into the program and we would not face any penalties."

In lieu of completing their academic obligations, the five men's basketball underclassmen that declared for the NBA Draft could have focused on pre-draft workouts to increase their professional stock, creating a potentially adverse situation for future UK basketball teams.

Instead, the vast majority of UK's early NBA entrants finished the spring semester, ensuring that the school would not incur any NCAA penalties for their decision to leave school early.

Kentucky's APR score in all 22 of its varsity sports, including men's basketball, has continued to meet the NCAA requirements. Teams are subject to penalties, such as scholarship reductions or postseason restrictions, if the APR target score is not achieved.

"For a group of young guys, with all of the distractions that were available and happening during the spring semester, to stay focused on the coursework ... I was very appreciative," Barnhart said.

Barnhart said the improvement was a department-wide effort.

"It starts in our academic unit and our (Center for Academics and Tutorial Services) unit," Barnhart said. "I give those counselors credit for working with our coaches and the coaches holding to their discipline to make sure that class work is important. I just went to graduation two weekends ago and 85 student-athletes graduated from the University of Kentucky. That is a significant number. I think that means that clearly we've got some really good athletes here, but we've also got some athletes that are really doing well here in the classroom."

With the academic benchmark met and UK's top-15 status near the horizon, Kentucky is closer than it has ever been to completing Barnhart's dream for a complete athletics department. The key now, Barnhart said, is finishing the job and then staying there.

"We've got to continue to grow our resources from a facility and support perspective that gets us over that hurdle of some of the goals that we have set," Barnhart said. "It took eight years to clear the academic hurdle. Now we've got to work to stay there. I hope it doesn't take us until 2015 to be a top-15 program. We're close now. We have things we can do better to get there, but getting there and staying there will continue to be difficult. Make no mistake about it, our coaches and athletes have made tremendous strides this year."

Link: Calipari talks about the men's basketball GPA on his blog at CoachCal.com

Wall on cover of Dime magazine

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Dime #57 Cover.jpg

Is baseball in or out? (part 2)

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BSB 09_10 UK_USC Game3 Web - GRAD 09_10 51.jpgOne week they're in, the next week they're out. So goes the rollercoaster season of college baseball.

After winning five games in two weekends against top-25 teams, it looked as if the Kentucky baseball team had played itself back into the NCAA Tournament. Now, after dropping two of three games to cellar-dwelling Georgia, UK not only finds itself outside of the Southeastern Conference Tournament but maybe out of the NCAA Tournament as well.

Kentucky will have to wait through a week of conference tournaments and hope that a few things goes its way. The team will continue to practice this week as though it is going to the NCAA Tournament before the NCAA Tournament field is released Sunday Monday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Below is a list of the reasons the NCAA committee will be looking to include or not to include Kentucky into the NCAA Tournament. The list of reasons of why to include Kentucky in the 64-team tournament is actually pretty strong.

Why UK could be included:

- First and foremost, UK boasts an RPI of 29 in the latest projections by BoydsWorld.com. Since 2007, there have only been four teams ranked in the top 34 in the RPI that did not make the NCAA Tournament, one of which came from the SEC.

- Playing the seventh-toughest schedule in college baseball, UK owns a total of 16 wins over teams ranked in the top 47 in the latest NCAA RPI, including nine wins over teams in the top 15 in the NCAA RPI. Several of those wins also came out of conference, with wins against the likes of Coastal Carolina (No. 3 in the latest NCAA RPI), San Diego (No. 22), Louisville (No. 6) and Virginia Tech (No. 12 in latest Baseball America top 25). The Cats also rank eighth in the nation in total top-50 RPI wins. 

-  Kentucky ranks second in the SEC with a total of 12 wins over top-25 opponents, and during a middle-of-the-season stretch, UK played a ranked opponent in 22 of 24 games, including a stretch of 16 consecutive games against a ranked foe.

- When UK did lose, a good portion of them were close. UK suffered a total of 13 losses by one or two runs, including four walk-off losses on the road to top-14 teams in the NCAA RPI.

- Kentucky played without one of its three weekend starting pitchers in four of 10 conference weekends.

- The Cats also faced a tough-luck schedule. The lone team UK did not play in the 2010 SEC schedule was Mississippi State (6-24 in the SEC), the 11th-place team in the conference, which lost 14 of its final conference games. Alabama and LSU, which ended up in the seventh and eighth spots in the SEC Tournament ahead of UK, had the good fortune of playing the struggling Bulldogs.

Why UK could be left out:

- A 31-25 overall record.

- Two of three losses to last-place Georgia on the final weekend of the season with the team's postseason hopes on the line, including a 20-0 loss Friday.

- Nonconference losses to Lipscomb, Murray State and Evansville, none of which boasts an RPI higher than 99, according to BoydWorld.com.

- If you don't make your conference tournament, do you deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament, a question the NCAA Tournament committee will almost certainly ask Sunday. (In favor of the Cats, the NCAA selection committee has elected to include the SEC's ninth-place team into the tournament in two of the last three years.)

There is no doubt that anxiety will be high for the rest of the week. UK boasts both extremely impressive numbers along with very disappointing ones.

The bottom line is the Cats are still squarely on the bubble and face about a 50-50 shot of getting in. Kentucky's name will be brought up Sunday during the selection process and the numbers will be laid out on the table.

Now that you know what the committee will look at it, is the UK baseball team in or out?

Disappointment marks progress for UK softball

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SBL 09_10 UK_LSU Game3 Web 63.jpgSometimes disappointment is needed. Sometimes to go forward, you have to experience some failure. Before the rise sometimes comes the fall.

It will be hard for the Kentucky softball players and coaches to understand it, but Saturday night's 5-3 loss to Ohio State, which bumped the upstart program from the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The fact that head coach Rachel Lawson sat at the podium and had trouble getting a word out about her seniors without choking up is a positive. The fact that All-American senior Molly Johnson had to wipe away tears in between answering questions is an indicator the program is moving forward.

Yes, every team deals with disappointment when failure smacks it in its face. But Saturday's loss was particularly hard for this team. This one hurt pretty bad.

"They swept it out from under us and that sucks because it was on two home runs by the same batter," junior catcher Megan Yocke said of giving up five runs, most coming on two home runs by Alicia Herron after UK led 2-0. "It should have never happened but it did."

Lawson was asked after Saturday's game why she decided to keep sophomore Chanda Bell in the game in the late innings after she had pitched the majority of UK's three tournament games. (Despite the loss, Bell should be credited with a great weekend. She surrendered seven runs in 18.1 total innings of work and really only threw two mistake pitches against Ohio State, both of which led to home runs.)

"I think that Ohio State hits the low ball very well and our other pitchers are predominantly drop(ball) pitchers," Lawson said. "Chanda throws the ball a lot higher, so I thought that we could keep the game close by throwing Chanda. I'm very confident in the other two (Rachel Riley and Amber Matousek). I just didn't think they were a good matchup for Ohio State."

Lawson also made a curious decision in the fifth inning to have senior All-American shortstop and Kentucky's best player Molly Johnson bunt after hitting two home runs in her previous two at-bats.

But the fact that the team can second guess, wonder "what if" and struggle with the feeling of disappointment is a mark of improvement in itself. Two years ago, entrenched in mediocrity, they couldn't imagine even going to the NCAA Tournament. Now, after the school's first two postseason appearances, they're actually upset with not advancing further?!

It's a testament to just how far UK softball program has come.

"We've made huge strides," Yocke said. "We are well on our way to being in Super Regionals and the College World Series. Two years ago, when I was freshman, there wasn't even a shot and now we're disappointed we're getting kicked out of this."

The bar has been raised. For the first time in school history, UK players are reaching for the stars because the ceiling has been raised that high.

"We've been here before and we've had the same feeling of disappointment before, but for the seniors it's a little rougher for us this year just because it's the last game for us wearing the Kentucky blue and white," Johnson said. "My first two seasons, at the end of the year it was just kind of like whatever. We knew that the season was over and that there was going to be no postseason play."

But now, thanks to the heroic efforts of Johnson (and heroic, despite the weight the word carries, couldn't be more appropriate with just how far away the program was when this year's senior class arrived at Kentucky), postseason play is not only to be expected, it's just another step.

"I think our senior class has definitely helped change the program," Johnson said. "I think we're headed in the right direction. Two seasons of going to postseason play was probably more than I ever expected. I'm definitely happy that it happened and I can guarantee it will happen in the future for the young girls coming in."

Johnson, the owner of more than a handful of school records, will go down as the most important player in program history. The first player in school annals to make the U.S. National Team and become an All-American, Johnson was the stalwart in the UK lineup for four years.

Although the play of Johnson might overshadow the rest of the senior class, the contributions of players like Smith, Matousek, Destinee Mordecai and Jennifer Young can't be overstated. The UK softball team, which has looked primarily the same for the last two years, will never be the same with the departure of those seniors.

And that was what made Saturday's loss to Ohio State so tough.

"It's disappointing because this senior class," Lawson said, pausing as she fought back tears, "they've really started a new era for us. It's just hard to see them go."

Because no matter what new levels the program reaches, it will be without the people that made it possible to get there. The seniors, Johnson and Smith in particular, changed the perception and the expectations of the program and it was disappointing to realize Saturday that they won't be part of the team when the program goes even further.

"They were a great base for us," Lawson said. "They were a great era. Somebody had to be the first and it was this class."

Lawson will have the unenviable task of replacing Johnson and Smith. It's one thing to lose leaders; it's another thing to replace the face of the program for the last four years.

How quickly the team can find new leaders will go a long ways in determining the success of the future because the pieces are still in place to win. Aces Bell and Riley will return as juniors to form one of the most formidable pitching duos in the nation, Yocke possesses the leadership and the work ethic to lead a program, and Brittany Cervantes has shown she has the pop in the middle of the order to be the focus of next year's offense.

"Moving forward we know we have to get better," Lawson said. "This team the last two years has basically been the same team and they put us in a pretty good position to move on. I'm very proud of them and their work ethic and we're looking forward to actually doing better in the future."

Better? You better believe it.

Longtime UK football coach Rich Brooks preached in his final season about climbing the Southeastern Conference ladder. Once the football team became good, he wanted them to reach for great. Consider the UK softball program in a similar position.

The expectations for the program have changed. Kentucky softball is good for the first time in school history and postseason is now just another stepping stone.

The program has the seniors to thank for that.

UK VB in Europe: Rome

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The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. UK volleyball manager Ryan Suckow is sending in photos, blog entries, and video about their experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat fans and family,

We have reached our final destination in our 12 day long European Tour and we are excited that you have tracked our paw prints throughout each of our journeys. You know we had to save one of the best cities for last, Rome, Italy! After the train ride from the beautiful city of Venice to Rome we quickly put down our bags and got to sightseeing. We truly had the opportunity to get 'lost' in the city and found ourselves hopping from the Trivi Fountain to the Pantheon and everywhere in between. We had to rest up for Saturday's to-do list which started with a bright and early wakeup call of 6:30am... off to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel we went and what an amazing spectacle it was. The early alarm paid off and us Wildcats had the ability to 'ohhhh' and 'ahhh' over the many works of art which still left us astounded at just how impeccable each mural was put together.

With souvenirs and cameras still in hand we were let loose to explore the city again before heading off to the Italia Olympic Training Center. While there we encountered many Italia teams that were currently training as well as many FIVB pro beach players that were in town for a current tournament that we will be attending Sunday night. It is definitely a cool experience getting to have your pregame meal at their training table as well as getting to interact with the other athletes.

Our girls had an hour to rest up after lunch before taking on the Italia Junior National A2 team. It was a 5 game thriller that went point for point each set until the end when the Cats completely dominated the Italia team in set 5 by having a set high 7 aces and finishing them off 15-8. This match tested our ability to stay focused after long rallies as well as finish the job when we had the opportunity. For those of you that attend our fall matches you too will be very impressed with our new found aggressive 'international serving game'.

We wrapped up the evening with a tasty team dinner at a local restaurant around the corner with all of the delights of Italian cuisine. Pizza is still a crowd favorite, but I think our girls are starting to explore all their options. We turned in early though as we want to save the best for last with a tour of the Coliseum in the morning followed by our finale match of the tour against the Italian Junior National team. We all feel that a win here would give us the confidence to rip through the summer and on to GREAT things in the fall 2010 season. Be sure to check out the remainder of our videos from the trip as well as our final video of our arrival back to BIG BLUE NATION!!!

NCAA Tournament live blog: UK softball vs. OSU

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Despite a 1-0 loss to No. 11 seed California, the UK softball team remains alive in the double-elimination NCAA Tournament. The Cats will return to the field at 5:30 p.m. to take on the winner of the Ohio State-Bucknell game. The winner of that game will go on to play California on Sunday and need to beat the Golden Bears twice to advance out the Columbus Regional.

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NCAA Tournament live blog: UK softball vs. Cal

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The UK softball team will be right back in action at 12:30 p.m. after the dramatic 6-5 win over Ohio State because of Friday's rain. UK will take on No. 11 seed California, who the Wildcats lost to earlier in the season. We'll have all the live action again on the live blog at 12:30.

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Great video again from the guys over at draftexpress.com. Make sure you check out their website for full NBA Combine coverage.

NCAA Tournament live blog: UK softball vs. OSU

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The UK-Ohio State NCAA Tournament softball game has been suspended until Saturday at 10 a.m. because of rain with UK leading 3-0 in the top of the fourth inning. We will keep the live blog in stand-by mode until Saturday and resume when play picks back up.

 

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UK VB in Europe: A Day in Venice

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The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. UK volleyball manager Ryan Suckow is sending in photos, blog entries, and video about their experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat Fans and Family,

We are here in Venice, Italy. I just have to say that this is one of the most unique and special places in the world and if any place we have visited so far make me feel lucky to be on this tour, it's Venice. It's exactly how you imagined it would be, learning about it in history classes, seeing pictures and postcards... but better! We had such a great day in Venice today.

The team was able to venture off on their own today and discover Venice for themselves, seeing all of the canals, bridges, and narrow walkways. We got to see St. Mark's Basilica, the Rialto Bridge, and the Grand Canal along with many of the other main attractions of Venice. Almost everyone took a gondola ride along one of the many canals, and some of the girls purchased festive masks from one of the many masks stores in the city.

We have no matches to play in Venice, we just came here for a one day stop to one of the neatest cities in the world. Up next we will be heading to Rome for our last stop on our European tour. We will be waking up early in the morning tomorrow, and then take a train over to Rome and spend three days there. We will play two more matches and be home in Lexington on Monday night. We can't wait to see you all, we miss you, and hope everyone is doing well! GO BIG BLUE!!!

NBA Combine measurements

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The NBA Combine released the official measurements NBA teams will be looking long and hard at before the 2010 NBA Draft. Of course, the five players representing Kentucky were all on hand in Chicago to get measured, and you can find those measurements below.

For the complete list of measurements from this weekend's NBA Combine, check them out at draftexpress.com.

Name

Name w/o shoes

Height w/shoes

Weight

Wingspan

Reach

Body fat

DeMarcus Cousins

6'9.5"

6'10.75"

292

7'5.75"

9'5"

16.4

Daniel Orton

6'8.75"

6'9.5"

269

7'4.25"

9'2.5"

13.8

Patrick Patterson

6'8"

6'9.25"

240

7'1.25"

8'11"

5.3

Eric Bledsoe

6'0.25

6'1.5"

192

6'7.5"

8'2"

5.6

John Wall

6'2.75"

6'4"

196

6'9.25"

8'5.5"

5.6

NBA Combine video (courtesy of Draft Express)

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The guys over at draftexpress.com have some great video of the interviews with John Wall and Daniel Orton at Thursday's media availability at the NBA Combine. Check out the website draftexpress.com for all NBA Combine and NBA Draft coverage and check out the UK videos below:

John Wall

 

Daniel Orton

Live blog: UK baseball vs. Georgia

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Despite Thursday night's loss to Georgia, UK is still in the hunt for the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The loss Thursday dropped UK back to a tie for ninth place but still just one game back of the eighth and final spot.

Evan Crane, Andre Foushee and Brent Ingram are in Athens, Ga., again to detail all the action.

Jones, Vargas video highlights

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Kentucky's 2010 recruiting class has taken shape with the official signings of Terrence Jones and Eloy Vargas.

UK announced Friday that both Jones and Vargas have signed financial aid offers to play basketball at the University of Kentucky.

The signings will more than likely give UK the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation for the second year in a row, plus it will squash any concerns about the lack of presence in the paint for next season.

Jones, a 6-foot-9 power forward out of Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore., is rated the 13th-best overall recruit in the 2010 class by Rivals.com and the eighth best by Scout.com. Jones, a 2010 McDonald's All-American, averaged 30.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists last season.

Vargas officially inked with UK on Friday as well. The 6-11 former Florida Gator averaged 25.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks as a sophomore at Miami-Dade Community College last season. Once the No. 26 prospect in the 2008 Rivals.com rankings, Vargas was named the 2010 Southern Conference Player of the Year.

The signing of Jones gives Kentucky five top-33 players in the Rivals.com 2010 recruiting class, more than any other school in the nation.

For more information, including quotes from head coach John Calipari, read the full news release on the home page.

NBA Combine links

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The NBA Combine is currently going on in Chicago, where former UK players John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton are at this weekend.

Although not all will go through the workouts, all headed to Chicago with hopes of improving or maintaining their already high draft statuses.

Several of the former Cats were available for media interviews on Thursday. Although I'm not in Chicago (I'm actually headed with the UK softball team on Friday to the NCAA Tournament), several of the local scribes headed up to the Windy City for the event. Below are some features from the guys, and I'll make sure to post more as they hit Internet.

- Matt May from The Cats' Pause writes on Daniel Orton's decision to turn pro

- Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader also has a feature on Orton, including some of the harsh reaction he took from fans on his decision

- The Associated Press writes about the competition between Wall and Ohio State's Evan Turner for the top spot in the draft

- Brett Dawson from the Courier-Journal writes that NBA teams are gauging Cousins' temper

- May from TCP on Wall and his hopes to land in Washington as the top pick

Wildcat recruiting class No. 1

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John Calipari has done it again.

In 2009, with little time to pick up the pieces from a coaching change, rebuild a program and shape a roster, Calipari put together the nation's top recruiting class, headlined by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

When Wall and Co. left for the NBA, Calipari was left to rebuild another roster in the face of now heightened expectations.

Well, they don't call him the country's best recruiter for nothing.

According to ESPN.com, Calipari has hauled in the nation's top recruiting class for the second year in a row. UK beat out Ohio State, North Carolina, Memphis and Syracuse for the top honors.

Check out the full rankings at ESPN.com. You must be an ESPN Insider to read the full story.

We're still waiting to see what the final Rivals.com rankings are but we'll post that as soon as they're up.

Kanter not on Twitter: Signee Enes Kanter wanted us to inform fans that he does not have a Twitter account and that the @eneskanter account is not him. 

Live blog: UK baseball vs. Georgia

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Huge series for UK baseball this weekend as the Cats try to make the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Evan Crane, Andre Foushee and Brent Ingram are in Athens, Ga., for the three-game set and will be running a live blog tonight.

UK VB in Europe: On to Croatia

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The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. UK volleyball manager Ryan Suckow is sending in photos, blog entries, and video about their experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat Fans and Family,

We are here in Pula, Croatia. WOW! What a beautiful city. We are here right on the Adriatic Sea, just a short walk from our hotel and the weather has been gorgeous. We could not ask for more. Pula almost makes you forget that you are here to play volleyball because it is truly amazing.

Yesterday, we bussed from Maribor to Pula, which took roughly four hours. We went through customs twice and had our passports checked which was very interesting. We got our first look at the Adriatic Sea and everyone was excited to see more after bad weather in Maribor. The first day, everyone went down to the sea to check out the scenery, and I'd have to say that everyone was blown away by its beauty. It was not a typical beach, but it was remarkable. We walked around on the shore, which was rock and not sand, and some historic land. Everyone got in the water, too, even though it was bitterly cold. We just had to do it to say that you did it!

On our second day, we got to see the rest of Pula and go downtown to see the city. We saw one of the first coliseums that was built in the first century B.C. It was huge and it was stunning just realizing its history. Italy wanted to originally dismantle it piece by piece and move it back to Italy, but they ended up changing their mind when the realized how expensive that would be.

Then the team came back, got ready for their match, and we headed towards the gym. We played the Pula, Croatia team and beat them in not only three, but four straight sets to get some more reps. The women really put on a show tonight and looked as well as they have this entire trip. Congrats to the women who are now 4-2 on the trip so far with two more matches in Rome coming up.

Tomorrow morning, we sadly depart Pula for Venice, Italy and will take our first train ride of the trip. I have heard a lot of great things about Venice, and I know all of the women are excited for Italy. I am really looking forward to the gondolas and the ice cream. So, once again, thank you for checking in with us. We appreciate you following our journey over here in Europe and we cannot wait to see you all when we get back. Check back tomorrow for more updates on our European tour.

Wall likely headed to Washington

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MBSK 09_10 UK_ARK Web 62.jpgJohn Wall the Wizard? Believe it.

The Washington Wizards appeared to win the Wall sweepstakes Tuesday night when the franchise, against great odds, won the NBA's draft lottery.

The award? The No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, which, by all indications, appears to be Kentucky guard Wall.

"It's just a great experience," Wall said during the ESPN broadcast Tuesday night. "Being in this opportunity to get drafted by any team means a lot. This is a good chance for me and my family and my team to work hard and get ready to play at the next level."

The Wizards had only a 10.3 percent chance of winning the top pick in the draft. The New Jersey Nets, who tumbled to the No. 3 pick, were the favorites, at 25 percent, to win the lottery and perhaps the services of Wall.

Even though NBA analysts agree that Wall would be the top pick no matter what team is picking at No. 1, Wizards minority owner Ted Leonsis declined to show his hand.
"I have no idea," Leonsis said when asked if he would draft Wall.

In the likelihood that Wall gets drafted by Washington, he will be looked at as an immediate cornerstone of a maligned team that suffered a disappointing year after the season-long suspension of NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas.

"I'm just going to come in and work hard, try to make the team better, try to listen to the organization and everybody, and try to win games for an organization next year," Wall said.

Philadelphia, New Jersey, Minnesota and Sacramento rounded out the top five. Kentucky underclassmen Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe are all projected to be selected in the first round of the June 24 draft.

- Great story by Andy Katz of ESPN.com on Wall and why the future first-round pick believes a year at Kentucky benefited him.

BSB 09_10 UK_USC Game3 Web - GRAD 09_10 50.jpgBeen meaning to put that picture on the blog for some time.

The photo is of two-sport star Brian Adams, now a freshman outfielder with the UK baseball team and soon-to-be wide receiver for the UK football team in the fall, who is jumping over 6-foot-9 pitcher Alex Meyer. 

That's no typo either. Adams is literally clearing a near seven-foot guy.  

Adams, who started all three games for the Kentucky baseball team this weekend in its sweep of defending national champion LSU, is being whispered around the athletic department as one of the most athletically blessed athletes to come to UK in the last few years.

As if the picture above doesn't speak volumes to Adams' athleticism, consider the fact that Adams robbed a home run over the wall in left field Saturday in just his fourth career start.

Just imagine when this guy lines up for the football Cats in the fall. You can bet football coach Joker Phillips has a couple of fade routes in the back corner of the end zone already drawn up.

And while we're on the topic of athleticism, check out the video below of former UK outfielder and 2006 Southeastern Conference champion Antone DeJesus robbing a home run.

Is baseball in the NCAA Tournament already?

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The Southeastern Conference Tournament race has been talked about at length on this blog recently. We've broken down the tiebreaker scenario, what Kentucky needs to do make the tournament and what scenarios would put UK in its conference tournament in Hoover, Ala.

All along, the thought was that if Kentucky makes the SEC Tournament, which is widely regarded as the country's best league, the Cats would make the NCAA Tournament as well as an at-large team.

But here's something worth thinking about: After UK's season-changing sweep over defending national champion LSU last weekend, is Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament regardless of its inclusion in its own league tournament? For example, if the Cats for some reason can't clinch an SEC Tournament berth this weekend and land in ninth or 10th in the SEC standings, do they still have a good enough resume to make the field of 64?

It's not that crazy of a question when you look at the team's resume.

Entering Tuesday's final nonconference game of the season against Murray State in Paducah, Ky., Kentucky boasts a very formidable RPI ranking of No. 21. Generally speaking, that gets you in the tournament.

The league as a whole has eight teams in the NCAA's top 25 RPI, and UK has played a total of 10 teams in the RPI top 25. That carries heavy weight for a team firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Plenty of heartbreaking and questionable losses cloud the Wildcat schedule, including midweek defeats to Lipscomb, Indiana and Evansville, but the so-called "good wins" far outweigh the "bad losses."

With Sunday's come-from-behind win against LSU, UK has won five consecutive games against ranked opponents and has charted three total series wins over ranked teams, including a series win over No. 4 South Carolina last weekend. All told, UK owns 12 wins over ranked foes in 2010.

Just think if UK, the victims of five walk-off losses, could have held on for the handful of come-from-behind losses. This team might firmly be in. There is still a weekend to go and plenty of baseball to be played, but it's worth thinking about.

So what say you? If the season ended today and UK didn't make the SEC Tournament, would it still make the NCAA Tournament?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for nba1.jpgIf all goes according to plan, former UK freshman guard John Wall will have a very good idea of where he will be playing professional ball at next season.

Before Tuesday night's Boston-Orlando NBA Playoffs game, the NBA will hold its annual lottery to set the top 14 picks in the 2010 NBA Draft. After Tuesday night's lottery, which is slated to begin at 8 p.m., we will know who picks one, two, three, etc.

All indications are whoever ends up with that No. 1 pick is going to select Wall on June 24 in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

But how does the NBA lottery work and why will prospective lottery players be sitting anxiously by a television Tuesday night? The NBA has a full breakdown below of how the lottery works that should explain the entire process.

Warning: it is slightly confusing.

The 2010 NBA Draft Lottery, where ping-pong balls supplant basketballs as the tools of determining supremacy, will be held on Tuesday, May 18, at the NBA Entertainment Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey.

The 26th annual edition of the NBA Draft Lottery will determine the order of selection for the first 14 picks of the 2010 NBA Draft.

Fourteen ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 will be placed in a drum.  There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14, without regard to their order of selection.  Prior to the Lottery, 1,000 combinations will be assigned to the 14 participating Lottery teams by a computer.

The New Jersey Nets finished the season with the NBA's worst record (12-70), so they will be assigned 250 combinations. The Houston Rockets, the best team in the lottery at 42-40, will have five combinations out of 1,000. 

Four balls will be drawn to the top to determine a four-digit combination. The team that has been assigned that combination will receive the number one pick. The four balls are placed back in the drum and the process is repeated to determine the number two and three picks. (Note: If the one unassigned combination is drawn, the balls are drawn to the top again.)

The order of selection for the teams that do not win one of the top three picks will be determined by inverse order of their regular season record. Thus, New Jersey can pick no lower than fourth, Minnesota (15-67) no lower than fifth and Sacramento (25-57) no lower than sixth.

The actual Lottery procedure will take place in a separate room prior to the national broadcast on ESPN with NBA officials and representatives of the participating teams and the accounting firm of Ernst & Young in attendance.

Following the drawing, team logo cards will be inserted into envelopes marked 1 through 14 by an Ernst & Young representative. These envelopes then will be sealed and brought on-stage, where the announcement of the Lottery results will be made by NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. A second representative from each participating team will be seated on-stage. Neither the Deputy Commissioner nor the team representatives will be informed of the Lottery results prior to the opening of the envelopes.

The team whose logo is in the last envelope opened will pick first in NBA Draft 2010, to be held on Thursday, June 24, at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Following are the chances out of 1,000 for teams in 2010 NBA Draft Lottery:

2010 NBA DRAFT LOTTERY CHANCES
(Out of 1,000)

Following are the 14 teams in 2010 NBA Draft Lottery who did not qualify for the 2010 NBA Playoffs. Each team will be assigned a certain number of combinations out of 1,000. The third column below lists the number of combinations each team will have in the NBA Draft Lottery. The three columns on the right list the percent chances that teams have at getting one of the top three picks.
2010 NBA Draft Lottery Probabilities

Team Record Chances 1st Pick 2nd Pick 3rd Pick
New Jersey 12-70 250 25.00% 21.49% 17.73%
Minnesota 15-67 199 19.90% 18.79% 17.08%
Sacramento 25-57 156 15.60% 15.72% 15.55%
Golden State 26-56 104 10.40% 11.20% 12.08%
Washington 26-56 103 10.30% 11.10% 12.00%
Philadelphia 27-55 53 5.30% 6.03% 6.97%
Detroit 27-55 53 5.30% 6.03% 6.97%
L.A. Clippers 29-53 23 2.30% 2.69% 3.22%
Utah (from New York) 29-53 22 2.20% 2.57% 3.08%
Indiana 32-50 11 1.10% 1.30% 1.57%
New Orleans 37-45 8 0.80% 0.95% 1.15%
Memphis 40-42 7 0.70% 0.83% 1.01%
Toronto 40-42 6 0.60% 0.71% 0.87%
Houston 42-40 5 0.50% 0.59% 0.72% 

May 16 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, May 16:

Baseball: Jordan Cooper

Week Stats: 1-0, 5.14 ERA, 1 App, 1 GS, 7.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, BB, 5 SO
Season Stats: 4-4, 5.11 ERA, 19 App, 7 GS, 56.1 IP, 65 H, 36 R, 32 ER, 25 BB, 35 SO

Freshman Jordan Cooper continued to shine in the role as Saturday starter for UK, helping lead UK to a series-clinching win over No. 20 LSU ... Cooper tossed a career-high seven innings and struck out a career-best five in his fourth win of the season, coming in just his fourth career SEC start ... A native of Shelbyville, Tenn., Cooper had allowed only two runs in seven innings of work before allowing the first and second hitters in the eighth inning to reach base safely, ending his night, with the UK bullpen allowing both runners to score ... As a reliever, Cooper owned a 1-3 record and a 7.88 ERA in 12 relief outings and as a starting pitcher, Cooper has posted a 3-1 record and a 3.06 ERA.

Baseball: Braden Kapteyn

Week Stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 App, 4.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 SO; .556 (5-for-9), 3 2B, HR, RBI, BB
Season Stats: 2-0, 2.21 ERA, 17 App, 2 SV, 20.1 IP, 19 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 12 BB, 20 SO; .297 (43-for-145), 10 2B, 6 HR, 28 RBI

Sophomore right-hander Braden Kapteyn had a good week on the mound as a key-inning reliever and at the plate as the designated hitter for UK, helping the Wildcats sweep No. 20 LSU, the first sweep of the Tigers since 1991 ... Kapteyn posted a win and a 0.00 ERA in three relief outings in the five-game week, hurling 4.2 innings, allowing four hits and two walks, striking out three ... At the plate during the week, Kapteyn batted .556 (5-for-9) with three doubles, a homer, one RBI and a walk in two games ... On Tuesday, Kapteyn pitched 1.2 shutout innings at Indiana and in the series-opening win Friday against LSU, Kapteyn picked up the win with a shutout frame in the top of the ninth inning, with UK walking off with the win in the bottom of the ninth ... Saturday, Kapteyn pitched the final two innings in relief of an outstanding outing from freshman starter Jordan Cooper, allowing one hit and striking out two in two scoreless frames ... On the year, Kapteyn owns a 2-0 record and a 2.21 ERA in 17 relief outings, posting two saves in 20.1 innings, striking out 20 ... At the plate in 2010, Kapteyn has a .297 average (43-for-145) with 10 doubles, six homers and 28 RBI.

Baseball: Marcus Nidiffer

Week Stats: .500 (11-for-22), 6 R, 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 2 BB, 1 HBP, SO, .818 SLG%, .560 OB%
Season Stats: .321 (43-for-134), 29 R, 6 2B, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 13 BB, 13 HBP, 26 SO, 1-1 SB, .590 SLG%, .426 OB%

In his final two weeks playing college baseball and with his team fighting for a postseason berth, senior Marcus Nidiffer has gotten hot at the right time, helping lead UK to a series sweep over No. 20 LSU, the defending NCAA champions ... Nidiffer batted .500 (11-for-22) during the five-game week, with six runs, a double, two homers and 11 RBI, adding two walks, getting hit by one pitch and striking out just once, leading UK to its first series sweep over LSU in 19 years ... In a midweek game at Indiana, Nidiffer collected a 5-for-7 performance at the plate with career-highs in hits (five) and runs scored (four), adding a homer and three RBI ... Nidiffer's five-hit game marked the first five-hit performance for a UK player since All-SEC second baseman Ryan Wilkes totaled five hits in a win over Wright State in 2008 ... Nidiffer's biggest swing of his five-year career came with UK trailing by two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the bases loaded on Sunday, looking for the series sweep of the Tigers ... In the last at bat of his home career, Nidiffer hit a grand slam on a 3-2 pitch from LSU All-American closer Matty Ott, giving UK the wild comeback win, securing the second sweep over LSU in program annals ... In a series-opening win vs. LSU on Friday, Nidiffer drew a walk and added an RBI ... Saturday, Nidiffer turned in a splendid game, helping UK clinch the series, with a 3-for-5 performance, adding a double ... In a Tuesday game with Lipscomb, batted 2-for-4 with two RBI and getting plunked by a pitch ... On the year, Nidiffer is batting .321 (43-for-134) with six doubles, 10 homers and 34 RBI.

Baseball: Lance Ray

Week Stats: .474 (9-for-19), 2 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 5 BB, 2 HBP, 4 SO, 1-1 SB, 1.316 SLG%, .615 OB%
Season Stats: .369 (38-for-103), 11 2B, 3B, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 18 BB, 3 HBP, 17 SO, 2-4 SB

Junior Lance Ray has continued to solidify himself as one of the top hitters in the conference, batting .474 (9-for-19) with two doubles, a triple, four homers and 13 RBI during the five-game week, helping lead UK to the series win over No. 20 LSU, the reigning national champions ... Ray added five walks and was hit with two pitches, striking out just four times and stealing one base ... Ray slugged 1.316 and reached base at a .615 clip during the week ... Ray started the week with a career-best four hits in a game at Indiana, coming a single shy of hitting for the cycle ... Against IU, Ray went 4-for-5 with four runs scored, five RBI, a double, a triple and two home runs, drawing two walks and stealing one base ... Ray had his biggest swing of his 37-game career in the series-opening win over No. 20 LSU, belting a three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning with UK trailing by one run and LSU All-American closer Matty Ott on the mound ... Ray went 2-for-4 with three runs scored, six RBI, two homers and a walk in the Friday-night win over LSU, his first career two-homer game, with his second three-homer game serving as the walk-off homer ... On Saturday, Ray went 2-for-4 with a run scored, an RBI and a hit by pitch, leading UK to the series-clinching win ... In a game with Lipscomb, Ray batted 1-for-4 with two runs scored, a double off the wall and two walks ... In the Sunday win that secured the sweep, Ray scored a run and got hit by a pitch ... On the year, Ray is batted .369 (38-for-103) in just 25 starts, with 11 doubles, one triple, 10 homers and 33 RBI, drawing 18 walks and striking out just 17 times.

The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. UK volleyball manager Ryan Suckow is sending in photos, blog entries, and video about their experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat Fans and Family,

We are spending our last evening here in Maribor, Slovenia after a very eventful and rain-free day. The day started with breakfast at the hotel, and then our match, also in the hotel, against the Slovenian National Team. The Cats played well in the second and fourth sets, but could not pull out the fifth set, and they lost their second match of the trip.

After a little break, the team got ready and we took a chairlift all the way up the mountain behind our hotel to eat lunch. We had some salad, bread, sausage, fruit and cucumber, which was all delicious. We got some great pictures up at the top of the mountain and then it was time to come down the hill. As you can tell from our pictures, coming down the hill was a lot more fun than going up. We took these little cars down a track with just a seatbelt and a lever that went in between your legs to either accelerate you or make you slow down. We had so much fun the first time that we took the chairlift all the way up again just to come back down. Some even went three times. After the first time, most of the team decided to go full acceleration all the way down the hill and race down as fast as they could. Everyone had a blast, especially Coach Skinner who timed himself down the hill.

After spending a little more downtime in the hotel, we took off for downtown Maribor to go to the local winery (we ended up going here instead of the vineyard) called Vinag. We got to tour their wine cellars, which were humongous. They had both old style wooden barrels as well as the stainless steel barrels which are healthier to use. The woman who took us on the tour told us many great facts about wine and specifically their cellar. They produce a couple million gallons of wine per year. They even have a special cellar that was locked up that we could not get into that had 150,000 bottles of special and old wines, with one dating all the way back to the 1940s, just after WWII. The oldest bottle cost over 4,000 Euros.

After that, we headed back to the hotel for dinner to unwind for the evening before getting back on the road on our way to Pula, Croatia. We leave the hotel tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning. The trip will take about four hours. Once we get there, we will go sightseeing and after that, I will come right back here to tell you all about it. Thanks for checking in with us, we miss you all, and hope everything is going well back home. Check back in tomorrow for more updates on the UK Volleyball European Tour.

SEC baseball tiebreaker breakdown

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC LOGO UK BLUE.jpgAnother wild, wacky weekend in Southeastern Conference baseball action has created a logjam for the final two spots in the SEC Tournament.

Once thought to be out of the race, the Kentucky baseball team finds itself on the inside of the tournament heading into the final series of the year after sweeping LSU last weekend for only the second time in school history.

Four teams -- Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama -- are tied for the final two spots in the tournament at 12-15. No team in that group can finish better than seventh and no team can finish worse than 10th. What order seven through 10 will be after next week is anyone's guess, as evidenced by last week's seismic shift.

If the season were to end today, Kentucky would be in the tournament in Hoover, Ala., as the No. 7 seed, trumping the other three teams at 12-15 because of a four-way tiebreaker (that would have been crazy to imagine four days ago).

In the case of a four-way tie (or three-way tie), seeding is based on each team's combined record against the other tied teams. UK and LSU, both owners of 6-3 records against the tied teams, would get in over Tennessee (2-4 against tied teams) and Alabama (1-5) if the season ended today. UK would earn the No. 7 seed over LSU because of the head-to-head tiebreaker, in which Kentucky would win because of this weekend's sweep over the Tigers.

Tennessee and Alabama play each other this coming weekend, so chances are the loser of the series will be out of the race.

The most important thing for Kentucky heading into the final weekend against a struggling Georgia team is that it controls its own destiny. If the Cats win all three, they're in. If LSU wins two against Mississippi State, Kentucky must win two. If LSU wins just one and Tennessee or Alabama does not sweep, UK needs to only win one as well.

There is a lot that could happen this weekend, but the bottom line is UK just needs to take care of its own business. Win and you're in; lose and you have to hope the other teams falter as well.

1.) Florida: 20-7 (vs. South Carolina)
     South Carolina: 20-7 (at Florida)
3.) Auburn: 17-10 (at Ole Miss)
4.) Ole Miss: 16-11 (vs. Auburn)
     Arkansas: 16-11 (at Vanderbilt)
6.) Vanderbilt: 15-10 (vs. Arkansas)
7.) Kentucky: 12-15 (at Georgia) - four-way tie: 6-3 record vs. tied teams
     LSU: 12-15 (at MSU) - four-way tie: 6-3 record vs. tied teams
     Tennessee: 12-15 (vs. Alabama) - four-way tie: 2-4 vs. tied teams
     Alabama: 12-15 (at Tennessee) - four-way tie: 1-5 vs. tied teams
11.) Mississippi State: 5-22 (at LSU)
12.) Georgia: 3-22 (vs. Kentucky)

For the second straight season -- and only second time in program annals -- the UK softball team has been selected to the NCAA Tournament.

Coincidentally, the Cats will head to Columbus, Ohio, for the second straight season for the first and second rounds of the tournament. UK will take on the host Buckeyes on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the double-elimination tournament. Opposite UK in the regional are No. 11 overall seed California and Bucknell.

UK head coach Rachel Lawson, All-American shortstop Molly Johnson and All-Southeastern Conference catcher Megan Yocke talk about making the NCAA Tournament in the videos below:

Head coach Rachel Lawson

Senior shortstop Molly Johnson

Junior catcher Megan Yocke

The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. UK volleyball manager Ryan Suckow is sending in photos, blog entries, and video about their experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat Fans and Family,

The Cats were victorious yet again today, not only once but twice. In an afternoon match against Montenegro, UK swept the Montenegro national team in straight sets. Then, in the night cap, the Cats defeated the Israeli national team in a five-set thriller, winning the second, fourth and the clinching fifth set, 15-11.

Today was not the most eventful day for the team regarding sightseeing, but they did play some great volleyball today. After facing some early adversity in both matches, the Cats came back and fought hard to get both victories. The first match was conveniently played in the gym in our hotel. Here we got our first use of the international volleyballs, the gold and blue ones you can see in the pictures. These are the same ones that are use in the Olympics. They are much different than the ones we use back home. They have different seems and the panels are covered with small dimples imprinted into the ball. I guess you could say the team did not have much trouble adjusting after the results. The second match was played in the city in Slovenia's club gymnasium, which was really cool.

As for the rest of the day, we were supposed to take a gondola up to the top of the mountain today for lunch, but heavy winds kept us from going. We are hoping to go up tomorrow and we will take many pictures for you all to see. We also will be going to a vineyard tomorrow in Maribor to see the world's oldest grapevine and take a tour. I think everyone is really excited about it. The weather is still pretty glum. It's been chilly and a little bit rainy since we've been in Slovenia. Cross your fingers for sunshine for us.

Tomorrow morning we will take on the Slovenia national team at 10, back here in the hotel's gym. Thank you so much for checking in and supporting us. We miss you all very much and hope everyone is doing well. Check back in tomorrow for our latest results and adventures.

BSB 09_10 UK_FL Game1 Web 28.jpgThe bases were loaded and opportunity lay ahead for catcher Marcus Nidiffer.

After everything this season has done to the Kentucky baseball players - five walk-off losses, late-game collapses, on-again, off-again pitching - one at-bat could change the entire perception of the season. With one swing, Nidiffer's team could change a disappointing year into a potential magical run.

As Nidiffer cracked the weights off his bat and departed the on-deck circle for the pressured cage of the batter's box, his teammates made sure he knew what was at stake with the Cats trailing 4-2, and, more importantly, fighting for the eighth and final spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"That is the last one," Nidiffer told himself. "Someone actually mentioned that to me in the dugout and I was like, 'Well, I'm going to make it worthwhile.' "

The players were Taylor Black and Keenan Wiley. Did it add pressure to the already anxiety-riddled at-bat for Nidiffer?

"It absolutely put some pressure on me," Nidiffer said.

Fitting of a senior leader, Nidiffer cranked a 3-2 pitch over the left field wall in the bottom of the eighth inning to turn what could have been a disappointing loss into a 6-4 win over No. 20 and defending national champion LSU.

Similar to Lance Ray's three-run walk-off home run Friday night, the mammoth shot perhaps saved the season. Heading into the weekend, UK looked to be regular-season road kill with the SEC race a couple games out of the team's reach.

Now, with Kentucky's spectacular, almost unbelievable weekend - an emotion-packed three days of baseball that included the program's fifth straight win over a ranked opponent, first sweep over LSU since 1991 and second sweep over the Tigers in school history - UK went from the outside looking in to holding its own destiny entering the final weekend of play.

Believe it or not, the Cats would earn the No. 7 seed if the season were to end today thanks to a three-way tiebreaker with Tennessee and LSU.

That's how important Nidiffer's at-bat was. In his final career plate appearance at Cliff Hagan Stadium, in front of friends, family and long-time teammates, Nidiffer came through in the clutch.

"I said, 'Well, this is it. If I'm going to do it, this is going to be the one to do it.' " Nidiffer said.
Head coach Gary Henderson characterized it as the biggest at-bat of Nidiffer's career. The hit very well have been the most important of the year - a season-saver, if you will.

"He's going to be remembered forever for that," Henderson said. "He'll be 45 years old telling his little-league team about that grand slam he hit against LSU to complete the sweep."

Sunday's game wasn't without its hair-pulling frustrations.

Starting pitcher Alex Meyer, just two starts removed from a bout with mononucleosis, struggled to find the strike zone and lasted just one inning. His relievers, Matt Little, Nick Kennedy, Mike Kaczmarek and Logan Darnell, dealt with control issues as well. In all, UK walked 12 batters and hit another two for a grand total of 14 free passes.

And still, they pulled enough grit together to keep the offense in the game heading into the latter innings. LSU, a potent offense that rode the back of extra-base hits to a national championship last season, was held to just four runs.

"I don't think I've ever been part of as bad of a pitching performance and as good of a pitching performance in one game," Henderson said. "As sloppy as we were on the front end of it, and then for us to leave 13 or 14 guys on (base) in the first five innings, we got out of several jams all night."

It's really a microcosm of the season. UK has been in a season-long jam all year long because of self-inflicted wounds.

And yet, thanks to a steely resolve that maybe no other team at Kentucky has matched all year, with one very winnable series at Georgia to, UK (No. 25 RPI and 12 wins over ranked opponents) holds its own destiny for not only the SEC Tournament but the NCAA Tournament as well.

"We're relentless," said winning pitcher Darnell, who tossed 1.2 innings of scoreless ball in his first outing in two weeks. "We're down a couple runs but our bats bring us back and then we just play good defense and we get back into it. As far as the season, you try not to look ahead and you try not to reminisce about what's happened before."

Now the most important thing for UK will be maintaining momentum it hasn't felt all year long. Although the team now finds itself on the inside of the bubble, nothing is for certain.

LSU plays a Mississippi State team next week that is struggling mightily while Alabama and Tennessee face each other in de facto play in-game. Georgia has won just three conference games all season, but all eyes will be on Athens, Ga., next week.

Everyone but the men in blue and white uniforms will be hoping for UK to collapse. Last year the Cats were the ones scoreboard watching. Now, when the role is reversed, will Kentucky blossom or wilt under the pressure?

"We've absolutely got to focus on this next weekend to put us in the SEC Tournament," Nidiffer said. "We've got to go get us some wins."

If the team follows Nidiffer's lead, next weekend should be no problem.

For the second time in three days, a player scraped a shaving cream pie from their eyelids as they celebrated a come-from behind win. Will the team take a proverbial shaving cream pie to the face in Athens next Sunday after a come-from-behind season?

"I'll take a pie in the face if that's what it takes to get a win," Nidiffer said. "I'm OK with that."

Video was shot and produced by Metz Camfield

UK tennis head coach Dennis Emery talks about UK's 4-1 win over Georgia Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and receives a surprise Gatorade bath from his team.

Sophomore Eric Quigley talks about UK's 4-1 win over Georgia Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.


Sophomore Alex Musialek talks about UK's 4-1 win over Georgia Tech, keeping his emotions in check, the mental aspect of tennis and moving on to the Sweet 16 in Athens, Ga.

Senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer

Head coach Gary Henderson

Junior pitcher Logan Darnell

The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. UK volleyball manager Ryan Suckow is sending in photos, blog entries, and video about their experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat Fans and Family,

We have departed Prague, spent some time in Vienna, Austria this afternoon, and made our way to our destination of Maribor, Slovenia all in one day today. We left Prague early this morning, and made a four hour trip into Vienna to do some sightseeing at a beautiful downtown square. In the square, there was a Hapsburg Palace, Vienna's most popular church, St. Stephens Cathedral, and a ton of shopping and restaurant options.

Vienna is just a really cool city. It is a lot different than Prague. It is more advanced technologically, yet it still has a classic, ancient feel to it. Today, we switched from the currency of Czech Crowns to Euros, and several of the girls were off spending them on food, gifts, and souvenirs. They even had to use 50 Euro cents just to use the bathroom!!! We got to go into St. Stephens Cathedral which was gorgeous and unlike most churches in the U.S. And just randomly, we happened to notice that the Morehead State Choir was performing in the church while we were walking around it. It sometimes truly is a small world. And on that note, Lindsay Gray, our newest assistant coach ran into one of her old college teammates at Georgia Tech, as you will see in one of the videos. One of the perhaps strangest parts of our journey through Vienna was the amount of street performers there. While Prague had many art and jewelry kiosks, Vienna offered opera performers who painted themselves up and dressed in solid gold or silver, a break dancing group, and men who performed with marionettes.

After spending a few hours in Vienna, we headed back on our way to Maribor. We drove through a gorgeous country side through Prague and Vienna, but the drive from Vienna to Maribor was not quite as scenic. On top of that, it started raining, luckily only for the second time on our trip. We made it to the hotel around eight the evening, checked in and got some dinner in the hotel. We had a wonderful meal of grilled chicken, vegetables and French fries, along with bread and salad.

We will play not one, but two matches tomorrow at three and eight in the evening. The first match will be against the Montenegro National Team, and then at eight we will face the Israeli National Team. Both matches will assuredly be tough, but I know the girls will be up for the challenge. Thanks again for checking in with us. We miss you all back home and hope everyone is doing well. Be sure to check out our pictures and videos and I will bring you more tomorrow about our day and the matches.

3.jpgKeenan Burton "got it" when he was at Kentucky catching touchdown passes. He understood that even in the most fortunate of positions, one can't forget their roots and what it took to get there.

Even two years of fame and fortune in professional football hasn't altered that understanding for Burton, now two full years immersed in the life of being a successful wide receiver for the rebuilding St. Louis Rams.

Despite a rigorous offseason of training and rehabilitation to repair a season-ending knee injury, Burton recently created the inaugural Burton-Taylor College & Academic Scholarship to recognize deserving high school students with monetary support towards their pursuit of postsecondary education.

Burton announced the scholarship during a his inaugural Faith, Family and Football Education Awareness Tour in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., a weekend tour to promote education awareness to youth in the Derby City.

"We came up with the Burton-Taylor scholarship to try to do something that doesn't have anything to do with athletics," Burton said by phone Friday. "I feel like the most important thing for kids today is academics and I'm trying to be positive in that sense to help bring education awareness to the state and city that I'm from."

Burton said he has long been inspired to promote the importance of academics and give back to the community. After talking with fellow NFL player and Louisville native Michael Bush, Burton decided he wanted to do more than his normal charity around Christmas for families in need of assistance. The answer was teaming up with his former rival at the University of Louisville for an annual scholarship.

"If it wasn't for my family I wouldn't be where I'm at," Burton said. "Academics are important not only because it paved the way for my athletics, but just in the sense that I could have very well never played a day of football in my life and I would still need to find a job. In today's age, if you don't have a degree, it's practically going to be impossible for you to find a job."

Burton, from his days at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, to college football at UK and now in the NFL with the Rams, has always epitomized character and professionalism. As a cornerstone of the 2008 graduating class, Burton played one of the key roles in the revival of the Kentucky football program and its current four-year bowl run.

But Burton said the introduction of the Burton-Taylor scholarship is the latest part in a maturation process that started at UK. The fourth all-time leading receiver in UK football history said he has learned not to take his blessings for granted.

"That's the most important thing," Burton said. "If you don't give back to where you come from, then I think you are a lost cause. People that know you where you come from understand that it's a hard road to making it to where you. At the same time, you want those same people to be able to reach out and touch you."

Honoring Edward Burton and Gladys Taylor, the parents of Burton, the Burton-Taylor College & Academic Scholarship aims to empower youth in their educational attainment and who have overcome socio-economic and family obstacles towards success and academic achievement against all odds.

Burton said he is donating $1,500 annually for the scholarship and said Bush has agreed to match whatever he donates. Because additional parties have expressed interest in joining the scholarship initiative, the amount of the scholarship has not been finalized.

In its first installation, only students actively participating in the youth empowerment organization 1+1=U, Inc. will be eligible for the award. Beginning in 2011, students from any high school may qualify. Students planning to attend the University of Kentucky or St. Louis University are encouraged to apply.

Applicants interested in applying for scholarship may visit the website of Burton's organization at www.1plus1equalsu.com for more details. The deadline for the inaugural scholarship is May 19. The award will be announced in June.

Burton, who was the leading receiver on the Rams at the time of his season-ending patellar tendon injury, said he is ahead of schedule in his return to football and plans to participate in the Rams' offseason team training.

"I'm close," Burton said. "I'm way ahead of schedule. They said it was going to be an eight-to-10-month injury. I'm darn near 100 percent in six months, so I'm ready."  

Burton said he still keeps tabs on the UK football team and his former teammates and looks forward to seeing the transition of the program from former coach Rich Brooks to current coach Joker Phillips.

"I'm excited for Coach Phillips," Burton said. "I think he's the right man for the job. Coach Brooks was an outstanding person and I loved him like he was my father. I'm glad that he could put Coach Phillips in the position that he's in. I'm just excited to watch Big Blue Nation this year and watch Randall (Cobb) and Mike (Hartline) and Derrick (Locke) and all those guys and see them go out there and do what they need to do."

Perhaps saving the season, the Kentucky baseball team got a dramatic come-from-behind win Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium on a walk-off home run from junior Lance Ray. The junior-college transfer's three-run home run with one out and two runners on in the bottom of the ninth gave UK a much-needed 11-9 series-opening win.

It was Ray's second three-run home run of the game and quite possibly the biggest round tripper of the season.

After suffering five walk-off losses this season, Kentucky had to have one of its own to remain alive in its postseason push. Two games out of first place for the eighth and final spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with two weekends to go, a loss Friday night might have buried the Cats for good.

Instead, with an unbelievable, emotional win, UK remains firmly in the race with five league games left.

A full release detailing all the action will be on the home page shortly. Check below for full video interviews with Friday night's stars:

Junior outfielder Lance Ray


 


Head coach Gary Henderson


Freshman pitcher Walter Wijas

Live blog: UK baseball vs. No. 20 LSU

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The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. The team will blog about its experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat Fans,

Thanks for checking in! We have been SO busy here in Prague the last couple of days. We played team Olymp Praha, a club team here in Prague, on Thursday evening and we lost in four sets. But today, we came back and beat Olymp Praha after a good night's rest and played very well, winning the match in four sets. The gymnasium is really old looking and definitely has a different feel than the gyms and arenas that the girls are used to playing in. It was really great to see the girls readjust and come back to win today.

As for the sightseeing, yesterday we woke up early in the morning and headed on our quest to the Prague Castle. We had to walk quite a ways from our hotel, but it was beautiful scenery. We walked through a park, up a steep hill, and at the top, could see just a beautiful skyline of Prague. It was truly a sight to behold. From there, we went to the tip top of Prague as we ascended up a 1/3 scale model of the Eifel Tower to get an even better view of the city. From atop the tower, you could see miles away and the entire city of Prague. One of the things our tour guide Jurka pointed out to us was the largest stadium in the world, which seats over 200,000 people. It was HUGE! After that, we headed over towards the castle which was really awesome. The architecture and art styles were unbelievable. It's unlike anything you can see in the United States. Inside the Castle is huge Catholic Cathedral that we went inside of and toured for a little while. Jurka said that it took 150 years to build.

After seeing the Castle, we came back down the hill and walked back over the Charles Bridge back into the Old Town Square where we were able to get some food and check out some more of the city. From there we came back and got ready for the match, which we lost. After the match we went over to a real Czech restaurant called the Czech Pub where Jurka ordered us five different dishes. The first was a potato dish with a cheese sauce. The second was fried cheese, similar to cheese sticks back in the U.S. The third dish was potato pancakes with chicken, mushrooms and onions, which was my personal favorite. The fourth was a goulash with bread and potato dumplings. And last was a dessert with ice cream, whipped cream, pancakes and fruit. It was really a lot of fun.

Today, we left at 9:30, while most of you were sound asleep, and hopped on another tram to head to the gymnasium for our second match. We were victorious today, which made both the girls and coaches very happy. Then the team talked and got pictures with the Czech team before we headed back to the hotel for lunch. Tonight, the girls will be headed for one of the biggest and most popular discos in Prague, which is a dance club. All of the girls are very excited about it. And then tomorrow morning at 8:30, we will be heading to our next destination, Vienna, Austria, then on to Maribor, Slovenia! Hopefully the rain won't follow us there! Check back in tomorrow, hopefully we I will be able to put up some more video and pictures of our journey. Thanks for checking in with us, and we hope everyone is doing well back home! GO BIG BLUE!!!

Heartbreak hotel for softball, baseball

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One could only imagine the feeling Rachel Lawson's club had to experience Thursday evening as the Kentucky softball team suffered a devastating 2-1 walk-off loss.

Leading 1-0 in the top of the seventh inning behind a Molly Johnson solo home run and a sparkling pitching performance by sophomore Chanda Bell, a more than three-hour rain delay halted action in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament with just mere outs to go.

Even when play resumed, Kentucky looked like it was headed to an upset in the first round for the second straight year. Sophomore Rachel Riley, who came on in relief of Bell in the sixth inning, recorded two quick outs in the final frame.

However, with just one out to go, LSU staged a dramatic comeback.  After Allison Falcon ripped a double, Kirsten Shortridge belted a two-out, walk-off home run to down UK 2-1.

It's a scene that's been all too familiar for Kentucky teams on the diamond this season.
Just two days earlier, the UK baseball led by eight runs heading into bottom of the eighth inning only to suffer a shocking walk-off loss in a wild 18-17 loss to Indiana. 

It is safe to say that heartbreak and devastation have certainly not eluded the UK baseball and softball teams this year.

For those of you keeping tabs at home, the baseball team has now suffered five walk-off losses this season, including blown leads against at Louisville and at Arkansas. 

While softball's gut-wrenching loss in Thursday's SEC Tournament was softball's first-walk off defeat of the season, it was not its first late-game loss. On the year, the team has dropped five games when leading after five innings.

Against No. 2 Michigan two weeks ago, the UK softball team dropped back-to-back games to the Wolverines heading into the sixth inning with a lead.

Two things I take from the late-game losses by both teams: One, I wonder how much better shape each team would be in if they nailed things down late in games and churned out a few more wins. And two, I also wonder how close the teams are to a breaking point.

Both teams have responded admirably to tough losses all season long, but I'm also a firm believer that there comes a point when heartbreaking losses start to add up. There is only so much devastation a team's morale can take.

I am certainly not predicting that the wheels are about to come off for both teams after a difficult week, because, as I said above, both teams have responded time and time again.

But with the season dwindling down and the stakes becoming higher and higher by the day, now is the time to put the walk-off losses behind them. One more heartbreaking loss at this time of the year and the teams won't have a chance to bounce back - it will mean an offseason of heartache.

Calipari says he's staying at Kentucky

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MBSK 09_10 UK_Ole Miss Web 09.jpgIf you believe what the mass media is saying, head coach John Calipari is as good as gone if LeBron James ends up as a free-agent signee anywhere else but New York.

If you believe what Calipari is saying, he will be the coach at Kentucky next season.

After a firestorm of speculation and rumors Thursday night, Calipari tweeted Friday morning that he will be the coach at Kentucky next season for the second year of his contract.

"I've said many times that I've got the best job in the country," Calipari said via twitter. "Still the speculation runs wild and I can't stop that. I want to address this with the Big Blue Nation one last time, I will be coaching at Kentucky next year. Now let's finish what we started!"

The twitter message came just hours after the ouster of NBA superstar James from the NBA Playoffs. James will enter the offseason as arguably the most sought-after free agent in NBA history, and, in light of several reports over the last couple of weeks, many in the media believe that Calipari will bolt for the NBA if he is given the chance to coach his close friend.

"We'll see what happens," James said after Thursday night's Game 6 loss to the Boston Celtics.

Calipari has repeatedly said he is happy at his job at Kentucky in the face of the rumors.

On May 4, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart released a statement that said the school was in initial discussions on restructuring Calipari's contracts "so that he's the coach at Kentucky until he retires." That direction does not appear to have changed courses after Calipari's strong and definitive statement Friday morning.

Barnhart expressed confidence Thursday after a UK Athletics Association Board of Directors meeting that Calipari will be at Kentucky for at least the near future.

"I'm very confident he's going to be our head coach next year ... and I feel very confident good times are ahead," Barnhart said.

The UK men's tennis team will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex for the second year in a row.

UK, the No. 12 seed in the 64-team field, will host Cleveland State on Saturday at 1 p.m.  Should the Cats win, they would take on the winner of Georgia Tech and Binghamton on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Head coach Dennis Emery and sophomores Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek preview this weekend's tournament in the videos below:


USTA.com also has a Q and A feature with Quigley's mother on his tennis career.

UK volleyball in Europe

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The Kentucky volleyball team is on a two-week trip to Europe as a part of the Bring It program. The Wildcats will have the opportunity to play seven matches against teams ranging from European professionals to junior national teams while experiencing the culture of five different countries. The team will blog about its experiences while in Europe. 

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Hey Wildcat fans,

This is Ryan Suckow, the manager of the UK volleyball team. We have just completed our first day of our trip to Europe with a long day of travel, practice and sightseeing in Prague. Most of us have had little sleep after a long flight from Cincinnati to New York, then from New York to Prague, where we landed at 7 a.m. (1 a.m. ET). After landing, we headed into downtown Prague, went to the hotel and then got our first taste of European volleyball. We practiced in preparation for the Czech Republic Junior National Team, whom we will play tomorrow evening.

After practice, we got our first real taste of the food here in Prague and ate some specialty sandwiches and also some pizza from a restaurant across from the gym. We got to take the electric tramway back to the hotel and got to rest up for a little bit before we went on our first real expedition in Prague. We got to see old downtown Prague, which had beautiful architecture dating back several centuries. It's really a beautiful and breathtaking place. We walked over the historic Charles Bridge and headed into downtown Prague and the Old Town Square. There were all kinds of little neat shops, ranging from clothing, souvenirs, puppets and gelato ice cream shops among others. The gelato was a big hit with the girls today. Everyone got to walk around and see the downtown area before reconvening for dinner, where we had family style pizza and pasta to fill us all up after a long and tiresome day.

The city has been great and everyone is having tons of fun already. We are very excited about what tomorrow has in store for us. We have more sightseeing in the morning followed by our first match tomorrow evening. Thanks for checking in and I will have another blog post for you tomorrow evening updating you about the day's events and how we did in our match! GO BIG BLUE!

Is softball in or out?

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For a program that has been to the NCAA Tournament just once and to the Southeastern Conference Tournament only twice, the Kentucky softball team knows not to take the postseason for granted.

As the team enters its third SEC Tournament on Thursday, it knows it isn't firmly in the NCAA Tournament.

Last year, in a similar position as the No. 6 seed in the league tournament, UK cemented itself in the Big Dance with a huge victory over No. 3 seed and seventh-ranked Georgia. Now, as a No. 6 seed again, the Cats are set to take on No. 3 seed LSU.

If the Cats can't pull off a similar win and make it to the tournament semifinals, should they still feel safely in the 64-team NCAA Tournament?

As of the May 4 rankings, UK boasts an RPI of 30, sixth best in the SEC. With four wins over top-10 teams and 30 wins already in the books, chances are the team is probably in.

Having said that, a win over top-15 LSU on Thursday at noon would go a long way in calming some anxious feelings on Selection Sunday.

UK men's basketball leads nation in attendance

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MBSK 09_10 UK_UNC Web  30.jpgKentucky basketball fans have once again laid claim to having the most passionate fan base in college sports.

For the fifth consecutive season and the 14th time in the last 15 years, the UK men's basketball team led Division I in total home attendance and average home attendance. In 2009-10, 433,989 fans packed Rupp Arena in 18 home games, an average of 24,111 fans a game. Kentucky's total home attendance was the best for a school since Syracuse had 460,752 fans in the 1991-92 season.

Rupp Arena's capacity is listed at 23,000.

UK's average home attendance was nearly 2,000 more fans than second-place Syracuse, which averaged 22,152 fans per game. Louisville (19,397), Tennessee (19,168) and North Carolina (17,786) rounded out the top five averages.

Thanks to a 35-3 record, new head coach John Calipari and a star-studded freshman class, Kentucky's average attendance number rose from 22,554 in the 2009-10 season. This year's mark of 24,111 per game is the highest average mark in Division I basketball since Syracuse averaged 24,245 fans during the 1994-95 season.

UK also led all-game attendance -- including home, road and neutral-site games -- with 724,145 fans watching 38 Wildcat games.

A total of 27,539,459 fans, fourth all-time, saw NCAA Division I basketball this year, an average of 5,245 fans per game.

The Big Ten led the nation for the 34th consecutive year in conference attendance (12,591 average). The Southeastern Conference ranked second (11,770).

Baseball power numbers are up

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Like a rolling wave, Kentucky baseball power numbers have gone up and down for the past five years.

During the 2006 Southeastern Conference championship season, UK plated a school-record 500 runs behind a whopping 99 home runs. Then, like a power cord was pulled, Kentucky's home runs dipped to just 44 round trippers in 2007.

For the next few years, the numbers would go up in even years and down in odd years. In 2008, UK hit 83 home runs behind the bats of Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill, followed by only 56 home runs in 2009.

Staying true to the trend in 2010, the power numbers are back up. With more than two weeks of the regular season to play, UK has belted 70 home runs, tied for second in the SEC behind Auburn.

Coincidence or not, when UK's home run numbers have been high (2006 and 2008), the team has made the NCAA Tournament. When they've been down (2007 and 2009), the team has failed to even make the SEC Tournament.

Could that be a good omen for a team fighting for its postseason life with two weeks to play? Who knows, but there is no doubt the numbers are up during a year when pitching -not hitting - was supposed to be the team's strength.

UK's boost in home runs can be attributed to a steady balance of power hitters. Five players on UK's roster have hit seven or more home runs, including a team-leading 11 round trippers from senior Gunner Glad and sophomore Andy Burns. That list doesn't include junior-college transfer Lance Ray, who has hit five home runs over his last 14 games and six overall.

Kentucky has also seen a rapid increase in stolen bases this season. The Cats far and away lead the league in steals this season with 102 stolen bags, 30 more than second-place Florida.

So if UK's power numbers are up and the team is stealing bases at a frequent rate, why are the Cats not already firmly in the SEC Tournament?

Quite frankly, the pitching (5.38 ERA) hasn't lived up to expectations because of the loss of James Paxton and the absence of sophomore ace Alex Meyer for three weekends. In their absence, freshmen and relievers have been forced into starting roles, further forcing head coach Gary Henderson to toss in highly inexperienced guys into relief and weekday starting pitching duty.

It is a domino effect that has held this year's team in check.

Also, for as great as the power numbers have been this season, UK has failed to bring in runs when the ball isn't leaving the yard. Kentucky ranks 10th in runs scored (332) and 11th in RBI (301). Essentially, when the Cats are reaching scoring position, they're not coming through with enough hits in clutch situations to bring the runs in.

Having said all that, the only numbers that matter at this point in the season are two and eight. UK (9-15) is two games back of the eighth and final spot for the SEC Tournament with two weekends to play, with Tennessee (11-13) and Alabama (10-14) standing in the team's way.

A lot will have to happen for the Cats to squeak in, but there is no doubt the series win against No. 4 South Carolina saved the season for now.

Kentucky hits the road for a nonconference showdown with border state rival Indiana on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

May 9 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, May 9:

Baseball: Jordan Cooper

Week Stats: 1-0, 1.35 ERA, 1 GS, 6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO, .182 BAA
Season Stats: 3-4, 5.11 ERA, 18 APP, 6 GS, 49.1 IP, 57 H, 32 R, 28 ER, 24 BB, 30 SO, .289 BAA

After Kentucky fell in the series-opening to No. 4 South Carolina on Friday, UK turned the ball over to freshman Jordan Cooper for his third career SEC start Saturday ... Cooper responded to shutdown the Gamecocks, helping UK even the series with his third win of the season, hand USC its first series loss in 10 SEC weekends, dating back to 2009 ... Tossed a career-high 6.2 innings, allowing only four hits and one run, walking two and striking out a career-best five ... With Cooper dueling with South Carolina standout Sam Dyson, the two strong-armed right-handers posted four consecutive scoreless innings to start the game ... USC struck first, getting its lone run in the form of a solo home run from Evan Marzilli, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth, with UK responded with a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth, taking a 2-1 lead ... Cooper then blanked USC in the sixth after UK took the lead and got the first two outs in the seventh inning, setting the stage for closer Matt Little to procure his seventh save of the season ... In his six starts the season, Cooper owns a 2.49 ERA and in his 12 relief outings, owns a 7.88 ERA ... All told in his freshman campaign, Cooper - a 17th round MLB Draft pick by the Pittsburg Pirates - has posted a 3-4 record and a 5.11 ERA in 49.1 inning, striking out 30.

SBL 09_10 UK_AP Game1 Web 60.jpgThe UK softball team (31-24, 13-15 Southeastern Conference) will make its second consecutive SEC Tournament appearance later this week and only the third league tournament since the program's inception in 1997.

The sixth-seeded Cats will take on third-seeded LSU on Thursday at noon ET in Fayetteville, Ark. Last year, as the No. 6 seed, UK defeated No. 3 seed Georgia for the program's first postseason victory.

Head coach Rachel Lawson was on an SEC teleconference Monday to field questions about the upcoming SEC Tournament and where her team is at is tries to make its second consecutive NCAA Tournament. The full transcript is below:

Question: Can you please comment on your team as it prepares for LSU?
Lawson: The team feels pretty good right now. They're psyched. They keep talking about how they feel like pros because it's summer break without school and everything. They're in pretty good spirits and we're just trying to get everything ready for Thursday.

Question: You had some success in the tournament last year as a No. 6 seed. You're in the same spot this year. How can you benefit from that and is that something you can use going into the week?
Lawson: The cool thing about it is -- obviously we know all the teams in the SEC Tournament are tremendous and they can pretty much beat everybody -- but we feel pretty good about the fact that we have been able to beat some of the top teams as well. We're confident and just being in the tournament last year was a big step for us. Nobody had really understood how to go to postseason play or how long a season could be and all that. It really helps as the season goes on with the grind or working through the SEC and everything. I just think a year of experience is really going to help us this year.

Question: Who are your starting candidates for Thursday and what is the setup is of your staff?
Lawson: That's going to be interesting going into Thursday. We've done a pretty good with all our pitchers typically finishing their games, so that's something we've usually gone with. Last time we played LSU, which was just about a week ago, they did a pretty good job. We didn't do a very good job in the circle of shutting them down. Amber Matousek actually did the best job so we're looking heavily at her. We have been all year going with Rachel Riley and Chanda Bell as well, so we're kind of seeing how they're feeling going into this week and then we'll make that decision probably Wednesday night.

Question: Taking a look at Kentucky's schedule, I think a lot of our eyes popped when we saw that Michigan was in the middle of all that conference play. What did the team learn about itself playing the Wolverines, the No. 2 team in the country?
Lawson: First of all, Michigan, I don't know how many people have had an opportunity to play up there, but it is an awesome environment. It's got a great facility and how the stadium is set up, it's a very loud stadium and they have a great crowd. So for us, first and foremost, it was a great tune-up for the SEC Tournament and hopefully going into regionals. That was the first thing was to just be in that environment. We did a really good job that weekend of, offensively, we put up a lot of hits. We probably outhit them. We didn't do as good of a job as we normally do in the circle and defensively, so that was a little disappointing, but we feel confident that we can bounce back in that part of our game. We just felt good about the offensive numbers we put up and the runs we were able to put up against a great Michigan team.

Question: What was Michigan's reaction to your play?
Lawson: They're pretty stoic. I'll be honest with you, after the game we were kind of like "ugh," because you never like to lose. Their fans came up to us and they were so impressed by the effort that we put out and the fact that we had them on the ropes twice. They actually said that we were one of the best teams -- if not the best team -- that had come into (there to play them). The fans actually came up to our team and were talking to them, so we thought that was a really interesting environment to be in. Overall, we feel good about how we played in Michigan. We weren't satisfied with the fact that we lost, but we feel pretty hopeful and feel confident about going into this next weekend.

Sunday night notes

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- Former Wildcat Rajon Rondo put on one of the greatest performances of the NBA Playoffs this year on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rondo recorded a triple-double, scoring 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. If you haven't seen the highlights, please check them out on ESPN.com. Rondo's behind-the-back pass that faked out LeBron James is sensational. It was truly one of the all-time greatest performances by a Wildcat in the NBA Playoffs. If you can name one better, please do in the comments section. If you were drafting an NBA team from scratch and had your choice of picking any point guard in the NBA, who are you picking? Even in a league with Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, it would be wise to take a hard look at Rondo. A friend of mine made a great observation that I wanted to share. He said that Rondo's lack of an outside shot is actually an advantage for him. Teams play so far off of him because of his lack of a shot and his quickness that they give one of the game's greatest passers even more lanes to distribute the ball. I don't know how big of a difference it makes, but I thought it was interesting.

- It looks like former UK linebacker Sam Maxwell has finally gotten the break he was hoping for. According to his twitter account, @YoungMax50, Maxwell has signed a free-agent contract with the New Orleans Saints. On Sunday night, Maxwell tweeted, "officially a New orleans Saint BABY!!!! all i need is a foot in the window WHO DAT!!!" Nothing official on the New Orleans Saints website, but we'll take Maxwell's word for it. If the signing is indeed official, that would mean 26 UK players since 2007 have signed NFL contracts. Simply amazing when one considers where this program came from.

UK baseball still alive and kicking

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This was supposed to be the weekend we officially buried the Kentucky baseball team.

Two games back of the eighth and final spot for the Southeastern Conference Tournament isn't a mountain to climb, but it's no small hill either. With three series to go, one against the No. 4 team in the nation and the other against the defending national champion, the situation appeared dire for the Cats heading into a three-game home stand this past weekend against SEC -leading South Carolina.

Pitcher Alex Meyer was slated to return Sunday after nearly a four-week absence, but what you can expect from a guy who has been bedridden with mononucleosis is anyone's guess.

If you're looking for an analogy, the Cats were standing on their burial plot staring straight down at a six-foot hole. The No. 4 Gamecocks were in town to close the casket, especially after a series-opening 13-9 loss on Friday night.

Then, with two brilliant pitching efforts on Saturday and Sunday - one by a freshman that has been thrust into a starting role (Jordan Cooper) and one by a guy who could hardly stand up under his own strength - UK suddenly has life again. The Cats took two of three from South Carolina, one of the top teams in baseball, with a 9-3 win Sunday at Cliff Hagan Stadium in a game UK had to have to stay alive in the SEC race.

"For us, it's just a big boost, especially for the guys that threw this weekend," said junior second baseman Chris Bisson, whose two-run single in the four-run eighth helped seal the victory for UK. "You've got two freshmen (pitchers) and a sophomore just completely shutting the lights out and doing a great job all weekend. I couldn't be prouder of our guys. Confidence wise, it's out the roof. That's a great ballclub over there. For us to do that to them, it just gives us a lot of confidence."

It was South Carolina's first loss in 10 SEC series dating back to last year.

Cooper pitched UK to a 2-1 gritty victory over South Carolina on Saturday night and Meyer followed Sunday with seven innings of three-run, four-hit ball. After surrendering three in the first, Meyer was nearly unhittable, allowing just two hits after the first.

"It was good to get back out there," Meyer said. "I tried to keep my emotions down as much as I could. It was a big day for me. It feels like a whole new season being able to go back out there. To go out there and get a win like that against a very, very good team means a lot to us. Hopefully it shows what we've got and keeps it rolling into next weekend."

Meyer, long considered a possible first-round pick in next year's MLB Draft, has been wildly inconsistent this season, yielding a 7.30 ERA coming into Sunday's contest. For the first time maybe all year, Meyer pitched up to his potential.

Once he calmed down from a bumpy first inning, he threw with the velocity and confidence that has MLB scouts drooling. He routinely got ahead of hitters, his fastball hit in the upper 90s and his breaking ball touched the corners for key strikeouts (six overall).

Meyer, despite tossing 111 pitches in his return appearance from a fatigue-based illness, said he felt no ill effects from his bout with mono.

"I didn't really feel much fatigue today," Meyer said. "I got a good night's sleep last night. They came out and hit (batting practice this morning), so I got to sleep in a little bit. That probably helped out a little bit. But I didn't feel too much of anything today. I felt normal."

Meyer could have folded when an error, a hit batter and a passed ball led to three unearned runs in the first frame, but a talk with head coach Gary Henderson calmed Meyer down.

"I told him you can change who you are when the game's going and it doesn't go your way," Henderson said. "You don't have to continue to be the same guy forever. You have the power to make that adjustment. Grow up."

Maybe the rest of the team heard Henderson send Meyer a message because they've somehow responded against pretty steep odds. For a team that has experienced more than its fair share of bad luck (loss of James Paxton and Meyer) and late-inning losses, it could have cracked two weeks ago.

To Henderson's credit, the team has stayed strong and now finds itself in a three-way battle with Tennessee and Alabama for the final spot in the postseason.

"(Meyer) gave us a lot of things. One of them was seven innings of competitiveness," Henderson said. "Another was a continued message to the rest of the kids on our team that we can play with some poise when things don't go your way."

Although Henderson would have much rather had Meyer during those three weekend series he missed, the absence could actually turn out to be an advantage now.

While he was gone, the offense awoke and has actually been quite good for most of the conference season. Since the start of April, Kentucky is averaging 7.1 runs per game.

Pitching wise, Cooper gained invaluable experience and could be a key commodity down the stretch, whether that is out of the bullpen or in the starting rotation. Freshman Taylor Rogers has proven he's a capable weekend starter, and once Logan Darnell returns from what looks to be a minor bout with tendinitis, you can either put him back in the starting rotation or insert him into a previous role as a lefty specialist.

Either way, for the first time in a long time, Kentucky has depth on the mound. And it has newfound confidence.

Because as much as you can preach about staying tough and hanging in there, the will to keep fighting can only last you so long. A 4-9 record in Meyer's absence proves that you need talent too.

Fortunately for the Cats, they've got their star talent back for the final home stretch.

"Gritty, gutty only serves you so much," Henderson said.

Only time will tell if the return of Meyer came in time - and if it will be enough. UK still sits behind the proverbial eight ball with two weeks remaining in the league, but this team is still alive and kicking.

At least for one more weekend, don't bury UK baseball quite yet.

Bledsoe, Orton decision no surprise

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Apologies for being away from the blog today. Graduation ceremonies for the University of Kentucky took me away for the majority of the morning and afternoon.

The news of the day while I was gone was obviously the decision of freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton to keep their names in the NBA Draft and forego their remaining eligibility at UK.

What would have seemed like a huge blow a month ago has really come as no surprise. I think fans could see this decision coming for the last two weeks, and from inside the UK athletics department, just about everyone knew Bledsoe and Orton would not be back.

The UK men's basketball team knew as much as it has been busy recruiting for the losses of all five underclassmen (Bledsoe, Orton, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson). UK has already locked up four top-50 signees in Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Stacey Poole.

I think it would be unrealistic to think those four signees are going to come in and make up for the 83.3 percent of scoring UK will lose from this past year, but the news that Bledsoe and Orton are gone certainly isn't the end of the one-year progress head coach John Calipari has made.

Congratulations to seniors

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Just wanted to take the time to congratulate the long list of student-athletes that will graduate Saturday from the University of Kentucky. Commencement ceremonies will be going on all day long at Rupp Arena.

Their play on the field often makes us overlook their accomplishments in the classroom, but Saturday's graduation ceremony will be just as special for a lot of the student-athletes as any championship or win.

UK will carry the main commencement ceremony live online at www.uky.edu/Commencement beginning at 1:45 p.m. The ceremony is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. 

SBL 09_10 UK_LSU Game3 Web 21.jpgMolly Johnson is the most important player in Kentucky softball history. She is quite possibly the most important player to her team in college softball.

"There are awards for most valuable player and I don't know if there is one for most exceptional player, but there should be one because she is the most exceptional player on our team," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "She can throw and she is fast, she is strong, she can hit, she does all the intangible things right and she does everything right off the field. There aren't many people like her. They are few and far between, and we've benefited from who she is. I'm not sure we'd be able to do what we've done without her. I doubt it, but I don't know if the program would be where it is now without her."

Johnson was the most important player her freshman year when former coach Eileen Schmidt sat Johnson and second baseman Natalie Smith down and told them it was time to stop playing like freshmen and take control of the team. She was the biggest reason UK went from 20 wins to 34 wins and the program's first NCAA Tournament in two short years.

And Johnson will be the biggest reason that, when her career ends in just a few short weeks, the UK softball program will carry on as successful as it has ever been, broken free from the chain of belief that mediocrity and losing is OK.

"Freshman and sophomore year everybody loved to come play Kentucky because they figured they could get a couple of wins," Johnson said. "They always wanted to put us at the end of their schedule."

Who could blame them? Kentucky was the annual doormat to the postseason. Without a single NCAA Tournament berth when Johnson arrived on the scene in 2007, one has to wonder why a player that can throw a softball 80 miles per hour -- harder than the majority of her male counterparts -- hit near .400 and carry a stagnant program out of the annual basement of the Southeastern Conference even bothered to risk her career at a struggling program like Kentucky's.

"I could have gone to schools that had already made a name for themselves, but I was looking a program that I could really help improve," said Johnson, likening her first visit to UK, a trip in which she immediately verbally committed to the school, as love at first site.

Now four years later, Johnson has carried UK to the brink of two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history. Johnson isn't solely responsible for the unbelievable turnaround -- veterans like Smith, Megan Yocke, Meagan Aull, pitchers Chanda Bell, Rachel Riley and more have all had a big hand in turning things around -- but she has carried the biggest load.

Lawson, now in her third year as skipper, secretly calls Johnson "the trailblazer," a nickname all too appropriate for the All-American shortstop. When she arrived her freshman season, she emerged from a team of veterans and pointed out that losing was not OK.

"I don't think the upperclassmen knew anything other than losing," Johnson said. "I think that's where our freshman class really changed it because we had come from winning programs before college and didn't like to lose. No one likes to lose. We weren't going to take losing as an answer."

SBL 09_10 UK_LSU Game3 Web 62.jpgThe program started to gather talent Johnson's sophomore season when Lawson arrived as head coach, but the major leap came last year. Without coincidence, the team made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament behind a .433 batting average, .498 on-base percentage, 53 runs, 81 hits and 34 RBI from Johnson. The runs scored, hits and on-base percentage were all single-season UK records.

"She has an exceptional talent and she's very consistent," Lawson said. "Her output is unbelievable. There's not a day I don't go out to the field that I'm not thoroughly impressed and enjoy watching her play, just from a fan's perspective. I'm going to miss that most. I love softball and to be able to see somebody that's so great and do something that other people can't do on a regular basis, that definitely stands her ahead of everyone else."

Johnson earned an invitation to play with Team USA and was named an All-American after last season, both program firsts. Her numbers have leveled off this year just a bit (if you consider a .375 average, 10 home runs and .671 slugging percentage leveling off) as teams have learned more about her and approached her differently, but UK already finds itself locked in the SEC Tournament, a league tourney the school almost never made, on the shoulders of Johnson's production and leadership.

Lawson called Johnson a smarter player than the one that blazed through the SEC as an underclassman.

"She's more mature in how she handles situations and I think that comes with age and experience," Lawson said. "I think her experience last year in the Southeastern Conference and national tournament, and this summer when she played on the national team with all of those elite players, I think she got to see a different perspective. I think that maturity has helped her become a steady player and have a greater understanding of what her role is.

"She knows the team has to be on her back. She knows if we're going to go anywhere, she has to be one of the main people that lead us there. Her understanding and her ability to deal with that pressure has been an increase in our game this season."

The immediate future for Johnson includes pro ball and wrapping up school. Johnson was drafted in February as the second overall pick by the Tennessee Diamonds of the National Pro Fastpitch League, where she will play this summer before she returns in the fall to finish her degree in kinesiology and help as a volunteer student coach.

UK closes out its regular season this weekend at Ole Miss before heading to the SEC Tournament. After that, the Cats will have to wait patiently to hear word of their NCAA Tournament fate.

Whether or not Kentucky makes it won't have an effect on the legacy Johnson has left on the program. Regardless of the records she has has broken -- many of which may never be broken -- she is, without a doubt, the most important player to put on a Kentucky uniform. Her impact on the budding program will continually to be felt years after she graduates.

"Every program needs someone to change the face of the program," Lawson said.

Johnson has certainly been that player.

Thursday afternoon notes

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- ESPN Insider Chad Ford released version 1.0 of his NBA Mock Draft. To no surprise, Kentucky Wildcats litter the first-round draft projections. Ford has point guard John Wall going No. 1, forward DeMarcus Cousins No. 4, forward Daniel Orton No. 11, forward Patrick Patterson No. 12 and guard Eric Bledsoe No. 18. It's truly amazing to see how a guy like Orton, who played sparingly in his first season at UK, has risen so high. It's worth repeating that should the NBA Draft on June 24 go according to Ford's mock draft, it would be the first time in NBA history that four players from the same team were selected with the top 12 picks. You must be an ESPN Insider to view the full mock draft.

- With a 12-game improvement from the season before, the UK men's basketball team posted the third-best turnaround among all NCAA Division I programs this past year. Only Coastal Carolina (plus 15) and Loyola Marymount (plus 13.5) had better improvements from the 2009 final records to the 2010 final marks. The game improvements factor in wins, losses and total number of games played.

- Former Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks made a pretty distinguished list ranked by CollegeFootballNews.com. After guiding the Cats to four consecutive bowl games, the website ranked Brooks No. 5 as one of the top five coaching hires in the Southeastern Conference over the last decade. Brooks beat out the likes of national championship head coach Les Miles of LSU, Bobby Petrino of Arkansas and newly hired Derek Dooley at Tennessee. Florida's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Nick Saban and Georgia's Mark Richt ranked 1-4, respectively.

- Very good story by ESPN blogger Chris Low on senior defensive end DeQuin Evans. Low looks back at Evans' journey into college football, his upbringing in a rough neighborhood and how he managed to land in Kentucky.

- UPDATE at 5:15 p.m.: Former UK golfer J.B. Holmes is making noise on the first day of the PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, long considered the fifth major of the PGA Tour. Holems shot an opening-round 6-under-par 66 and currently sits in second place behind Robert Allenby as the first round continues. Check out live stats at ESPN.com.

Meyer to return in time for postseason push

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BSB 08_09 UK_Vandy Game 3 web 02.jpgThis wasn't how Alex Meyer envisioned his sophomore season.

Wrapped up under covers, bedside, with his radio dialed into the Big Blue Sports Network, much like he did when he was a little kid growing up watching the big leagues, Meyer listened from a distance as the Kentucky baseball team fought for its postseason life.

Weekend by weekend, with a depleted bullpen and lack of an ace arm, Meyer listened as his team fell from in the thick of the Southeastern Conference Tournament race to the outside looking in.

With three weeks left in the regular season and his team two games back of the eighth and final spot in the league tournament, Meyer, like a knight in shining armor, is set to return from a four-week battle with mononucleosis.

Meyer is slated to take the ball Sunday as UK's starter.

"I'm really happy to be able to come back, especially in the situation we're in where we need to be winning," Meyer said. "I guess I came back at the right time. Maybe it could have been a week earlier or two. I'm excited to be back and hopefully get us on the right track."

Meyer, arguably the top prospect to ever sign with Kentucky, last pitched against Alabama on April 10 in a three-run, five-inning outing.

Mononucleosis, a common viral illness that can leave a person extremely tired and fatigued, can last for weeks and sometimes even months. Meyer admitted Thursday that he isn't back to 100 percent, but Meyer and the UK training staff deemed him fit enough to pitch in a pivotal three-game series against SEC East foe South Carolina this weekend.

"I feel good," Meyer said. "I'm not at 100 percent, obviously. I'm out of shape. I haven't been able to run or lift weights while I've been out, so I feel kind of weak. I was talking to coach (Gary) Henderson and he doesn't think it's going to take long to get it back because I was in pretty good shape before I got sick."

Meyer struggled with consistency when he was healthy, going 4-2 with a bloated 7.30 ERA, but there is no doubt UK is a better team when he is in the starting rotation. Meyer's fastball has been clocked as high as 100 miles per hour and just about every scout one could talk to believes Meyer is a surefire future first-round draft pick.

Meyer provides some much-needed depth to a pitching rotation that has been patched together by freshman arms and a reliever-turned-starter, junior Logan Darnell, who has been forced into the ace role in the wake of Meyer's absence and the James Paxton decision.

If anything, the Cats are fortunate to even be alive this late in the year with a makeshift rotation, but freshmen Taylor Rogers and Jordan Cooper have pitched valiantly.

Meyer said the bout with mono had no previous affect on his struggles before the Alabama series. The first time he showed symptoms was in practice the week before his Alabama outing. After being incorrectly diagnosed with strep throat, Meyer was sent home after his Sunday start with fatigue and told to see a doctor. By that Tuesday, he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and was told he would miss the next three to four weeks.

Because he's only practiced a few times -- once last week, once Wednesday and one scheduled for Thursday -- Meyer imagines he will have a pitch count, although he doesn't know what it will be. His only objective in his first start in nearly a month is to keep the ball down and last as long as he can.

An overworked and tired pitching staff could certainly use the help. More importantly, so could a team fighting for its postseason life.

"It's probably been two weeks ago after the Alabama series where everybody thought we were fine," Meyer said. "Everybody was relaxed and thought we were pretty much in at that time. Now we're at the point where we can't afford to lose too many more games. We still have the right mindset. We still think that we have a great shot and we're a good team. We have a great shot to make the postseason still. We need to just turn the notch up a bit and get some more wins."

Rogers will get the start Friday followed by Cooper on Saturday and Meyer on Sunday. Darnell, previously a weekend starter, will be available out of the bullpen.

A day after his name once again resurfaced for an NBA head coaching job, head coach John Calipari took to the Internet airwaves to reassure anxious Kentucky fans that Lexington is the place he wants to be.

"Alright, everybody, calm down," Calipari said in an audio tweet on Lexy.com. "Take a breath. People can think whatever with rumors.  Let me tell you, I'm happy to be the coach at Kentucky. I love it. I'm having a ball. Now I'm going to tell you, it is a hard job - hard, the hardest job I've ever had - but I absolutely love it."

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart sent out a statement Tuesday night indicating that the school was undergoing preliminary talks to restructure Calipari's contract. The new contract would, according to Barnhart, would keep Calipari at Kentucky "until he retires."

Calipari confirmed the contract negotiations Wednesday but said the restructuring of the contract would not include a raise.

"Mitch approached me about 10 days ago and said, 'Cal, I want to extend your contract. I want you to be here until you retire,' " Calipari said. "I looked at him and said, 'I like that, I like that. Now I don't want the compensation to change. I'm doing fine. But if there is anything you want to do that is going to make this a better program for our players, our staff (and) maybe make it a little bit easier, I'm all for it, I want to hear it, let's figure that stuff out.' "

Ex-Cat Rondo makes All-Defensive Team

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Thumbnail image for rondo3.9.jpgFormer Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo was one of five players named to the NBA All-Defensive Team on Wednesday, just barely missing out on capturing his first career Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The 2009-10 winner, Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard edged Rondo's 50 points overall (23 first-team votes) with 57 points over.

Rondo, who broke Bob Cousy's Boston Celtics' single-season assists mark, joined Howard, Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Charlotte Bobcats' Gerald Wallace on the first team.

The former Wildcat from 2005-06 far and away led the NBA in steals this season with 189 swipes, 46 more steals than Monta Ellis with the Golden State Warriors.

Rondo has averaged 13.7 points, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game this season in becoming one of the centerpieces of the Boston Celtics.

The UK Ticket Office is making some slight adjustments to the purchasing/ordering process for student season football tickets, which will go on sale June 1 at 9 a.m. for the upcoming fall season.

The basic changes to the ordering process:

- The initial ordering period will begin on June 1 and conclude once the season ticket allotment has been sold.

- The most significant change this year is the introduction of online ordering, beginning June 1, eliminating the paper order forms we have used in previous years.

- Note that you must order a ticket during the initial ordering period to be eligible to participate in the group seating window described below.

- After the ordering period has concluded and you have purchased your season ticket, there will be a "group seating registration window" open online over a period of two weeks in July.

- During this online window, students can log back into their ticket accounts and create a seating group. After setting up a group, you can then email your group info to other students who purchased a season ticket, inviting them to join your seating group. It will be the responsibility of the group leader to share the group info with other students they wish to join their group. All groups must be set up and joined during the "group seating registration window" in July. Groups will be restricted to a maximum size of 50 members each.

- Once the group seating window has closed, the UK Ticket Office will assign seats.

- Your seating location will depend on the time that you initially purchased your season ticket during the initial ordering period. For example, an individual student who purchased a ticket on June 1 will be assigned a better seat than a student who purchased a ticket on June 15. If you join a group, your group's collective "time" will be based on the latest group member to purchase their ticket.

- After all seats have been assigned, students will be able to check their seating locations online in August, and season ticket pick-up will begin on Monday, August 23.

Full details of the ticket process can be found online at http://www.ukathletics.com/tickets/student-tickets.html. For questions, please contact the UK Ticket Office by phone at (800) 928-2287 or (859) 257-1818 or by e-mail at studenttickets@uky.edu.

Video from the CATSPY Awards

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I realize the CATSPY Awards were last week, but if you haven't seen the videos from the awards ceremony, check out the videos below:

Todd elected to Board of Directors

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Kentucky President Lee Todd received a huge honor Wednesday when he was elected as one of three new members to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors.

Todd, who will begin his term in August, was elected alongside Nathan Hatch of Wake Forest and Stedman Upham of Tulsa.

Todd became president at Kentucky in 2001 after serving as senior vice president of IBM's Lotus Development Corp. An engineer by training, Todd graduated from Kentucky in 1968. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees, both in electrical engineering, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received six patents for communications technology. He taught at Kentucky for many years.

By midday Tuesday, Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari was rumored to be one of the top candidates to fill the Chicago Bulls' vacant coaching job. By the end of the day, UK was doing its best to keep Calipari at the school "until he retires."

Let's start with where this all started. At the beginning of the day, former Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro was fired by the Bulls, paving the way for rumors of the top candidates to fill the position. Multiple outlets reported that Calipari's name was on the list.

The rumors appeared to be squashed Tuesday afternoon when Calipari told ESPN's Andy Katz that he had no interest in the position, but the rumors picked up steam in the evening when Adrian Wojnarowski  of Yahoo! Sports reported that Calipari is "intrigured" by the Bulls' position and would be willing to listen to a "pitch from management."

Chicago is thought to be one of the most desirable jobs this offseason because the Bulls' nucleus of young talent - including Derrick Rose, who played under Calipari at Memphis - and ability to make a run at some of the offseason's premier free agents, including Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Calipari friend LeBron James.

So does Calipari have one foot outside the door after just one successful, albeit wild season in Lexington?

"Throughout my career I've been mentioned for other jobs," Calipari said in his tweet. "Now that I'm here (you) won't hear about other colleges because I've got the best job. Every year you will hear my name mentioned for NBA jobs because I coached in the league before. I'm very happy at Kentucky."

Calipari doesn't come out and say that he's not interested in the job and has long been considered a prime candidate to eventually return to the NBA after one up-and-down stint with the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s.

However, the move back to the NBA appears highly unlikely in the near future given the vote of confidence UK Athletics Mitch Barnhart released Tuesday night. In the statement, Barnhart said UK is in discussions on a possible contract extension that could keep Calipari at Kentucky for the remainder of his career.

"I'm extremely proud of what Coach Calipari has done in just one year as the leader of our men's basketball program," Barnhart said in the statement. "Cal has brought Kentucky men's basketball back to its rightful place of national prominence and I'm excited about our future. We have begun initial discussions on restructuring his contract so that he's the coach at Kentucky until he retires."

As a blogger, I'm expected to give some type of an opinion. As an employee of the athletics department, I can't always provide every single bit of information. Having said that, what do I think?

I think you're going to hear these rumors every year. Success, coaching vacancies and rumors all go hand-in-hand. The more Calipari wins, the more you're going to hear about his candidacy for other jobs. It's only natural. In a way, Kentucky fans should feel comfortable because the more Calipari is rumored for other jobs, the higher likelihood the UK program is doing well and winning.

But what about the chance that Calipari leaves? This has absolutely no factual evidence attached to it, but if I'm a betting man - which I'm not - I believe we're going through this same process again next year.

Great story by Brett Dawson of the Courier-Journal today on tennis star Eric Quigley. Dawson profiles Quigley's love for tennis as a child, his rise to the top singles spot at UK and his potential future in the pros.

Check out the full story at the Courier-Journal.

Also, tune into ESPNews today from 5 to 6 p.m. as the No. 11 UK men's tennis team discovers its NCAA Tournament fate.

UK, which totaled its most wins since the 1992 squad, figures to be in the tournament, but the school is also hopeful that it will host a regional for the second straight season. Generally, the top 16 teams capable of hosting a tournament are chosen as host sites.

NFL signees talk about future in the pros

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Cal's offseason plans: 'Getting away'

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MBSK 09_10 Uk_Morehead Web 81.jpgThink back 13 months ago to where the state of the Kentucky basketball program was and who the coach was. A lot has changed since then.

Now, after a whirlwind of a season, head coach John Calipari is inching closer and closer to his real first offseason, as last year he was immersed throughout the summer with getting acclimated to the job and the Commonwealth.

"I love coaching here but this is a hard job," Calipari said Monday at a news conference. "I haven't had a day off in a long time."

Sounds like someone needs a vacation.

"I am looking forward at some point, because we still have to finish this recruiting class, to just getting away," Calipari said. "I think that football coaches are the smartest guys because they have a one month period where they just shut the doors and lock down. They have a period of recruiting where the head coach cannot go out; just assistants. These guys are the smart ones; so much smarter than us."

Calipari still has to wrap up another heralded recruiting class by the May 19 signing period deadline, but the first relatively quiet period he has had since arriving at Kentucky 13 months ago looms ahead.

"I can never remember having two weeks off, but we are going to try to take some time," Calipari said. "It is hard. I have a daughter at Wake Forest and another daughter in honors at Massachusetts and my son. You say, 'Let's go tomorrow.' But my son is in school so is it not as easy as it seems. Then I say, 'OK, well I am going to go.' My wife is really happy about that. I am looking forward to getting away but this is one of those jobs that it is on you. It is a coat and it doesn't leave."

Where might someone who took a National Invitation Tournament team in just a short amount of time and transformed it into a 35-3 Elite Eight team go or do?

"Where someone doesn't know who you are and you can just lay on a beach and relax, exercise, eat and hang out with family and friends," Calipari said.

It is hard to imagine it's only been about a year since Calipari took the reins of the program. So much has happened in the past year that one year seems as if it's been a decade.

We've watched as Calipari has embraced the Bluegrass. We've seen him sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class - quite possibly twice - including the likes of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. We've sat by and watched as thousands crammed the lawn for tickets to a Big Blue Madness like any other. We've witnessed 2,000 wins and the John Wall Dance. We've experienced the program's revival and a No. 1 ranking. We've watched as the program garnered a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and marched to the Elite Eight. And as last year's superstars exit stage right, we're seeing Calipari reload and rebuild what looks to be another star-studded team.

That's quite a bit of accomplishments, especially considering that's just a miniscule snapshot of what this state has experienced in one year's time.

Before he heads to the sandy beaches in the Caribbean or the mountains out West - I know you're just dying to know where he goes - Calipari was asked what he's learned about the expectations of the Kentucky fan base. He offered a recent trip to a coffee store as his answer.

"I'm sitting having a cup of coffee and a guy comes up to me and says, 'Tough year, coach,' Calipari said. "I look up at him and I said, 'You know what makes it tough?' 'What's that?' 'You win 35 games, get to the Elite Eight and a guy comes up to you in a coffee shop and says, 'Tough season, coach.' That's what makes it tough.' "

Even from a guy who said he understood a year ago that this was a fan base unlike any other, it only seems now that he fully understands the uniqueness and passion the UK fan base possesses.

"They want to be relevant," Calipari said. "They want to be relevant in recruiting, they want to be relevant on that court, they want to have a team that people are talking about, that's on national television, that plays a style that they have fun watching. They want us to win as many as we can win - by 20, and then by 30.

Maybe he didn't know what he was getting himself into 13 months ago, but that doesn't mean he regrets it - even for a second.

"There is going to be people that are this, that and the other, but the reality of it is, we have the greatest fans," Calipari said. "They are crazy, they love it, they're passionate. People are still crying about West Virginia. It's nuts. But it's why this is the best college basketball in the country."

Current state of men's basketball roster

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Just as the Kentucky men's basketball roster looks different than it did a month ago, it could look even more different a month from now.

Head coach John Calipari, who held the first news conference of the offseason Monday, addressed the current state of the UK men's basketball roster as it deals with a major roster turnover. Five underclassmen have declared for the NBA Draft, three of which have announced their intentions to stay in the draft, in addition to the graduation of three seniors.

That could leave UK with just five returners (Darnell Dodson, Josh Harrellson, Jon Hood, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller), one of which's status - Dodson - remains "up in the air."

"I don't know yet," Calipari said when asked if Dodson would play next year. "I spoke to him yesterday. He's a good kid."

Calipari declined to elaborate when pressed on why Dodson could be in limbo, citing only a "few different reasons," for his current questionable state. Even if Dodson were to remain with the team, UK may not fill all 13 scholarships.

A lot could ride on the decisions of freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, the remaining two players yet to make a final decision. Calipari anticipates both players staying in the NBA Draft.

"I think they both will," Calipari said. "Can we start by saying this? I've said this a thousand times: I don't like the (NBA age-limit) rule. Have I said that to you all? I don't like the rule. Kids should be able to go directly to the NBA, or like in baseball, if they come to school, they should stay two or three years. I have never wavered, but folks, we have a rule that I have to deal with."

Calipari said that won't stop him from recruiting the "best of the best" players, as has been the case this recruiting season.

Just a year removed from signing the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, Calipari has already inked the nation's No. 3 overall player (forward Enes Kanter), the No. 6 player (point guard Brandon Knight), the No. 21 player (shooting guard Doron Lamb) and the No. 33 player (Stacey Poole).

Calipari had positive things to say about each of UK's current four signees:

- On Poole: "Stacey Poole reminds me a lot of (former Memphis player) Antonio Anderson, and that's me giving him a major, major compliment."

- On Lamb: "Doron Lamb has more of a midlevel game than guys that I've coached in the past. Guys like him, guys like (former Memphis player) Chris Douglas-Roberts, I let them make those plays because they're good at it."

- On Knight: "Brandon Knight is obviously one of the best players in the country. He's great, a leader (and) a hard worker."

- On Kanter: "Not every young man needs to be coming and playing college basketball. The club programs (in Europe) have developed terrific players. There are some whose family wants more than just basketball. There are some like that, and those kids will have an opportunity. The rules that have changed make it so now you're not going to have the roadblocks that you used to have. They would put a player in the game when he was 15 or 16 years old for a minute or two. Why did they do that? At that point you're considered a pro even if they're not paying you as a pro. ... You don't have a contract. You cannot have a contract until the age of 18. Enes is 17 today as we speak." 

Even with the signings, Calipari's staff is still on the recruiting trail trying to cushion the blow of key losses and wrap up another banner recruiting class. If Bledsoe and Orton decide to stay in the draft and Dodson doesn't fall back into Calipari's good graces, it would leave UK with just eight current scholarship players.

Kentucky is still in the hunt for a couple of highly touted players with the May 19 final signing date looming, but Calipari and UK cannot discuss a prospective student-athlete until he or she signs a National Letter of Intent. As of Monday afternoon, UK had not received any additional NLIs.

Despite the uncertain roster situation, Calipari remains confident on the players he has returning and the players he has signed.

"We'll be fine," Calipari said. "I've coached where I've played 11 guys and I've also coached where I've played five guys."

Calipari said there is no set number that he has to coach with to win, adding that he will coach to the strengths of his team.

"There is no one system where this is how we have to play," Calipari said. "We ran dribble drive about 30 percent of the time last year because of the team that we had. I would have been dumb trying to do it more than that."

Given Kanter's skills at forward, Calipari is not sure yet how he'll run next year's team.

"I think that the guys that we have, all of them can play," Calipari said. "I would say maybe doing more pick-and-rolls than I have in the past, but I don't know that. I hope it's a team that you can't play a 1-3-1 zone against."

MBSK 09_10 Uk_Morehead Web 33.jpgA recent story in the Lexington Herald-Leader regarding the cumulative grade-point average of the Kentucky men's basketball team has brought a little bit of ire John Calipari's way.

In the story, written by Herald-Leader reporter Jerry Tipton, it is reported that UK had a cumulative grade-point average of 2.025 for the fall semester, the lowest of the nine Southeastern Conference schools that gave their men's basketball GPAs to the newspaper.

On Monday at an offseason news conference, Calipari defended his commitment to academics, pointing to a history of past success at his previous stops at Massachusetts and Memphis.

"My commitment to academics and my history as a leader of a program academically at UMASS it was 80 percent and when I started it was 15 percent," Calipari said. "When I left Memphis we graduated 19 out of the last 23 and when I started it was zero percent. We have brought kids back to every program that, for some reason or another, had left the program and we brought those kids back. I bet at Memphis we brought seven to nine kids back and we are doing the same here."

Calipari expressed some dissatisfaction with the final average of the fall terms but stood behind his team, one largely made up of first-year players, for its performance both on and off the court during a year that was packed full of pressure and expectations - even for the Kentucky basketball program.

"When you take over a program like I just did, do you understand that everything was different?" Calipari said. "We had a new staff, new players, new system, dribble drive and all the things that went on and you won't believe this, but there are a lot of things that were thrown at these young men especially that first term. There was UK2K, Who-K, all that was thrown at them."

In the face of unrealistic expectations, Calipari's first team at UK went on to post a 35-3 record, win the SEC regular-season and tournament championships, and appear in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005.

"I wish that they did do a little better academically, but I am so proud of how they handled the big picture of this," Calipari said. "I cannot begin to tell you the pressure that they were under and all that happened, and I'm talking young to old. I wish they would have done a little bit better academically, but I am proud of what they are."

Calipari said he feels a great deal of responsibility in preparing for guys after basketball and for making sure they take care of business in the classroom. His previous record is a reflection of that belief, he said.

"Obviously, it's important," Calipari said. "I'm walking in a home and I want those young men and their families to know we're going to be there. ... My job is to make sure there's growth academically and they're on line to graduate. It's pretty obvious that I've done that over my career as a coach."

Having said that, Calipari said that will not change how he or his staff recruits. Although they don't target one-and-done players, Calipari - an openly spoken opponent of the NBA's current age-limit rule - said they will continue to target the best players in the nation.

The goal, Calipari said, is not to have them leave after one year, but to help develop them as players and students and put them in the best position to succeed at the next level in whatever they choose to do.

"What I tell them all is, 'You come to this school with the idea that you're going to graduate from here. If you only stay one year because that's your calling, I'm OK with that. What I would suggest is you think about ways of coming back and finishing up,' " Calipari said.

No one could have predicted that freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton - the two remaining undecided players left, both of whom Calipari believes will stay in the NBA Draft - would have the type of years they had and have the chance to leave college for the pros after one season.

But Calipari said that doesn't mean they will shy away from the players atop the recruiting rankings, ones that can traditionally be one-and-done players.

"I'm recruiting the best players, who are the best students - the best of the best," Calipari said. "That's who our fans deserve to see play."

Down the stretch they come

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One is locked up, the other is hanging on. With the regular season dwindling down, the baseball and softball seasons hang in the balance.

The softball team, to an extent, can rest easy just a bit as its clinched a spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with one week left to play. As softball journeys south for the final series of the year, UK can do no worse than finish in the eighth and final spot for the league tourney.

Rachel Lawson's Cats (11-14 in conference) currently sit in sixth place heading into the last series. Arkansas and Auburn could potentially leapfrog them in the final weekend, but the Cats' biggest concern appears to be the NCAA Tournament. At 29-23, UK is in decent position, but the farther away from .500 UK gets the better.

Meanwhile, the baseball team is just trying to hang on to hope of playing in the SEC Tournament. With three SEC series to go, UK (7-14 in SEC) sits in the unenviable position of the 10th place, two spots out of the conference tournament.

Tennessee, which took two of three from the Cats this weekend, sits one game ahead in ninth place and Alabama holds a two-game lead in eighth. With nine games left there is still plenty of time to make a move, but baseball has a tough two weekends ahead.

First it's East Division leading South Carolina at Cliff Hagan Stadium this weekend followed by a home series with defending national champion LSU the following weekend.

Full standings below. Remember, only the top eight teams overall make the league tournaments.

Softball

EASTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. W-L Pct.
Florida 17-4 0.810 37-7 0.841
Georgia 18-8 0.692 41-10 0.804
Tennessee 15-7 0.682 39-11 0.780
Kentucky 11-14 0.440 29-23 0.558
South Carolina 1-24 0.040 11-37 0.229
WESTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. W-L Pct.
Alabama 20-4 0.833 42-9 0.824
LSU 19-6 0.760 41-11 0.788
Arkansas 10-15 0.400 28-25 0.528
Auburn 8-17 0.320 27-23 0.540
Ole Miss 7-17 0.292 26-25 0.510
Mississippi State 7-15 0.318 26-26 0.500

Baseball

EASTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. W-L Pct.
South Carolina 16-5 0.762 34-9 0.791
Florida 15-6 0.714 31-11 0.738
Vanderbilt 10-9 0.526 33-12 0.733
Tennessee 8-13 0.381 24-21 0.533
Kentucky 7-14 0.333 24-20 0.545
Georgia 3-16 0.158 13-30 0.302
WESTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. W-L Pct.
Arkansas 14-7 0.667 35-10 0.778
Ole Miss 14-7 0.667 33-13 0.717
Auburn 12-9 0.571 30-15 0.667
LSU 11-10 0.524 32-13 0.711
Alabama 9-12 0.429 28-17 0.622
Mississippi State 5-16 0.238 20-23 0.465

Report: Johnson, Lyons to sign NFL contracts

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Neither team has confirmed the free-agent signings, but several reports over the weekend have indicated that Kentucky favorites Micah Johnson and Dicky Lyons have signed free-agent deals with respective NFL teams.

Johnson's Facebook account hints that he will sign with the New York Giants after rookie minicamp this weekend. Should Johnson sign, he would be the only tryout player to make the Giants' roster, according to Jenny Vrentas with The Star-Ledger.

Lyons' agent with XAM Sports tweeted this weekend that Lyons, a former UK wide receiver, has inked with the Broncos, joining former teammates Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelley in Denver.

Neither deal has been confirmed on the teams' respective websites.

Johnson totaled 250 tackles during his four-year stop at UK, including 19.5 tackles for loss. Lyons led UK in receptions and receiving yards his senior season despite suffering a season-ending knee injury midway through the year.

Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: It's on Saturday, April 13 at 7 p.m. ET. read more
  • Meeks: What day & time is the game? read more
  • Diana Hilbert: I know of a terminally ill 11 year old boy that our community is praying for and he LOVES UK read more
  • Guy Ramsey: Complete parking information will be announced soon, but the plan is for parking to be on a first-come, first-serve basis, read more
  • LARRY: I would like to know if parking for the spring game will be available at the main lot or do read more
  • Beukah Erwin: I had to turn my tickets in because of back surgery. I am unable to attend the games. My husband read more
  • Guy Ramsey: I did not notice until you mentioned it, but that's correct. If LSU beats Ole Miss, UK clinches a top-four read more
  • Sam: If I understand this correctly, if UK loses to FL, it needs LSU to beat Ole Miss. All other scenarios read more
  • Mark J. Burke: UNLV is first, Vanderbilt is second read more
  • Kellie Olson: That's my girl, Holly! I knew when you won State on beam at 6 years old that you were destined read more