When Randall Cobb was invited to attend the NFL Draft in New York, N.Y., he was immediately sure of whether he would accept.
Cobb was projected as a second-round pick and would likely have to spend a lot of time in the "green room" in Radio City Music Hall before hearing his name called. He eventually decided that sharing the experience with his family and his fellow draftees was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
It turned out Cobb had to wait until the second night of the draft to be selected by the Green Bay Packers with the final pick of the second round, but for the former Kentucky star, his wait proved to be time well spent.
"I had to wait a long time in the green room, but it's well worth it to know that I'm coming to Green Bay," Cobb said.
Cobb maintained a positive attitude throughout the process.
"It was hard, really hard," Cobb said. "The ups and downs emotionally, thinking you'll go somewhere and you don't go there. I was fortunate to still be on the board when the Packers picked."
While some draftees head to play for cellar-dwelling teams miles away from the playoffs, Cobb will play for the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and will receive passes from Aaron Rodgers, one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Cobb said his first goal as a professional is to establish a relationship with his signal caller.
"I'm trying to get a hold of Aaron Rodgers," Cobb said. "I want to get on the field with him as soon as possible."
With talents like Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson already in the fold, wide receiver was hardly a position of need, but the Packers could not pass on Kentucky's versatile All-American.
The Packers have one of the most prolific passing offenses in football, so there will be plenty of balls to go around. Additionally, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy calls the plays for his offense and is known for inventive sets, so the Packers will assuredly be looking to take full advantage of Cobb's wide array of skills.
"That's just what Aaron Rodgers needed: another weapon," analyst Jon Gruden said, tongue firmly in cheek, during ESPN's draft coverage. "This guy is interesting, Randall Cobb. This guy is a luxury for the Packers and Mike McCarthy is going to have a lot of fun diagramming plays for Randall Cobb."
Draft guru Mel Kiper praised the pick and it is Cobb's multi-dimensional game that makes him so intriguing.
"I think he was one of the MVP's of college football," Kiper said. "The job he did at Kentucky, he did it all. He was a one-man show in a lot of those games and you talk about versatility, he may be one of the most versatile players to come into the NFL in years."
Although Cobb figures to contribute from day one on offense, his most notable instant impact may come in the return game. Green Bay ranked 26th in the NFL in kick returns (20.1 yards per return) and 22nd in the NFL in punt returns (7.9 yards per return).
"He is an exceptional punt returner," Gruden said. "I think he's a natural kickoff and (punt) return man, as good as there in this draft."
Cobb's contributions on special teams will make him valuable as he continues to develop as a receiver, a position he only played his final two years at Kentucky.
"That's the value he's going to bring the Packers," Kiper said. "You need a returner of this capability and I think their punt returns will be an added bonus. His ability as a receiver, he needs to just settle in, work on becoming a natural catcher of the football."
Cobb is confident in his ability but recognizes that he has areas for improvement because of his newness to the position.
"My strength is my versatility and I understand coverages and can work the slot and work the linebackers and safeties," Cobb said. "I know I have some things I can work on. I've only been a receiver for two years."
Projecting Cobb on the Packers, Gruden sees Cobb as a slot receiver with game-changing ability after the catch.
"You know what separates the Packers offense is their third and fourth receiver is just better than your third or fourth corner," Gruden said. "When you watch Randall Cobb, they'll have Jordy Nelson, they'll have Driver, they'll have Jennings, they'll have all those guys and now you add this guy to the mix. You can line (him) up anywhere. He's particularly effective in the slot. He catches the ball away from his body. He's a natural open-field runner."
Cobb won't be the only former Wildcat on his new team. He joins punter Tim Masthay, who was a standout at Kentucky from 2005 until 2008. The two played together when Masthay was a senior and Cobb was a junior. Ironically, Cobb and Masthay were both the holders on place kicks for their respective teams last season.
Cobb has always exuded a love for the game of football and he made it clear that he is willing to whatever he can to get on the field, including taking holding responsibilities from his fellow Wildcat.
"I'm going to come try to take his job," Cobb said, laughing.
A lot of news from Thursday to catch up on. Here are the basics:
- From the Dribble Drive Motion Offense to hauling in unprecedented recruiting classes to his success on Twitter, Kentucky coach John Calipari has always been a pioneer of sorts as a college basketball coach. But he may have outdone himself with an innovative announcement Thursday. On his website, CoachCal.com, Calipari announced the "Kentucky Combine," a two-day series of private workouts at the Joe Craft Center for Kentucky's draft-eligible players that will be conducted by NBA personnel. Calipari outlines three reasons why he decided to create the "first-of-its-kind combine" on his website, but the main reason is to give underclassmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins, senior Josh Harrellson, and student volunteer coach Enes Kanter a chance to work out and receive feedback from NBA teams before the May 8 deadline to withdraw from the draft. As Calipari said on his website, his "hope is this will allow our players to get direct feedback from NBA decision-makers and hopefully create a clearer picture of what their NBA potential may be. Instead of us telling them what we are hearing, they can hear directly from the clubs." The combine will take place Monday and Tuesday. For more information, read the full post here.
- The combine could be of even bigger importance next year following Thursday's NCAA (head-scratching) announcement that moved up the final withdraw date for the NBA Draft. Starting next year, college basketball players must decide before the first day of the spring signing period, typically mid-April, to pull out of the draft and retain their college eligibility. That means, if Kentucky were to go to the Final Four next year, those players would have less than a week and a half to make a potentially life-altering decision. The full story can be read here. Feel free to make your own conclusions in the comments section.
- UK is still planning on getting new video boards and a sound system installed at Commonwealth Stadium this summer, but some of the funding will not come from the University of Kentucky. UK is no longer asking the Council on Postsecondary Education or UK Board of Trustees for approval of an internal loan to help pay for replacing the existing video boards at Commonwealth Stadium. Frank Butler, executive vice president for finance and administration, said the UK Athletics Department will seek to fund the project entirely with private funds. Full story on the Courier-Journal's website.
- The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft came and went Thursday night without a Randall Cobb selection. Cobb, UK's career touchdown leader, shouldn't be discouraged though. Most mock drafts had him going in the second round, which will take place Friday at 6 p.m. If Cobb goes in the second round, he will be UK football's highest draft pick since defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson went fourth overall to the N.Y. Jets in 2003.
- The devastating tornado damage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., forced the cancelation of this weekend's UK-Alabama softball series. It goes without saying, but it was the right thing to do given what's going on in the South. Having said that, you have to wonder how the cancelation of a second-straight series (Wednesday's doubleheader with Ole Miss on Wednesday was canceled because of inclement weather) will affect Rachel Lawson's club. UK doesn't play any midweek games next week, meaning Kentucky will have gone 13 days from its last game on April 24 until the start of the regular-season series with Auburn. There's a chance Lawson could try to schedule some games this weekend with some local teams to keep her team fresh, but if she doesn't, you have to wonder if the break will have some type of effect - positive or negative - on the 35-11 Cats.
- Big opportunity missed by the Kentucky baseball team Thursday night. Leading 5-1 in the eighth inning on the arm of another dominating pitching performance from Alex Meyer, UK allowed eight runs in the bottom of the eighth frame for a devastating 9-5 loss to LSU on the ESPN Thursday Night Game of the Week. The loss drops Kentucky into a tie for dead last in the Southeastern Conference. If UK is going to make any type of run at making the SEC Tournament, it cannot afford to drop another game in Baton Rouge, La.
- Dick Vitale is encouraging fans to make donations for the sixth annual Dick Vitale Gala, which raises money for the V Foundation and cancer research. Calipari is one of the featured speakers at the event, which will take place May 20 at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota Fla. You can donate $10 by texting JimmyV to 85944.
Tim Garrison, an assistant coach at Nebraska, has been named the new head coach of the Kentucky gymnastics team. UK announced the hiring Thursday.
Garrison comes to Kentucky after five years at Nebraska, where he helped the Cornhuskers annually compete for national championships as the Huskers' vault, floor exercise, and strength and conditioning coach. The program went to two NCAA Super Six appearances and won two Big 12 Conference championships with Garrison on board.
Fans can read the full release of Garrison's hiring here.
Cat Scratches had the chance to talk with Garrison on Thursday about the hiring process, his coaching philosophy and his vision for the UK gymnastics team. Here is the Q and A from the interview:
Question: This is your first opportunity as a head coach on the collegiate level. Can you talk about the opportunity you have been given to fulfill a dream I'm sure you've had for quite some time? Garrison: I am extremely excited. I was a head coach for a club program out in California for 10 years, but when you move to college, you are in a completely different arena. Getting to be at Nebraska and spend some time there under head coach Dan Kendig was an amazing opportunity, but I am excited to put my name on a program like Kentucky and make it grow.
Question: How did you initially get into coaching and when did you know you wanted to do this for a living? Garrison: I just started coaching just like most gymnastics coaches, with a club team. That's how I initially got into it. I went to Cal State Fullerton and I was a part of their men's program as an athlete. After my first year, they actually dropped the program. They had a women's collegiate program and the head coach knew that I had coached before. I was currently coaching a club team and so he asked me if I wanted to come coach with him, and so I ended up coaching there. I had two years of coaching experience there and I then went on to pursue the dream of coaching elite talent. I did that for 12 years, and then on to Nebraska I went.
Question: What did you know about Kentucky before you decided to pursue the job? Garrison: Well, I have a friend who works there in (current assistant coach) Chuck Dickerson. He is a good buddy of mine and he has just praised this program and athletic department as being a great family. It seems like everybody is pulling for each other and that is a great feeling to have. Not only that, but being in the SEC as well. The SEC is the best gymnastics conference in the country. There are a lot of great teams out there, but when you look at the conferences, top to bottom, it's the best conference there is. To be able to get a head coaching job in that conference is really exciting.
Question: Can you explain the process a little bit of deciding to pursue the job and when you became interested in it? Garrison: Obviously, in October, there were some changes made and it was clear that there was going to be a new head coach hired. Going through the year, having the success that we have had (at Nebraska), it actually took me a while to decide. I really wanted to be a head coach, there is no doubt about it. It was just the when and the where. Having great success at Nebraska had a great role in it. The more I thought about it, the more I told myself I was going to go for this job and do my best to get it.
Question: I'm sure a big part of the decision was leaving Nebraska. How tough was it leaving a place you've called home for some time? Garrison: You develop relationships with people in the department, you develop relationships with people in the community and you develop relationships with athletes. It's tough. When I had to say goodbye, that was a tough day, and it worried me a bit. But you look ahead and move forward. I am really excited about the future of this program. We are going to get these athletes excited. We are going to go to competitions and we want them to know that they are going to come out successful. That for me made it easier to look ahead and see what we can achieve.
Question: Have you met with the team, and if so, what have you told them? Garrison: I have not since I was hired. I have scheduled meetings with all of them after their finals, that way I can get a direction of the team, what the framework will be like, how I will be in the gym, how I expect them to be in the gym and some of the goals. There is going to be a lot of changes. We will get them on board and we will get them to see the benefit of the changes that will be made.
Question: When you get back to Lexington, do you have some sort of plan of how you want to start things and build? Garrison: I will get into town next Tuesday. It will be more than likely next Thursday or next Friday when we will have our block meetings with each athlete individually, get to know them a little bit and kind of outline where we are headed. I have a good idea of how we are going to get started. From there it will be day-to-day in the maintenance. I have a plan as far as strength and conditioning and what is to be expected. We can't require them to do anything, but I can tell them what will be required when they come back to school and where we are going to go from there. Yes, there will be a plan in place. I will suggest things to them to get ready for next year. I think they are ready to go to work, and from what I understand, they are a very motivated group.
Question: You've mentioned that you want to take Kentucky to the next step. How exactly do you do that? Garrison: Once you get a framework in place and you raise the expectations of the athletes themselves, we will work hard to get to where we want to be at. We will train every day and stay healthy. All of those things are going to happen, that way when we walk into competitive environments, we are confident. Success breeds motivation. Once you get a little success going, you start to get wins against some SEC teams that we are going to be seeing. That's how you take those steps. I'm not saying it's going to happen overnight. To be able to move up in the ranks is going to take some time, but I feel we are capable of doing it. We will be very diligent and smart and we will be successful.
Question: You were obviously at a national championship competing program at Nebraska. Can you take any of that experience there and use it here? Garrison: It all goes back to expectation level. When you walk into a program like Nebraska, you look through the media guides and you look up at the walls of all the national champions. You see this many trips to nationals and all of the conference titles. There is a certain expectation level. You walk into the gym and you say, 'I have to raise my expectation level.' I plan on changing our expectation level. I want them to know, regardless of the competition level, that we have a shot at them. When we get on that bus after a meet, I want them happy. I want them excited because they just did awesome; they just did their best. I think it really comes down to expectation level. We need to get a good coaching staff that is pulling everyone in the right direction. We need to have quality planning and good athletes. If we can have the right mixture of those things, we can turn this thing around and make it successful. It will take a little time, it will take a little recruiting, but we can get it done.
Reports by local media outlets and recent responses to plans of purchasing new video boards at Commonwealth Stadium paint a picture of an athletics department that not only swims in cash but borrows from a cash-strapped university. It appears to be a case of the rich not only neglecting the poor, but taking from them as well.
A bottom-line look at the department's financial records over the tenure of Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, however, reveals a much different picture.
Although the department is currently pursuing or undergoing upgrades to some of its athletic facilities, namely a new track facility and new video boards at Commonwealth Stadium, UK Athletics records show the department has given back millions to the university while remaining one of only 14 self-supporting intercollegiate athletic departments in the country.
Since Barnhart's first fiscal year in 2002-03, the UK Athletics Department has given $19,383,420 in scholarships and royalties to the University of Kentucky. That number includes $1 million to the Robinson Scholarship program, $900,000 to the Otis A. Singletary Scholarship and $8 million for general scholarship funds, which resulted from ticket and K-Fund adjustments during Barnhart's tenure.
A recent article from the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that only 2 percent of Kentucky's $79.38 million budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year was donated to the university's scholarship fund. That number is presented unfavorably in comparison with other Southeastern Conference schools in the Herald-Leader report on March 20.
Those numbers neglect the $14,984,086 the athletics department has contributed or paid to the university in the 2010-11 fiscal year for scholarships, royalties and expenses. Since Barnhart arrived in 2002, the department has directed nearly $100 million to the university.
Nearly $9.5 million of the $100 million comes from royalties. According to Jason Schlafer, UK's director of trademark licensing, more than 90 percent of all UK-related merchandise is generated from athletic-related sales. Together, the university and athletics department has generated $18,966,840 since Barnhart arrived in 2002, but the athletics department and university split the royalties down the middle, 50-50. The athletics department remains responsible for all expenses related to managing the licensing program.
Those contributions from royalties have steadily climbed since 2002-03, starting at $691,332 in 2002-03 and climbing to a current $1,717,055 in 2010-11, which does not include the final quarterly payments.
That means, as Barnhart recently outlined, not only does the university not take money out of its central budget to support athletics, it actually receives a chunk from the athletics department. As the Herald-Leader article on March 20 accurately reports, the donation relationship between the UK Athletics Department and the University of Kentucky is not the only one of its kind in the SEC.
But the relationship is fairly unique. The UK Athletics Department's revenues and contributions over the last several years compared to UK's prime in-state competitor, the University of Louisville, reveals as much.
According to an NCAA database on USA Today's website, the University of Louisville's athletics department received $4,460,956 for indirect facilities and administrative support and another $2,152,967 of direct institutional support during the 2009-10 fiscal year. As a self-supporting entity, the UK Athletics Department did not receive a penny from indirect facilities and administrative support or direct institutional support.
U of L's athletic department has received at least 7.41 percent of its annual revenue from direct institutional support and indirect facilities and administrative support since 2004-05, according to the USA Today database. That percent was as high as 11.46 percent in the 2007-08 athletics year and was 10.42 percent during its $63,487,395 operating revenue in 2009-10.
Meanwhile, the UK Athletics Department has received zero percent during that time period.
The UK Athletics Department has remained self sufficient during a time of state and university budget woes and financial instability and has done so without significantly raising student fees. In a day and age when athletic departments rely heavily on student fees, UK's $38 annual student athletics fee makes up 0.95 percent of the UK Athletic Department's total revenue. U of L, by comparison, charges students an annual athletics fee of $100, and Eastern Kentucky University and Western Kentucky University charge $180 and $205, respectively.
While the athletics department's contributions to the university have increased every year during the Barnhart era, so have its expenses.
Every year the university is forced to raise tuition, the athletics department is adversely affected as well. A sizeable amount (11.02 percent in the 2010-11 fiscal year) of the department's annual budget is dedicated to paying its own athletic scholarships. As tuition increases each year, the UK Athletics Department must budget more to its own athletic scholarship fund.
In the 2002-03 fiscal year, athletic scholarships cost the department $5,259,777. That number increased to $8,745,001 in the current budgeted fiscal year of 2010-11, in addition to $1,104,630 for managers, student trainers and graduate assistants.
Expenses to the university also include service assessment fees, which consists of the university legal department, general accounting services and purchasing services, just like every department on campus at the University of Kentucky.
The UK Athletics Department has paid more than $11 million in service assessment fees to the university since the 2002-03 fiscal year and $1,757,400 was budgeted for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The service assessment fee does not include the department's separate expenses for utilities, maintenance and repairs.
The operating budget of the athletics department has increased from $42.39 million in 2002-03 to $78.78 in 2009-10 at the support of outgoing UK President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr.
Todd hired Barnhart in 2002 and has allowed the athletic department to increase its budget in an ongoing effort to grow and compete with the rest of the SEC. According to the figures in the USA Today database, the UK Athletics Department had the fourth-smallest operating budget in 2009-10 out of 11 SEC schools (Vanderbilt is a private institution, and therefore does not have to release its operating budget) and trailed Alabama by more than $50 million.
As the athletics department continues to try to close the gap with the rest of the conference, the hope from the athletics department is that the next university president will share the same vision for athletics as Todd.
Todd is set to retire from his post on June 30 after 10 years as university president.
UK media relations assistant Metz Camfield contributed to this report.
The CATSPY Awards were introduced at UK in 2003, when athletics director Mitch Barnhart shared his desire to celebrate and honor the academic, athletic and community excellence achieved by all UK student-athletes. It was emulated from the well-known ESPY Awards. This annual event has become the highlight and finale of each academic year and features student-athletes from all 22 sports.
Below are some of the videos that were shown Monday evening.
Just a couple of links and notes from a busy Wednesday:
- Kind of surprising news today that Kentucky men's tennis star Eric Quigley, who is ranked No. 6 in the entire country, was not tabbed Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Quigley, a junior, will have a shot at it next year. Nonetheless, four Wildcats were named All-SEC performers, including first-team honors for Quigley.
- As for the inaugural appearance, head coach Gary Henderson thinks the ESPN-SEC Thursday night deal is great exposure for the league and its 12 schools. "It's good for us," Henderson said Tuesday night after the win over Louisville. "We've got all those kids we've signed. It gives them a chance to see us on TV and hopefully get them excited about the program. Some of the families that we have that aren't local that maybe don't get to see us as much get to see (our players). It's good for the kids, it's great for the conference and we're certainly looking forward to it." The game, set for 7:30 p.m. ET, will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
- Speaking of football, ESPN blogger Chris Low has a ton of stuff on the Kentucky football team on his SEC blog. You can view all the stories here. Included in Low's blog is a video interview with head coach Joker Phillips, which you can view below.
- In addition to the Rivals.com final recruiting rankings, which we've written about on the home page, PrepStars.com has also released its final rankings. Again, no surprise, but Kentucky signees once again dominate the head of the 2011 class. Anthony Davis is ranked No. 1, Michael Gilchrist is No. 2, Marquis Teague is No. 6 and Kyle Wiltjer is No. 21.
- The UK softball team usually wouldn't mind a little break, but I'm guessing Rachel Lawson's club wasn't too pleased with Wednesday's cancelation. No disrespect to Ole Miss, but the Rebels are tied for last in the conference with a 3-20 SEC record. With several seeding scenarios for the SEC Tournament still very open, UK could have really used two more victories Wednesday. It won't be easy from here on out for the Cats as they must face No. 6 Alabama and Auburn to close the regular season.
- Still wonder what it would have been like for Enes Kanter to suit up for the men's basketball team? This probably won't help you get over it:
- Last but certainly not least, I wanted to take this time to send our thoughts and prayers to Kentucky's SEC brethren at Alabama after a horrific tornado ravaged the town of Tuscaloosa, Ala. The footage of the damage has been nothing short of surreal and devastating. On behalf of everyone at UK, we encourage you to help those affected by the tornadoes in the South by donating to the American Red Cross. You can make a donation at redcross.org or text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to give $10.
For more than three months, former Wildcat stars Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke have turned draft preparation into an art form.
Since Kentucky's trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, the two have been evaluated by every team in the NFL. They've been poked and prodded at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. They've showcased their skills in front of dozens of scouts at UK's Pro Day. They've traveled for private workouts with individual team in states all across the country.
With the NFL Draft (April 28-30) finally at hand, Cobb and Locke are more than ready to finally learn what their professional future holds.
"Of course I'm excited," Locke said. "For one, just to see who I'm going to be around and where I'm going to be living. It will be a weight lifted off my shoulders once I know where I'm going to be."
In spite of his readiness for the next step, Cobb is thankful for the opportunities afforded to him by the draft process and for all the relationships he has developed in that time.
"It's been great," Cobb said. "Moving forward I think it's going to help me a lot with my career with the people I've met and the ways I can help them and they can help me. It's just a great opportunity to be around all those people."
Leading up to the draft, Cobb has been a popular topic with scouts. Teams were aware of his spectacular UK career that saw him score a school record 37 career touchdowns and gain a Southeastern Conference record 2,396 all-purpose yards during his junior season, but his performances in workouts, interviews and drills have helped his stock skyrocket. According to most, the Alcoa, Tenn., native is projected as a second-round pick with a possibility of moving into the bottom of the first round.
Cobb is now so highly rated that he will be one of 25 prospects in the NFL Draft "green room" in New York City's Radio City Music Hall. His mother, father and two siblings will be alongside. Cobb called the invitation "an honor and a blessing," but the trip has been a whirlwind since his arrival in New York on Tuesday.
"Right now it's just non-stop," Cobb said. "We have a lot of events to take care of and a lot of people to meet. It's just a great opportunity. My family will be up here this evening and I'll go to some parties and stuff with them, so it will be fun. This is my first time in the city of New York and having my family up here will be great. I'm going to enjoy spending time with them."
Cobb also said he looks forward to sharing the experience with his fellow draftees.
"It's very rewarding," Cobb said. "It's really a blessing to have so many guys that I've been watching and keeping up with over the past few years and to spend this moment with them."
With the new structure of the draft, the first round will take place beginning on Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN with coverage of the second and third rounds beginning on Friday at 6 p.m. and the fourth through seventh rounds at noon on Saturday. Cobb will likely be off the board by early Friday and it's his ability to do so many different things that makes him so attractive.
"The main thing they like about me is my versatility and the way I can do so many different things and how I can help their team and how I can fit into their program and their offense," Cobb said. "Also they like the fact that I'm level headed off the field and I take care of business off the field."
Cobb reports that teams have recommended he focus on improving his route running but reminded him to keep playing the style that made him an All-American at UK.
"A lot of teams have told me just to be me," Cobb said. "Being me is what got me here and I'll continue to try to progress on the field, but I'm going to keep playing like I've always played."
While Cobb will likely be selected by the end of the second round, Locke will have to wait a little longer to learn his fate. Locke is regarded as a mid- to late-round draft pick and really can't be sure of what will happen, so the main thing he's worried about is getting his chance.
"I'm really not expecting too much," Locke said. "I know I'm expecting to hear my name called, but what round and so forth I have no idea. I'm excited for it though. Whatever happens happens."
Locke will clearly be very interested in the results of this weekend's draft, but he is unsure of even whether he will watch.
"I'm really not sure what I want to do yet," Locke said. "I might just be off by myself or something. As for having a big draft party and all that kind of stuff, I might not even do that."
Locke is keeping the entire process in perspective because he knows that, regardless of where he's drafted, he has a lot of work ahead of him.
"You're so close but you're so far away," Locke said. "Getting drafted or making a team is just getting your foot in the door. To actually be out there playing, that's so far away. You still have to do so much more before you can get too excited, but to be able to make it this far as an NFL prospect, I'm happy but I'm still pushing forward."
Although Locke originally came to UK as a track athlete that also played football, he is not one of those NFL prospects that says an opportunity to play professionally came as a surprise.
"I always felt like I could make it," Locke said. "I wouldn't have played in college if I didn't feel like I could make it. Some guys go to college to say they played college football and that's great, but that wasn't for me. I always felt like I could do it or I wouldn't have played."
Like Cobb, Locke will bring a willingness to work to which ever team gives him his shot that he says will make any investment made in him worthwhile.
"They're going to get somebody that's going to continue to work," Locke said. "I know I'm young but I understand this business, so I just want to get out there and continue to play and do good things. Whoever gets me, whatever kind of money they spend on me it's going to be worth it. I'm going to make sure it's worth it."
Cobb and Locke will have very different draft experiences from one another, but the same daunting prospect faces them both afterwards. The ongoing labor battle between the NFL's owners and players has brought an element of uncertainty to this offseason and could drastically limit the amount of time that incoming rookies get to spend with their new teams.
Frustratingly, the lockout is out of their hands and Cobb recognizes that all he can do is keep himself ready for whenever an agreement is reached, although he doesn't know where he'll do so.
"I don't know exactly where I'll be," Cobb said, "but I'm going to make sure I stay in shape because I'll never know when it's going to be over so I'm going to make sure my body is ready."
Perhaps Cobb will rejoin his former teammate in Lexington. Locke does not anticipate that the labor situation will be resolved anytime soon and has already made plans to train with UK strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver.
"I feel like the lockout is going to continue for a while and I plan on coming back to Lexington and training with coach Rock," Locke said. "That way I know I'm getting some of the best training period."
An ancillary benefit of returning to the Bluegrass is being around a place that Locke came to call home during his four years as a Wildcat.
"Every time I come to Kentucky I feel like that's home to me," Locke said.
Locke also knows he can count on the support of the Big Blue Nation when he reaches the professional ranks.
"Whether I'm being criticized by someone or whatever, they're going to have my back," Locke said. "That's a good feeling. I'll always know I'm making somebody proud and somebody's getting joy out of what I'm doing because I was at Kentucky."
If his achievements at UK are any indication, Cobb figures to quickly endear himself to the fans of his new team, but he'll never lose the ones he made in Kentucky.
"We've got some of the best fans in the world," Cobb said. "It's awesome that I've got them behind me and they'll always be on my side no matter what."
Luis Orta doesn't remember what he was thinking a few months ago during a typical 10-mile run for the Kentucky track and field team, but there are few times when he has thought more clearly.
When Orta discarded this pair of shoes into a nearby trash can, he felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Track and field athletes go through shoes like napkins, but Orta didn't feel right throwing away something that still had use to it.
Feeling at fault with himself, Orta went home and talked to his roommate and teammate Josh Nadzam about the shame he was feeling. Together, they came up with an idea.
Instead of just throwing away the shoes, what if they gathered them up and shipped them to developing countries and people in need, they thought. Sure, the shoes had been worn, but they were in perfectly good shape for anything outside of a track athlete's use.
In an impromptu meeting, Orta and Nadzam turned the idea into a plan. They were going to start a shoe drive on UK's campus and donate the footwear to Soles4Souls, an organization of Nashville, Tenn., that has found new homes for more than 13 million pairs of gently used shoes within the last six years.
"As runners we go through a lot of shoes throughout the season," Nadzam said. "Every 400 miles we get a new pair to prevent injury. We realized that instead of throwing these shoes away, we could round them up and given them to people in desperate need. We then thought, 'Why stop at the track team? Let's make it campus-wide and city-wide.' "
The two went to work that day. They texted, called, emailed, "Facebooked" and "Tweeted" anyone they knew, including UK student-athletes. They also sought help from Kentucky's media relations department and got the word out through the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Kentucky Kernel.
After the first day of the drive, they had collected 100 pairs of shoes. By the 10th day, they'd amassed more than 400 pairs.
Nadzam, as the male winner of the Community Service Award at Monday night's CATSPY Awards, had a chance to plug the shoe drive on stage and has received hundreds of pairs since. As of Wednesday, they've collected more than 1,000 pairs.
"The response we have gotten is tremendous," Nadzam said. "So many people have offered to help. Many people have told me that they are doing their own small shoe drive and will bring us the shows they collect at their church, work, fraternity, sorority or other organization. It's incredible."
The two are hoping UK's student-athletes realize the impact they can have on people and how they can make a difference around the world.
"We are so thankful and appreciative of our opportunities as athletes here at UK," Nadzam said. "We want to do as much as we can to give back to those who are not as fortunate."
The shoe drive will continue through next week and conclude May 6. Those interested in donating to the drive can drop off shoes at UK's Center for Academics and Tutorial Services, which is located at the front of Memorial Coliseum.
Orta and Nadzam are so driven to collect as many shoes as they can that they've offered to come get them and pick them up. Contact Orta and Nadzam at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com to schedule a pickup time.
Each Wednesday here at Cat Scratches, we're going to take a look back at the latest week's news in UK Athletics from around the web.
Best on the 'net
Rifle, men's basketball among those honored at Catspy's (Ethan Levine, Kentucky Kernel) Among the teams honored at the awards ceremony were the men's basketball team and the national champion rifle team. The two teams shared the Teams of the Year award on Monday night, with men's basketball coach John Calipari forfeiting his time at the podium to rifle coach Harry Mullins, who received a standing ovation by coaches, athletes and fans alike.
"The hard work the team put in is tremendous," Mullins said. "To bring a national title home to Kentucky, being a Kentucky alum, is very special."
UK (20-22) also won 3-2 on April 12 at Louisville.
The teams had split their season series for four years in a row. UK, which also swept the Cardinals in 2006, has now won 26 of the last 36 in the rivalry.
"In my eight years here, it's our second sweep," Wildcats Coach Gary Henderson said. "It's tough to do. I was really proud of the way our kids competed, and especially proud of Cooper's effort tonight."
The 11th-ranked Kentucky men's tennis team couldn't defeat its third top-20 opponent in as many days, losing 4-0 to No. 17 Florida in the championship match of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Gainesville, Fla., on Sunday.
The finals appearance for Kentucky (26-8) was its second in school history and its first since 1992. The Wildcats won the tournament that year.
The day is coming when Brian Adams will have to pick a side.
Someday, Adams -- a wide receiver on the University of Kentucky football team and an outfielder on the Wildcats' baseball squad -- will have to pick the sport he wants to pursue professionally.
He's pretty sure of this.
"I don't know if (both) can be done at the professional level anymore," Adams said. "I'm going to just continue to work hard at both and play both as long as I possibly can. I'll have to make a decision at some point."
He's confident, and so are his players, that there's a lot more out there for a program that has made huge strides since Brooks took over the probation-ridden wreck eight years ago.
"We expect to compete for titles here," Phillip said. "There's been a lot of talk here about us having a chance to play in our sixth straight bowl game. That's something we want to be in the past, strings of bowl games. We want to be talking about how long we can be in the title race.
"You look at last year, and we beat the team that won the East (South Carolina) and played the team that won the West (Auburn) toe-to-toe. The thing we have to do is be consistent in our play and be consistent in everything that we do here."
Leading off the group is Anthony Davis, a 6-foot-11, 200-pound power forward out of Chicago (Ill.) Perspectives. A unique story, Davis rose from an unknown player in April of 2010 to the top overall prospect in late April 2011.
With the help of a six-inch growth spurt, Davis grew and his game progressed. For his size he has tremendous ball skills, his jump shot is a weapon and his length, timing and athleticism have helped him become an elite shot blocker.
Rondo orchestrated it all, with a remarkable 15 points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds. He was a tour de force, a one-man fast break who started moving the ball toward the Miami Heat and the most anticipated conference semifinal in the history of the NBA.
"When he gets into a rhythm, it allows us as coaches to get into a rhythm because we see the game through him," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He called a great game, like a [Jason] Varitek game."
"I knew after the first couple of games I could play in the league," said Wall, who had a triple-double in his sixth game. "I think I did good for my year. I wasn't fully healthy and being myself, but I can't hold nobody accountable for that. Things just happened. I just fought through it and helped my team out as much as possible."
Even though he wasn't at his best, Wall said the right things to persuade the team to let him come back from his foot injury and learned a valuable lesson about being more patient.
Earlier this week, news broke that Randall Cobb would be one of 25 players in attendance at the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York. According to most outlets, Cobb is projected as a second-round pick with a chance at being picked late in the first round. Kentucky fans need no reminder of why he will likely be picked so high, but here is a draft preview for Cobb from Fox Sports that features a number of highlights from the 2010 season.
There's something about Louisville that brings out the best in Jordan Cooper. And for that matter, there is something about Cooper that Louisville just can't figure out.
Cooper pitched another gem against Louisville, hurling 6.2 innings of five-hit, one-run ball in the Kentucky baseball team's 7-1 victory over the Cardinals on Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK's victory marks the first season sweep of Louisville since the 2006 season.
The sophomore allowed one unearned run, extending his excellent record against Louisville. In four career starts against the Cardinals, Cooper has allowed just one earned run in 19.2 innings of work.
More importantly for Cooper, he's given up just five earned runs over 24.0 innings pitched since being demoted from the weekend rotation to a midweek starter.
What's been the difference? Hear from Cooper and head coach Gary Henderson below. Brent Ingram has a full recap of the game on the front page.
Calipari said that he was approached about the position during this past season but waited until after the conclusion of his team's run to the 2011 Final Four to seriously weigh the possibility.
"During the season, I was approached by the Dominican Basketball Federation to become involved in helping grow basketball in their country," Calipari said on CoachCal.com. "Now that our season is over, I can now give proper attention to other things, such as this."
Calipari's experience with Chinese basketball is what made him attractive to the Dominican national team.
"My question to the Dominican Basketball Federation was, why are you calling me?" Calipari said. "Their response was, they liked what we are doing in China, including coaching their coaches and being involved in promoting grassroots basketball.
"Not only would I help train coaches in the Dominican Republic and here in Lexington like we have with the Chinese coaches, but I would also coach their national team."
If Calipari does choose to accept the position, his responsibilities would begin this summer and training with the team would take place in Lexington.
"The commitment would mainly be from the start of August through mid-September," Calipari said. "The Dominican Republic national team would train in our state-of-the-art facilities at the Joe Craft Center in Lexington prior to the start of the Tournament of the Americas, which would begin towards the end of August."
Calipari's duties would not interfere with those of his job with Kentucky and he hopes that Kentucky fans will "adopt" the Dominican Republic team.
"I wanted the Big Blue Nation to be aware of what's going on in your program," Calipari said. "If I move forward on this, I'll be asking you to adopt the Dominican Republic national team as your third team behind your Kentucky Wildcats and Team USA. I also want to let all our friends in China know that we will continue our relationship with the CBA and their coaches."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes.
These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, April 24:
Softball: Kara Dill
Sophomore Kara Dill had a week to remember in helping lead UK to a 4-1 week. Dill and the Wildcats snapped an eight-game losing streak to Louisville and captured their fifth SEC series for the most series won in a single-season at South Carolina.
Dill was magnificent at the dish with a 9-for-18 week and a .500 average. She matched her single-game highs in back-to-back outings with three hits against Eastern Kentucky and Louisville. Her two stolen bases against the Colonels also matched a career-high in that category.
In the win over the Cardinals, Dill's bases-clearing three-run triple in the third inning tied the score at seven after UK had trailed 7-0 through two innings of action. Dill then scored the go-ahead run on Meagan Aull's single. The three-bagger was the first of her career, and could not have come at a more critical time with the bases loaded and two outs trailing by three.
UK's shortstop then earned two more hits in the opening game of the South Carolina series, while scoring two of UK's five runs in that contest. She singled and scored in a 3-2 win in the nightcap of a doubleheader. Dill posted a career-long and the longest hitting streak in school history with a 15-game stretch of games with a hit.
Dill's 18 stolen bases for the season ranks as the eighth most in a single-year in school history, while her 39 runs is the sixth best in a single-year in school allure. She currently leads the team in batting average in just her second season of play.
Baseball: Alex Meyer
Kentucky junior right-handed starter Alex Meyer turned in the start of his career in the series opener against No. 12 Arkansas, pitching UK to a win over the red-hot Razorbacks ... Meyer tossed his league-high third complete-game of the year, allowing only three hits and one earned run, striking out 10 ... A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer's 10-strikeout gem was his seventh career double-digit strikeout game and his third this year ... Meyer allowed only one hard-hit ball in the game, an RBI double from Arkansas All-American James McCann in the second inning ... Meyer now owns 224 career strikeouts, good for the seventh-best total in UK career history ... With 81 strikeouts in 71.2 innings pitched, Meyer leads the SEC in strikeouts, fanning 10.17 per nine innings pitched ... Meyer ranks second in the SEC in innings pitched, first in complete games, holding opponents to a .230 batting average ... Meyer threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 34 hitters he faced in the complete-game gem ... Meyer was most dominating over the final four innings of work, where he threw first-pitch strikes to five consecutive hitters to end the game and fanned five batters in the final three frames.
Softball: Rachel Riley
Junior Rachel Riley was exceptional this week on the mound in helping UK to a 4-1 week.
Riley entered the Louisville game in the third inning with UK trailing by seven runs. The junior right-hander yielded just three hits the rest of the way in helping the Blue and White to an improbable comeback effort. She was also magnificent at the plate going 4-for-4 on the day with a home run and three RBI to help her own cause. She yielded just one walk and struck out four in the win.
In the second game of the doubleheader with South Carolina, Riley picked up her 11th victory of the year on a five-hit performance. With the win she equaled her own career-high for wins in a single year in helping UK to the series win. It marked the fifth SEC series win of the year for UK, a new single-season high.
For the week, Riley tossed 12.2 innings of ball, yielding eight hits total and just one walk while striking out five. Batters could muster just a .182 batting average against UK's right-hander.
Riley was also terrific at the plate with a 7-for-18 week on a .389 average. The junior enjoyed a career-long nine game hitting streak in the stretch as well.
- Making the Southeastern Conference Tournament used to be an accomplishment for the Kentucky softball team. Now it's just another step on the ladder. With eight games still to go, Kentucky has already clinched a spot in the league tournament. Only the top eight teams are invited to Oxford, Miss., host of this year's tournament.
- Scout.com released its final rankings for the 2011 men's basketball recruiting class. To no surprise, Kentucky's signees dominated the class. Anthony Davis, a 6-foot-9 big man from Chicago, was rated the top overall player, followed by Michael Gilchrist at No. 5, Marquis Teague at No. 7 and Kyle Wiltjer at No. 22. You can view the full rankings here.
- It hasn't been a great season for the Kentucky baseball team by any measure, but the Cats could capture a noteworthy accomplishment Tuesday night at 7 with a sweep of Louisville. If UK were to defeat the Cardinals, it would give the program its first sweep of its archrival since the 2006 Southeastern Conference championship season. The forecast calls for severe thunderstorms (that's par for the course this week), but the radar looks fairly clear at the moment. If the weather does keep you away from the ballpark, you can catch the game on the Big Blue Sports Network. Fans in Central Kentucky can see the game live on CWKYT-TV (Insight-Lexington channel 5) and throughout the Southeast on FSN (Insight-Lexington channel 52). We'll also have an in-game live blog that can follow along here.
The CATSPY Awards are about celebrating the year, honoring the achievement of the Kentucky athletes and looking back at the memories made in the previous athletics season. In between, there is a little glitz, glamour and laughter sprinkled in during an awards ceremony that mixes the world's best sports award shows and transforms them into a college edition of the ESPYs.
The CATSPY Awards are also about looking forward to next season. At the end of every CATSPYs, Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart uses the opportunity to springboard into the upcoming athletics year in a state-of-the-department-like speech addressed directly at the student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff in attendance.
Last year, Barnhart spoke of "intentional action" as he encouraged Kentucky's 500-plus student-athletes to become not only role models on the field but off of it as well. The student-athletes responded in the community by participating in a yearlong food drive and a shoe drive headed up by track and field athletes Luis Orta and Josh Nadzam. Just a couple of weeks into the drive, Orta and Nadzam have collected 800-plus pairs of shoes.
Barnhart commended the efforts and actions of the Wildcats while urging them to continue forward next year.
"We appreciate what you do for us and all the hard work and effort you put into it," Barnhart said Monday night on stage at the CATSPYs. "It means a great deal to us and means a great deal to the people in this state. The emotions of this state move with this department. Never, ever forget that."
As Barnhart looked ahead to the 2011-12 athletics season, he stressed leadership through actions.
"It's your actions, not your words, that will define you," Barnhart said.
Barnhart spoke a great deal about leaving a legacy. When each and every student-athlete signs with Kentucky, they're handed a legacy to do something with, he said.
"You were handed something when you came here," Barnhart said. "Many will watch and see what you do with it when you leave. Your name, your number, your event, your team will be left behind at Kentucky and will be remembered."
Barnhart showed a brief clip from "Remember the Titans" to illustrate his point of actions, not words. Many people talk about leading, he said, but some have a tendency to lead down the wrong direction.
In a year in which the Kentucky men's basketball team returned to the Final Four for the first time since 1998 and the rifle team captured its first national championship, Barnhart wants to make sure the program continues to progress and doesn't "plateau" or "flatline."
"Nine years we've been doing this, and the first few years were pretty easy to pick out folks that should be up here getting awards," Barnhart said. "It was a fairly simple process. It's now becoming increasingly difficult. There are great performances all around."
But to continue the progress will take leadership to be consistent, Barnhart said. He wants to develop "habitual" winning, but he doesn't want the routine of winning to lead to complacency or "being pleased with yourself," as Barnhart defined it.
To push into the future and to achieve the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletic programs by 2015, Barnhart is looking for solutions.
He met with the captains of all 22 varsity sports at UK a few weeks ago and asked, "What makes Kentucky better?" Barnhart said they're still working on those answers, but he had one solution Monday night - act on success, not talk about it.
"Step out, lead and do the little things that leave a legacy for the people that follow you that's pretty special," Barnhart said. "That's what we're asking all of us to do, coaches, staff and all of us included. We've got to move this thing to a different spot. To do that, it's going to take a commitment from everybody in this room."
Softball - UK snapped an eight-game losing streak to Louisville behind an improbable comeback effort. After trailing 7-0, UK rallied for 14 straight runs to take down the Cardinals 14-8 on Wednesday. - With a pair of wins at South Carolina, UK has now captured five SEC series this year. That marks the most SEC series wins in a single season in school history. - The Wildcats blasted nine home runs this week led by three from Samantha DeMartine. UK has now totaled 60 for the year, which is a new single-season school record. - Kentucky owns a 35-11 overall record which marks the most wins in a year in the Rachel Lawson era. Kentucky is one win shy of matching a program record for wins in a season, and two SEC wins from matching the most in league play.
Baseball - The Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with its first series win over No. 12 Arkansas since the 2005 season. The Wildcats fell one win shy of notching the first series sweep over the Razorbacks in program history. - UK returns to action with a midweek test vs. Louisville on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET, before traveling to face No. 27 LSU in a three-game series, beginning on Thursday night as part of the ESPN Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week at Alex Box Stadium. - Kentucky posted a thrilling 3-2 walkoff win in the series opener, using a complete-game gem from junior righty Alex Meyer, who struck out 10 in his third complete-game outing of the year, allowing only three hits and one earned run. - In the second game of the series, UK posted a 3-1 win, using a good start from freshman Corey Littrell and relief from Alex Phillips and Trevor Gott. Littrell finished one out shy of a quality start, while Phillips took the game into the ninth inning, with Gott saving his second game of the year with two strikeouts to end the game. - UK has been led offensively by senior shortstop Taylor Black, who has batted .337 with 12 doubles, two triples, two homers and 27 RBI, stealing 10 bases. Braden Kapteyn has batted .321 with nine doubles, five homers and 38 RBI.
Men's tennis - The Kentucky men's tennis team made a thrilling run in the SEC Tournament, defeating two top-20 ranked teams in No. 20 Auburn and No. 5 Georgia before falling to No. 17 Florida in the finals. - The finals appearance for Kentucky was its first since 1992, when the Wildcats earned its lone SEC Tournament crown in school history. During the championship run in 1992, the No. 1-seeded Wildcats downed Tennessee and Ole Miss en route to a 5-2 win over LSU to win the championship. - Although UK fell in the finals, the tournament run from beginning to end was historic for the UK program. The win over the Bulldogs was the first for Kentucky since the 2003 season and its first outside of Lexington since 1997. It also broke the school record for wins in a single season and marked the first time in the modern era of the program that Kentucky has set a school record for wins in consecutive seasons. - Seniors Brad Cox and Alberto Gonzalez were named to the all-tournament team for their impressive tournament play. Cox teamed up with junior Eric Quigley to take down two top-30 ranked doubles duos, while going 1-1 in singles action. Gonzalez was also solid for UK, winning a key doubles match Saturday in the win against Georgia and going 2-1 in singles.
Women's tennis - UK defeated No. 59 LSU 4-3 in the first round of the 2011 SEC Women's Tournament before falling to No. 14 Tennessee 4-0 in the tournament quarterfinals. - UK won two of the three doubles matches against LSU, and led the third match before play was suspended with the doubles point having already been won. - The Cats earned victories in singles play against LSU from senior Megan Broderick and sophomore Jessica Stiles at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, as well as freshman Caitlin McGraw at No. 4. - Kentucky finishes its season with a 5-20 overall record and a 2-9 mark in SEC play. Stiles led the Cats this year with a team-high 11 singles victories. - Freshman Khristina Blajkevitch and Stiles led the Cats with six and four singles victories in conference play, respectively. - Broderick, Lauren Meier and Nicole Scates will be graduating from the team. Broderick leaves the Cats with 64 victories in singles play.
Tuesday, April 26 Baseball hosts Louisville - 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 27 Softball hosts Ole Miss (DH) - 4 p.m.
Thursday, April 28 Baseball at LSU - 7:30 p.m. Track and field at Drake Relays (Des Moines, Iowa)
Friday, April 29 Softball at Alabama - 7:30 p.m. Baseball at LSU - 8 p.m. Track and field at Drake Relays (Des Moines, Iowa)
Saturday, April 30 Baseball at LSU - 2 p.m. Softball at Alabama - 2:30 p.m. Track and field at Drake Relays (Des Moines, Iowa) Track and field at Payton Jordan Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
- Kentucky football great Randall Cobb is one of 25 prospects who will be in attendance at Thursday night's NFL Draft in New York. The draft, which will be televised on ESPN, is set to begin at 8 p.m. The second and third rounds will take place Friday night, and rounds four through seven are scheduled for Saturday. Cobb, who set the career touchdown mark at UK, is projected anywhere from the late first round to the third round.
- UK baseball still has a big hole to climb, but it at least began the process this weekend by winning two of three games with No. 12 Arkansas, a series that was dominated by rain delays, postponements, time restrictions and even confusing scoring changes. Yeah, it was that kind of a series. But the important thing for Kentucky is, after strong pitching performances from Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week Alex Meyer and Corey Littrell, UK can at least entertain thoughts of a comeback for the SEC Tournament. As we've detailed on this blog multiple times in the past week, only the top eight teams make it into the league tournament. Kentucky is still in a tie for last place but has closed the gap to four games for the all-important eighth spot. While the chances still aren't great, UK has at least given itself an opportunity with 12 conference games remaining.
- Interesting piece by Luke Winn of SI.com on the decisions of the NBA Draft underclassmen on Monday. On a list of teams with the most to lose or gain by the decisions of their underclassmen, Winn lists Kentucky as No. 1. Here is what Winn had to say (by the way, those players have until May 8 to withdraw from the draft as long as they don't sign with an agent):
Freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones have yet to hire agents, but they're close to gone. Knight's mother said it would take "something unexpected" to keep her son out of the draft, where he's projected to be either the second or third point guard off the board, and be taken in the top 10. Jones, also a lottery pick, is a long shot to return. In the unlikely event both players contract lockout-itis and opt to stay in Lexington, the Wildcats would overtake North Carolina as 2011-12's preseason No. 1.
Coach John Calipari has a better shot at keeping junior defensive stopper DeAndre Liggins, who's fishing for a guaranteed contract. "He's a mid-to-late second-rounder right now," one NBA scout said of Liggins, "but he could be a find for someone, because he has offensive talent that he hasn't been able to fully show while playing with ball-dominating guards, like John Wall, or [Eric] Bledsoe, or Knight." Liggins would be playing with another ball-dominating guard (incoming freshman point Marquis Teague) in 2011-12, but could elevate his profile by serving as the key veteran on a national title contender.
- The ninth annual CATSPY Awards, celebrating the 2010-11 athletics year at UK, are Monday night at Memorial Coliseum. Tickets are still available to the public. Tickets are $5 each and may be purchased in advance at the UK Athletics Ticket Office (Joe Craft Center) or by calling 800-928-2287. There won't be any coverage on the blog Monday night (I'm going strictly to enjoy the event), but we will have a release of the winners on the front page of UKathletics.com after the show, and I'll have a post Tuesday on Mitch Barnhart's speech to the student-athletes.
Before Kentucky can build its new track facility, the old one next to Cliff Hagan Stadium must be torn down. That process started Monday, which you can read about here. I stopped by Monday and snapped a few photos of the demolition process. They should give you a pretty good idea for how badly a new facility was needed.
The Kentucky track and field team will head to Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend for the Drake Relays. With the construction of a new outdoor track facility, head coach Don Weber is hoping the program can host a similar event on UK's home turf in the future.
After years of what Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart described as unacceptable conditions, the UK track and field team will have a new facility next year directly next to Cliff Hagan Stadium. Construction began Monday with the removal of the bleachers at the old facility.
"It's been a long time coming," Weber said. "It will be a great place for competition in terms of multiple runways, multiple high-jump pits, multiple pole-vault pits. There is seating near all the event areas. Track and field is like a three-ring circus. We've got seating at all the competition venues, so you can get up close and personal to every event that's contested on the track."
Demolition of the old facility is expected to take a couple of weeks. Once the demolition of the old track is finished, construction of the new track will commence and is expected to be completed by the start of the spring 2012 season.
The new facility will be a welcomed addition for a team that has trained in subpar conditions. In addition to an outdated and worn-down facility, the current outdoor track is incapable of hosting meets and is a negative for recruiting.
"We desperately needed one," Weber said. "We couldn't have a competition down there. Our old track, that didn't interfere with practice at all. The real problem is it wasn't much to look at, so recruiting it was an eye sore. It was certainly a detriment. I don't remember when the last time was we had a meet there."
Although the Cats haven't been hurting for recruits in Weber's 27 seasons at UK, a new facility should bolster recruiting efforts.
"More than anything, a facility is kind of an obvious demonstration in interest and commitment to that sport," Weber said. "The other thing is it's something that shiny and new and catches people's eye. They make a lot of positive judgments based on what they see." The facility, which doesn't have an official name yet, will include a practice area, team meeting and storage building, meet administration building, stadium seating, plaza and concourse, in addition to the track, pits and throwing lanes of a typical track facility.
The only problem is, while the new facility is being built, the team will be without an outdoor home for the rest of the 2011 spring season. The Cats will practice inside Nutter Field House in the meantime, but certain events, particularly the throwing events, will practice by the UK Soccer Complex.
"It's a bit of an inconvenience but we're much better off than most places would be where you'd have nothing but the parking lot," Weber said.
The long-term hope is to host outdoor track meets, but Weber admitted that will be difficult in the initial process because of nationwide tournaments that are annually set for a certain date.
One event the team and the university would like to host in the immediate future is the Kentucky high school state championship meet, which is currently held at Louisville's Cardinal Park Track Stadium.
"The reality of it is, you spend that kind of money on a track, unless you're using it on a regular basis, you don't give yourself a chance to get a return on that," Weber said. "(Hosting) would be something that we'd be very, very interested in doing. I think we need to provide for the high schools, which in turn feeds our programs."
Weber believes the new facility, once completed, will compare favorably with some of the country's best facilities, in part because they're not trying to renovate an inferior facility. Starting from scratch, Weber said, is a good thing.
"There might be some facilities that have a slightly larger seating capacity, but in terms of put together well, I think it will be one of the best in the country and certainly one of the very best in the SEC," Weber said.
As the Kentucky football team closed the book on the 2011 spring season, it heads into a very cloudy offseason that holds more questions than answers.
The expectations from the fans is noticeably low after losing several key parts from a 6-7 team. Fans are worried that the program is on the verge of taking a step back.
Amid the questions and uncertainty, Phillips remains steadfast in his belief in this year's team.
"We don't worry about the outside," Phillips said. "The only thing I worry about is the guys, when we lock arms. And I heard this from Coach (Greg) Nord from when I was a player: 'Hey, let's lock arms and get to work.' That's the only guys that I worry about."
He believes Kentucky can not only continue to do what it has done the past five years, it can improve as well.
"I expect us to be in the title race longer than we've been," Phillips said Saturday when asked what the expectations are for the 2011 season. "We've got to talk titles. I don't want to talk about going to a sixth straight bowl game. I want to talk about how long can we stay in the title race. Our guys have got to believe that."
To some, when you look at the daunting task of replacing players like Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline, that line of thinking seems delusional.
But Phillips maintains that he's not drinking the Kool-Aid. He truly believes UK can compete in the Southeastern Conference this season.
"Why not?" Phillips said. "Somebody asked me on the show the other night who I would predict to win the East. Why not us? I truly believe it. Why not us? I truly believe it. I may get blasted for saying it today, but why not us? Our players have to believe. I believe it. I believe we can stay in this title race longer than we've ever been."
Entering his second season, what makes Phillips think Kentucky can get off the doorstep and enter the race?
"How close we've been," Phillips said. "How close have we been around here? We need a couple of those balls to bounce our way. We need a couple of more plays by some of our guys. We've been very, very close to being in this title race a little bit longer."
To stay longer, Phillips said this year's team needs to do three things that last year's team didn't always succeed with.
"The thing that we have to be is consistent in our play, we have to be fundamentally sound and we've got to be one of the toughest teams we've ever put on the football field," Phillips said.
Join Evan Crane at noon for the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Gainesville, Fla. UK, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, is making its first SEC finals appearance since 1992, the program's lone SEC championship. Kentucy defeated Florida, the No. 5 seed, 4-3 earlier this season, the school's first victory in Gainesville since 1992.
About 15 minutes after sliding on a rain-covered tarp at Cliff Hagan Stadium - one of the few breaks in his day - Brian Adams, in a noticeable hurry, was stopped by a Kentucky baseball trainer on his way out of the locker room.
"Make sure you get in the cold tub before you leave," the trainer said.
Adams, as if to say "give me a break," quickly shot back, "I know. It's been a long day." One of the longest in Adams' career.
Adams, a two-way star for the Kentucky football and baseball teams, made his best Bo Jackson impersonation Saturday, playing in both the annual Blue/White Game and the nightcap of a UK's baseball game with Arkansas before the rain washed it out.
The sophomore from Gainesville, Ga., has known since the beginning of spring that this day was coming. When football coach Joker Phillips and baseball coach Gary Henderson decided a month ago that they would allow Adams to play both sports, they decided they'd give him the shot to play both games in one day on April 23.
Adams played a role in both. The 6-foot-4, 223-pounder caught a game-high seven passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue/White Game at 3 p.m. before hustling across Cooper Drive to start and play center field in the 7 p.m. baseball game.
"It's been busy," a tired and beaten Adams said Saturday night about an hour after the baseball game was postponed in the third inning. "I'm a little worn out but I'm catching a second wind."
He'll likely need a third after the day he had Saturday.
Really, it all started Friday for Adams in what was supposed to be the first of a three-game series with Arkansas. Fortunately for Adams, the umpires called Friday night's game fairly quickly because of inclement weather, allowing him to leave the ballpark around 8:30 p.m.
Adams knew he wouldn't be able to make it to the first game of Saturday's doubleheader because of the football scrimmage, his first priority (Adams is on a football scholarship), but he was going to need some sleep nonetheless. By 11 p.m. he was in bed, and he "slept in" Saturday to spend some time with his parents.
"I slept in this morning until about 8 this morning, which is a lot of sleep for me," Adams said. "I don't really don't get that much ever. This week I had a lot of four-hour days. Other than that, it's been pretty good."
Adams had to be the Nutter Training Facility at 9:30 a.m. to watch film and attend meetings with the football team. From 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Adams was back with his family and girlfriend for a couple of hours before returning to UK's football facilities at 2 p.m.
By 2:30 p.m. Adams was suited in up pads and his white uniform, and by 4 p.m. he'd caught the first of two touchdown passes.
Just because Adams had a baseball game didn't mean the football team took it lightly on Adams.
"There were times where he was completely gassed out there and I kept him out there just to see how mentally tough he would be, and that was when he started doing better," wide receivers coach Tee Martin said. "It shows me that the kid has some character and he's going to compete to make plays. He's going to compete and give you everything."
Adams, the biggest critic of himself, didn't give himself a pass just because of the busy day.
"I made some drops," Adams said. "They were obviously not easy, textbook catches, but I need to make those plays. That will be something that I need to get better at. I also need to get into better shape. Right now, I feel like I'm in good shape but now where I want to be."
The Blue/White Game ended around 4:45 p.m., giving Adams ample time to hop in a car and drive across the street Cliff Hagan Stadium. Adams had time to shower, rest, eat and get ready to start and bat eighth in the UK lineup.
Adams got one at-bat in the bottom of the second, a fly out to center field, before the heavens opened up and the weather postponed the second game.
If it seemed like a break for Adams, it wasn't. A day after trying to pull off a baseball-football doubleheader, he'll now have to endure a true baseball doubleheader on Sunday.
On second thought, four minutes in the cold tub suddenly sounded pretty promising to Adams.
"I'm going to try to get my legs back," Adams said, dashing off into the back halls of the Nutter Training Facility at 10 p.m.
Adams, presumably, will sleep well Saturday night. With more severe weather on the way Sunday, it could be another long day.
"Hopefully we can get the rain over with so we don't have to worry about any delays tomorrow," Adams said.
During what seems like a record-setting weather weekend (seriously, has there ever been a worse weather week?), a few of UK athletics teams put together record-setting Saturdays. We have the full reaps of each on the homepage, but here's a brief look at some history and firsts that were made Saturday.
Men's tennis: Kentucky is headed to its second Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in school history. The Cats will face fifth-seeded Florida on Sunday in Gainesville, Fla., UK's first since finals appearance since the program earned its lone SEC Tournament crown in school history in 1992. Kentucky's win over Georgia gives UK 26 wins in 2011, breaking the school record for wins in a single season, which was set last year. Kentucky has set a school record for wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in the modern era of the program, which dates back to the late 1960s. Full story
Softball: UK has already made a ton of history this season. Among its most noteworthy accomplishments are the school's first perfect game(s) in school history, the first back-to-back-to-back 30-win seasons and the highest ranking in program annals. On Saturday, UK notched two more achievements. In the ongoing battle to climb in the ladder in the SEC, Kentucky has won five SEC series for the first time in school history. Samantha DeMartine's two long balls Saturday also pushed UK's home run season total to 58 to set a new single-season mark. Full story
Baseball: It's not history UK wanted a part of, but the baseball team finally ended its longest losing streak since 1957 on Saturday. After losing 12 straight in the league, Kentucky rallied for a 3-2 ninth-inning comeback over No. 12 Arkansas. At 3-13 in the league, UK has a long ways to go to get into SEC Tournament contention, but the victory was a start. As you can tell in the photo below, which was taken during Saturday's postponed nightcap, the win certainly loosened things up in a strenuous situation. Kentucky will play a doubleheader Sunday against the Razorbacks. Full story
The Kentucky football spring season officially wrapped up Saturday with the annual Blue/White Game.
The Blue team, which was comprised of second teamers and spotted a 14-0 lead, hung on to defeat the White team (the first teamers) 31-28. Joe Mansour kicked the game-winning field goal in the final minute, a 38-yard line drive that split the uprights.
Guy Ramsey of UKathletics.com has the full recap on our homepage. Since we've already got that up, I thought I'd break the game down into the five biggest things that stood out.
1. Newton's progression: It's Morgan Newton's time. If the Kentucky football team is to continue its bowl run and even take the next step in the program's evolution, a lot of the pressure falls squarely on Newton's shoulders. A few months ago, while Newton struggled in UK's fifth straight bowl appearance, that prospect looked like a scary thought.
Fast forward to the end of April and Newton's final two seasons at Kentucky look bullish. Newton was 23 of 44 for 256 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception. His numbers would have been better had it not been for several key drops by his wide receivers (more on that in just a bit).
"We need to get better at timing but we'll work on that over the summer," Newton said. "That's what the summer is for. It's for getting everything together, and we scored today when we didn't even have everything in sync."
It's hard to determine what's improved more: Newton's throws or his attitude.
On Saturday, Newton threw crisp, accurate passes to his receivers. He appears more comfortable in the pocket and has beefed up his arm strength. Although Brian Adams couldn't come down with the ball, arguably the most impressive play of the game came in the second quarter when Newton calmly dropped back and flung a pass nearly 65 yards in the air as though it were a Nerf football.
"It's night and day," head coach Joker Phillips said of Newton's improvement. "If you look at it, he is one of those few guys who played as a freshman. He has started in two bowl games already and he has two years left. As a freshman, if you saw him after the Music City Bowl and saw him very little in the season last year, and then playing in the bowl game, it's night and day. He now understands he is changing protections. His first year, he couldn't have done a lot of those things."
But Newton is also carrying himself differently. Whether it was the realization that the job is finally his or the tutelage of former record-setting quarterback Andre' Woodson, something made the lights turn on in the head of Newton this spring.
He's changed his attitude and stepped into a leadership position that is so desperately needed on his team. Even though his wide receivers dropped a lot of his passes Saturday, Newton kept his head up and nearly led the White team to an impressive comeback. Phillips said he only had to talk to Newton once about body language.
"It's tough for me because if everything doesn't go right I get real mad and I'm not happy," Newton said. "But when you're a leader on offense, you kind of have to make sure you have an even keel and your head is always up and you're always positive."
2. Adams the Amazing: Adams' story as a two-way player for the football and baseball teams has been well profiled, but Saturday we got to see the actual thing in work.
The junior-to-be missed the first game of a baseball doubleheader against No. 12 Arkansas for the Blue/White Game. If anyone thought Adams would be saved for the nightcap of the doubleheader - which Adams started in - they were sorely mistaken.
Adams not only played, he may have been the star. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound wide receiver caught a game-high seven balls for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
After an early fumble, Adams put his full arsenal of athleticism on display. On his 39-yard touchdown pass in the second half, Adams used his speed to burn cornerback Dale Trimble. He also used his overlooked 6-4 frame to shield off defensive backs.
"There were times where he was completely gassed out there and I kept him out there just to see how mentally tough he would be and that was when he started doing better," wide receivers coach Tee Martin said. "It shows me that the kid has some character and he's going to compete to make plays. He's going to compete and give you everything."
Phillips said Adams has only been able to practice four or five times this spring because of his double-duty with baseball, but every time he's been able to make it out to practice, Phillips said he's "made plays."
"He's blessed with unbelievable speed and he's blessed with an unbelievable body and body control," Phillips said. "I think it definitely helps that he's a baseball player. He understands how to adjust to the deep ball. He's a guy that you get down on the goal line, he can go up and catch the fade. He also, when he gets inside of a DB on a slant route, it's just hard to go through him. I think he has a lot of ability and has the potential to be the next great receiver here."
To play the type of game Adams had on the little preparation he's been allotted speaks to the potential he has at wide receiver.
"He's a ballplayer," Martin said. "Some things are genetics. I always tell him in the meeting room, 'Some guys are beat at birth. When you were born, you were better than that guy when he was born.' He was just born better than a lot of guys."
3. Butterfingers: If it wasn't for Adams and E.J. Fields (three catches for 61 yards and two scores), it would have been a very long day for Kentucky's receiving corps.
Official drops weren't tallied at the scrimmage, but one can bet the number of drops on the afternoon was close to 10. Phillips said it's been a spring-long problem.
"We had two scrimmages where I felt we were very inconsistent in catching the football," Phillips said. "The thing that I look at is how natural they are. If they catch the ball naturally, I'm not too concerned about them. I think all of our guys are natural in catching it, so there aren't that many concerns."
One guy who was particularly plagued by drops was Matt Roark. Slated to be one of the starters in the fall, Roark had several balls go in and out of his hands, including a long post route that could have been run for a touchdown.
Roark had a reliable junior season, catching 12 balls for 170 yards, so he's not a major concern, but the inconsistency of some of the older receivers is. For guys like Fields and Aaron Boyd, the time to make their mark at UK is now.
Phillips noted Kentucky's incoming recruiting class, which is stock full of what Phillips called "true" receivers. If the veterans don't step up their game, those incoming freshmen will get a chance to play over the veterans.
"They've got to get really close to Morgan and those other quarterbacks this fall because (catching is) a skill that you can perfect when the coaches aren't around," Phillips said. "We've got jugs machines, our managers shoot balls at them all summer (and) our quarterbacks will be here all summer. You can perfect that skill when the coaches aren't around. You can get your momma to throw to you."
4. Hybrid defense spells opportunity for "tweeners:" When asked this spring to categorize his defense, new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter called it a "hybrid" defense, one capable of switching bases to keep up with and adapt to the modern day offenses of college football.
Time will tell how that defense will stack up with the speed and strength of the Southeastern Conference, but it became clear Saturday that the versatility of the defense will open up opportunities for guys Justin Henderson, Winston Guy and Ridge Wilson, players Phillips calls "tweeners."
The trio combined for 15 tackles, led by Justin Henderson's seven stops. Henderson, a redshirt freshman, is listed as both a defensive end and a linebacker, but Phillips said he doesn't have a true position. Henderson may have found a home in the Minter's hybrid defense.
"This is the best thing that happened to those guys, those kind of in-between guys," Phillips said. "They don't really have a true position but this defense gives them a chance to play."
After a rough start, the first-team defense ended up holding the Blue team to 94 total yards. The play calling looked more aggressive from a blitzing standpoint as the two teams combined for 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks (it should be noted that the quarterbacks were under no-contact rules and were considered "down" upon a one-hand touch).
Minter said it was a "blur" calling the defensive plays for both teams, but he came away impressed with the way his players were able to adapt to the new system.
"Can't tell enough of how much I appreciate their efforts because I have really asked them do to a lot both mentally and physically," Minter said. "For the most part, I think they've responded."
5. New philosophy, better tackling: For all the talk about the changes in schematics of the new defense, the biggest improvement may have come in execution and fundamentals.
Albeit a scrimmage, Kentucky's defense tackled as well as it has in years. There were very few missed tackles in addition to some punishing hits. To wrap up and gets guys down this early in the preparation process for next year is a positive sign for a defense that returns its 11 leading tacklers from a year ago.
The return to a sound fundamental approach comes from an injection of new attitude, linebacker Danny Trevathan said.
"It's just the attitude, that swag we've got," last year's SEC-leading tackler said. "Coach Minter brought a different swag to the program. We're not going to let anybody run at us. Nobody is going to be more physical than us. This is our house. Wherever we go, it's going to be our house. We really believe that."
Amid some of the attention the Kentucky men's basketball program is receiving for three of its underclassmen declaring for NBA Draft, head coach John Calipari posted an interesting message Thursday for fans on his website, CoachCal.com.
In the post, titled "What it Means to be a Players-First Program," Calipari details three steps on what being a players-first program means.
The Truth is that these top players in the country want to play for a certain kind of coach in a certain kind of program. They are not playing for just any coach. They want to play with someone who has proven results.
The Lie is that because a player won't go to a certain school, it's impossible to win championships with that type of young, elite talent.
None of this takes away from our goal of winning championships. If you do right by these kids you will win championships and we have. It's a ludicrous statement that you can't win with players who earn a chance to pursue their NBA dreams early.
In the department of improbable victories, Kentucky softball's 14-8 comeback over Louisville on Wednesday night ranked in the "Are you kidding me?" category.
After losing a head-scratching eight straight games to the Cardinals, there was little reason for hope when Kentucky fell behind 7-0 after the first two innings of play. UK made two errors and committed several more mental lapses, qualifying senior captain Megan Yocke's thoughts on Tuesday that Kentucky tends to play too tight against its archrival.
"When you start getting beat that bad, your mindset goes into, 'OK, how can I save this game and move forward and learn something from it?' " Lawson said.
Things were so bad after two innings that Lawson decided to make some radical moves.
With sophomore Kara Dill struggling at shortstop, Lawson put senior catcher Megan Yocke at short in the top of the third. Here's the kicker: Yocke has never played the position other than practice.
"You kind of start thinking, 'I've got nothing to lose, so I might as well try some other things,' " Lawson said.
One can imagine how Dill, having a nightmare of a game, felt.
An error by Dill and another should-be out in the first inning opened the doors for Louisville's six-run first frame. She struck out in the bottom of the inning and was pulled from her defensive position in favor of Yocke to start the third.
"I think it's kind of contagious," Dill said. "I missed one and it kind of went from there."
For a sophomore who was riding a team-high hitting streak and leading the team in batting average, this fall from grace was like tumbling off Mt. Everest.
And yet, with UK mounting a furious rally in the third inning, Dill stepped to the plate as the designated player with the bases loaded, two outs and Kentucky trailing by three runs. If ever there was a time to wipe the slate clean, this was it.
"You can't think much about that," Dill said. "You can't put that much pressure on yourself to do well or you won't be able to do it. You've just got to go up there and if the pitch is out over the white of the plate, you've got to take a chance and go for it."
Dill took her chance at redemption and sliced an opposite-field liner to the gap in left center. Dill cleared the bases with her first career triple, part of an eight-run third inning that put UK on top 8-7 after trailing by seven through two innings. The sophomore scored the go-ahead run when senior Meagan Aull singled through the right side.
"It was a relief for sure," Dill said of leading the comeback.
If the miscues of the first two innings were contagious, then so were Kentucky's bats. Once UK got going, the Cats cranked out 12 hits and two home runs in the 14-8 comeback win. Junior Rachel Riley, who relieved freshman Ellen Weaver in the second inning, not only pitched 5.2 innings of one-run ball to pick up the win, she was also 4-for-4 at the dish with a home run and three RBI.
"I didn't tell them anything after the first inning really," Lawson said. "Riley is such a calming factor on our team, so anytime you plug Rachel Riley in, our team feels like we can win the game. I felt comfortable with her."
Lawson said they never panicked after the early hole, but she'd prefer if her team didn't fall behind quite as much next time around.
The victory was the largest comeback of the season.
"It feels awesome," Riley said of the win. "It really does. We've been wanting this for a long time."
Riley's just a junior, but no player on UK's roster - Lawson and seniors included - had ever beaten Louisville. To snap the notorious streak in Wednesday's night comeback fashion felt pretty sweet.
"It's a big monkey off our back," said Lawson, who also notched her first victory over the Cardinals since coming to UK. "This senior class, they've accomplished so much, and I know this was on their bucket list of things to get done before they graduated. To be able to do this in their last opportunity was cool for them."
For two players not on the Kentucky roster, there sure has been a lot of talk about Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke during spring football.
Many a conversation has centered on replacing the production of the two NFL-bound former Wildcats. The two played crucial offensive roles and filling the holes left by them has been a crucial spring storyline.
As important as Cobb and Locke were when the Wildcats had the ball, the holes left by their absence on special teams should not be overlooked. The two playmakers helped make UK's return game ever dangerous and filling that void could turn out to be nearly as important to this season's success as on offense.
"It's obviously as big an issue there as it is anywhere," special teams coordinator Greg Nord said. "You've got Randall who basically took every one of our punt returns back last year."
In football parlance, the yardage gained and lost on special teams is referred to by some as "hidden yardage." With the dangerous and sure-handed Cobb and Locke, Kentucky won that battle more often than not.
Though fans will likely remember them more for their five combined career return touchdowns, the fact that they could always be relied upon to take care of the football was what made them so valuable.
"First and foremost, at the end of a punt especially, we want to have possession of the ball and that is the most important thing," Nord said. "Obviously we want to get return yardage but maintaining possession of the ball is the key."
With such reliable return men, the backups were at times less motivated to work on that aspect of their games.
"A lot of times when you do have a guy like Randall and Derrick, some of the other younger guys and even the older guys at different positions maybe don't work at it or take it as seriously," Nord said.
Even though it's a work in progress, players are beginning to step up.
"We're having to bring some guys along," Nord said. "There are a couple guys who have gotten a little more comfortable in that role."
During spring practices, the punt return game has been a primary focus. Nord has asked a variety of players to catch and run back punts, but it has been two defensive backs that have emerged.
Senior corner back Randall Burden and converted junior safety Martavius Neloms, who played corner last season, would be the primary punt returners if the season began today.
With coverage teams looking to do everything short of decapitate return men, it's not for the faint of heart.
"A lot of people are really scared to do punt returns because your body is vulnerable because you're just looking up and trying to figure out how close they are to you," Burden said. "My biggest thing is catching the ball first because I'm not really scared about getting hit; it's just about catching the ball and keeping it secure while I'm running with it."
Burden served a backup to Cobb last year and returned punts in high school, so he does have some experience.
"I was actually backing Randall up last year but he never came out of the game so I never really got a chance to go back there and catch some," Burden said. "I did it all through high school so I have a good feel for how to judge the ball and what I need to do, but it will be a big challenge trying to follow in their steps in the return game."
Sophomore running back Raymond Sanders has filled in for Burden and Neloms at times in practice, but it takes a little coercion from his coaches.
"(I do) punt returns when they ask me to go back there but I'm not a big fan of punt returns," Sanders said.
Sanders, though, will figure largely into the Wildcats kickoff return team along with senior safety/linebacker Winston Guy. The coaching staff will also evaluate incoming freshman when they arrive on campus.
"Winston Guy has done it before, Raymond Sanders has done it and he has looked good," Nord said. "If we went today it would probably be Raymond and Winston, but there are some freshmen that are coming in and we're going to give them a quick look in fall camp as well."
Sanders, who returned four kicks for 86 yards as a freshman, admitted that replacing Cobb and Locke is tough, but learning from them is what will allow him to be successful in doing so.
"There are big shoes to fill, but they taught me the ropes," Sanders said. "They had it down pat, the footwork and how to catch it and everything. Coming in and trying to replace them is hard, but learning from them was the best experience I could have."
In his last year at UK, Guy is eager to contribute in any way the staff will let him.
"Hopefully I'm back on kick returns," Guy said. "I talk to coach Nord (saying), 'Put me back there'. Ever since Randall Cobb left he needs somebody to go back there and step up. I feel like I'm that guy because I've done it before. It's my last year so I'm trying to do as much as I can."
This winter, Guy considered entering the NFL Draft and realizes that playing special teams can help him catch on at the next level.
"Especially going into the NFL, they look for players that know how to play their position plus more so I think (playing special teams) is helping me out," Guy said.
Guy had a 96-yard kickoff return during his freshman season, so he may be able to able to provide some big-play potential to make up for the loss of Cobb and Locke.
"I still have my speed even though I might have a little weight on me," Guy said. "I'm just trying to do what I can to help the team out."
While some may dread special teams play, Guy and his team share a positive outlook about it.
"Special teams can make or break a game basically, so everybody has to come together, do what they can and do what the coaches ask you to do," Guy said. "They put you on special teams for a reason, because they think you're good and you can help out the team."
Wednesday's practice at the Nutter Training Facility concluded Kentucky football's spring football season with the exception of Saturday's annual Blue/White Game.
With practices completed, head coach Joker Phillips had one message for his team: The work starts now. Although practices are over, Phillips made it clear that how the UK football team enters the fall will largely be determined on the offseason work the players do.
They've installed a new defense, new looks on offense and new players into the system. Now, according to Phillips, it's up to the players to build off it.
Phillips talks about all of that and Saturday's annual Blue/White Game in the video below.
The scrimmage, which will be offense versus defense instead of the standard game format because of injuries and depth chart concerns, is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium. Admission and parking are free on a first-come, first-served basis, and fans are invited to tailgate in the Red, Blue and Green parking lots starting at 8 a.m.
John Calipari hinted at it last week and Wednesday it became a reality: Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins have declared for the NBA Draft. None of the three will sign with agents and all could return next season if they withdraw their names from the draft by May 8.
On Tuesday, freshman guard Doron Lamb announced he will return to UK for his sophomore season.
First, let's start by saying that this is all hypothetical with no inclination of what any of the three will do. This outlook is only a worst-case scenario from a roster perspective in terms of losses.
So, let's say all three guys - Knight, Jones and Liggins - decide to stay in the draft. In addition to the departure of senior Josh Harrellson, Kentucky would lose 1,869 points of its 2,845 total output from last year. That comes out to 65.7 percent of the scoring. The Cats would also lose 63.5 percent of its total minutes played last year.
While that's a hefty chunk of the scoring load, it's actually a manageable hit compared to what UK lost after the 2009-10 season.
After losing five players to the NBA and four more to graduation or roster defection, Kentucky bid farewell to 2,609 of its 3,012 total points after the 2009-10 season. That comes out to 86.6 percent of the scoring load. A total of 81.6 percent of the minutes played in 2009-10 left.
(It makes you kind of wonder how in the world UK was able to get to the Final Four this year.)
The silver lining is that, while Kentucky could potentially lose three very important parts from this past season, Calipari has proven it's possible to replace players and move on. UK will actually be in much better shape this next season because Lamb and Darius Miller, the team's top two 3-point shooters in terms of percentage, will return no matter what.
Add that to the nation's No. 1 recruiting class and something tells me UK is going to be just fine next year. Most national analysts are already touting Kentucky as next year's preseason No. 2 team in the country.
Here is a look back at how UK's starting lineup has looked over the past few years and what it could look like next year:
2008-09 starting lineup Michael Porter Jodie Meeks Ramon Harris Perry Stevenson Patrick Patterson Sixth man: Darius Miller
2009-10 starting lineup John Wall Eric Bledsoe Darius Miller Patrick Patterson DeMarcus Cousins Sixth man: DeAndre Liggins
2010-11 starting lineup Brandon Knight Terrence Jones DeAndre Liggins Darius Miller Josh Harrellson Sixth man: Doron Lamb
2011-12 projected starting lineup Marquis Teague Doron Lamb Michael Gilchrist Darius Miller/Kyle Wiltjer Anthony Davis Sixth man: Kyle Wiltjer/Darius Miller
Now the NBA spotlight twists toward the University of Kentucky basketball program. It stays on Lexington until word emerges on where Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones will play next season.
The decisions at Ohio State, North Carolina and Baylor have been made. A truly blah NBA draft has become an absolutely dreadful NBA draft, and the two UK freshmen must decide if they will risk taking advantage of the uninspiring competition or follow the unusual trend of playing a second college season.
Now, in his third year on campus, Warford could be on the verge of becoming one of the country's best.
"Larry doesn't have a bigger fan in the country than me," UK offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "I'm so impressed by what he does. I don't ever tell him that, but there's no doubt that he is one of the elite linemen in the country. But he still has a lot of things he has to do with that talent to perform at that level consistently."
You might wonder why a kid from the rough part of Leesburg wouldn't take the money and run.
"That's being shallow," Trevathan said. "I try not to be shallow. I try to weigh all my options, think about the future. I try to think 10 steps ahead of everybody, off the field and on the field. I think that's what sets me apart."
During his soul-searching, here's what Trevathan figured out: He needed another 10 pounds to feel confident taking on NFL linemen and stuffing running backs; he wasn't in a hurry; and more important, he wanted to graduate from college.
Western Kentucky rallied from five down with eight runs in the seventh inning and held on to beat Kentucky 11-8 Tuesday night in Bowling Green. Senior Taylor Black and sophomore Luke Maile hit three-run homers in the Cats' own eight-run outburst in the fourth. But the Toppers answered three innings later, scoring six of their eight runs with two out.
Football: Offense begins to find its rhythm (Ethan Levine, Kentucky Kernel) In addition to Newton's leadership, the Cats have also benefited this spring from having time to play together and feel each other out. Many of UK's starters on offense feel that they are starting to develop chemistry with one another and that the offense is starting to find its rhythm.
"There are days where the offense looks like it's in really good rhythm, and there's days where it doesn't," Newton said. "We just try to come out here and be in rhythm more times than not, and we are trying to get to the point where we are in rhythm all the time."
The Jordan Brand Classic All-American game tonight could almost be mistaken for a Kentucky Wildcats intrasquad game.
Four Kentucky signees - guard Marquis Teague and forwards Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer - are among the 22 players divided among East and West rosters.
They come from a variety of locations: Teague is from Indianapolis; Davis is from Chicago; Wiltjer is from Portland, Ore.; and Gilchrist is from Elizabeth, N.J. But they'll be old friends by the time they arrive in Lexington, Ky., together later this year.
Two factors stand out on the resume of Michael Gilchrist that don't show up in box scores: never taking a possession off and being a team leader on a top national program.
Among today's young players, playing hard is a skill and the 6-foot-7 forward from St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) combined that aspect of his game with a vast offensive and defensive repertoire to be named 2010-2011 ESPN RISE Mr. Basketball USA.
Former Wildcats making headlines
Marcus Nidiffer won't be going home this season (Mike Tauser, Houston Chronicle) Nidiffer is heading to Arizona today to join the Angels' training camp. Nidiffer was a catcher in college, and after spending his first season as pro at first base with the Astros, he will go behind the plate again with the Angels. "I still have to prove that I can still get behind the dish and catch. They're going to work with me a few weeks in extended spring to get me back into catching shape then we will see where it takes me," Nidiffer said.
Learning to live by myself has been hard. In high school, I had my parents. In college, I had my teammates as roommates, and now I'm living alone, cleaning, doing something I've never done before. I didn't hire a cleaning lady. I mean, I thought about it, but then they say it's $100 every time they come and clean, and thinking about it, like, what's she do? Wash dishes, mop the floors, clean the counters, make up my bed, organize stuff. If I just keep myself neat, I can do it myself and save money.
Such a nice man, Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb. Coaches and teammates rave about him as a standup guy, team leader, model citizen, etc. But put him in a competitive environment ... any competitive environment ... and suddenly he's not so nice anymore.
"If you put a ping-pong paddle in his hand, you're going to have to walk across the table and hit him in the mouth because he's going to compete with you," said Randy Sanders, who recruited Cobb to Kentucky and served as his offensive coordinator. "Teach him how to play tennis, and in a couple of weeks he's going to beat you on the tennis court. He's that kind of competitor.
Three former Wildcats receive NBA Defense Player of the Year votes - Rajon Rondo led the way, finishing fifth in the voting for the NBA top defensive honor for the second straight season. Chuck Hayes of the Houston Rockets finished 12th, receiving two first place votes, and Keith Bogans of the Chicago Bulls was 20th with one first place vote.
With Doron Lamb announcing his return to Kentucky for his his sophomore season, I thought I would give you a little something to get you excited about him suiting up as a Wildcat again next year. Here are the highlights of Lamb's 32-point performance against Winthrop, which set a then-freshman scoring record at UK before Terrence Jones bested him later in the year.
On a list of what the Kentucky softball team has done over the last three seasons, you'll find very few things missing.
Checked off are the program's first two NCAA Tournament appearances, three straight 30-win seasons for the first time in school history and the highest team ranking in program annals. And those are just a sample.
But for everything the program has accomplished under the watch of fourth-year head coach Rachel Lawson, Kentucky, remarkably, has yet to beat Louisville with Lawson at the helm. UK has lost the last eight games to the Cardinals overall, including a 6-0 loss in the Derby City a month ago.
"Maybe it's me," Lawson joked Tuesday after Kentucky's 7-0 shutout win over Eastern Kentucky.
Lawson, owner of a 115-97 record as Kentucky's skipper, isn't the problem, and Louisville, with a 32-13 record this season is obviously pretty good. But to lose eight straight to a single team after the type of meteoric rise UK has experienced might just mean something is astray when the Cats face their archrival.
Senior captain Megan Yocke, part of a senior class that has never beaten Louisville, called it a "stigma."
"I think we almost want it too bad," Yocke said. "Yes, it is our rival and yes, we do want to beat them, but we've been able to beat some top-ranked teams in the SEC. I think we put too much on this game. We need to look at them like a top-ranked team just like they are and take it to them just like we would anyone else."
In the first meeting this season, UK made some uncharacteristic defensive lapses and Louisville tagged the usually unhittable Chanda Bell for four runs (three unearned).
"It was kind of a disaster," Lawson said. "We didn't play particularly well and Louisville is a great team. If you play Louisville and you don't bring your 'A' game, they're going to beat you. They have great pitching, great hitting and an outstanding coach."
Midseason games tend to lose their luster this time of the year as the importance of conference games pick up, but Wednesday's 6 p.m. showdown at the UK Softball Complex has a big-game feel to it.
Kentucky is billing the game its "Pack the Park" night in hopes of setting a new home attendance record. Admission is free for students, faculty and staff with a valid UK identification card, and faculty and staff can bring up to three guests for free.
So if you're asking Lawson if this is a big game, the answer is certainly yes.
"Obviously we want it bad because one of our goals is to not only be the best teams in the country, we want to be the best team in our state," Lawson said. "Until we beat Louisville, we can't do that."
Lawson wouldn't commit to a starting pitcher Wednesday, but she has a number of options. Because freshman Lauren Cumbess pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout Tuesday, Lawson has Bell (11-5, 1.86 ERA), junior Rachel Riley (6-1, 1.87 ERA) and freshman Ellen Weaver (6-0, 2.78 ERA) rested and available.
"We could use any of them," Lawson said. "Chanda is always an awesome option for us because anytime she's on the mound we get a lot of strikeouts, which certainly helps our defense. Ellen Weaver is an outstanding pitcher, too, and she gives you a little different look because she's a lefty. And Riley is often our go-to girl.
"Right now, we're kind of planning on using all of them."
Whoever ultimately gets the call, the Cats are hoping they can keep the Cardinals at bay and capture one of the few things that has eluded them.
"It's at our home, our senior year - we're ready to do it," Yocke said. "We're a long time due."
Megan Yocke calls Kara Dill the smallest three hitter in the country, so you can imagine everyone's surprise that she's been able to fill the biggest shoes on the Kentucky softball this team.
Of course, when you look at Dill's rail-thin frame, you know that can't be true. She's far from the team's strongest player and isn't built like a Brittany Cervantes or a Meagan Aull. But figuratively, she's stepped into size 20 shoes this year.
Dill, a sophomore shortstop, had the unenviable, almost unfair task of replacing the most successful and most important player in Kentucky softball history - Molly Johnson.
"I couldn't ask for a better player to come in after Molly because Kara is never someone who steps outside of herself," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "She is very internally motivated and really focuses at the task at hand. She's not easily distracted or tries to live up to other expectations."
Truth be told, Dill and Johnson are two very different players. Johnson guided Kentucky to the first two NCAA Tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010 with power, a cannon arm and pure athletic ability. Dill, on the other hand, is a developing defender with zero career home runs and very little power.
But whether she was groomed to or not, Dill was going to be viewed as Johnson's replacement. When you play the same position as the program's only All-American, it's only natural for comparisons to be made.
"I know I'm not Molly," Dill said Tuesday after Kentucky's 7-0 shutout victory over Eastern Kentucky. "I can't do the things Molly can do. I can't sit there and compare myself to her or I'll never feel like I'm good enough. I try to take what I'm decent at and try to get better at it. I'm not going to be Molly and I'm never going to be Molly. We're not built the same way."
It's that mentality that has helped Dill thrive in a role that few others could succeed in. Three-fourths through the season with a 32-10 record overall, Dill leads the team in batting average with a .386 mark. She extended her career-long hitting streak to 11 games Tuesday, which is the longest hitting streak on the team this season.
Dill has succeeded in a much different way than Johnson. Primarily a slap hitter, Dill used her speed against the Colonels to beat out a throw for an infield single while adding a double. She also stole two bases on the evening to give her a team-high 17 stolen bags.
"Last season she didn't get as many at-bats as she is this season," Lawson said. "You can see her growing as a ballplayer each and every weekend. She's a huge secret to our success this season."
Dill hit .238 in 126 at-bats her freshman season as an infield utility player. The difference this year is she's making contact at a higher rate and forcing more walks, the perfect recipe for a team that has a lot of big bats around her with the capability of batting her in (UK is four home runs away from breaking the 2007 school record).
"She's the perfect yin to the rest of the team's yang," senior captain Megan Yocke said.
As if filling Johnson's shoes weren't big enough, Johnson returned to the program this year as an assistant coach. Every day when Dill takes the field or the batter's box, she has a daily reminder of what she's replacing either in the dugout or in the first base coach's box.
It'd be a lot of pressure for most players, but Dill has used Johnson as a mentor for experience and expertise to improve her own game.
"To have someone like that on your team to support you is amazing," Dill said. "She's so willing to help me in anything I do."
The wherewithal to use Johnson to her benefit is largely due to Dill's intelligence. In what will be the first semester of her junior year athletically, Dill is scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in exercise physiology.
Through a dual-credit program at her high school in LaGrange, Ohio, Dill took college courses at a local community college and earned her associate's degree upon graduation her senior year. Had it not been for some credits that didn't transfer to Kentucky, she would actually be graduating college with a bachelor's degree this spring.
Dill, of course, isn't going anywhere over the next two years. While she pursues a master's degree to become a strength and conditioning coach, she'll complete her two years of athletic eligibility as a key cog in the softball program.
She may have a bachelor's degree in hand at this time next year, but she's become too good of a player and too important to UK to get started on her professional career just yet. Just ask the person that Dill had to fill the shoes of.
"Getting the experience that she did last year and the consistent playing time has really helped her," Johnson said. "As she continues to get more experience and more reps, she's going to continue to grow. What you saw at the beginning of the season is a lot different than what you're seeing now. She's become a great hitter and is getting to a lot more balls.
"She's really coming out of her own shell."
Dill and the Wildcats face archrival Louisville on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the UK Softball Complex.
While Big Blue Nation remains on hold for the NBA Draft decisions of Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and even DeAndre Liggins, the annoucement that Doron Lamb will return for his sophomore season next year could have been nearly as important.
Although Lamb (12.3 scoring average) didn't put up quite the numbers that Knight (17.3) and Jones (15.7) did, his importance should not be overshadowed. On a team that was remarkably better at shooting the ball, Lamb was easily UK's top sharpshooter.
Lamb's 48.6 percent shooting from 3-point range was the highest mark since Cameron Mills drained 53.2 percent of his shots during the 1996-97 season. Lamb's 68 3-point field goals helped the team to the highest 3-point shooting mark (39.7 percent) in school history.
If Knight (37.7), Liggins (39.1) and Lamb were all to head to the pros, Kentucky would lose a lot of its identity -- its shooting power -- from last year. Sure, Darius Miller would be back and arguably John Calipari's greatest signing class would be on its way in, but next year's team would lack a bona fide shooting guard without Lamb.
As highly touted as Marquis Teague and Michael Gilchrist are, neither are known for their marksmanship. With the return of Lamb, Calipari will now have two solid scoring options from the perimeter, which should open up the interior for Anthony Davis, Kyle Wiltjer and Gilchrist.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes.
These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Apr. 17:
Softball: Chanda Bell
Junior Chanda Bell had an impressive performance in helping UK to a pair of wins over Tennessee Tech and run its season record to 31 wins. Bell suffered a minor injury earlier in the week and was held out of the Marshall series for precautionary reasons.
She entered the Tennessee Tech game in the top of the fifth to toss an inning of relief and help preserve the shutout. Bell threw just nine pitches - all strikes to sit down the Golden Eagles in order with three straight strikeouts.
The right-hander was called into duty in the nightcap of the doubleheader with UK trailing 2-1, with the bases loaded and one out in the third. Bell promptly entered the game and forced consecutive strikeouts to work her way out of the jam. She yielded her lone hit in the fourth frame as the Golden Eagles benefited from an error in the inning that would have ended the threat.
From there, however, Bell was unstoppable. She tossed the remaining six innings of extra-inning ball flawlessly. She did not allow a single base runner the rest of the way, and went on to throw 16 strikeouts - to match her own UK single-game high. She has now thrown 10 or more strikeouts in 32 career games. Her 19 strikeouts helped push her single-season total to 176, which is the third highest number for a single season in UK history (with Bell owning the first two spots as well).
Softball: Lauren Cumbess
Freshman Lauren Cumbess was a two-way threat for the Wildcats in helping lead UK to a 4-0 week. Cumbess was a game-changer at the plate and led the pitching staff with two wins on the week. At the dish, she batted .500, which included a game-tying single in the sixth inning. With UK trailing 3-2 to Tennessee Tech in the nightcap, Cumbess was inserted into the lineup in a pinch-hitting situation and delivered an RBI-single into left field to plate the game-tying run and help UK complete the eventual comeback. In the circle, Cumbess worked 9.0 innings of action on the week, earning two victories. She gave up under one hit an inning, while allowing just one walk and striking out seven. She teamed with relief pitcher Chanda Bell for her third shutout of the season in the opening win of the Tennessee Tech series.
Men's golf: Chase Parker
Sophomore Chase Parker saved his best day at the Southeastern Conference Championships for last, earning a 1-under-par 69 to finish the 54-hole tournament tied for 12th. The native of Augusta, Ga., had four birdies in the final round. Parker finished the tournament at 5-over-par 215 for his second consecutive top-22 showing at the SEC Championships.
Softball: Rachel Riley
Junior Rachel Riley was instrumental in leading UK to a 4-0 week and helping eclipse the 30-win plateau for the third consecutive season -a feat never before achieved in school history. Riley paced the team with a .538 batting average and three homers on the week. She currently owns a career-long hitting streak of six games and has reached base safely in eight straight contests.
In the nightcap of a doubleheader with Marshall, Riley became the fourth different UK player to hit two home runs in a single game with a pair of blasts in the first and sixth innings. Riley also earned the win on the mound in that game as she worked 5.0 innings of relief action to post her ninth victory of the season.
In the nightcap of a doubleheader with Tennessee Tech, Riley provided additional heroics for the Blue and White. With UK trailing 3-1, Riley came up with her third home run of the week to bridge the game to just one run with the solo shot in the fourth frame. Riley's six homers on the season is a new career-best in that category. Riley has also bested her career-highs in runs scored, hits, doubles, RBI, total bases and walks in her junior campaign.
Men's tennis: Anthony Rossi
Completed Kentucky's come-from-behind win against No. 29 Vanderbilt in its regular-season finale by posting a comeback win at No. 5 singles in a three-set tiebreaker. With UK trailing 3-1, the Wildcats earned three consecutive points with Rossi finishing off the Commodores by winning the third-set tiebreaker 7-4. The win continued Rossi's undefeated streak in Southeastern Conference play. The Frenchmen is now 8-0 this season against SEC foes.
On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, two of the players that Knight seemed to categorize among the "five players in the NCAA Tournament games that had not been to class that semester," also responded to Knight's comments.
Patrick Patterson, now with the Houston Rockets, first fired back at Knight via Twitter by saying, "Ha, I'm not even gonna comment on such (expletive) (excuse my French) think me graduating & teammates GPA's speak for themselves.. don't u?"
Patterson's agent, Odell McCants of Capitol Sports Management, then had the following official response:
"On April 16 in a speech made in Wabash, Indiana, Bob Knight made a blatantly erroneous comment that "Kentucky, year before last, started five players in the NCAA Tournament games that had not been to class that semester". My client, Patrick Patterson was a member of that team. What made Mr. Knight's comment offensive is the fact that Patrick not only finished that spring semester in good standing, but reached the highest level of academic achievement by graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Communications. This achievement, for which Patrick and his family are proud, was accomplished in just three years. Patrick was not a "one and done" player, as Mr. Knight also incorrectly stated that all five starters on that team were."
DeMarcus Cousins, with the Sacramento Kings, took to Twitter as well to respond to the Knight's comments.
"All respect Coach Knight but I went to my spring classes at UK and finished out strong good gpa even after declaring for draft," Cousins said.
He followed with another tweet that said, "Hope you correct your statement!"
Speaking Saturday at the Honeywell Center in Wabash, Ind., former Indiana coaching legend Bob Knight made some critical comments directed at John Calipari and the Kentucky men's basketball program. Knight's comments were part of a lecture in which he outlined his coaching career from the beginning to the present day.
Asked by an audience member if Calipari was good for college basketball, Knight said, "I'm sure if I was a Kentucky fan I would." When the crowd member said, "You don't believe that," Knight responded, "I'm not a Kentucky fan."
Knight's comments then turned from critical to scornful.
When Knight described his greatest thrill in coaching, which he said was graduating student-athletes, he took another swipe at Kentucky by talking about "a situation in college basketball" that bothers him "beyond anything that's ever bothered" him in his coaching career.
"Kentucky, year before last, started five players in the NCAA Tournament games that had not been to class that semester," Knight said.
Knight called it "that one-and-done philosophy" in describing a current college basketball atmosphere that lacks integrity.
Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart took obvious exception to Knight's comments and delivered an official response Monday.
"The University of Kentucky, our student-athletes and their families take great offense to the blatantly erroneous comments made by Bob Knight that 'Kentucky, year before last, started five players in the NCAA Tournament games that had not been to class that semester,' " Barnhart said in a statement. "Academic performance has always been a priority at UK and it's unfortunate that, although every starter from the 2010 season finished the spring semester in good academic standing, these myths exist. Our men's basketball team's (Academic Progress Rate) score reflects our attention to academic progress and our student-athletes take great pride in representing the University of Kentucky on and off the floor."
Saturday's comments were not the first time Knight has ripped Calipari. In 2009, Knight questioned the integrity of college basketball by using Calipari as an example.
Calipari took the high road after those comments a year and a half ago.
"I'm a big fan," Calipari said in December 2009. "I respect (Bob Knight) as a basketball coach; always have. I don't agree with what he said, but it doesn't change how I feel about him."
It's a little quiet today, but here are a few stray notes for a spring Monday.
- Another week has passed and we are still waiting on NBA Draft decisions by Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and DeAndre Liggins. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is next Tuesday (April 24), so word could come at any day.
Jones and Knight are both projected lottery picks according to most experts and their standing in the draft improved just a bit more when North Carolina swing man Harrison Barnes opted to return to Chapel Hill, N.C., for his sophomore season. Barnes was a near lock to be a top-five pick, so Knight and Jones can expect to be drafted another spot higher if they enter. Although Barnes' decision to return does improve the stock of other draftees, his return also indicates the uncertainty that the looming lockout has injected into this process.
Last week, it was also announced that a mass draft workout would be held on May 7-8 in New Jersey. Underclassmen that declare for the draft have until May 8 to opt to return to school, provided they do not hire agents, so keep that in mind.
- Many of you may not be the biggest NBA fans, but there was some very entertaining basketball the past couple days in the opening round of the playoffs and a number of former Wildcats figured into the drama.
- Rajon Rondo (10 points, nine assists, nine rebounds) helped his Boston Celtics complete an 87-85 comeback win over the New York Knicks - Nazr Mohammed played quality defensive minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder's win over the Denver Nuggets - Jodie Meeks of the Philadelphia 76ers scored nine points in a 97-89 loss to the Miami Heat - Keith Bogans and the Chicago Bulls notched a 104-99 win over the Indiana Pacers
Turns out the Pacers interim coach is Frank Vogel, who was a student manager under Pitino at UK. Vogel was a transfer from Juniata College in Huntington, Pa., who also played on the junior varsity at Kentucky. He also graduated from UK
When Rick Pitino left for the Boston Celtics in 1997, Vogel went along as his head video coordinator and had positions with the Sixers, Lakers and Wizards before earning an opportunity with the Pacers in January.
Brett Dawson, now with the Courier-Journal in Louisville, wrote a feature on Vogel when he was a student reporter with the Kentucky Kernel in the 1990s.
- The No. 13 men's tennis team closed out regular-season play with a thrilling come-from-behind victory against No. 29 Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. With the win, UK nailed down the No. 3 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which begins this week in Gainesville, Fla.
With the third seed, UK received a first-round bye and will face the winner of South Carolina and Auburn on Friday. Kentucky has played and won a number of close matches all season and will look to continue its success in post-season play.
- After being swept at the hands of Georgia last weekend, UK softball got back on track with four wins this past week over Marshall and Tennessee Tech. There's another busy week ahead as UK will host Eastern Kentucky and Louisville before traveling to play South Carolina.
Midweek games at this point in the season lose their luster a bit as conference play heats up, but this week's showdown against archrival Louisville is an exception. Coach Rachel Lawson has guided UK to unprecedented success in recent years, but the Wildcats have dropped eight straight against the Cardinals, with the last win coming in 2007. There will be plenty on the line on Wednesday in Lexington when the two get together.
- It was another rough weekend for UK baseball in Oxford, Miss., as the Wildcats were swept in three more close games to send them to 2-13 in SEC play, last in the conference. However, 15 games remain in conference play.
The goal remains to qualify for the SEC Tournament and UK must finish eighth or higher to do so. If the season ended today, Auburn would be the final team to make it to Hoover, Ala., and the Tigers are five games in front of UK at 7-8. As always in the SEC, the road is tough. In their final five conference series, the Wildcats will face No. 21 Arkansas, LSU, No. 4 Vanderbilt, Georgia and No. 5 Florida.
Time remains for the Wildcats to turn it around, but the hole is getting deeper and deeper.
- Only a couple of spring football practices remain, meaning the annual Blue/White Game is coming up. Full details on Saturday's 3 p.m. game at Commonwealth Stadium can be found here, but one important detail to note: Because of some injuries and depth chart concern at certain positions, the coaching staff has decided to make the Blue/White Game offense vs. defense instead of a standard game format. Details on the scoring system will be released later this week.
Softball - With a 4-0 week the No. 18 Kentucky softball team eclipsed the 30-win plateau for the third consecutive season, a feat never achieved before in school history. - Junior Rachel Riley blasted two home runs in the nightcap of a sweep of Marshall. She became the fourth different UK player to hit two long balls in a single outing. Riley also picked up the win in the circle, working 5.0 innings of relief. - Junior Brittany Cervantes hit two home runs this week to run her season total to 13. She is now just two round trippers shy of breaking Molly Johnson's career home run record. - Junior hurler Chanda Bell worked 8.2 innings of action over the Tennessee Tech series. She threw 19 strikeouts, including 16 in a victory during the second game to match her own single-game record in that category. - Freshman Lauren Cumbess secured the win in the circle in the opening game of the TTU series. She then delivered a game-tying RBI single in the sixth inning to help UK force extra innings to set the stage for senior Samantha DeMartine's walk-off homer in the 10th in the nightcap.
Men's tennis - Kentucky completed another come-from-behind victory Saturday at No. 29 Vanderbilt, coming back to grab a 4-3 win in its regular-season finale against the Commodores in Nashville, Tenn. With the win, Kentucky clinched the No. 3 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Gainesville, Fla. The Wildcats will receive a bye in the first round before facing either South Carolina or Auburn on Friday morning at 9 ET. - The win moves the Wildcats to 5-1 on the road in SEC play and 8-4 overall away from home. The win moves UK to 14-7 against teams ranked in the top 50 this season. Kentucky's 8-3 record in SEC play marks the second consecutive year that UK has posted eight SEC wins. UK has also earned a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament in back-to-back seasons. - Kentucky posted the win over Vandy after four solid singles wins from No. 3 Eric Quigley, No. 56 Alex Musialek, No. 88 Alberto Gonzalez and No. 117 Anthony Rossi. Quigley paced the Wildcats by taking down a top-30 ranked player, while Rossi clinched the match in a three-set thriller.
Baseball - The Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week on Sunday, highlighted by a win at No. 28 Louisville on Tuesday night. The Wildcats traveled to Ole Miss for the weekend series, with the Rebels sweeping the series. - UK fell in the three-game series at Ole Miss by a combined four runs, with two one-run losses and a two-run loss on Saturday. - The Wildcats have been led offensively by senior shortstop Taylor Black, who has batted .346 with 12 doubles, two triples, one homer and 24 RBI, stealing 10 bases. - On the mound, Alex Meyer (3-5, 3.59 ERA) leads UK in innings pitched (62.2) and strikeouts (71), tossing nine starts and two complete games.
Track and field - Senior Keenan Hall was awarded the Tony Wilson Memorial Trophy for being the most outstanding male field athlete during the meet. Hall won the men's triple jump with a personal-best mark of 15.56-meter/51-00.7 and finished second in the long jump at 7.46m/24-05.75. - Senior Sharif Webb won the 800m run with a time of 1:49.32, marking his second victory in two chances this season, after winning with a school-record and SEC-leading time of 1:47.19 at the Florida Relays. - Freshman Allison Peare posted a career-best time of 2:09.64 in the 800m to take fourth, drawing closer to the freshman school record of 2:06.47, set in 1986. - Senior Colin Boevers claimed two top-five finishes during the meet, collecting third in the discus and fourth in the shot put. Boevers, an All-America honoree in the discus throw last year, threw 53.44m/175-04 to capture the bronze. In the shot put, the senior made a long toss of 15.97m/52-04.75 to grab fourth. - Junior Precious Nwokey rounded out her first heptathlon competition in 2011 as the second-place finisher with 5,309 points. Nwokey holds the school record in the event with a total score of 5,543.
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team finished the SEC Championships in ninth place after sophomore Chase Parker and freshman Stephen Powers each finished in the top 20. - Parker shot a 1-under-par 69 in the final round to end the 54-hole tournament tied for 12th, while Powers earned his second consecutive top-22 finish by ending his first SEC Championship appearance tied for 19th. - Kentucky concludes the 2010-11 season with four top-three finishes as a team, increasing the total number of top-three finishes under 10-year head coach Brian Craig to 35. Individually, UK players earned 14 top-20 finishes during the year, including Belden who had a team-high five top-20 finishes.
Women's golf - Kentucky finished 10th in the SEC Women's Golf Championships. - Sophomore Betsie Johnson led UK with a 10-over par 226 to finish in 23rd place individually. - Johnson found success on Auburn University Club's four par 5 holes. The Nicholasville, Ky., native was 3-under par on the par 5s. - UK will learn if it has been invited to the NCAA Championships on a conference call on April 25 at 6 p.m. ET.
Women's tennis - The Cats fell to No. 18 Vanderbilt 5-2 on Senior Day Saturday. Megan Broderick, Lauren Meier and Nicole Scates were recognized on Senior Day. - Broderick won a thrilling match over No. 76 Alex Leatu in her final match at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. - Sophomore Jessica Stiles turned in the most dominating performance of her collegiate career with a straight sets 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 2 singles. Stiles' win was her 10th singles victory this season, the most on the team and her fourth conference win. - The Cats are the No. 10 seed in the SEC Tournament and will face No. 7 seed LSU in the opening round in Knoxville, Tenn., on Thursday.
Tuesday, April 19 Softball hosts Eastern Kentucky - 4 p.m. Baseball at Western Kentucky - 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 20 Softball hosts Louisville - 6 p.m.
Thursday, April 21 Women's tennis vs. LSU - 6 p.m. (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Friday, April 22 Men's tennis vs. South Carolina/Auburn - 9 a.m. (Gainesville, Fla.) Baseball hosts Arkansas - 6:30 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 7 p.m. Track and field at UCSD Triton Invitational (La Jolla, Calif.) Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Satruday, April 23 Football hosts Blue/White Spring Game - 3 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 4 p.m. Baseball hosts Arkansas - 7 p.m. Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Knoxville, Tenn.) Men's tennis at SEC Tournament (Gainesville, Fla.) Track and field at UCSD Triton Invitational (La Jolla, Calif.) Track and field at Jesse Owens Invitational (Columbus, Ohio)
Sunday, April 24 Baseball hosts Arkansas - 1 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 1 p.m. Women's tennis at SEC Tournament (Knoxville, Tenn.) Men's tennis at SEC Tournament (Gainesville, Fla.) Track and field at Jesse Owens Invitational (Columbus, Ohio)
Kentucky signee Anthony Davis shined once again at one of the premier high school all-star games. Davis totaled 29 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks for the West All-Americans in a 113-109 loss to the East All-Americans at the Jordan Brand Classic game Saturday night. Davis earned co-MVP honors for the performance.
Unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful in finding a box score for the game anywhere, so stats have been hard to come by. Based on the reports that I could find, UK signees Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague scored 12 points and 14 points, respectively.
With six tight ends on the depth chart in spring practice, the Kentucky football coaching staff is trying to look at the competition with a view that you can never have too much of a good thing.
The Cats entered the spring with seven tight ends, five of which have received prior playing time. Highly touted tight end Alex Smith was dismissed from the program a week ago for a violation of team rules, but that still leaves UK with a surplus of six players.
After nearly four weeks of spring football practice, no one has emerged as the favorite to win the job, but it's not for the wrong reasons. With so many players competing for just one position, the competition has forced everyone to step up their game.
"Only the best can play," tight ends coach Greg Nord said. "Those guys go out there and know that they have to work hard every day or they'll just get bypassed."
When the competition is all said and done and head coach Joker Phillips has to choose a starter in the fall, there's little doubt the victor of the competition will be a valuable asset in the passing game and the blocking scheme.
"What it's going to produce out of this competition of tight ends is a winner," Nick Melillo said. "Whoever comes out of it, you're going to be a winner, you're going to be tough and you're going to fight to the end no matter what."
If there are two or three guys that have separated themselves from the pack, Melillo would certainly have to be considered in that group. The lone senior of the competition, Melillo is probably the most dangerous receiving threat as a former wide receiver.
It was just two springs ago that Melillo, a transfer from Lindenwood, was the star of the Blue/White Spring Game, where he caught two touchdown passes. Melillo switched to tight end that offseason and went on to grab five passes for 44 yards as sophomore.
That experience, along with an established ability to catch the ball and some added size, made Melillo the guy at tight end heading into last year. A high ankle sprain, however, forced Melillo to miss the first half of the 2010 season.
"I don't know if he was ever well last year," Nord said. "He hurt himself in two-a-days and never really bounced back totally."
When he returned for the final seven games, he caught just one ball as he struggled to crack a crowded position group while recovering from a nagging injury.
"It was definitely frustrating," Melillo said. "I played pretty much every single game my sophomore year and then coming in my junior year I had the spot locked down. Stuff happens. It's a physical game. Everything is not always perfect and you have to take things in stride. Even though I wasn't able to play on the field, I tried to stay as mentally focused and positive for the younger guys around me. Being the oldest guy, I feel like the leader of the tight end group."
The misfortune of the injury, coincided with a return to a position now abundant with players and talent, never made Melillo second guess or regret his switch to tight end.
"I'm very confident in my athletic ability," Melillo said. "I'm confident playing this position. Competition doesn't scare me or bother me. I'm competing with a bunch of my brothers. It's honestly fun. The best part about the competition with all these guys is, in my mind I'm going to emerge on top, but the competition is what is getting me better. If you're not competing, you're going to stay stagnant and not change."
Despite the ongoing battle to lock down a spot at tight end, Melillo said the group has bonded.
"We're not just a group of tight ends but a group of brothers," Melillo said.
If Melillo is one of the favorites to win the job, so too are sophomores Tyler Robinson and Jordan Aumiller. Robinson, a physical beast at 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, caught 11 balls last year for 80 yards and one touchdown. Aumiller had the best numbers of the entire group with 18 receptions, 193 yards and a touchdown en route to Southeastern Conference All-Freshman honors.
Robinson, however, has battled hand injuries this spring, and Aumiller lost playing time as the season wore on as he struggled to block against the bigger defenders of the SEC.
"He does everything I ask," Nord said of Aumiller. "The thing he's always got to battle and continue to improve on is his strength. A lot of times it's just been his physical strength that has gotten him into trouble. As he continues working in the weight room and he continues getting better, he'll have more success."
The sleeper in the group is sophomore Anthony Kendrick, who picked up significant playing time late last year. At 6-3, 261 pounds, no one in the cluster of tight ends possesses the frame Kendrick can boast.
"You don't realize how big he is," Nord said. "All of a sudden you get up on him and he's a big guy."
The coaching staff is trying to transform the excess of tight ends into an advantage, implementing more two tight end packages this spring. With question marks at wide receiver at running back, the tight end position could be utilized and valued more than it has been since the days of Jacob Tamme.
"We've got a lot of guys that we're going to be counting on at receiver getting ready for the prom right now," Nord said. "We've got a couple of running backs that are in the same position, so right now is a good time to get these tight ends going and learning two tight end formations and different schemes we'll be doing."
Ideally, Nord said he'd like for one or two of the guys to emerge atop the pack by the fall, but having too much of a good thing is never a bad idea.
"I'd like to have the best guy in America," Nord said. "I'd like to have one All-American and two guys behind him that know what they're doing and can go in there. If you don't, you want a bunch of guys that know the offense, that can compete and can go play at this level and win games."
With 12 former Wildcats on NBA rosters for the 2010-11 season, it has been a busy year for Kentucky fans following UK alumni at the next level. The regular season ended on Wednesday, so let's take a look at how the Cats did.
With the Big Three aging, this was the season that Rondo took over the mantle as Boston's best player. He responded by finishing second in the NBA in both assists and steals per game ... and third in jersey popularity. The Louisville native got off to a blistering start, posting mind-boggling assist totals and leading the Celtics to a 23-4 opening to the season.
It wasn't all smooth sailing though as Rondo dealt with a number of injuries throughout the year. Additionally, the Celtics made a midseason trade that sent Kendrick Perkins, Rondo's best friend on the team, to Oklahoma City. After the trade, Rondo and his team had their share of struggles and Boston stumbled to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Rondo bounced back at the end of the season, scoring 20 or more points in three of his final eight games and dishing 13 or more assists four times. Rondo rested for the Celtics' final two regular season games to prepare for a first round series against the rival Knicks that begins on Sunday.
John Wall, Washington Wizards (16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals)
If not for some guy named Blake Griffin, Wall would be the third consecutive John Calipari-coached point guard to earn Rookie of the Year honors. Nevertheless, Wall injected energy into a franchise that desperately needed it. No rookie was asked to do more for his team than the former UK point guard, and Wall consistently delivered.
Like Rondo, Wall dealt with injury, specifically a balky knee that forced him to miss 12 games in November and December. He recovered nicely, though, playing in all but one of the Wizards' games after that. Wall earned Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for the final four months of the season.
Wall's confidence in his shot grew as the season wore on (he shot a season-high 45.4 percent from the field in April) as he occupied a vital leadership role for the still lottery-bound Wizards. Who knows, maybe help will come this offseason in the form of another Kentucky Wildcat in the draft.
With Yao Ming again, who was sidelined due to injury, Chuck Hayes was the Rockets' starting center. Entering this year, Hayes was known as a defensive stopper and rebounder, but he turned in a career year in 2010-11, setting career highs in basically every major statistical category. Hayes also had his first triple-double in a March win over the Golden State Warriors.
You don't see too many 6-foot-6 starting centers in the NBA, so Hayes' success is a testament to his hard work, strength and smarts.
At times this season, Cousins looked like the most dominant rookie in the NBA. At other times, he disappeared. Even so, the Kings are excited to have the big man as a part of their future, wherever the team ends up playing.
Cousins' season of highs and lows was encapsulated by his final two games. Against Oklahoma City and Kendrick Perkins, one of the best post defenders in the NBA, Cousins was unstoppable. He scored 30 points in 35 minutes and got to the foul line an astounding 21 times, hitting 18. In his final game, Cousins scored just six points in 14 minutes because of an ejection.
Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons (14.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists)
In spite of trade rumors, team turmoil and a putrid Piston season, Prince turned in another solid year. He was second on the team in scoring and continued his play as one of the more respected perimeter defenders in the NBA. Even though the Pistons had little to play for, Prince showed up every night, playing 78 of 82 games.
Prince has had a great career with the Pistons, but they are in major rebuilding mode. Here's hoping that Tayshaun gets another chance to play for a contender. Jodie Meeks, Philadelphia 76ers (10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 39.7 3-point percent)
After a rookie season during which he was traded and never found a regular rotation spot, Meeks broke out in his second year for the playoff-bound Sixers.
Early in the year, it looked like Meeks was in for another year of praying for playing time. He didn't make it off the bench the team's first six games, but Doug Collins finally realized that a sharpshooter like Meeks needed to be playing. Meeks started all of the Sixers' final 64 games and became a deadly 3-point threat.
Meeks ran into a bit of shooting slump in April, but he'll look to get back on track as the Sixers open a first round matchup with the Miami Heat on Saturday.
Patrick Patterson, Houston Rockets (6.3 points, 3.9 rebounds)
The Houston Rockets are well known for bringing rookies along slowly and methodically, so the fact that they sent Patrick Patterson down to the D-League early this season should not have come as a shock. However, Patterson was patient and eventually got his his chance. He saw his first extended action on New Year's Eve and responded with a double-double.
Patterson continued to work his way into Rick Adelman's rotation and was a consistent performer by the end of the season, starting the team's final three games alongside fellow former Cat Chuck Hayes.
In league circles, Patterson is known as one of the top rookies in the league even though other newcomers may have put up bigger numbers. His emergence has put the Rockets in a position of needing to figure out a way to get him on the floor, potentially by trading other members of a crowded front court.
Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers (6.7 points, 3.6 assists, 2.8 rebounds)
Bledsoe was thrust into significant playing time much earlier than anticipated due to injuries and he played well when he got his chance. The rookie point guard later returned to a reserve role, but continued to show the promise that prompted the Clippers to trade for him during last year's draft. Bledsoe had some big statistical games and a number of highlight reel plays and has a bright future ahead of him.
Keith Bogans, Chicago Bulls (4.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists)
Bogans did not have the biggest statistical season, but he has the distinction of playing and starting all 82 games for the team with the best record in the NBA. The Bulls ask him to play between 15-20 minutes a night and they rely on him for solid defense and his ability to knock down open shots. Bogans' Bulls open their playoff run against the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
Nazr Mohammed, Oklahoma City Thunder (7.1 points, 4.9 rebounds)
In one of the busiest trade seasons in NBA history, Mohammed was the only former Cat to change teams. He had the good fortune of moving to the Thunder, a team with a legitimate chance to advance in the playoffs. The 13-year veteran continues to serve as a reliable big man, playing 17 quality minutes a game for the Thunder and Charlotte Bobcats. Oklahoma City play the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs beginning on Sunday night. Jamaal Magloire, Miami Heat (1.9 points, 3.4 rebounds)
Magloire did not occupy a major role for the Heat this season, playing in just 18 of 82 games. However, in the team's final regular season game with many starters resting, Magloire played 29 minutes and grabbed an astounding 19 rebounds. With how desperately the Heat need a rebounding post presence, maybe Magloire will get his chance in the playoffs. Daniel Orton, Orlando Magic (did not play)
Orton did not play a game all of this NBA season due to a knee injury. He played in two NBDL games, but it was determined that surgery would be performed on his knee that would end his year.
- ESPN Insider ranked the best rookies in the 2010-11 NBA class, and, of course, a few Kentucky guys were honored for their efforst this year. John Wall (Washington Wizards) was named to the all-rookie first team while DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) and Patrick Patterson (Houston Rockets) were tabbed to the second team. ESPN lists all three among its five players with the most upside with Wall topping the list. Here's a link to the full story. Since it's a subscription service, here's a small nugget on what ESPN had to say about Patterson:
When Patterson put his name in the draft in 2010, I considered him an upgraded version of Udonis Haslem, but he's been better than that. I'm impressed with how much his game has grown in just a few months, and Houston fans can recognize some of Luis Scola's signature moves being done by a much taller and quicker Patterson.
As it stands now, he'll be a very good sixth man for a talented Houston team, or the Rockets will move him for more assets and he can start somewhere else for years to come.
- Pretty interesting story from Chip Cosby in the Lexington Herald-Leader a couple of days ago on linebacker Danny Trevathan. Apparently Trevathan was a lot closer to leaving for the NFL than people thought. As Trevathan explains, "I was gone, man. I was out of here." Check out the full story here.
As the Kentucky men's tennis program prepares for its final regular-season match of the year, UK is appears to be on the brink of a third straight top-15 finish, a third consecutive season of hosting a regional and a 17th postseason appearance in the last 18 years.
Yes, the 13th-ranked Kentucky men's tennis program is used to the kind of season it's enjoying this year. UK is 23-7 on the season and will likely finish in third place in the always-tough Southeastern Conference.
It's nothing new for head coach Dennis Emery, who took over the program in the 1980s and has methodically built it into one of the country's most consistent powers.
However, Emery hasn't done it all by himself. Throughout the years he's had some of the finest assistant coaches, many who have gone on to take head coaching positions at other schools. When his latest assistant , Greg Van Emburgh, left the program after the 2005 season to become the head coach at Wisconsin, Emery needed a replacement who could help him maintain the consistent success that has defined the program for decades.
The choice was a no-brainer. Emery called former star Cedric Kauffmann.
"I had a short list of one," Emery said of his decision to go with Kauffmann in 2006. "If I had to go to two, I'm not sure who else it would have been. I always had it in the back of my mind that Cedric could eventually end up here when he was done playing."
Kauffmann was the natural choice in part because of his impact on the program as a player. He was a three-time All-American from 1996-98, finished among the nation's top 10 singles players each season and was ranked a career-best No. 2 in 1997.
The Montsoult, France, native went on to a five-year professional career on the ATP Tennis Tour, reaching No. 170 in the world rankings.
Kauffmann ended up in Cincinnati after his playing career ended at a club called Five Seasons. He never thought about going into coaching - his plans were to go into finance - but when Emery called, Kauffmann figured he would give it a shot at his alma mater.
After a rough season in 2006, UK returned to one of the country's elite programs. There are a ton of factors that have been involved in the consistent success - namely players like Bruno Agostinelli and Eric Quigley and Emery's coaching - but one factor that Emery thinks goes unnoticed is the influence of Kauffmann.
While Emery is still in charge of the grand picture of the program, Kauffmann has become an integral part of the team, especially since Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart named him associate head coach prior to the 2010 season.
Kauffmann is known as a young coach with a lot of energy, emotion and enthusiasm that the players feed off of.
"The thing that I like what he's able to do is he's able to relate his experiences to the players," Emery said. "As a top collegiate player and a professional player, he's able to relate those game styles to them. Cedric was kind of an aggressive baseline player who built his game around his service return. He's able to teach people how to play the way he played. The other thing he does well is, because he played the way he played, he's able to teach people this is the way you beat people."
What Kauffmann will say more bluntly than what Emery was trying to say was Kauffmann wasn't blessed physically on the tennis court. The way Kauffmann explains it, he had to outsmart his opponents to beat them.
"I had a little bit of talent, but I think I used my brain more than other players who were more talented than me," Kauffmann said. "I had to know the game well enough to beat players that were better than me. I used that and gave that to (my players). If we can catch some talented players like Eric and Alex (Musialek) and teach them how to play the game, we can get them to the next level."
Relating to players seems like a necessity more than a bonus for coaches. But Kauffmann, whether it's because of his young age or playing experience, has a way of communicating with his players a little better than most coaches.
"It's invaluable," Emery said. "Teaching people how to see the court is invaluable at this level where it becomes so fast."
He's passionate while being down to earth, Emery said.
"I went through what they're going through," Kauffmann said. "I don't think I was a very good pro, but I was a pro, so I think they say, 'OK, how can you help me or what do I need to do to get to the next level?' "
Kauffmann's footprint on the recruiting trail has also been pretty irreplaceable. Three Frenchmen (Musialek, Anthony Rossi and Tom Jomby) make up UK's 13-man roster, a big reason because of Kauffmann.
As a native of France, Kauffmann has a proven record of jumping overseas and finding success in America. That international connection is extremely important in a collegiate sport that knows no continental boundary.
"He's the key to getting those guys," Emery admitted. "The parents want to know that their young student-athlete that they're sending to another country, there's going to be someone that cares for them in a special way. There's a special bond there (being from the same country)."
Kauffmann said he had a lot of learning to do when he entered the coaching profession in 2006. He said he leaned a lot on what he learned at his club job in Cincinnati and watched Emery from afar.
What helped Kauffmann the most was Emery's willingness to let Kauffmann grow into the job. Both split the day-to-day duties pretty evenly. Although there is a built-in hierarchy of a coach-assistant relationship, Kauffmann has a large influence in practices and on-court adjustments.
Kauffmann said he knows Emery is his boss, but Emery makes them feel like they're equals.
"I'm not a control freak," Emery said. "I give my assistants a lot of freedom as they earn it. I'm not afraid to let them make mistakes. That's the way I developed. They have a lot of freedom to develop their coaching style. I'm not looking for a clone. I'm looking for someone to be the best they can be."
Much like a player's development, one of a coach's proudest moments is watching his assistants move on to bigger and better things as head coaches. Emery believes that day is coming soon for Kauffmann.
Although Emery doesn't appear to be ready to leave his post at Kentucky, Kauffmann could be a future candidate as his successor. Either way, Kauffmann said he's in no rush.
"Right now I'm very comfortable," Kauffmann said. "If it happens in the next couple of years or the next decade, it will happen. I'm pretty patient. Sometimes people rush into titles. I will wait for my opportunity. I hope it is at Kentucky. If it's not, Kentucky is still in my heart."
Head coach John Calipari sat down for a roundtable interview with some local reporters on Wednesday to wrap up the 2010-11 season, talk about the upcoming NBA Draft and next year's freshman class. Here is part two of the complete Q and A with Calipari:
Question: Do you expect NBA opportunities for yourself and where do you stand on those things if they arise? Calipari: The good news is they can't say I'm taking other college jobs, which my whole career they've been saying. I wasn't involved with the North Carolina State (job), the Georgia Tech, the Missouri, the Arkansas. Any job that was open (in the past) I was involved in, which I wasn't, but that would be out there. Now it's only pro jobs. Part of it is to try to screw up your recruiting. I laughed when the rumors came out. I said, 'You're not screwing up our recruiting. We already have the kids signed.' Those rumors are going to be out there. I've got a great job. I've got one of the best in our sport. I can't stop the rumors. I just don't deal with them.
Question: Granted it hasn't been a whole lot of time, but there has been a little bit of separation from the end of the year. How do you look back on how this season played out and is there any sense of a bounce here, a bounce there and things could have been different? Calipari: I won't. Maybe this summer I'll kick back, but I probably won't. I never look back on any of the years I've coached. I really haven't. I just move on to the next one. Right now I'm spending 80 percent of my time talking with NBA teams trying to figure out how we're going to do this to get these guys the best information, so I have not thought about that. I'll say this and I said it to the team after: What a rewarding year for all of us; for a team to come together like they did; for a group of veterans who were never thrown into the situation to perform like they did on that stage. Now, the lights got bright the last game for them. But, up until that point, those veterans were ridiculous. For young guys to accept veterans, for veterans to accept the young guys, for us to play six guys and do what we did and be a couple of road wins away from like, 'Oh my god, look at their gaudy ..." Every game we played down the stretch was an NCAA Tournament team, even Alabama, who should have been an NCAA Tournament team.
Question: There is still some movement, coaching carousel wise. Would you expect any of your guys to have opportunities at this point to move on? Calipari: I don't know. I would tell you within the next year, if not two, we'll probably have a rollover; guys getting jobs and having opportunities. But you're at Kentucky. You don't just leave this for any other job. These guys, yeah, you'll leave another job to go to another assistant's job, but they're at the place that now you make sure whatever job you're getting is a great opportunity.
Question: Even among head coaching jobs you want them to be choosy? Calipari: Yeah. That doesn't mean leave now. Like someone says, 'What's a good Division I job?' When you're in this profession it's one you can get. That's a good Division I job. A great Division I job is one of the top two or three jobs in any league. It doesn't matter the league. If it's one of the top two or three jobs, you're going to win at a high level and then you'll have opportunities to make that you're next job - right where you are - or have an opportunity to move. It doesn't matter if it's the OVC. Is it the best job in that league? If it's a great job, go for it. If it's the worst job in the OVC, it's a good job. It's a Division I job, but it's not a great job.
Question: You've got four guys coming in next year and you could have four guys coming back. You usually say you want seven guys playing, but you could have nine guys next year that could see lots of action. Calipari: I played guys too many minutes this year. I had no choice. You don't play guys 40, 39 minutes. I had no choice. So what happens is their efficiency slips greatly. You saw Brandon at the end of the (UConn) game. You want to play guys anywhere from 29-32 minutes. Their efficiency becomes really high. Now, you want to know how they are judged at the next level? How am I going to judge you if you are playing 39 minutes and he is playing 28? How do I judge you? Well, he is getting only 14 points and you are getting 17. But you are playing 39 minutes and he is playing 28. How do I judge you? It's all based on per minute and it's all based on efficiency. How many rebounds per minute, how many baskets per minute; that's what they do. And what I have told these guys is that, yeah, their numbers are up, but their efficiency isn't what it could have been. So, I don't see that as a problem. I have had teams here where I have played a lot of guys. It will be better for everybody. Practices will be wars. We may be one of the first teams to get six first-round draft picks. No, we will be the first. That is the least of my worries. We will have guys like Anthony Davis who will do whatever I ask him to do. Those kids want to be part of a winning program, and they want to be coached and challenged. They want to play now. The ego is 'I want to play 40 minutes,' or 'I want all the shots.' I don't deal well with that. You guys have watched me coach. That doesn't come into play.
Question: Is Anthony Davis a guy who can fill the middle for you physically? Calipari: He is like Marcus Camby. I played Marcus wherever I needed to play him. All I know is that per minute, he will probably lead the country in blocked shots. Per minute. Whatever his (blocks) per minute is in the country, it will be number one in the country. Now that is good for your defense. We will probably press a lot more next year. We are going to play a little different. We will probably go back to a little more dribble-drive than I have done in the last couple of years because of the numbers and the guys that we have. Probably, depending on Brandon, more pick-and-roll hand-offs, sticking with the dribble-drive. But, you know, it will be a different type of team. We won't look like this team.
Question: What do you like about Kyle Wiltjer? Calipari: Well, you can trail him in the break. If he takes it out and trails and you throw it back to him, he shoots 3s. You stretch out their defense. You run more pick-and-pops. It doesn't need to be a pick-and-roll, it can just be a pick-and-pop. You throw it back and he will make a 3. He does that running hook, too. So now we are doing the dribble-drive and the starting point is nine, 10 feet, square up and hit the running hook. How do you defend that? He is a great passer. Someone may say 'Well he hurt's you defensively.' Yeah, but if you have a bunch of guys blocking shots, you can beat them on the dribble and two guys come out of nowhere. I remember the team we had two years ago. We had two guys blocking balls. We would look around like holy cow. What he does, we just have to figure out where he plugs into the whole scheme of things. But I will tell you this: He is talented and he is skilled. He is a great player. He is a great kid, hard worker.
Question: Do you think there is an NBA future for Josh Harrellson? Calipari: I do, but he is going to have to, right now, refocus and go right back into basketball. We need him to Twitter something so I can get back on him. He needs to shift gears. It has to be all basketball from now on. This has been fun. You are at Kentucky. Now, everybody is all over him and I love it for him. This is the first time in his life. Now, why are they all over you? Because you really played basketball well. That's the only reason. Other than that, (the fans) wouldn't be the same, so make sure you understand why it is the way it is, because you performed on that court. Now get out there and do it again. I think he will be fine. I'm happy for him. I have had more people say they have never seen a player improve like him before. I am proud of that. I say it again: It wasn't what I did to him. It's what he had no choice to do. And he changed everything about him. It's a great lesson. I will use him as an example for the rest of my coaching career. Don't complain to me about playing. If your body doesn't change, your skill set doesn't change, if your attitude, habits don't change, you're not playing. You want to play? Change. It's easy.
Question: Does Josh Harrellson have a place in the NBA right now? Calipari: I think he does. But again, only one team has to like you, and you only have to fit for one team. There may be 20 teams that say no, but it only takes one team. It's the same thing in the draft. They say, 'Well, he is in the top 12.' Well, one of those 12 has to take you. 'Well, he is at 19.' 'Really?' 'Well, what if they like you at nine?' It's the same for him. We have to figure out what teams like him. The kid rebounds, he shoots better than you think, he is a load down there. There are a lot of those in the league.
Question: You talked about Anthony's defensive ability and you've praised Michael Gilchrist in the past for his defense. How rare it is for high school player to be defensively ready for the NCAA level? Calipari: "Well, the shot blocking is what Anthony does. I think Marquis (Teague) can be a great on-ball defender because of his size and toughness. Michael is like having another DeAndre, only he is 6-7, 6-8. Then we have two guys going like this (claps). Not just one; you've got two. Normally, it two do it, it will lead to another couple saying, 'This is how we play.'
Question: You talk all the time about communicating, clapping and encouraging teammates. Is Michael going to have to be taught that less than other guys that come into college? It seems like he does a lot of that already. Calipari: He'll be fine. He's a vicious competitor. That's what he is. You put him on a team with other competitors and he'll just take his stuff up another notch. I've seen it and I'm just like, 'Wow, how hard does this kid play? How much effort does he make to get the second and third and fourth ball?' And that's what he's going to add to this team and that's why he's so highly thought of.
Question: If there were no lockout at all, do you see a situation where Brandon and Terrence would return to UK? Calipari: Yeah. Again, it's where are they going to fall in this? We may have a kid that says they want to be a top-three pick, and if I'm I not, I'm coming back. We may have another kid says that he just wants to be in the league. That's fine. I told all of these kids, if you aren't willing to come back and work as hard as you ever had before, put your name in because you are not going to prove yourself. If you know, I had a ball, I am going to get better, I am going to challenge myself, I am going to prove my habits, well, then yeah. Like I said, I am spending time with this stuff and meeting with the players.
Question: What have your conversations with Darius Miller been like as far as next year? Calipari: It was good. One of the things I told him was I would like him to take karate or a kick boxing class. He laughed. We have seen him be the best in our league, and then we have seen times where he has not. It all comes back to that aggressiveness and that toughness. It is just wanting to say, 'I am kicking this guy. He is not guarding me and I'm going to let him know.' Well, you almost have to have that mentality. I thought he had a wonderful year, and at the end of the year, if there were 12 big shots we made during that (late-season) stretch, he made seven of them. He made them. Whether it was a big 3, a big drive, a big and-one layup, I can remember the plays. But that has to be who he is. If (the NBA scouts) see both, they are like 'Wow. Do I see this or do I see that? Which one is he?' I see him as that guy that you're as good as anybody in the league. That's who you want to be.
Question: What does Stacey Poole need to do to see playing time? Calipari: Do what Josh did. He has to do what Josh did. And he and I had a conversation about that. I told him, I love him and I want him to play, but the results are not going to get you more minutes the way you are going right now. You have to do this, this and this. He is a great kid. He was never a problem all year. He was never disrespectful. It's like Jon Hood. I want Jon Hood to play. I want him on that court. I want Stacey on that court. We would have been better if I could have played those two. Every game we played, tell me any game where it wasn't a tight game. OK, Alabama. Other than Alabama, for those last 12-13 games, there just wasn't a chance. Too tight. I want him to play. He has to make a decision. Am I going to do this or is it easier to go to something that's not as demanding. What do I do here? He and I have had that conversation. He is a great kid.
Question: At this point do you not expect Doron to put his name in the draft? Calipari: I don't think so. If he chose to, that would be fine. The problem with putting your name in is the next time you put it in, you're out. You can't even test the waters. That's why I say right now, if you are projected as a second rounder and you put your name in, are you OK with that? Jodie was OK with that. But Jodie had played three years in three different (systems), you know. That's why I say I don't believe so, but if he chose to, I'd be fine.
Question: I saw you coach's show and they showed the last locker room scene after the UConn game and you looked and DeAndre and said, 'Son, you need to grow up.' What do you mean by that? Calipari: I can't remember what it was then and what I said to him. That's what I said? He probably did something childish during the game, and I just said 'By the way, you have to grow up.' He has come so far. I mean you think about it, he has come so far. It's like Darius. I know how far he has come, but it is not enough. I want them to talk about Doron Lamb or DeAndre Liggins or Darius Miller like they did with Josh. He got every ounce of his body. That's what I want for those three. What kind of talent do those three have compared to Josh? If I can get those guys to think that way and drag them that way, what will they be saying about those three? I just keep dragging. It's never good enough. I want you to be everything you are capable of being.
Question: I know you only have one chance to test the waters, but since Darius is a junior, will you encourage him to put his name in? Calipari: I'm not sure. I'm not sure about that. That may not be. Is he ready to put himself out there and project the way he needs to project? He's got this summer and this season to get it right so they only see that. And even DeAndre. If I thought DeAndre was going to put himself out and then they'll say he'll never play in our league, they'll never change that attitude. That's why you have to be careful of putting yourself out there. If you're not ready and they see it, that never changes their mind. I am just careful with what I am doing with these guys. But, at the end of the day, it is still their decision, not mine.
Question: DeAndre talked about how good of a job you did with him to make sure he went out of his way to spend time with his baby. Is that something you would typically do? Calipari: Part of what I was doing was because of his upbringing. I wanted him to understand that being a father is just not birthing a child. Part of being a father is being there. You have responsibilities here, but you also have responsibilities there now. That's why I tried to accommodate to say that if we have an off day, you get your butt up there. We'll practice later so you have time to get back the next day. I did stuff like that. I think it's important for him to learn to be a father. Because of his own background, I think it's an experience he's going to have to work his way through.
Question: Can you talk about the dynamic of potentially Brandon and Marquis on the same team? Calipari: It would be scary. It would be scary. You would have two of the best point guards in the country, kind of like Eric (Bledsoe) and John Wall. Brandon has earned that role and that spot, but they both can play both positions. If you watch Brandon, there are times where you want him shooting the ball. How about this: bring it up, pass it, go to the baseline, now shoot it. And we wondered why we wore them out. Now it's like you two are in there together. You take the wing, come off the screens, we need you to get some baskets. We put him in pick-and-rolls, we don't put Marquis in as many pick-and-rolls. We can also play three guards. There are a lot of combinations we can use, which is what we did that year (in 2009-10). (Wall and Bledsoe) played together. What if Jodie would have came back? Eric probably would have been the third guard.
Question: Where do the Ohio State and North Carolina wins rank? Calipari: Those were two good wins back to back. But, I have been doing this a long time, and if you ask me to look back, I could tell you we beat Oklahoma when we were just coming on the scene and they were eighth in the country. We beat Arkansas like a drum, by 30, the year they won the national title. We beat North Carolina the year they won the national title. Kentucky the year they won the national title. Those wins were against teams when Kentucky had like nine NBA Draft picks on it. I have coached a lot of teams. I will tell you those were two great team victories. Everybody did what they had to do for us to win. They made a lot of people mad.
Question: Did you watch the title game? Calipari: No. I turned to it one time and I was just like, 'Blah.' It made me sick to my stomach. I don't want to take anything away. Connecticut obviously made us play bad and Butler play bad. But 4 for 12 (from the line), they did not guard our free throws. Couldn't make a 3 in the first half. The best 3-point shooting team in the history of the program - and that's pretty good stuff when you consider one coach relied on 3s - and we were 2 for 12 at half, 1 for 12 out of your veterans and we had a chance to win the game. How in the world? We had a chance to win that game. I'm sitting there the whole time saying we're going to win this. Blocked shot, bad 3, blocked shot, baseline drive layup and the game changed on us. We still had the last shot to tie or win the game. It was incredible. I'm not that upset because the veterans played so well for that stretch and even the young kids. Doron came on and kept us in the game by himself. Brandon , you know people ask, 'Well, how did he get tired?' There is an anxiety to this thing. There were 80,000 people there. I told him prior to the game, 'We are going to deal with this like it's practice.' And they walked out and went, 'Holy ----, this isn't practice.'
Question: The NCAA is never going to change it, but is it bad to play the Final Four in that kind of a venue? Calipari: No, it wasn't that. Everybody is saying that. My team played on that court (when I was at Memphis). We played Texas and Michigan State and beat them by 100 on that court and shot the ball well. The kid here from Lexington at Butler, what did he shoot the first game? It wasn't (the stadium). It was the enormity of the game. Every team there was saying, 'Oh my gosh, we may win the national title.' You don't think Connecticut was saying that? They were saying the same thing. How about VCU? I watched the beginning of that game with Butler and who do you think I did not want to play? I didn't want to play VCU. I said, 'I hope Butler wins if we win.' I didn't want to play VCU. Butler is saying the same thing. 'Oh my god, we may win the national title,' and then you can't make a shot. It was big stuff. That's why I said after the game, 'You gave us a chance to win the game. That's all I could ask. Yeah, we were tight, but we still had a chance to win. Yeah, we took more bad shots in that game than we had in the previous four games. But we still had a chance to win.' You're top five (at the end of the year). Let's just stay at that. Let's keep bringing it back. Just be at that.
Head coach John Calipari sat down for a roundtable interview with some local reporters on Wednesday to wrap up the 2010-11 season, talk about the upcoming NBA Draft and next year's freshman class. Here is part one of the complete Q and A with Calipari:
Question: Can you give us any insight on where your guys are NBA wise and the decision-making process? Calipari: We're not there yet to be able to tell you. I think putting their names in is a no-brainer, if that's what they choose to do. They may not choose to do that, but if they do it's a no-brainer. The problem is the NCAA didn't work with the NBA to come up with this date, the drop-dead date of May 8. Here's what happens: The NBA says (you must declare) by (April) 27. Well, the list doesn't come out until the 28th or 29th. The NBA cannot talk to these kids or work them out until that list comes out. Well, the NCAA says, 'You only have until May 8 to make a decision.' What are you talking about? How about this: And you can't miss class. It's not like you can go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. You can go Friday afternoon, or if you don't have a class on a Tuesday, Saturdays, and that's it. It's hard. We're going to try to do some stuff to get some more information. I've talked to 10 NBA teams to try to find out exactly. Here's the great thing about a list: The list has Terrence (Jones), let's just say going ninth. This is all an example. I talked to the ninth pick. They're not taking him. He's not going ninth. Maybe he goes eighth, but he's not going ninth because the ninth guy told me, 'I'm not taking him.' 'Well, he's 11.' I talked to the 11 guy and they're not taking him. It's not as easy as you think. And then this (NBA) lockout really kind of screws everything up. I think a lot of kids are pulling their names because what if the lockout goes the whole year? What kind of mistake did you make? And then someone says the agent (will front them money). It's loaned. How about if you're not a self-motivated, driven guy? How are you going to work out? They're going to take you to L.A. with room service and all that and you're going to do that for two months. Who is paying for that? What about the workout guys, $20,000 a month? Who is paying for that? You're paying for that and you're not making any money. It's not as easy right now and I think that's why a lot of kids are coming back. Until we go through this process a little bit, I just told them here's a plan of how we'll do this. But I haven't told them 'I think you should do this or that,' and normally I won't. I'll give the families information.
Question: Does this include DeAndre (Liggins)? Calipari: I think DeAndre should put his name in. His may be a little different. They're going to do a combine in New Jersey. I don't think that Terrence or Brandon (Knight) should go to the combine. I won't recommend it. It will be more than a recommendation that they don't go. DeAndre, maybe you're fighting your way in and you go up there and go crazy and try to get your way in. His will be a little different.
Question: You mentioned there are people coming back. There are at least three or four guys, or at least as of today, that say they're coming back that were potentially top-10 picks. Does that change the calculus for Terrence and Brandon? Calipari: The whole thing is, are you ready to do this. Are you ready for this lockout? Do you understand that yeah, you may move down in that draft? It's not etched in stone. Those kids could stay and then put their name in there. How about this one: You've got to make your decision and the balls (at the NBA lottery) haven't dropped yet. Well, you say, 'What does that do.' Alright, you work out and the 11th pick in the draft says, 'I'm taking you.' And then the balls drop and what happens? He gets the third pick. And he says what? 'I'm not taking you.' Now all of a sudden you just went to 17 and at 17 you would have never gone. This is not a normal (draft). And the lockout is happening. When they cancel the summer (league), they're just setting the tone of what they're trying to do.
Question: How much does it change just filling out your roster for the rest of the summer? Calipari: I don't ever worry about that. In other years I'd tell you the same thing. It never hurt my program. That's why I say I will never try to talk a kid into staying. If a kid really wants to leave, he's just got to tell me why he wants to leave and what he's trying to do. If I give him the pitfalls - it's kind of like Jodie (Meeks). I told Jodie, 'I know they're telling you you're going to be in the first round, (but) you're not. You're going to be a second-round pick. Can you live with that?' He said, 'I can.' Well, then I said, 'I'm for you.' And I never really coached the kid.
Question: When you talked to Terrence and Brandon, did you get a sense that they understood the magnitude of the lockout? Calipari: Both of them are really stepping back. Look, when it was John Wall, even DeMarcus (Cousins) - we knew Patrick (Patterson) was 12 to 15. We knew Eric Bledsoe was anywhere from 17 to 22. We knew where they were falling. We knew Daniel (Orton) would be drafted. We weren't sure it would be first round, but we knew he would be drafted, and he was fine with that. This is all over the map. Some of it's guys pull their names, but what if they put their names back in because someone hits them in the mouth and says, 'You're the fourth pick in the draft! Who talked you into staying and why did they talk you into staying?' We don't know but that could happen.
Question: Do you think if DeAndre knew he would be drafted that he would be more apt to go? Calipari: I don't think so. I would tell you that you and I know he's not on any list or draft boards right now. Here's the reason I would tell him to do it: What he is physically and how he is, is not going to change or be projected any other way. If you go and work out for one of these guys and you don't show well, they never change their minds. I was in the league so I understand. So you come out early and they watch you and say, 'This kid doesn't have it.' They won't even watch you next year. If you're physically not able to go in there and fight and battle, you don't go until you're ready to do that. Now I think he will go in and the only thing they're going to say is, 'He needs to improve his skill level with the ball. He's a little bit out of control.' There's not going to be any, 'This guy is not tough enough or this guy doesn't have what it takes.' You're not going to have that. I've seen guys come out and go to those events and absolutely kill themselves because they don't change their mind. Whatever they see there, that's who you are.
Question: So you're saying he should put his name in, but you're not saying he should stay. Calipari: I don't know, but what if he goes to New Jersey or he works out here for us and somebody says, 'We're going to take him in the first round. Then I might sit down and say, 'You know what, kid, think about it.' But this lockout changes it. That's what the hard thing is here.
Question: What about Doron (Lamb)? Calipari: I think in Doron's case, all the things he's done, he is on the board. Now he's got to get stronger, get tougher. If he gains 15 pounds of muscle weight, in my opinion he'll be a lottery pick in a year from now. That's what I think. His feel for the game is as good as anyone out there. He finally took on a defensive presence (near the end of the year), which he had nothing (coming in). I can remember at Mississippi, all they did is whoever he guarded, they drove the ball. By the end of the year he was guarding pick-and-rolls pretty well, he was guarding the ball pretty good. As he gets physically stronger and tougher and rougher, you're not going to take away his feel for the game. That's always going to be there - his ability to make shots and all that. You look at him with 15 more pounds on him - how do you guard him? Because what they did this year was try to knock him off point. If he drives, bump him. That's how they guarded him. And then defensively, what happens in the NBA is, if you can't guard and the other coach knows it, they'll go at you 12 straight times. Like, it's embarrassing. They're trying to win now. If they know they can score a basket by scoring on you, they're going at you until the other coach takes you out of the game. And so, he's learning and getting better. He's one of those guys that they'll be talking about him. Everybody will be watching him.
Question: How do you balance a guy that you know if he stayed one more year and worked on X and X as opposed to ... Calipari: It's his choice. Jodie Meeks, one more year with us with the way we play, he would have been a top-15 pick. But guess what? He's doing fine. It's worked out. He's playing fine for the 76ers. Now, you're playing for that second contract, not the first one. And so he's worked his way in where it appears he'll get a second contract. It's whatever works for that young man. Now, I may not agree. But you know what? It's not my decision. What I've told all these kids, whatever decision you make, there is only one person that has to live with it - them. I don't have to live with it, your mom and dad don't have to live with it, your friend who tells you he knows what's going on in the NBA doesn't have to live with it. Whether you come back, you have to live with it by coming back, which means you're going to class, you're going to study table, 'I'm not backing away; I'm the same guy I was.'
Question: Without mentioning names, are you waiting to see about adding anyone in this class to see what these guys do? Calipari: No, we're going forward. We're feeling things out. I'll be honest with you, I just got back in. The staff and I were out. I was out with my daughter for a few days. I've got a couple of names from people that have called us. Again, every kid that watches us play, what do you think they're saying? 'I want to play at Kentucky.' Now, they don't understand how hard it is to play here. They don't understand the scrutiny you're under, that, something that could happen on another campus can't happen here. They don't understand the level of competition in that every game you play, you are somebody else's Super Bowl. They don't understand how hard we train. They think we just let kids go. They have no idea what we're doing and how we're doing it. So yeah, we'll get a lot of calls about this kid and that kid, but at the end of the day, this isn't for everybody. We'll look at some kids and figure out would they fit in here.
Question: It seems like the kids you do have signed, just from watching them and listening to them in the all-star games, they've already kind of formed a bond. Can that have any implications that can carry over? Calipari: You hope so. I'll tell you what they all are: They all love the game and they're all gym rats. We've had one or two guys at 11 o'clock at night that are in (the Joe Craft Center practicing). Now we may add five or six. And if it's five or six, that may be 11. And if it's 11, we may not lose any games. That's guys committed to getting better, gaining weight, getting stronger and loving practice, being the first one in there because you want to be there. What that does is it drives your team. That's where we want to go. I talked about Brandon Knight when we brought him here, I wanted him to be a guy that is driven on all fronts - academically, on the basketball on the court. Everywhere he goes, I want him to be driven. That starts moving your team.
Question: Have you watched any of the guys in the all-star games? Calipari: A little bit. I hate watching all-star games because guys just go nuts, so I watch some of them.
Question: You haven't had a class, at least here, where they've been committed to the program for this long period of time. Do you have a sense for the bond those guys have? Calipari: Those other guys we had the year before and even these guys, maybe they didn't commit or sign early, but they were tight and committed to this. It's a good group. Let them play. You can say what you want, but this freshman class that we just had right now, you've got to rank them with any of the others I've had, if not the best. Why? Because of their performance on the court. It's not about your rep and your accolades. It's your performance. These guys have performed.
Question: Do you expect the other guys on the team not considering the NBA to be back? Calipari: I would hope so. We sat down with everybody. The thing that Josh (Harrellson) did for guys is Josh made it clear for other guys - do you want to play or do you not want to play. So when they come back and they say they want to play, well OK, you've got to do what Josh did, which is change your body, change your skill level, change your attitude toward the game of basketball, change so that the result changes. If you're not going to change, the result is not changing, but the only way you're going to play then is to go to another school that is maybe not so challenging. But Josh has made it clear - change your body, change your skill set, change your attitude, change your habits and the results change. It can't be every once in a while. It's got to be to be this, 'This is the new me.' And it's great, because now I sit down and say, 'I want you to play.' I think the guys know it. I like the guys that are on our team even if they didn't play as much. They're great teammates, good guys. But you want them to play. You want them on the court. You want them to perform. You want to put them in the game and not have them be tentative about it. You've got to get after it.
An NBA lockout is coming, so says Kentucky basketball head coach John Calipari, and that makes the decisions of Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones a lot tougher as they mull their futures in the NBA.
"This lockout really kind of screws everything up," Calipari said Wednesday during an exclusive roundtable discussion with local media. "I think a lot of kids are pulling their names because what if the lockout goes the whole year? What kind of mistake did you make?"
Knight and Jones have until April 24 to declare for the NBA Draft. Should they declare, they would have until May 8 to withdraw from the June 23 draft so long as they don't hire an agent.
Both players are projected as first-round draft picks in this year's class, but several factors, the current unsettled labor situation with the NBA chief among them, make the decisions of Kentucky's stud freshmen a little more complicated.
Knight and Jones could decide to take a chance on the lockout that Calipari insists is coming (Calipari pointed to the cancelation of this year's NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a strong indicator that it's imminent) and sign with agents. But Calipari wants to make sure they understand the potential pitfalls of their choices before they make a decision one way or the other.
As the UK head coach explained Wednesday, just because an agent fronts you money during the lockout doesn't mean that it's free money.
"They're loaned," Calipari said. "They're going to take you to L.A. with room service and all that and you're going to do that for two months. Who is paying for that? What about the workout guys, $20,000 a month? Who is paying for that? You're paying for that and you're not making any money. It's not as easy right now and I think that's why a lot of kids are coming back."
Calipari said he would never tell a kid to return to school if he has the chance to be a first-round pick. In most cases he's even insisted they leave and said Wednesday it would be a "no-brainer" for Knight and Jones to submit their names to at least test the waters.
But this year's lockout certainly clouds things.
"What I've told all these kids, whatever decision you make, there is only one person that has to live with it - them," Calipari said. "I don't have to live with it, your mom and dad doesn't have to live with it, your friend who tells you he knows what's going on in the NBA doesn't have to live with it. Whether you come back, you have to live with it."
Considering a jump to the NBA also includes junior DeAndre Liggins and freshmen Doron Lamb.
While not on most draft boards, Calipari said Liggins could benefit from exposure at combines, although he's warned Liggins that one bad showing could forever alter how scouts and NBA general managers view him.
"What if he goes to New Jersey or he works out here for us and somebody says, 'We're going to take him in the first round,' " Calipari said. "Then I might sit down and say, 'You know what, kid, think about it.' "
Calipari thinks Lamb could stand to benefit from returning and putting on 15 more pounds of weight.
"In Doron's case, all the things he's done, he is on the board," Calipari said. "Now he's got to get stronger, get tougher. If he gains 15 pounds of muscle weight, in my opinion he'll be a lottery pick in a year from now. That's what I think. His feel for the game is as good as anyone out there."
But what if he chooses to bypass his sophomore year?
"That would be fine," Calipari said.
A player can only test the draft waters once without an agent. That means if Knight, Jones or Lamb decide to declare this year without an agent and return to school, they could not repeat the process at any other point in their careers.
Making the situation even more intriguing is the number of high-profile players that have said they're coming back. Headlining the group are Baylor's Perry Jones and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. Both were considered top-five picks.
Whether or not they decided to return to school because of the potential lockout is unclear, but the absence of their names certainly makes this year a weaker draft, raises the stock of players like Knight and Jones, and adds to the enticement of leaving early.
Of course, so much can happen between April 24 and the day of the draft. The actual draft lottery isn't until after the players must declare, creating an uncertain draft position for each team. And while players like Perry Jones and Sullinger say they're not turning pro this year, they still have a couple of weeks to submit their names.
Calipari said his players understand the magnitude of the decisions they're about to make.
"This (draft) is all over the map," Calipari said. "What if (Perry Jones and Sullinger) put their names back in because someone hits them in the mouth and says, 'You're the fourth pick in the draft. Who talked you into staying and why did they talk you into staying?' We don't know but that could happen."
The thought of Knight, Jones, Liggins and Lamb all returning to join next year's No. 1 signing class of Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer has crossed Calipari's mind. In fact, Calipari seemed to salivate at the thought of having Knight and Teague in the same backcourt.
"It would be scary," Calipari said.
But the impending decisions of his current players have not affected how he's continued to recruit or prepare for next year's team. Calipari said they've moved forward in trying to add one or two more players for next year, and he's not concerned with playing time in the case of a much larger roster next year.
"That is the least of my worries," Calipari said. "We will have guys like Anthony Davis who will do whatever I ask him to do. Those kids want to be part of a winning program and they want to be coached and challenged."
As the Kentucky basketball fan base is quickly learning, rumors of John Calipari leaving UK for another college job or another stab at the NBA have become as routine the past two springs as the flowers blooming and the seasonal rainstorms.
Just last week the New York Post reported that Calipari may be on the New York Knicks' head coaching radar should the Big Apple's storied franchise decide to depart with current coach Mark D'Antoni.
In an exclusive roundtable interview session with a handful of print and online publications Wednesday, Calipari didn't deny the rumors but did appear to express comfort in his current post at the University of Kentucky.
"Those rumors are going to be out there," Calipari said. "I've got a great job. I've got one of the best in our sport. I can't stop the rumors. I just don't deal with them."
Following his first year at Kentucky, a 35-3 season that ended with a loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight, Calipari was rumored for several coaching jobs in the NBA, including a possible collaboration with LeBron James in Chicago.
Of course, those rumors never came to fruition, Calipari went on to sign his second straight No. 1 recruiting class and Kentucky returned to the Final Four this year for the first time since 1998.
The only difference in the rumors this offseason, Calipari said, is that he's already locked up the No. 1 class before the spring signing period.
"Part of it is to try to screw up your recruiting," Calipari said of the rumors. "I laughed when the rumors came out. I said, 'You're not screwing up our recruiting. We already have the kids signed.' "
Upon his hire in the spring of 2009, Calipari said he didn't foresee himself coaching past the age of 60. While that line of thinking is up for debate with the ongoing tease to vindicate his first stint in the NBA, it appears the only move Calipari would make in the future would be to the pros.
"The good news is they can't say I'm taking other college jobs, which my whole career they've been saying," Calipari said. "I wasn't involved with the North Carolina State (job this offseson), the Georgia Tech, the Missouri, the Arkansas. Any job that was open (in the past) I was involved in, which I wasn't, but that would be out there."
The ongoing coaching carousel still could affect Kentucky though. As Calipari grooms assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne for future head coaching jobs, there is the possibility they could be ready to take on their own school in the very near future.
Antigua was recently reported as a possible candidate for the vacant Miami (Fla.) job.
"I would tell you within the next year, if not two, we'll probably have a rollover; guys getting jobs and having opportunities," Calipari said.
Calipari said he would not advise his coaches to take just any job though.
"You're at Kentucky," Calipari said. "You don't just leave this for any other job. These guys, yeah, you'll leave another job to go to another assistant's job, but they're at the place that you make sure whatever job you're getting is a great opportunity."
That includes head coaching jobs.
"(Opportunity) doesn't mean leave now," Calipari said. "Like someone says, 'What's a good Division I job?' When you're in this profession, it's one you can get. That's a good Division I job. A great Division I job is one of the top two or three jobs in any league. It doesn't matter the league. If it's one of the top two or three jobs, you're going to win at a high level and then you'll have opportunities to make that you're next job - right where you are - or have an opportunity to move. It doesn't matter if it's the OVC. Is it the best job in that league? If it's a great job, go for it. If it's the worst job in the OVC, it's a good job. It's a Division I job, but it's not a great job."
- UK football head coach Joker Phillips will participate in Lexington Children's Theatre Celebrity Curtain Call on Saturday at 7 p.m. More than 30 local celebrities, including Phillips, business leaders and civic advocates will take the stage for LCT's annual fundraising event. According to the folks at Lexington Children's Theatre, Phillips was the star of the show in 2010. The cost of the event is $75 per ticket, which can be purchased by accessing lctonstage.org or by calling 859-254-4546 ext. 247.
- It's been nearly a half of a year since Matthew Mitchell hit his "Dougie" at Big Blue Madness, but apparently he's still an Internet sensation. Mitchell's "Dougie" was featured on the series premiere of the "Sports Show with Norm Macdonald" on Comedy Central. Former Wildcats John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were also featured for their renditions. You can check out the video clip below. Keep in mind that it's a comedy clip.
Instead of being intimidated, University of Kentucky shortstop Taylor Black was invigorated when he got a glimpse of the 95 mph reading as University of Louisville closer Tony Zych warmed up on the mound in the top of the ninth inning.
Black then planted Zych's fastball in right field for an RBI single, capping a 3-for-4 outing and lifting the Wildcats to a 3-2 victory Tuesday night before a season-high crowd of 3,245 at Jim Patterson Stadium.
UK-bound big man Anthony Davis led the USA team with 10 boards (and 16 points) while fellow signee Michael Gilchrist scored 16 and had five blocks. Point guard Marquis Teague didn't have a solid shooting game at 3-for-10, but was still a starter. And the fourth member of this class -- Portland native Kyle Wiltjer, who has dual citizenship between the U.S. and Canada -- made a pair of 3s and finished with 12 points for the Canadians.
"The greatest thing is that all four kids are great kids," Kentucky coach John Calipari said Monday morning. "It'll be fun. They want to do this together. They take on a roll, a swagger and an arrogance, but that's based on their talent. They've got a ways to go. They all want to win, not just want to play."
Now Woodson is back in Lexington as a student assistant coach working with Newton and freshman Maxwell Smith, and Coach Joker Phillips hopes Woodson's presence can rub off on Newton. Woodson and Phillips believe Newton's story could wind up with a similar ending.
"Physically, Morgan's ahead of where Andre was at the same stage," Phillips said. "He didn't have a redshirt year like Andre, so he's not quite where Andre was mentally, but hopefully he can have the same kind of outcome Andre did."
"We played really, really fast, and at times we played dominant defense," he said. "I thought we played with enthusiasm and flew around."
The star of the day was senior Winston Guy, who has really taken to his new role as a linebacker/safety who plays closer to the line of scrimmage. Guy recorded a couple of sacks and was constantly in the backfield making plays.
"It's a different Winston Guy," Phillips said. "I like the way he's playing."
Patterson, another ex-Central star, is a freshman linebacker who enrolled this semester after sitting out the fall while rehabilitating an injury. He's set to benefit from the experience of the veteran members of the Central-to-UK pipeline.
"I'm trying to help him, show him the right way so he won't go down the same path I did," said Cobble, a defensive tackle who was academically ineligible last fall as a redshirt freshman. "Right now it seems like he's doing fine. It started out a little rocky at first when he first got here, but it's gotten better."
The UK men's golf team battled both the elements and a highly-ranked Auburn team to a second-place finish in the 2011 UK Bluegrass Invitational at the University Club of Kentucky's Big Blue Course on Sunday.
The Cats held a one-stroke lead at the end of the second round and an eight-stroke lead heading into the back nine, but finished with a 24-over-par three-round score of 876, eight strokes behind tournament champion Auburn.
In mid-February, UK head baseball coach Gary Henderson stood at the podium a week before the Cats season began, enthusiastic about his centerfielder, Brian Adams.
One month later, UK head football coach Joker Phillips stood at the same podium on the eve of the start of spring practice, equally enthusiastic about a fast wide receiver on his roster. His name was Brian Adams.
This is no coincidence, nor is it a typo. For the last month, Adams has practiced with the football team in the morning, and played for the baseball team in the evening.
After trading for center Nicky Anosike on Saturday, Washington made another move to bolster its front court by selecting Dunlap, a 6-foot-1 forward out of the University of Kentucky, with the 11th pick.
"All season long I have followed Victoria and liked her," Lacey said. "She's been very high on my board. She's a great athlete. She's agile. She has versatility and a huge heart. She is a great defender, loves to rebound, all the things I like in a player. We're very excited."
Cobb is fast, agile and physical, and he can make a difference in every phase of the game in which a player can handle the ball: running, receiving, special teams, and even passing.
In this respect, Cobb reminds me of Hines Ward. I love how Cobb attacks defenders as a run blocker, and I haven't seen this kind of aggressive mind-set since Santonio Holmes's days at Ohio State five years ago. It's no coincidence that the Steelers valued this Ward-like approach from Holmes.
If the plan to guard DeMarcus Cousins is to try to get into his head, the Oklahoma City Thunder had the perfect defender for the rookie.
Oklahoma City's new starting center, Kendrick Perkins, has no problem getting physical with opponents, a trait he brought with him from Boston at the February trade deadline.
Cousins took some hits early in Monday night's game at Power Balance Pavilion, but he didn't back down. Still, his season-high scoring wasn't enough as the Kings lost to the Thunder 120-112 in a game that featured plenty of fouls and free throws.
Regan Judd is a graduating member of UK's dance team. As a junior, she was diagnosed with a heart condition that would eventually require open heart surgery. She made a full recovery from her ailment and is now working with the American Heart Association. She will be walking in the 2010-11 Heart Walk and is taking donations at this website. Below is a video about Judd from the SEC Network.
LOUISVILLE -- Jordan Cooper entered the 2011 season projected to be key component of Kentucky's weekend starting trio, a group that was to be the anchor for a young Wildcat squad. However, Cooper struggled out of the gate with an earned run average that ballooned over six, one of a number of problems for a struggling UK baseball team.
After a demotion from the weekend rotation, it was Cooper that coach Gary Henderson called upon to make a midweek start against No. 28 Louisville at a time when UK was maybe at its season low. Cooper has responded to his demotion and turned in another strong start Tuesday night to lead the Cats to a 3-2 victory, his second straight quality effort in his new midweek role.
Although the Wildcats' ship is far from righted by the win, Cooper's response in the face of an adversity can serve as a lesson for a UK team that has quite a hole to dig itself out of in the Southeastern Conference.
"Anytime that somebody has had a couple rough starts and you change their role, that's a pretty good challenge," Henderson said. "For him to move out of the weekends and get into the midweek and respond the way he has is really positive and sets an example for everybody else."
Cooper (2-1, 5.23 ERA) received a no-decision, but he pitched 6.1 quality innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits and three walks against a strong opponent, setting the tone for his team.
"It was really important to come out and put up a good pitching performance for my teammates," Cooper said. "I've been struggling lately, but it was really important for me to come out and do my best for my team and (give) them the best opportunity to win."
The demotion from a weekend role was a humbling experience for Cooper, but he refused to change his approach.
"It doesn't change the game," Cooper said. "It's all about your mental (readiness) and how you prepare for a game. It doesn't matter when I pitch, I just want do well."The Jordan Cooper that took the mound Tuesday night was the one that Henderson expected when he named him a weekend starter.
"Those are the starts that in the beginning of the year I thought we were going to get from Jordan," Henderson said. "I'm really happy to get it, but I'm not surprised."
Baseball is the kind of game that will test even the best with difficult stretches, but players define themselves by the way they bounce back. Clearly, Cooper is in the process of bouncing back after a rough first half to the 2011 season.
"A lot of players, on occasion, have a rough go and he did a little bit," Henderson said. "We took him out of the weekend and put him in the midweek and now he's doing a good job for us. I kind of suspect that this is what we're going to get from moving forward, that's what we should get from him."
Cooper plans turning the two consecutive positive starts into continued good results.
"It's real important that my teammates and my coaches have faith in me," Cooper said. "To get a quality start two weeks in a row is something I can build on and hopefully down the road it will help me out."
Cooper recognized he was in a pitcher's ballpark Tuesday night at Jim Patterson Stadium, particularly with a stiff breeze at his back, and he aggressively attacked the U of L lineup. Cooper allowed only one hit and zero runs in the opening five frames before the Cardinals finally scratched their first run across on an infield single by Stewart Ijames in the sixth inning to cut UK's lead to 2-1.
After another run by the Cardinals in the seventh inning, Cooper exited a tie ball game. UK's offense dealt with the same adverse hitting conditions, but the Cats certainly made solid enough contact to score more than the two runs they managed while Cooper was on the Hill.
"Clearly it was one of those games where we were stinging the ball and they caught them," Henderson said. "They did a good job on defense, but there were two or three really hard hit balls that they caught and the two balls Brian Adams hit on a regular day are home runs."
Although the Cats didn't get all the hits they likely deserved, they scored enough to get the win. UK's No. 1 and No. 2 hitters led the charge, as Chad Wright and Taylor Black were both 3-for-4, combining to score all three of Kentucky's runs.
It should come as no surprise that it was Wright and Black that were responsible for the Cats ninth-inning run that would prove to be the game winner. Wright laced a one-out double to right field against U of L's highly touted closer Tony Zych. After a wild pitch moved Wright to third, Black delivered a single that plated Wright.
"To be honest with you, those are the hits we haven't been getting," Henderson said. "We got it tonight and then to have Taylor come up and drive him in was huge."
A win for UK in the midst of recent struggles is vital for this team, but Henderson made it clear that a win over Louisville is big no matter what.
"The game is big," Henderson said. "Whether you're going well or you're struggling or you're .500, when you play Louisville it's important. It doesn't make any difference what sport, UK-Louisville is important. It's a big game to us and I'm glad we played well."
Unfortunately for Kentucky, the nine-game SEC losing streak remains intact and UK is still tied for last in the conference. The Wildcats next head to Oxford, Miss. to play the Ole Miss Rebels. They will look to carry the momentum of the win and Cooper's start into their trip.
"I think anytime you beat an archrival it helps, and they're a good team, clearly," Henderson said. "We need to enjoy the bus ride home and then we need to go to Oxford. We need to play well and we need to win a series in Oxford."
Not a whole lot cooking around the office today. Should have some more content later on this week, but for now these notes will have to do:
- I realize ESPN updated its 2011 recruiting rankings last week when Kentucky signee Anthony Davis moved to No. 1, but just in case you had any doubt about how good this incoming class is, ESPN has a breakdown of the team rankings. UK, of course, is still No. 1.
- UK baseball has been in a serious Southeastern Conference slide, but it could begin to turn its season around Tuesday night with a win over archrival Louisville. The game will be televised live on Wazoo Sports Network with Bob Valvano and Drew Deener calling the action. The telecast will be able throughout the state of Kentucky, with the game on Insight-Lexington and Insight-Louisville on channel 524. Fans throughout the state can check local listings for television information in your area. The game will also be available live on WazooSports.com.
- Kentucky student-athletes often don't get the credit they deserve for some of the community work they do (in addition to the countless hours of practice, games, traveling and school work), so I thought I'd point out a great cause a couple of UK student-athletes are running. Track and field athletes Luis Orta and Joe Nadzam, in collaboration wtih Soles4Souls, a non-profit organization that ships shoes to those desperately in need, have taken it upon themselves to run a shoe drive. Orta and Nazdam are asking for any used shoes (athletic, sandals, casual, dress, boots, etc.) you can donate. Donations can be dropped off at the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services located in Memorial Coliseum or at the Shively Training Facility. The drive just started but they've already collected around 200 pairs of shoes. For more information, email Orta at firstname.lastname@example.org or Nadzam at email@example.com.
- Men's basketball coach John Calipari did his mailbag with Fox Sports South for the season. There are a couple of pretty good notes from Calipari in the video below. We should have some updates/season wrap-up on the blog in the next couple of days.
Victoria Dunlap has long dreamed about playing basketball in the pros. She's imagined every shot, dribble and pass she'll make in the WNBA.
But she never prepared for the nerve-wracking path to the podium on WNBA Draft day. When Dunlap heard her name called with the 11th overall selection in the first round of the 2011 WNBA Draft, she was admittedly nervous as she walked to greet the WNBA's chief of basketball operations to receive her Washington Mystics jersey.
In the moments leading up to the live broadcast from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Dunlap said she was prepping for the 10-second walk of fame.
"They were trying to give us a rundown," a thrilled Dunlap said. "We did one yesterday, but we didn't have on all of our clothes and our heels. When we got there, I was making sure I had the right path to walk up there to make sure I was going to walk the right way."
Dunlap, an All-American and Kentucky's No. 2 all-time leading scorer, was selected by the Mystics on Monday. Dunlap is now the highest draft pick in school history and UK's first draft selection since Shantia Owens was a third-round draft pick in the 2000 WNBA Draft.
"We are just so proud for Victoria," said UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell, who, along with Dunlap's mother and former teammate Carly Morrow, was with Dunlap at ESPN headquarters. "She's worked extremely hard and to be a first-round draft choice is a testament to how hard she's worked and improved during her time at Kentucky. We are proud of her. It's also a special day for our program. To have the first, first-round draft (pick) in school history is special. It's been an incredible day."
Making the walk to the podium even more anxious were the moments leading up to her selection. What seemed like a few minutes to a nationally televised audience felt like hours for Dunlap. When it was Washington's turn to pick, Dunlap said she was "semi-shocked" to hear her name called because she didn't even think Washington was interested in her services.
"It felt like it took forever just because I was sitting there waiting," Dunlap said. "When I finally heard my name, I was like, 'Finally.' Now that I know where I am going to be playing at, I feel like a weight has been lifted. All of the girls I was talking to were anxious and nervous because you never really know where you are going to end up. I am just grateful for the opportunity."
Dunlap will be heading to a new city, but she'll have a couple of familiar faces to show her the walk in streets of D.C. With a little good fortune and the blessing of Dunlap, she'll head to the same city as former Wildcats John Wall and Jeremy Jarmon.
Wall, currently with the Washington Wizards, and Jarmon, a defensive end with the Washington Redskins, both welcomed Dunlap to Washington via Twitter moments after the selection.
"That's one of the things I thought about when Washington chose me," Dunlap said. "John actually texted me after I was drafted to tell me he was happy for me, and I saw a whole bunch of tweets from him and Jeremy Jarmon about me. I'm pretty excited about that."
Dunlap will also have some secondary experience in life in the pros. Her father spent three seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts and her oldest brother, King, is currently an offensive lineman with the Philadelphia Eagles.
She's hoping her family's success in athletics (her mother was also a standout track star at Tennessee State) will pay off in the WNBA.
"I think it is more of comfort thing," Dunlap said. "The fact that professional sports are a business, you have to make sure you have an agent and different contracts just from a financial standpoint. My brother and my dad knew a lot about that. They are very comfortable with what information needs to be known and what information needs to be within the business of the game."
Dunlap will walk into a pretty good situation in Washington. Despite playing the entire season without four-time WNBA all-star and starting guard Alana Beard, the Mystics posted a franchise-best 22-12 record last season en route to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
With a bulk of last year's team returning, it's unclear whether or not Dunlap will get a lot of playing time early, but she appears to fit the description for a team that entered the draft in need of more scoring and rebounding.
The two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year ended her illustrious Wildcat career ranking in the top 10 on numerous career lists, including No. 1 in games played (133) and No. 2 in scoring (1,846), rebounding (1,099), blocks (178), steals (307), free throws made (445), free throws attempted (714) and double-doubles (31). She was the first player in school history to chart more than 100 assists, 100 blocks and 300 steals in her career and just the second player with more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.
"I think it makes it easier for a team to get along more and get some momentum going into the season knowing that they did well last year," said Dunlap, who also has plans to play overseas when the WNBA season is not in session. "Just coming in and knowing that they're comfortable with themselves and with the team makes it a good situation."
Dunlap admitted she doesn't know a ton about the Washington franchise, but she does remember watching Beard and Monique Currie play at Duke and played against former Tennessee forward Nicky Anosike her freshman year. She also said Washington has a huge fan base.
Dunlap won't have a lot of time between Monday and her first professional game. She said she's already spoken to head coach Trudi Lacey and plans to talk to her in more detail once things settle down next week. Dunlap is scheduled to graduate from UK on May 8 before training camp starts around May 15.
After that, it's just a few short weeks until her first professional regular-season game against Connecticut on June 4.
"When I was younger I wanted to be in the WNBA," Dunlap said. "I liked playing basketball but I never thought it would be a possibility. I never thought I would be a first-round draft pick."
Albeit for a few anxious moments, that dream came true for Dunlap on Monday.
Underclassmen have until April 24 to declare and May 8 to withdraw from the draft. Calipari said the possibility of an NBA lockout could affect their decisions.
Here is an excerpt from Katz's story:
"They probably need to test the waters and see where they are before they make a decision," Calipari said. "They have to find out where they would fall. But this [NBA] lockout looms. Normally I would suggest that you've got to do this, but if an agent is paying you [during the lockout] then you're going to have to pay him back and probably with interest.
"I'm not going to influence them -- I'm going to give them my opinion," Calipari added. "These kids have to live with any of these decisions. I don't want a player coming back if his heart isn't into it or thought he should have left. Daniel Orton chose to leave [last year]; no one forced him out the door."
Knight and Jones are ranked the seventh- and 12th-best prospects, respectively, in the 2011 draft class, according to DraftExpress.com. Knight and Jones must also consider the super signing class Calipari is bringing in next year, which Calipari also talks about in Katz's story.
Softball - Juniors Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley threw consecutive perfect games in wins at Austin Peay. Bell's became the first registered perfect game in school history as she struck out 15 of a possible 18 outs. - During Riley's perfect pitching accomplishment, she was also perfect at the plate with a 4-for-4 day while matching a single-game record with six RBI. - Junior Ashleigh Gustafson charted her first career hit launching a three-run homer in the opening win over the Lady Govs. - Junior Brittany Cervantes totaled at least one RBI in all five games this week as she moved into 10th on the UK single-season list with 38 RBI for the season.
Men's tennis - The Kentucky men's tennis team earned three victories throughout the week, defeating No. 30 LSU, No. 75 Arkansas and in-state rival Morehead State. Kentucky went 3-1 on the week overall, with its only loss coming in a 4-3 decision to No. 3 Ohio State. - Kentucky ends its regular-season home schedule with an impressive 16-3 record at the Boone, including an 8-3 mark against teams ranked in the top 75. With the win against top-30 ranked LSU, UK moves to 13-7 this season against teams ranked in the top 50 in the nation. - No. 7 Eric Quigley led the Wildcats all week with a 3-0 singles record, taking down No. 3 Blaz Rola of Ohio State and defeating two quality SEC opponents at No. 1 singles. Seniors Alberto Gonzalez and Brad Cox also performed well in their final home matches of their UK career with Gonzalez going 2-0 in singles and 2-1 in doubles. Cox was brilliant for the Wildcats in singles Friday and Sunday, earning straight-set wins both days. - Kentucky was solid in doubles all week, winning all three doubles points. Cox and Quigley went 3-0 in doubles, defeating two top-15 ranked tandems, while Frenchmen Anthony Rossi and Alex Musialek went 2-1. Freshman Alejandro Gomez teamed up with Gonzalez on Friday and Sunday in doubles to go 2-0, including clinching the doubles point against Arkansas.
Baseball - The Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with a series sweep at the hands of defending SEC Western Division Champion Auburn. UK also picked up a midweek win over Xavier. - UK suffered its ninth consecutive loss in conference play, the longest streak since starting SEC play 0-9 in 2005. - UK completed a great offensive week by scoring 34 runs through four games, including belting nine homers. UK hit six homers in the series vs. the Tigers, with AU entering the weekend having allowed only eight round trippers on the year. - The Wildcats have been led offensively by junior two-way star Braden Kapteyn, who has hit .339 with four homers and 33 RBI through 33 games.
Track and field - Kentucky contributed six first-place victories for the Commonwealth in the Border Battle, including wins in the men's 110-meter hurdles, 4x400m relay, long jump and triple jump, and the women's 400m dash and discus throw. - There were several bright spots for Kentucky on a windy, storm-filled day and none more than a first-place finish in the men's long jump by senior Keenan Hall. The Indianapolis native put together a career-best performance with a long jump of 7.58m/24-10.50 that shot him straight to No. 3 on UK's all-time long jump mark list. Hall also finished second in the men's triple jump with a jump of 15.23m/49-11.75 - In similar fashion a trio of men's hurdlers finished first, second and fourth in the 110m hurdles with junior Keith Hayes leading the way. - Bradshaw finished second in the 110 hurdles with a time 14.66 followed by Brandon Bagley in fourth with a time of 15.07. - Jenna Martin claimed a win in the 400m dash with a time of 52.94. - The Wildcats' sixth win came from senior Mary Angell in the discus throw. Angell had a long throw of 51.07m/167-06.75, which was just shy of her season-best throw of 51.34m/168-05.
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team hosted the fourth annual UK Bluegrass Invitational this weekend at the University Club of Kentucky. The Wildcats performed well at the event, finishing in second place just a few strokes behind SEC foe and sixth-ranked Auburn. - Kentucky was led at the tournament by freshman Stephen Powers, who finished second after tying the tournament-record score for 18 holes with a 65 in the second round. The 6-under-par round was the lowest of the tournament by any player and put Powers on top of the leaderboard after 36 holes. The freshman ended the tournament with a 2-over-par 215. - Four other Wildcats finished in the top 35, including sophomore Chase Parker tied for seventh, senior Brian Belden tied for 16th, junior Mads Kristensen tied for 21st and freshman Cody Martin tied for 35th. - The top-three finish for the Wildcats is the third of the season and the 35th since head coach Brian Craig took over the program in 2001. UK's team score of 876 was the second lowest of the season and its second-round team score of 288 is tied for the third-lowest round of the year.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team dropped a pair of road matches over the weekend, losing to Arkansas 6-1 on Friday and LSU 5-2 on Sunday. - Freshman Khristina Blajkevitch earned her ninth singles victory of the season against Arkansas. The win was also Blajkevitch's sixth win in SEC play, a team high. - Sophomore Jessica Stiles won her ninth singles victory of the season against LSU on Sunday. Blajkevitch and Stiles' nine singles victories are tops on the team. - Freshman Caitlin McGraw defeated LSU's Ebie Wilson after Wilson had to retire in the second set. - Saturday's match against Vanderbilt will be Senior Day for Megan Broderick, Lauren Meier and Nicole Scates.
Tuesday, April 12 Baseball at Louisville - 6 p.m.
Wednesday, April 13 Softball at Marshall (DH) - 3 p.m.
Friday, April 15 Baseball at Ole Miss - 7:30 p.m. Men's golf at SEC Championship (St. Simons Island, Ga.) Women's golf at SEC Championship (Auburn, Ala.)
Saturday, April 16 Softball hosts Tennessee Tech (DH) - 1 p.m. Men's tennis at Vanderbilt - 2 p.m. Women's tennis hosts Vanderbilt - 4 p.m. Baseball at Ole Miss - 5 p.m. Men's golf at SEC Championship (St. Simons Island, Ga.) Women's golf at SEC Championship (Auburn, Ala.)
Sunday, April 17 Baseball at Ole Miss - 2:30 p.m. Men's golf at SEC Championship (St. Simons Island, Ga.) Women's golf at SEC Championship (Auburn, Ala.)
Kentucky is on the rise in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings after a strong winter.
UK has moved to 34th in the Directors' Cup standings, as of the April 7 rankings, thanks to a rifle national championship and NCAA Tournament appearances by the basketball teams, including a Final Four appearance by the men's basketball team. Kentucky's current position ranks fifth among Southeastern Conference schools.
The Directors' Cup was developed as a joint effort between the National Association of College Director of Athletics and USA Today to rate the top athletic departments in the country. Kentucky uses the rankings as a measurement for its 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletic programs by 2015.
Kentucky appears to be on pace in its quest for 15 championships after capturing three more during the winter semester, one for rifle's national championship, one for rifle's Great American Rifle Conference regular-season crown and one for the men's basketball team's SEC Tournament title. In total, UK has seven championships (four rifle titles and three men's basketball crowns).
UK was ranked 98th in the Directors' Cup standings at the conclusion of the fall semester of sports with 50.0 total points. Nearing the end of the winter semester, as the Directors' Cup standings defines them (the final winter rankings will be released April 21), Kentucky has 343.00 total points.
The department picked up 293.00 points in the winter for placing first in rifle, third in men's basketball, 17th in women's basketball, 28th in women's swimming and diving, and 57th in men's track and field. Stanford, by comparison, has 902.00 points and leads the standings.
Stanford, which has won an unprecedented 16 straight Directors' Cups, has a built-in advantage over schools like Kentucky because of the number of varsity sports the department competes in. For example, UK does not compete in fencing, women's ice hockey, skiing and men's wrestling in the winter.
With the spring semester still to go, Kentucky is expected to pick up additional points in gymnastics, men's tennis, softball, and outdoor track and field. The final Directors' Cup standings will be released June 30.
UK finished 29th last year, the third-highest finish in school history and best since the 1997-98 athletics season, when the school was awarded the full allotment of points in men's basketball for winning the national championship.
In the same mold of the Directors' Cup, the Capital One Cup was recently created with the same objective but different parameters.
By definition, the Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the top men's and women's Division I college athletics programs in the country. Points toward the Capital One Cup are earned and tracked throughout the year based on final standings of NCAA Division I Championships and final official coaches' polls. One winning men's and one winning women's program will be crowned after the completion of the final NCAA spring championships. Unlike the Directors' Cup, only 13 men's and 13 women's sports are represented.
Kentucky is currently in a tie for 14th on the men's side of the Capital One Cup.
Each winning men's and women's athletics programs will receive the Capital One Cup trophy and a $200,000 donation to fund student-athlete graduate-level scholarships.
One of the beauties of baseball is its season's longevity and opportunities. In most cases, a team can never get too high or too low because there is always another series to balance out everything with 56 regular-season games during the year.
However, after the Kentucky baseball team's 8-2 loss to Auburn on Sunday, the third time in as many weekends UK has been swept in Southeastern Conference play -- this time by an opponent that was badly in need of a win like Kentucky -- the team has to start wondering whether or not it has dug itself a hole to deep to climb out of.
With Sunday's loss, Kentucky dropped its ninth straight league game, the most consecutive losses since starting the 2005 SEC season 0-9. More importantly, UK falls to 2-10 in the league and into a tie for last place in the conference with Tennessee. Kentucky is currently three games out of the all-important eighth and final SEC Tournament spot with four teams to climb over.
Faced with 18 league games still left on the schedule -- still more than half of the conference slate -- where does the team go from here?
"You go to Tuesday," head coach Gary Henderson said, referring to Tuesday's nonconference tilt at archrival Louisville. "You've got to get to the next game. Obviously we're going to play better than we did this weekend. We're a better club than that but that's how we played and those are the results. Now we've got to move forward and the next ballgame is Tuesday."
Before Tuesday rolls around, though, Henderson and his ballclub will try to make sense of another disappointing weekend.
A week after handcuffing defending national champion South Carolina to 11 runs in three games, Kentucky's pitching staff surrendered 35 runs and a total of 48 hits this weekend. The usually reliable UK bullpen allowed 19 of those runs over eight innings.
"I wouldn't pin it on our bullpen today," Henderson said. "I don't think our bullpen gave up a hard hit ball."
But the wheels did fall off in the seventh inning when the Tigers plated four runs on four hits, including a game-changing call by first base umpire John Whitaker.
With the game tied 2-2, a runner on second base and two outs, starting pitcher Taylor Rogers induced Justin Hargett into a bouncer to the middle of the infield. Senior shortstop Taylor Black fielded the chopper on the run and threw it to first, but Hargett was called safe on a bang-bang play.
A video replay of the call, which would have been an inning-ending out, showed Black's throw beat the runner by half of a step. Auburn opened up the game after the call.
"I thought our body language, I thought our tempo, our energy was outstanding until that missed call in the seventh, to be honest with you," Henderson said. "It got away from us and we didn't get it back."
Henderson couldn't place the whole game on the call, though. After Rogers left in the seventh and the bullpen took over, the defense committed a costly error in the seventh and three more in the eighth, paving the way for five unearned runs.
"It's the whole inning," Henderson said. "When a game is not going your way and you're not playing well, you just don't get all the breaks. Clearly the guy is out, but beyond that break, which would have put up a zero on the board, we've got to field the next groundball. That's the nature of baseball. You don't get every call. That one obviously went against us but we've got to field the next groundball and minimize the damage. We didn't, and the next thing you know they've got a four spot up there."
Prior to the latest SEC series, the conclusion from the ballclub was that it played better at home because it was simply more comfortable at the friendly confines of Cliff Hagan Stadium. A 14-3 mark at home before the Auburn three-game stand and a 1-7 record on the road seemed to qualify that stance.
Not anymore following an 0-3 weekend at home.
After the latest slew of losses, it's more about this team's inability to get everything on the same page at the same time. On a weekend where UK found its offense (34 runs and nine home runs), its bullpen and defense gave in.
It seems that once UK solves one thing, something else goes wrong.
"Man, it's the truth," said senior Braden Kapteyn, who has experienced both sides of the struggles as a two-way player. "I feel like it's been like that for a while. In the end it's a grind; it's a long season. You've got half of it left. You've got to stay positive and we'll figure it out."
Kapteyn was asked what the positives are at this point. He mentioned a solid start by Rogers (6.2 innings, seven hits and three earned runs) and the improved hitting.
"Whenever you get swept it's never a good thing," Kapteyn said. "At this point we're in a little bit of a rut. You've got to pick the positives and try to build on them. Any win is momentum."
And UK, three games out of the eighth spot for the SEC Tournament, needs wins quickly.
It isn't time to panic yet if you're the UK baseball team, but it's getting close. The hole is getting deeper and deeper, and there's only so high you can climb out.
In Saturday night's Nike Hoops Summit, Kentucky's vaunted 2011 recruiting class of Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer was on full display in a 92-80 Team USA win in Portland, Ore.
The four five-star prospects all contributed to their teams, with Gilchrist and Davis tallying 16 points apiece, Wiltjer 12 and Teague six.
Gilchrist and Davis were particularly impressive. Though they scored well, it was their all-around play that separated them. Gilchrist had five rebounds and five blocks to go along with his points while Davis notched 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Team USA faced a size disadvantage against the bigger international squad, but the Americans applied full-court pressure, which was anchored by Davis and Gilchrist, to take advantage of their superior athleticism. The two forwards were all over the floor, blocking shots and getting deflections left and right. Their length will cause problems for a lot of opponents when they hit the floor for UK.
On a few occasions Wiltjer, who suited up for the World team, was victimized by the length and athleticism of his future teammates. The Portland native holds citizenship in both the United States and Canada and will follow in the footsteps of his father, Greg, and play for the Canadian national team. Wiltjer had his moments in the game, scoring eight points after halftime and showing his range from deep.
Like Wiltjer, Teague had a quiet first half, failing to score a point. However, he scored six points after the break, grabbed three rebounds and made a number of nice passes to teammates. Perhaps the play of the game was a two-man fast break that saw Teague make a behind-the-back dish to Davis for an open slam, showing the kind of chemistry that could make the Cats very fun to watch next year.
This class will have a lot to live up to based on the hype surrounding it and the success of John Calipari's first two classes at UK, but their performance tonight showed why they are ranked No. 1.
Gilchrist, Davis, Teague and Wiltjer will all be in action again April 16 in the Jordan Brand Classic.
It is a beautiful Friday afternoon and spring sports are in full swing. Here are a few notes entering a packed weekend of UK sports:
- If you're looking for something to do Friday evening in Lexington, your best bet is UK baseball's series opener against No. 30 Auburn in Cliff Hagan Stadium at 6:30. The Wildcats (16-12, 2-7 Southeastern Conference) posted a 15-2 midweek win over Xavier and will send junior ace Alex Meyer to the mound.
In case you needed any extra motivation to head out to the ballpark, UK basketball student assistant coach and future NBA draft pick Enes Kanter will be tossing out the first pitch. They don't play too much baseball in Turkey, but Kanter has been practicing before taking the mound.
- The last time Kanter was able to play in an actual basketball game was the Nike Hoops Summit in April of 2010. The 2011 edition of the game is at 10 p.m. ET Saturday in Portland, Ore.
Like last week's McDonald's All-American game, each of UK's four signees in the class of 2011 will be taking the floor. Kyle Wiltjer, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Canada, will suit up for the international team against Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague of Team USA.
The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net, so check your local listings for coverage in your area. Over the past two years, Kanter, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins have played in the game and gone on to attend UK, so the event has turned into an annual must-watch for UK fans.
- UK football is in the middle of spring practice, which I attended today to write this story on the return of Andre' Woodson to the program. Today was the first day of spring practice that the weather really cooperated and coach Joker Phillips was happy with his team's energy on Friday.
Phillips also said that Saturday's practice will be an important one because it will be the first that the team will operate on the entire field.
"We have to put it all together tomorrow," Phillips said, "because tomorrow we'll put the ball down and play the whole field."
Especially for the offense and quarterback Morgan Newton, it will be a telling day because the offense will be called upon to sustain long drives.
Coach Woodson. That certainly feels a little strange to say.
It seems like just yesterday that Andre' Woodson was shattering school records and notching some of the biggest wins in Kentucky football history.
After a few years spent pursuing a professional career, the decorated quarterback who was instrumental in the emergence of the program as a player has returned to Lexington as a student assistant coach.
"It's been great being back with this program," Woodson said. "Obviously we're continuing to try to build. I think we've got some great players here; obviously the coaches are really great. I just want to be a part of all this and continue to try to bring success."
During his Kentucky playing career, Woodson was a huge part of the Wildcats' success under then-coach Rich Brooks. He was a three-year starter and led UK to consecutive bowl victories in 2006-07, the first time Kentucky had accomplished that feat since Paul "Bear" Bryant roamed the sidelines in the early '50s.
By the end of his time as a Wildcat, Woodson had thrown for 9,360 yards and 81 touchdowns, a school record. During his senior season, he broke the Southeastern Conference record for passing touchdowns with 40 and shattered the NCAA mark for consecutive passes thrown without an interception with 325.
After a stellar college career, Woodson was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He eventually was placed on the team's practice squad but was cut the following year before being picked up by the Washington Redskins and cut two months later. He then tried to make his way with the UFL's Hartford Colonials, but that didn't work out either.
Faced with the disappointment of the end of his playing days, UK head coach Joker Phillips, Woodson's offensive coordinator during his college days, reached out to his former pupil.
"Once everything didn't work out in Connecticut (with the Hartford Colonials), Joker reached out to me when I came to one of the practices," Woodson said. "We discussed it a little bit, the option of coming back and coaching."
Even though Woodson had come to grips with the fact he wouldn't be playing anymore, he couldn't turn his back on football altogether.
"With me loving the game, I didn't just want to walk away from it completely," Woodson said. "This gives me a chance to be around the players, around the coaches. This is a great opportunity for me to continue to be around the game."
With an eye on the professional ranks, Woodson left school before the end of his senior year to prepare for the NFL Draft without receiving his degree. Returning to campus as a student assistant gives Woodson the opportunity to complete his coursework and graduate, which he plans to do in December.
Woodson intends to go into college coaching full time once he finishes school.
"I would love to stay with coaching," Woodson said. "Whether it will be here or some place else, I don't know that yet."
Although Woodson is getting a great deal out of his return to Kentucky, the relationship is far from one-sided. Woodson is focusing most of his time working with UK's quarterbacks and junior Morgan Newton says he has been a valuable resource.
"Andre' is a proven leader," Newton said. "He took our program to a different level than it was before and having him around will be instrumental in taking this program to another level."
In fact, Woodson's success as a player was a factor in Newton's eventual decision to come to UK. Newton was a high school star during Woodson's UK tenure.
"You could argue that it was the factor," Newton said. "When I came here and saw them beat Louisville (in 2007) and when I saw them beat LSU on TV his senior year, that was huge in my decision making. Just seeing the type of things they did when he was quarterback played a big role."
Newton enters his third season at UK looking to take his game to the next level. He has started and won games when stepping in for the departed Mike Hartline, but has yet to put his stamp on the position.
Woodson was in a similar position after his own sophomore season, having started as a sophomore but having only a sporadically successful season. It was his junior year when he became the elite quarterback that rewrote Kentucky record books.
For Newton there is a lesson to be learned from that.
"There's a lot to be learned," Newton said. "You get another year under your belt; you're able to learn how much work it takes to be a successful player."
Woodson recognizes the lessons that can be gleaned from his development between his sophomore and junior seasons, but says that Newton is grasping a lot of that on his own.
"I think he's kind of realized (what it will take to succeed) on his own," Woodson said. "Having to sit back last year and see Mike take over, I think that helped learn what it's going to take this season."
Woodson would be hard pressed to be any more pleased about what he has seen from Newton so far.
"I think he's come a long way," Woodson said. "Right now, I can tell you watching him on the field right now he's really doing a great job of throwing it, understanding his reads, putting the ball in the places he needs to put it. I think it's a complete difference from what I saw last year, especially in the bowl game, to what I'm seeing now on the practice field. I'm very excited to see what he does this season."
If Newton can even come close to matching what Woodson did in his final two college seasons, it will be safe to say that Coach Woodson played a part.
Outgoing UK President, Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr., sat down with UK Public Relations and Marketing for an extensive look back at UK Athletics' journey from the probation-riddled years of the early 2000s to where the department is at today.
There are a collection of really good video interviews you can watch at the UKnow website as well as a written story. I'm going to post a couple of the videos below as a small preview, but view the full story at UKnow. It's a really well-done piece by the folks at UK.
Todd is leaving his post at UK in June to retire after 10 years as the president.
The Kentucky softball team has waited 14-plus seasons for its first perfect game. Lo and behold the program goes out and captures two in the same night.
One game after junior Chanda Bell tossed the first perfect game in school history in a 16-0 rout of Austin Peay, junior Rachel Riley followed with a perfect game not even two hours later in a 13-0 victory over the Governors.
Head coach Rachel Lawson has seen a lot of things in her softball coaching career, but she's never seen anything quite like what happened Wednesday night in Clarksville, Tenn.
"I was actually kind of in shock while the whole thing was happening," Lawson said. "It was pretty cool. It was a special day for them."
Surprisingly, it's not the first time back-to-back perfect games have happened in NCAA softball history. As a matter of fact, Louisiana-Lafayette conquered the feat earlier this season against Rhode Island.
Still, Wednesday night was pretty special for Kentucky as it marked the first time in Southeastern Conference history a team has pitched back-to-back perfect games. Only two SEC teams have ever recorded multiple perfect games in an entire season and those were done by the same pitcher for each team.
Bell overpowered the Governors with a dominating fastball, striking out 15 of the 18 batters she faced in a six-inning affair. The 15-strikeout performance marks the sixth time in Bell's career she's fanned 15 or more batters in a single game.
Meanwhile, Riley used her drop-ball and her off-speed pitches for five flawless innings until the run rule went into effect.
"They both worked perfectly," Lawson said.
What may be even more remarkable is that Bell can't even remember if she's ever pitched a perfect game while Riley didn't know what she had accomplished until after the game was over.
Riley said the game felt just like any other outing until catcher Megan Yocke threw her the ball after the final out.
"That was kind of weird because she normally doesn't do that, and then everybody was like, 'You got a perfect game too,' " said Riley, who also pitched in at the plate with a school-record-tying six RBI.
Riley has pitched a perfect game in high school before, but Bell isn't so certain if she's ever done it. Whether or not it was indeed her first career perfect game, it still felt pretty sweet, if for no other reason than for how close she's come before.
Bell has flirted with a perfect game multiple times in her UK career, tossing three career no-hitters, including the program's first, but this was definitely her first perfect game in college.
"I was grinning ear to ear after it happened," Bell said. "And then in the second game I knew that Rachel had a perfect game going on so I was getting really excited, especially in the last inning. It's just a great feeling."
Bell said she sat with assistant coach and former player Molly Johnson during Riley's game hoping that her teammate could pull off a similar feat.
"I was trying not to say anything out loud so I wouldn't jinx her," Bell said.
The back-to-back perfect games are just another check mark in a long list of accomplishments for Bell and Riley.
The junior duo was already responsible for leading the program to its first two NCAA Tournament appearances, and Bell is the all-time strikeout leader and is on pace to shatter the wins record at Kentucky.
But both have taken their game to an even higher level this year, pacing a pitching staff on a team that is 27-7 overall, 11-3 in the SEC and second overall in the league. Bell is 10-4 on the season with a 1.57 ERA while Riley is sporting an 8-2 record with a 2.05 ERA.
"Just learning how to throw in the SEC has been a big change, knowing that I can't take a pitch off no matter what," Bell said. "Coming in freshman year and high school, I was able to take some pitches off and still get away with it because I threw fairly hard. Here, in the SEC, they take advantage of that and those are the ones that go over the fence."
There are a number of reasons for their improvement, experience, maturity and development being a few of them, but both pitchers have added pitches to their already impressive repertoire. Bell has added a drop ball and changeup to her overpowering stuff while Riley has honed her rise ball and added a changeup.
"They're not as predictable as they used to be," Lawson said. "Before, where they certainly had good pitches, those were the only pitches they could throw. Now, what they are able to do is they can really mix their pitches a lot so they're not as predictable. They're also stronger and smarter."
They're stronger because of the added depth of freshmen pitchers Ellen Weaver and Lauren Cumbess. The freshman duo has combined to go 9-1 this season, allowing Bell and Riley to get more rest than they've had in their first two years in the program.
"Even though you don't see all the arm injuries that you do in baseball, a lot of softball is with your legs," Lawson said. "They've been able to rest their legs on their days off which has really helped them drive the ball off the mound."
The arsenal and variety of arms, in addition to a surging offense, has put the team on the brink of achieving some things that didn't seem possible before Lawson arrived at UK. The Cats are currently boasting a No. 18 national ranking, the highest in school history, and are fresh off the program's first sweep of Florida.
The Gators were the No. 5 team in the country at the time of the sweep and now Kentucky must head to No. 2 Georgia this weekend. Austin Peay has struggled to an 8-27 record this season, but the ability to stay focused and pitch perfect games in between two critical series is what impressed Lawson the most.
"It keeps your confidence level high," Lawson said. "A lot of times when you play a series like Florida, there's kind of a letdown afterwards, so it was nice for us to see both of those pitchers come out and be really sharp and execute their pitches and do what they need to do to win the game. It was pretty cool that we didn't have that lull and that we kept moving on."
After the perfect games, Riley spent time with her family while the team celebrated at a late-night dinner. For one night at least, Georgia could wait. It's not every day you pitch two perfect games in one night.
"It feels great," Riley said. "It's something that not a lot of people can say they've done. It's just cool that everything worked out perfect."
- There were a couple of other nuggets from spring football Wednesday that I wasn't able to squeeze into the feature story on the new defense. First, defensive end Nermin Delic will miss eight weeks because of sports hernia surgery. If the recovery goes well, Delic should be ready when practice resumes in August. Also, head coach Joker Phillips said Wednesday that 250-pound defensive end Taylor Wyndham has slid inside for reps at defensive tackle. It wasn't clear if it was a permanent position change or spring experiment.
- UK Hoops senior Victoria Dunlap is one of 15 players invited to next week's WNBA Draft at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Not much else to say other than that since we have a full release already up with all the details. I'm scheduled to talk with Dunlap after she gets drafted next week, so stay tuned for that. UK's second all-time leading scorer is projected in the first 10 picks.
- Apparently GoDaddy.com has a preseason All-American team. Never mind the fact that we're not even done with spring practice yet. Anyways, linebacker Danny Trevathan was tabbed a second-team pick and offensive lineman Larry Warford was named honorable mention.
- Guy Ramsey linked a few very early preseason rankings for next basketball season, but a few more came out this afternoon. As you can tell by the predictions, UK should be in the fold for another Final Four next year:
- Of course, those rankings could change depending on who decides to leave. Draft Express has Brandon Knight listed as the No. 8 overall prospect and Terrence Jones at No. 12. Doron Lamb makes the list at No. 66.
- One man who definitely won't be back because of graduation: Josh Harrellson. Now that his UK career is officially over, Harrellson (@BigJorts55) is back on Twitter. In case you forgot, Harrellson was banned from Twitter by John Calipari after bemoaning his coach on the social site. Harrellson credits the punishment and conditioning from it for turning around his career. Calipari welcomed back Harrellson with open arms:
Before you can build, you need a blueprint. New co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter is using spring practice to install a blueprint for his new hybrid defense.
Minter had two weeks before the BBVA Compass Bowl to deliver the Wildcats a crash course into the new defensive change, but what fans will see next fall will largely be based off the five-week learning course the UK defense is currently undergoing.
There's different terminology, a new playbook and a ton of innovative formations. The change has been a lot to digest for a Kentucky defense that returns its top 11 tacklers, but the players are grateful they're going through the implementation process now before the season rolls around.
"It's just a whole new defensive scheme," safety Winston Guy said. "It's a lot of thinking. He's been putting plays in every week. He's overloading us with it so we won't have to install new stuff in the fall. It will just be refreshing our minds."
But what exactly is the defense? When Minter was hired after the 2010 regular season, there was talk that UK would be switching from a 4-3 defense (four down linemen) to a 3-4. Then, before spring practice started, head coach Joker Phillips said it would still be a 4-3 base with some looks of a 4-2-5.
"It's whatever we want it to be on a given play and a given game," Minter said. "When we need to get bigger we have to get bigger and when we need to get faster, we need to be able to get faster. So it will be up to us to put together a scheme. A scheme is overrated to be honest. It's about making plays and putting the playmakers on the field to make those plays."
Really, the scheme and its strength, according to Minter, is its versatility. The ability to mix and match with the ever-changing offenses of college football should give UK a better chance to match up athletically.
The defense will feature different alignments, multiple-look fronts and blitzes.
"Offenses today have such a great pizzazz and flavor to them that you must be adjustable on defense," Minter said. "You find great 'backs, you find great receivers, quick O-lines, fast-tempo teams and slow-tempo teams. All we are trying to do is put our guys in position to match up no matter what they see. We will have a plan that will be successful against any of those styles of play."
Of course, with any infrastructure change, there must be adjustments to the individual parts and pieces. On Wednesday, Phillips said 250-pound defensive end Taylor Wyndham has moved inside and is taking reps at defensive tackle.
But the two most intriguing moves have been with Guy and Martavius Neloms. Guy, a two-year starter at safety, is moving closer to the line of scrimmage and will serve as a hybrid linebacker in nickel packages. Neloms is moving back from his cornerback spot to safety.
Phillips believes both changes will help the team and the individual players in the long run.
"Winston was a guy that in high school was blitzing off the edge and played in the gaps a lot, while Neloms is athletic enough to play over the top," Phillips said. "Neloms has a little bit better instinct in breaking on the ball and being a middle-of-the-field or half-field safety. And Winston has a better feel than Neloms being in the box. Last year, it was opposite. We are just flip-flopping those guys and it will help us as a football team."
Guy seems to be a natural fit at the nickel linebacker position. Although he's undersized at 210 pounds, he was second on the team in tackles last year with 106 stops. Known more for his blitzing and run-stopping ability than his pass coverage, Guy is expected to give UK a physical presence near the line.
"Coach Minter puts a lot of people in situations to make plays," Guy said. "He feels it's best for me in the long run and for the team where I'm playing at. He's just putting more people on the field that have the athletic ability to play and putting more talent on the field. Putting me down close to the line is going to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and give me a chance to get sacks and a lot of hurries. He's just trying to utilize everybody the best way he can."
Guy admitted he was initially skeptical about the change. As someone who flirted with leaving early for the pros, he was understandably worried about the move being the best for his future.
But after a talk with Minter, Guy believes the ability to play four different positions -- he's played cornerback, free safety, strong safety and now linebacker at UK -- should help his draft status.
"He changed," Minter said. "He came over and put the team first but I think he likes it because it gets him closer to the action and we need his skills in space. That's what I'm talking about with all these different athletes. We don't want to have to get caught substituting a nickel every time someone splits a third wide out on the field. We want to put our best nickel on the field and we think that is Winston."
Now practicing with the linebackers, Guy said he's constantly studying his playbook. He said he carries it around with him wherever he goes and reads it before he goes to sleep at night and before every practice.
Apparently the work has paid off.
"I don't really get yelled at as much as other people do," Guy said grinning.
In the offseason, Guy said he hopes to work with defensive line coach David Turner and see if he can get on the bag drills the defensive and offensive linemen go through. The goal is to get off blocks and use his hands better for some of the blitzes he'll be running next year.
The change in positions and attitude has all been part of the maturation process for Guy as he enters his fourth and final season.
"I'm a team player," Guy said. "Whatever I can do to help the team. This is my last year and I want to make the best of what I'm doing. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of dedication to my new spot."
As for Neloms, the coaching staff believes his tackling ability and cover skills are better suited for the strong safety position. Last week, Phillips joked that Neloms already had more interceptions in spring practice than Guy has in his entire career (three).
Although Neloms was turning into a pretty solid corner (55 tackles and two pass breakups last year), moving him to safety opens up more opportunities for corners Cartier Rice, Anthony Mosley and the highly regarded Jerrell Priester, across from Randall Burden.
"(Neloms) is a long strider who plays the ball in the air," Minter said. "He can go get it. It's like having an extra corner out there because that's what he's come from. As long as he can stack in the box at times and bring the heat when he needs to bring it, which I know he will, that will be his adjustment."
There are a lot of adjustments going on this spring on the defensive side of the ball. It's going to take time, but don't try telling that to Minter.
"I don't even know how to spell patience," Minter said.
After losing a senior class that helped lead the program to its first two NCAA tournament appearances -- a group that included All-American shortstop Molly Johnson -- Kentucky was a logical candidate to take a step back from the softball spotlight this season.
Instead, the Wildcats are stepping on home plate with greater and greater frequency
Softball: Sweep of Florida caps big week for UK (Kentucky Kernel) The Cats swept the previously No. 5 ranked Gators this past weekend en route to their sixth straight win and the lead atop the SEC East. The latest polls rank the team 18th in the nation, the highest mark in UK history.
Aull led the way for UK, hitting four home runs in the series, while driving in eight runs and also scoring seven of her own. She became the first player in school history to hit two home runs in an inning during the team's eight-run first inning on Sunday. .
As the Cats lost close game after close game this season, Coach John Calipari tried to ease Todd's anxiety by reminding him that the shorthanded, freshman-oriented team was making progress. But memories of No.1-seeded UK losing to Marquette in 2003 and Alabama-Birmingham in 2004 tested the president's faith.
"This is so pleasing," Todd said of UK's unexpected advancement to this year's Final Four. "I've smiled for about two weeks. My (facial) muscles are hurting."
The DC-10 carrying the ever-so-barely vanquished University of Kentucky Wildcats was cheered before it ever touched ground. Spotted first by airport personnel high above the northeast horizon around 2:43 p.m., the USA Jet Airlines flight battled the wind, wobbled a bit and landed solidly to cheers of a small but enthusiastic crowd of 75.
Aside from freshman Max Smith, there are no challengers at the quarterback spot. Newton said this has been a new experience for him after battling Mike Hartline last season.
"I've been here a couple years now, so I'm trying to start getting this mental preparation, stating to get all that figured out," Newton said after Saturday's scrimmage. "I'm just trying to go out here and be the leader and play fast and make good decisions."
The Kentucky offensive line was a big question mark heading into last spring, as the Cats were attempting to replace four starters from a rock-solid unit.
Fast forward one year later and the same group that was trying to get its feet wet together are now looked at as the stabilizing force for an offense that will break in a new quarterback, tailback and No. 1 receiver.
But Knight was a freshman, on the big stage for the first time, with a lot of money at stake if he comes out.
He got a big win.
In the opener against Princeton in Tampa, Fla., he missed his first seven shots and was scoreless with Kentucky's tournament hopes in the balance in a 4-13 matchup. But when Knight got the ball in a 57-57 game, he did not hesitate. He confronted a miserable day by nailing a driving layup with two seconds remaining that delivered victory.
Meeks, now 22-years-old, in his second NBA season and playing for his third NBA coach, is headed for the playoffs as a starting guard a year after getting traded and riding the bench for two different teams.
"I'm happy for everybody," teammate Andre Iguodala said after the Sixers beat the Nets to clinch a playoff berth Friday night. "But especially for Jodie Meeks, because of everything he's been through."
When Cobb (5-11, 186) declared early for the NFL Draft around the Senior Bowl, talk was that Boise State wide receiver Titus Young (5-11 1/4, 174) had been so good that he was going to be the third receiver taken. Definitely the first receiver under 6-feet to be selected. Over the last two-plus months, however, Cobb has been flying up draft boards with scouts, coaches and front office executives breaking down film and watching him workout. Cobb is an explosive playmaker with the ability to impact games anytime he gets the ball in his hands. While Young is a good prospect and Leonard Hankerson (6-1 5/8, 205) is an athletic big receiver, when it comes to an explosive playmaker, Cobb has vaulted over them, along with many others, to be viewed as the No. 3 receiver in the draft. He could end up being a late first-round pick.
The college basketball season ended only two days ago, but experts are already starting to talk about how good the Wildcats could be in 2011-12. Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated ranked UK fifth for next year, while Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports tabbed the Cats No. 1. Additionally, here's video of Dick Vitale on SportsCenter Tuesday listing Kentucky behind only North Carolina in his way-too-early rankings.
There are times when the Kentucky baseball team looks like it can play with the best teams in the country.
Tuesday night, when UK (16-14) shellacked Xavier 15-2 thanks to a six-run first inning and a Luke Maile grand slam, was one of them. So was this past weekend when Kentucky gave defending champion and No. 3 South Carolina all it could handle in a three-game series.
But that's also what has been keeping head coach Gary Henderson up late at nights. There's a silver lining for Henderson that his team is close to competing, but a bottom-line factor that the Cats have lost their last two Southeastern Conference series, both by the sweep variety.
"You don't get too excited about losing, that's for sure," Henderson said, "but you've got to find some positives in there. Our starting pitching was a positive. We had some really good performances out of the bullpen as well. It wasn't all great. There are some things we've got to get figured out defensively. We're playing much better defense at home. We really didn't have hardly any positives offensively. It was a very, very slim weekend for us. Carolina is good, yeah, and they pitched well, but we've got to perform better on the road."
Against South Carolina, in front of packed houses at Carolina Stadium, Kentucky nearly upset the Gamecocks on three different occasions.
On Friday, junior pitcher Alex Meyer hurled an eight-inning complete game but didn't get any run support. On Saturday, a botched pop-up and an infield single helped the Gamecocks to a walk-off win. And Sunday, 14 runners left on base, including three bases loaded situations in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings in which the Cats came up empty, was the difference between a 4-1 loss and a victory.
It's often been a case of close but not good enough. And most of the time it's come on the road.
At the familiar confines of Cliff Hagan Stadium, UK is 14-3 with a run differential of plus-56. On the road, Kentucky is just 1-7 with a minus-12 run differential.
"We're just much more confident being back home," Henderson said. "That's something we've got to handle and we've got to get better at. There are no excuses for it. It is what is. When we go on the road, it's a great environment, it's a tough environment, but that's our conference. It's never going to change. We've got to handle the road better."
The season, by expectation standards, has pretty much stuck to the script. Faced with a mass exodus of offensive losses, Kentucky was going to need its pitching staff to carry the team.
For the most part it has.
Meyer, despite a 3-4 record, has been rock solid. Living up to his potential first-round MLB Draft expectations, Meyer has pitched his way to a 3.10 ERA and is handcuffing hitters to a .214 average. His walks are down, his strikeouts are up and his fastballs are routinely touching above 95 miles per hour.
Sophomore Jordan Cooper has struggled to build on a solid freshman campaign and has been moved out of the weekend rotation (he picked up the win Tuesday in his first midweek start of the year), but freshman lefty Corey Littrell has stepped into the weekend threesome and has a 4-1 record in six starts. Last week he was 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA.
Then there is the bullpen, which has been very close to spectacular. One of the question marks heading into the season, five relievers - Trevor Gott (0.47 ERA), Walter Wijas (1.19), Mike Kaczmarek (2.16), Alex Phillips (2.51) and Nick Kennedy (2.61) - have a sub 3.00 ERA.
"They've done great," Henderson said. "Part of having a good bullpen is having a little bit of depth so you can match guys up and put them in a position where they can be successful. You don't have to stretch them out very often and you don't have to put them in matchups that aren't conducive to them being successful. It's the same thing we had in '08. You can have two or three guys that are really good in the bullpen but they're not quite as good as having five or six."
Now it's just about getting the offense going in clutch situations. UK has a .292 average on the season and five hitters batting above .300, but the hits haven't always been timely.
Kentucky hit just .232 overall in the Alabama sweep and .181 in the South Carolina series. Against Xavier on Tuesday, UK cranked out 15 runs on 11 hits and three home runs. In addition to Maile's grand slam, third baseman Thomas McCarthy was 2-for-4 with five RBI.
After a weekend in which none of the hits seemed to show up, on Tuesday, they seemed to be contagious.
"It absolutely spreads," Henderson said. "The confidence factor of knowing that the guy behind you just squared a ball up and you're going to go up there and do the same thing is tremendous. When you're really struggling, that really spreads too."
Xavier isn't No. 3 South Carolina, but Henderson believes there is a fundamental difference in approach in how Kentucky has approached some of its games.
"There's a comfort zone when we play at home," senior shortstop Taylor Black said. "The atmosphere on the road is a little bit different in the SEC. When we come here, we're a little bit more in our norm."
Henderson said his players need to get over that hurdle.
"It's drastic," Henderson said of the difference between home and away games. "That's a 100-percent mental barrier that you've got to get over and get past it. We can certainly help them as much as we can, but the bottom line is they've got to play. They've got to play like their tail is on fire and a chip is on their shoulder."
There's still a lot of time left for UK, a lot of confidence from Henderson and a lot of opportunities for the Cats.
Sure, the 2-7 SEC record isn't worth writing home about, but the positive for Kentucky is six other SEC teams are below .500, one of them being this weekend's home opponent, 2-7 Auburn. Only the top eight teams make the SEC Tournament.
As Kentucky knows all too well, if you make the league tournament, you have a good chance of making the NCAA Tournament. It basically marks the line between close and good enough.
UK is trying to figure out how to step over that line. Tuesday's 15-2 win was a good start.
"I think the thing we realize is that all the teams are pretty much equal," Black said. "We've played really close and we gave up some games we should've won. I think we need to learn that any team can learn on any day."
Men's basketball: Following a remarkable run to the Final Four, the Kentucky men's basketball team finished the season ranked No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll. UK moved all the way up from No. 10 with the NCAA Tournament run. National champion Connecticut was ranked No. 1, followed by national runner-up Butler at No. 2. The Associated Press does not release a final poll.
The Kentucky men's basketball team didn't get to enjoy its ultimate "One Shining Moment," but there were plenty of memorable moments along the way to the Final Four. CBS captured a few of them in its annual "One Shining Moment" wrap-up.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, April 3:
Kentucky Gymnastics team
Behind a season-high score on balance beam of 48.9, the University of Kentucky gymnastics team posted its highest team score at a NCAA Regional in school history with a 195.175 in a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional on Saturday. Kentucky's team score at the meet surpassed its previous NCAA Regional high mark of 195.150, which helped UK earn a fourth-place finish in the 2001 NCAA Regional. The Wildcats had not scored a 195 team score of above since the 2001 season. The Wildcats were impressive on all four events at the meet but earned its highest event score on balance beam, posting a season-high score of 48.9. Junior Storey Morris led all UK gymnasts on the event with a 9.85, surpassing her career high of 9.825, while freshman Audrey Harrison scored a 9.8 for her highest career mark.
Softball: Meagan Aull
Senior Meagan Aull simply had the best weekend of her career in helping guide UK to it's first-ever sweep of No. 5 Florida. Aull was 5-for-10 at the dish with all five hits coming in the extra-base magnitude. Aull entered the series with just six career homers and blasted four in three games against the Gators in leading UK to just the second series win in school history over Florida.
Aull connected with a three-run long ball to help propel UK to a run-rule in the opening game of the series. She then led off the second game of the series by taking the first offering of the bottom of the first over the center-field fence. It marked the first time in her career she had back-to-back games with a homer. Aull then proved to be a difference maker late in the game with an RBI double that led to a four-run inning for UK to recapture the lead en route to a 7-6 win to take the series.
Finally, in the last game of the series, Aull blasted a leadoff homer for the second consecutive game to begin an eight-run charge for the Blue and White. After UK having batted all the way around the order, Aull came back to the plate in the bottom of the first with a runner on second and charted her second long ball of the game. It is the first time in her career she has totaled two homers in a single game and just the 15th time in school history the feat has been achieved. It is the first time in school history that a player hit two homers in the same inning.
With five hits this weekend, Aull moved into ninth place all-time with 184 career hits.
Aull has a hit in 23 of UK's last 25 games with hitting streaks of eight, 10 and a current five-game run. In 12 of those games Aull has multiple hits.
She currently leads the SEC with 20 hits in league action and ranks seventh with a .408 batting average.
Softball: Chanda Bell
Junior pitcher Chanda Bell helped catapult the Blue and White to a series sweep of No. 5 Florida. Bell was terrific in the opening game of the series working a complete-game effort and striking out 11 batters. It marked the 30th time in her career she has totaled 10 or more strikeouts in a game -- and the first against Florida.
With the win over the Gators it marked the first career victory over Florida and the second victory over a top-10 ranked opponent in the SEC this season.
In the final game of the series, Bell entered the game in relief and worked two innings allowing just one hit and striking out three to preserve the sweep. For the series, Bell worked 8.0 innings, allowed just six hits and struck out 14 to a Gator attack that entered the series batting .357 as a unit.
Bell has held SEC opponents to a staggering league-best .119 batting average and given up a league-low 15 hits. Angel Brunner of Auburn is the next closest with a .171 batting average. She ranks second behind Alabama's Kelsi Dunne with 63 strikeouts tossed, despite pitching 10 less innings than the league leader.
Softball: Emily Jolly
Freshman Emily Jolly put together the best SEC series of her young career in helping propel UK to a sweep of the Gators. The freshman second baseman totaled a .444 batting average on four hits and three runs scored. She totaled a pair of her team-best six doubles, including a two-run two-bagger in an eight-run opening inning in the final game of the series. Jolly was also masterful in the field recording a pair of putouts and three assists.
Men's tennis: Tom Jomby
With the match tied 3-3 and the final singles match in a decisive third-set tiebreaker, University of Kentucky freshman Tom Jomby earned arguably his biggest collegiate win of his young career by defeating Andrew Butz to give No. 14 Kentucky a 4-3 win over No. 15 Florida. With the win, Kentucky its first victory over the Gators since the 2002 season and its first win in Gainesville, Fla., since 1992 when Wildcats took down Florida in the NCAA Tournament. The Kentucky freshman fell in the first set 6-4 and trailed in the second set before turning the match around by fighting back to earn a second-set victory. In the third set, Jomby earned a quick break to go up 3-1 before Butz would respond to take a 5-4 lead. Jomby, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week two weeks ago, earned a key win behind 6-5 to send the set into a tiebreaker. After falling behind 2-0 in the breaker, Jomby turned up the pressure again en route to a 7-4 tiebreaker win, clinching the UK victory.
If this past weekend's series with No. 5 Florida was supposed to be a test for the Kentucky softball team, consider the performance an A-plus.
Kentucky not only won the series from the last year's Southeastern Conference East Division champions, the Cats swept it. And they did so convincingly.
UK run ruled the Gators on Friday, posted a thrilling comeback Saturday and then smashed Florida for nine runs Sunday. Kentucky outscored the vaunted Gators 26-10 in the three-game sweep.
"Every time we go up against a team like Florida or Georgia, who we play next week, or when we play Alabama, Tennessee or Auburn, every time we play one of those teams it is a test for us," said head coach Rachel Lawson, who picked up her 200th career victory Sunday. "We've done a nice job (against other teams in the past), but in order to get where we want to go, we have to be able to beat these teams. You have to bring your 'A' game."
They brought it alright.
Against one of the league's traditional powers, Kentucky smacked six home runs, knocked in 24 RBI and slugged .654 en route to the first sweep over Florida in school history.
The historic weekend reaffirmed what many around the program were already starting to believe -- this team is every bit as good as its 25-7 overall record, and yes, it has a legitimate chance to compete for an SEC championship.
"This was a very big deal for us," senior center fielder Meagan Aull said. "We have worked so hard to get to this point, but this isn't where we want to be. We want to be at the top of the SEC. We still have one step to get there."
Kentucky currently leads the SEC East with an 11-3 record and is second overall in the league behind 12-1 Alabama. To be where the Cats are with only a month left in the regular season gives the players belief that everything Lawson has told them is possible -- an SEC championship and a Super Regionals appearance -- actually is achievable.
"Hopefully it gives them a lot of confidence," Lawson said. "If they bring their 'A' game and they are able to compete with the best in the country, that's my hope. I think we have a pretty level-headed group, and they understand that every week in the SEC is a grind. More importantly, it reaffirms to them that what they are doing works, and if they are able to work hard, that their goal is something attainable."
How UK is even in contention remains pretty remarkable. Kentucky lost All-American Molly Johnson and Natalie Smith, two of the program's most important all-time players, to graduation after last year, leaving the Cats with considerable offensive question marks.
And yet, with 22 regular-season games remaining, UK has already hit 37 home runs, five fewer than all of last year, and knocked in 151 RBI, 39 short of last season's NCAA Tournament team. Kentucky's .295 batting average would also be a school record if the season ended today.
The offensive improvement has been wide ranging. Six players are hitting above .300, four have five or more home runs and seven have double-digit RBI totals.
Where did the boost in offense come from?
"We are doing a better job of pitch selection and we are doing a better job of, when we see our pitch, attacking it," Lawson said. "Because of that, we are able to generate a little more power and get some more base hits. The other thing is that this senior class has been starting for four years and a lot of the junior class is in their third season. They understand what it takes to win in the SEC. It is pretty much a 12-month season for them."
One of those seniors is Aull, who leads the team in batting average with a .390 clip (Macy Allen has a higher average but only has 11 at-bats). In the win over Florida on Sunday, Aull belted two home runs in an eight-run first inning.
For the series, she totaled four home runs in addition to eight RBI and seven runs scored en route to SEC Player of the Week honors. The player Lawson calls the "pound-for-pound strongest girl on the team" entered the Florida three-game set with six career home runs.
"I have worked hard in the weight room ever since I was a freshman and now it is starting to pay off," Aull said. "I was seeing the ball really well this weekend and I was looking for certain pitches and I was just swinging well. It has obviously paid off. I haven't had many home runs, but I'm glad the power is coming."
Aull said she took it upon herself this offseason to step up and fill the shoes of players like Johnson and Smith.
"All of the seniors got together and we said, 'This is it. This is our senior year,' " Aull said. "We also talked about our pitching staff. We have the best pitching staff in the nation. And even our freshmen. I am extremely proud of our freshmen. They have stepped up and showed that they can compete in the SEC as well."
The only problem for the Cats is that the tests will only get harder this weekend after a pair of midweek games with Austin Peay. After sweeping the No. 5 team in the country, UK must now travel to Athens, Ga., to face the No. 2 team in the country, the Georgia Bulldogs.
Will Kentucky pass the bar again?
"On Sunday, coach told us, 'OK, we did it. We proved ourselves, but let's take it to the next step,' " Aull said. "We need to take that momentum into that game."
Men's basketball - Kentucky finishes its season at 29-9. - The Wildcats end the season having advanced to their 14th Final Four, while posting their 55th 20-win season and winning their 27th SEC Tournament title. - John Calipari is one of only two coaches to lead three different schools to the Final Four. - UK is now 105-46 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and is tied for first with the most NCAA Tournament wins. - The 75,421 fans in attendance for the UK-UConn game was an NCAA Final Four single-game record. - Junior Darius Miller hit a 3-pointer in 25 straight games to finish the season and connected from long range in 36 of 38 games this season. - Brandon Knight closed his rookie season with a UK freshman scoring record of 657 points, and 87 made 3s, also a UK freshman record.
Gymnastics - Behind a season-high score on balance beam of 48.9, the University of Kentucky gymnastics team posted its highest team score at a NCAA Regional in school history with a 195.175 in a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional in Coleman Coliseum at Tuscaloosa, Ala. - Kentucky's team score at the meet surpassed its previous NCAA Regional high mark of 195.150, which helped UK earn a fourth-place finish in the 2001 NCAA Regional. The Wildcats had not scored a 195 team score or above since the 2001 season. - The Wildcats were impressive on all four events at the meet, but earned its highest event score on balance beam, posting a season-high score of 48.9. Junior Storey Morris led all UK gymnasts on the event with a 9.85, surpassing her career high of 9.825, while freshman Audrey Harrison scored a 9.8 for her highest career mark.
Softball - Kentucky swept No. 5 Florida for the first time in school history to claim its fourth SEC series of the season, matching a program record. - Senior Meagan Aull entered the weekend with six career home runs and connected with four in propeling UK's offense to 26 runs on the weekend. Aull had a homer in all three games, including two in the first inning of the final win. She became the first player in school history to hit two long balls in the same inning. - While completing the sweep, UK coach Rachel Lawson won her 200th career game as a head coach. - UK currently ranks second overall in the SEC and first in the Eastern Division.
Baseball - The baseball team completed a four-game week, posting a midweek win over Tennessee Tech, before falling in three games at defending NCAA champion, No. 3 South Carolina. - Kentucky rode a 4-for-4, four-runs-scored outing from senior shortstop Taylor Black in the win over TTU on Tuesday, posting an 11-8 result. - As a team, the Wildcats have posted a .294 batting average through 29 games, owning a 3.83 ERA with eight saves in 254 innings, striking out 237.
Men's tennis - With the match tied 3-3 and the final singles match in a decisive third-set tiebreaker, University of Kentucky freshman Tom Jomby earned arguably his biggest collegiate win of his young career by defeating Andrew Butz to give No. 14 Kentucky a 4-3 win over No. 15 Florida at the Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, Fla. - The win gives Kentucky its first victory over the Gators since the 2002 season and its first win in Gainesville since 1992 when the Wildcats took down Florida in the NCAA Tournament. UK's last regular-season win at Florida was in 1988. - Kentucky continued its winning ways Sunday, taking down South Carolina 5-2 for its 20th win of the season. - UK now has back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since UK earned three consecutive from 1987-89. All told, it is Kentucky's 18th 20-win season in school history and the 12th under longtime head coach Dennis Emery.
Track and field - Senior middle-distance runner Sharif Webb won the 800-meter run for the second consecutive year while setting Kentucky's 800m record and snapping a 25-year old Florida Relays record with a time os 1:47.19. - Sophomore distance runner Cally Macumber earned UK's second win of the Florida Relays with a personal-best time of 4:24.32. - A pair of discus throwers grabbed top-four finishes, with senior Mary Angell (51.34m/168-05) finishing third overall in the women's discus and senior Colin Boevers (57.26m/187-10) fourth on the men's side. - Junior Luis Orta also had a top-five finish, completing the 3,000m steeplechase in 9:01.54 to claim fourth.
Men's golf - UK men's golf freshman Cody Martin posted his third top-25 finish of the spring season as the Wildcats finished 14th in the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate at Bulls Bay Golf Club in Awendaw, S.C. - Martin was again impressive for Kentucky, scoring the lowest round of the day for the Wildcats with a 1-over-par 72. The three-day score of 216 is the lowest of the season for Martin, who has finished as UK's top golfer in the last three events. - Fellow freshman Stephen Powers carded three birdies in the final round and eight for the tournament, posting a career-low score of 221.
Women's golf - Kentucky recorded its second-lowest round of the spring season Sunday. As a team, UK improved each round of the tournament and finished 19th. - Sophomore Ashleigh Albrecht led the Cats for the third time this spring season, finishing 35th overall. She carded her third-lowest round of the spring during the final round on Sunday.
Women's tennis - Kentucky lost to No. 2 Florida 7-0 Friday and fell to No. 38 South Carolina 6-1 Sunday. - Freshman Khristina Blajkevitch won her team-leading eighth singles victory against South Carolina on Sunday. Blajkevitch's win was also her fifth in conference action, the most on the team.
Tuesday, April 5 Baseball hosts Xavier - 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 6 Men's tennis hosts Ohio State - 3 p.m. Softball at Austin Peay (DH) - 6 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Morehead State - 8 p.m.
Friday, April 8 Women's tennis at Arkansas - 1 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Arkansas - 3 p.m. Softball at Georgia - 6:30 p.m. Baseball hosts Auburn - 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 9 Softball at Georgia - 2:30 p.m. Baseball hosts Auburn - 6:30 p.m. Track and field at Kentuckiana Border Battle (Louisville, Ky.) Men's golf hosts UK Bluegrass Invitational
Sunday, April 10 Baseball hosts Auburn - 1 p.m. Women's tennis at LSU - 1 p.m. Men's tennis hosts LSU - 1 p.m. Softball at Georgia - 1:30 p.m. Men's golf hosts UK Bluegrass Invitational
There's been some confusion about head coach John Calipari's tweet that Kentucky will hang this year's Final Four banner at next year's Big Blue Madness.
Some people have tweeted back at the coach to tell him only championship banners -- not Final Four -- are hung in Rupp Arena. That is actually false.
As you can see in the picture above, Final Four banners are indeed hung in Rupp Arena. Only one banner can be hung per year, meaning if the team wins the national championship, that takes the place of the Final Four banner. In UK's practice facility at the Joe Craft Center, only championship banners are hung.
Also, although there's a good chance that the Final Four banner will be hung during next year's Big Blue Madness, as Calipari tweeted, plans have not been finalized yet.
Kentucky's Final Four appearance was the 14th in school history.
HOUSTON -- The pain of ending a magical 2010-11 season was still setting in for the Kentucky's men's basketball players, but freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones and junior DeAndre Liggins were already asked to look ahead to next year.
The future of all three is cloudy.
Knight and Jones, both projected as first-round picks in the upcoming 2011 NBA Draft, declined to speculate on their future in the moments after a disappointing 56-55 loss to Connecticut in the Final Four in Houston.
"I'm not talking about that," Knight said. "I'm still focused on this season and my teammates."
Said Jones: "I don't know. It's the last game this season. This is the last time this group will be together."
Knight and Jones led the team in scoring this year, averaging 17.3 points and 15.7 points, respectively. They'll have until April 24 to declare for the June 23 draft and until May 8 to withdraw.
One player who may have an unexpected decision on his hands is Liggins. The junior guard isn't projected as a high draft pick, but he could make a living in the NBA as a lockdown defender.
After the game, Liggins was asked if Saturday night's loss was his last game in a Kentucky uniform.
"I'm not thinking about that right now," Liggins said. "I'm just thinking about academics right now. We'll see. I'll talk to my family and go from there."
Kentucky will welcome the nation's No. 1 recruiting class again in 2011-12, but it will arguably be John Calipari's finest yet. Signees Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer are all regarded as top-25 recruits.
Liggins said it's crossed his mind to combine many of this year's key parts with next year's studs.
"It feels great to have another chance to come back again next year and try to win it all," Liggins said.
Kentucky will lose senior forward Josh Harrellson to graduation, but he's hoping he's the team's only loss.
"I would tell them to come back," Harrellson said. "Kentucky is a great place. The fans are wonderful what they do for us. I would be all for it to come back and get an education and not be one and done, but it's up to them. They might have struggling families or need the money. I'm supporting them either way they go."
Freshman guard Doron Lamb said last week that he planned to return next year, although he backed off those comments later on when he told reporters he would make a decision when the time came.
HOUSTON -- At this time of the year, there's hardly any satisfaction in coming this far.
This Kentucky team, squeezed in between last year's super team and next year's sensational recruiting class, wasn't supposed to be in Houston. But judging by Terrence Jones' low-pitched voice, Brandon Knight's hung head and Josh Harrellson's bloodshot eyes, that hardly mattered.
This one hurt just as much as last season's. It may have hurt even more.
"When it ends," head coach John Calipari said, "you fall off a cliff."
It feels like falling off a cliff this year because Kentucky was oh so agonizingly close. Written off in late February as a team that couldn't win road games and wilted at the sign of a close contest, UK started to thrive away from home, came up clutch in the postseason and won 10 straight games into an unlikely Final Four berth.
But there they were Saturday night at Reliant Stadium in Houston in front of a very pro and Final Four record crowd of 75,421. There they were as the sudden favorites of an improbable group of four teams to cut down the nets.
UK had risen to the cliff.
Making its first Final Four appearance since 1998, Kentucky seemed destined to claim its eighth national title. After everything the Cats had been through this season, to make the type of run they did under unforeseen circumstances, why not this year? Oddly, it just felt like some sort of kooky fate.
But kooky got twisted and then just downright mean Saturday night. In gut-wrenching fashion, the program's best 3-point shooting team in school history couldn't hit a shot, making just 6-of-21 shots from the floor and 9-of-27 3-pointers. It brought back nightmares of last year's West Virginia loss.
"I thought we were going to win until the buzzer went off," said Jones, one of the few Wildcats to consistently hit shots. "We worked hard the whole season and everybody fought. It's just tough having a bad shooting night."
Kentucky was 26-0 this season when holding opponents to 67 points or fewer and 47-0 under Calipari. The second-year UK coach thought his team could do even better this game and told his team it would win if it held UConn to 56 points.
Ironically, Connecticut finished right at Calipari's target, one point too much for UK.
Kentucky's payback tour also ended. After avenging losses to six different different teams, plus a payback win over West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, UK finally lost to an opponent twice this season.
"I'm really proud of these guys," Calipari said. "The way we played in that first half, to give ourselves a chance to win the game ... as a coach, that's all you can ask of these young people -- give us a chance to win. They gave us a chance. We had our opportunity."
Kentucky may have missed out on a prime opportunity for what seems like a long overdue national title -- 13 going on 14 years at UK is an eternity -- but it didn't miss out on the chance to put a stamp on the turnaround last year's team started. From National Invitation Tournament to a Final Four in two years, clearly confidence in the program has been restored with Calipari at the helm.
Amazingly, it's been done with a lot of youth, a ton of development and a sprinkle of veterans like Harrellson.
"It's been amazing," said Harrellson, who played in his final career Kentucky game Saturday. "It's been a dream for me. I met great friends on the way. We got to a Final Four. I stepped my game up the last month and helped my teammates win games. It's been an honor for me to play with these guys and play for Coach Cal."
Harrellson, voice trembling, then started to fight back more tears. The sting of losing still overshadowed the ultimate realization that this group became one of the all-time favorite teams in school history and made people believe again in change.
"I couldn't be happier," Harrellson said. "We've got a great group of guys and they've all matured and they've matured with me. I couldn't be happier for what they've done and the legacy we've left behind."
After the game, a solemn Jones was asked what he's learned this season with everything that's happened.
"Improvement by self motivation," Jones said. "A lot of guys pushed themselves to be better teammates, to be better on the floor. A lot of guys made sacrifices to better the team. These are my brothers and I love them for that."
The changes the players made have been well documented in Kentucky's drastic turnaround, but hearing Jones tell it again makes you realize how unlikely, how special this group and this run was.
"I love Josh for working hard and going to practice 45 minutes early almost every day, fighting to get better," Jones said. (I love) DeAndre (Liggins) for being around us more and caring and defending and working hard for the team. (I love) Brandon (Knight) for running the team, and (I love) Doron (Lamb) for sacrificing not to shoot as much just to try to get more confidence for the older guys."
The season didn't end the way any of those guys hoped for when they started rewriting it a month ago, but the disappointment of one night can't overshadow the run of one incredible team.
"I think we had a hell of a season," Liggins said.
HOUSTON -- With the game on the line against North Carolina a week ago, DeAndre Liggins took the shot that few thought he would take and buried a 3-pointer from the right corner.
Against Connecticut, it didn't work out quite as planned.
Trailing by two points with 16 seconds left and a chance to tie or win the game, head coach John Calipari called timeout for one final shot. Calipari put the ball in the hands of his freshman point guard Brandon Knight, but Knight kicked to Liggins on the perimeter with time ticking down.
With six seconds to go, Liggins decided to go for a 3-pointer, pulling up from behind the arc. The shot fell short, Kentucky fouled and Connecticut sunk its free throws.
Just like that Kentucky's magical season and its first run to the Final Four since 1998 came to a deflating end with a 56-55 loss to the Huskies (UK hit a final desperation 3).
Everyone agreed postgame that Liggins' shot wasn't exactly how Calipari drew up their final chance at a national championship in the timeout.
"It wasn't," Liggins said. "I should have drove it."
Knight hit two game-winning shots during UK's NCAA Tournament run, but he decided to kick it out to Liggins this time around when he didn't see anything in the lane. Knight was also just 6 of 23 from the field.
"Just looking for the best shot," was how Knight said the final shot was supposed to play out. "I was trying to create for somebody and DeAndre took a great shot. It just didn't go in."
The shot looked like it had the right trajectory but it came up just a few inches short.
"I kind of babied it a little bit," Liggins said. "It was deep and I didn't get enough on it."
Liggins said he shot the ball with confidence, but he second-guessed himself the more he thought about the shot in the locker room.
"Maybe we should have went to Doron (Lamb) or somebody else for the shot but Brandon threw me the ball," Liggins said. "I should have maybe drove it and got an 'and one' or something like that. But it is what it is. I shot it and missed. Things happen."
A minute earlier Liggins hit a 3 to cut the deficit to three points and then followed it by getting fouled and making 1-of-2 free throws. He also provided the dagger last week against Florida. But the 3-pointer with 1:37 left was his only field goal, and Lamb was 5 of 10 from the field and 3 of 5 from behind the arc.
"DeAndre was open and he had the hot hand," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "I was happy for him to take that shot."
After the star-studded 2009-10 edition of the Kentucky Wildcats met its end in the Elite Eight largely due to a paltry shooting performance against West Virginia, these Cats stormed their way to a Final Four berth. It was a different kind of team, one that made opponents pay from the perimeter.
As well as UK had shot and played leading up to a matchup with Connecticut, the Wildcats were left singing an all-too familiar tune following a 56-55 national Final Four defeat in Houston on Saturday.
"We just couldn't knock down shots when we needed to," freshman guard Brandon Knight said. "They just weren't going in."
Kentucky managed just 21 of 62 (33.9 percent) from the field, including just 9 of 27 (33.3 percent) from beyond the arc. Particularly in light of the fact that the Wildcats nailed 12-of-22 3-pointers in an Elite Eight win over North Carolina, this one is hard to swallow.
"We're a great shooting team, but you can't make every shot," freshman guard Doron Lamb said. "You can't shoot well every game."
Making matters even worse was the Wildcats' poor performance from the free-throw line, where UK managed to hit just 4-of-12 shoots, including a number of missed front ends of one-and-ones.
Freshman forward Terrence Jones was 0 for 5 from the stripe and was unafraid to look in the mirror when asked about what happened at the line even though he couldn't explain it.
"Me, mainly," Jones said. "I don't know. I just didn't make them."
His miss at the stripe at the front end of a one-and-one with 2:09 left and UK trailing by six proved to be the most costly.
It's not much of a stretch to think that if only a few of those opportunities had been capitalized upon, Kentucky could have prevailed in a nip-and-tuck affair.
The Wildcats managed to hang around with the Huskies in spite of a putrid first half that left them trailing 31-21, the team's largest deficit of the NCAA Tournament. Although the Cats have been on some big stages over the course of this season, they came out of the gate tight, seemingly affected by the pomp and circumstance of the game's biggest stage.
"We were tight in the first half," coach John Calipari said.
The Wildcats were a horrendous 9 of 32 (28.1 percent) from the field and just 2 of 12 from 3-point range in the opening half.
"We're used to playing in front of large crowds at home," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "We sell out every game, 24,000, but this was triple that. I guess we weren't expecting everything that goes on with the Final Four, all the pressure and everything. We just came out and let it get to us."
Coming out of halftime, Calipari had his team playing inspired basketball and the shots, at long last, began to fall. UK reeled off an 11-2 run, with Knight, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb all connecting from deep to propel the Cats to a 35-33 lead with just over 15 minutes to play.
The two teams played to a standstill over the following eight minutes and the game was tied at 48 with 7:17 remaining in regulation. What followed was nearly five consecutive minutes of play without a whistle, during which Calipari and Connecticut coach John Calhoun called timeouts to try rest tired legs. The Wildcats found themselves down six at the end of the stretch and fatigue played a factor.
"I just think we were a little tired and didn't fight to get close to the rim the last four minutes because we were tired," Jones lamented.
Knight, in particular, was only 6 of 23 from the field, missing several key shots down the stretch. Neither Knight or Calipari were sure how much that early second-half effort took the legs out of UK's point guard.
"There was some anxiety to this game now," Calipari said. "I kept saying it's another game. I could say that all I want, but there's some anxiety that goes along with this game that may have gotten to him a little bit because I can't remember one or two games where the last three minutes he wasn't at his best.
"And I think he was a little bit fatigued. But again, if I had the chance, I would have taken him out one other time before the eight-minute mark but teh game never stopped. It just kept going and going and going."
The Wildcats may have settled for some tough outside shots late, but they still were in a position to make a play in the final minutes to come away with another victory. They had possession with 16.6 seconds remaining down just two, but a long DeAndre Liggins 3-pointer was no good.
The play wasn't drawn up for Liggins, but he had hit a big trey seconds earlier and was confident with the ball in his hands.
"It wasn't (designed for me)," Liggins said. "I should have drove it, but I hit a 3 and I had the hot hand a little bit. It was a good shot, but it fell short."
Calipari, in spite of the loss, had plenty of reasons to be proud of his team, particularly with the way they battled in spite of missing shots they were accustomed to making.
"I'm really proud of these guys," Calipari said. "The way we played in the first half, to give ourselves a chance to win the game (was impressive)."
As hard as they fought, their uncharacteristically poor shooting spelled this team's end.
"I've been doing this a long time," Calipari said. "If you come in this thing and you miss free throws, a lot of them, and a bunch of 3s, it's hard to advance."
It's the second year in a row he's had to say that.
HOUSTON -- It's been a busy, busy last few days here in Houston. I've done my best to cover a sliver of what has been going on at the Final Four this week, but there is no way I could even begin to touch half of the storylines.
Here's my best and final attempt to touch on the storylines I missed this week and some of the pregame talk on the day of UK's first Final Four since 1998.
- I thought John Calipari summed up the relationship of him and Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun pretty well: "People are going to make more of that than they really should," Calipari said. The two won't be sending each other Christmas cards this year, but I don't think it's as frigid of a relationship as everyone thinks. You're not going to be friends with everyone in the coaching business. The two were very cordial with each other this week. They'll coach a game against each other Saturday, shake hands and then move on. What else do people want? "We're both going to want to win the game, but this isn't about us," Calipari said. "I'm not on the court and neither is he. It's about how we get our teams to play. He takes great pride and so do I. We'll see what happens."
- Both coaches are pretty big on enjoying the moment this week. The teams are down here to win a national championship, but they're also student-athletes, and they should be having fun. "My advice is ... is to enjoy the moment, enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the Final Four and then go and try to win two games," Calhoun said. The Huskies were scheduled to visit "Bracket Town" in downtown Houston, and Calipari was hoping to take the guys to a movie and dinner.
- Having said all that, the easy-going, laidback Cats that we saw the first two days in Houston changed to a business-like approach Friday. The players were a little quieter, a little more focused. Calipari said they're treating UConn just like it was a regular-season game, meaning not a lot of film for the players and a lot of focusing inward. Said Brandon Knight: "It's still a business trip. We're here to win a national championship."
- Reliant Stadium is huge - I mean gigantic. The Astrodome, once tabbed the eighth wonder of the world, sits right next to the stadium and looks like it could fit inside Reliant. Inside Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans, the place is extremely cavernous. That could make shooting sightlines extremely difficult. It's been a factor in past Final Fours in domes, but I didn't notice any shooting difficulties at Friday's practice and none of the UK players thought it would be a factor for this happy-shooting Kentucky team. The floor itself is built on risers and sits above media row. A couple of reporters said they felt more spring in the court, but Knight said he didn't notice.
- Of course, when you have a stadium that seats more than 70,000 fans, you're creating a situation for Big Blue fans to take over. The city of Houston is spread out, so it had been difficult to get a very good gauge on the turnout until Friday. At Friday's practice, Big Blue fans packed the stands to see a glorified 50-minute UK shoot-around. And then, Friday night, UK fans started to fill into the team hotel by the hundreds. From what I'm told, most UK fans didn't plan on arriving until Friday. It looks like most of them have showed up now, which should make for a pretty UK-dominated crowd.
- John Calipari's father was in attendance at Friday's practice and even spoke to a few reporters while he sat courtside. I caught Calipari smiling a couple of times when he looked over at his father talking to the media. As most of you know, Calipari's mother passed away Nov. 28. Calipari said his father and mother were married 54 years. "It's been really hard," Calipari said. "He hadn't left the house in a while. The SEC Tournament, he came to Atlanta. We had a great time. He came to Florida, came to Newark. He's here. Really, getting to spend some time with him, you know, letting him enjoy and take his mind off the grief that he's going through right now. ... For me to spend time with my dad, with his grandson also - they're staying in rooms side-by-side with a combining door where they can see each other - it's good stuff. It's really good stuff."
- DeAndre Liggins backed off his comments from Thursday that last year's team had "too many egos." Said Liggins: "Last year's team was close, too. It was like me isolating myself a little bit. That's part of my personality. That's no offense to the players last year. But we were brothers last year on the team, too. We were close a lot. That's how we won how many games we won. We reached the Elite Eight. We were close." I, for one, don't think egos are what prevented UK from making the Final Four last year. After all, the team was 35-3. But I get what Liggins said Friday and believe it. We didn't see Liggins talk or associate with his teammates a lot last year. He was still in an emotional shell and didn't open up like he has this year. I think that could be where those comments stemmed from.
- We've discussed the early season matchup between UK and UConn in great detail this week, but a couple more differences that should be noted. Knight was 3 of 15 from the floor with five turnovers in the EA Sports Maui Invitational finals. Josh Harrellson was held scoreless UConn freshman Jeremy Lamb scored just two points in 12 minutes. Here's guessing all three play much, much better Saturday night.
- All four experts in Saturday's Houston Chronicle picked UConn to beat Kentucky. The more doubt, the more this team seems to thrive.
- UK is 7-2 in national semifinal games.
- Kentucky's defense, as it has been all season, is key. The Cats are 26-0 when holding the opponent to 67 points or fewer. UK is 47-0 under Calipari when holding an opponent to 67 points or fewer.
- A win would move Kentucky into sole possession of first place in all-time NCAA Tournament wins. UK is currently tied with North Carolina at 105 wins.
- UConn is 12-0 in neutral site games this year. UK is 10-1, the lone loss coming to Connecticut.
Connecticut, in an 84-67 win in the Maui Invitational final, was the only team all season to blow out the the Kentucky men's basketball team.
"I just think we came in that game with a lot of pressure," freshman forward Terrence Jones said. "We played like freshmen. We threw up a lot of shots on two men or didn't make an extra pass."
UK is clearly a much-improved team since that game, but Brandon Knight was quick to point out that UConn is too.
"We've gotten a lot better," Knight said. "We were still learning at the time. We were still trying to figure out where we needed to be and what we needed to do. I think we've gotten a lot better and a lot more mature, but they've grown and become better also."
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun sees the teams as so different from then to now that he doesn't even view that November game as having anything to do with Saturday evening's rematch.
"The Kentucky game just got out of hand with four minutes to go in the first half," Calhoun said. "It was an even game. It has nothing to do with (Saturday's) game, in my opinion, unless they're there for revenge, and I don't think that John (Calipari) or his team really worries about revenge. They just want to get a championship."
I don't think the previous matchup can be thrown out quite so easily.
I believe there is information that can be gleaned from the game, so as I break the two teams down from a statistical perspective, I'll be referring back to the mauling in Maui, Hawaii, as a way to highlight what to watch for on Saturday.
Statistics are most valuable when they are taken in context, so I'm going to compare how the two teams' offenses and defenses stack up with one another. Let's get started. Connecticut offense vs. Kentucky defense
There's no disputing that the greatest strength of Connecticut's offense is Kemba Walker. The junior guard averages 23.9 points per game, good for fourth in the nation, and 4.5 assists. He is unquestionably among the top candidates for player of the year honors and is among the most feared scorers in the game. UK's defensive stopper, DeAndre Liggins, will likely draw the assignment of guarding Walker as he did in Maui, when Walker torched UK for 29 points and six assists in leading the Huskies to an 84-67 win.
Although UK learned a lot more about how not to guard Walker than how to actually stop him, the time the cats spent chasing him around could prove to be valuable.
"Sometimes when you go into a game against Kemba, you don't realize the quickness and speed and some of the things he does," Calhoun said. "They have had 40 minutes of it firsthand."
As dynamic as Walker is, he doesn't always receive due credit for how well he takes care of the basketball. He averages only 2.3 turnovers per game in spite of playing 37.6 minutes on average and handling the ball for his team as much as any player in the nation. Walker sets the tone for his team in terms of taking care of the basketball and his teammates follow suit. As a unit, the Huskies commit just 11.3 turnovers per game. According to kenpom.com, the Huskies are 22nd in the nation in turnover percentage at roughly 16.9 percent.
Defensively, UK does not rely on forcing a great deal of turnovers to handcuff opponents. The Wildcats have a defensive turnover percentage of 17.8 percent that ranks 297th nationally. With how well UConn takes care of the ball and the way that Kentucky prefers to sit back and contest shots rather than jump in passing lanes or pressure the ball, I anticipate a low turnover game for the Huskies on Saturday and do not think UK needs to force a bunch of turnovers to be successful on defense.
What Kentucky does need to do defensively is effectively contest shots, something the Wildcats have made a living on all season, especially during their current 10-game winning streak. As calculated by kenpom.com, UK ranks ninth in the nation in effective field goal defense at 44.2 percent. The Wildcats are particularly stout inside the arc, allowing just 42.0 percent shooting from 2-point range, sixth nationally.
If you were going to pick out one area of weakness for UConn's offense it would be its field-goal shooting, which perhaps bodes well for UK. The Huskies' effective field goal percentage is a pedestrian 48.5 percent, 200th nationally. They shoot 33.7 percent from 3-point range (201st), 47.6 percent (181st) from 2-point range and will take some extremely difficult shots, especially in the half court.
However, if you had only watched the UK-UConn game in Maui, you would think the Huskies were the best shooting team in the nation and that UK couldn't stop anyone. Connecticut shot an astounding 30-52 (57.7 percent) and Kentucky could not get out of its own way.
In light of how well UConn played offensively in Maui, it's a little frightening that the Huskies did so with only two points in 12 minutes from Jeremy Lamb, the freshman guard that has evolved into a reliable second scoring option for Calhoun.
"He, in the last month of the season, has been phenomenal," UK coach John Calipari said, "because what happens to you is you play Kemba and you forget about him, and then Jim starts running that guy off baseline screens and then all of a sudden he's curling and stepping through. Or you play the pick and roll too much and they throw it over the top to him and he's making 3s."
Clearly, the Wildcats will have to account for Lamb.
UConn's second-leading scorer against UK in Maui was sophomore center Alex Oriakhi, who torched the Cats around the basket with easy dunks and put-backs to the tune of 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The big man is the driving force behind UConn's stellar offensive rebounding efforts. The Huskies rebound their own misses 38.5 percent of the time, good for seventh nationally. For the year, UK is above average in terms of defensive rebounding percentage (70.3 percent), but it will need to put together a great performance to limit Oriakhi and freshman forward Roscoe Smith.
For Kentucky to be successful defensively, it will need to contest shots effectively and force the Huskies, especially Walker and Lamb, into difficult attempts. UConn will hit some tough ones at times, but the ones they miss UK has to pursue like crazy. Jones and senior forward Josh Harrellson combined for just 10 rebounds in the Maui final, a number they must improve upon. Additionally, perimeter players like Knight, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller need to contribute on the glass as well for UK to close out possessions and get stops.
Kentucky offense vs. Connecticut defense
Connecticut is actually a very similar defensive team to UK. The Huskies force turnovers just 17.5 percent of the time (310th in the nation) and rely on their length to make opponents' attempts at the basket as difficult as possible. Their effective field-goal defense is 45.1 percent, 21st in the country, and they block shots at a high rate (5.5 per game).
In the Maui final, their defensive strength was on full display, as they forced UK into 22 of 60 (36.7 percent) from the field. If not for 24 points from Terrence Jones, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range, things actually could have been even uglier.
"We played great defense and we were real energetic," UConn's Lamb said. "They also missed a lot of shots."
As good as UConn was defensively, much of UK's ineptitude had to do with the fact that the team was learning how to play together.
"It was rough for all of us," Harrellson said. "I thought everyone played terrible, especially in the first half. We came out flat and were selfish with the ball."
UK has come an awfully long way since that performance and it has turned into one of the most efficient offensive units in the country in the process.
The Wildcats are, first of all, dead-eye shooters. Not only that, they also are very deliberate and selective with their looks. They sport an effective field goal percentage of 52.7 percent (36th nationally) and they take care of the basketball extremely well, committing turnovers on just 16.1 percent of their possessions (10th in the country).
That team that was dismantled by UConn is a distant memory.
"I believe in everybody much more," Jones said. "We are running more offense more than just the dribble-drive offense. It's taking a lot of pressure off for any one player."
As selfishly as the Wildcats played in that game and as far as they have come in November, there is one thing from that matchup that they would love to duplicate: the way they attacked the offensive glass. UK exceeded its season average and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds against UConn.
Protecting their own defensive backboards has been a weakness all year for the Huskies, as they are 236th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. The Wildcats must capitalize on that if they want to keep this magical run going.
Conclusion: the glass is key
The battle on Saturday may just be won by the team that rebounds better.
These two squads rely on stout half-court defense to contest shots, so clean looks at the basket will be at a premium. Neither team is likely to force many turnovers, so most extra looks at the basket will come via offensive rebounding. UConn is among the best in the nation at tracking its own misses, but they also are prone to giving up offensive boards to their opponents.
Walker and Jeremy Lamb are likely going to score their share of points, but they also are likely to miss their share of shots, as will UK's stars. Neither UConn nor UK run a great deal of sets to get looks for Oriakhi or Harrellson, but the way they chase misses could be where the outcome of this game is determined.
The No. 23/24 Kentucky softball team just keeps winning.
The Cats defeated No. 4 Florida 10-2 in six innings Friday night, handing the Gators their first run-rule loss in the regular season since 2007. It was also just the fifth loss of the season in 35 games for Florida.
More importantly, UK improved to 23-7 on the season, 9-3 in Southeastern Conference play, continuing its ascension to the top of the league.
Deb Moore, UK softball's sports information director, will have the full details in a release on the softball page in a little bit, but in the meantime, check out some video comments from head coach Rachel Lawson.
HOUSTON -- John Calipari has been revered as a recruiter, praised as a motivator and lauded for his ability to put kids in the NBA.
Three Final Four appearances and one startling one-month transformation later, maybe it's due time the Kentucky coach gets the respect for what he really is first and foremost - a really good coach.
"This team went from me dragging them to them dragging me," Calipari said modestly. "That's when I talk about they become empowered, that's when they become special."
On the eve of the school's first Final Four since 1998 with a team that wasn't supposed to be in Houston, this team is special alright. Calipari had a lot to do with that.
Freshmen grow and players mature, but there has to be a catalyst of growth -- a ray of sunshine or a drop of water to make a seed rise up from the ground and become a tree. The most fundamental definition of a coach's job is to develop and prepare his players for their future. In many ways, he's like a teacher.
Calipari has not hidden the fact his top priority in what he calls a "players-first program" is to do what's best for the kids. He prioritizes it over everything else. But along the way, the ability to shape boys into men, to enhance their games and their mentality, has not only changed the individuals but changed the team.
"He's an encourager," senior forward Josh Harrellson said Friday. "He tries to build you up from day one."
A comparison of this week's Kentucky team to the one that took a 17-point beating at the hands of Connecticut in November is a glimpse of how far UK has traveled this season.
"Brandon Knight wasn't Brandon Knight," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said of the first meeting with UK. "Doron Lamb wasn't the same player by any stretch of the imagination. I can go right through the group. (Josh) Harrellson wasn't even a factor and now he may be the big man factor in this whole deal."
But it's even deeper than that.
Knight, who couldn't hit a game winner to save his life in the regular season, has gained the confidence to become the best big-shot man in the tournament. He's also learned to talk and lead.
Darius Miller has evolved from a reserved, inconsistent performer to big-time, late-game playmaker.
Harrellson has transformed his mind, his body and his game to help him get off the bench and become one of the best big men in the country.
DeAndre Liggins has changed from a misconceived team cancer to an emotional leader. Emotionally ravaged and pent up from the murder of his brother in 2002, Liggins has learned to trust again under Calipari and has opened up. His game has risen with his emotional development along the way.
"They're not all born on third base," Calipari said. "Some of them are born outside the arena and trying to get into the arena to get into the dugout to get up to bat to get to third. Those kids, what happens a lot of times is, they've been through a lot of rough things and it's hard for them to trust anybody. It's hard for them to trust because they've been let down a lot. They've been sold a bill of goods and all of a sudden it's not what they thought. And it takes time.
"I think right now - and I love (Liggins) to death, I love him like a son - I think he looks at us and says, 'I trust these people.' Probably for the first time in his life he's saying, 'You tell me what you want me to do and I'm going to do it. I trust you.' "
Any player you look at, there is some form of growth. Calipari will point to the "crisis" after the Arkansas loss as to what turned everything around, but it's really been a steady, season-long development of maturity and inspiration.
Take Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
Midway through the season, Lamb took Liggins' starting spot and started to score in bunches. When Calipari asked him recently to go back to his role off the bench to make room for Liggins, Lamb obliged and continued to flourish.
At the beginning of the year, when Kentucky first faced Connecticut in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Jones was scoring at will and was the hottest thing not named Kemba Walker. It appeared as Jones went, so did UK.
But as the season has worn on, Jones has scored less and less, taking even fewer and fewer shots. Calipari asked him to pass more, play better defense and get his teammates involved.
"He asked me did I care more about winning than anything else," Jones said. "I did whatever he wanted me to do."
It took some time, but Jones, like everybody else on the team, grew and changed. And Kentucky started to win.
"At the beginning, we weren't as good as we thought we were," Knight said.
Of that realization, Calipari said, "That's what happens when good kids understand that it's about our team, not just me. In these situations, kids want to be 'the man.' Those kinds of plays where the kids understand, 'My role is not as important as the goal of the team,' that's when things go good."
A lot of credit goes to the kids for being able to look themselves in the mirror and come to that realization. But in the end, someone had to be the mastermind to coach them into turning around to look at themselves.
"I've been fortunate; I've been blessed," Calipari said. "The young kids that I've had have been good players and they've been good people. They listen, they respect each other, they respect the coaching staff, and it's been fun."
HOUSTON -- On the eve of the Final Four, a pack of at least 100 media members stormed Kentucky's locker room for a 30-minute free-for-all with the players, rushing a room in the underbelly of the Reliant Stadium like there was a free giveaway on Black Friday.
They engulfed Brandon Knight, pushed and shoved for Josh Harrellson, and squeezed in every inch of space in Terrence Jones' corner locker.
Just a few feet away from Jones sat a lonely Stacey Poole. Two reporters walked by to briefly talk to Poole, but for most of the 30 minutes he sat by himself. Suffice to say, the road to the Final Four has been a little different for Poole than the rest of his freshman teammates.
While Brandon Knight has basked in game-winning shots, Terrence Jones has dominated the paint and Doron Lamb has flourished from the perimeter, Poole has been relegated to the bench. The freshman guard from Jacksonville, Fla., has played just 45 minutes this year and hasn't seen more than a minute of play since the LSU game on Jan. 15.
"It didn't go as planned, but everybody goes through a little adversity," Poole said. "It's no big deal. I'm going to keep working hard and keep my head up."
To his credit, Poole has been more than a good sport; he's been UK's biggest cheerleader. In a role where other plays may mope and sulk, Poole stands up and cheers.
The freshman is usually the first one off the bench during timeouts and the loudest player on the sideline. During last week's East Region championship, it was Poole who led the parade of dancing and celebrating.
"I'm going to keep cheering the guys on," Poole said. "I'm not going to pout or sit over there and complain. I'm not that kind of guy. I'm happy for my guys and I'm going to root them on until the end."
And though he hasn't had a direct impact on UK's first Final Four since 1998, he believes all that hooting and hollering on the sideline has an effect.
"They need to loosen up and have fun," Poole said. "That's what it's about. When you have fun on the court, it makes it a whole lot easier. Being out there, being into the game, getting them hyped before the game and just talking to them when they come off the court or while they're on the court, I think that helps."
Poole admitted he hasn't played as much as he would have liked or expected, but that hasn't taken away his genuine happiness for his teammates or the thrill of going to the Final Four.
"It's been amazing," Poole said. "I'm enjoying every bit of it. I'm enjoying the guys. They're playing their butts off. I think we're just coming together as a team and trusting each other."
Poole's playing time hasn't reflected the accolades that come along with being the No. 33 prospect in the country last year (according to Rivals.com), but that hasn't discouraged him from coming back to UK next year. He said he has no plans of transferring to another school.
"I'm planning on coming back," Poole said. "I'm not saying that I'm not coming back. This is a good basketball program and I enjoy the guys and the coaching staff."
Questions have arose as to why Poole can't get on the court, but Poole said it's entirely on him.
"It's all about my work ethic," Poole said, "and it's going to get better. I've just learned that everything is not easy. You always have to keep working and everything will be alright."
The chances of Poole playing in this week's Final Four are pretty slim, but Kentucky's short bench means a brief appearance isn't impossible. Should he get the call this weekend for a couple of minutes, Poole said he'll be ready.
"I need to make sure when I step on the court that I'm competing and I'm showing coach that I deserve to play," Poole said.
HOUSTON -- If you're a college basketball fan who likes to crunch numbers, kenpom.com is a great website to visit. Ken Pomeroy focuses on things like points per possession for offense and defense and analysts like ESPN's Jay Bilas have hailed Pomeroy's numbers as one of the best metrics for judging teams.
So what stands out for this Kentucky team as it heads to its first Final Four on Saturday since 1998?
"They're a pretty complete team," Pomeroy said on The Leach Report Radio Show this week. "Of the four teams in the Final Four, I think they're the one that looks like they belong there the most. The Wildcats' offense is excellent."
Kentucky's points-per-possession on offense ranks highest among the Final Four teams. And Pomeroy says all four clubs rank higher on offense than on defense.
What about UConn's profile?
"Their two-point percentage and their 3-point percentage are below the national average, but they're a really good offensive rebounding team, and that's what saves them," he said. "On the season, they've rebounded about 39 percent of their misses (which ranks in the top 10 nationally)."
Pomeroy said UConn's offensive rebounding percentage slipped several points in Big East play, which might speak to why the Huskies finished 9-9 in the league race. That number would suggest that Terrence Jones' rebounding is a big key Saturday since Jones has Kentucky's best numbers in defensive rebounding.
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If you're looking for a turning point in this unlikely Final Four run for Kentucky, CBS analyst Greg Anthony points to the regular-season finale.
"I thought the win at Tennessee late in the season was a big one for them because it was a road win," Anthony said. "They had lost so many close road games. You could see they were close but you need to get over the hump and that was big for them."
Several weeks back, Anthony sent out a tweet noting that it would be the veteran role players that would determine the Cats' fate and that has proven true.
"Kentucky will go as far as Liggins and Harrelson takes them," Anthony remembers tweeting. "People tweeted back and said 'Don't you mean Knight and Jones?' And I said, 'In order for your stars to shine, the core nucleus has to do their job.' I thought (Josh) Harrelson and (DeAndre) Liggins made so many key plays in that Ohio State game. If they don't make them, Brandon Knight doesn't have the chance to hit that (game-winning) shot."
Anthony said no one should underestimate the job John Calipari has done in leading this team.
"I thought Coach Calipari did one of his finest coaching jobs," Anthony said. "People often times don't realize that coaches don't have the right game plan to attack an opponent. It's not always the players' execution. I thought his game plan was brilliant (in both wins in Newark, N.J.). One of the hardest things to do in sports is meet expectations and he's done that with other teams. This one, though, I think he's exceeded expectations. I don't think anyone thought this team would get to the Final Four, given what they lost."
As for the Final Four matchup Saturday night, Anthony said beating UConn starts with at least somewhat controlling Kemba Walker.
"His ability opens up the floor for everybody else," Anthony said. "You don't want to be in help mode when you play UConn because it opens up the offensive rebounding and it gives Jeremy Lamb the opportunity to play one-on-one. Those two things are huge."
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"That's what you play for: hats and nets."
That was sophomore Jon Hood's perspective while standing in the UK locker room in Newark after Kentucky punched its Final Four ticket with a 76-69 win over North Carolina. Hood said it's even sweeter to have done it as an underdog.
"Nobody picked us except Charles Barkley," Hood said. "I'd rather them not pick us now."
In mid-February, this UK team stood 5-5 in the Southeastern Conference after a loss at Vanderbilt. How did the turnaround happen?
"We came together," he said. "We learned how to finish out games and who was our go-to guy.
"(People) forget this team. They talk about the recruits for next year and they talk about last year, John (Wall) and all them. But we can play. We believe in each other and we trust each other. And we can flat out shoot it. That's dangerous."
Had a chance to stop by the Toyota Center today to talk to former Wildcats Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes, who are in the midst of a playoff chase with the Houston Rockets. Both were beaming that Kentucky is back in the Final four.
Patterson said he thinks about what could have been had he stayed at Kentucky, but he said he has no regrets.
Check out their full comments in the video below, as well as an Associated Press story by Will Graves that was written the other day.
Story by Will Graves, Associated Press
The game still haunts DeMarcus Cousins a year later.
Whenever the former Kentucky center's mind wanders to last year's dismal 73-66 loss to West Virginia in the NCAA tournament's East regional final, Cousins tosses and turns as images of missed shots and missed opportunities replay in his mind.
"When I think about it I can't sleep at night because we should have won that game," said Cousins, now a rookie center for the Sacramento Kings.
Instead, the Wildcats walked off the Carrier Dome floor at Syracuse in stunned silence, as the program's resurgent season under John Calipari ended with a whimper -- and the sound of 28 missed 3-pointers clanging off the rim.
"If we played them again it would be a different story," Cousins said. "We would've beat them and beat them good."
The pain lingered for weeks.
Even at 18, Cousins understood he was part of something special.
Yet the promise of NBA riches proved to be too tempting. Cousins and four other Wildcats -- John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton -- opted to leave school early rather than make another run at a national title.
"Yes, I wish I was still there," Cousins said. "College life was fun."
Kentucky (29-8) plays in its first Final Four in 13 years on Saturday when it faces UConn (30-9) in Houston. More than a thousand fans showed up at Blue Grass Airport to welcome the team back late Sunday night after knocking off North Carolina in the East Regional final, the same kind of celebration that was supposed to happen last year.
"I wanted to be there for that," Cousins said.
Instead, his new job means the talented if still maturing Cousins will have to settle for watching Kentucky pursue its first national title since 1998 from afar.
So will Patterson, beloved by one of college basketball's most passionate fan bases during his three years on campus. The blue-collar forward weathered Billy Gillispie's tumultuous two-year tenure and blossomed into a more versatile player under Calipari, developing a perimeter game that he knew he needed to become a better player at the next level.
He graduated a year early and patiently weighed his options before deciding to join his four freshmen teammates in the draft.
The mass exodus dampened the program's sky-high expectations for an encore.
The freshman trio of Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were all highly coveted when they signed with Kentucky, but even Calipari acknowledged it wasn't fair to compare them to last year's group, which the coach described as "once in a lifetime."
Yet they've somehow accomplished something Wall and Co. couldn't: add a Final Four banner to the rafters at Rupp Arena.
It's a surprise to some. Not to Patterson.
"You know the freshmen he gets are going to play well, know that they will be stars and shine and they'll buy into the system, just like John did and Derrick Rose did," he said. "Every single year that he has had a rookie, they have done exceptionally well. So coming with this class, we believed the same thing. It's all about stepping up, believing in one another and that's what they did down the stretch."
Though not nearly as deep or as athletic as last year's team, the current crop of Wildcats are better shooters -- they made 12 of 22 3-pointers against the Tar Heels -- and consider themselves a tighter unit off the floor.
"This team, I think it has more desire," said junior swingman DeAndre Liggins, one of the few Wildcats who opted to stick around last spring. "Not that many egos involved, just all know our roles this year and played well."
Whatever it is the Wildcats are doing, it's infectious.
Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft by the Washington Wizards, struggled with injuries in the fall but is now playing his best basketball of the season, thanks in part to the inspiration he's drawn from watching his old team get it together.
"I'm feeding off it," he said. "I'm happy for my Kentucky teammates. They did something we couldn't do last year. ... Hopefully they can win it all."
It's a feeling all five of the departed players likely won't enjoy this season. Only Patterson plays on a winning team, though the Rockets are considered an afterthought in the loaded Western Conference. Orton is technically on the roster with the Orlando Magic, but he hasn't suited up all year while dealing with knee problems.
The combined record of the Kings, Wizards, Rockets, Magic and Los Angeles Clippers (which drafted Bledsoe) entering Wednesday is 107-197, a tough reality for players from a 35-3 team.
Then again, they do have one advantage over the Wildcats who will play against UConn on Saturday night: they're all millionaires.
The joy they played with a year ago has been tempered a bit by the grind of an 82-game NBA regular season. To a man, however, they say they wouldn't change a thing. They had their shot and missed. It's part of the game.
"No regrets at all," Patterson said. "This is a lot different but I definitely think about it all the time how much I miss it, but no regrets."
HOUSTON -- DeAndre Liggins, never one to hide his heart and true feelings, was asked the difference between last year's Elite Eight team full of superstars and this year's Final Four group of overachievers.
"Last year's freshmen were great freshmen, but personally, too many egos," Liggins said. "Everybody wanted to be the man out there. This year, everybody knows what they've got to do and what it takes to win."
Interesting and maybe true, but maybe it's a bit simpler than that, or a little more concrete than just a chemistry issue. After all, it's hard to fault the chemistry of a 35-3 team.
The reality is, if UK doesn't clank, brick and air ball 28-of-32 3-point shots in last year's Elite Eight, there's a good chance the Cats not only march to the Final Four but win the national championship.
That in there may reveal one of the biggest differences between this year's team and last year's. This group can just plain shoot the ball.
"Last year's team, everybody played zone, or at least some point played zone to see if we would make any shots," Calipari said. "Obviously the (West Virginia) game we were 0 for 20 (to start the game). This team, it's a little harder to play zone. It's a dangerous proposition. We can shoot 3s."
That's an understatement.
Kentucky is seventh in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage, a far cry from last year's squad that ranked 177th. Sure, last year's team had superstars John Wall and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter, along with 3-point specialist Darnell Dodson and current Wildcats Darius Miller and Liggins, but that group was a bunch of bricklayers compared to this team of sharpshooters.
"It was easy to sag on us and keep us out of the lane," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "When DeMarcus (Cousins) posted, it was easy to double on him because if he kicked out, the chance of us making a shot last year was pretty slim."
The 2009-10 team hit an abysmal 33.1 percent from the perimeter. This year's team? It's drilled 40.0 percent from behind the arc, the highest mark since the 1996 national championship team hit 39.7 percent. This season's mark would also be a school record.
"Ever since I met the guys, I've been saying what great shooters they are," Harrellson said. "The first time I met Brandon Knight, we were at open gym and he knocked down every shot he had."
And Knight (38.2 percent) isn't even the best 3-point shooter on the team. Far from it.
If the season were to end today, Doron Lamb (48.1) and Miller (44.9) would rank in UK's top 10 single-season 3-point shooting seasons in terms of percentage. The only reason Liggins (40.2) wouldn't make the list is because he's 13 shots shy of the 100 attempt minimum.
"We've got four or five guys that can shoot it," Calipari said. "It's not two of us. It's like five of us. It's a different team. We're playing differently than we did two, three years ago. It's just a different way to play."
Calipari said they don't rely on the 3, calling it fool's gold, but if the saying is true and you really do live and die by the 3, boy, are the Cats living by it.
"That's one of the reasons we struggled early in the year," Calipari said. "I was trying to figure out how exactly does this team play. We lost a lot of close games. I put that more on me than these young people. But now we're doing what works for us."
And this isn't a team that built its numbers on meaningless games.
Over the course of the NCAA Tournament, UK is hitting 42.6 percent from long range. It seems like every make has been at a critical juncture.
Just about every time Ohio State or North Carolina made a run in last week's East Regional, Kentucky answered with a 3-ball. Knight provided a lot of them, but it was Liggins, who has gained his reputation as a lockdown defender, who hit the most important 3-ball against North Carolina, a dagger from the right corner with 37 seconds remaining.
"We've got a bunch of guys that I'm really comfortable late in the game that if you try to take away Brandon, he can get it to somebody else and he can knock it down," Calipari said.
Big stakes and big shots. Shooting is a lost art, but this team sure has perfected it.