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August 2010 Archives

"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

Day 15

Day 16

Day 17

Day 18

Day 19

Day 20

McDermott_Luke 10_11.jpgWith all that talk about Mark Crawford and the additions of Donte Rumph and LSU signee Elliott Porter, one can understand why the jaws of Big Blue fans around the Bluegrass dropped when they saw a walk-on's name listed atop the depth chart at one of the defensive tackle positions opposite Ricky Lumpkin.

Raving about Rumph in fall camp had become part of Joker Phillips' daily media interviews, and Porter was a highly touted late pickup that is thought to be a capable contributor sometime this season.

But there was Luke McDermott on Monday, listed above the ladder of scholarship players on the official depth chart. From virtual unknown to starter for one of the biggest games of the season, McDermott will start Saturday against archrival Louisville.

"He's a guy that always gives you 110 percent," head coach Joker Phillips said Monday at his weekly news conference. "The guy just continues to do everything he needs to do to get himself ready to play at this level. We've had some injuries. Luke has a lot of reps and he is taking advantage of them. (He is) just one of those guys that has a high motor, real aggressive, will never back down from anyone or anything. He's a big part of this defense."

Maybe bigger than anyone could have ever imagined or scripted.

McDermott, a junior walk-on from Louisville, has played in six career games for Kentucky with five total tackles, all of which came two years ago. As a two-year starter out of powerhouse Trinity High School, McDermott received zero scholarship offers and only a few opportunities at walking on.

So why, with tackles the likes of Rumph and Porter and veterans Crawford and Shane McCord, is McDermott surprisingly starting two years later? 

"The kid works hard, he's productive, he's there every day, he works at getting better, he comes out early, and he works on his technique and works on his craft. He's earned the right," defensive line coach David Turner said. "That's what I tell the guys. I don't care who it is, you earn the right to play. He's been one of the best ones, one of the most productive ones. He's earned the right to start."

McDermott earned it in the weight room and at the dinner table.

At approximately 230 pounds out of high school, McDermott was tremendously underweight for a collegiate defensive tackle. To get him up to par with tackles the size of which he would be competing with, the Kentucky coaching staff didn't have a miracle formula.

Simply, they told the guy ex-Cat Corey Peters inexplicably nicknamed "Freaky" to eat, eat and eat some more.

"He needed to get bigger and stronger," Phillips said. "We said, 'Go to the dining hall and eat. As soon as you get full, eat some more.' He's over at the dining hall for an hour and a half, two hours sometimes. We'll leave breakfast and go back at lunch and he's still there."

McDermott also put the work in, in the weight room, ballooning from 230 when he arrived on campus two years ago to approximately 280 in time for the Louisville game. Like the dining hall, Phillips said McDermott was often in the weight room for two and three hours, sometimes an hour after he was supposed to work out.

"Every day you have to work at it, eating and lifting," McDermott said. "It's not real hard at one point in time, but it's a long, long process."

A process that few ever conquer. As a walk-on, there is a natural but built-in hierarchy that a player must overcome. There's a reason why some players are awarded scholarships and why others are not. To make an impression and overcome that disadvantage means several factors have to work in a player's favor.

"I like coming out here and working every day," McDermott said. "I love football. I just did pretty much what I wanted to do. I'm trying to be a coach when I'm done playing, so I'm trying to get as much knowledge about the game as I can. It worked out because the more I know the better I become."

But did McDermott really think he could come in as a walk-on and play, especially during healthy times at Kentucky when depth is starting to expand and talent levels are starting to increase?

"I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think I could play," McDermott said. "I wouldn't go through all this work if I didn't think there was going to be something in it. But I am surprised."

Phillips said injuries were a factor in the decision. Rumph was out for a few days last week with a knee sprain and a couple of other players on the line have battled nagging injuries.

Turner said there was a pool of about three or four players they could have started at the tackle position opposite of Lumpkin and said several players will rotate in for McDermott. But the bottom line, Turner said, is McDermott has simply been the best man for the job.

"He's not the biggest guy, not the tallest guy, not the strongest guy but he makes plays," Turner said. "He's been there. We talk about on defense, especially defensive line, you have to be a productive player. It's not enough to just do your assignment."

A self-proclaimed Cardinals fan growing up that flirted with the possibility of walking on at Louisville when current UK coach Greg Nord was there, McDermott will make his first career start in his hometown with familiar faces abound.

"It's just like any other week," McDermott said. "I didn't just think about playing Louisville when I came here. I thought about playing against all the schools. It's just another game, but it is cool playing against Louisville."

As for the starting job the rest of the year, Turner said it isn't out of the realm of possibility to see McDermott starting at the end of the year, calling it his spot to lose.

"They put me in there (but) they'll take me out just as fast as they put me in (if I'm not getting the job done)," McDermott said. "As long as I stay focused on football I'll be fine."

It's worked so far.

Video: UK football trying to become more physical

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Head coach Joker Phillips

Cats rounding back into shape just in time

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Though the traditional injury report at the end of Kentucky football practice is gone with the transition from Rich Brooks to Joker Phillips, there has been no hiding the number of players limping off the practice field over the last few weeks.

Even though Phillips said it was normal for fall camp, there was a hint of worry in his voice last week when he talked about the lack of leaders practicing, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Rest assured, though, Wildcat fans - heading into the season-opening week against Louisville, Phillips expects most of his key players to return.

Beginning his news conference in typical Brooks fashion with the injury report, Phillips listed running back Jonathan George, defensive tackle Donte Rumph, linebacker Danny Trevathan, offensive tackle Chandler Burden and defensive end Collins Ukwu as players he expects to return this week after missing time recently. Also, tailback CoShik Williams, who the coaching staff feared had suffered a severe injury, has been diagnosed with a sprained ankle and should return Wednesday.

Of the players that will not play this week are tight end Nick Melillo (sprained ankle), safety Dakotah Tyler (high ankle sprain) and wide receiver Gene McCaskill (torn anterior cruciate ligament). McCaskill is expected to have surgery Tuesday.

Video: UK Hoops begins individual workouts

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Head coach Matthew Mitchell

The Kentucky men's basketball isn't the only team preparing for its hoops season ahead of time.

Though it's a month and a half until Big Blue Madness, the official start to the 2010-11 basketball season, the Kentucky women's basketball team is beginning its preparation for the upcoming season.

Head coach Matthew Mitchell and his squad began individual workouts Monday at the Joe Craft Center. The team is allowed eight hours of work per week, two of which can be devoted to skill instruction. The other six hours are for weight lifting and conditioning. No more than four players at a time can be together for the skill instruction.

On Sept. 15 until the first day of preseason, the team will be permitted to have the entire team for instruction, but again for only two hours per week.

"The first day is an exciting time," Mitchell said. "I have such high hopes for this group and we've really talked all week long about becoming a team, that first week that we're on campus. Clearly, individual workouts are a big part of what we do, trying to help our players with their individual skills so when we bring it all together, we can work at our maximum level. Individual workouts are important to set the tone."

Also, Mitchell joined Monday to share some of his daily insights. Kentucky fans can log on to to hear his audio tweet by dialing 415-413-8735 or by clicking here. Mitchell is the first women's basketball collegiate coach to join Lexy.

Gov Cup 2.jpgWhen Joker Phillips took over the reins for Rich Brooks as the head man of the Kentucky football program and announced Operation Win, he emphasized the need for UK to take the next step forward.

Like his predecessor, Phillips is big on climbing the ladder in the Southeastern Conference. The first-year head coach called for special goals and underlined that just going to bowl games was no longer the mission.

"We're not going to allow this team to pace themselves," Phillips said. "If you do, you're 7-5, you're 6-6."

But before Kentucky can take two steps forward, it has to take one. Before the program can start aiming for bigger and better bowls, it has to take care of business of nonconference foes and rivals.

That starts Saturday with Louisville at 3:30 p.m. at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

"This is probably the most important game of the season right now," senior defensive end DeQuin Evans said. "It's how you start your season nine times out of 10 is how you end it. You always want to start off on a good note, on a good foot. What's better than starting off against your rival team?"

In other words, it's imperative the Cats get off to a good start to the season with a win over archrival Louisville.

"It is very important," junior wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "This is a new era for Joker Phillips and we want to make sure we start him off with a win. I think a lot of fans get scared with a new head coach because it is not what you expect, you expect them to come in and win right away and that is what we want to do with Coach Phillips."

Both teams enter the 2010 season with new first-year head coaches and neither coach wants to start their track record down a game. It would be a sour start after an offseason of positive momentum for both teams.

Phillips said Monday it will be important that he gets his emotions under control to make the big decisions throughout his first career game, but there is no doubt there's some heavy anxiety on both sides for a game that's always monumental, regardless of the added circumstances.

"I'm sure maybe Saturday morning I'll be hugging the toilet somewhere," Phillips said.

But for Kentucky, more than anything, it's about taking that next jump. Though Louisville doesn't bear the same conference logo as UK, it counts as equal footing. With the league expected to be as tough as ever, the Cats believe they have to win all four nonconference games to have a chance at their special season.

 "In this conference, you have to win every out-of-conference game no matter who it is," senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "(If) we win this game, we're looking at a good start to the season. It's something you can go into practice with your heads held high. OK, we've got the Governor's Cup, now let's go on."

It's a momentum thing, Lumpkin said, something that helps push players through the season.

"I don't think either team can have a great year without this (win) because I think we both need the momentum," Phillips said at Monday's weekly news conference.

Preparing for Louisville won't be easy. With a new coaching staff come new philosophies, schemes and formations that are packaged together from previous regimes elsewhere. Strong comes from Florida after serving seven years as the defensive coordinator, and his assistant coaches hail from Utah, UNLV and Virginia.

Adjusting to what those coaches mesh together will be critical to Kentucky's success. 

"The thing that we have to be able to do, and it can happen in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter (or) after the first play, we've got to be able to adjust," Phillips said. "If they're not running the offense, the things that the coordinator (Mike Sanford) has run at UNLV, our defense has to adjust. Same thing offensively, if we are getting different stuff than we had been preparing for, we got to be able to adjust. That will be the most important thing that we'll have to do."

One thing Phillips said the Cats can expect on a fairly frequent basis is a steady dose of blitzes.

"Charlie is going to be aggressive," Phillips said. "I mentioned it's going to be a blitz-orama. He's going to attack. He'll blitz on first down, second down, third down. He'll be blitzing as soon as he comes out of the locker room. That's just what they do."

If Kentucky can weather the blitzes and pick up a fourth straight win, it would be unprecedented. Since renewing the rivalry in 1994, no team has won more than three consecutive games.

Could the Cats be the first?

"I would love to have it for the next couple of years even when I'm gone," Lumpkin said. "It's a pride thing. You come here for that game. It's a big game. You don't come here to see a blank empty spot. You have all the bowl trophies, but this is the first game of the season. This is our big rival. You beat them, you have bragging rights."

History, bragging rights and first impressions - a lot will be on the line Saturday as the Kentucky football team opens the 2010 season.

But the biggest thing will be momentum and building for what the Cats hope to be a special season.

"That obviously sets the bar a lot higher for the next game," Evans said.

Win big and the Cats can dream big. 

Head coach Joker Phillips

Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin

Junior wide receiver Randall Cobb

Senior defensive end DeQuin Evans

UK football news conference -- Louisville game

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It's season-opening week for Kentucky football. And to boot, it's also Louisville week.

To kick off the first week of the season, we will have a live blog from Joker Phillips' first pregame news conference from the Wildcat Den underneath Commonwealth Stadium. As with former coach Rich Brooks, the weekly news conference with Phillips will begin at noon and should last about 20 minutes as the head coach talks about game week, previews Louisville and updates us on any news with the team.

College football season preview links

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Padraic Major-20100721633.jpgWe are just six days away from opening the 2010 Kentucky football season at Louisville. On the final Sunday before the opener, the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal have rolled out their season-preview coverage. Check out the links below to the stories:

Lexington Herald-Leader
- Chip Cosby, in the HL's centerpiece, writes that Joker Phillips wants to take the Cats to the next level
- Cosby has five players you know; five players you will know
- The HL has the Big Blue buildup, a primer for the upcoming season
- Columnist Mark Story predicts a 7-5 record for the Cats this year with a win over Tennessee
- Fellow columnist John Clay provides his preseason top 25

- CJ columnist Eric Crawford writes that hiring of football coaches at Kentucky, Louisville and Western Kentucky makes a statement beyond football
- Brett Dawson on Phillips being able to crack wise and crack down
- Dawson writes that the next step up for the Wildcats is a big hurdle
- The CJ takes a closer look at the Southeastern Conference with a predicted order of finish 
- The CJ also scouts the Wildcats

Bonus stories
Darrell Bird from The Cats' Pause talks to wide receiver Randall Cobb, who says QB-WR trust will improve the pass game
- Bird writes that the UK defense is battling inexperience, injuries
- Larry Vaught writes that Cobb is sold on UK offense, Mike Hartline

Head coach Joker Phillips was not particularly pleased with his team's effort at a scrimmage Saturday, exactly one week away from the season opener at Louisville.

"We learned that we've got a lot of work to do," Phillips said.

The Cats had a "mock game" where they practiced all the different situations they could face in a game. Phillips said the practice was more mental than it was physical, but it was evident after practice that a lot of the Cats just didn't have it Saturday.

"The good thing is we've got seven days," Phillips said. "The bad thing is we've got seven days."

Listen to what Phillips, senior quarterback Mike Hartline and senior defensive end DeQuin Evans had to say about practice and the week heading into the Louisville game in the videos below.

One part that did not make it into the video was the current health situation of the team. Phillips listed weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan, defensive end DeQuin Evans, defensive end Collins Ukwu and offensive tackle Chandler Burden as all being banged up and missing time at some point last week.

"The thing about this team is a lot of leaders are out," Phillips said. "We've got a lot of guys in leadership roles (out). When those guys are out, we expect them to be leading the troops from the sidelines still."

Head coach Joker Phillips

Senior quarterback Mike Hartline

Senior defensive end DeQuin Evans

Been a crazy day around these parts as we've been doing men's basketball media interviews for the upcoming season. Can't release any information from Friday's sessions for about another month, but it will be worth your time to check out the coverage once we can release it.

In the meantime, in an effort to catch up on what I've missed the last two days, here's a short notes package on the biggest news around Big Blue Nation:

- The biggest news and the one bit of info we are allowed to release from Friday's men's basketball interviews is that Florida transfer Eloy Vargas has been cleared to play after completing his junior-college work at Miami Dade Community College and will be on campus  soon. Vargas, a 6-foot-11, 230-pound center, will obviously be a huge addition to the team with Cats' current lack of size inside.

- It's not every day a Kentucky football player is called the "best overall player" in college football. But believe it or not, Mel Kiper Jr., one of ESPN's NFL Draft analysts, tabbed Cobb the best overall player in a dispute with fellow analyst Todd McShay on Thursday's SportsCenter. Pretty high praise for the junior do-it-all. John Clay from the Lexington Herald-Leader was at practice Friday to get a reaction from Cobb. Check out the video interview at Clay's Sidelines blog.

- You already knew Kentucky was a powerful brand. But did you know it was ranked the eighth-best brand in the nation? According to the Collegiate Licensing Co., UK is ranked No. 8 among the top 20 college brands in the nation. Eight Southeastern Conference schools dot the top 20, including five in the top 10. Texas ranked No. 1.

- Couple of football position battles to update: Word out of football camp Friday is that redshirt freshman Jordan Aumiller has basically put the clamps down on the tight end position. With Nick Melillo injured, Aumiller has been in a tight battle for the tight end spot with true freshmen Tyler Robinson and Alex Smith, and redshirt freshman Anthony Kendrick. If the season were to start today, head coach Joker Phillips said he would start Aumiller with Robinson behind him. Phillips also said that it looks as if Ryan Tydlacka will handle most of the punting and field-goal kicking duties. Freshman Joe Mansour could get looks from long range because of his leg.

- And finally, a couple of teams are in action this weekend. The UK volleyball team will kick off its season this weekend at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase against two of the top teams in the country in No. 2 Nebraska and No. 9 Iowa State. In light of the season-opening weekend, check out volleyball announcer Phil Bush's blog on the SEC. Also, the women's soccer team is in action Friday night. As always, we will have a live blog of all the action. Check out the coverage here.   

Allen trying to follow Conner's success

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FB 09_10 UK_EKU web 95.jpgThe terms "fullback" and "high profile" are not ones typically found in the same sentence. The fullback position is one marked by hitting, blocking assignments and more hitting, tasks not always recognized by casual fans.

Kentucky, as it seems, is a bit of anomaly when it comes to anonymity at the fullback position. In fact, for the second consecutive season, UK will line up a fan favorite at fullback, complete with nickname and all.

Last season, John "The Terminator" Conner was well known among UK fans for his crushing blocks and crucial role in Kentucky's rushing offense, which ranked among the nation's best. Conner was recognized as a 2009 All-American by Pro Football Weekly and went on to be selected by the New York Jets in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, an above-slot selection for most fullbacks. At the next level, Conner is already showing why he was held in such high regard in Lexington, as his new team has been featured on HBO's hit series "Hard Knocks." There, Conner has drawn frequent praise from Jets' exuberant head coach Rex Ryan.

This season, Moncell "Turtle" Allen steps into the role vacated by Conner as a former tailback who has earned his way into the hearts of fans thanks to his punishing runs and diminutive stature (in height only). Allen has the fan favorite identity, the nickname, and some experience at the fullback position, but the task of filling in for Conner remains an extremely tall one.

With Conner in the NFL, Allen was the coaching staff's clear choice as a successor, having already shown he could capably play fullback in limited duty at the position. For the first time in his UK career, Allen had a permanent position tag.

Allen has spent time at both fullback and tailback, and his full-time switch to fullback has allowed him to progress significantly.

"Putting the title on him permanently makes him feel more confident in what his role is and what he's supposed to do," running backs head coach Larry Brinson said.

Allen recognizes that the full-time transition is still a work in progress, but he is intent on filling Conner's shoes. 

"Sometimes I find myself thinking like a tailback coming out of the huddle," Allen said. "I'm working on thinking like a fullback all the time."

The transition also has not come without headaches, literally. 

"Every now and then you get a headache," Allen said. "It's not always a fun job, but it's a job I have to do to make my team better."

However, Allen and Brinson are both excited about the tailback skills that he brings to the fullback position. Allen's versatility adds a dimension to the offense that could pose problems for opposing defenses. In this three seasons at UK, the 5-foot-7, 232-pound fullback has rushed the ball 96 times for 469 yards and one touchdown, including 47 carries last year for 228 yards. 

"Instead of having to bring in another tailback, we can leave him in sometimes and run some tailback plays," Brinson said. "We can move (Derrick) Locke out to a wide-out position and still be able to run the ball inside."

Allen also anticipates that the role could expand even further with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make opponents miss. During his time at UK, Conner progressed as a ball carrier and receiver, and his touches increased accordingly. After carrying the ball just 23 times his first three seasons, Conner rushed the ball 31 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns last season.

With a proven playmaker like Allen at fullback, expect UK's offensive scheme to further evolve in order to put the ball in the fullback's hands often.

Allen's primary offensive role will be that of a traditional fullback: putting his teammates in a position to make plays with his blocking, a responsibility that he believes he can perform up to par with Conner.  However, his versatility is what will allow him to put his own stamp on the fullback position. 

"I can hit just like (Conner), but I can other stuff out of the backfield as well," Allen said. "With me, people will say 'I have to deal with this guy (as a blocker), but at the same time, I have to cover him.' "

FB 09_10 UK_Miami web 105.jpgDanny Trevathan has a nickname for every person on the Kentucky football defense - all 40-plus of them.

There is Buzz Lightyear, aka Avery Williamson, Ronnie Sneed is Marques Houston, Ridge Wilson is likened to Kordell Stewart and Shannon Sharpe, and Malcolm McDuffen is better known by Trevathan as Avatar.

As for the name caller, Trevathan earned the nickname Money from former linebacker Micah Johnson last year. This season, UK is hoping he'll be more than money. If there is one nickname they're hoping he can embrace more than any other, it's the title of leader.

"He's been the guy who's been the quarterback and leader of the defense," head coach Joker Phillips said recently. "Now he gets a chance to be on the field full time. This year he'll be able to play a lot of snaps, and we count on him. He's what you're looking for at linebacker. He can run, he's physical, and he understands what's going on."

Kentucky's defense this year has been stripped of its leaders. Defensive tackle Corey Peters, often looked to as the reasonable voice of the team, is gone for greener pastures as a third-round NFL Draft selection to the Atlanta Falcons. Cornerback Trevard Lindley, also now in the NFL, may have been the quietest player to ever walk through the tunnels at Commonwealth Stadium, but he led by example.

At linebacker it's particularly bare. Departed Micah Johnson was one of the most vocal leaders on the team, and Sam Maxwell was a steady influence throughout his career, especially last year when he was given a chance to start.

But those faces are now gone, and it's up to the defense, one of the biggest question marks entering the 2010-11 season, to figure out who is going to emerge as the face of the defense.
Danny Trevathan is being counted on to be one of those players.

"I think Danny needs to step up to the plate because he has been a starter," linebackers coach Chuck Smith said. "He needs to stand up and be a leader in that respect. He's got to pick up the slack that Sam and Micah left in that area."

Trevathan was technically a starter last year, but he only played in roughly a third of the snaps because of UK's nickel packages with Maxwell and Johnson. Also, a cast on the weakside linebacker's right arm last year to heal a fractured wrist bone hindered him for much of the year.

"Most people don't really know how much a cast holds you back," Trevathan said. "It hurts you catching, trying to get off blocks, trying to grab tacklers. It's a lot of little things. But this year I'm without it. I'm going to try to stick that way. Hopefully I can go make more plays."

Despite those setbacks last year, Trevathan totaled 82 tackles on the season, second only to Johnson. Entering last year's fall camp, former coach Rich Brooks pronounced him a potential star of the future.

"Danny Trevathan is a big-time player, pure and simple," Brooks said at UK's Media Day in August 2009. "He's as good as any four-star guy that you can talk to me about at linebacker."

Kentucky likely won't win the distinction of "Linebacker U" anytime soon, but the line of succession UK has had at linebacker over the last few years has been mighty impressive.

From Wesley Woodyard and Johnny Williams to Braxton Kelley, Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell, Kentucky's recent run of tough-nosed tacklers is as impressive as any team in the Southeastern Conference.

"That's every year at the linebacker corps," Trevathan said. "Every year the linebacker position has been a challenge. When Braxton (Kelley) left they were going to worry about who was going to fill in for Braxton, Wesley (Woodyard) and so and so. But every year you just have to step it up."

Enter Trevathan.

Though he's soft-spoken and slightly undersized, Trevathan possesses the speed, athleticism and instincts to be one of the league's top linebackers. What he needs to work on now, according to the coaching staff, is becoming a vocal leader and the face of the defense, the guy that UK's inexperienced youth can look to in times of need.

Trevathan thinks it's only natural that he steps in and continues the line of succession after learning from the greats before him.

"Micah was a great leader by example," Trevathan said. "Sam was a combination of both. Both of them were great players and I learned from both of them. Playing with Braxton, I just learned how to make reads and be more physical. Braxton was a smart thinker. Even though he didn't talk that much, he was smart."

Restoring the talent of Johnson and Maxwell won't necessarily be the hardest thing for UK to replace this year. Seasoning the green linebackers will be.

Of the 11 linebackers on Kentucky's roster, only two of them, Trevathan and Jacob Dufrene, have registered starts. Even scarier if you're a Wildcat fan: Trevathan has six of the seven starts.

"It's hard to replace experience," Smith said, "but you can utilize the talent and ability of what you've got. Our guys are all fast, they all run well, they are smart, they study the game and I think they all need to take the next step."

Filling in for Johnson at middle linebacker this season appears to be junior Ronnie Sneed, who has taken a hold of the position while Qua Huzzie recovers from a foot injury. At strongside linebacker, Dufrene, a senior, is slated to start.

Smith is hoping at least one of the two can step up and have Maxwell-like years.

"If you think about it, Sam was not a starter until last year, his senior year," Smith said. "But he took advantage of getting a lot of reps in practice over the years. When he got his opportunity, he took advantage of it and I think that's what Ronnie Sneed needs to do, Jacob as well. They have been waiting in the wings. They haven't been on the field playing, which could be a factor if they let it be a factor, but Sam never let it be a factor. He came out, played his heart out and made one of the (Associated Press) All-SEC teams."

Online Schedule | Printable Schedule Get Acrobat Reader

The road for the Kentucky men's basketball team in year two of the John Calipari era has been set.

The UK Athletics Department released the always highly anticipated schedule for the upcoming 2010-11 season Thursday, setting the stage for what should be another wildly entertaining ride. For the second year in a row, Cat Scratches is proud to unveil the complete schedule breakdown, fit with last season's records, RPI, returning starters and what you need to know as a Wildcat fan for each and every game.

Jump ahead and see the breakdown for...

ETSU - Nov. 12
Portland - Nov. 19
EA Sports/Maui Invitational - Nov. 22-24
Boston - Nov. 30
North Carolina - Dec. 4
Notre Dame - Dec. 8
Indiana - Dec. 11
Mississippi Valley State - Dec. 18
Winthrop - Dec. 22
Coppin State - Dec. 28
Louisville - Dec. 31
Penn - Jan 3
Georgia - Jan. 8, Jan. 29
Auburn - Jan. 11
LSU - Jan. 15
Alabama - Jan. 18
South Carolina - Jan. 22, Feb 19
Ole Miss - Feb. 1
Florida - Feb. 5, Feb. 26
Tennessee - Feb. 8, Mar. 6
Vanderbilt - Feb. 12, Mar. 1
Mississippi State - Feb. 15
Arkansas - Feb. 23

Before we dive into each opponent, let's take a look at the schedule as a whole, a slate that includes some of the best teams in the nation.

UK will play 30 regular-season games this year against a pool of 29 teams below (includes all seven teams in the EA Sports Maui Invitational), facing teams that range as far east as Boston and as far west as Hawaii. The Cats have 15 home games, 10 away and five at neutral sites, including Maui and a marquee matchup with Notre Dame in Freedom Hall.

"This year's schedule challenges us from game one and I hope it will prepare our young team for the battles we will face in March," Calipari said. "Great job by John Robic and our athletic department in getting the schedule together. There should be lots for the Big Blue Nation to get excited over."

Much like last year, Calipari made a concerted effort to play as many NCAA Tournament-type games as possible to prepare a freshman-laden UK team for the Big Dance. In molding an NCAA Tournament-ready squad - one worthy of a favorable seed - Calipari took direct aim at the RPI once again. He scheduled teams that are expected to compete for league titles and put UK in as many NCAA tourney scenarios as possible (hence, the emphasis on future neutral site games).

What that translates to is a schedule that consists of some of the nation's best teams from a possibility of 15 conferences. Fourteen of UK's possible opponents this season (factoring in the Maui Invitational) finished in last year's final RPI top 100. Only five teams resided 200 or above in last season's RPI.

And if the RPI isn't your thing, consider this: 16 teams made postseason play of some sort, including nine that made the NCAA Tournament field. Two of those teams - Tennessee and Michigan State - advanced to the Elite Eight, with Michigan State going to the Final Four.

The schedule oozes with diversity and NCAA tourney-like games. The Maui Invitational in November will give the talented but inexperienced incoming class a taste of tournament play. UK will have little time to recover from the sandy beaches of Hawaii as it faces North Carolina, Notre Dame and an improving Indiana team to start December. Potential sleepers exist in East Tennessee State, Penn, Winthrop and Boston, all of whom are expected to compete for their respective conference crowns.

A lot of questions surround the Southeastern Conference Western Division, but the SEC East could be the best it has been in several years. Stars like Georgia's Trey Thompkins, Florida's Kenny Boynton and Tennessee's Scotty Hopson return to make the East the beast of the conference. A number of teams ranging from Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee have been picked in the preseason to compete for the East crown. All four teams - as many as the entire conference got to the NCAA Tournament a year ago - are expected to earn a bid in the 68-team tournament.

The pinnacle of the schedule will come March 6 when UK travels to Tennessee. For the first time since the 1998-99 season, the increasingly heated rivalry between the Wildcats and Volunteers will take place on the final day of the regular season. A lot, including the SEC regular-season crown, could be on the line.

The best part of the schedule is fans will be able to follow UK's journey nearly every step of the way thanks to the second year of the SEC's historic 15-year deal with ESPN and CBS. A total of 21 UK games will be televised on CBS or ESPN's family of networks - three more than last year - in addition to four on the SEC Network. The SEC Network and ESPNU now reach more than 80 million and 73 million homes, respectively. The remaining games not televised could still be picked up by FSN, CSS and the Big Blue Sports Network, which will be announced at a later date.

Also, for the second season in a row, Kentucky will be featured as a part of ESPN's highly popular College GameDay show. On Feb. 5, Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and the rest of the GameDay crew will head to Gainesville, Fla., to profile all the action.

The only thing that remains now is two months of agonizing waiting until Big Blue Madness on Oct. 15. If that wait seems unbearable, the super-long and extensive team-by-team breakdown of the Cats' 2010-11 opponents below should get you through at least September.

Without further ado, here is this year's men's basketball schedule breakdown:

ETSU East Tennessee State (Nov. 12)

Head coach: Murry Bartow (seventh season)
Record/Conference Finish: 20-15 (13-7 in Atlantic Sun/fifth)
Final RPI: 118
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NCAA first round
Key returnees: Tommy Hubbard (13.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Micah Williams (12.7 ppg), Justin Tubbs (12.1 ppg), Mike Smith (9.3 ppg)*
Key losses: Jacolby Davis (2.8 ppg, 2.4 apg)
Series record: UK leads 3-0
Last meeting: UK won 100-71 on March 18, 2010, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament
*Played just four games after suffering a season-ending injury. Was the team's top returning scorer from 2008-09.

The skinny: Sound familiar? The first hurdle in the Cats' Elite Eight run from a year ago, East Tennessee State returns nearly the same team that UK defeated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and then some. Back are the Buccaneers' top six leading scorers from a year ago, including leading scorer and rebounder Tommy Hubbard, a second-team All-Atlantic Sun selection. Guard/forward Mike Smith, who was supposed to be the Bucs' top player last year, returns from a medical redshirt to add yet another piece to the puzzle. When you consider what head coach Murry Bartow was able to do in 2009-10 with the issues ETSU had to go through - losing a player to a fatal car accident and several players to injury and graduation - this could be an extremely dangerous team and a very stiff test for the Cats to open the 2010-11 campaign. Don't expect a result similar to the 2010 NCAA Tournament meeting.

Portland vs. Portland (Nov. 19)

Head coach: Eric Reveno (fifth season)
Record/Conference finish: 21-11 (10-4 in West Coast/third)
Final RPI: 84
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: first round
Key returnees: Jared Stohl (11.5 ppg, 98 3-pointers), Luke Sikma (7.9, 7.5 rpg)
Key losses: Nik Raivio (14.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg), T.J. Campbell (13.7 ppg, 5.6 apg, 63 3-pointers), Robin Smeulders (12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 1-0
Last meeting: UK won 88-71 on Dec. 22, 1989

The skinny: When this matchup was originally announced, it picked up headlines on the message boards for its homecoming of highly touted UK signee Terrence Jones (Portland, Ore.). In reality, the Portland pit stop at the Rose Garden, home of the Portland Trailblazers, will serve as the perfect warm-up game before the power-packed EA Sports Maui Invitational. The Pilots flirted with the NCAA Tournament in 2009-10 by getting off to a 5-0 start, a top-25 ranking and competing for the West Coast title with Gonzaga. But an injury to leading scorer Nik Raivio led to a disappointing late-season stretch and an invitation to the postseason tourney. Now, Portland will have to find a new identity after losing its top three leading scorers. The Pilots lived by the perimeter shot a season ago and will welcome back leading 3-point shooter Jared Stohl, but the majority of the Pilots' long-range shooting weaponry has departed.

WashingtonVirginiaOklahoma EA Sports Maui Invitational (Nov. 22-24)

Teams: Oklahoma, Washington, Virginia, Wichita State, Connecticut, Chaminade, Michigan State
Average final RPI: 60.7
Last meeting: UK went 1-2 in 2006 with a win against DePaul and losses to UCLA and Memphis

The skinny: UK will play Oklahoma on Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in the first round of the tournament, which is hosted by Chaminade University. UK-Oklahoma is the second game of the 12-game tournament, all of which will be televised on ESPN's family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU). Wichita State-Connecticut will tip off the tournament Nov. 22 at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2, followed by UK-Oklahoma at 5:30 p.m. ET, Michigan State-Chaminade at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU and Virginia-Washington at midnight ET. The winner of the UK-Oklahoma game will advance to play the winner of the Virginia-Washington game on Nov. 23 at 9:30 p.m. ET. The losing teams of the UK-Oklahoma matchup and the Virginia-Washington matchup would face each other Nov. 22 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2. Kentucky is 2-0 all-time against Oklahoma, the last meeting coming in 1987, a 75-74 UK victory in Rupp Arena. Kentucky owns a 6-3 advantage all-time against Virginia and is 1-0 versus Washington. The Maui Invitational is annually one of the top early season tournaments of the college basketball season. Four teams in the tournament field ranked in last year's final RPI top 50, and the average RPI of the seven Division I teams in the field (host Chaminade is not a Division I school) is 60.7, according to last year's NCAA numbers.

Boston Boston (Nov. 30)

Head coach: Patrick Chambers (second season)
Record/Conference finish: 21-14 (11-5 in American East/third)
Final RPI: 119
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: CBI semifinals
Key returnees: John Holland (19.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Jake O'Brien (13.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Key losses: Corey Lowe (15.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg), Carlos Strong (10.9, 59 3-pointers), Tyler Morris (10.3 ppg)
Series record: UK leads 2-0
Last meeting: UK won 90-49 on Dec. 12, 1994

The skinny: Recently speaking, prolific scorers on mid-major teams have stepped up their game when afforded the chance to play in historic Rupp Arena. If the trend continues in 2010-11 with Boston's John Holland, this could be the potential for an early season shocker. Holland set the school record for most points in a season last year after averaging 19.2 points per game. Second-year coach Pat Chambers, formerly Jay Wright's right-hand man at Villanova, will have to replace three double-digit scorers, including the program's third all-time leading scorer in Corey Lowe. Three transfers who had to sit out a season ago will be counted on to fill the voids.

North Carolina at North Carolina (Dec. 4)

Head coach: Roy Williams (eighth)
Record/Conference finish: 20-17 (5-11 in ACC/t-ninth)
Final RPI: 64
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NIT championship game
Key returnees: Will Graves (9.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 73 3-pointers), Tyler Zeller (9.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Larry Drew II (8.5 ppg, 5.9 apg)
Key losses: Deon Thompson (13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Ed Davis (11.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg), David and Travis Wear (McDonald's All-Americans), Marcus Ginyard (7.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.8 apg)
Series record: UNC leads 21-11
Last meeting: UK won 68-66 on Dec. 5, 2009

The skinny: Even the best programs run into bumps on the road eventually. Kentucky did so in 2008-09, allowing North Carolina to catch up in the race to 2,000 wins. And then, without much warning, the defending national champions suffered a major hiccup last season and faltered in the race to 2K. Now, with an infusion of young talent and some major personnel losses, UNC will try to do what UK did a year ago and return to the national radar in just a year's span. North Carolina won't be billed as frontrunner for much of the season, but the pieces should be in place for a return to the upper echelon of college basketball. The inside-outside duo of center Tyler Zeller and guard Will Graves will have to carry the Tar Heels early on, but the season could hinge on newcomers Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock. Barnes and Bullock, ranked No. 2 and No. 10 overall (, respectively, headline a star-studded 2010 recruiting class. Just as important, point guard Larry Drew II must cut down on turnovers that plagued UNC a season ago. The race to 2K won't be on the line in Chapel Hill, N.C., this year, but the stakes are always high when the two winningest programs in NCAA history meet.

Notre Dame vs. Notre Dame (DirecTV SEC/Big East Invitational) (Dec. 8)

Head coach: Mike Brey (11th season)
Record/Conference finish: 23-12 (10-8 in Big East/eighth)
Final RPI: 52
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NCAA first round
Key returnees: Tim Abromaitis (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 81 3-pointers), Ben Hansbrough (12.0 ppg, 67 3-pointers)
Key losses: Luke Harangody (21.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Tory Jackson (9.6 ppg, 5.3 apg)
Series record: UK leads 41-18
Last meeting: Notre Dame won 77-67 on March 25, 2009

The skinny: Arguably, no player was more productive nationwide over the last three seasons than Notre Dame All-American Luke Harangody. With the Big East bruiser gone and guard Tory Jackson out of eligibility, the Irish must find a new nucleus. The good news for the folks in South Bend, Ind., is they may have started to determine one during Harangody's brief bout with an injury. During his absence, Notre Dame discovered a more efficient identity behind forward Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough (brother of former UNC Tar Heel Tyler and a Mississippi State transfer). Head coach Mike Brey has a knack for molding unheralded players into stars by the time they are juniors and seniors, and both Abromaitis and Hansbrough seem to fit that billing. Although archrival Louisville has since moved out of its longtime home in Freedom Hall, UK's annual visit to Louisville will again be in the historic arena, which once hosted this hotly contested rivalry for more than two decades.

Indiana Indiana (Dec. 11)

Head coach: Tom Crean (third season)
Record/Conference finish: 10-21 (4-14 in Big Ten/t-ninth)
Final RPI: 222
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Maurice Creek (16.4 ppg), Verdell Jones III (14.9 ppg, 3.4 apg), Christian Watford (12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
Key losses: None
Series record: UK leads 30-23
Last meeting: UK won 90-73 on Dec. 12, 2009

The skinny: Year three of the Indiana reclamation project, spearheaded by John Calipari friend and former Marquette coach Tom Crean, will go a long way in determining the near future of the Indiana basketball program. One of the proudest traditions in all of college basketball, the Hoosiers expected two years of humility when it brought on Crean and basically an entirely new roster. Now, Indiana is hoping it's starting to put some of its recent struggles in the rearview mirror. For the first time in Crean's tenure, Indiana will have returning starters with some bona fide talent. Guard Maurice Creek, who torched UK for 31 points last season, will return after missing the final two-thirds of the season with a knee injury. Vendrell Jones III is solid in the supporting role, and a young nucleus of Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Bobby Capobianco are all expected to return and improve. If Indiana can shore up its interior game and improve its defense, this team could be well on its way to returning to national prominence. Either way, don't expect a similar result in this year's annual border-state game.

Mississippi Valley State Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 18)

Head coach: Sean Woods (third season)
Record/Conference finish: 9-23 (8-10 in Southwestern Athletic/t-sixth)
Final RPI: 324
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Shannon Behling (11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Key losses: Julius Cheeks (12.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.9 apg)
Series record: UK leads 2-0
Last meeting: UK won 88-65 on Dec. 7, 2008

The skinny: After a murderous three-game stretch to start the month, UK will welcome a familiar face in Sean Woods. The former UK player will return to Rupp Arena with a project on his hands, but one that is expected to be improved from the 2009-10 season. Gone is leading scorer Julius Cheeks, but forward Shannon Behling is a young and upcoming player in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Delta Devils got off to a sluggish 1-13 mark in nonconference before playing pretty solid ball down the stretch in the league. Woods and Co. is hoping that late-season momentum can carry over into the 2010-11 campaign. Should it come through, this game won't be as easy for UK as some might perceive.

Winthrop Winthrop (Dec. 22)

Head coach: Randy Peele (third season)
Record/Conference finish: 19-14 (12-6 in Big South/third)
Final RPI: 173
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NCAA play-in game
Key returnees: Reggie Middleton (10.1 ppg, 2.8 apg), Matt Morgan (9.6 ppg)
Key losses: Mantoris Robinson (8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 1-0
Last meeting: UK won 65-44 on Nov. 21, 2003

The skinny: One could reasonably sum up Winthrop's 2009-10 campaign in two very different ways. One would be a team that overcame a slow start and shooting woes to win the Big South Tournament for the ninth time in 12 years. Another would be a team that, despite having one of the most disciplined defenses, fell short of expectations in the NCAA Tournament because of the aforementioned shooting problems. Going forward into 2010-11, the Eagles will face a similar scenario. Tradition indicates that Winthrop will once again be tough defensively. It's been the calling card behind frequent visits to the Big Dance. But if the Eagles want to build upon their now annually high expectations, they have to find some go-to offensive options. Winthrop's top two scoring options from last year return, including guard Reggie Middleton, who picked up his scoring down the stretch.

Coppin State Coppin State (Dec. 28)

Head coach: Ron Mitchell (25th season)
Record/Conference finish: 8-22 (3-13 in Mid-Eastern Athletic/11th)
Final RPI: 337
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Kareem Brown (10.0 ppg, 57 3-pointers), Michael Harper (9.9 ppg), Lenny Young (9.8 ppg), Vince Goldsberry (8.7 ppg, 3.3 apg), Sam Coleman (7.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Key losses: None
Series record: UK leads 1-0
Last meeting: UK won 77-46 on Nov. 20, 2004

The skinny: Returning virtually an entire team usually spells good things. Coppin State, in that respect, is very much a mystery this year. Once the class of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, head coach Ron Mitchell's club stumbled through perhaps the most difficult year of Mitchell's near-quarter-of-a-century stay at Coppin State. There are signs of optimism, though. Coppin State, despite the record, was often in games until the final minute. There was not a single senior on last year's squad, so Coppin State will welcome back not only an entire roster but much-needed experience and leadership. Keep an eye on Michael Harper when Coppin State visits Rupp. The guard was a prolific 3-point shooter his freshman year but struggled from the floor last year as a sophomore.

Louisville at Louisville (Dec. 31)

Head coach: Rick Pitino (10th season)
Record/Conference finish: 20-13 (11-7 in Big East/t-fifth)
Final RPI: 45
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NCAA first round
Key returnees: Preston Knowles (7.2 ppg), Jared Swopshire (7.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Terrence Jennings (5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg), Peyton Siva (3.9 ppg, 1.8 apg)
Key losses: Samardo Samuels (15.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Edgar Sosa (13.1 ppg, 4.5 apg, 67 3-pointers), Jerry Smith (8.3 ppg)
Series record: UK leads 27-14
Last meeting: UK won 71-62 on Jan. 2, 2010

The skinny: Louisville was thought to be in rather decent shape heading into the grand opening of the Yum! Center. And then the centerpiece of the Louisville frontcourt left at the last minute for the pros. Now, Rick Pitino, a much-maligned coaching legend, will head into the opening of a brand, spanking new arena with a myriad of questions surrounding the team. Can Jared Swopshire and Terrence Jennings pick up the slack for Samuels? Who will step into Edgar Sosa's leadership position? What type of offense will Pitino run without a primary scoring threat in the post? Swopshire and Jennings will hold huge keys to the season, but the difference makers could be guards Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva. Pitino has hinted that the Cardinals will return to a more athletic, in-your-face style this season, similar to the offense and defense he ran at Kentucky. That means perimeter play will be important. Knowles has shown signs of being a knockdown 3-point shooter, and Siva was groomed last year as the point guard of the future.

Penn Penn (Jan. 3)

Head coach: Jerome Allen (first season)
Record/Conference finish: 6-22 (5-9 in Ivy League/t-fifth)
Final RPI: 298
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Zack Rosen (17.7 ppg, 71 3-pointers, 4.4 apg), Jack Eggleston (13.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg), *Tyler Bernardini (13.7 ppg)
Key losses: None
Series record: UK leads 4-0
Last meeting: UK won 67-50 on Nov. 17, 1999
*Played just two games after suffering a season-ending injury. Penn's leading scorer in 2008-09.

The skinny: The good news for Penn? Things can only go up after an injury-plagued 2009-10 in which everything appeared to go against the Quakers. Expected to contend for the Ivy League title, as Penn did with frequency in the not-so-distant past, the Quakers stumbled out of the gate to a 1-13 start, which abruptly ended coach Glen Miller's tenure seven games into it. The season got moderately better when former Penn star Jerome Allen took over, but a slew of devastating injuries plagued the Quakers throughout the season. Now that Allen is officially the head coach, Penn is hoping the bad-luck run of injuries is over. Forward Tyler Bernardini will return after missing basically all of last year with an injury. When he was healthy in his sophomore year, he averaged a team-high 13.7 points per game. Andreas Schreiber, a 6-foot-9 talent, is also being counted on to return after missing just about all of the last two years. In their absence last year, several players were forced to step up, most notably Zack Rosen and Jack Eggleston. Rosen, who led the Ivy League in scoring last year, will return as one of the best players in the Ivy League. With the return of the injured players and the valuable experience that the replacements received, the Quakers are expected to re-enter conference title contention again in Allen's first full year.

Georgia Georgia (Jan. 8 - Athens; Jan. 29 - Lexington)

Head coach: Mark Fox (second season)
Record/Conference finish: 14-17 (5-11 in SEC/sixth in East)
Final RPI: 109
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Trey Thompkins (17.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Travis Leslie (14.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Dustin Ware (8.2 ppg, 3.4 apg), Jeremy Price (7.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Key losses: Ricky McPhee (9.6 ppg, 66 3-pointers)
Series record: UK leads 112-24
Last meeting: UK won 80-68 on March 3, 2010

The skinny: Here's something to wrap your mind around: Georgia could be one of the best teams in the SEC. Yes, that same Georgia team that finished in last place in the SEC East last year. But if you watched the Bulldogs during Mark Fox's first year as head coach and saw the dynamic duo of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, you know the possibility of the Bulldogs competing for an SEC crown isn't so far-fetched. Outside of Kentucky's own John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, Thompkins and Leslie were the most exciting duo in the SEC. Thompkins improved exponentially in his sophomore season and will return as one of the top big men in the SEC. Leslie is good for at least one highlight reel play a night and will be the most athletic player in the conference this year, bar none. But the biggest thing going forward for Georgia is the belief Fox instilled in his team a season ago that it could win again in the SEC. After a nightmarish 2008-09, the Bulldogs were in just about every game and truthfully could have won more. That confidence should only grow this year as the Dawgs' two top players and a couple of key transfers return. Georgia will certainly need all the confidence it can get in what should be an ultra-competitive SEC East.

Auburn Auburn (Jan. 11)

Head coach: Tony Barbee (first season)
Record/Conference finish: 15-17 (6-10 in SEC/t-fourth in West)
Final RPI: 151
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Frankie Sullivan (12.7 ppg, 63 3-pointers)
Key losses: DeWayne Reed (16.2 ppg, 4.3 apg), Tay Waller (15.3 ppg, 87 3-pointers), Lucas Hargrove (12.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Brandon Knox (8.7 ppg)
Series record: UK leads 84-17
Last meeting: UK won 72-67 on Jan. 16, 2010

The skinny: Tony Barbee made a bold assertion upon taking the job at Auburn: "We're going right after Kentucky," Barbee said. "We're going right after coach (John) Calipari." Barbee will have his work cut out for him in his first season as a Tiger. Just about every key piece from last year is gone, minus guard Frankie Sullivan, who scored a career-high 27 points in Auburn's final game. With the season all but lost, several key youngsters received additional playing time, including Earnest Ross. The summer wasn't kind to the Tigers, either. Now Sullivan's status for the 2010-11 season is in question after suffering a knee injury, and forward Luke Cothron, a top-50 recruit, according to, has been ruled ineligible. Faced with the possibility of fielding entirely new starting lineup - and virtually a whole new team - a 2010-11 might be a rebuilding year for Auburn. The season is still expected to be a memorable one as the Tigers open their new $92.5 million arena. The Cats won't visit to the new arena until 2011-12.

LSU LSU (Jan. 15)

Head coach: Trent Johnson (third season)
Record/Conference finish: 11-20 (2-14 in SEC/sixth in West)
Final RPI: 223
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Storm Warren (11.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
Key losses: Tasmin Mitchell (16.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg), Bo Spencer (14.5 ppg, 61 3-pointers)
Series record: UK leads 79-24
Last meeting: UK won 81-55 on Feb. 6, 2010

The skinny: Trent Johnson would be the first to tell you that last season was extremely difficult for the Tigers. Anytime you go from champion to cellar dweller, things aren't going to be easy. The Tigers had just three viable scoring options a year ago because of injuries. Now, two of those players - including one of the all-time leading scorers in LSU program history, Tasmin Mitchell - are gone. That could only mean things are going to get worse in 2010-11, right? Not necessarily. While the absences of guard Bo Spencer and Mitchell will be tough to replace, reinforcements are on their way. LSU will welcome a strong recruiting class, led by a pair of four-star recruits ( in forward Matt Derenbecker and Andre Stringer. Forward Storm Warren made vast improvements last year as a scorer and should be the go-to option in the offense. The Tigers likely won't compete for an SEC title, but if they can find leadership to complement the youthful talent, LSU could turn a few heads.

Alabama at Alabama (Jan. 18)

Head coach: Anthony Grant (second season)
Record/Conference finish: 17-15 (6-10 in SEC/t-fourth in West)
Final RPI: 104
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: JaMychal Green (14.1 ppg, 5.2 ppg, 1.7 bpg), Tony Mitchell (9.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Senario Hillman (7.9 ppg)
Key losses: Mikhail Torrance (15.6 ppg, 5.1 apg)
Series record: UK leads 100-35
Last meeting: UK won 73-67 on March 12, 2010, in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals

The skinny: Just about anyone you talk to in the SEC will tell you that Alabama is only moving forward under the direction of head coach Anthony Grant. Long regarded as one of the top young coaches in the game, the Crimson Tide made impressive strides during Grant's first year on the job. Grant established a defensive mindset that will likely be the calling card of Alabama teams to come. Last year, the Tide allowed an SEC-best 64.5 points per game. Although Alabama loses its most consistent scorer and one of the top SEC point guards in Mikhail Torrance, the bulk of 'Bama's inside game returns in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. After sitting out most of last year, Andrew Steele returns as one of Grant's best defenders. If Steele buys into Grant's trapping defensive philosophy and the interior game of Green and Mitchell continue to improve, this could be one of those feisty, hard-working clubs that opposing teams dread to play. Last year's near upset of Kentucky in the SEC Tournament could be a telling indication of what is to come.

South Carolina South Carolina (Columbia - Jan. 22; Lexington - Feb. 19)

Head coach: Darrin Horn (third season)
Record/Conference finish: 15-16 (6-10 in SEC/t-fifth in East)
Final RPI: 98
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Sam Muldrow (10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpgs, 3.1 bpg)
Key losses: Devan Downey (22.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 69 3-pointers), *Dominique Archie (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Mike Holmes (11.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Brandis Raley-Ross (10.6 ppg, 62 3-pointers)
Series record: UK leads 42-9
Last meeting: UK won 82-61 on Feb. 25, 2010
*Played in just five games after suffering a season-ending injury

The skinny: Yes, the Cat killer is gone. If there is one player Kentucky fans are pleased to see gone more than any other, chances are it's guard Devan Downey. The one-man UK heartbreaker has finally run out of eligibility and is gone to greener pastures overseas. And that's fine by UK fans. Without Downey, South Carolina will have several question marks to answer this year. Not only is the SEC's leading scorer out, so is his supporting cast of guards in Dominique Archie and Brandis Raley-Ross. Without the Gamecocks' backcourt, head coach Darrin Horn will have a lot of rebuilding on his hands. Shot blocker Sam Muldrow is back and will be looked to for more offense along with returning starter Lakeem Jackson and reserve Ramon Galloway. But outside of those options, a lot is going to rely on Horn's 2010 signing class, which should be a good one. Horn signed two four-star prospects, according to, in guard Bruce Ellington and forward Damontre Harris. Both will need to step up big for South Carolina not to take a step back in 2010-11.

Ole Miss at Ole Miss (Feb. 1)

Head coach: Andy Kennedy (fourth season)
Record/Conference finish: 24-11 (9-7 in SEC/t-first in West)
Final RPI: 54
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NIT semifinals
Key returnees: Chris Warren (17.2 ppg, 111 3-pointers, 3.5 apg), Zach Graham (9.2 ppg, 50 3-pointers)
Key losses: Terrico White (15.1 ppg, 61 3-pointers, 4.6 rpg), Murphy Holloway (10.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Eniel Polynice (8.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.9 apg)
Series record: UK leads 97-13
Last meeting: UK won 85-75 on Feb. 2, 2010

The skinny: Chris Warren might be the best player in the SEC that the average fan doesn't know about. He also might be the player with the most to gain or lose this season. On an up-tempo team fond of shooting 3-pointers last season, Warren was one of handful of guys who could put the ball in the basket. That won't necessarily be the case this year. The departures of Terrico White, Murphy Holloway and Eniel Polynice will be huge holes to fill, putting the pressure on Warren to shoulder a hefty load of the offense in his senior season. The 3-point assassin has shown he's more than capable of scoring, draining a league-high 111 treys last season, but he'll need some help from guard Zach Graham in addition to some supporting role players (Trevor Gaskins and Terrance Henry) who will need to take on bigger roles this season. The Rebels have made great strides under fourth-year head coach Andy Kennedy winning 69 games over his three years (compared to just 41 wins the previous three seasons), but Ole Miss hasn't made the Big Dance since 2002. Will this be the year? Again, a lot is on Warren's shoulders.

Florida Florida (Gainesville - Feb. 5; Lexington -Feb. 26)

Head coach: Billy Donovan (15th season)
Record/Conference finish: 21-13 (9-7 in SEC/fourth in East)
Final RPI: 59
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NCAA first round
Key returnees: Kenny Boynton (14.0 ppg, 72 3-pointers), Erving Walker (12.6 ppg, 5.0 apg, 72 3-pointers), Chandler Parsons (12.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Alex Tyus (11.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Vernon Macklin (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Key losses: None
Series record: UK leads 88-32
Last meeting: UK won 74-66 on March 7, 2010

The skinny: Florida's two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament proved to be an anomaly last season with an NCAA Tournament berth. And now, after a first-round loss in the Big Dance, the Gators are expected to contend for an SEC title and make a run in the NCAA Tournament. After back-to-back years of offseason defections, Florida returns every key offensive piece from a year ago. Kenny Boynton, the Gators' leading scorer as a freshman, will team up with Erving Walker once again to form what should be the top backcourt in the league. Inside, Florida will be just as formidable. Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin make up one the league's best interior games. With a starting lineup as talented as any in the SEC, the key for Florida will be depth. Outside of Ray Shipman, who will Donovan be able to count off the bench? Freshman forward Patric Young, a five-star recruit, according to, has the potential to be one of the top frontcourt players down the road and should see significant minutes in his first season. If the Gators can find a handful of players to complement its talented first five, the Gators will be a favorite to compete not only for the SEC crown but a potential Final Four sleeper to boot. The UK-Florida game on Feb. 5 will be featured on ESPN College GameDay.

Tennessee Tennessee (Lexington - Feb. 8; Knoxville - March 6)

Head coach: Bruce Pearl (sixth season)
Record/Conference finish: 28-9 (11-5 in SEC/third in East)
Final RPI: 9
Final ranking: 15/9
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Key returnees: Scotty Hopson (12.2 ppg, 52 3-pointers)
Key losses: Wayne Chism (12.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg), *Tyler Smith (11.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg), J.P. Prince (9.9 ppg, 3.1 apg), Bobby Maze (9.4 ppg)
Series record: UK leads 143-66
Last meeting: UK won 74-45 on March 13, 2010, in SEC Tournament semifinals
*Played in only 12 games last year after being dismissed from the team

The skinny: The rivalry between UK and Tennessee is as alive as ever. Whether John Calipari and Bruce Pearl, the border-state recruiting battles, last year's upset of No. 1 UK or the Tennessee shellacking in the SEC Tournament, this rivalry is suddenly challengin Louisville on Kentucky's schedule. It has gotten that heated. When the two teams meet this year, there will be a lot of new faces on both sides. Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince, fixtures of the Tennessee offense and the biggest reasons behind the Volunteers' first Elite Eight appearance last season, are gone. Guard Scotty Hopson emerged last year as a viable second option, but just about all of his teammates have left. Help is on the way in the form of a star-studded recruiting class, headlined by forward Tobias Harris, who ranks No. 7 in the 2010 recruiting class. Harris is expected to come in and contribute immediately, as are four-star shooting guards Trae Golden and Jordan McRae. But experience always goes a long way. Look for one or more of the veterans out of the group of Melvin Goins, Cameron Tatum and Brian Williams to step up the scoring this year. Tennessee will need it if the rivalry is going to be as closely contested this year.

Vanderbilt Vanderbilt (Nashville - Feb. 12; Lexington - March 1)

Head coach: Kevin Stallings (11th season)
Record/Conference finish: 28-9 (24-9, 12-4 in SEC/second in East)
Final RPI: 27
Final ranking: 21/--
Postseason: NCAA first round
Key returnees: Jeffery Taylor (13.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), John Jenkins (11.0 ppg, 72 3-pointers)
Key losses:
Jermaine Beal (14.6 ppg, 3.1 apg, 72 3-pointers), A.J. Ogilvy (13.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 133-43
Last meeting: UK won 58-56 on Feb. 25, 2010

The skinny: The staples of Vanderbilt's recent success in the SEC, A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal, have departed. But does that mean Vandy is in line for a slide? As long as Kevin Stallings is the coach, don't count on it. One of the most underrated coaches in America, Stallings seems to quietly put together contenders year after year. Ogilvy was the face of the program for the last few years, but the Commodores should be able to move on if reserves Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang or incoming 6-foot-11 freshman Josh Henderson can step up. The bigger loss will really be Beal, who was one of the most effective point guards in the conference the last two seasons. Who replaces Beal remains to be seen. Jeffery Taylor is a dynamic player at small forward and John Jenkins is poised for a breakout year as a sophomore, but again, who will get them the ball? If any coach can figure it out, it's Stallings.

Mississippi State Mississippi State (Feb. 15)

Head coach: Rick Stansbury (13th season)
Record/Conference finish: 24-12 (9-7 in SEC/t-first in West)
Final RPI: 61
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: NIT second round
Key returnees: Ravern Johnson (13.2 ppg, 87 3-pointers), Kodi Augustus (8.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Key losses: Jarvis Varnado (13.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.7 bpg), Dee Bost (13.0 ppg, 5.2 apg, 70 3-pointers), Barry Stewart (11.8 ppg, 78 3-pointers)
Series record: UK leads 87-19
Last meeting: UK won 75-74 (OT) on March 14, 2010, in 2010 SEC Tournament finals

The skinny: Live by the 3, die by the 3. Ultimately, it cost the Bulldogs in 2009-10. Mississippi State was one of the most productive teams from behind the arc last year, hitting 9.1 treys per game, sixth most in the nation. But at times it became a problem. MSU became so reliant on the 3-ball that when the shots weren't falling, the MSU offense became stagnant. Guard Ravern Johnson will return on the perimeter after hitting 87 3-pointers last year. The nation's all-time blocks leader, Jarvis Varnado, is no longer in MSU maroon, but his replacement has the potential to be an even bigger threat. After sitting all of 2009-10 with NCAA eligibility issues, forward Renardo Sidney is expected to finally suit up. Sidney, a five-star recruit in the 2009 class, doesn't possess the shot-blocking ability of Varnado, but he was an efficient high post and low post scorer in high school. Don't sleep on forward Kodi Augustus having a big year either, and for that matter, don't sleep on MSU - the Bulldogs still have plenty of talent.

Sam Houston State Logo at Arkansas (Feb. 23)

Head coach: John Pelphrey (fourth season)
Record/Conference finish: 14-18 (7-9 in SEC/third in West)
Final RPI: 155
Final ranking: N/A
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Rotnei Clarke (15.1 ppg, 100 3-pointers), Marshawn Powell (14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
Key losses: Courtney Fortson (17.9 pp, 5.7 apg), Mike Washington (12.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 24-7
Last meeting: UK won 101-70 on Jan. 23, 2010

The skinny: Few schools in the SEC can appreciate the tradition and the pressure a program like UK faces on a yearly basis. Arkansas is one of them. As a 1980s, early 1990s power and with a former Kentucky player as coach, John Pelphrey, the Razorbacks know when the heat is on. It's on now. After consecutive subpar years, Arkansas fans are getting restless. Controversy last season clouded what looked to be a solid starting lineup. Now the Razorbacks must deal with losing one of the top point guards in the league, Courtney Fortson, and their workhorse inside, Mike Washington. The good news for Pelphrey and Co. is one of the most prolific 3-point shooter in the league returns in Rotnei Clarke. The 6-foot guard can fill it up with anybody in the country, scoring 51 points in the Razorbacks' season-opening game a year ago. Clarke will likely draw double teams as the go-to-scorer this year, so it will be up to budding star Marshawn Powell to take some pressure off Clarke.

Video: Phillips on offensive line, place kickers

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Head coach Joker Phillips

"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

Day 11, Part I

Day 11, Part II

Day 12

Day 13

Day 14

Rapp.jpgAll-Southeastern Conference setter and four-year starting setter Sarah Rumely is not walking through that door anymore. Neither is All-SEC outside hitter Sarah Mendoza, the team's leader in kills the last two years. Kentucky's two-year starter at libero? Gone by way of graduation.

All reasons to tab the Cats No. 14 in the preseason - the team's highest preseason ranking since 1983 right?

Wait, what?

To the outsider it might not add up, losing three veterans yet earning the second-highest preseason ranking in program history. But to head coach Craig Skinner, it makes perfect sense.

The mark of a good program is consistency. There are no rollercoaster ups and downs. To be elite, in Skinner's mind, it's a steady trend toward an ultimate goal. It's not rebuild, it's reload.
Consider the 2010 Kentucky volleyball team reloaded.

"You have recruits in place that have been here, been around and have trained at a high level and have learned from (the veterans)," Skinner said. "It's about building a program with longevity and being able to sustain that for several years. We've got great kids in the program that are ready to step up."

Since Skinner's arrival at UK five years ago, the dream has been the same: win SEC championships and make it deep into the NCAA Tournament. The Cats have made it to the postseason a school-record five straight seasons under the tutelage of Skinner and have come agonizingly close to winning not only one SEC championship but two.

But in just about all of those seasons, he had the familiar faces in Rumely, Mendoza and Sauer to build around. Just because they're gone, the expectations have not changed.

"It doesn't matter who is on the court and what's going on," senior middle blocker Lauren Rapp said. "(Winning an SEC championship) will always be our goal and the expectation of our team."

Rapp is expected to be one of the centerpieces this year and will be relied on heavily to pick up the pieces and continue the program moving forward. The 6-foot-3 Indianapolis native is a three-year starter but really seemed to gain her confidence as last season wore on.

During the Sweet 16 match against Florida State, Rapp recorded 18 kills on a .536 hitting percentage to go along with a team-best six blocks. The effort earned her All-Region honors. It also firmly placed her as one of the leaders on this year's team.

"I just think knowing the system and what's expected of me, it's helped me come a long way," Rapp said. "My first two years it was kind of iffy, what's going to happen, how much do I need to perform and what's expected of me. I know now what's expected. (Understanding) has helped me grow as a player."

Believe Skinner when he says there are plenty of reinforcements waiting in the wings to take over. Remember, this is the team that is ranked No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Players like All-SEC preseason selection Becky Pavan (10 matches with 10 or more kills last season), Blaire Hiler (career-best 2.26 kills per set), Ann Armes (career-best .297 hitting percentage) and Gretchen Giesler (squad-best 1.11 blocks per set) have been key the past few years and have been groomed for their time in the spotlight.

But replacing the leadership of Rumely, a mainstay on the court for four years who Skinner likened to a coach on the court, will be the biggest hurdle in the early season schedule, a first-weekend slate that includes the likes of No. 2 Nebraska and No. 9 Iowa State in the AVCA Showcase.

Skinner is confident his new veterans and newcomers alike are ready to step up and fill that void.

Skinner.jpg"If you look at where Blaire Hiler and Lauren Rapp were last season at this point in time, they are definitely beyond physically where they were, hitting the ball harder and their effort level is harder than they ever have been in practice," Skinner said. "I really think they're embracing their leadership roles."

As for the actual position of setter that will need to be filled, that was a two-player battle until just recently.

Redshirt sophomore Christine Hartmann and true freshman Elizabeth Kolberstein, who was rated as the nation's No. 16 overall prospect and the third-best setter in the class of 2010, had been in a neck-and-neck competition. But on Tuesday in an interview, Skinner revealed that Hartmann earned the starting position.

"Her IQ of the game is exceptional and she really has a great sense of who and when to set," Skinner said of Hartmann. "I think her ball distribution and getting people one on one is as good as anyone we're going to play. Right now, in our preseason, our hitting percentage is higher than it ever has been in the preseason."

Skinner credited Hartmann's patience and willingness to learn as key factors in winning the starting job. For two years, Hartmann watched from the sidelines as Rumely directed the offense. Hartmann, who Skinner called a "student of the game," has digested what she's learned and is ready to make her own footprint on the program.

"Part of my development is because of Sarah Rumely," Hartmann said. "She and I were very close and we trained together a lot, so I learned a lot from her. Being able to watch the way that she works with the team and seeing things that I like that she did or things that I would change once I'm out there, that's really helped me become the player that I am."

Sophomore Stephanie Klefot will take over the libero jersey after serving as a defensive specialist her freshman season. Skinner said Klefot may be the most athletic libero in the country.

"Athletically, she is off the charts, but her touch, feel and charisma and energy on the court is outstanding," Skinner said. "I think she's going to have a huge season."

There will be growing pains early as the Cats try to navigate through the toughest schedule in Skinner's tenure. But that's going to happen anytime you have to replace pieces as valuable as Rumely and Co.

The true mark of a program is how it moves forward and how it copes with those losses. Judging by preseason rankings, confidence and next class of Kentucky stars, nothing has changed with the UK volleyball team.

Winning the SEC championship is still a priority.

"That's where we are and that's what we want to accomplish," Skinner said. "If we're able to compete and beat the best in our conference, that puts us as one of the best teams in the country. We're doing great things now, but the exciting thing about this team is we're going to get better and better each week and each day that we compete this year. By the end of the year we should be really good."

MBSK 09_10 GameDay Web 14.jpg- Men's basketball on GameDay again: ESPN released its College GameDay schedule for the 2010-11 season. To little surprise, Kentucky is once again featured in the eight-game tour.

The only downside? The trip will not take place in Lexington.

On Feb. 5, Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Huber Davis and the GameDay gang will feature the UK-Florida basketball game in Gainesville, Fla.

UK is hoping to announce the entire 2010-11 men's basketball schedule in the near future.

- Tamme gaining experience: If you haven't noticed this NFL preseason, former Kentucky tight end Jacob Tamme is making a huge impression with this Indianapolis Colts.

Now in his third season with the franchise, Tamme is starting to get more looks offensively after shining as a special-teams star the past two years. Tamme has already caught two touchdowns in the Colts' preseason and has emerged as the go-to tight end after Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark.

Read about Tamme's progression and experience in a story by John Oesher on

- Ex-Cat Crawford signs with Kings: Reports are indicating that former UK men's basketball player Joe Crawford has signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Sacramento Kings after a huge summer with the Orlando Magic in the NBA Summer League.

Crawford will participate with the Kings in training camp in hopes of making the regular-season roser, according to

"It's a great situation because they need a guard like me," Crawford said, according to the story. "They'll evaluate me for a month, I'll practice with the team, and then I'll play in the preseason games."

If Crawford makes the squad, he will join first-round selection and former Wildcat DeMarcus Cousins on the Kings roster.

- Breaking down the SEC: takes a pretty extensive look at the 2010 Southeastern Conference college basketball season in its Summer Shootaround.

In the preview, ESPN college basketball analysts Andy Katz, Fran Fraschilla and Doug Gottlieb do everything from breaking down all 12 teams, predicting the order of finish, five storylines to watch the rest of the offseason, 10 players to watch around the league and more.

Of the highlights, Fraschilla picks UK to win the SEC East while Katz picks freshmen sensations Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight as players to watch this season.

A lot of good Kentucky and SEC information to read at the link. Check it all out at

- Football toughest two-game stretch: Southeastern Conference blogger Chris Low of ESPN ranks the toughest two-game stretches in the league this year, ranking UK's toughest two-game schedule as road trips to Florida and Ole Miss.

Low ranks the two-game stretch as the ninth toughest in the league.

What do you think? Are there eight teams that have tougher two-game stretches than UK? Is Florida and Ole Miss even Kentucky's toughest two-game stretch? What say you?

Video: Sanders reviews QB decision

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Offensive coorindator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders

Video: Skinner, Rapp preview volleyball season

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The 2010 Kentucky volleyball season kicks off Saturday against No. 2 Nebraska in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase in Omaha, Neb. Despite losing veterans Sarah Rumely, Sarah Mendoza and BriAnne Sauer, expecatations will once again be high as the defending Southeastern Conference East Division champions are picked preseason No. 14 by the AVCA.

I stopped down in Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday to talk to head coach Craig Skinner and a couple of the players for a season preview/feature I will write later Tuesday or Wednesday. In the meantime, check out a couple of video interviews I did with Skinner and senior middle blocker Lauren Rapp:

Head coach Craig Skinner

Senior middle blocker Lauren Rapp

Report: Rondo withdraws from Team USA

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An Associated Press story reports that former Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo and current Boston Celtics star Rajon Rondo withdrew his name for consideration for the final U.S. national basketball team roster.

Rondo had started for the Americans in the first two exhibition games, then surprisingly didn't start at all Sunday when the U.S. edged Spain. The final 12-man roster set Tuesday includes: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala.

A bit surprising Rondo didn't crack that roster.

Hartline's experience a deciding factor

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FB 09_10 UK_Bama WEB 21.jpgIn the end, Mike Hartline's experience paid off.

It didn't matter that Hartline was the fans' odd man out, that Hartline is coming off knee surgery or that sophomore Morgan Newton had led UK to historic wins at Auburn and Georgia.

In the end, the way head coach Joker Phillips described it, the fifth-year senior gives the Kentucky football team the best chance to win - at least against Louisville on Sept. 4 for the season opener. Hartline was named the starter Monday to begin the season in favor of Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski.

"Right now we feel that Mike Hartline gives us the best chance to win," Phillips said. "He has been more efficient and is playing faster than the other two. At this point he gives us the best chance to win."

Some fans will groan and bemoan the decision Phillips made. Hartline's answer to some of the criticism he might receive should give all the indication about how ready he is to lead the offense.

"I've been through it all," Hartline said. "I'm ready. Like I said back at media day, no matter what happens I'm still going to be here. All that matters to me is my teammates, my coaching and my family. I'll go from there."   

From his unkempt beard to his newfound composure in interviews - remember, this is the same guy who had some choice words for his teammates when he lost the job a couple of seasons ago - Hartline carries himself in a different manner now. He's more mature, more confident.

He walks the walk and talks the talk of a fifth-year senior. Ultimately, that's what a coaching staff is looking for from the most important position on the field.

"Experience, I think, was a key factor," Hartline said. "You go out there and you try to play as fast as you can. I still have that acceleration as far as playing fast, keeping the guys on the field as far as the play clock, managing that, keeping the offense on the field and keeping the chains moving."

Phillips didn't say that Newton and  Mossakowski didn't do enough or lost the job. Quite the contrary.

At this current point in time, with 12 days left until the season-opener against archrival Louisville, Hartline was just the better man for the position. As Phillips said six times in the first five minutes of his announcement, Hartline gives UK "the best chance to win."

"You have guys like Morgan (who) has a cannon of an arm, can run all over the place," Hartline said. "Moss is really smart, just like Morgan. It pushes you in every aspect of being a quarterback, not just being able to throw the ball (but) being able to see things in the film room. Those guys are going to be a great talent soon in the future (but) being that it is my last season, I pushed really hard. I've done great things in the offseason, especially in the weight room, in the film room working with these guys."

Hartline speaks the truth. While the media cannot watch practice, listen from a guy who works inside the department: Hartline was the better quarterback.

There were rumblings from the scrimmage more than a week ago that Hartline was the leader in the clubhouse. That never changed from start to finish despite the open battle.

"He was slightly ahead at all times, there is no question about that, but he was not as far ahead to where we felt we had to make a decision," Phillips said. "If we would have made this thing in the spring or when we first started in fall camp, I don't think that it would have been fair to those other guys that are a little bit younger. We had to give those guys a chance to compete."

Newton and Mossakowski will continue to have a chance to compete. Phillips did not rule them out of playing later in the season, though he did say he will not have a quick trigger and will give Hartline a fair chance.

But for now, Mossakowski and Newton are relegated to battling it out for the No. 2 spot behind Hartline, a surprising revelation of just how far Mossakowski has come.

"No question (Mossakowski might see some time this year)," Phillips said. "He probably made the most improvement of any of them but he had farther to go than any of them also. He definitely is a factor. He has the stuff that you are looking for out of the quarterback."

As far as whom wins the No. 2 spot, that's still to be determined.

"We told those two guys that they are slashed," Phillips said. "That is an ongoing competition at this point in time. On Sept. 4, it will be a feel thing for what we need because they both do different things and it will be whatever we need at that point in time."

As one can understand, Newton did not take the news very easily and was visibly upset during interviews after practice.

"You come out here and you try to win, compete and put yourself in position to play and it doesn't work out, yeah (there is disappointment)," Newton said.

Mossakowski, who is coming off a redshirt year in which he rested an injured shoulder, had a different outlook on things.

"It's great because with this coaching staff I believe in all the things that they say and all the things that they do," Mossakowski said. "I really do. For me, I am going to support Mike 110 percent and I am going to be there if he needs anything. Game plan wise, if he needs me to do anything during the week I am going to be there for him week in and week out. It is a good decision."

There will almost certainly be some that will be disenchanted with the decision. Hartline's up-and-down career sparks enough debate to last the rest of the season.

But the bottom line is Phillips and his coaching staff made the right decision if all the rumors out of camp were true. If Hartline was really the better guy in the scrimmages and the guy with the most experience, why not go with him?

Say what you want about Hartline's play before last year, but the guy didn't have all that much of a shot last season. Two of his four full games were against defending national champion Florida and eventual national champion Alabama. When he did get rolling against South Carolina, he ended up hurt.

The coaching staff now believes he can pick up right where he left off.

"We felt that there was enough separation with the experienced guy because he is playing fast, is being most efficient in the things that we are wanting to get done," Phillips said. "He is the guy who won the job."

Finally, it's time to move forward to Louisville.

Video: Hartline named starting quarterback

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Mike Hartline is the guy.

Head coach Joker Phillips announced Monday after practice that senior Mike Hartline has won the starting quarterback job and will get the nod against Louisville on Sept. 4.

Hear what Phillips and Hartline had to say in the videos below. I'll have more in written form in a couple of posts a little later on.

Joker Phillips

Mike Hartline

When will QB decision come?

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As the days pass, the shadows get longer and the practices mount up, reporters flock to the Nutter Training Facility and ask the age-old question: Has Kentucky named a starting quarterback yet?

And every day, without much hesitation but hints of promise, head coach Joker Phillips greets the media and delivers a consistent but disappointing message: Not today, ladies and gentlemen.

That was the feeling Sunday afternoon as Phillips walked off the field less than two weeks away from the season opener at Louisville. Phillips smiled at the awaiting faction as if had a secret to finally tell.

Only for the nth day in a row, Phillips said the quarterback battle will go on as normal.

"There is no news," Phillips said. "We'll go back and look at it again because we have to make the right decision for our program and for the three kids involved, too. We'll look at it again and then try to come up with the decision. ... I will personally. I'll try to go back and figure out who the guy is."

Stop me if you've heard that before.

Having said that, Phillips made it clear Sunday he's not trying to be coy about the decision to keep UK's season-opening rival guessing. Phillips said he plans to make the announcement as soon as he decides who the starter is.

"We're not trying to (be coy)," Phillips said. "We've got to try to do what's best for this football team. If it's to announce now so that person can lead this football team then we've got to announce now. We are who are."

So when will the quarterback decision come? Does that mean Phillips is ready to announce now or wait until next week?

This is strictly a gut feeling, but if you've been around Phillips and the team of late, you're getting the feeling that a decision is coming any day now.

While I firmly believe there hasn't been an official announcement and accept Phillips' comments that it is still a three-man battle, I have a feeling the coaching staff knows who the guy is - they're just in the process of wanting to make sure.

Some of you might ask: Why not just keep it a three-man battle and surprise the Cardinals next week?

While there is some benefit in competition and pushing each other, the Louisville game is getting closer and closer. The sooner you can name a guy and anoint him the leader of your football team the better.

It's important to develop consistency with your first-team offense and get the eventual starter the first-team reps. Until a starter is named - and as long as the battle is an open three-man race - the three candidates are splitting those duties.

Before Saturday's scrimmage, Phillips expressed strong interest last week in wanting to name a starter as soon as possible. Yes, that decision didn't come Saturday or Sunday as hoped and it might not even come Monday.

But soon -- rather than later -- I believe the call is coming. The Cats will hold a major scrimmage Tuesday for the third time this season before taking Wednesday off for the first day of classes.

Will the players walk into class knowing who the starter will be? Stay tuned.

Update: Archrival Louisville might have just proved my point. Only a few minutes after posting this, U of L head coach Charlie Strong announced via Twitter that Adam Froman will start for the Cards on Sept. 4 against Kentucky.

Coach Phillips, it's your turn now. 

Head coach Jon Lipsitz

Junior midfielder Kelsey Hunyadi -
Transfer scored two goals in her UK debut.

Live blog: UK women's soccer vs. Coastal Carolina

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The Kentucky women's soccer team kicks off its season Saturday at 6 p.m. at the UK against Coastal Carolina. To kick off the 2010-11 UK athletics season, I'll be live blogging from the UK Soccer Complex to bring you all the action as the Wildcats look to embark on head coach Jon Lipsitz's second year at the helm.

Video of 'Operation: Move In'

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The UK football team took a break from preseason practices and meetings Friday morning and assisted with "Operation: Move In" on the UK campus.

The Wildcat players and coaches helped families unload vehicles and get belongings to their dorm rooms in the south dormitory complex. The UK Pep Band also was on hand and the band's lively tunes gave the event a festive atmosphere. After the work, the team was thanked by UK President Lee Todd and First Lady Patsy Todd.

Here is video of the team helping the freshmen move in:

Antigua named one of nation's top recruiters

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Antigua.jpgHead coach John Calipari gets a ton of the praise for Kentucky's recent trend of top-ranked recruiting classes, and deservedly so, but Calipari can't do it by himself. The man has an ace in the hole.

When it comes to recruiting, that man is assistant coach Orlando Antigua.

As chosen by Jason King of Yahoo! Sports, Antigua has been named one of the 10 recruiting recruiters in college basketball. The list appears to be in no particular order, but Antigua, nonetheless, is listed first.

Here is what King has to say about Antigua:

Orlando Antigua, Kentucky - The former Pittsburgh player and assistant coach is one of the key reasons John Calipari has been able to lure talent such John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to Kentucky. Antigua - who worked for Calipari during his final year at Memphis and then followed him to Lexington - played for the Harlem Globetrotters for seven years before breaking into the coaching ranks in 2002. He and new assistant Kenny Payne will make Kentucky a force in recruiting for years to come. The Wildcats have already secured pledges from three of the top eight players in the Class of 2011.

This much Matthew Mitchell knows: Starting point guard Amber Smith, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in a pickup game this summer after leading UK on its historic Elite Eight run, is out four to six months.

Other than that, he's not ruling out anything one way or another.

"Amber is going to be a big loss for us early in the year," Mitchell said. "We're taking the approach, and I think it's important for her to take the approach mentally and emotionally that I'm just going to try to work as hard as I can to get well as soon as I can. Sitting here today in August, I can't tell you when she's going to be back on the court again, but I know she is trying to stay in the frame of the mind that I'm going to get back this year and I'm going to play. Whether that happens or not, that's just the mentality that we're trying to take right now so she can heal."

Does that mean Smith could come back this season? During a news conference Thursday to announce the promotion of Kyra Elzy from assistant coach to associate head coach, Mitchell went into detail about Smith's injury but could not provide an estimated timetable for her return.

Mitchell said the prognosis from UK's medical staff was four to six months, but that could vary depending on several factors.

"Usually six months is more accurate than four," Mitchell said. "Could she be ready in five? Yes. Could it be seven? Yes. But somewhere, I think the book is four to six months."

That would put Smith's estimated return anywhere from mid-December to mid-February, just in time for a postseason run.

Ironically, what's going Smith's way is that she has been through a major injury before, tearing her ACL and meniscus in her right knee midway through her freshman season. Mitchell believes that unfortunate experience could help benefit her in dealing with the mental and physical battles that lie ahead in her road to recovery.

"As unfortunate as it is, you do have the prior experience of getting through it and actually doing a little bit better in many cases," Mitchell said.

Should Smith, who averaged 9.2 points and team-high 4.6 assists last season, not return this year, she would be eligible to take a medical redshirt and return next season as a senior. In the case she doesn't come back, Mitchell feels comfortable with the team's arsenal of point guards.

WBSK 09_10 UK_GA Web 14.jpg"Whenever you lose someone as valuable as Amber, everyone has to rise to the occasion and chip in and elevate their game a little bit," Mitchell said. "Hopefully everybody doing a little extra can somewhat soften that blow. It'll be awfully hard to replace her just because she's a senior and coming off such a fine year, but we'll do everything we can to get that figured out."

The two leading candidates to take over in Smith's absence will be LSU transfer Crystal Riley and freshman Jennifer O'Neill.

Riley, now a junior, played well as Smith's backup last season but missed the first nine games of the year while she sat out for NCAA transfer rules and the last 10 games with a stress fracture in her left foot.

Meanwhile, Mitchell will welcome one of the nation's top high school point guards in the country last year in O'Neill, who is the program's first incoming freshman to earn McDonald's All-America honors.

In the case that neither works out as planned, Mitchell has an ace in the hole in Southeastern Conference Freshman Player of the Year A'dia Mathies, who saw time at point guard last year.

"It's awfully good to have A'dia Mathies on your basketball team because she can fill in, in a lot of areas," Mitchell said. "If Victoria (Dunlap), heaven forbid, went down, I would look at A'dia as an option there. That's just how good A'dia is. A'dia can play them all. She can run the point or she can post up. So that's a good feeling and that's sort of the way we'll have to do it."

Expectations were soaring into this summer with the return of Mathies, Smith and SEC Player of the Year Dunlap. That outlook might change slightly without Smith, but it hardly matters to Mitchell. He believes the Cats have to continue to use the same underdog attitude that got the Cats within one game of the Final Four a year ago.

"The huge key for this group of young women is will they commit and become a team," Mitchell said. "You're not just a team because you all wear the same uniform. What I love about this last experience we had and why I'm not afraid to talk about it, that group became a team. The group's goals became more important that anyone's individual goals. To me, that's when you have the most chance to maximize your potential and do something special." 

Mitchell's biggest concern is replacing Smith's emotional and leadership qualities that were so essential to the team's magical postseason run. It took time for Smith to find her role on the team and for her to manage the rollercoaster emotions of a season, Mitchell said.

Now, Mitchell is hoping a devastating injury doesn't cripple the progress Smith has made.

"That's going to be the big challenge for the team and for Amber because Amber has been working hard to take strides in the area of being a consistent leader and not letting her emotions get to her," Mitchell said. "You probably couldn't have a more disappointing situation. You've worked so hard to get ready for your senior season. You're coming off an unbelievable year. You feel like you're hitting your stride and then boom, this happens."

For more on Mitchell's news conference Thursday, including comments on the 2010-11 schedule and the change in perception of the program. View video of Elzy's promotion in the post below.

Matthew Mitchell

Kyra Elzy

Georgia 053.jpgComplete Series
No. 16-20
No. 11-15
No. 6-10
No. 1-5

Over the last five seasons, I have been fortunate enough to work directly with the Kentucky baseball program. During that time, the program has achieved unprecedented success in the best conference in college baseball. Two NCAA Tournament appearances and an SEC Championship have highlighted the last few years, but along the way there have been a slew of memorable, exciting games. Since 2007, I have had the opportunity to see every inning of UK's last 228 baseball games, owning a front-row seat for some thrilling contests.

With so many exciting games and moments in program history the last few years, it is perfect for a top 20 listing of the most memorable games since that history 2006 campaign.

Over the next few days, Cat Scratches will unveil the top 20 listing in increments of five at a time until No. 1 is revealed. Each post will include a link to the postgame story from the contest and a box score. Weigh in on the rankings in the comments section, let us know if you agree or disagree and share your special memories of Kentucky baseball.

5.    David Price, Casey Weathers battle UK in thrilling 12-innings (2007)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

After UK won the league in 2006 and firmly placed itself on the national baseball map, the 2007 season was important to establish Kentucky as a program not going anywhere. Despite missing the NCAA Tournament and SEC Tournament by what amounted to be half a game, UK still won 34 games and was a break away from another historic season.

The most exciting game that I can remember during that season was when David Price, the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, and the No. 1 Vanderbilt Commodores came to Lexington for a three-game series. This was my first year working full-time with the program and I remember us going all-out in pre-series promotion, trying to create a home-field advantage for UK's series. That worked out as 2,652 fans packed Cliff Hagan Stadium, but the game turned into a marathon that lasted five hours and 10 minutes, going into the 12th inning.

Price was as good as he could be through the first six innings, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning, with UK freshman outfielder Keenan Wiley leading off the inning and UK trailing 4-0. Wiley, who had made just one start in his career entering the game, was inserted into the lineup to provide the UK offense a spark. After Price struck out Antone DeJesus on four pitches to lead off the frame, Wiley connected on the second pitch of the at bat from Price, screaming a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield. That opened the flood gates for UK, who plated two runs in the sixth and after Vandy made it 5-2 with a run in the top of the seventh, UK mounted a five-run inning in the bottom of the seventh, taking a 7-6 lead after the first five hitters reached base and came around to score off Price. Price's final line was much uglier then his first five innings were on the mound, going 6.0+ innings, allowing six hits and six runs, walking two and striking out nine.

UK held the lead over the top-ranked team in the nation, and one of the best teams in the decade, entering the top of the eighth, when Vandy struck for three runs to make it 8-7. In typical dramatic fashion, UK plated a run in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game, thanks to a lead-off walk from Brian Spear and a stolen base from pinch runner Brock Wright.

With Price out of the game, Vanderbilt's acclaimed coach Tim Corbin opted to utilize his star closer, future first-round pick Casey Weathers, a flame-throwing outfielder-turned-reliever. Weathers, the top closer in college baseball in 2007, was dominating, tossing four perfect innings, striking out five. UK couldn't muster any offense off Weathers, and Vanderbilt got a pair of doubles to lead off the 12th and an RBI groundout from scrappy second baseman Alex Feinberg for the difference.

The game was back-and-forth and it was extremely well-pitched by UK's Chris Rusin, Price and Weathers. It was exciting because it involved one of the top pitching prospects in the history of college baseball, an electric atmosphere and a riveting game.

4.    Ray's walk-off homer gives UK win over defending NCAA Champs (2010)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)  |   Photo Gallery   |  Postgame Interviews (Video)

It has already been documented what a huge series sweep UK posted over LSU on the next-to-last weekend of the 2010 season, keeping the Wildcats in the postseason hunt. That whole weekend got started with an extremely dramatic win over the 20th-ranked Tigers on Friday night.

UK had started the week poorly, dropping a pair of midweek games, at Indiana and against Lipscomb, using a makeshift pitching staff to fight through the 19 innings of baseball. The IU game was especially heartbreaking, as UK scored a run in the top of the 10th before allowing a walk-off IU win, 18-17. Kentucky had to respond in the weekend if it were to play postseason baseball.

BSB 09_10 UK_LSU Game 1 Web 24.jpgEnter Lance Ray. UK's junior slugger, a transfer from Las Vegas, had emerged late in the season as one of the top hitters in the college game after slumping and recovering from an offseason injury early in the year. Ray was hitting his stride when UK needed him most and was coming off a 4-for-5, five RBI, two walk game at Indiana that saw Ray hit two homers and come a single shy of hitting for the cycle.

UK started freshman southpaw Taylor Rogers, who dazzled early in the season as a breakout newcomer in the weekend rotation. Rogers was pulled in the fourth and fellow freshman Walter Wijas stepped up and performed splendidly out of the bullpen.

LSU plated a run in the top of the first but Ray struck for a three-run homer in the home half of the inning. LSU added to its lead, taking a 9-3 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. UK mounted a rally and plated three in the bottom of the inning, cutting the lead to 9-6, chasing LSU ace Anthony Ranaudo from the game after a bases-loaded walk from Marcus Nidiffer with one out. LSU's star setup man Paul Bertuccini then went to work with 3.2 shutout innings entering the bottom of the ninth.

LSU elected to bring in closer Matty Ott, who saved 22 games in leading LSU to the national championship the year before. Ott, considered the top closer in college baseball, allowed a leadoff double from wide receiver/outfielder Brian Adams. Chad Wright and Gunner Glad drew walks to bring the winning run to the plate in the form of Ray. Ott struggled to find the plate, throwing two straight balls to Ray, who worked the count to 3-1. Ray then connected, sending a no-doubt walk-off homer soaring over the right-field fence, sending UK to the series-opening victory.

Ray was the hero and most of the UK players, coaches and fans were blown away at how hot he was swinging the bat. It was an exciting game and a thrilling walk-off homer that gave UK a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth against the team that won the NCAA title the year before and would win the SEC Tournament a few weeks later. 

BSB 07_08 UK_UL 46.jpg3.    Wiley's first career homer gives UK 12th inning, walk-off win over UL (2008)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

In 2008, UK was in the midst of another historic season when Louisville came to town for the first of the annual two-game, home-and-home series. The Cardinals were coming off a trip to the College World Series, poking through a regional at Missouri and besting Oklahoma State in a surprise Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. The Cardinals were slumping entering the game however, with UK ranked No. 9, owning and 26-5 record and the Cards coming in at 16-13. That record doesn't mean much though, as these two teams have quickly established an intense rivalry, since UK won the SEC Title in 2006.

BSB 07_08 UK_UL 37.jpgThe two teams traded blows for the first six innings, with UK owning a 4-3 lead entering the top of the eighth inning. UK was using catcher Tyler Howe on the mound in relief in the eighth inning and UL plated two runs off Howe and one off Aaron Lovett to take a 6-4 lead.

Keenan Wiley, who had already charted two singles entering the eighth, got UK going with a double down the opposite-field line, moving to third on Ryan Wilkes single and scoring on Collin Cowgill's RBI knock. After a Brian Spear bunt, Marcus Nidiffer hung a sacrifice fly into leftfield to tie the game.

UK utilized Lovett, Brock Baber and Tyler Henry to get UK into the bottom of the 12th with the game tied 6-6. The game was wild, as both coaches emptied their benches with strategic pinch hitters, pinch runners, defensive changes and pitching changes. Louisville was on their third catcher of the night in the 12th and UK was on their fourth catcher of the night, utilizing Howe, Nidiffer, walk-on Brian Suerdick and now Spear, UK's first baseman catching for the first time in his career. UK had walk-on Kevin Bishop playing first base and UK used Neiko Johnson, Brock Wright, Chris Bisson and Bryan Rose off the bench to pinch hit. In the 10th inning of the already emotional game, Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.

Wiley came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning, with the game stretching into the next day and the see-saw battle over four hours old. Louisville turned to reliever Gavin Logsdon to face Wiley and after missing with the first pitch, Wiley turned on a 1-0 offering and belted it high over the right-field, 30-foot high wall, giving UK the walk-off win.

Wiley was the man of the hour, totaling four hits in six trips, adding two RBI and throwing out a runner at the plate from leftfield as he tried to score the go-ahead run late in the game. The game was exciting and gave UK a win over an in-state rival in a thrilling atmosphere.

Georgia 068.jpg2.    UK clinches first SEC championship in school history at UGA (2006)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

This is the one game of the 20 most memorable games that I was not at. I remember sitting in my home listening to star radio announcer Neil Price call this game, as UK went for the first SEC Championship in program history on a Friday (game two of the series) in Athens, Ga., on the final weekend of the year.

Georgia 030.jpgAfter UK fell in the series opener, the Wildcats needed a win in game two to win the league title. UK ran senior southpaw Craig Snipp to the mound, in the most monumental game he will ever pitch. Snipp was dominating, going the complete-game, striking out a career-high 11, walking just five and allowing only two earned runs in an 8-3 UK win. UK got a homer and four-RBI from Collin Cowgill and a home run and two RBI from Sean Coughlin. Cowgill's two-run homer in the seventh highlighted the four-run decisive inning for UK.

The game was monumental for a variety of reasons. It lifted UK to its first league title in the over-75 year history of the conference and in doing so, firmly established UK as a contender in the college game, all but locking up the regional host selection for the Wildcats. The celebration and joy that it kicked off was captured by the SID at the time, Scott Dean, and equipment manager Kyle Hite taking photos for a photo gallery. I still remember reading the postgame recap Dean wrote and thinking that his story may be the best postgame recap I have ever read on

pressboxcrowdshot.jpg1.    UK hosts the NCAA Regional (2006)
Host Site Announcement  |  Game 1  |  Game 2  |  Game 3  |  Game 4

What else could No. 1 be? When UK hosted the NCAA Regional in 2006 it was a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. The summer was in full swing in the first week of June and the city of Lexington and all of the surrounding community were all of a sudden focused on the 2006 Kentucky baseball team.

3rdbase.jpgEveryone rallied around the team, the program was getting a staggering amount of local and national-baseball-specific media coverage. The town was a buzz for UK baseball, as people lined up for tickets outside of Memorial Coliseum days in advance and people began driving by Cliff Hagan Stadium to see just what UK was doing to its facility to accommodate such large crowds.

One of my favorite moments was leaving the media room after the first game of the tournament and before UK played. As I stepped out of the building, I saw a long line of UK fans, stretching around the Cliff Hagan Stadium parking lot, around the Shively Training Center and back up Sports Center Drive. The fans were in line for tickets and I was in awe of what was going on. Thousands of UK fans lined up for tickets to a baseball game? It was unmatched.

UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart, deputy director of athletics Rob Mullens, associate athletics directors Scott Stricklin and Russ Pear went to work, helping turn the NCAA Regional into a must-see event. The support staff began working through the nights preparing for the regional, crews began installing bleachers down the left-field line and fans were setting up tailgating areas in the right-field parking lot. The sports turf department, led by Donnie Mefford and Marcus Dean, turned Cliff Hagan's playing surface into a gorgeous field, the nicest I have ever seen it look. It was as exciting as UK baseball has ever been.

3rdbasestands.jpg"When we were fortunate to host the 2006 NCAA Regional, it was great to see the Big Blue Nation rally around this team and create unprecedented excitement for baseball in Lexington," UK marketing director Nathan Schwake said.

I can remember helping Scott Dean, Tony Neely and Susan Lax prepare for the event throughout the days leading up to the tournament. Those three captained the media relations efforts for our department, dealing with the unprecedented media demand and helping prepare a first-class operation. Football helped set up a media area in their meeting rooms and the entire campus was dialed in to the UK baseball program.

As Notre Dame, Ball State and College of Charleston began arriving it got even more exciting as the teams did the pre-tournament press conferences and practices. Having been to other NCAA Regional sites, hosted by other schools, the production UK did for the regional was staggering. The press conferences were full of media, people were showing up to watch practices from the outfield parking lot and the players and coaches were treated with the greatest care. UK had to set up a special area for media overflow on the photo deck, as the Cliff Hagan pressbox couldn't fit the entire press demand. For a school that had never hosted a NCAA Regional, Kentucky went all out.

The games were exciting as well, as Notre Dame and College of Charleston squared off in an epic game that nearly lasted 20 innings and Ball State's ace right-hander Ben Snyder twirled a gem in front of the largest crowd, at the time, to ever see a college baseball game in the state of Kentucky. UK responded with elimination-game wins over Notre Dame and Ball State, setting up a matchup with College of Charleston for the regional title. Alas, UK's senior lefty Aaron Tennyson allowed a first-inning grand slam to COC and the Wildcats never recovered, ending UK's dream season.

Despite the season ending with a loss, it set the stage for many more years of success out of UK  baseball. The Wildcats haven't stopped winning since that 2006 season, competing in the rugged SEC and consistently appearing in the NCAA Tournament picture. That NCAA Regional and the 2006 SEC Championship dream season was just the start of the great possibilities UK baseball holds. Now, every player who comes through Lexington can look back at what that team did in 2006 and see how it set the stage for their program, how it transformed the Kentucky baseball program into something special - a winner.

Complete Top 20 List
1.    UK hosts the NCAA Regional (2006)
2.    UK clinches first SEC championship in program history at UGA on final weekend (2006)
3.    Wiley's first career homer gives UK 12th-inning, walk-off win over Louisville (2008)
4.    Ray's walk-off homer gives UK comeback win over defending NCAA Champs (2010)
5.    David Price, Casey Weathers battle UK in thrilling 12-inning Friday-night game (2007)
6.    Marcus Nidiffer hits grand slam in final career home at bat to beat LSU (2010)
7.    UK and Ole Miss battle in epic SEC Tournament winners-bracket game (2008)
8.    In first career start, Lovett strikes out 12 in complete-game effort against Alabama (2008)
9.    Tommy Warner provides unlikely heroics in SEC Tournament (2006)
10.   Paxton and Ranuado thrill crowd in first SEC game played at Alex Box (2009)
11.    UK patchwork pitching staff nearly bests Arizona's three first-round relievers (2008)
12.    Back-and-forth slugfest at Arkansas (2010)
13.    Shelby, Strieby lead UK to dramatic wins over South Carolina (2006)
14.    UK wins Super Bulldog Weekend opener in 11 innings at Mississippi State (2009)
15.    Logan Darnell tosses complete-game shutout at San Diego (2010)
16.    Wildcats eliminate host Michigan from regionals behind Carroll, Cowgill (2008)
17.    Wade solo homer in 11th lifts UK to road win at UNO on St. Patrick's Day (2009)
18.    Kapteyn helps UK secure win, Caravelle Resort Invitational at Coastal Carolina (2010)
19.    Kapteyn, Wright provide heroics in UK comeback win at Louisville (2009)
20.    UK rallies in electric atmosphere for series-securing win at Ole Miss (2007)

Women's soccer hopes to build on foundation

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DSC_8446.jpgWith every great rebuilding project comes time and patience. With every great structure comes a foundation to stand upon and build.

That's what year one of the Jon Lipsitz era in the Kentucky women's soccer program was all about. As much as Lipsitz wanted to win in his first season at UK, the stagnant culture of mediocrity had to be changed, torn down from the top and rebuilt in the manner that had worked so well in Lipsitz's previous stops at Charlotte and Division III Denison.

"The thing that now feels old, which is good, is our culture," Lipsitz said. "Everything last year was new. It was putting out fires, it was teaching something but then saying, 'No, this is what I really mean.' "

Lipsitz's goals were simple concepts - putting the team first, a strong work ethic, mutual sacrifice and family - but yet hard to instill overnight. As Lipsitz said, "When you have experienced players that have bought into your culture, that care deeply about who we are, it becomes much easier."

That wasn't necessarily something Lipsitz had last year. Sophomore or senior, it didn't matter - they were all freshmen when it came to understanding Lipsitz's philosophies and style. It was new for everybody.

"You have to understand that you're asking a lot of people who have done something a certain way for so long to suddenly change that," Lipsitz said. "It's not about right or wrong. I think a lot of people think, 'Well, this is the new way, therefore it's right.' That's not necessarily true. It's just different. It's not even if people consciously choose not to do it that way, it's subconsciously. They've been taught to do it a certain way for a long time and now you're asking them to do something very different."

Lipsitz had to break the mold. Sometimes the players last year would show signs in practice, but as soon as some of them faced adversity they reverted back to their old habits.

"What I needed to do was change who we are," Lipsitz said. "That doesn't happen in a couple months."

Last season wasn't lost on Lipsitz. He has been open and outspoken about his unhappiness of last year's results and said he felt as if he let the athletics department down.

But when the rebuilding project is so large and so extensive, expectations must be tamed a bit. Lipsitz headed into the season with high hopes for his first-year squad and left impressed with his team's dedication to pull out five wins in 18 games. He called it one of the hardest working teams he's ever coached.

"Still last season was painful trying to do that while you're in a season," Lipsitz said. "And that's part of the difficulties of a fall sport. We've been through that now and we're totally different."

In changing the culture over the last year, Lipsitz had to figure out who was and wasn't willing to buy into the new system. Unfortunately part of that process was making some wholesale roster changes.

Of the 27 players on the official UK roster, only 10 are juniors or seniors, two of which -- Natalie Horner and Kelsey Hunyadi -- redshirted last year. There are 14 newcomers on this year's team, 13 of which are freshmen. Lipsitz said they started six freshmen in an exhibition earlier in the week, including at all three forward positions, and that number should stay fairly consistent throughout the year.

That's a lot of new faces and inexperience, with which question marks are soon to follow.

"The players know that, while being a great teammate, they're battling for their spot every day," Lipsitz said. "That's part of what we want in our culture. Our whole lineup could change from game to game."

At the same time, Lipsitz feels like this year's team, which kicks off its season Saturday at 6 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex against Coastal Carolina, better reflects the culture that he believes in than last year's did.

The way Lipsitz sees it, the foundation was laid last year. Now it's time to build on it.

"A friend of mine, whose another college coach, said, 'Think of last year as year zero where you go in and lay the ground work and this is the first time it's your team. It's your first recruiting class, the first time people have come there to play for you.' I went home and I started thinking about that and thought - absolutely no disrespect to the team last year, they worked so hard, and I want that known that they worked so hard - but it was year zero because we were all learning a new culture together," Lipsitz said. "This is year one now and if you think about it that way there's a lot to be excited about."

For one, Lipsitz expects this season's Cats to be much better offensively. After scoring a league-low 11 goals last year, putting the ball in the net has been one of the biggest emphases in the preseason.

"The biggest reason (we struggled on offense) last year was our lack of possession," Lipsitz said. "We just struggled technically to hold onto the ball. Our midfield is totally revamped and that's going to help us possess the ball much more. We're still going to have to be tight defensively. My teams are always going to care about winning the ball, about pressing other teams, about defending hard. But when you can play out of that with great possession and knocking the ball around your feet and get good chances on goal, you enjoy the game a lot more. And we have a much better ability up top, athletically, to run at people than we did last year."

With all the infusion of talent and youth, what about the veterans that bought in and are returning? Where do they fit in?

So far, they've embraced their roles as leaders.

"I can tell you - and this is from our staff, from everyone that helps us, to every player that comment over and over - is they can't believe how close we are," Lipsitz said. "They can't believe how much fun it is and I keep hearing those things every day. Even when we have a moment in practice where we're not playing our best and I say, 'Hey, we need to do better than this,' it's all positive. Our players are encouraging one another and that goes a long way."

The second-year coach said that's a credit to the upperclassmen.

"People are a lot more comfortable playing coach's style of play," said forward Laura Novikoff, one of just three seniors on the team. "He plays a very unique style that takes some time adjusting to. I think the upperclassmen have adjusted to it well enough that it's second nature to us, which makes it easier for the freshmen."

Novikoff admitted to having reservations about 13 freshmen coming in, noting that it was almost half the team, but she said there have been absolutely zero problems in the age differences meshing together.

"It's just a lot more cohesive team," Novikoff said. "I would say there is a lot more team chemistry this year. Everybody is just a lot more excited about everything coach wants us to do on and off the field."

Buying in was the foundation. The next part, Lipsitz hopes, is winning.

Camp Insider with Ed & Ricky: Day 10

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"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

Day 10

Camp Insider with Ed & Ricky: Day 9

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"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

Day 9

Video: UK women's soccer ready for season opener

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The Kentucky women's soccer team opens up its 2010 season Saturday at 6 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex against Coastal Carolina.

I dropped by the practice field Wednesday to talk with head coach Jon Lipsitz and senior forward Laura Novikoff about the upcoming campaign. Below are videos of both Lipsitz and Novikoff to preview the season. I will post a written feature on the team and its progress under Lipsitz in year two later Wednesday or Thursday.

Jon Lipsitz

Laura Novikoff

UK featured on Super Tuesday four times

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ESPN announced its Super Tuesday schedule on Wednesday for the 2010 men's college basketball season, with Kentucky slated for a league-high four games on the primetime schedule.

The games, which tip off every Tuesday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. from Jan. 11 to March 1, are below. UK is highlighted in bold.

Also, the complete UK men's basketball schedule has not been released yet. It will be released at a later date.


Time (ET)


Jan 11

7 p.m.

Wisconsin at Michigan State


9 p.m.

Florida at Tennessee

Jan 18

7 p.m.

Michigan State at Illinois


9 p.m.

Kentucky at Alabama

Jan 25

7 p.m.

Florida at Georgia


9 p.m.

Purdue at Ohio State

Feb 1

7 p.m.

Purdue at Wisconsin


9 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Florida

Feb 8

7 p.m.

Indiana at Purdue


9 p.m.

Tennessee at Kentucky


7 p.m.

Mississippi State at Kentucky


9 p.m.

Michigan State at Ohio State

Feb 22

7 p.m.

Illinois at Ohio State


9 p.m.

Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Mar 1

7 p.m.

Illinois at Purdue


9 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Kentucky

Going to work in style

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Kentucky men's basketball's 2010 NBA Draft class:


Rumph ready to roll now

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Donte Rumph was the butt of jokes after a two-year delay in arriving to the Kentucky football team.

Upon breaking the news of Rumph's eligibility a few weeks ago, head coach Joker Phillips poked at Rumph by saying that if UK doesn't play him now "he'll be 40 years old before he finishes." In practice, his teammates have notoriously tagged him 'Bout Time.

Rumph laughs, shrugs his shoulders and hardly bats an eye. With the way he sees it, he'll let his play do the talking. To him, it's 'bout time he made an impact - even if he is still technically just a freshman.

"I'm here now," Rumph said Monday after practice at the Nutter Training facility. "I'm ready to go. I'm ready to show my talent."

Rumph, a 300-plus pound defensive tackle, waited two years to suit up for Kentucky. After failing to qualify in back-to-back seasons, Rumph learned a few weeks ago that he was deemed eligible to join the team.

"Two years waiting, it was hard," Rumph said. "It was very emotional. I'm thankful Coach Phillips and my friends and family stuck by my side."

While Rumph worked to become eligible, he has spent the last two years playing at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.). The highlight of those two seasons was playing against Kentucky in a junior varsity game.

But before that, Rumph was a star at Calhoun County High School in St. Matthews, S.C. In totaling 107 tackles and 14 sacks during his senior season, Rumph was named first-team all-state by the Associated Press and Columbia State newspaper.

At 6-foot-3, 317 pounds, according to Rumph, he has the frame be to a future star in the Southeastern Conference.

"He's a load," Phillips said. "He's what we play against every Saturday."

But Rumph has been humbled by two years of broken potential. After battling just to get on campus, Rumph is now doing everything in his power to make up for lost time.

Defensive line coach David Turner praised Rumph for his eagerness to learn. Turner knows his uncle Chris Rumph, a defensive ends coach at Clemson, and said it's pretty obvious that Donte Rumph has been coached up well.

"Every day he gets a little bit better and a little bit better," Turner said. "He keeps working and he's a great kid. He's always asking questions, wanting to know and wanting to learn. As he gets in shape, you can start to see the light come on."

Technique wise, Rumph isn't that far off.

"Surprisingly, it's still there. My reactions are still there," Rumph said. "I need some improvements, though. Coach Turner is helping me with my technique. I'm learning a great deal from Coach Turner and my other teammates. The older guys - well, I won't say older because they're probably the same age as me - the guys that have been in this program, I'm just learning so much from them. They teach me and take me in as if I'm their little brother."

Getting in shape is the biggest hurdle standing in Rumph's way. The first-year lineman said he would like to get down to at least 310 pounds by the time the season starts, but the coaching staff is hoping it's more like 300, so long as he doesn't lose his strength (UK's media guide lists him at 265).

The most positive sign from Rumph in fall camp is that he's willing to catch up.

"I need to do a lot of work as far as conditioning and getting back into shape," Rumph said. "I knew I needed to step up, show my gratitude to all the coaches and try my hardest to help all of my teammates. I'm trying to continue to work harder and harder every day."

Though Rumph has been noticeably winded after practices, he's getting closer and closer to being in game-day shape, which he credits to Director of Strength and Conditioning Ray "Rock" Oliver and his legendary workouts.

Phillips has joked that Rumph can last for about six reps now, but there's no mistaking Rumph's impact in fall camp. The true freshman has continually been the subject of praise from the coaching staff after practices, a bit surprising considering how far he had to come.

"Ninety-nine continues to show up," Phillips said after Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium.

It's a credit to Rumph's fervor to learn and trim weight, plus you just can't teach Rumph's size.

"Have you ever shook his hands?" defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "I'll tell you, you better get your fingers in there. He'll break your fingers." (As this writer can attest, Brown isn't joking around.)

Rumph is what defensive line coaches like to call a disruptor. He's so big and so talented that he will draw the attention of double teams if he continues to improve.

The coaching staff wasn't necessarily counting on Rumph to be an immediate contributor this season because of his conditioning, but the ineligibility of fellow defensive tackle Mister Cobble thrust Rumph into a needed role.

Though UK received a huge upgrade in depth and talent Monday when defensive tackle and former LSU signee Elliott Porter joined the team, in addition to veterans Ricky Lumpkin and Mark Crawford, it hasn't changed the coaches' recent thoughts that Rumph could contribute now.

"You never know how things are going to play out, but right now I would think he could be a guy that could help us this fall," Turner said. "I've got to do a good job and figure out what he can and can't do. Once he has a chance, which I think he will, and adapt to the college game, it will be interesting to see how quickly he can pick it up."

Whatever Rumph's role is, he just wants to help.

"I'm just glad to be here," Rumph said. "I would have done anything to be here, no matter how long it would have taken. I had to get here. It has been my dream to come here. I worked hard to get here and now I finally am."

The way Rumph views it, it's never too late to make an impact.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes," he said.

Video: Wall interview on ESPN

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Before we move on to freshman guard Brandon Knight, let's not forget who was the big man on campus last year.

Cats display potential in Windsor

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Cal_teaches_windsor[2].jpgMetz Camfield served as the Kentucky men's basketball beat reporter for the Kentucky Kernel during the 2009-10 season. As a new contributor to Cat Scratches, below are his thoughts and observations from the first action of the 2010-11 season.

After having watched Kentucky's three exhibition games in Canada, I must say I am a bit impressed. I was expecting turnovers galore, missed shots and a bit of chaos. Instead, the Cats looked fairly in sync, especially for it being mid-August, and the offense looked to have a rhythm.

On defense, the Cats were active in all three games, forcing an average of 23.0 turnovers per game. If you remember, at the beginning of the 2009-10 season the Cats were giving up 3-point shots like they were going out of style. While I don't want to compare and contrast this year's team to last year's -- because quite frankly, that's not fair to this year's team -- I do want to refer to last year's team for perspective purposes only.

After covering the 2009-10 squad for the student paper at Kentucky, the Kentucky Kernel, I'll try and carry over my views from that season toward this year's team.

First, I want to point out that every player's numbers are inflated due to the absences of Enes Kanter, Eloy Vargas and Terrence Jones. Kanter, as many of you know, has not been cleared to play by the NCAA, Vargas is finishing some classes with his junior college and Jones sat out all but one half of the trip due to a stress fracture in one of his ribs. Had these three players played, they would have stolen not only minutes from other players, but also points, rebounds, etc.

With that said, freshman guard Brandon Knight is the real deal. Knight averaged 25.0 points, f5.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game while only turning the ball over five times in the three games combined. Freshmen, whether they're playing exhibition matches in Canada or for the national championship, should not be putting up those numbers, especially in their first three games with an inexperienced team. Very impressive performance from the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native.

As a team, Kentucky took care of the ball (14.0 turnovers per game), especially at the pace the Cats were playing. I would attest this to having players on the team with a year of experience under Calipari. While Knight, Lamb and the other freshmen do not have experience, having veteran players on the roster who can serve as coaches for them on and off the court is obviously a big help. When practice is over and the players are relaxing, the veterans can teach the freshmen.

I came away from the first three games very impressed with the transformation of juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins.

Miller is playing with much more confidence on the floor. I can't say whether that's due to experience, whether it's due to having the same coach for consecutive seasons for the first time at UK or whether he just feels like a more polished player, but he is cleary playing with more confidence and the Cats are reaping the benefits. Miller took 3-point attempts throughout the trip he wouldn't have taken last year, and he drove to the basket with more authority and regularity.

With the absence of the three big men, Miller also displayed some post moves many UK fans may not have known he possessed. In all, Miller showed the Big Blue Nation what they've been longing for since he committed to the Cats. He could be huge this season.

The same goes for Liggins. He played with more aggression and more control than we've seen so far in his UK career. Liggins was a key player off the bench last season due to the energy he brought to the team. In his three games in Canada, Liggins brought that same energy but in a more polished fashion. As head coach John Calipari said after the second Windsor game, if the rest of the Cats can play with the energy Liggins played with, they'll "have a ball this season."

Freshman Doron Lamb showed off his potential with his performances in games two and three. After struggling a bit in the opener, Lamb scored 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field against Western Ontario before scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Tuesday's game, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.

Yes, these were exhibition matches against far lesser opponents and it's only August. There were no foul or timeout limits, either. But the Cats still played well and can take a lot out of the experience north of the border. While many teams are still playing pickup ball and have not had any organized practices, the Cats were able to get in 10 practices and three games. It cannot be stressed enough how important the Canada experience was, especially a team like Kentucky, which is littered with youth and inexperience.

Overall, what I take from the three games is this Kentucky team has the pieces to be a really stingy defensive unit and a very fundamentally sound team. Calipari got in a lot of dribble-drive work with these guys and it will show when the season starts this fall. The fans will love their Cats no matter what, but I think similarly to last year's group, they'll grow especially close to this one because of the effort Calipari will be able to get from them each and every night.

Again, they are young, these were just exhibition matches, but they will certainly grow from this experience and have the ability to win a whole lot of ball games.

Calipari pleased with Canada trip

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Kentucky's exhibitions series in Canada came to a close Tuesday afternoon with a 104-75 rout of Windsor in the third game in three days in Windsor, Ontario.

Head coach John Calipari had plenty to be satisfied with as his team got ready to head back to the Lexington. UK won by an average of 30 points per game, freshman point guard Brandon Knight shined in his debut, and veterans Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins showcased an offseason worth of improvement.

More than anything, though, Calipari was pleased with what his team learned about itself.

"As a staff, as the game was winding down, we said we learned about our team," Calipari said in a postgame interview with broadcasters Dave Baker and Kyle Macy. "We've established the dribble-drive. They have the culture of how hard we have to play - we're not close, we stop a lot - but we saw some guys are going to have to work to get any minutes or they won't play.

"With the young guys, we're going to be alright. We needed size. We had no size (without Terrence Jones, Enes Kanter and Eloy Vargas), so the last couple of games they got baskets that hopefully during the season teams don't get, but it was pretty good."

Calipari was ecstatic when he started to talk about the experience his team received in Canada. The NCAA allows teams to make preseason trips once every four years.

"Right now we're probably ahead, and we are ahead," Calipari said. "This was - for what you guys did on the national broadcast, for radio, which went throughout the state - for $35,000, this was the best investment our school has ever made."

Knight shined in his collegiate debut, averaging 25.0 points, 8.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds while committing just five turnovers in three exhibition wins. As the successor to NBA No. 1 overall pick John Wall, Knight has huge shoes to fill.

So far, he's filled them spectacularly.

"We scored 100 and are taking 75 shots a game and we're not turning it over. A lot of that is Brandon Knight," Calipari said. "He's not turning it over. He's making good decisions."

Knight displayed a lethal scorer's mentality that earned him the title as one of the best signees in the 2010 recruiting class, but Calipari was happy with his ability to distribute the ball.

"What he did was get Doron (Lamb) going the last game and then even this game," Calipari said. "He told Doron, 'If you run I will get you the ball, but you've got to sprint the floor.' So then he got him some shots and got Doron going. That's what a point guard does. I told him, 'If they're not running with you, take it to the rim.' We're trying to figure out ways to keep that court open so he can go."

After struggling in his first game, Lamb finished the exhibition series with a 17.7 scoring average. Miller looked to be the leader of the team, averaging 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals, even filling in as the team's low post presence after Jones left the first game with a stress fracture in one of his ribs.

Brandon_western[1].jpgBut the player that continues to improve more than anyone else is Liggins, who could be a significant factor in the success of this year's team. Liggins averaged 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.

"DeAndre Liggins played his heart out," Calipari said. "I keep telling our team, he's got like a fire in the belly. If we all would play as hard as him - I said, 'When you're sitting on the bench and he's playing, watch him away from the ball defensively. Watch what he's doing. Watch how he goes after rebounds. They're not in his wingspan, but he still goes after them.' "

With such a successful trip, Calipari said he will give the players two weeks off to go home and maybe even more. The team is expected to resume practice in mid-September with individual workouts.

"For us as a basketball program, to be able to come here - now we could have gone to Europe and all that, sure, but it would have been really expensive and two, what different would we have gotten?" Calipari said. "Now the kids get to go home. It's what we needed. These teams were quick enough and big enough to bang us and make us do certain things. We looked organized, so I was happy."

Video: Porter joins UK, could make instant impact

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Elliott Porter, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle who originally signed with LSU, has joined the Kentucky football team and will immediately be eligible to play for UK.

Porter, who practiced with the team on Monday, was an unfortunate roster casualty at LSU from too many scholarships. Head coach Joker Phillips and the staff got word about a week and a half ago that the highly touted defensive tackle was available and quickly pursued him for a position they feel like he can make an immediate impact.

"It's big," Phillips said. "Very seldom in August do you get a chance to find a 6-foot-4, 270-, 285-pound guy. It's big for us to land a guy in an area that we are slowly trying to get into, which is the Louisiana area."

Porter admitted LSU was his first love and said it was a difficult situation leaving Baton Rouge, La. In the end, though, Porter believes Kentucky could be an even better situation. 
"I feel the love here," Porter said. "It's more of a brotherly love thing here with the coaches and the players here. I just feel it here. I feel like I'm going to have a real good career here."

Porter will practice in shorts for two days and then practice in shells for two days to get him up to speed with the rest of the team. The coaching staff reported Porter was in pretty good shape in his first day of practice after training with LSU throughout the summer.

"We'll try to get him into the best shape that we possibly can before we decide whether or not he can help us," Phillips said.

UK has a full release on the Porter announcement here, including a complete bio. Check out video interviews below with Phillips, Porter and defensive line coach David Turner on the potential impact Porter can have on this year's team.

In other news, Phillips confirmed Monday that junior tight end Nick Melillo suffered an ankle sprain and will be out for at least a week.

Joker Phillips

Elliott Porter

David Turner

08Fri-738.jpgOver the last five seasons, I have been fortunate enough to work directly with the Kentucky baseball program. During that time, the program has achieved unprecedented success in the best conference in college baseball. Two NCAA Tournament appearances and an SEC Championship have highlighted the last few years, but along the way there have been a slew of memorable, exciting games. Since 2007, I have had the opportunity to see every inning of UK's last 228 baseball games, owning a front-row seat for some thrilling contests.

With so many exciting games and moments in program history the last few years, it is perfect for a top 20 listing of the most memorable games since that history 2006 campaign.

Over the next few days, Cat Scratches will unveil the top 20 listing in increments of five at a time until No. 1 is revealed. Each post will include a link to the postgame story from the contest and a box score. Weigh in on the rankings in the comments section, let us know if you agree or disagree and share your special memories of Kentucky baseball.

10.    Paxton and Ranuado thrill crowd in first SEC game played at Alex Box (2009)
Postgame Recap   |   Box Score (HTML)

Entering the 2009 season, UK knew it would be a young team and would experience the typical growing pains in the rugged SEC. In his first year, UK head coach Gary Henderson went out and scheduled a challenging non-conference schedule, leading up to the SEC opener against No. 3 LSU, the eventual NCAA Champions. UK entered the series - the first ever SEC games played at the majestic new Alex Box Stadium - with an 11-2 record.

On Friday night, UK sent junior left-hander James Paxton to the hill to face off with LSU ace right-hander Anthony Ranaudo. Ranaudo, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, held the title as the more hyped MLB Draft prospect over Paxton, who was just emerging on the scouting radar as a legitimate prospect. Up until that start, Paxton was good but not truly dominating, pitching 17.1 innings, allowing 20 hits and six runs, walking just one and striking out 23.

Rain came in the pregame and took a bit of the air out of the excitement of the SEC-opening game of Alex Box, but as LSU fans do, they were still there, vocal and supportive of the Tigers. The stadium was gorgeous and the environment electric. Little did the 8,954 fans in attendance know that Paxton and Ranaudo were about to square off in an epic pitching matchup.

In the top of the first, Ranaudo needed just 11 pitches to strike out the side and Paxton struck out the first two hitters before walking one and striking out clean-up hitter and one of the top sluggers in the nation, Blake Dean. The strikeout party continued, as Paxton fanned 14 through his six innings, allowing a first-pitch, opposite-field homer to freshman sparkplug Tyler Hanover and a run in the sixth inning. Ranaduo also put on a show, striking out 13 in six innings.

UK ended up losing a close 5-3 game, as LSU plated two runs in the bottom of the seventh, taking the decisive two-run lead off UK reliever Clint Tilford, with LSU using its Sunday starting pitcher, Louis Coleman to close out the final 2.2 innings, striking out four and allowing only one hit.

The game was especially memorable because it marked the first true moment where Paxton emerged as a first-round talent. After that game, every Paxton outing was followed by 30-50 scouts, including when 56 scouts showed up to watch Paxton duel with Vandy southpaw and eventual No. 7 pick, Mike Minor on a Friday night in Lexington. Even though UK lost that game, there was a feeling as UK rode back to the hotel on the bus and that next morning that Paxton had emerged as one of the top pitchers in college baseball. Everyone knew after that outing that Paxton would be the staff anchor UK needed and continued to reinforce to the team that the Wildcats were going to have an electric pitching staff, with Chris Rusin and freshman Alex Meyer leading the weekends. As the year ended, Paxton's electricity on the mound was caught up to the aluminum bats of the SEC, but no matter what he did the rest of the year, he was going to go in the first round of the draft thanks to that outing at LSU.

9.    Tommy Warner provides unlikely heroics in SEC Tournament (2006)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

As UK blistered through the SEC in 2006, en route to the first conference title in program history, the Wildcats were loaded with a high-octane offense that included four double-digit home run hitters. The pitching staff in 2006 was supported by this offense and a three-game weekend rotation of Aaron Tennyson, Craig Snipp and ace Greg Dombrowski helped UK post a school-record 44 wins.

After UK clinched the conference title with a win at Georgia on the final weekend of the year, UK began to set its sights on the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. UK pitching coach Gary Henderson and then-head coach John Cohen decided to go off the traditional weekend route for a starter in UK's SEC Tournament opening-game against No. 23 South Carolina and its potent lineup with sluggers Justin Smoak, Reese Havens, Phil Disher and James Darnell. When Cohen announced to the local media that they had elected to start UK sophomore southpaw Tommy Warner against the Gamecocks, I can still remember the gasps and looks of confusion on the faces of the reporters. Everyone wanted to know what in the world they were thinking starting Tommy Warner, a lightly-used midweek pitcher.

Flash forward a couple of days, as UK and South Carolina are opening up the SEC Tournament with a matinee as the regular-season SEC champions. Henderson and Cohen both knew, from stints with Florida that Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., was a notorious pitchers ballpark, with generic, deep dimensions and a large amount of foul territory. Regions Park, or the Hoover Met as it was called in 2006, was tailor-made for a fly-ball pitcher with a good breaking ball and changeup.

Warner took the mound and carried a 1-0 UK lead into the top of the ninth inning. Warner, a Lexington native of Lafayette High School graduate, had allowed only four hits and struck out five, without issuing a walk or allowing a runner to advance past second base entering the ninth. Warner had gotten eight fly outs entering the ninth inning, needing just three outs to lift UK to the winners bracket, with its pitching staff fresh.

South Carolina third sacker Neil Giesler led off the inning with a single to rightfield and Warner got the switch-hitting Smoak to pop up to John Shelby at second base. South Carolina coach Ray Tanner then made a bold move, pinch hitting for No. 5 hitter and leftfielder Robbie Grinestaff for Jon Willard. Willard got a first-pitch changeup from Warner and drove it deep over the centerfield wall, giving South Carolina a dramatic one-run lead. Cohen and Henderson went and got Warner, who had just thrown 103 pitches and had gone the longest and most effective outing of his career, on the biggest stage. The Gamecocks plated two more runs in the ninth to take a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning for USC closer Wynn Pelzer. Collin Cowgill homered to lead off and UK loaded the bases off Pelzer but Billy Grace struck out and Ryan Wilkes flied to left to end the game and give UK a bitter loss.

The contest was one of my first in a true SEC atmosphere, as 4,993 fans came out to see the game that started at 10:06 a.m. ET. The game was action packed and the Warner storyline was classic, as he pitched the game of his life into the ninth inning, putting the Wildcats in position to advance in the winners bracket. Warner, a midweek starter most of his career, was thrust into the spotlight and excelled, something that is always exciting to see from my perspective. UK would eventually go 0-2 in the tournament but still earn an NCAA Regional host, turning Cliff Hagan Stadium into one of the more exciting sports venues in Lexington over the last decade. Trouble is, UK did not earn a national seed, meaning it had to face off with Ball State ace right-hander Ben Snyder in the first round of the tournament. Had UK won that South Carolina game, it would be hard to argue against a national seed, setting up what would have been a much more manageable path to Omaha.

8.    In first career start, Lovett strikes out 12 in complete-game win (2008)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

08Wed-253.jpgIn 2008, UK was again having a magical season and found itself in a good position entering the SEC Tournament. UK needed to likely win two games to clinch an NCAA Regional host selection, entering the game ranked No. 19 and owning a 42-15 record. In a very similar situation to the 2006 start of Tommy Warner in the 2006 SEC Tournament opener, UK pitching coach Gary Henderson and then-head coach John Cohen elected to go off the grid and give senior right-hander Aaron Lovett the start against No. 29 Alabama in front of nearly 12,000 fans in Hoover, Ala.

When Alabama makes the SEC Tournament, the town of Hoover goes nuts, filling the stands and creating a unique home-field atmosphere at Regions Park. Henderson and Cohen were again banking on the competitiveness of Lovett and the large ballpark in swallowing up ball in the outfield.

As UK was packing up its equipment and finishing practice before heading to Hoover, players and coaches were meeting with the media. I remember asking who was starting, hearing Lovett's name and then asking privately if the coaching staff was okay with Lovett doing interviews and announcing to the media out starting pitcher. They were fine with it and I tracked Lovett down in the locker room, I asked him if he wanted to do some interviews and he looked confused but was willing as he followed me out to the parking lot area to talk to the media. As we walked, I told him that he would be asked about starting the opening round game in Hoover. He looked at me shocked and asked, "I am starting?" right before we walked out the doors to meet the media.

While that is not the typical format to find out if you are starting a crucial game in the SEC Tournament, it worked out for Lovett, who made his first career start in a two-year career that saw him appear in 45 games out of the bullpen.

Things started shaky for Lovett, who allowed four straight hits to lead-off the top of the first inning in a game that started at 11:50 p.m. ET after the previous three games in the day had gone long. Two runs scored in the top of the first and then Tyler Odle hit a homer to rightfield that made it 3-2 Alabama. Lovett and the UK offense took it from there, as UK scored nine runs, including a three-RBI game from Chris McClendon and a two-hit outing from first-team All-American outfielder Sawyer Carroll.

The final line for Lovett was staggering, as he went a complete-game, allowing only eight hits and three runs, walking two and striking out 12. Lovett settled down after the first two frames, allowing only three hits the final six innings, issuing one walk and one intentional walk after a UK error led to a bases-loaded jam in the fifth.

7.    UK and Ole Miss battle in epic SEC Tournament winners-bracket game (2008)
Postgame Recap Box Score (HTML)

In yet another epic SEC Tournament game, UK and Ole Miss battled in a back-and-forth affair in the second round of the 2008 tournament, with the winner securing a spot in the winner's bracket and earning a day off the following day. It was thought by the college baseball bracket experts that a UK win over Ole Miss would secure an NCAA Regional host selection for Kentucky, meaning that the game would take extra importance. The game would turn into an instant classic, a contest I consider one of the best sporting events I have ever witnessed, as the game was tied or the lead changed hands nine times over the final six innings.

For the second straight game however, the first pitch happened late, with the game getting underway at 10:40 p.m. ET. UK started James Paxton, a sophomore lefty, who just a few days earlier had tossed a complete-game shutout over the Rebels in Lexington on the final weekend of the regular-season. Paxton was not the same, as he went just 3.1 innings, walking five and striking out two, allowing four runs.

Paxton was matched with future first-round draft pick and SEC Pitcher of the Year Drew Pomeranz, a fire-balling freshman lefty. Ole Miss took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third and UK answered with a three-run inning in the top of the fourth. Ole Miss and UK continued to trade one, or two-run blows the rest of the way, with UK entering the top of the seventh trailing 6-4. Collin Cowgill got the seventh started by reaching on an error and stealing third base, scoring on a Brian Spear RBI single with one out. In the eighth, UK mounted another one-run rally to even the game at 6-6, as Troy Frazier reached on an error by UA shortstop Josh Rutledge, moved to second on the error and advanced to third after Marcus Nidiffer sacrificed him over to third. Leadoff hitter Keenan Wiley then tied the game with an RBI fielder's choice.

Then came the ninth-inning dramatics, as Sawyer Carroll led off the top of the ninth with a triple, pelted deep into the right-centerfield gap, Cowgill then drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI sacrifice fly to rightfield, scoring Carroll.

UK senior Andrew Albers was on the mound after getting the final out of the eighth by strikeout. Albers had been a workhorse throughout his UK career, serving as a closer, middle reliever and Friday-night starter during his sparkling four-year run in Lexington. UK left Albers on the mound to lead-off the bottom of the ninth inning, with UK owning a one-run lead and it nearing 3 a.m. ET. Albers allowed a first-pitch leadoff single from No. 3 hitter Logan Power to get the inning started before UK turned to flame-throwing right-hander Scott Green, a 6-foot-8 product of Louisville who had put himself on the draft map after a dominating 2008 summer in the Cape Cod League. Green was summoned to face cleanup hitter Cody Overbeck, an eventual high-round draft pick and slugger in the middle of the order. It took just three sliders for Green to sit down Overbeck on a swinging strikeout, with Green looking dominating in the process. That brought up Michael Guerrero with a runner on first and one out, with his team down one run in the bottom of the ninth. After seeing three straight sliders to Overbeck, Guerrero belted the first-pitch he saw, a high 90s fastball just fair down the leftfield line, bouncing off the white sports turf tent beyond the fence, sending the electric Ole Miss crowd into a frenzy as they celebrated the walk-off win.

The game was painful and the UK players were devastated. That loss placed UK in an afternoon elimination game with Alabama in Hoover the next day, a home-field advantage for the Crimson Tide and putting UK at a major disadvantage after playing baseball until after 2 a.m. ET each of the last two nights. Bama hit a first-inning grand slam and UK never recovered, with UK earning a berth in the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional as a No. 3 seed, facing Michigan ace Zach Putnam in the first round. It's hard to look back on it now, but if UK had won that game with Ole Miss, it likely would have hosted a regional and been in great position in the NCAA Tournament. Despite losing, that contest marks one of my favorite memories and I will never forget how excited I was as Carroll ripped that triple into the gap to lead-off the ninth.

6.    Marcus Nidiffer hits grand slam in final career home at bat to beat LSU (2010)

Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)  |  Eric Lindsey Feature Story  |  Postgame Interviews

During the 2010 season, there were so many close game and near-misses that one began to wonder when the baseball gods would smile on the Wildcats. The next-to-last weekend of the year brought tremendous optimism for UK, who was sitting in the seventh spot in the SEC Tournament race after besting eventual NCAA Champion South Carolina in a three-game series the previous weekend. It looked like UK needed to win five of its final six SEC games to clinch a berth in the postseason.

That looked challenging as UK was hosting the defending NCAA Champion LSU Tigers in the final home weekend of the year. UK proved up to the challenge, as it posted a walk-off win Friday night behind Lance Ray's two three-run homers and a dominating win Saturday behind freshman right-hander Jordan Cooper's pitching outing. That set the stage for Sunday, with UK looking for its first sweep over the Tigers in 19 years.

UK standout sophomore right-hander Alex Meyer, making his second start after returning from mononucleosis, was lifted from the game after fighting through 10 hitters in one official inning. UK pieced together a good bullpen outing against LSU standout starter Austin Ross. Nick Kennedy led the way for the Wildcats with 3.2 shutout innings in relief of Meyer and Matt Little.

After the two pitching staffs traded blows through the first seven innings, UK was down 4-2 entering the bottom of the eighth inning. After Chris Bisson and Chad Wright both put together clutch at bats and Gunner Glad sacrificed both into scoring position. Ray then got hit by a pitch, setting the stage for Marcus Nidiffer, UK's physical and emotional leader. A fifth-year senior, Nidiffer strolled to the plate in his final home at bat, hitless in four previous trips to the plate. Nidiffer worked the count to 3-2, seeing eight total pitches and fouling off some two-strike offerings from LSU All-American closer Matty Ott. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, Nidiffer connected, sending a no-doubt, towering blast over the left-field fence for the go-ahead grand slam. UK's Logan Darnell then locked down the top of the ninth inning, making his second appearance of the year out of the bullpen after missing several weeks with injury.

The win was dramatic and inspiring, UK had come back again against the powerful Tigers, one of the top programs in college baseball history. It was an exciting moment for the team and Nidiffer, who was a joy to work with and cover the last five years. UK's senior leader got hot at the right time and his dramatic home run in the eighth will forever be etched in my mind as a classic moment in UK baseball history.

"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

Day 7

Day 8 (Part 1)

Day 8 (Part 2)

UK football featured in ESPN's season preview

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espn_logo.jpgESPN has unveiled its college football preseason preview this year in a unique manner, writing top 20 lists for different topics of the season. The feature is titled, "20 for '10."

The Kentucky football teams makes several of the preseason lists, which are included below. UK running back Derrick Locke is ranked No. 8 as one of the best small running backs and Kentucky super fan Jim Brown is No. 14 on the top 20 super fans in college football. Unfortunately for the Cats, UK is also included on Mark Schlabach's "What's hot (and not)" list for 2010 for its role in the Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry.

Here are the excerpts from each mention:

8. Derrick Locke, Kentucky, 5-9, 190, senior
A 100 percent healthy season is the only thing separating him from star status. Missed six games in 2008, then had nearly 1,200 yards from scrimmage last season despite missing a game and playing hurt in others. And he's a home run threat returning kickoffs, averaging 27.8 per return last season and taking one to the house.

14. Jim Brown (Kentucky) There are plenty of basketball fanatics in Lexington, but a football super fan? Ninety-one-year-old Jim Brown must be a glutton for punishment, because he had seen every Kentucky home game -- 412 in all -- from 1945 until this past October, when an illness kept him at home.

He's witnessed some pretty lean years like, say, the entire 1990s, when UK had just one winning season. He also had the misfortune of witnessing the Bluegrass Miracle in 2002.

Brown said he'll be ready for the home opener Sept. 11 versus Western Kentucky.

10. Kentucky vs. Tennessee: The Vols have defeated the Cats in 25 consecutive seasons. UT won 30-24 in overtime last season to extend Kentucky's misery. In the history of college football, only 10 series have experienced a win streak longer than 24 games. The Wildcats will try to end their futility in Knoxville on Nov. 27.

Kentucky men's basketball freshman forward Terrence Jones has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in one of his ribs and will not play the remainder of the three-day, three-game exhibition series in Windsor, Ontario.

Jones, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Portland, Ore., left Sunday's game against Windsor with pain in his left shoulder, which has been bothering him the past few weeks. Jones was taken to Detroit for an MRI Monday morning, where he was diagnosed the stress fracture. UK's medical staff has determined the stress fracture is what was causing pain in Jones' left shoulder.

UK is hoping to have Jones back by mid-September when it begins its individual workouts. Big Blue Madness is scheduled for mid-October.

Video: Postgame interviews from Windsor win

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John Calipari

Darius Miller and Jon Hood

Five observations from Canada exhibition

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Thumbnail image for Knight.jpgI'm not in Windsor, Ontario, to watch the Kentucky men's basketball team live, but like most of you, I watched the game on TV Sunday night to get a look at the first real action of the 2010-11 season. 

After a back-and-forth first half, UK used a late 11-0 first-half run to pull away from Windsor. From there, the Cats never looked back in the second half, easily defeating Windsor 95-62 in the first of three exhibition games up north. Freshman guard Brandon Knight led UK with a team-high 31 points (much more below), while juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins chipped in with 18 and 12 points, respectively.

Again, I wasn't there personally to witness the action, but I thought I would do my best to highlight the five biggest storylines of the game. Guy Ramsey will have some postgame video interviews for us from Canada later on. Make sure you check back for that.

1. Knight may have made a better debut than Wall. OK, I have a confession for you. I wasn't all that impressed by Knight during the open practices last week. For one of the nation's top 10 freshmen, he just didn't stick out to me and seemed to struggle at times. I've quickly learned that was just an aberration. Knight was sensational from start to finish and looks more than ready to take over the reins for NBA Draft No. 1 overall pick John Wall. His line was almost unreal (31 points, seven rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers), especially considering that head coach John Calipari said Knight was on the verge of throwing up pregame. Knight is certainly not the same type of point guard as Wall, but he was just as productive in his first game. The freshman point guard proved he could do just about everything. He was brilliant in transition, unselfish with the ball and yet a lethal scorer at times. If Knight forces the issue like he did Sunday in the regular season, he'll be at the free-throw line a ton. Knight also displayed a pretty good long-range shot, hitting a couple of 3-pointers, including a key triple in UK's 11-0 run that put the Cats up for good. Moments later, Knight hit a beautiful runner off the glass. Some might think it's a crazy shot, but as broadcaster Dave Baker pointed out on the broadcast, Calipari will put up with those shots as long as it's within the context of the offense. Plus, Calipari loves, loves, loves the floater. It might be his favorite shot. Bottom line is that was the Knight that we heard so much about in high school. If there is anybody that can make Kentucky fans forget about Wall, it might be Knight.

2. Early reports of Miller's, Liggins' improvements spill over to game. It almost doesn't feel right to report that Miller and Liggins are brimming with confidence. After all, these are the same two guys that struggled mightily with self-assurance the past two years. For whatever reason - whether it's the departures of last year's talented class, familiarity with the offense or just good ole experience - Miller and Liggins are playing like they're the stars of the team.  Miller, who has noticeably added a few pounds of muscle, looked extremely aggressive. The Maysville, Ky., native, looked possessed at times. He hit 3-pointers, got out in transition and ran, and even threw down a nasty two-hand flush early in the game. After hitting a deep 3-pointer late, Miller mischievously smiled as he backpedaled onto defense. Miller wasn't being cocky by any means; he was showing emotion, something that has lacked in his game in the past. As for Liggins, he continued to display the type of defensive grit that earned him minutes from Calipari last season. The difference in the first exhibition game was he was much more assertive to take the ball to the basket. Liggins sliced through the defense on multiple occasions until suffering  a nasty leg cramp late in the contest. If both players can replicate that effort throughout the year, they're going to flourish in the dribble-drive.

Miller[1].jpg3. Now that is the dribble-drive. The ink had barely dried on Calipari's contract in the spring of 2009 before he started raving about his dribble-drive offense. Kentucky fans across the Commonwealth started daydreaming of an offense where the Wildcats ran relentless from baseline to baseline, similar to the run-and-gun offenses of the Rick Pitino days. While UK had its fair share of transition points a season ago and marched to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it wasn't quite the offense Calipari had promised so many people. By his own admission, he had to rehash the offense a little bit because of UK's size. For better or worse, we're now going to see the dribble-drive offense in full force. With a smaller, more athletic UK team, we saw the Cats run, run, run. In what can only be described as a fast-paced, frenzied Kentucky offense, UK forced the issue from start to finish. Rebounding the ball and getting into transition was a huge point of emphasis last week in practice and it definitely paid off in the first exhibition game. That was never more apparent than when Terrence Jones, UK's second-tallest player in Canada at 6-foot-8, led a fast break, cuffed the ball behind his back and banked it in as if he were a point guard. Whether you're talking about Knight, Miller, Liggins, Jones, Doron Lamb or Stacey Poole, this team of thoroughbreds was made to run.

4. We'll have to wait to see the real Jones, Lamb: Jones and Lamb may or may not play the final two exhibition games in Canada. Jones has been battling a left shoulder injury and left Sunday's game when it started to flare up. His status for the rest of the tournament is day-to-day, but based on his visible discomfort on the UK bench, it's doubtful Calipari will take the risk. Lamb, who suffered a minor ankle injury in practice last week, appeared to aggravate the injury on a drive in the second half. Regardless of whether or not they play, chances are neither guy will be close to 100 percent. If they do take the court again, don't place too much stock into their performances.

5. Kentucky fans never cease to amaze. We know this state bleeds blue through and through. But traveling to Canada for an exhibition game?! Allow me to borrow an overused phrase from Calipari: You people are crazy. In foreign territory, Kentucky packed the St. Denis Centre like it was Rupp Arena. Reports out of Windsor said the crowd was 80 percent pro-UK and that fans were lined up for more than an hour and a half before the game. Remember, folks, this is in Canada at Windsor's home court and more than two months before the season starts. Simply amazing.

Just reached halftime of the first of the Kentucky men's basketball exhibition games in Canada. I'm not in Canada to detail the action, but Guy Ramsey, who will be helping us on the blog throughout the year, is across the border and will have video for us later tonight.

In the meantime, wanted to quickly run through some newsworthy notes while I have a few mintues:

- Before the game started, UK head coach John Calipari broke the news that freshman guard Jarrod Polson will be on scholarship this season. Polson, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard out of West Jessamine High School in Nicholasville, Ky., was originally recruited as a walk-on.

- A bit of bad news from UK football fall camp as the team learned that junior wide receiver Gene McCaskill is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees. McCaskill suffered the injury during Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium.  The junior wide receiver was listed No. 3 on the wide receiver depth chart behind Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. McCaskill, who has 32 receptions for 344 yards in his UK career, is expected to redshirt and return next season.

- Back to the game ...

"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

Video: Three-man QB race still wide open

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FB 09_10 UK_TN WEB 32.jpgOne week and one major scrimmage into Kentucky football fall camp has not been enough to name a starting quarterback.

Following a scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, head coach Joker Phillips said there has been no separation in the three-man race between senior Mike Hartline, sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski.

"I didn't see anybody that stuck out," Phillips said after Saturday's scrimmage. "I think we've got to give this competition another week because there wasn't any huge separation amongst them. We'll give it another week and try to decide Sunday of next week whether or not we're ready to make a decision."

It isn't that any of the three signal-callers have yet to distinguish themselves with positive plays, Phillips said.

"They all were productive (but) they all had a couple of blunders by all three of the quarterbacks," Phillips said. "The thing we're trying to eliminate is that blunder. We talked about that yesterday, that you can't have that blunder from the quarterback position.

 "Production is not always the key to winning the quarterback position, especially in your first week. In your first week, one thing you're looking at is where are there eyes, are they talking, what are they seeing when they're out there, how are they talking to you when they come back. All three of them know what's going on out there."

Phillips said they threw the ball more Saturday in an effort to give the quarterbacks more reps. Timing was also a priority and still a concern after the scrimmage.

"It's hard to get down your timing in a week with everybody," Phillips said. "Hopefully that will come next week. We weren't as productive as we'd like because of the timing."

Ideally, Phillips said he would love to name a starter sooner rather than later.

"I would love to," Phillips said, "because I wouldn't be getting these questions."

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders offered a similar assessment of the three quarterbacks. Sometimes they looked good, at other times it was clear they have only practiced a week.

"I was really pleased with some of the things they did and I was a little aggravated with some of the things they did," Sanders said.

Sanders offered an individual assessment of each quarterback in the battle:

- "Hartline, I thought, was really sharp from a mental standpoint. He made some nice throws, did a great job running the offense and did some good things."

- "Morgan had a couple of plays that makes you wonder what in the world he's thinking, but yet he has the ability to make some throws and he pulls the thing down and has a long run."

- "Mossakowski is somewhere in between. He's not quite managing the offense as well as he needs to but he does a pretty good job."

Phillips has accidentally referred to the quarterbacks as "both," implying a two-man battle, but reassured reporters Saturday that Mossakowski, the least experience of the three, is "definitely" in the battle.

"He moved his unit," Phillips said. "Sometimes my mind is all over the place, but he definitely moves his unit as good as any. It's a three-man race. There's no question about that."

Saturday notes: Holmes in contention at PGA

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for holmes.jpg- Former UK golfer J.B. Holmes is in contention at the PGA Championship after two rounds of play. Holmes currently sits in a tie for third with Jim Furyk at 6-under-par. Matt Kuchar leads the the tournament at 8-under. The second round just wrapped up at beautiful Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisc., with the third round set to begin any minute. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like we're seeing the former UK star storm into contention more and more these days. The ex-Cat is quietly becoming a household name but is still looking for that breakthrough major championship. Maybe it comes this week. Holmes won't tee off until much later today, but you can follow all the action on CBS at 2 p.m. ET. Live scoreboard can be found here.

- Chris Low of provides some nice praise for Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb on his blog. Low writes that "Cobb is one of the best football players -- period" in the league and that "Cobb could play on my team any day." Pretty good approval from a guy who has typically been tough (but fair) on Kentucky football on his blog. Also, while we're talking about the pigskin, UK will have a scrimmage Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium to begin a major evaluation of the depth chart. There are a lot of position battles going on that Phillips hopes to look closely at Saturday. While the scrimmage is closed to the public, we will have a full report on the front page later this evening along with some video interviews on the blog.

- John Wall might be gone, but the legend of his dance continues to grow. During Friday's night's NFL preseason game between the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills, a game the Redskins won by the count of 42-17, Washington punt returner Brandon Banks did the John Wall Dance (video below) after scoring a touchdown (credit to John Clay for the find). Wall fever is obviously catching on in Washington for the Wizards' No. 1 overall pick. Even video games (NBA 2K11) have caught on with the dance.  

Liggins auditioning for leading role in Canada

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MBSK 09_10 UK_Vandy Web Early 02.jpgDeAndre Liggins still doesn't say much, but he looks like a man that's received a promotion.

There's no noticeable strut or change in title, no new suit or new car. But there is an air of confidence around Liggins that Kentucky fans have never seen before.

In practices this past week for the three-game, three-day exhibition trip to Windsor, Ontario, which were open to the media, Liggins looked more poised, more comfortable and more positive than he ever has at UK.

It's as if Liggins is being cast in a leading role. Long viewed as a key role player on two very different teams, the time for Liggins to star is now after Kentucky's mass player exodus to the NBA Draft.

"You go from a supporting role to a starring role and who knows how that turns out, but it's like going from an assistant coach to the head coach," head coach John Calipari said. "All the suggestions now have to become decisions. It's the same when you're in a supporting role to a starring role."

Once thought to be a potential roster victim of the Billy Gillispie-John Calipari coaching change, Liggins found a spot on last year's team as Calipari's go-to energy guy off the bench. Liggins became a spark in key situations, often providing lockdown defense with a gritty, dive-on-the-floor effort and lanky 6-foot-6 frame.

"When he brings energy, it seems like it just picks the whole team up," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "If we see him going hard, it makes everyone else want to go hard."

Liggins is no longer just providing the spark. If early observations out of practice materialize, Liggins could be the fire of this year's team.

"DeAndre's better than I would have projected when I saw him as a high school player," Calipari said.

After sitting out the first nine games last year for undisclosed reasons, Liggins moved himself from Calipari's doghouse to the penthouse by way of defense, routinely seeing bouts of significant playing time. It was a gigantic leap for someone who struggled so mightily his freshman season.

Could Liggins be making a similar jump from his sophomore to junior year?

The biggest improvement has come on the offensive end. In pre-Canada practices, Liggins exhibited an aggressive confidence to get the ball to the basket while displaying a remarkably improved jumper. Some reports from the media who watched this week's practices indicate Liggins was the most impressive player of the 10 who participated.

"DeAndre should be an attacking player who, I'm telling you, is shooting the ball better," Calipari said. "The guys who are in there were stunned at how he's shooting the ball. ... He's attacking the basket. The biggest thing is that energy, but he has to bring it every game. That's got to be who he is. And then he becomes that player.

"I told everybody last year when you see this court opened up for him you're going to see a player that everybody told me, 'You have to get him out of here.' You're going to see a different young man. I think that's what you're seeing. He's got a great temperament. He's missing layups right now and I'm almost laughing because he's doing everything right but he'll miss a layup and he gets mad. I'm like, 'Come on, it's August.' "

Layups used to the least of Liggins' problems.

In two years, Liggins had to learn to adjust to not only two different coaches but two different offenses and rosters. With each coach came new players and two very different styles of play.

As a freshman, the Cats ran a high-low offense with Gillispie. Calipari came in last year with the notoriety of running the now-famous dribble-drive offense, but even Calipari admitted they didn't run it as much as planned because of personnel.

Now in year two of Calipari's regime, he expects to run it closer to 90 percent this season.

"It was tough," Liggins said. "I didn't play that much for Gillispie so I had to sit and watch and observe. With Coach Cal, I know it's more like my type of system. It was easy for me."

While there is an increase in usage, for the first time in Liggins' career, there is some familiarity as well. Liggins said running the same offense has created comfort and confidence.

"I've been through it for a year," Liggins said. "I know what Coach Cal wants. I just try to do whatever it takes to get on the court and do what he says. It's real nice to be an upperclassman, knowing what to do and going the right way to try to teach these young guys."

Specifically, Liggins said he has been working on ball handling and shooting in hopes of becoming a lead player.

"I've been in the gym just shooting," Liggins said. "Shoot, shoot, shoot until my arms fall off. I want to be a better ball handler. The ball wasn't in my hands a lot last year but (Calipari) wants me to handle the ball more this year."

If there's one area Liggins still has a ways to go, it's his verbal leadership. Liggins talked more in practice this week than he has in the past, but he's quiet by nature and admittedly zones out from time to time.

Liggins said Calipari has been working with him on being more vocal with his teammates.

"He's maturing," Calipari said. "He'll be fine. We have a lot of guys like that. Darius (Miller)'s not a verbal guy. Brandon's (Knight) not a verbal guy. Terrence (Jones) isn't a verbal guy. Doron's (Lamb) not a verbal guy. So all of a sudden you put a bunch of guys out there that aren't verbal, and you're saying 'You've got to talk,' and we're doing every drill to get them to talk with one another. But it's August. They'll come back in September and we'll figure out now what we've got to zero in on in the individuals for the two practices a week of what we've got to do and try to get better from there."

There are still two months left of the offseason after Canada until Big Blue Madness and the season gets underway, but the international exhibition series is a prime opportunity for Liggins to assert himself as one of the leaders on yet another freshman-laden team.

"It's always good to have a veteran or a role player who knows what it takes to compete, how to work hard on a daily basis," Liggins said. "It's me and Darius' job to be a leader. Me being here, I know you've got to step on this court and compete."

Kanter staying home: Calipari confirmed Friday that freshman forward Enes Kanter will not make the trip to Windsor with the team while Kentucky awaits to hear word on his eligibility.

"He won't be making the trip because we've heard nothing right now," Calipari said. "He's with his father, who's in the country, and he'll probably be with him for the next couple weeks until he comes back."

Although Kanter has been practicing with the team this week, the Cats were not expecting to have his services. Kanter's amateur status is under review by the NCAA because he played for a team, which featured professional players, in his native country of Turkey.

Without Kanter, UK will travel nine players to Canada. Florida transfer Eloy Vargas, who has not practiced with the team, will also not make the trip. 

Thumbnail image for DSCF6543.JPGOver the last five seasons, I have been fortunate enough to work directly with the Kentucky baseball program. During that time, the program has achieved unprecedented success in the best conference in college baseball. Two NCAA Tournament appearances and an SEC Championship have highlighted the last few years, but along the way there have been a slew of memorable, exciting games. Since 2007, I have had the opportunity to see every inning of UK's last 228 baseball games, owning a front-row seat for some thrilling contests.

With so many exciting games and moments in program history the last few years, it is perfect for a top 20 listing of the most memorable games since that history 2006 campaign.

Over the next few days, Cat Scratches will unveil the top 20 listing in increments of five at a time until No. 1 is revealed. Each post will include a link to the postgame story from the contest and a box score. Weigh in on the rankings in the comments section, let us know if you agree or disagree and share your special memories of Kentucky baseball.

15.     Logan Darnell tosses complete-game shutout at San Diego (2010)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

Kentucky opened up the 2010 season in stellar fashion, sweeping through the Coastal Carolina preseason tournament and dominating through its first seven games, before heading across the country to play three games in San Diego. In the first game of the weekend, UK got a heavy-handed loss from San Diego State and All-American ace Addison Reed, handing UK its first loss of the year, a 12-4 setback.

Before UK returned to the diamond for the second game of the weekend, at traditional power San Diego, head coach Gary Henderson addressed several things that bothered him in the SDSU game and got the team in the right mindset entering the game with USD.

Turns out, all he needed to do was run junior lefty Logan Darnell out to the mound for the game with the Toreros. Darnell dominated, needing just 90 pitches - 70 strikes - to post a complete-game shutout in the third start of his career. Darnell faced only five hitters over the minimum and threw first-pitch strikes to 22-of-32 hitters faced.

14.    UK wins Super Bulldog Weekend opener in 11 innings at Mississippi State (2009)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)Photo Gallery

DSCF6529.JPGEvery year, Mississippi State picks a weekend baseball series, built around the football spring game, to hold its Super Bulldog Weekend, which traditionally translates to a significant home-field advantage for the Bulldogs. The 2009 series with UK and MSU was electric for a number of reasons, including UK head coach Gary Henderson facing MSU head man and former UK head coach John Cohen. During Cohen's five years at UK, Henderson worked as his associate head coach, helping build UK into national relevance.

The first game of the series was just as it was hyped to be, a large, vocal crowd helped create a must-see atmosphere in Starkville, as 6,926 fans packed the grandstand and the unique outfield area.

In a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth, Chris Bisson delivered a clutch RBI single to score the go-ahead run. Down to its last strike in the bottom of the ninth inning, MSU slugger Connor Powers drove an RBI single down the left-field line, scoring the game-tying run and sending the crowd into an excitable frenzy. UK had freshman closer Braden Kapteyn on the mound, since the eighth inning, and he responded with a shutout bottom of the 10th inning to set up UK heroics in the top of the 11th. Freshman Chad Wright singled with one out on a scalded infield hit to shortstop and after Andy Burns singled through the left side to put Wright in scoring position, Bisson stroked a two-RBI triple into the right-centerfield gap. Kapteyn got the final three outs of the game in the bottom of the 11th, working around a two-out RBI single from MSU centerfielder and current Lexington Legends outfielder Grant Hogue.

13.    Shelby, Strieby lead UK to dramatic wins over South Carolina (2006)
Game 1 Postgame Recap  |  Game 2 Postgame RecapGame 3 Postgame Recap
Game 1 Box Score  |  Game 2 Box Score  |  Game 3 Box Score

_R8E0201.JPGIn every championship season, fans can look back at one series that changed the tide for the year. During the UK 2006 SEC Championship season, it is clear that that turning point was a three-game sweep of No. 7 South Carolina at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Kentucky entered the weekend series with South Carolina 8-7 in SEC play and coming off a series defeat at the hands of Arkansas in an always-electric atmosphere in Fayetteville, Ark. At this point in the year, UK was ranked No. 21 and fighting for respect nationally after a 29-win season in 2005.

Enter the Gamecocks, owning a 30-9 record and an 11-5 mark in SEC play entering the Friday-night game. UK built a 9-2 lead entering the top of the eighth inning, seemingly having the game in hand. Then it all came unraveled, as South Carolina improbably plated seven runs in the top of the eighth inning, evening up the game. UK couldn't mount any offense in the bottom of the ninth or the 10th and freshman lefty Chris Rusin emerged as a future star with 3.1 perfect innings in relief for the Wildcats, handcuffing the Gamecocks in the top of the ninth and 10th frames. Rusin was the fifth UK pitcher in the seven-run eighth inning for USC, getting UK out of the crippling jam. South Carolina had flame-throwing right-hander Wynn Pelzer on the mound, riding a scoreless streak of 19 consecutive innings entering a lead-off at bat against UK junior second baseman John Shelby. Shelby ended that streak with a no-doubt, first-pitch blast to dead centerfield, giving UK a walk-off winner in a game that lasted nearly four hours and ended well after 11 p.m. ET.

In the second game of the series, the two teams traded blows in a back-and-forth game and UK was down 12-6 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, as the contest was tied or the lead changed hands six times up to that point. UK mounted an improbable comeback with a six-run rally in the bottom of the seventh. In arguably the best pitching performance of his career, Troy Ragle sat down South Carolina in the top of the eighth. UK loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth for Ryan Strieby, who took a 2-1 pitch from reliever Andrew Cruse deep over the fence to give UK the go-ahead grand slam and lift UK to the series win.

In the finale, UK was down 6-0 before scoring three in the fourth, five in the fifth and four in the sixth to take a 12-7 lead it would not relinquish, as Andrew Albers locked down the save in the ninth, his first save of the year. I remember the feeling in that pressbox after the win, a feeling that UK was turning the corner and that this could be the magical year the program needed. There was just no-quit in the team, as they began to build a reputation as a scrappy, competitive club. The series was monumental for other reasons as well, as UK drew 6,510 fans over the weekend series, setting a record for attendance in a three-game series, including 2,059 fans for the Strieby-led comeback win on Saturday.

KEN11.jpg12.    Back-and-forth slugfest at Arkansas (2010)
Postgame Recap   |   Box Score (HTML)   |   Photo Gallery

There are several games that I remember over the last five years that were extremely competitive, intense and exciting, despite UK coming out on the losing end. The 2010 series-finale rubber match at No. 10 Arkansas was an extra-exciting, drama-filled game in front of 7,614 of the most hostile fans I can remember at a collegiate sporting event. It was electric and improbable, one of the most exciting sporting events I have ever attended.

After UK, who entered the series with a 2-5 SEC record, won game one of the series against the Razorbacks and fell in game two 10-1 behind Arkansas ace Drew Smyly, the rubber match was set for Sunday, with UK standout Alex Meyer and Arkansas flame-throwing talent Brett Eibner facing off in a non-typical Sunday SEC pitching duel.

That duel did not materialize as UK, fired up from a spirited postgame speech from UK head coach Gary Henderson after the Saturday game, plated five runs in the top of the second off Eibner to put UK in great position for a potential season-changing series win. Arkansas plated eight runs in the bottom of the second and scored two runs in the third and four runs in the fourth off Meyer, UK freshman Sam Kidd and sophomore Sean Bouthilette. UK was down 13-5 and looked in bad shape, until it got a one-out hit from Chris Bisson and a two-run homer from senior Gunner Glad in the top of the fifth. The two-homer party continued as Taylor Black made it a 13-9 game with a two-run homer in the top of the sixth. The Razorbacks turned to ace freshman closer D.J. Baxendale in the eighth, a star locally in Arkansas in high school and the owner of a 2.53 ERA and six saves in his first 13 career relief outings. UK jumped all over Baxendale, as UK plated five runs to take a 14-13 lead. Senior Keenan Wiley then reached down and out of the zone to pop up a two-run homer just over the left-field fence and tucked in the fair pole down the line, giving UK an energy-fueled 16-13 lead.

KEN13.jpgWith a three-run lead UK turned to closer Matt Little who had proved to be one of the top closer in college baseball in the early-season portion of the campaign. Little was victimized by an Arkansas last-ditch rally, with two Razorbacks reaching base with two outs and the No. 9 spot in the order due up. Arkansas turned to All-America slugging first baseman Andy Wilkins, who was announced pregame as tearing his hamstring on Saturday night and being out for an estimated two weeks, for a pinch-hit at bat. Little threw three straight balls to Wilkins and fired in two strikes to even the count on the handicapped 6-foot-2 slugger, before walking him to load the bases for leadoff hitter Collin Kuhn. Kuhn worked the count to 2-2 and did the same thing Wiley had done in the previous inning, stuck his bat out of the zone and lifted a ball down the left-field line, tucked in the fair pole, for the walk-off grand slam.

The loss was as painful as it could be, as UK was just one strike away from winning its first series in Fayetteville in 17 years and turning the tide of UK's season. After UK fought through the hostile crowd perched on top of the visiting dugout to the somber bus, it was clear that this kind of loss could cripple the season. But, head coach Gary Henderson didn't let it, as UK rode the negative momentum into a huge shutout win over No. 7 Louisville in the midweek and posted a series win over No. 19 Alabama, a team that advanced to the SEC Tournament Championship game and was a win shy of advancing to Omaha.   

11.    Patchwork pitching staff nearly bests Arizona's three first-round relievers (2008)
Postgame Recap  |   Box Score (HTML)

After UK won a pair of games to force a decisive tilt with Arizona in 2008's NCAA Ann Arbor Regional, the Wildcats were simply out of pitching, especially after posting a win over host-Michigan earlier in the day. UK had used its starters up entering the game with Arizona, especially with ace Chris Rusin out injured after attempting to pitch in the NCAA Tournament opener and James Paxton nursing a back injury.

The Wildcats knew it would have a monumental task to keep the game close against Arizona, who had blown through the winners bracket and used minimal pitching to set up the game with UK. I can remember in the pregame, as both teams were warming up on the field, UK senior catcher Tyler Howe running to the bullpen mound and remarking to a teammate that he better see if he can still pitch, so he could take the mound against Zona if called upon during the game.

ncaa139.JPGUK turned to senior sidearmer Brock Baber for his first career start in his 98th career appearance. Baber, who had worked earlier in the day against Michigan in the first game of the twinbill, was able to go two innings, allowing a pair of runs off a two-run homer. UK's Gary Henderson, then the pitching coach, put together a masterful plan during that game, piecing together a patchwork pitching staff that was able to keep UK in the game and put Kentucky in position to win the game.

Senior Tommy Warner went one shutout inning, senior Aaron Lovett tossed a shutout frame, freshman Logan Darnell had the best outing of his young career with two shutout innings and freshman Mike Kaczmarek and the starting pitcher from yesterday's win, senior Greg Dombrowski, combined to pitch one inning. Howe was then used for a shutout eighth inning and Andrew Albers, who had pitched earlier in the tournament as well, pitched the ninth.

It was not enough however, as Arizona starter Eric Berger was dynamic into the eighth inning, setting the stage for three Arizona's first-round relievers to close out the game. Current MLB relievers Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth were used simply for one out in the eighth inning and flame-throwing closer Jason Stoffell tossed a perfect ninth for the Arizona win, ending UK's school-record 44 win season.

There was a thought after the game that UK head coach John Cohen was in line for the job at his tradition-rich alma matter, Mississippi State. After sitting in the pressbox and watching how Henderson was able to mix-and-match his way through the rugged Arizona batting order and keep UK in the game with a patchwork pitching staff, it reinforced my belief that Henderson would soon be an outstanding head coach.  

SI predicts bold finish for UK football

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When was the last time Kentucky football finished second place in the Southeastern Conference East Division?

The answer might surprise some. It's never happened.

Since the SEC split into the two divisions in 1992, the Cats have never placed better than third in the division. Traditionally, teams like Georgia, Florida and especially Tennessee have held the Cats in check.

That's what makes Sports Illustrated predictions in its latest issue so special. The weekly magazine published its predictions for the SEC in its college football preview and have predicted the Cats will finish in a tie for second in the East.

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated predicts UK will go 8-4 overall, 4-4 in the conference, identical records to that of Georgia and South Carolina. Staples has Florida winning the East with a 7-1 conference record but has Kentucky ahead of Tennessee with a 3-5 record and Vanderbilt with an 0-8 mark.

It's just a projection, but given the history of UK football, that's a bold predicition.

Also, Staples listed wide receiver Randall Cobb as one of his five players to watch in the leauge. Of Cobb, Staples writes, "Cobb will do it all, from catching balls to returning punts and kicks to taking snaps in the WildCobb formation. Few players in the nation will contribute more."

UK Tube: Kentucky's new video vault

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With the announcement Friday that UK is live streaming the Canada games on, Kentucky has officially launched its new video player that will house all video shot by the athletics department.

The vault, called UK Tube, can be accessed at

For those of you that used YouTube to watch our videos in the past (, we will no longer post videos on there (with the exception of this weekend's Canada video interviews). The UK Tube channel will be your one-stop click for all UK videos.

Also, with the introduction of this new video player, you will notice the video on this blog will now be in the new video player.

Russell looks to burst onto scene, could be 'nasty'

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FB 09_10 UK_EKU web 92.jpgDerrick Locke burst onto the scene as an unheralded freshman out of Hugo, Okla., playing football on a track scholarship. In 2010, UK fans and coaches alike are hoping another tailback will burst onto the scene.

That guy may just be Donald Russell.

Though Russell played in five games in the 2009 season, rushing for 137 yards on 13 carries, including a 79-yard run against Eastern Kentucky for a touchdown, he is virtually an unknown to the Big Blue Nation. Locke believes that will change this season.

"(Fans can expect) big plays (from Russell), hands down," Locke said. "When he comes in he's going to make guys miss. You better get ready because he's going to make guys miss. He's far better at making guys miss than I am."

Russell, standing at 5-foot-11, 209-pounds, had a strong spring. In the annual Blue/White Spring Game, Russell rushed nine times for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score. Part of Russell's success from the spring and thus far in the fall may come from his five games from last season.

"It was important because I wanted to show the coaches and everybody else I'm capable of helping in any aspect of the game," Russell said.

UK running backs coach Larry Brinson said the confidence gained from seeing game reps can make a player more comfortable on the field.

"When you go into a game confident with what your assignments are, you play faster," Brinson said. "He's been very solid and looking good and hopefully he'll stay healthy throughout the camp."

With the departures of Alfonso Smith and John Conner, the Cats enter this year's campaign with just two veterans in the backfield who have seen significant playing time in Locke and Moncell Allen, who has been moved to fullback to replace Conner. That leaves a door open for another tailback to step up and take snaps at running back alongside Locke. The good thing, said Brinson, who will be entering his fourth year with the Cats, is this group of backs has as much depth as he's seen while at Kentucky.

"When I first got here there was Rafael (Little), Tony (Dixon) and Alfonso Smith, and then after that it kind of fell off," Brinson said. "But right here we have about three-deep and the talent doesn't really fall off that much. We've got guys that can really do it. And those younger guys, it's just a matter of those guys learning the system and feeling comfortable with it."

Locke said Russell has been following him around everywhere and has been studying film with him to improve his game.

"This whole summer he's been getting with me because my main thing was I have to get these guys ready for games," Locke said. "I'm throwing everything I can at Russell, just how I would in a game, that way, if we need to run this play, if you need to flex out here, if you need to do that and get in the slot, you've got to be able to run it. Because it can't be, 'Locke's on the sideline, we can't run that play.' We're not going to have that this year."

What the Cats could have is a Locke-Russell combination that could keep opposing defenses off balance.

With Locke, the Cats have a proven tailback with speed comparable to anyone in the Southeastern Conference. In Russell, Kentucky has more of a power back who still has speed and is more than capable of making defenses miss as proven last season and in the spring.

"He has a unique running style, he really does," Brinson said. "He's more of a stop-and-go type of guy. When I look at him, I want him to really make his moves on the run but that's his running style and it's been productive for him. Whatever makes a guy productive, that's what you let him do. If he's positive in everything he's doing and making big plays, you definitely don't want to change it. I've coached a lot of different guys and I think Russell is one of the more unique guys I've ever coached."

Russell said he doesn't model his game after anyone in particular, he just goes out and tries to practice and play hard. When asked about the combination of playing alongside Locke, he smiled at the notion.

"I can be more of a power back and I can get in between the tackles," Russell said. "Just combining us together, I think it would be a good combination. I think we're going to have a lot of our opponents confused about what to do."

Locke also agreed on the potential thunder-lightning-like combination the two backs could create at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturdays.

"They don't really know how good he is yet," Locke said. "They haven't seen him. But he could come in and take some snaps and take a lot of pressure off me. And I'm really looking forward to that. I'm needing that help."

Russell said he felt he could improve on everything in his game, including picking up blocks in pass protection. Brinson also said pass protection was an area he needs to improve upon, and Locke said it was something they were watching in film study.

Brinson said Russell's talents in pass protection will come with more reps and he did a "great job" for them in that area during the spring.

In Locke's eyes, one of the things Russell needs to improve on the most is not overdoing his ability to make people miss. The end product, Locke said, could be something special.

"One thing I feel like he needs to do better is he makes so many guys miss he overdoes it sometimes," Locke said. "If he can clean that up and learn to drop his shoulder more -- I mean he drops his shoulder but he needs to make that guy miss, make that guy miss and then boom get up field. If he can get that he'll be far better than I am when he gets to his fourth year. He'll be nasty."

Is UK Hoops still a top-15 team without Smith?

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WBSK 09_10 UK_MichSt NCAA Web 32.jpgThe UK Hoops team received a pretty devastating blow recently when it was announced Wednesday that point guard Amber Smith will be out indefinitely with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.

It's uncertain whether or not Smith will be able to return at all for the 2010-11 season, but chances are she will miss a significant amount of time.

Smith was an integral part of UK's historic run to the NCAA Elite Eight last season as the starting point guard for the up-tempo Cats. The 5-foot-9 guard out of Winter Haven, Fla., averaged a career-high 9.2 points and team-high 4.4 assists per game last year.

"This is very difficult for Amber to go through, entering her senior season," head coach Matthew Mitchell said in a release on UK's home page. "We are aware of how tough this is on her and we are going to do everything we can as a basketball program and her basketball family to support her and her rehabilitation. We are confident she will work hard and get back on the court as soon as possible but in the meantime she leaves very big shoes to fill. Anyone who follows our program knows what a big part Amber Smith plays in what we do. Our entire team will have to pull together to make up for this huge loss."

Now the question remains, can UK overcome the loss? Is this still a top-15 team without Smith? Any other year I would have said no because Smith is that valuable to the team in terms of her passion and leadership, but that may not be the case this year. Here are three reasons why I think the team can overcome the setback:

1. Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies. Really, not much else needs to be said. Anytime you return both a Southeastern Conference Player to your roster and an SEC Freshman of the Year you're going to be competitive. While Smith was a valuable asset to last year's historic postseason run, Dunlap and Mathies were options 1A and 1B. Dunlap torched the league by leading the team in scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.4 rpg) while setting UK single-season records in blocks (65), blocks per game (1.9) and steals (107). Meanwhile, Mathies, as just a freshman, scored in double figures in 26 of Kentucky's 36 games. She will continue to improve as she gets more experience, only adding to the league's most productive duo.

2. UK's new style of play. Last year's up-tempo style of play took the SEC by storm. Kentucky ranked third in the nation in turnover margin with 7.33 turnovers per game. Despite the loss of Smith, that style of play is going nowhere and should continue to flourish in women's college basketball. Even better, the up-tempo style of play is still a perfect match for the remaining guards on the team. Point guard Crytal Riley, who transferred from LSU, served as a valuable backup to Smith last year and has the type of speed and athleticism that suits Mitchell's full-court game. Also, Mathies played point guard in spurts in her first season while the Cats waited for Riley to become eligible from a transfer.

3. Help is on the way in the form of UK's highest-ranking class in school history. Kentucky's freshman class, which includes Sarah Beth Barnette, Maegan Conwright, Samantha Drake, Kastine Evans and Jennifer O'Neill, is ranked No. 5 by Blue Star Basketball and No. 10 by ESPN HoopGurlz. All five could see considerable time in their first season and should help cushion the blow of Smith. O'Neill, who was already in the plans to be the point guard of the future, could be groomed this season as exactly that.

"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

UK Baseball celebrate win over LouisvilleOver the last five seasons, I have been fortunate enough to work directly with the Kentucky baseball program. During that time, the program has achieved unprecedented success in the best conference in college baseball. Two NCAA Tournament appearances and an SEC Championship have highlighted the last few years, but along the way there have been a slew of memorable and exciting games. Since 2007, I have had the opportunity to see every inning of UK's last 228 baseball games, owning a front-row seat for some thrilling contests.

With so many exciting games and moments in program history the last few years, it is perfect for a top 20 listing of the most memorable games since that historic 2006 campaign.

Over the next few days, Cat Scratches will unveil the top 20 listing in increments of five at a time until No. 1 is revealed. Each post will include a link to the postgame story from the contest and a box score. Weigh in on the rankings in the comments section, let us know if you agree or disagree and share your special memories of Kentucky baseball.

20.     UK rallies in electric atmosphere for series-securing win at Ole Miss (2007)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

In 2007, Kentucky was coming off the 2006 SEC Championship season and despite battling significant injuries to ace Scott Green and eventual first-team All-American outfielder Collin Cowgill, was in the hunt for the postseason. UK traveled to No. 18 Ole Miss for the next-to-last weekend series of the year. Entering the weekend, it looked like UK would need to win four of the final six games, meaning it needed to win the series at Oxford, Miss., known for an electric, hostile atmosphere. The series win would be UK's first at Oxford since the 2001 season.

The season came down to the Sunday game, which UK had to win to remain in the hunt. UK jumped out to an 8-3 lead after six innings, before Ole Miss - rallied on by 4,585 rowdy fans - scored four in the seventh to cut the lead to one. UK mounted a one-run rally in the top of the eighth, a rally that began when Brian Spear got hit by two consecutive pitches to lead off the inning, being called back to the box on each HBP by home plate umpire Arthur Schmidt. On the first pitch that Schmidt called Spear back to the box, then UK head coach John Cohen was ejected. On the second pitch, first base coach Nick Mingione was ejected. Spear eventually drew the walk and came around to score UK's ninth run of the game.

The Ole Miss rally chased UK starter Greg Dombrowski in the seventh, with UK turning to veteran reliever Aaron Lovett, known for a cool, calm demeanor on the mound. Lovett picked up his sixth save of the season with 2.1 lockdown innings, including getting the final out of the game from All-America shortstop Zach Cozart, a top prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization in 2010, on an attempted bunt.

19.     Kapteyn, Wright provide heroics in UK comeback win at Louisville (2009)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

Chad Wright.jpgSince the 2007 season, the rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville has skyrocketed, as both programs have taken off on the national map, with UK moving up the best conference in college baseball and Louisville excreting its dominance in the Big East.

In 2009, UK was scuffling heading to Louisville for the first of the two-game series, which the two programs have split since the 2007 season. UK found itself down 6-4 entering the eighth inning, before a three-run rally - highlighted by big at bats from Chris McClendon, Keenan Wiley, Marcus Nidiffer, Chris Wade and Bryan Rose. Rose's two-RBI double with two outs gave UK the lead, with Braden Kapteyn locking the final three innings down on the mound.

18.     Kapteyn helps UK secure win, Caravelle Resort Invite at Coastal Carolina (2010)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

UK opened the 2010 season in splendid form, posting a season-opening win over eventual Atlantic Coast Conference power Virginia Tech and a win over Big East foe West Virginia. In the third game of the weekend for UK, the Wildcats needed to win over No. 12 Coastal Carolina to secure the Caravelle Resort Invitational Championship.

The Wildcats got the win over the Chants, plating a run in the top of the ninth inning on excellent base running and a throwing error from CCU All-American Scott Woodward at third base. Braden Kapteyn, who had pitched scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth, closed the door for his first win of the season in the ninth.

The win was just the third home loss for the Chanticleers in the last two years up to that point, as CCU owned a 28-2 record and home in 2009 and a 33-8 record and home in 2010, hosting the NCAA Regional in 2009 and 2010. After the weekend, Yahoo! Sports/ tabbed UK as the team of the weekend for the 3-0 performance in Myrtle Beach.

17.     Wade's solo HR in the 11th lifts UK to win at UNO on St. Patty's Day (2009)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

In head coach Gary Henderson's first season at the helm of the program, one of his missions was to beef up the non-conference schedule. In doing so, Henderson booked a non-conference, mid-week game at New Orleans, a traditional power in the Sun Belt, during UK's spring break trip to face LSU.

UK at UNO.JPGThe atmosphere was unique as the several thousands of residents in the temporary housing - due to Hurricane Katrina - a few hundred yards away from the ballpark off the shore, were able to walk to the game, adding to an emotionally charged environment.

UK found itself in a 4-3 hole in the top of the ninth inning with two strikes and two outs. Chris Bisson singled to lead off the ninth, scoring on a wild pitch from UNO's closer, Donnie White. After pitching a scoreless eighth and ninth inning, with help from lefty Logan Darnell and right-hander Sean Bouthilette, UK got a solo homer from Chris Wade to take a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the 11th.

The Wildcats had a severely depleted bullpen after the weekend tilt at LSU and Bouthilette was the lone option to close out the game, picking up the win for UK.

16.     Wildcats eliminate host Michigan behind Carroll, Cowgill (2008)
Postgame Recap  |  Box Score (HTML)

UK entered a doubleheader in the 2008 NCAA Regional in Ann Arbor, Mich., needing to win both games to force a decisive game with Arizona the following day. In the first game of the doubleheader, UK got a win over Eastern Michigan, behind Andrew Albers and Sawyer Carroll. In the second game, UK had to face off with the Wolverines, who were hosting the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program annals.

Thumbnail image for Sawyer at Michigan.JPGIn the first game of the tournament earlier in the week, UK fell to Michigan, as starter Chris Rusin was unknowingly pitching handicapped by injury and the game was halted by rain. In the rematch, UK got nine runs in the first two innings, including a seven-run inning in the first frame. Every UK starter notched a hit and Carroll hit his third homer of the tournament, with Cowgill charting three hits.

"Camp Insider with Ed and Ricky" is an inside look into the 2010 Kentucky football training camp. Senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin of Clarksville, Tenn., alongside redshirt freshman Ed Berry of Eminence, Ky., host the daily webisodes to give you an inside look into UK football. The webisodes will be posted throughout the weeks leading up to the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4.

Playbook in Sanders' hands now

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Sanders.jpgIt isn't that Randy Sanders doesn't like calling plays. He just doesn't think it's all cracked up to what people make out to be.

"I think calling the plays is one of the most overrated things a coordinator does," said Sanders, UK's offensive coordinator.

Sanders will take over the play-calling duties this year now that Joker Phillips is taking over the headset of the head coach. Phillips, who has been calling the plays since taking over the offensive coordinator role in 2005, will give up his duties in favor of Sanders as Phillips takes on more responsibility.

Well, sort of.

"Typically what you call on first down or third down or in the red zone has already been determined earlier in the week by the coaching staff," Sanders said. "You don't sit up there and arbitrarily pick out plays. Usually you talk about it as a staff and you study what the other team's tendencies are, so you're kind of calling the best play on what you've seen so far."

Phillips said he will have veto power to overrule any call, but ultimately it will be Sanders' job to pick the play when the game is on the line.

"There's no question that sometimes you have to get off the plan and adjust as the game goes on," Sanders said.

After a high-flying offensive year in 2007, when the Cats ranked 24th nationally in total offense and 15th in scoring offense, the play calling has been an area of criticism recently as the offensive numbers have dipped (mention the words "bubble screen" to a Wildcat fan and watch their reaction). With different personnel on offense, the coaching staff has had to adjust to its team's strengths.

A year ago, that was a run-heavy offense that ran for more than 191 yards per game.

Sanders said they are hoping to open up the offense more this year, but it isn't as if they've pulled back the reins on the offense the past two years.

"One of the things I've learned through the years from doing this is that when plays work everybody thinks it's wide open," Sanders said. "Sometimes you go into it with the approach of wide open, but if the guys aren't making plays, people think you are conservative. That's kind of the way it is."

The coaching staff is still in the process of figuring out the chain of command for signaling the plays to the field. In years past, Phillips called the plays from the press box down to Sanders on the field, who then signaled the plays into the quarterback.

That all changed last year with a freak accident that left Sanders in a cast. Sanders broke his left arm when he was hit in a sideline collision during the fourth quarter of the Louisville game. From then on, backup quarterback Tyler Sargent, standing right next to Sanders each and every game, signaled the plays in for his offensive coordinator.

After serving a vital role in last year's play calling, Sargent could be part of the process again.

"How we get the plays out on the field, we will get that all worked out," Sanders said. "There's a good chance I may be up in the press box communicating it down to one of our coaches or to Tyler, who signaled a lot last year after I broke my arm. The hard part is figuring out who you're getting it to on the field and who those other 10 players are going to be."

Men's basketball practice notes and observations

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MBSK 09_10 UK_Ole Miss Web 09.jpgHad the privilege of watching the men's basketball team practice Monday at the Joe Craft Center as the team gets ready for its three-game, three-day exhibition series in Windsor, Ontario, which will begin Aug. 15.

It was my first time watching this year's team and I was only able to stay about an hour for the hour-and-a-half practice, but I thought I'd provide some notes (all my opinion, of course) from what I saw Monday:

- First of all, this won't be last year's team in any way shape or form - good or bad. This is simply a different team made up of different players. For one, this team isn't as big. It's not lacking on height by any means, but the team is thinner (that's what happens when you lose two beasts like DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton). The team is also much quieter. There are not nearly as many eccentric personalities. Every guy, at least in the hour that I watched, seems to go about their business quietly. Again, don't know if that's a good or bad thing. 

- Had to remind myself on multiple occasions that this team is basically starting over again. I had become accustom to seeing some of the same drills so much and saw such steady improvement from last year's team that you forget most of those players are gone.

- Big hurdle for the freshmen early on will be adjusting to the speed of the game, as is the case with freshmen any year. As head coach John Calipari told his players, he wants their "feet moving fast but (their) minds running slow."

- About midway through, the team worked on a rebounding drill and getting out on the break quickly. Calipari wasn't pleased the effort the first few times. "One thing you're going to learn is it's a man's game," Calipari said. "You either battle like a man or you battle like a child." As Caipari said, guys were not trying to offensively rebound, nobody was looping in transition and then senior forward Josh Harrellson threw it off a guy's foot. "You've got to be kidding me," Calipari said. The players got the message. The next time around they executed to near perfection. Junior guard Darius Miller went up and grabbed a rebound aggressively and quickly moved the ball in transition before hitting freshman guard Doron Lamb off a curl. Lamb followed by draining the trey from just right of the top of the circle.

- Speaking of Miller and Lamb ... both were very impressive. Miller looks more confident, assertive and even physically bigger. During one sequence, Miller got the ball in the post from about five feet out with his back to the basket, turned, bounced and dropped the short jumper in. Later, he drove in between two guys and tried to throw down a one-hand tomahawk slam. I can count on two hands how many times I've seen Miller make moves as aggressive as the ones I saw Monday.

- Lamb ran the other point guard opposite of freshman sensation Brandon Knight. Lamb looks to be very athletic and is my early choice for most overlooked player of the freshmen. During one drill, Lamb drove past Knight with a nasty crossover that had Knight literally going in the complete opposite direction. Lamb was open from about the free-throw line in until some congestion under the basket, so he pulled up with a little floater as he was on the move. Calipari loved it. "Hey," Calipari shouted, "you shoot 10 of those a game." Lamb continually showed the ability to hit the mid-range jumper.

- It was obvious from the start that Enes Kanter is skilled with the basketball. Very polished moves when he gets the ball on the post and a strong finisher above the rim. Fans will hope he can take the place of Cousins, but the fact of the matter is he is a different type of player. He could be just as good as Cousins, just in a different way.

- Senior forward Terrence Jones, like Kanter, won't necessarily be in the mold of last year's big men. A little thinner, swifter and can dribble with the ball (not to say last year's guys couldn't). Jones brought the ball up in transition a couple of times and looked pretty good overall.

- During a one-on-two transition drill, Jon Hood ran it to perfection on the very first try. "I love it, I love it," Calipari said. Hood took it right through a bump at half court and went for the one-handed dunk. He missed it, but Calipari loved the effort. One, it was a drill the Cats had a tough time adjusting to last year and two, it looked like a more aggressive, more assertive Hood.

- Early on, Calipari is emphasizing the same attacking mentality that we saw in last year's practices (i.e. stressing transition buckets). If the players have the layup, he wants them to take it with no hesitation. Junior guard DeAndre Liggins ran that philosophy to perfection during one two-on-two drill. Kanter, who was on his team, was behind him, so Liggins took his man one-on-one, much to the pleasure of Calipari. "We could come down and set 10, 20 screens, but which way would you rather play?" Calipari said, referring to the up-tempo style. "If we play this way, you respect one another and give the ball up if somebody else is open."

- Didn't watch a ton of Stacey Poole or Brandon Knight. I think Poole's length could surprise people on the wing and he kind of reminds me of Miller in the sense that he can play guard or forward. Knight wasn't having a stellar practice, but no worries about one of the nation's top point guards.

- Jarrod Polson still looks like a kid in high school, but the kid has some speed. He probably won't contribute much this year, but he will likely be a key reserve a couple of years down the line. After I left, I heard he threw down a nasty dunk, so maybe I should take back what I said about him looking like a kid. At 6-foot-2, he would certainly tower over me.

- Harrellson definitely looks to have embraced a leadership role and looks to be in the best shape of his career, but I can't see him breaking the starting five. He will have increased minutes but I'm not sure if they will be significant. Just my opinion, though.

- The talk among the local scribes is the improvement of Liggins. For the first time in his career, Liggins is playing the same offense, and it's starting to show. Liggins appears to be 10 times more comfortable this year and could be poised to make another giant leap, similar to the one he made last year as a vital bench player.

Rock.jpgAs soon as Ray "Rock" Oliver was announced as director of strength and conditioning on Joker Phillips' first staff in January, he developed somewhat of a mythical reputation around Lexington. Fans were buzzing about his experience, including his most recent stint with the Cincinnati Bengals, and saw him as a guy who could help take Kentucky football to the next level.

Fans often don't get to see the results of a strength and conditioning program until the season kicks off but UK players and staff have seen and felt - often painfully - the impact of Oliver in offseason workouts and practices. 

The impact is visible in more chiseled frames, better performances in conditioning drills and improvement in the weight room.  However, Oliver's impact is most palpably felt in the sense of confidence that no team Kentucky faces this season, Southeastern Conference or otherwise, will be better physically prepared than the Wildcats.

"Our body comps have changed," Phillips said at Media Day on Friday. "That gives our team confidence and a positive attitude, a winning attitude that we think will help us." 

While in the NFL, Oliver noted that he encountered players from every school in the SEC.  Oliver failed to notice any substantial difference among those players, whether they were from Florida or they were from Kentucky.

"If we (in the NFL) couldn't tell the difference, then we (at UK) better understand that that's how it is," said Oliver, who does not buy into the notion that name on an opponent's jersey carries any weight. "We're going to line up against them and find out what they're about." 

That confidence has not come without an offseason price of hard work and dedication - and small dose of fear.

Like fans, players felt a buzz upon Oliver's arrival, but more so because they were not sure what was in store for them. As those outside the program were excited about the impact that Oliver could make, the reality of stepping into the weight room for the first workout with their new coach set in.

Senior quarterback Mike Hartline described the mood of the team as nervous. 

"You could see that all the guys that talk a lot in the weight room weren't," Hartline said. "They didn't say a word."

Sophomore defensive end Collins Ukwu wanted to know what he was getting into. 

"I had no clue," Ukwu said. "I heard different rumors. I heard he killed players."

It turns out that the rumors of Oliver "killing" players would be prophetic, though not literally true. 

"I'm not going to lie," junior wide receiver Randall Cobb said, "that first workout killed us. I remember being laid up in the locker room for about 30 minutes afterward."

But the players embraced the workouts from day one. Rarely a day goes by without one of the players taking to the social networking avenues of Twitter of Facebook to rave about the workouts of Oliver. The results, as UK works through its first week of fall camp, are evident.

Every year we hear players are bigger, stronger, faster and leaner. That's not just smoke this year.

"I think we've lost a lot of fat," Phillips said. "We're a leaner team, we're a stronger team. I think the way we look now will help us through injuries. If you saw us in the spring, knock on wood, we didn't have any issues with injuries, and I think it's because of us being a lot leaner. The bigs got small; the ones who needed to lose weight lost weight; the ones who needed to gain weight did gain weight."

Oliver used that willingness of the players to work along with his wealth of experience at the highest level of football to gain the belief of the team. 

As the only SEC strength coach with his level of experience in the NFL, Oliver brings something to the Kentucky program that will pay dividends on the field and on the recruiting trail. Multiple players mentioned the contacts that Oliver has at the next level. All were thankful to have Oliver on their side.

"At one point or another, every guy who plays in college wants to play in the NFL," Oliver said. "Everybody wants to know what those guys are doing."

What Oliver does, in addition to your typical weight lifting, might surprise you. Hydro-pool workouts and boxing are an Oliver staple, and Oliver is more than willing to jump right in there with the players in sparring sessions. 

On the job for seven months now, the results are apparent on the field. When Oliver first got his hands on the players, most of them were barely able to get through 10 gassers.

That wasn't going to cut it for Oliver, who was previously at UK from 1989-92, when he worked with the UK men's basketball team.
Oliver mandated that all players on the team must be able to finish 16 gassers, a hurdle the team has cleared and then some.

"It turned into something where we kept doing it," Oliver said. "Every Friday we would have a team run and we just kept going. It built confidence."

Now, when UK goes for a Friday team run, players are finishing 24 wind sprints.  Oliver said that the number stacks up very favorably compared with college teams throughout the country.

"He guarantees you that afterward it will pay off," Hartline said. "We're going to come out exploding against Louisville."

When asked about whether this offseason revealed a conditioning issue in previous years, Phillips said "no, I just think we're in better condition this year." 

Regardless of the past, the team's conditioning is now clearly a strength.

"In the past, we weren't in shape to finish some games," Cobb said. "Now we're in shape to finish those games out."

Woodyard takes a cut at former rival

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09fifthdown-TebowHair-blogSpan.jpgSurely by now you have heard of the infamous haricut Tim Tebow received this weekend at Denver Broncos training camp. It's been the buzz (no pun intended) of early season camp.

If you haven't, well, that picture above says it all. As a part of rookie hazing, Woodyard had his head shaved this weekend in the most ridiculously funny manner.

So why does a Florida Gator who ranks right up there with the most disliked rivals of UK fans make his way on to a UK blog? Well, a former Wildcat served as his personal barbor.

Current Denver Bronco and former UK linebacker Wesley Woodyard was the man behind the scissors (or electric razor, I should say). Woodyard styled the monk-like hairdo in what could only be inspired by some of his Kentucky-rooted frustrations.

"He was getting a few blows back from the college days," Tebow told reporters.

"It was my vision," Woodyard told The Denver Post.

Fall camp links

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It's been football, football, football on this blog of late, and, well, here comes another football post. Because it's the beginning of fall camp and the 2010 season, there has been plenty of news around Lexington regarding the pigskin.

To kind of wrap up the start of the season and Friday's Media Day, I thought I'd post some of the best stories from our local scribes over the past few days.

Also, a warm welcome is in store for two of our newest writers on the blog. Metz Camfield, previously with the Kentucky Kernel as the men's basketball beat writer, and Guy Ramsey will be pitching in on the blog from time to time for the 2010-11 season. Camfield wrote on the quarterback situation Friday, and Ramsey has a great piece on the impact of Rock Oliver that I'll be posting today or tomorrow.

Glad to have the two along for the ride.

Now, on to those links:

Lexington Herald-Leader
- Chip Cosby writes that the Cats have yet to see the great Ricky Lumpkin
- Cosby reports that the cornerbacks, particularly freshman Jerrell Priester, are catching Joker Phillips' eye
- Cosby also writes that the Cats are in great shape heading into camp thanks to Oliver
- Mister Cobble took the blame for not becoming eligible, according to Cosby
- John Clay writes that the quarterbacks who are battling for the starting spot are brothers, not rivals

- Brett Dawson writes on YouTube sensation Mychal Bailey, who is bringing big hits to the Cats

- Dawson on UK drawing approximately 6,000 fans for Saturday's Fan Day
- Dawson also weighs in on the quarterback battle

The Cats' Pause
- TCP has video highlights from Saturday's open practices
- Matt May writes that the UK staff is dumping the playbook on the newest Cats 
- Phillips was pleased with the first full day of camp, according to May

Danville Advocate-Messenger
- Larry Vaught asks how a quarterback wins the starting job
- Vaught reports that Donte Rumph will not let Phillips down for the support he gave him 

Also, a bonus story on former Wildcat John Conner. Jenny Vrentas from The Star-Ledger writes that the New York Jets have a "thumper" in John Conner

Video: Cats adjust to first day of shoulder pads

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FB 09_10 UK_FL  WEB 029.jpgThere will always be truth to the notion that defense wins championship. It's an adage that's been proven time and time again in athletics.

But when Kentucky football was at its recent finest - a record-setting year in 2007 when the likes of No. 1 and eventual national champion LSU and No. 9 Louisville went down at the hands of the Wildcats - UK had one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

Spearheaded by offensive stalwarts Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme and Rafael Little, the scoreboard at Commonwealth Stadium routinely posted scores of 30 or more points. In racking up more than 443 yards per game, which ranked 24th in the nation, and more than 36 points per game, 15th in the country, the passing game showcased aerial attacks that would have made the Air Force blush.

Recently, things have changed.

The departures of the high-flying 2007 stars forced UK to take on a new identity the past two years. The offensive train of thought was to manage the game, not make mistakes and let the defense keep the team in the game.

In 2008, the offense ranked 106th nationally and 64th scoring. Last year, despite a tough-nosed, top-25 rushing offense, UK was 93rd in total offense and 70th in scoring.

The offense was becoming more of a liability than reliability.

As Kentucky enters the 2010 season with an arsenal of offensive weapons returning at the skill positions, the Cats are hopeful that the offense will return this year. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders believes it has the makings to be back, at least potentially.

"I think it has potential to be because we obviously have some weapons outside," Sanders said. "We had some guys (in 2007) that could take the short play and turn it into a long play. It made us pretty explosive. I think we have some of that same potential, but that's potential. Potential means it hasn't been done consistently yet."

At least not as a team. In terms of the parts, the pieces are in place for an explosive 2010.

Do-everything Randall Cobb returns as one of the most dynamic players in the Southeastern Conference, joining one of the premier tailbacks in the league in Derrick Locke. The wide receiver position, which has been one of the biggest disappointments over the last two years, has seen several potential stars emerge, including Chris Matthews, La'Rod King and Gene McCaskill.

There is, of course, the uncertainty of the starting quarterback spot, but both Mike Hartline and Morgan Newton have game experience and have tallied several big wins. The offensive line must replace four starters from a season ago, but as head coach Joker Phillips said at Friday's Media Day, most of the backups received significant playing time a year ago.

Having said all that, is this year's offense the most explosive UK has seen since the 2007 season? Can fans expect a vast improvement from the past two years?

"I would say you are correct," Hartline said. "I think this is a lot deeper than we have been, especially at the receiver position and the offensive line. If you look across the board, they all somewhere in their career have experience. We have deep running backs and I think we have some very talented tight ends that are looking to make their appearance this season, especially with the tight ends coach, Coach (Greg) Nord. He is going to get them squared away. I think the sky is the limit."

Hartline isn't alone in that belief. Cobb, who will be counted on to produce more than any one player, said the Cats are deeper and more versatile than they have been since he's been in Kentucky blue and white.

"We think we should be able to score 35, 40 points a game," Cobb said. "That's the kind of attitude we need to go in with."

(For those worrying about Cobb and the Wildcat package this year, rest easy. Despite Cobb's wishes to focus more on wide receiver and take the "slash" out of his title, Phillips said he will continue to utilize Cobb at quarterback because the ball has to be in his hands.)

Thumbnail image for Cobb escapes.jpgThe key will likely be balance. Last year, en route to rushing for more than 171 yards per game, Kentucky formed one of the stoutest rushing offenses in nation. The problem lied with the passing game, which was nearly non-existent at times.

"If we want to win, we have to pass," Locke said. "We have to. We have to make the defenses play honest. Last year we knew it was a spot we were going to be shaky at, but now it's got to get better. I'm not Superman. I can't do it by myself. They understand that I need them just as much as they need me. Everybody needs to be on the same page if we want to take it to the next level."

The passing game certainly doesn't have to be as good as the 2007 team when Woodson and UK tossed the ball for close to 300 yards per game. But a similar ground attack to last year's and an improved air attack would make for a much more potent offense.

The ability to pass the ball on top of a consistent ground attack would put opponents on their heels, allowing more room for the rushing game and opening up the playbook for more shots downfield.

"I feel like we've made huge improvements since the spring," Locke said. "I'm not concerned with the passing game at all. Our wide receivers and quarterbacks are going to get it done. I feel like we're as close as we've ever been since I've been here to really get over that hump and win those games some don't think we can win. We're going to have a big year."

A big year, if nothing else, because of the wide receiver position. For one thing, it's one of the deepest position groups on this year's team, with seven or eight guys capable of cracking the top three spots.

"We haven't seen the best of Chris Matthews, and if you look at him, his speed and what he can do, that scares me," Newton said. "La'Rod is going to be a year older. He is as good as there is. Geno (McCaskill), E.J. Fields, (Matt) Roark, those guys are big fast receivers. Nobody has seen Brian Adams yet and he is as good as the others. We have a lot of guys that are good and a lot of guys that can play." (Speaking of Adams, wide receivers coach Tee Martin raved in the spring that the two-way athletic freak is one of the fastest players on the team and could make an immediate impact.)

When the quarterbacks start salivating over who they're throwing to, the passing game usually flourishes.

"It allows you to maybe keep your eyes on that guy another half a count," Sanders said. "As a quarterback , you don't have long to look at somebody. You need that trust that they're going to get it done. We have some guys that I think our quarterbacks have some confidence in."

And confidence, more than anything, is beaming more than ever as the UK football team opens up fall camp. Will the offense be as productive as the 2007 team that put up eye-popping numbers? Probably not. That would be asking a lot.

But it is expected to get better this year. Whether you're talking about the wide receivers, the stable of tailbacks behind Locke or the experience at quarterback, there are playmakers across the board on offense.

"They were a great offense (in 2007) and we see it every day," Newton said. "We won't be that offense, but we plan to be as good as we can be and hopefully better. They had a lot great guys that put up a lot of yards, but we want to be the best we can be. That's what we aspire to be and that's better than what they were."

About to post another football feature story to preview the 2010 season in just a few minutes, but before I do, wanted to post a couple of more links on a pair of former football Wildcats who continue to draw praise in NFL camps. Just last week we heard New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan rave about fullback John Conner:

- A wide-eye Trevard Lindley is finding his comfort level at camp, Ray Didinger from wrote Friday. Here is a snippet of what Didinger had to say about Lindley:

Lindley has been impressive all through the OTAs and training camp. From the start, he has demonstrated good man-to-man cover skills. He played at the University of Kentucky, where it was almost exclusively a man-to-man defense, so he has a feel for it.

He doesn't have great stopwatch speed - he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at the scouting combine - but he makes up for it in other ways. He has long arms and a 38 and one-half inch vertical leap - a full two inches higher than the cornerback average - so he plays big. He also has good footwork so there are no wasted steps when he shadows a receiver.

The rookie has been getting a lot of work with Asante Samuel and Macho Harris both sidelined with hamstring injuries and is making the most of it. He makes one or two plays in every practice that draw praise from the coaches.

- Orlando Ledbetter from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that defensive tackle Corey Peters is picking up the defense quickly in Atlanta Falcons' camp:

He also has gotten off to a good start. He's picking up the defense quickly.

"Corey Peters, I think has really had a solid camp," Smith said. "When we got into the pads, you really saw what he could do. He has a really good anchor point."

Defensive-line coach Ray Hamilton knows there's a long way to go in training camp for Peters.

"Our rookie looks good so far," Hamilton said. "He's catching on to things. He's learning stuff every day."

- It's been a few years since Keith Bogans played at UK, but it's always good to hear how the former players are doing. Reports indicate that Bogans has signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Bulls worth about $2.5 million.

UK responds to Friday's article

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If you haven't seen it in the home page yet, UK has again responded to another story Michael O'Brien has written for the Chicago Sun-Times. The following is the release UK sent out Friday:

The University of Kentucky is dismayed by the continued lack of professionalism and responsible journalism exhibited by Michael O'Brien and the Chicago Sun-Times in running yet another false and defamatory story on August 6, 2010, regarding the University's recruitment of a high school student-athlete.  Both the father of this student-athlete and the University have repeatedly told Mr. O'Brien that these unsubstantiated "rumors" are untrue.  Neither the University of Kentucky nor any member of its Athletic Department has offered or paid any money or other illegal benefits to the student-athlete or his family. 

Mr. O'Brien's August 6 story also mischaracterizes the NCAA's involvement in this matter by stating that "the NCAA is 'checking' into the recruitment of" the student-athlete.  The University of Kentucky spoke with David Price, NCAA Vice President of Enforcement, who advised that the NCAA contacted Mr. O'Brien simply to inquire as to the alleged sources for his article and that "this in no way confirms an NCAA investigation of the University" or an examination of the recruitment of the named student-athlete.  It is the University's understanding that such an inquiry represents the NCAA's normal procedure any time allegations of misconduct are made, no matter how outrageous or unsubstantiated they may be. 

The University of Kentucky has put Mr. O'Brien and the Chicago Sun-Times on notice that these published statements are false and defamatory.  The University fully supports any action the student-athlete and his family may take against Mr. O'Brien and the Chicago Sun-Times.  The University is also evaluating all available rights and remedies it may have against Mr. O'Brien and the Chicago Sun-Times in responding to these false and defamatory statements.

QB conundrum will continue into fall camp

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FB 09_10 UK_Bama WEB 21.jpgBy Metz Camfield, UK media relations

The questions at quarterback will continue to persist.

Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips was noncommittal in naming a starting quarterback Friday at Media Day but did say senior Mike Hartline would begin the season with the first team.

"(Hartline will) start off as the starter, yes," Phillips said. "I shouldn't say start. He'll start off as the first guy that gets reps because somebody has to do it, and he's been around here the longest."

While that isn't exactly the most ringing of endorsements, it is at least a start in shuffling out the three-way battle among Hartline, sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski.

Hartline will enter the season with the most experience having 21 games under his belt. Before going down with a knee injury in the Cats' game at South Carolina on Oct. 10, the Canton, Ohio, native was 77-of-127 on the season with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

The Cats ended up falling to Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks 28-26 in a game Hartline had been playing strong in, completing 9-of-14 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Entering his senior season with the Cats, Phillips said Hartline has handled the competition well, citing his maturity as one key component.

"He comes from a sports family. He knows how to handle the situation that he's in," Phillips said. "... That's the thing you have to be as a quarterback. You've got to understand the pats on the back so you've also got to understand the criticism, and Mike understands that."

Hartline said he has to approach the situation like any other situation by continuing to get better, get in a rhythm and get excited. While Hartline acknowledged the starting job is up for grabs, he said he's approaching the three-man race as if it is his to lose.

"It's any of our jobs, but I'm going to take it as my job," Hartline said. "It's always going to be my job and I'm going to work as hard as I can to keep it that way and give everybody confidence that I want to be the quarterback, the guy put in pressure situations. I want to take the ball every snap, go up and down the field and score points."

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said there's a lot that goes into deciding who to play at quarterback. Sanders said it isn't simply a matter of which of the three is the best.

"They all have a good understanding of the offense," Sanders said. "Mike is probably a little bit ahead of Morgan and what he understands about the entire package. Morgan has the ability to run the ball and make some things happen with his legs. It's not that Mike can't run, but he doesn't have the same ability to run that Morgan has. When you start determining your quarterback, it's not just a matter of what those guys do, it's a matter of what the other 10 guys on offense are able to do. It's a matter of how good your defense is.

"Sometimes if your defense is good and those other 10 guys around them are pretty good, you're able to go with a guy that isn't going to make mistakes and isn't going to put the team in a bad position. Sometimes if you're not quite as good and you feel like you've got to score more points, then maybe you go with the guy you feel like has the ability to make some bigger plays but also might create a few bad plays."

Newton played admirably following Hartline's injury, winning five of his eight games as a starter, including road victories at Auburn and Georgia. It was UK's first win at Auburn since 1966 and the Cats' first at Georgia since 1977. By season's end, Newton earned himself a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team, as voted by the league's coaches.

Just don't tell him Auburn and Georgia were his only two big road victories.

"We all forget about Vandy," Newton said as he campaigned for the job. "Those are three big away games for us. For me as a college player, I've only played eight games."

It was the first time UK had won three SEC games on the road since 1977.

Phillips joked with the media Friday that they needed to speak with starting tailback Derrick Locke about the quarterback situation. Locke pledged his support for Hartline during SEC Media Days in Mobile, Ala., two weeks ago.

Hartline said he appreciated Locke's comments, but he wanted to hear those words from everyone's mouth, especially the coaches.

"You have to go out and prove yourself (and) you have to get the coaches' approval," Hartline said. "That's what we're looking for starting today. The only thing going through me right now is (excitement). I'm just ready to go and I've been looking forward to this."

While Mossakowski lacks the game experience Hartline and Newton possess, he believes watching the team from the sideline and seeing the changes happening during games was beneficial to his development as a quarterback.

"At the time, I wasn't too happy (about being redshirted), but (the coaches) see the big picture which is what is really important," Mossakowski said. "They don't see a year or a couple of months, or two years - they see the whole four or five years. Whatever they do, I have full faith in them."

Lying ahead for the three quarterbacks and the rest of the Cats will be a fall camp Phillips said will be their toughest yet. The Cats will practice at least once nearly every day leading up to their season opener on the road against archrival Louisville on Sept. 4.

What it all ultimately boils down to, Hartline said, is who gives the Cats the best opportunity to win ball games.

"I think that's always been Coach Sanders' motto and Coach Phillips' motto," Hartline said. "That's what they are looking for. We are all going to compete and we're all going to get better as individuals and players. Whoever makes the right plays and whoever continues to be consistent and gives our team the best opportunity to win."

Video: Joker Phillips' Media Day news conference

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Cobble ruled ineligible

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Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Mister Cobble, who was expected to be a key cog on the defensive line this year, has been ruled ineligible for the 2010 season, head coach Joker Phillips announced at Media Day on Friday.

Cobble did not pass enough hours to become academically eligible, Phillips said, but the Louisville, Ky., native (Central High School) will remain on UK's football team on scholarship as he hopes to return to the team for the 2011 season.

"We were counting on him, there's no question about that," Phillips said. "But Operation Win means we want to win in the classroom, and we had over 30 guys that had a 3.0 (grade-point average). We had three that had a 4.0. So the majority of our team is buying in.

"I said the guys who don't buy in, they'll either be not with us or they'll be the best-conditioned player," Phillips said. "He's going to be a well-conditioned player when it's all over with because he's got to get the message. He's got to get with us."

Without Cobble, an already inexperienced defensive line will become that much thinner. Senior Ricky Lumpkin (16 career starts) and junior Mark Crawford (zero career starts) have some game experience, but behind them lies uncertainty.

Phillips emphasized that UK has plenty of bodies at defensive tackle.

"Depth-wise, I think we'll be OK inside," Phillips said. "I really do."

Freshman Donte Rumph, who was recently ruled eligible after a two-year wait, is expected to cushion the blow. Phillips said at last week's Governor's Cup Luncheon that Rumph is extremely out of shape, but at 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, Rumph could be a valuable body.

"He's not a young guy," Phillips said. "He's an inexperienced guy at this level, but he's not a young guy by any means. We think we'll be fine in that area."

UK will also likely be without another Central High School product in linebacker Tim Patterson. Phillips said they have not received his evaluation back from the NCAA, plus Patterson is still recovering from injury.

"If you guys can remember, he had knee surgery in December," Phillips said. "He will continue to rehab that. We'll continue to evaluate his injury and see if he can get himself healthy enough to come in and compete. If not, we'll hold him until January, so that's still up in the air."

Incoming freshmen Tim McAdoo (defensive lineman), Farrington Huguenin (linebacker) and Jabari Johnson (linebacker) have also been ruled ineligible.

McAdoo will attend a two-year junior college, Huguenin will attend a school in North Carolina and Johnson is close enough to being eligible that he will remain at UK.

Photo gallery from UK | Photo gallery from the Kentucky National Guard

Operation Win has been in full effect since Joker Phillips took over as head coach.

The hiring of new coaches, a more keen sense of discipline, and an overall attitude to win even more on the field and in the classroom has taken a simple army-themed concept and transformed it into a belief and conviction that has the Kentucky football team pointed toward big things in 2010.

But despite the raving success Phillips and his team have received for their steadfast dedication to Operation Win, the most important mission may have came Tuesday on a trip to Greenville, Ky.

Phillips and his entire coaching staff journeyed to the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center outside of Greenville to meet with troops from the 149th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade, learn about the military effort and form a relationship that will transcend Operation Win far beyond the borders of the Lexington area.

On Tuesday, with the help of a coaching staff and the support of 2,265 brave men and women from the 149th MEB who are helping keep our country safe, Operation Win meant much more than just football.

"It was an unbelievable experience watching those guys go through their training and seeing the expressions on their faces when they saw the UK football staff show up," Phillips said.

OperationWin4.JPGThe idea of the two teams meeting formed a little more than a month ago from Freddie Maggard, the national community outreach director for the Kentucky National Guard. As a former UK quarterback, Maggard was well informed of Operation Win and Phillips' fascination with the military.

When Maggard started thinking about his former team and his current team preparing for the upcoming missions - one for a football season and the other for deployment to Iraq in less than a year - he thought it would be brilliant to bring the two teams together.

"We just thought about with Operation Win going on at UK and how beneficial that would be for our soldiers to have Coach Phillips and his staff come visit them and provide a connection between Operations Win and the 149th and the soldiers and officers that are training down there," Maggard said. "This event meshed up two teams that require discipline, teamwork, hard work and dedication."

The end result was an exhilarating learning experience for both the Kentucky football coaches and the troops training in Greenville.

From army fatigues, helmets, dog tags and a helicopter ride, the day for the UK coaches was tailored as if they were entering the army. At 0600 hours, or 6 a.m. ET to civilians, Phillips, his staff and this fortunate writer were picked by two vans and transported from the EJ Nutter Training Facility to the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky.

There awaited a once-in-a-lifetime experience - two Blackhawk helicopters waiting to transport the staff nearly 200 miles away.

The UK football staff split into two chalks (a specific aircraft load), which were split by chain of command based on line of succession. That meant that Phillips, the highest in command, was in one helicopter and separated from the next in command. The line of succession of the football staff was split evenly so that the highest ranking staff members were all not on the same Blackhawk in the unfortunate circumstance that one was to go down.

With the windows and doors down on the helicopter - Phillips, securely harnessed inside the Blackhawk, literally sat just a half-foot away from the open sky - the staff took off at approximately 7:10 a.m. ET and headed for Greenville.

With winds whipping inside the Blackhawk as the helicopter reached speeds of up to 130 miles per hour at anywhere from 500 feet to 2,000 feet above sea level, Phillips vowed with Col. Tom Bearrir, the pilot on chalk one, that he never knew the helicopter would be open.

"I told my wife I wouldn't do anything stupid," Phillips said.

OperationWin22.JPGThe Blackhawks reached as high as 7,000 feet in the sky on the ride back, a nerve-racking experience for Phillips, who, as he gripped on to a handrail in the Blackhawk, readily admitted that he was afraid of heights.

"That was a white-knuckler for me," Phillips said. "I was definitely nervous coming back. I felt a little queasy at times, but those guys are highly trained and do a really good job at what they do best, which is operating that big machinery."

Once the staff arrived at the base at approximately 8:30 a.m. ET, they were greeted with the utmost honor, receiving respect given only to colonel and generals. The staff boarded a line of armored humvees and headed for a quick briefing with Commander Col. Scott A. Campbell.

Campbell told the staff that he didn't want to talk long and wanted to get the staff right out to the troops, but before doing so, he wanted to set the tone. The colonel unbuttoned his army fatigue, ripped it open and revealed a UK T-shirt.

"Those guys are not only going over to protect our country, but they're genuine UK fans," Phillips said. "I was surprised. Not only did (the colonel) have the UK shirt on, his son had pictures, was in our junior camp and they knew all of our staff. I was really surprised of all that stuff and thought that was unbelievable."

Campbell and Deputy Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Joseph M. Richie then accompanied the coaches as they participated in a Virtual Convoy Operation Training simulation, observed Humvee Egress Assistant Training and walked through the Individual Maneuver Tactical Grenade course side by side with soliders from the 149th.

The coaching staff got to see firsthand troops throw grenades, virtually drive through Baghdad, Iraq, and see how troops escaped overturned humvees. Some of the coaches even wore some of the cumbersome field gear and Kevlar, the same that the soldiers wear.

The most important part of the day, though, was meeting with the troops. The coaches took time to sign autographs and interact with the soldiers, discussed working hard in the heat, and the challenges of training.

"It's an incredible boost of morale to know that Coach Phillips and his staff would take the time to come down there and visit," Maggard said. "There's a mutual appreciation between the service and athletics regardless of which team you follow. A lot of soldiers training today are UK fans and to have Coach Phillips and his staff go down there today means so much to them. For the soldiers, it's their game day."

The visit broke up the daily grind of training, and for many of them, it offered the chance to meet the staff of their favorite team. Just about every troop that met with the coaches asked about the upcoming season. Some even had a prior connection with the staff.

"We all had a connection," Phillips said. "A couple of them I had tried to recruit and look at that just didn't work out. A lot of them had been to our football camp and a lot of them knew players on our football team. To get to their turf and watch those guys train and just to be able to break the monotony of the day was great. I saw one young man who had missed one of his daughter's birthdays and today was his son's birthday. I think this was a pick-me-up for him for us to be able to get around them at that time."

Phillips got just as much benefit out of the trip as the troops. As someone who has always been enamored with the military, the stop in Greenville to meet with the Kentucky National Guard was a thrilling experience for the Kentucky head coach. Whether it was the Blackhawk ride or just signing a football, Phillips appeared giddy and excited.

"I really just have always been intrigued with how they can get thousands of people to get them to move in the same direction under one command," Phillips said. "Similar to football, we only have to get 11 in the same direction on one command, but the way they can do it and be organized, just seeing the different drills and tactics they were trying to do maneuver, those things were unbelievable for me."

If anything, by the time Phillips arrived back in Lexington at 2 p.m. ET, he had gained a couple of lessons for his team as it begins fall camp this weekend.

"When I took over, I told our staff we have to be more demanding on our players, and we have been," Phillips said. "Now coming from here, I think we have to be even more demanding than we've been because there are a lot of people out there who are busting their butts to make sure we are able to do what we do."

Video: UK football reports for fall camp

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Videos produced by Metz Camfield of UK media relations

The Kentucky football team reported for the 2010 season Thursday at the Nutter Training Center. On Friday, the team will officially open fall camp.

Running back Derrick Locke, fullback Moncell Allen and wide receiver Randall Cobb talked about the upcoming season with the media as they reported for camp Thursday.

TournamentLogo Color withR.jpg

Complete Bracket Get Acrobat Reader

Aloha, Oklahoma.

The bracket for the 27th annual EA Sports Maui Invitational Get Acrobat Reader, one of the highlights of the 2010-11 Kentucky men's basketball schedule and one of the premiere tournaments of the college basketball season, has been finalized. UK will play Oklahoma on Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in the first round of the tournament, which is hosted by Chaminade University.

UK-Oklahoma is the second game the 12-game tournament, all of which will be televised on ESPN's family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU). Wichita State-Connecticut will kick off the tournament Nov. 22 at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2, followed by UK-Oklahoma at 5:30 p.m. ET, Michigan State-Chaminade at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU and Virginia-Washington at midnight ET.

The winner of the UK-Oklahoma game will advance to play the winner of the Virginia-Washington game on Nov. 23 at 9:30 p.m. ET. The losing teams of the UK-Oklahoma matchup and the Virginia-Washington matchup would face each other Nov. 22 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

The championship game will be Nov. 24 at 10 p.m. on ESPN.

The return to Hawaii marks UK's first trip to the Aloha State since 2006. The Cats went 1-2 under former coach Tubby Smith with a win against DePaul and losses to UCLA and Memphis.

Kentucky is 2-0 all-time against Oklahoma, the last meeting coming in 1987, a 75-74 UK victory in Rupp Arena. Kentucky owns a 6-3 advantage all-time against Virginia and is 1-0 versus Washington.

Remaining game tickets for the 2010 tournament will be on sale for the general public Aug. 25 at 3 p.m. ET at Travel packages with game tickets and hotel accommodations are currently available through Oahu Travel, the tournament's official travel agency, by calling 1-800-826.3822.

The Maui Invitational is annually one of the top early season tournaments of the college basketball season. Four teams in the tournament field ranked in last year's final RPI top 50, and the average RPI of the seven Division I teams in the field (host Chaminade is not a Division I school) is 60.7, according to last year's NCAA numbers.

Links and notes: Former football Cats in the pros

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Thumbnail image for nfl-logo1.jpgTwo nuggets of good news/press for a pair of former UK football players:

- Former UK linebacker Micah Johnson, who originally signed a free-agent contract with the New York Giants in OTAs, has reportedly signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent and will join the team for training camp. Armando Salguero with the Miami Herald was the first to report the news.

- Former fullback John Conner, who New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan praised the other day, continues to receive great reviews from Jets training camp. Nick Gallo of has a story on the 5-foot-11, 246-pound fullback titled, "Conner's a Chip off the Old Block."

- The UK football team reports for the 2010 season on Thursday at the Nutter Training Center, marking the official start of fall camp. While this event is not open to the public, I'm hoping to make my way over to the training center later today to get a few interviews with the guys as they get fitted for their pads and helmets.

UK response to article

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If you haven't seen it on the front page already, the UK Athletics department has issued a response to the Wednesday's article written by Michael O'Brien. You can view the full letter, in pdf format, by clicking here.

DSC00091.JPGMeasuring at about 12,300 feet above sea level, Disappointment Cleaver on the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier has lived up to its morale-breaking name over the years.

As the final mark on a brutal journey up the Cascade Range peak, one of the tallest mountains in the United States, the treacherous knife-edge ridge earned its name because climbers in the past thought it was the top of the mountain. When they learned they still had more than 2,000 feet to go up the razor-sharp mountain - well, their hearts either sank or swam.

At this point in the 32-hour mountain climb, there is no going back. You get one more drink of water, one more bite to eat, and then it's either scale the final, most demanding part of the mountain or turn back.

"They make you make the decision whether you're going to the top or you're going back," said Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who climbed the mountain in Washington last week. "You have to make the call. Do you have enough left in your gas tank to go? Or are you done? Then once you get up there, you have to get back down. You can't just get up there and be done. You have to have juice left to get back home."

Barnhart faced a similar decision last year. Just short of Disappointment Cleaver, Barnhart had to decide whether his ailing knees, which he had previously busted on rocks, would be able to make the final push. Wisely, he chose not to.

A year later, though, Barnhart wanted more. He wanted to go back and prove to himself that he could climb the mountain. He wanted to finish the deal, a concept that sounded all too familiar.

Just a year earlier, Barnhart had preached to his department, staff and student-athletes the importance of finishing. Barnhart admitted he never purposely connected the two (his mission to the department to finish championships and his goal to scale the mountain), but ironically, coincidentally - whatever you want to term it as - the UK athletics director managed to do exactly that last week with an inspirational climb up Mount Rainier.

Despite treacherous conditions, the least of which included a nasty sun burn, lack of appetite, fatigued legs and shortage of breathable air, Barnhart conquered the mountain this time around.

Climbing to raise money and bring awareness for Lighthouse Ministries, which is in the process of fundraising for its new building that will allow it to expand its ministry and community outreach, Barnhart reached the peak of Mount Rainier, a massive volcanic crater that rests above the clouds.

"I wanted to finish the deal," Barnhart said. "It was everything I thought it would be. It was exhilarating and beautiful. The scenery is about as good as you can describe. It is a beautiful, beautiful area. God created a big, big world out there and it is special. From 13,000 feet, to watch the sun rise over the Cascades was unbelievable. To get to the crater and be in the crater like that is unbelievable."

Barnhart was escorted to the top of the mountain by Rainier Mountaineering Inc. tour guide Walter Hailes, who just so happens to be a Kentucky alum. When Barnhart reached the top of the mountain and was able to enter the summit with a friend and UK graduate, his emotions got the best of him.

"It was pretty surreal," Barnhart said. "It was amazingly quiet in the crater. The crater is really big inside and the wind calms because you are sitting down in the crater a little bit. The minute you step into the crater it gets real calm, and then all of a sudden you realize you made it.

"I'm one of those guys that get emotional about those things. It was emotional for me because you work hard trying to get ready. When you achieve it and get it done, it's good. My buddy had been up there and he was waiting for me, so he was fired up. Everybody was taking pictures. It was good stuff."

DSC00136.JPGThe climb certainly wasn't without its dangers, and, in fact, Barnhart nearly paid the ultimate consequence for the risk he took in climbing the perilous peak.

On his way down the mountain, Barnhart stumbled a little bit, caught a spike and slipped on a snow bridge atop a steep crevasse. He was a half-foot away from the edge of the bridge. Another foot would have been a fatal drop-off.

Asked what he was thinking after he fell, Barnhart was clearly shaken by the incident.

"I was thinking I better get out of here, so I just got up and went on," he said.

On his way down the mountain, though, Barnhart said he didn't have a choice but to get up and keep moving. The mountain had plenty more obstacles to come.

"You are going over crevasses that are significantly deep," Barnhart said. "I don't want to make drama out of that, but you'll cross a crevasse that might be a couple hundred feet deep, maybe more than that. You see nothing but blue ice as you look down. The trail sometimes gets very, very narrow. You are on the edge of the mountain and literally not much room to negotiate, going through ice falls, rock falls. You have to pay particular attention to everything you are doing."

Physically, Barnhart is beat up from the exhausting trip. His legs are fried, his feet are covered in blisters and his face, particularly around his lips, is dried and burnt from the sun and whipping winds.

"I felt like a raccoon coming out," Barnhart said.

The biggest hurdle, however, was topping the mental peak in his head.

"It is not a day hike," Barnhart said. "Some people assume that you sort of stroll up the side of a mountain until you get to the top. It's a lot more than that. It has everything to do with the physical fitness training part of it, but mentally there is a lot more to it even than I surmised after last year in terms of understanding what was ahead of you at 12,000 feet and above - the crevasses, the snow bridges, how difficult it was coming down the mountain.

"Never having been at that altitude before, you sort of lose your appetite. I wasn't hungry. They want you to eat every break you can, about every hour. They want you to take some food in and replenish the calories you burn. You burn a truckload of calories. I didn't have trouble (eating); I just wasn't hungry. It took away my appetite. I had to force myself to eat. I've had enough trail mix. I don't need any more trail mix for an awful long time."

With all things considered (the difficulties and the dangers of the trip weighed in with the triumph of reaching the summit) Barnhart was asked if he would consider doing it again.

"I told my wife I'm probably done with that one," Barnhart said. "She says, 'I'll believe it when I see it.' "

She has good reason with that inclination. When Barnhart started to reel off the possibilities of some future adventures, some of which include scaling the 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro and a bicycle trip across America, he sounded more like a man who yearned for rest than one who wanted to retire.

"I'm curious if I can go higher," Barnhart said. "That intrigues me a little bit. I'm interested in those things if we can tie it into charity and raise some money along the way. I'd be for that, but we'll see. There are lots of little thoughts going through my mind. We'll give those a rest and give my body a rest, and then I'll start back and figure out something to do. I always need something to do."

Conquering challenges included.

It's about that time ...

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The 2010-11 athletics season is getting closer by the day. We're less than a month away from the official start of the year, and, in preparation for the season, the folks over here at the Joe Craft Center and Memorial Coliseum are busy prepping the facilities. Here a few photos of the upgrades, which show the new murals in the basement of the Craft Center and the refinishing of the Memorial Coliseum floor that is currently going on. Note in the wide picture of Memorial that there are new banners in the background as well.



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Tuesday-night notes and links

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Another day away from the blog, so apologies again for the lack of content. Things should return to normal Wednesday, with a couple of big stories planned sometime in the next couple of days in addition to UK's annual football media day Friday. Stay tuned.

- The big story of the day came from the UK Athletics board meeting, where the UK Athletics Association Board of Directors approved a rise in men's basketball ticket prices. For the 2010-11 season, lower level tickets will cost $680 and upper-level tickets will be $595. The 8,140 ticketholders required to donate to the K Fund for their premium seats will be required to donate money. The complete details can be found in Brett Dawson's story at the Courier-Journal. Single-game tickets will increase by $7 per ticket. One thing UK Athletics wanted fans to know is the rise in ticket prices didn't come without great consideration and research. Here are a couple of notes that UK released to the media that they would like fans to know:

•        UK Athletics is 100% self-supporting.
•        UK Athletics donates $1.7M annually to the University.
•        UK Athletics has the broadest program in the Southeastern Conference (22 sports) with a budget that is seventh in the SEC.
•        UK Athletics continues to rank in the bottom-third of the SEC in annual seat fundraising.
•        Last year the K Fund annual fund generated approximately $13.1M while Florida, Georgia and Tennessee generated more than $25M annually from their seat fees.
•        K Fund donations for men's basketball have not changed since 2008.
•        The increase will result in revenue growth of approximately $2.8M
•        Only 8,140 seats require a K Fund donation and will incur an increase, which makes up only a one-third of Rupp Arena's seating capacity.
•        Only 6 percent (200 people, 512 seats) of the donor seats will have an increase of more than $100-400.
•        Season and single-game ticket prices for men's basketball have not changed since 2007.
•        For 2010, UK Athletics will increase single-game ticket price by $7 per ticket
•        This adjustment would generate approximately $850K in new ticket revenue.
•        The new ticket prices would only increase the total season ticket cost by only $20-35 based on the 2010-11, 17-game home schedule.

- DeWayne Peevy, spokesman for UK men's basketball (and my boss), confirmed Tuesday that freshman forward Enes Kanter has not been cleared to play for Cats' three-day trip to Canada later this month. Kanter has qualified academically but is still waiting for the NCAA to clear him as an amateur. When reading that, remember that, despite the Canada trip, the regular season is still a few months away. Oh, and this just in, head coach John Calipari tweeted that injured freshman forward Terrence Jones (ankle) practiced in the live 5-on-5 drills in Tuesday's practices for Canada.

- Good story worth reading on the Washington Redskins' official website on former UK defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. After a pretty productive rookie season, one that was cut short by a knee injury, there was thought inside the Redskins organization that Jarmon might switch to linebacker in Washington's new 3-4 scheme. Now I certainly don't see that at all, but there was serious consideration, apparently, as Jarmon dropped all the way down to 260 pounds. Anyways, it now looks like that plan has been nixed according to the Washington website. Either way, Jarmon says he's willing to do whatever to contribute.

Late-night notes and links

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Apologies for the lack of content today. We had a staff retreat today to get ready for the 2010-11 athletics season, so my attention has been pulled elsewhere. I'll be away from the blog again Tuesday for a special football-related assignment, which I hope to be able to add to the blog sometime this week. If all goes according to plan and we're able to post it on here, I guarantee it will be worth the wait.

Anyways, in an effort to make up for the lack of posts for Monday, here are a couple of late-night nuggets:

- Head coach John Calipari recorded a message for fans on on Monday following the second day of practice for the Canada trip.

Calipari said they added defense in the practice on Monday, the third in two days so far, working primarily on individual defense so the freshmen can "survive on the court." In particular, Calipari said they worked on how to stay in front of a guy, how to close out and protect yourself, and how to be able to take fakes by the offensive player.

Offensively, Calipari said they worked on beating their defender in the dribble-drive. Specifically, Calipari said they worked on reading the defense because it's especially tough to do that when you're moving your feet and playing.

The returning veterans continue to look good, Calipari said, but on Monday he praised some of the newcomers. The second-year head coach said he was surprised by the skill levels of Stacey Poole and Enes Kanter, surprised by Brandon Knight's athleticism, and surprised by how fast Doron Lamb is. As for Terrence Jones, the rumors that he is injured are true. Calipari said the forward from Portland, Ore., is at about 75 percent with an ankle injury and has not been able to practice live so far.

"This, for the second practice, I'm pleased," Calipari said on "The great thing, no pressure, we don't have a game in a month - none of that's happening. What we're trying to do is get our team individually better, try to figure out our weaknesses and strengths, and go to Canada with one thought: bring us together."

- New York Jets' head coach Rex Ryan had pretty strong praise Monday at his news conference for former UK fullback John Conner, who was selected by the Jets in the 2010 NFL Draft with the 139th overall pick in the fifth round. Of course, if you followed UK this past year and heard some of the comments from former UK head coach Rich Brooks throughout the year, none of this should come as a surprise.

Here is what Ryan had to say:

"I will say this, our young fullback (John Conner) we drafted from Kentucky, I think we all see why he has a short neck. I mean, he was pounding people. He took the breath out of three guys today - three linebackers - so that was good to see. I'm always happy when we're right on a draft pick and you can see it this early. This kid is the thumper we think he is. Beware if you're out there playing linebacker, here comes the isolation. He really was impressive."

- And finally, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Tony Barnhart, better known by some as Mr. College Football, ranked the Southeastern Conference quarterbacks in the East Division on Monday. Barnhart tabbed Kentucky's trio of quarterbacks No. 4 in the East out of six teams.

Barnhart tends to think sophomore Morgan Newton is the best choice:

"New head coach Joker Phillips is going to have to get this race down to two guys pretty soon," Barnhart writes. "Hartline has the edge because, despite a knee injury in 2009, he has played in 21 games and started 14. I think Newton, the former Indiana High School Player of the Year, is the most talented of the three (by far) and has the most upside.  He impressed me with his poise on the road when Kentucky beat Auburn and Georgia. He can make plays with his arm and his legs. Mossakowski has a good arm but was limited as a true freshman last season because of shoulder surgery. My guess is that he'll be the odd man out. Hartline will be the starter because he makes the fewest mistakes. But Newton will be a big factor because with him in the lineup, the Kentucky offense will three big playmakers in Newton, wide receiver Randall Cobb, and running back Derrick Locke."

dodson hartford.jpgThe Kentucky men's basketball team will officially be without the services of Darnell Dodson for next season and possibly longer.

Head coach John Calipari posted a message on his Facebook fan page Sunday indicating that Dodson, a junior shooting guard, will not play for UK this season. According to the post, it appears Dodson, who is academically eligible, will have the opportunity to return to the team in the future and practice with the team this year, should he fall back into Calipari's good graces.

"Practice is underway as we prepare for our Canada trip and I'm pleased with the energy everyone brought," Calipari said in a post on his Facebook fan page. "I do want to let you all know that junior Darnell Dodson will not be playing for UK this season. If Darnell, who is academically eligible, decides to return, he could practice with the team if he meets our standards."

Dodson was UK's leading 3-pointer shooter last year, hitting a team-high 50 treys on 144 attempts (34.7 percent). The 6-foot-7 guard averaged 6.0 points in 14.5 minutes per game.

The loss of Dodson for the season means UK will return only 1,429 minutes of 7,675 minutes played last year and 403 points of 3,012 points scored. In other words, Kentucky will be without 81.4 percent of its minutes played from the 2009-10 season and 86.6 percent of its points.

Dodson was expected to play a key role on an inexperienced team. Fortunately for Kentucky, the Cats will welcome the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for the second year in a row to cushion the blow.

The Dodson announcement was made on the first day of practice for the preseason trip to Canada, a three-day, three-game international trip to Windsor, Ontario, on Aug. 15-17.

According to a blog post by David Scott on, the Cats will have two-a-day practices every other day and single practice sessions on the intervening days.

"We probably won't go much more than 90 minutes in any one session, but we're going to get a lot in," Calipari said in the post on "We're going to try and learn about our players and what roles everyone will play. We've got to figure out the style that we'll play."

In the post, Calipari talks about his excitement to get underway with a young nucleus, but he made sure to reel in expectations about a team that is once again made up largely of freshmen.

"I told the team they don't need to live up to any other team or any other players," Calipari said on "John Wall said it best about Brandon (Knight): 'Just be yourself.' "

Calipari later tweeted out his impressions from the first day of practice, giving positive reviews to his returning veterans, who will be counted on heavily for experience early in the season as the Cats make yet another major roster transition.

"I was really glad to get started today," Calipari said via Twitter. "There was an adjustment period with all the normal things that freshmen don't do, but they all had a skill level that I'm pleased with. Eloy (Vargas) is not here yet, but the returning players (all four of them) were so much better than a year ago. They responded great w/o me saying anything when they didn't do things right. They knew they needed to do it again.  It was a great lesson for the young guys, watching that.

"I'm seeing a vast improvement in DeAndre's (Liggins) shooting already this year and Darius (Miller) has really impressed with his athleticism. Jon Hood looks more comfortable on the floor and I think he's grown an inch. Josh (Harrellson) is lighter on his feet and with the way we are gonna play it was good to see him run the floor. We went about 1:40 in both sessions today.  Looking forward to seeing how they bounce back tomorrow."

Recent Comments

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