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UK football plans to 'Rise' with new uniforms

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Kentucky football players Brian Adams (left) and Anthony Mosley modeled UK's new Nike Pro Combat uniforms at a presentation on Thursday at the Lyric Theater in Lexington. (photo by Evan Crane, UK Athletics) Kentucky football players Brian Adams (left) and Anthony Mosley modeled UK's new Nike Pro Combat uniforms at a presentation on Thursday at the Lyric Theater in Lexington. (photo by Evan Crane, UK Athletics)
Full photo gallery | Video of presentation

Coinciding with the revealing of its new slogan for the 2011 season, "Rise," the Kentucky football team unveiled new uniforms on Thursday at the Lyric Theater in Lexington.

The Nike Pro Combat uniforms use Nike's latest technology and most fashionable look, giving what the UK football team hopes are its best chance to win and its best look as it tries to rise in 2011.

"Nike has been consistently improving their product, and I just thought that with the new technology and the new designs that they have come up with, I thought the time was right to create this new look," head coach Joker Phillips said. "The design we thought was very eye catching for recruits. The uniforms also incorporate a Kentucky tradition."

The uniforms feature cutting-edge technology, which Nike Director of Licensing Dee Scott pointed out to the crowd at Lyric Theater.

Among the uniforms many features:

  • Flywire: Neck band stabilization, high strength, low weight and bulk
  • Zoned ventilation: Mesh in high-sweat areas where there are no pads to interfere with ventilation
  • Zoned stretch: Lightweight stretch woven fabrics in areas of low impact and low strength requirements
  • Built-in padding: Additional impact protecting built into key areas of the knee and illiac crest
  • Baselayer integration: Integrated with Nike Pro Combat baselayer
  • Tailored: Tailored hems and cuffs for less bulk, more comfort and mobility

The new uniforms are also 30 percent lighter than UK's previous uniforms, a key component in arguably the nation's fastest conference, the Southeastern Conference.

"The Nike Pro Combat is built from the inside out and is all about speed," said Scott, who, along with Nike colleague Kara Hegwood, made the cross-country trip from Oregon for Thursday's presentation. "We know that football has changed dramatically. Athletes are bigger, stronger and faster, so what we are trying to achieve is all about speed -- speed of the game and speed at the end of the game so that you can still have mobility in this system of dress. This is our newest, latest and greatest, and we are pretty pleased with it."

Anthony Mosley, one of two players at Thursday's presentation who modeled the new uniforms, said one of his favorite features of the new uniforms is their breathe-ability.
 
"When we're drinking water, it kind of drips down and can weigh you down, even sweat from other players," Mosley said. "It really becomes almost a hindrance. You can feel heavy. It can bring extra weight on you. Now I can definitely tell a difference. It's also water repellent as well, so if it starts raining, you won't get bogged down by the water."

Along the shoulder pads and side of the pants, the new Nike Pro Combat uniforms feature a checkered design, which pays homage to Kentucky Derby winner Secretariat. (photo by Evan Crane, UK Athletics) Along the shoulder pads and side of the pants, the new Nike Pro Combat uniforms feature a checkered design, which pays homage to Kentucky Derby winner Secretariat. (photo by Evan Crane, UK Athletics)
Of course, uniforms in today's modern sports world are as much about looks as they are about performance. In designing the uniforms, Nike set out with a motto of "Flash Forward, The Future of Speed."

With that in mind, Nike designed the uniforms to represent the strength and stamina of Kentucky symbols like legendary head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, the 1950 national championship team and superhorse Secretariat to give it a "classic" look.

As a tribute to Secretariat's silks, a checkered pattern dons the area near the shoulder pads and along the side of the pants. Nike has also brought back UK's white helmets for the first time since the 2002 season, a push that wide receiver Brian Adams, the other model at Thursday's presentation, said he and Randall Cobb pushed for.

The look and attractiveness of a uniform has become a huge tool in the recruiting process, Phillips said. Players are taking notice of uniforms more than ever, and Phillips even admitted to losing a player "way back when" on the color of a uniform.

"We've come a long way," Phillips said. "We've gotten to a point to that's where we are. You've got to understand it and go with it. Hopefully this uniform gives us an edge."

When Phillips was a player in the 1980s, he played in a plain uniform with just a couple of stripes. Now, there a lot of factors that goes into making a uniform.

"The first thing you have to have is safety," Phillips said. "Being light and being able to absorb hits helps also. Just being able to create a new look is an opportunity we couldn't pass up."

Mosley admitted to being one of those players that took uniforms into consideration in the recruiting process.

"When I was recruited, I knew I wanted to come to a Nike school," Mosley said. "I knew that I wanted to come to a school that had some pretty good uniforms. When you go out and in front of 70,000 fans and in front of the millions that watch SEC games, you want to look good in front of everybody and play good in front of everybody."

Kentucky is bringing back white helmets for the first time since the 2002 season. (photo by Evan Crane, UK Athletics) Kentucky is bringing back white helmets for the first time since the 2002 season. (photo by Evan Crane, UK Athletics)
Phillips, who will have the final say on uniform selections for each game, said UK's new uniforms will feature more looks than the two modeled at Thursday's presentation. Kentucky's uniforms won't change features every single game like Oregon, but there will be subtle changes from time to time.

Phillips gave credit to Oregon, which was in the national title game last season, for starting the new uniform craze.

"They have definitely set the tone for new uniforms with the way they have mixed and matched the numerous uniforms that they've had," Phillips said. "It's been helpful for them. Who would have thought 10 years ago that Oregon would be playing for a national championship? I think the new uniforms definitely had to have something to do with that. They've been able to get into different uniforms just because you and I are talking about it."

The new uniforms are the latest addition to a UK football program that continues to try and make waves in the SEC.

"Over the past several years, we've witnessed as Kentucky football has begun its rise," said Jason Schlafer, UK Athletics' associate athletics director for marketing and licensing. "We've witnessed a rising fan support, once unknown players rise up from the depth chart to become household names in (Wesley) Woodyard, (Jacob) Tamme, (Derrick) Locke and (Randall) Cobb, and it's critical that we continue our rise."

Not losing sight of the bigger goal and circling around this year's theme, Phillips pointed out what the addition of the new uniforms is all about.

"The most important thing is win games," Phillips said.

We'll have a full written story in a little bit.

Uniform presentation

Joker Phillips

Nike's Dee Scott presents the new uniforms

Thursday notes and links

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Things around here are getting so slow that I thought I'd provide a few additional links and stories to Wednesday's weekly links. Here they are:

- ESPN blogger Eamonn Brennan was at last weekend's Nike Skills Camps in Chicago and came away impressed with Kentucky basketball signees Anthony Davis and Marquis Teague. You'll have to read Brennan's full notes of the camp on ESPN.com, but here is what he said about two of UK's future stars:

Kentucky freshman Marquis Teague has been hailed as the latest in Kentucky coach John Calipari's long list of successful freshman point guards, a legacy that includes Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and, most recently, Brandon Knight. There's no reason to think Teague can't live up to that billing. During Saturday's full court five-on-five session -- in which guards from the Deron Williams Skills Academy played with forwards from the Amar'e Stoudamire camp -- Teague sliced and diced opposing defenders, found his way into the lane with relative ease, and showcased an intuitive understanding of the various ways to attack off a ball screen. One play in particular stood out: About 30 feet from the hoop in the corner of the court -- picture where Duke ran its spread high-screen sets for Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith this season -- Teague got a screen from fellow Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. The guard split the two defenders, took off toward the rim, saw help arrive and dished a nifty little bounce pass to Davis, who crashed toward the basket and finished with a ferocious dunk. The play was as impression a piece of team basketball as I saw all weekend, and Teague deserved the credit for its creation.

Speaking of Davis, well, it's not hard to see why college recruiting services (including our own) have named him the best prospect in the class. Nor is it difficult to see why pro scouts are already drooling. To use a once-banished draft term, Davis is incredibly long. He's also very athletic. That combination allows him to rise above other tall and athletic defenders to snatch rebounds, challenge shots and finish at the rim. But there's also a reason Davis didn't become a highly touted prospect until this year: He's still pretty soft. That's not really a knock -- we're talking about a 6-foot-10 college freshman with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, after all -- but it is something that could hamper Davis' production in his first full season as a college hoopster. Davis has the height to play center at the college level -- with Terrence Jones back in the fold, it seems likely that's where Kentucky will opt to play him -- but can he stand toe-to-toe with big, physical upperclassmen? Won't Festus Ezeli, to name one example, be able to impose his will on this kid through strength and positioning? For that reason, it's easy to see a few growing pains for Davis, who might draw a lot of comparisons to Baylor's Perry Jones: Both are insanely talented, versatile, athletic stretch forwards who don't quite have the frame to bang in the low block. Jones struggled somewhat during his first season in Waco and decided to return for a second. Could Davis do the same?

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- Jennifer Smith from the Lexington Herald-Leader caught up with some of Kentucky football's undrafted free agents who are unable to sign with any NFL teams because of the ongoing lockout. Here is a small excerpt:

Thanks to the NFL lockout -- which is now nearing its fourth month -- there are hundreds of rookies like Matthews who are undrafted and in limbo, waiting to see whether they'll get a shot to live out their dreams and make a team.

"I've been looking forward to playing in the NFL since I was a little kid watching Jerry Rice play," Matthews said last week. "Every day, I've just tried to do something to get myself better so I can play at the next level."

Matthews and many of his former UK teammates are doing everything they can to prepare for their opportunity to make a roster when the lockout finally comes to an end, whenever that might be.

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- Jason King of Yahoo! Sports tabs Kentucky sophomore as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country:

Doron Lamb, Kentucky, sophomore - Lamb flew under the radar a bit in Lexington last season, when he was often overshadowed by Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight. Still, his contributions to the Wildcats' Final Four squad were immeasurable. He averaged 1.8 3-pionters per game and shot 47.8 percent from long distance. His stats should soar in 2011-12.

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- ESPN thinks tailback Josh Clemons could make an immediate impact as a freshman for the UK football team:

Josh Clemons, RB: Raymond Sanders might have left spring as the starting running back for the Wildcats, but Kentucky is still looking for help at the position. Clemons will get a chance to get in the backfield rotation after rushing for more than 2,000 and have 25 touchdowns during his senior year of high school.

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- We're not quite sure if Matthew Mitchell is joking about this or not, but Larry Vaught is reporting that Matthew Mitchell and his wife, Jenna, are naming their child after Victoria Dunlap:

I loved Victoria as a person. She and I became very close. (My wife) Jenna and I are naming our child, Saylor Rose, and the Rose is Victoria's middle name. We just want to remember how important she was to us. She was just like a family member," Mitchell said.

 

UK launches redesign of Interactive site

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Sport-Page-Button.jpgIn an ongoing effort to inform online visitors about UK Athletics in a visually dynamic and interesting way, the UK Athletics Department has redesigned its in-house, commercial-free interactive website, Kentucky Athletics Interactive. The website is in its second year of existence.

Kentucky Athletics Interactive, which can be accessed at http://interactive.ukathletics.com, was launched last year to inform and educate prospective UK student-athletes and their families, as well as the general public, about the University of Kentucky Athletics Department and its mission. The primary goal of the website is to provide online visitors with a broad overview of the UK Athletics program and each of its 22 varsity sports. The hope of the site is to provide an accurate glimpse of what it means to study and compete as a nationally prominent student-athlete at UK.

The website is meant to complement -- not compete -- with UK's official website, UKathletics.com, which will continue to serve as the primary online source for accessing up-to-date information about UK Athletics as well as purchasing tickets and other merchandise.

The update includes a redesign of the homepage to improve the site's appearance, accessibility, and path to UK's individual sports and the department's general information. With information on all 22 of Kentucky's varsity sports, an overview on UK's facilities, academics and mission, the redesign was aimed at making all of that information easier to locate for readers.

Included on Kentucky Athletics Interactive are professionally produced highlight and informational videos in addition to general information about the UK Athletics Department and the university at-large.

The website includes custom micro-sites on each of UK Athletics' 22 varsity sports. UK will be launching the updated individual sport sites throughout the 2011-12 year to coincide with each team's season.

The website also includes a link to "UK Tube," the official video site of the Kentucky Wildcats, which features videos created by the UK Sports Video staff, as well as UK student-athletes, coaches and other staff, in accordance with NCAA rules and regulations.

Also, prospective student-athletes can learn about the "first three steps" all prospective student-athletes must take to compete as a Division I athlete at UK. Links to other websites will be available, including UKathletics.com, seeblue.com and SECsports.com.

New-Interactive-Main-Page2.jpg


On Thursday, after 10 years of service at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. will step down from his post as the 11th president of the commonwealth's flagship university.

Eli Capilouto will take over for Todd on Friday, the start of the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Before Todd leaves, the folks over at at the UKnow website have put together a farewell message from Todd and a tribute video. This may be an athletics website, but as we've mentioned before, Todd has a huge impact on the athletic department's growth and relationship with the university during his decade of service.

Here are the videos:

More SEC dominance

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC LOGO UK BLUE.jpgWe already knew when South Carolina and Florida advanced to the College World Series finals that a Southeastern Conference team would win the national championship for the third straight year.

But now that South Carolina has made it official and beaten the Gators on back-to-back nights for the program's second straight national title, it's worth mentioning that the conference's championship marks the first time a league has won three straight since the Pac-10 did it three straight times from 1986-88. It would have been four straight had Fresno State not finished its Cinderella run in 2008 and defeated Georgia in the finals.

LSU captured the SEC's first national championship in this current title run in 2009.

It's another dominating streak for a conference that has won five straight national titles in football. As Kevin Scarbinsky from the Birmingham News wrote a few days ago, SEC baseball's only peer is SEC football.

 

Web Wednesday: Calipari extension edition

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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

General: Fans of UK warmly recall online friend Jonathan McIntyre (John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Mack Perkins never met Jonathan McIntyre, not in person, anyway, not to shake his hand or see his face or hear his voice or see his children. But @MackSmacks knew @mac4uk.

"I knew him from my days on the UK message boards," Perkins said. "Whenever I would post something outlandish, Jonathan would keep me in check."

Brian Eldridge never met Jonathan McIntyre either, but @BriEldridge knew @mac4uk through the message boards and Twitter.

"Mac was a huge UK football fan and also a huge baseball fan," said Eldridge, who is a contributor to Kentucky Sports Report. "He loved basketball, too, but he seemed more passionate than most about his Wildcat football."

I encourage you to read all of Clay's fantastic article. Our thoughts and condolences here at UK are with McIntyre's family.

Men's basketball: Investment in Calipari all about big April payoff (Rick Bozich, Louisville Courier-Journal)

Barnhart and outgoing UK President Dr. Lee Todd have determined that Calipari and Kentucky are an idyllic marriage. They share the same ambition: To win a national championship -- Kentucky's eighth and Calipari's first.

Men's basketball: Cal's extension another indicator he'll stay at UK (Andy Katz, ESPN)

This latest contract improvement is another indicator that Calipari will stay at Kentucky instead of going to the NBA, as has been speculated since he arrived in Lexington. NBA teams aren't paying salaries in this range anymore, meaning Calipari has somewhat priced himself out of the professional market.

"Coach Calipari has led a remarkable turnaround of our basketball program, bringing it back to unquestioned national prominence and in a position to compete for championships on a regular basis," Todd said. "Aligning his contract with that of Mitch Barnhart creates the potential for long-term continuity in an athletics program that is performing and winning both on the court and in the classroom."

Men's basketball: No SEC coach favors 22-game schedule (Jerry Tipton, Herald-Leader)

No coach on the teleconference voiced support for a 22-game schedule.

Calipari noted that the emphasis of scheduling should be on building as good a résumé as possible for the NCAA Tournament. That would mean the strong-est Strength of Schedule and Ratings Percentage Index. Non-conference games provide the greatest flexibility in building a schedule.

"Sixteen or 18 (SEC games) is important," Calipari said. "But not as important as non-conference Strength of Schedule and RPI."

With a 22-game SEC schedule all but ruled out, the league will consider expanding from 16 to 18 games per season. Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy noted that the SEC will join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2011-12 as the only BCS leagues playing less than 18 games. So, 18 games is "where the trend is heading," he said.

Men's basketball: Jones, Davis, Gilchrist featured on SI's 2012 draft primer (Luke Winn, SI.com)

Top one-and-done candidates

1. Anthony Davis, Fr., PF, Kentucky:
He may be too raw to dominate in college hoops from Day 1, and isn't likely to put up numbers on par with Barnes and Sullinger, but that won't stop scouts from viewing Davis as the best prospect in the 2012 draft pool. He's far from filling out his 6-10 frame -- his late growth spurt was what pushed him from anonymity to five-star recruit -- but he'll make athletic plays around the rim, and will have no trouble keeping up with speedy freshman point guard Marquis Teague (also a one-and-done candidate) in transition.

2. Michael Gilchrist, Fr., SF, Kentucky: Gilchrist is the rare blue-chip recruit who's famous for his defense, and he's expected to be one of college basketball's most feared, tenacious defenders in '11-12. At 6-7, with a 6-11 wingspan, he could feasibly guard four positions for the Wildcats, and make a huge impact on a team that should contend for the national title. Scouts love his aggressiveness, and while he's unlikely to be selected ahead of Davis in next year's draft, Gilchrist won't have to wait long to hear his name called by an NBA team.

 

Former Wildcats making headlines

Ex-UK lineman Jacobs returning to Bluegrass as NASCAR pit crew member (Mark Story, Lexington-Herald-Leader)

(Mark) Jacobs ended his three years (1996-98) as a Wildcats starter in UK's Outback Bowl loss to Penn State on Jan. 1, 1999. Now he is in his 12th year working as a jackman at NASCAR's highest level.

When the Sprint Cup Series at long last comes to Kentucky Speedway for the July 9 Quaker State 400, Jacobs will be jacking the No. 42 car of Juan Pablo Montoya.

Kanter's pro career will alter perception of year at UK (Aaron Smith, Kentucky Kernel)

Would a Kanter-led UK have actually reached the potential we place on that hypothetical squad?

The next stage of his career -- his time in the NBA -- will affect how we answer that question. Right now, we can assume Kanter does what he declared he would have done: "dominate" the college game, and subsequently, take UK to the next level. There's no reason to project Kanter achieving anything less than his fullest potential while at UK, because he didn't play any games to suggest otherwise.

Now he will, as he starts his NBA career off with Utah. Now we see what type of player he really is and what he really can be. And when this new vision of Enes Kanter emerges, it will be retroactively projected onto the "what-if" scenarios at UK.

Brandon Knight happy to be a Piston (Vincent Goodwill, Detroit News)

Of Knight falling, Pistons president Joe Dumars said it was "better to be lucky than good." With Thursday's activity, during which many teams made trades to move up, the Pistons sat back, changed their plan to get a big man and Knight fell into their hands.

Knight, who wore a gray suit and purple tie, spoke calmly, saying he was over what happened on Thursday and is happy to be in Detroit.

"It was a little nerve-wracking (waiting)," said Knight, who will wear No. 7 (for the number of teams that passed on him) with Ben Gordon switching to No. 8. "But I think it's a great fit, the best place I could've ended up. I think everything happens for a reason."

Magic want DeAndre Liggins to provide defense (Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel)

Liggins compared his toughness to that of highly regarded defenders Shane Battier and Tony Allen.

"My toughness will carry on towards the Orlando Magic," Liggins said. "As you've seen at Kentucky, I bring toughness to the team. I competed. I was the reason why we won some games."

Harrellson looks forward to garbage man role with Knicks (Lenn Robbins, New York Post

Harrellson, the No. 45 overall pick whom the Knicks acquired from the Hornets in a draft-night deal for about $750,000, said he thinks he can have a long NBA career as -- his words -- a garbage man.

It's a role he said he always felt comfortable with but certainly perfected at Kentucky, where he had one of the most volatile careers in Wildcats history.

James Paxton named to Futures Game (Seattle Mariners)

Paxton, 22, is 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA (15 ER, 50.0 IP) in 9 starts with Single-A Clinton. He has limited opponents to a .226 (40x177) average, while walking 30 and striking out 73. He has struck out 10 or more batters three times this season, including striking out a season-high 13 batters on June 16 vs. Quad Cities. A native of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, Paxton was selected by the Mariners in the 4th round of the 2010 June Draft.

UK baseball SID Brent Ingram notes on Twitter that Paxton is the first former Wildcat to earn a spot in the game along with Jason Kipnis, who will also being playing in the game.



News from UKathletics.com

Track and field: Jenna Martin wins at Canadian national championships

Men's tennis: Wildcats compete in futures events

Softball: Kristine Himes elevated to associate head coach

Football: Talamini to be inducted to Kentucky NFL Hall of Fame



Tweet of the week


If DeAndre Liggins is able to earn a roster spot with the Magic, he will join his former Wildcat teammate, Daniel Orton, in Orlando. Orton was happy to see that Liggins was Florida-bound and said so on Twitter on draft night.

"Happy for my boy Dre!!! YESSIR!!!" - @danielorton21

"@DLiggs34 happy to have you with us my dude" - @danielorton21



Video of the week

UK had the chance to see and benefit from Brandon Knight's tremendous game and even more amazing work ethic for a season, now the Detroit Pistons will get to do the same as Knight begins his professional career. Here is some video of Knight talking about his move to the pros, what he'll bring to Detroit and how he managed not to pull a John Wall when he had the chance to throw out the first pitch at a Tigers game.

UK football to get new uniforms

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Big Blue will have a new look in 2011.

The Kentucky football team will unveil new uniforms for the upcoming season Thursday. The new uniforms will feature the latest in Nike uniform technology.

We will have pictures of the new uniforms on here Thursday.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC LOGO UK BLUE.jpgEarlier this month, the Southeastern Conference's 12 men's basketball coaches convened in sunny Destin, Fla., for the annual league meetings and, as Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings described it, harmoniously agreed on scrapping the two-division format for one 12-team format.

The true goals behind the realignment were to generate more at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament and to reseed the SEC Tournament. The change will take action this upcoming 2011-12 season.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, citing the opportunity to compete for one more championship and the interest of the fans, was one of the few, if not the only dissenter.

"I'm all for one division," LSU head coach Trent Johnson said Monday on the SEC's summer teleconference. "I think it's the only way to basically have a true champion."

What the league didn't decide at the time and what the coaches still haven't agreed upon quite yet is how to schedule around the new one-division format. The teams will play a 16-game schedule this season, but the SEC must decide at some point if it wants to increase its league slate to 18 or 22 games.

The idea behind increasing the number of games would be to give every team an equal shot to win the conference crown. In a 22-game format, every team would play each other home and away.

Stallings admitted Monday that he was the one that proposed the 22-game format at the league meetings.

"(The 22-game schedule) is something to think about," Stallings said. "Obviously, we feel like we've been drug through Armageddon after you finish with 16 games, so you can imagine how you would feel after 22. I don't think that one will get a lot of traction but I at least thought it was worth bringing up and discussing."

Stallings wasn't ready to completely stand behind his proposal, telling reporters that "it needs to be what's best for our league," but his suggestion certainly had traction and a strong backing from many of the SEC coaches, including South Carolina's Darrin Horn.

"Theoretically, the only true, fair way to do it is to play 22 games and do a round robin," Horn said Monday.

The problem that arises that many coaches brought up Monday is the feasibility of going to 22 games. Johnson wondered about the added stress of travel and Horn questioned how it would affect TV deals and nonconference scheduling.

For a team like Kentucky, it would likely reduce a high-profile nonconference schedule.

"Kentucky, if you play 22 games, do you still get the Indiana and the North Carolina series and all those that are so good for the game of basketball and especially the SEC?" Horn said. "I don't know how that would look."

Still, "in terms of fairness, it's really the only way," Horn added.

Of the five other "high-major" conferences, three (Big 10, Big East and Pac-12) play 18 games with no divisions. The other two (Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference) play 16 games. The Big 12 is the only major conference left with divisions.

Count UK's John Calipari as one coach who isn't completely on board with a 22-game schedule.

"I really, really think 22 is a number that very few leagues do that, and there's reasons for that, so I think you're talking about 16 or 18 games," Calipari said.

If the end goal is getting more teams to the NCAA Tournament, Calipari believes the league should looker more closely at its nonconference schedule.

"Leagues that have gotten tons of teams into the NCAA Tournament have figured out it's about your nonconference strength of schedule and your nonconference RPI," Calipari said. "In other words, play the very best teams you can play and still win. You have to win. If you play a really strong schedule, like a winning percentage of the teams you play is up at like 60 and you win 12 games or 13, you're going to have the No. 1 RPI ranked schedule nonconference in the country. If the schedule you play has a 52 or a 53 winning percentage and you win 12 or 13 games or 11 games, you're going to be in the top 40 or 50 in RPI in nonconference scheduling. That's as big of an issue for us as scheduling within the conference."

If the league were to decide to stick with a 16-game schedule, it might mirror the women's current format, which was adopted for the 2009-10 season.

Each team plays home-and-home games against five schools (one permanent opponent, two teams from the same traditional division and two teams from the opposite traditional division). The non-permanent home-and-home opponents rotate every two years. The remaining home games are single games against the six other schools in the conference, with three at home and three away.

The new scheduling format is likely to be decided at next year's SEC meetings. Although the league has scrapped its two-division format, its 16-game schedule for this year will model the traditional pairings of the East-West divisions.


John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats are favorites to win the school's 27th regular-season SEC championship. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats are favorites to win the school's 27th regular-season SEC championship. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky and everyone else?

In forecasting for the upcoming 2011-12 season, a couple of coaches were asked to handicap the league race next year during Monday's teleconference.

One reporter asked Florida head coach Billy Donovan if everyone was chasing Kentucky, which has the nation's No. 1 signing class for the third straight year in addition to returning starters Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller.

Donovan isn't ready to hand UK its 27th regular-season crown in June, but he did pay Kentucky a pretty big compliment in the process.

"I don't know about that," Donovan said. "I've been in the league a long time and I think that being at Kentucky at five years and being here now going on 16, Kentucky, tradition wise, has got more tradition than anybody else in college basketball. I think when you look at a program like that, every program is aspiring to build that kind of tradition. Whether it's been Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Eddie Sutton, Coach (Rick) Pitino, John Calipari or Tubby Smith, Kentucky's program has been at an elite level all the way through. They've got a great program, great tradition.

"They've got a terrific guy in there right now in John, and he's done a terrific job, but Kentucky is always going to be Kentucky. It's been that way for 60 years. They've got more SEC championships than the whole entire league combined. I think it's great having a program like that in this league because they are certainly a measuring stick of what it really means to have a great, great program."

As a reporter mentioned Kentucky, Florida and Alabama as possible favorites, Georgia head coach Mark Fox made sure to include Vanderbilt as a legitimate contender. The Commodores return virtually their entire team from last year.

"When you started listing them, the team I started thinking about was Vanderbilt," Fox said. "I think they have a team that can legitimately compete for a Final Four. They have a great backcourt, they have terrific wing play, terrific shooting, they have an NBA center and I think they're well coached. I think they'll have a good bench. I think that when you start looking at the ingredients of a team, there's not much missing from Vandy's team."

Based on the league's returning star power, Donovan believes this could be the year that the SEC flexes its muscle, but he wasn't so ready to dismiss the success of the league over the last few years. The league got five teams to the NCAA Tournament last season.

"I think what happens sometimes is leagues get evaluated and judged very early in November and December," Donovan said. "I think if you look at our league, we went to the Elite Eight, Kentucky went to the Final Four. Two teams in the league made deep runs. Sometimes a league is measured by how many teams you get into the NCAA Tournament. In the last two years, it's really been all the teams on the East.

"I think it all depends on how you evaluate the league. Is it based on how many teams get in the tournament? Is it based on how many teams make a deep run? Is it what your conference does in nonconference scheduling? So I think there are a bunch of variables to look at. I think our league has done pretty well."

Calipari on the SEC teleconference

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Head coach John Calipari took part in the Southeastern Conference's summer basketball teleconference on Monday. Coincidentally, it took place the same day as the announcement of Cailpari's new eight-year contract, meaning most of the questions revolved around the new contract.

Since I already have a full story with Calipari and the new contract, here are some basic notes and quotes from what Calipari said:

- Asked to give his thoughts on next year's team, Calipari said, "We're going to be young again." Calipari said they'll be made up of a couple of sophomores and a junior to go along with some freshmen. I think the junior Calipari referred to is actually senior Darius Miller. He believes UK will be deeper next year. "I'm happy with what we have as a team. They seem to be getting along right now."

- Calipari reiterated that he is "happy" and "humble" to be the coach at Kentucky for two more years. A local reporter pointed out that no contract is binding and asked how binding this new contract is to Kentucky. "Obviously, there are buyouts and all that kind of stuff in there, but I'm excited about being there," Caliapri said. "I'm excited about this opportunity. It took me a long time to get to a place like Kentucky. No disrespect for Memphis or UMass, they are both great programs, but to have an opportunity like I have, to be connected to our fan base like we are and to be part of a situation that is so passionate, I'm excited about it." One thing worth noting is that if Calipari leaves at any point between now and March 30, 2014, he will pay a $1 million buyout. Coupled with the $1 million he'd lose from not fulfilling the $1 million retention bonus. Even by Calipari's standards, $2 million is a lot of money to leave on the table. Will that ever stop the NBA coaching rumors? Probably not, but I'm not sure Calipari can do anything to stop those regardless of his interest.   

- The big topic of the day on the teleconference for all 12 coaches was the new one division format and the possibility of changing to an 18- or 22-game schedule in the near future, which I'll have a separate post on later. As far as Calipari's take, he said he was in favor of the one division and said that changing the amount of league games is inevitable. "I really, really think 22 is a number that very few leagues do that, and there's reasons for that, so I think you're talking about 16 or 18 games," Calipari said. "More important than the 16 or 18, whatever that may be, it's our nonconference schedule. Leagues that have gotten tons of teams into the NCAA Tournament have figured out it's about your nonconference strength of schedule and your nonconference RPI. In other words, play the very best teams you can play and still win. You have to win. If you play a really strong schedule, like a winning percentage of the teams you play is up at like 60 and you win 12 games or 13, you're going to have the No. 1 RPI ranked schedule nonconference in the country. If the schedule you play has a 52 or a 53 winning percentage and you win 12 or 13 games or 11 games, you're going to be in the top 40 or 50 in RPI in nonconference scheduling. That's as big of an issue for us as scheduling within the conference."

- Asked how realistic retiring at UK was with the new deal, Calipari joked that "he could retire after this year." When I talked to Calipari on Sunday, he said couldn't see himself coaching too far into his 60s. On Monday, the number was his 70s. Calipari is currently 52. Make of that what you will. What he did emphasize again is that it's about the players. "My concern is, are we doing right by our players," Calipari said. "It's a players-first program."

John Calipari has agreed on a contract extension that will make him the head coach at UK through the 2018-19 season. (UK Athletics) John Calipari has agreed on a contract extension that will make him the head coach at UK through the 2018-19 season. (UK Athletics)

Calipari contract details Get Acrobat Reader | Contract with amendment Get Acrobat Reader

John Calipari has said on numerous occasions that if he's coaching in 10 years, something drastic has happened.

With Monday's announcement that Calipari has signed a contract extension that puts his new deal at eight years, Calipari will coach 10 seasons at Kentucky if he finishes out the entirety of the new contract. Currently 52, the deal would put him at 60, an age group that Calipari says he doesn't want to coach too far into.

If that's true, with six years remaining on his previous contract, why add two more years to it at this stage in his career? For Calipari and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, the answer was easy.

"I think you want to let everyone know that I'm happy here," Calipari said in a phone interview Sunday. "We all understand our state and our university. We wanted to work with them and be fiscally responsible, yet Mitch wanted me to know that, 'Hey, we appreciate what you're doing and I want you know that I want to extend your contract and we'll add some stuff at the end.' I was fine with that."

Barnhart echoed that sentiment Sunday, pointing to Kentucky's recent trip to the Final Four, a .889 winning percentage and an unparalleled nine NBA Draft picks over the last two seasons. Barnhart has also been impressed with the success of Calipari-coached teams off the court as the team posted a 3.14 grade-point average in the spring 2011 semester in addition to a score of 974 in the NCAA's latest Academic Progress Rate, which is tied for the highest mark among all men's basketball programs in the Southeastern Conference.

"The basketball program, he's clearly got it back and relevant nationally," Barnhart said. "We're winning championships in our league and recruiting at a very high national level. Clearly, we're in the conversation for national championships again and that's what Kentucky basketball is all about. I thought it was important to secure that for a long time to come."

As far as the timing of the new deal, Barnhart said he doesn't know if there is ever a good time to do it.

"We're coming off two really fine years, and while I can't speak to Cal's entire coaching career, I thought it was one of the finest jobs he's ever done," Barnhart said. "He took a team that was not anticipated to make a run or do some of the things we did and turned it into a special season. To not honor that in some way, shape or form and not communicate that it was special and we want to continue to have those moments was not the right thing to do. With any of our coaches, whether it's our volleyball coach or softball coach or baseball, we always try to keep them out there and let them know we appreciate what they've done and grow them."

The new deal, which begins with the 2011-12 season and expires on March 30, 2019, could be worth up to $43.3 million at the end of the contract if all performance-based incentives are met (the base is $36.5 million). Calipari could make as little as $3.8 million in a season in 2011-12 and 2015-16 and as much as $5.75 million in 2018-19, depending on whether or not incentives are met.

Although it's a pay increase over his previous $31.65 million deal (plus the opportunity for incentives) with UK, Barnhart said Calipari's contract more than pays for itself in the form of increased royalties and a record enrollment of applications at the university, both of which have benefited from the basketball program's success.

"There are two programs that make money for us at Kentucky in terms of our athletics and they are football and basketball," Barnhart said. "Those two programs have got to make it for the rest of our other 20 programs to be able to sustain themselves and for our department to sustain itself. Anytime we have success in football and basketball, our fan base is going to jump in."

The constant centerpiece of the offseason coaching carousel, Calipari is hoping the new contract will reaffirm his commitment to Kentucky and put to rest any rumors of him leaving for another job.

"I have the best coaching job," Calipari said. "Financially I'm rewarded very handsomely. So why would I leave? What would lead me to leave? When you look at Kentucky and our institution, it's the best coaching position and best college basketball situation for players."

If Calipari were to leave at any point between now and March 30, 2014, he would owe the school a $1 million buyout. Coupled with the $1 million he'd lose from not fulfilling the $1 million retention bonus, that's $2 million Calipari would be leaving on the table.

"I think (the new contract) sends a strong message that Cal is committed to us and the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Barnhart said. "It sends a message to other folks in our leagues that he's here to put a signature on his career at Kentucky. ... I think it's really important from our perspective that we stabilize that piece. You want to maintain that success level and grow on it and build on it. The goal is to win national championships. We want to continue to aspire to hang more banners and grow student-athletes like we've done."

Should Calipari finish the deal and retire after the 2018-19 season, he would tie Tubby Smith as the coach with the third-longest tenure in Kentucky history, trailing only Adolph Rupp (42-plus seasons) and Joe B. Hall (13).

"If I finish the contract and continue to coach, it's because I'm really having fun and I'm really having great enjoyment out of what I'm doing; the rewards I get out of draft night, of seeing guys like Darius Miller do what he did at the conference tournament, to seeing guys like Josh (Harrellson) and DeAndre (Liggins) improve," Calipari said. "As long as I'm still getting great enjoyment from those types of things, I could see myself finishing this contract.

"If it ever gets to where I'm not enjoying that, it's not as though I have to do this. That's the great thing. I want to enjoy myself and I want the fans involved. I want them watching our team saying, 'Man, those kids are having fun. It makes it fun for us.' And I want to be able to say we're competing for national titles ever year. That doesn't mean you win every year, but you're one of those teams (in the mix). You're significant on the basketball court and the commitment to these athletes is still there."

Having said all that, Calipari still has a hard time seeing himself coaching into his 60s. When it's time to walk away, he said he'll have no problem doing it because he's not into records or career milestones.

"I'm not putting my record on my tombstone," Calipari said. "I don't feel that I have anything to prove other than I'm taking care of these kids and it's a players-first program and people around me are benefiting more than me. With that being said, I'm not doing this to say, 'OK, what's the next step?' People don't understand that I've been doing this half my adult life with a gun to my head."

Clarifying, Calipari referred to his 29 years in the college and professional ranks as both an assistant and head coach. Although he's enjoyed every step of the job, it's taken a lot out of him to reach the pinnacle of his career at a place like Kentucky.

"I've been doing this a long time," Calipari said. "I've enjoyed every minute of it, but the one thing you've got to understand is it's taken me my whole career to get to a job like this. You have guys that have been coaching at these kinds of programs -- maybe not quite Kentucky -- but in those 10 spaces right in the area of Kentucky for 25 years. It took me how many years to get to a job like this."

The new contract is realigned to match Barnhart's new eight-year deal, which was awarded by outgoing UK President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. in February. The new deal certainly brings some continuity between the two and should define a relationship that has been questioned at times. 

"Mitch and I are fine," Calipari said. "Mitch hired me to be the coach at Kentucky and Mitch gave me the opportunity to coach at this place. I appreciate that and I will always appreciate that. My relationship, whether it's with Matthew (Mitchell) or Joker (Phillips) or any of the other sports, hopefully all the coaches know that I'm there for them. It's truly kind of a family situation. Mitch has built that with the kind of people he's brought in. Everybody works together. Hopefully we all have that type of relationship."

More than two weeks ago, Barnhart tweeted to fans that he was in the process of extending Calipari's contract. The holdup, Calipari said, was nothing more than his busy schedule.

"It always cracks me up when people say we don't see eye to eye on things," Barnhart said. "Are we going to see eye to eye on everything? No, we're not. I don't know that anybody does. Cal and I are both competitive guys and we want the same things. We understand what the mantle of the University of Kentucky is athletically. Are we going to have discussions about it? Absolutely. If we don't, something's wrong. ...

"What this contract for Cal says is that we believe in what he's doing for our university. We think he's an important part of that university structure. We will continue to agree, disagree, work at it and try to find a way to do what we think is best for the University of Kentucky to get to a place where we can hang banners for our fans and graduate our student-athletes to go on to the next stage of their lives. Cal and I don't disagree that much."

If the next eight years are anything like the first two that Calipari signed up for, Kentucky fans will be happy to have him around even longer. When he signed the original contract in the spring of 2009, he vowed to return the program back to national prominence, and he's done so in leading the school to an Elite Eight in 2010, the school's first Final Four appearance in 13 years in 2011 and nine NBA Draft picks.

Looking back to his original decision to sign with UK, Calipari said the job has been everything he expected and more.

"What you don't understand is the passion that's around it," Calipari said. "You don't understand how much it's the Commonwealth's team. You don't understand that people breathe with our wins and losses. You don't understand that our fans tape our games and then watch our games more than once. It means so much to them."

Barnhart admitted that Calipari has turned the program around faster than anticipated, which was reflected by Monday's contract extension.

"I'm not sure I ever expected it quite this fast," Barnhart said. "We've won pieces of three conference championships in two years. To get to an Elite Eight and then a Final Four -- and quite frankly, we were a couple of shots away from two Final Fours -- it's been a heck of a run. This sets the stage for some incredible moments in the future."


Cooper signs with Pirates

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Kentucky baseball lost another key underclassmen this week when sophomore pitcher Jordan Cooper agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

By signing with the Pirates, who drafted Cooper in the 23rd round of the MLB Draft, Cooper cannot return to the UK baseball team.

The loss of Cooper is the third underclassmen to sign with an MLB team. Offensive stalwart Chad Wright and two-way star Braden Kapteyn have already signed contracts with the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, respectively.

In all, Kentucky has had five players sign MLB contracts this year with senior Neiko Johnson signing with the Houston Astros and senior shortstop Taylor Black signing with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cooper, as a part-time weekend starter last year, went 3-2 with a 4.61 ERA and 47 strikeouts. Assuming first-round pick Alex Meyer signs with the Washington Nationals -- believe it or not, he can still return to UK if he doesn't sign a contract -- head coach Gary Henderson will have to retool his weekend rotation. Only Taylor Rogers is expected to be back.

In addition to Meyer, catcher Michael Williams has not signed a contract yet and could return next year if he doesn't sign with the San Francisco Giants.

SEC domination: Continuing the league's recent domination, a Southeastern Conference baseball team is going to win the College World Series for the third straight year.

Both Florida and defending champion South Carolina advanced to the CWS finals on Saturday, ensuring that the SEC's streak will continue.

The two teams will square off Monday in a best-of-three series in Omaha, Neb.

NBA Draft wrap-up

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To put a cap on the Kentucky players that were selected in the NBA Draft, I've compiled a key quote about each player along with some video and written features on each of the guys, plus some thoughts from head coach John Calipari. You will have to click on the links for complete access to each story.


Jazz.jpgEnes Kanter (third to the Utah Jazz)

"If you were looking at him as a football player he is a north-south guy. He is not going to dazzle you with footwork, he is going to try and run over you. He gives us some length. To go along with what we have inside he gives Coach Corbin some options. You have to remember he's 19 years old and didn't play last year, but he is a willing worker and I think that is key. Here is a kid that didn't play last year and had a 5.9% body fat, and did as well as anybody on the treadmill." -- Kevin O'Connor, Utah Jazz general manager

Transcript of quotes 
Story: Enes Kanter gives the Utah Jazz an inside force (The Salt Lake Tribune)
Audio: Kanter's first interview (Jazz.com)
Video: Analysis of Kanter (Jazz.com)

Video: Jazz GM on Kanter (Jazz.com)


pistons.jpgBrandon Knight (eighth to the Detroit Pistons)

"Brandon Knight wasn't the Pistons' biggest need, but he was the best talent on the board when the Pistons selected and GM Joe Dumars didn't hesitate to take him. I applaud that. Dumars can figure out how to fit Knight into a somewhat crowded backcourt, and teams typically fare better when they don't worry about fit and take the best player on the board. Knight isn't a sure thing, but he's a hardworking, unselfish player with all the tools to be great if he puts it together." -- ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford in the Detroit Free Press

Audio: Brandon Knight phone interview (Pistons.com)
Video: Joe Dumars on Brandon Knight (Pistons.com)
Story: Where Knight fits with the Pistons (Pistons.com)
Story: Palace Knight (Pistons.com)
Story: National writers give thumbs-up to Pistons' picks (Detroit Free Press)


Knicks1.jpgJosh Harrellson (45th to the New York Knicks)

"[He's] a need that we need. He's a big body, obviously. He came in and had a very nice workout. He showed that he'll bang people around. He's tough, he's big. He had a nice touch shooting-wise. He can put the ball on the floor a little bit. We'll see if he can adapt to the NBA game, but we think he has a chance, a good chance, and we're looking forward to seeing him." -- Mark D'Antoni, New York Knicks head coach, in Zagsblog

Story: Five biggest draft surprises (ESPN.com)
Story: Harrellson what the Knicks need (Zagsblog)
Photos: Harrellson in action (Knicks.com)


new-orlando-magic-logo.jpgDeAndre Liggins
 (53rd to the Orlando Magic)

"Playing on a Kentucky team loaded with star power and elite NBA prospects, Liggins was often overlooked over the past two seasons. But it was his ability to guard the other team's best scorer and his willingness to do the dirty work that endeared him to Smith and the Magic. He has good size at 6-foot-6 and 202 pounds and he averaged 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game last season for a Kentucky team that reached the Final Four." -- John Denton, writer for OrlandoMagic.com

Story: Orlando's draft analysis (OrlandoMagic.com)  
Story: Draft grades (Orlandopinstripedpost.com)
Video: President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith on Liggins (OrlandoMagic.com)


What John Calipari had to say ... (via CoachCal.com)

On Kanter ...
"The Millers are a super ownership group and I loved what Enes said about the Big Blue Nation. For all our UK fans, this was another big, big night where all four players were drafted. I was glad to see the NBA recognize Enes as from UK and Turkey. I guess some outlets didn't recognize him as part of our family. But Enes recognizes that he is from UK and that's more important."

On Knight ...
"After Brandon was chosen at No. 8, I sat with his family at the table and I said, "Our ego wanted him to go at 3, 4 or 5 but at the end of the day he's in a great situation with a terrific organization led by Joe Dumars and his staff and again, fate intervened. Tayshaun (Prince) is not only one of the great players in the NBA, but a great person to help teach Brandon what it means to be professional."

On Harrellson ...
"I had a really good feeling about Josh and we knew New York loved him. They had told us his workout blew them away. I knew Boston and some other teams that really wanted him and were going to try and move up. In fact, there was another team willing to buy a pick to move up for Josh. Think about what I'm saying - what a transformation! Josh changed his body, his attitude, his approach and his skillset. He changed his belief in himself all through hard work and knowing that when the tide rises, everyone is able to reach their dreams."

On Liggins ...
"DeAndre was the one I was worried about because I knew he had great workouts with three or four organizations. He was going to have to be picked before some very good players with great credentials. And that was my worry with him. I knew that he could do it. I just didn't know if the clubs knew him as well as I did."

17 Wildcats currently in the NBA

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for NBA-Logo.pngJohn Calipari is calling it "The Kentucky Effect." In short, Calipari is saying that if you come to Kentucky, there is a great chance you'll land in the NBA.

Whatever it really is, Calipari seems to have a point. With nine draft picks over the last two years, UK now has 17 players in the NBA.

Here's a list of all 17 players (credit Jon Hale of KyForward for the find):

- Nazr Mohammed -- Oklahoma City Thunder*
- Jamaal Magloire -- Miami Heat*
- Tayshaun Prince -- Detroit Pistons*
- Keith Bogans -- Chicago Bulls
- Chuck Hayes -- Houston Rockets*
- Rajon Rondo -- Boston Celtics
- Kelenna Azubuike -- Free Agent*
- Jodie Meeks -- Philadelphia 76ers
- John Wall -- Washington Wizards
- DeMarcus Cousins -- Sacramento Kings
- Eric Bledsoe -- Los Angeles Clippers
- Patrick Patterson -- Houston Rockets
- Daniel Orton -- Orlando Magic
- Enes Kanter -- Utah Jazz
- Brandon Knight -- Detroit Pistons
- Josh Harrellson -- New York Knicks
- DeAndre Liggins -- Orlando Magic

* Mohammed, Magloire, Prince and Hayes are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Azuibuike was waived by the Knicks on Feb. 28 after missing the entire season due to an injury.


 

Former Cat Wall featured for the ESPYs

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As we flip the page on another historic NBA Draft for the UK men's basketball team, remember that it was one year ago that No. 1 pick John Wall went from a Kentucky Wildcat to a Washington Wizard.

Why bring that up now? Well, Wall's star power has continued to rise since then as he blossoms into one of the new faces of the NBA.

The latest proof is the promo video for this year's ESPYs, which will be televised live on ESPN from Los Angeles on July 13 at 9 p.m. ET. Here's the video:

 

DeAndre Liggins (left) and Josh Harrellson averaged a combined 5.3 points during the 2009-10 season. Now, after helping Kentucky to the Final Four in 2011, they're the two most unlikely of UK's nine draft picks over the last two years. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) DeAndre Liggins (left) and Josh Harrellson averaged a combined 5.3 points during the 2009-10 season. Now, after helping Kentucky to the Final Four in 2011, they're the two most unlikely of UK's nine draft picks over the last two years. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised by the selection of Josh Harrellson on Thursday night by the New York Knicks with the 45th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Perhaps we should have known all along that the Orlando Magic would select DeAndre Liggins with the 53rd pick when he announced he was leaving Kentucky a year early.

After all, it was John Calipari who molded a record five first-round draft picks a year ago, including the diminutive Eric Bledsoe and seldom-used Daniel Orton. In a sense, maybe we should have come to expect Thursday night.

But when it actually happened at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., particularly when Harrellson's named showed up seemingly out of nowhere on the draft board, this writer couldn't help but pick up his jaw off the floor.

If someone would have told you before the season that both Harrellson and Liggins would go in the draft, what would have called them? Crazy?

"Impossible," is how an emotional Liggins described it by phone Thursday night.

Before the year, Harrellson was as likely to be drafted in the NFL as he was in the NBA. He averaged a measly 1.3 points and 1.2 rebounds his junior season and was relegated to a bathroom stall during one of his games his sophomore year.

Even as Harrellson took on a more prominent role when Enes Kanter was ruled permanently ineligible, few could have imagined he was worthy of an NBA spot.

But as the NCAA Tournament wore on and Harrellson won matchups with Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, Harrellson started to warrant draft consideration and earned workouts with NBA teams.

One of the teams was the New York Knicks, who acquired the 45th pick from the New Orleans Hornets via cash. With a shortage of centers -- Ronny Turiaf is the only center under contract for next year -- the Knicks decided to go with Harrellson, who averaged 7.6 points and 8.7 rebounds last year.

"That's a good pick for them," Liggins said of the Knicks drafting Harrellson. "He worked his butt off to get to where he got at. I'm proud of him."

Harrellson couldn't be reached for comment Thursday night, but he sent out a tweet sending his appreciation to all of his fans.

"Headed to New York tomorrow morning..." Harrellson said on Twitter. "Thank you everyone for all your support through the years I couldn't be more proud!! Love the #BBN(.)"

Only Harrellson's unbelievable turnaround could overshadow Liggins' three-year journey.

If you can remember back to his freshman season, Liggins endured a much-maligned first year under former coach Billy Gillispie. There were rumors of a possible transfer when Calipari took over, and Liggins sat out the first nine games of his sophomore season. Some people called him a cancer and suggested Calipari rid himself of Liggins.

Soon thereafter, Liggins bought into Calipari's system, reinvented his game and became one of the best defenders in the country. Liggins improved his shooting this year, hitting 39.1 percent of his 3-point shots while averaging 8.6 points.

Now he'll join Orton in Orlando as UK's ninth draft pick in the last two years.

"It just shows that you never give up on what you do," Liggins said. "Everybody goes through things, whether it involves basketball or life. I've been through both. I've been through a lot on the court and off the court. I never gave up on my dream to play basketball. I continued to get better. Coach Cal did a great job preparing my game as did the rest of the coaching staff."

Liggins watched the draft from his hometown in Chicago and was admittedly anxious as the draft got closer and closer to the 60th and final pick.

"It was nerve-wracking," Liggins said. "I was watching it the entire time. It was getting towards the end of the draft so I was getting kind of nervous, but I know how hard I've worked all year and knew someone would call my name at some point."

In the end, Liggins was drafted by a team he never worked out for. The Magic interviewed him at the NBA Combine in Chicago, but Thursday night's text message from his agent was the first time he considered Orlando.

The moment he read the text ranked right up there with making a Final Four, Liggins said.

"Being part of that team, I always tried to help the team win and bring energy and toughness," Liggins said. "That's what I want to bring to the Orlando Magic. I know I'm not going to be a superstar in this league, but I'm a winning player. All I care about is winning."

On a team that features NBA veterans Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu, in addition to superstar center Dwight Howard, Liggins still views himself as a defensive stopper.

"I've got to," Liggins said. "That's what they drafted me for is my defense and my toughness, but I'm going to tell them that I'm going to get better as a player and work on my weaknesses. I'm going to try to work on other aspects of my game."

Second-round draft picks are not guaranteed contracts, meaning Liggins and Harrellson aren't out of the woods yet. Although they've landed with a team, they'll have to prove they deserve a roster spot.

That may become increasingly difficult this offseason with a possible lockout looming. The NBA has already canceled its annual summer league in Las Vegas, which would have been a prime opportunity for both Liggins and Harrellson to prove they warranted their selections.

"It just gives me more fire," Liggins said. "I'm just trying to prove that I belong in the NBA."

To even have that chance seemed utterly unlikely a year ago. But as we've all come to learn with Calipari and Kentucky, nothing is impossible anymore.

"If you work hard, you never know what's going to happen, and that's what me and Josh did," Liggins said. "We worked our tails off. We know who we are."

They're now, believe it or not, NBA Draft picks.

Brandon Knight was John Calipari's fourth straight point guard to go in the first round of the NBA Draft when the Detroit Pistons selected him with the eighth overall pick on Thursday night in Newark, N.J. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Brandon Knight was John Calipari's fourth straight point guard to go in the first round of the NBA Draft when the Detroit Pistons selected him with the eighth overall pick on Thursday night in Newark, N.J. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
Derrick Rose. Tyreke Evans. John Wall. And now Brandon Knight.

For the fourth straight year, a John Calipari-coached point guard -- specifically, a freshman guard -- has been taken in the first round of the NBA Draft with the Detroit Pistons' selection of Knight with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft in Newark, N.J.

Knight, who was once projected as a top-three pick, slid just a bit as he sat in the "green room" Thursday night. The wait made for some anxious moments for Knight, but the former UK freshman was ultimately pleased with where he landed.

"I'm just happy to be picked by the Pistons," Knight said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "I had a great interview with them. I didn't get a chance to work out with the Pistons but I had the chance to meet with Joe Dumars and he's a great guy."

Of course, Knight won't forget the minor wait he endured. Speaking at a news conference at the Prudential Center in Newark, Knight said he'll use the fall as motivation in his rookie season.

"The draft is inexact," Knight said. "You can't think about it now. The thing about it is, from now on it's just about making people pay that passed me up."

Knight was passed over by six international picks despite leading Kentucky to the Final Four for the first time since 1998. Knight led UK with a 17.3 scoring average and dished out a team-high 159 assists.

And yet, despite Knight's intelligence, ability to score and length, teams started to wonder about his ability to play point guard in the final few days. Ultimately, it likely led to his slide.

Knight said in his post-draft interview on ESPN that he's already proved to people that he can play point guard in the NBA.

"I think I did a good job proving that this year," Knight said. "Throughout the entire year I had that question and I was able to lead my team to a Final Four."

Earlier in the day, speaking at one of his satellite camps in Louisville, head coach John Calipari was shocked at the questions Knight was getting over his ability to play the one. Remember, all three of Calipari's three point guards over the last three years have enjoyed budding success.

"I think that comes from people who never played," Calipari said of the questions. "One person said it so they all say it. You have to score as a point guard in that league to be a player, so whoever says, 'Well, he's a scoring guard,' good, even better, because he is a point guard who can score. If you cannot score as a point guard in that league, you will not be in there longer than two or three years. You're out."

Knight was the starting point guard during UK's 29-win season, hitting game-winning shots against Princeton and Ohio State in the Wildcats' Final Four run.

"All I know is he's a basketball player who runs a club and can score, and that's what everybody is looking for," said Calipari, who flew to Newark Thursday afternoon to attend the draft.

Knight joins a Detroit team that, after dominating the Eastern Conference in the early part of the millennium, has missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

The Pistons are stockpiled with guards Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon -- three of the top four leading scorers -- bringing into question what moves Detroit will make going forward to make room for Knight. Former UK forward and gold medalist Tayshaun Prince is also on Detroit, although Knight said he's never met him.

It seemed fitting in a way that Knight fell to Detroit in the end. The Pistons' president, Joe Dumars, was a combo guard like Knight who would have likely been a lead guard had he not played alongside Isiah Thomas. Dumars won two NBA titles as a player with the Pistons.

"He may have been the most impressive guy in terms of the interview process in Chicago," Dumars said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "Just an off-the-charts guy."

Along with Enes Kanter, Knight is the fifth NBA lottery pick from Kentucky in the last two years.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Knight said. "I'm a player that likes to learn. I know in Detroit I'll be able to learn."
Enes Kanter was the first UK player taken off the NBA Draft board Thursday night when the Utah Jazz selected him with the third overall pick. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Enes Kanter was the first UK player taken off the NBA Draft board Thursday night when the Utah Jazz selected him with the third overall pick. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

Enes Kanter is finally free.

The talented but scutinized Turkish center, who was ruled permanently ineligible at Kentucky by the NCAA for receiving impermissible compensation from a professional team, was selected with the third overall pick by the Utah Jazz in the 2011 NBA Draft on Thursday. The pick ends a season in which Kanter hoped but never played for UK.

"It was so difficult because I couldn't play," Kanter said. "I still didn't give up. I knew in the end I would be fine. Right now, I'm trying to help the Utah Jazz. I'm trying to bring more energy and everything."

Kanter, who was announced from Turkey and the University of Kentucky when commissioner David Stern called his name, dedicated his rookie season to UK fans after a season in which he was showered with love from Big Blue fans. 

"I want to dedicate my first rookie season to Kentucky fans because they supported me a lot," said Kanter, who served as a student assistant at UK after the NCAA ruled him permanently ineligible. "They are so special. They will always be in my heart. Kentucky is just amazing."

The selection of Kanter marks the first time Kentucky has had a player taken in the first round in consecutive seasons since 1996-2000. A record five Wildcats were selected in last year's draft, headlined by No. 1 overall pick John Wall.

Kanter will join fellow Turkish star Mehmet Okur in Utah along with a frontline of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Andrei Kikilenko and Derrick Favors, giving Utah one of the deepest and most talented frontcourts heading into next year.

 "(Okur's) a great player and I know he will help me a lot when I'm in Utah," Kanter said on ESPN's live telecast. "I just cannot wait to play with him."

Free at last, Kanter finally has a chance to play.

Leftovers from Thursday's Calipari interview

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LOUISVILLE -- Some additional nuggets from head coach John Calipari that were not included in the video or story below:

- Calipari said he doesn't view Thursday's stop in Louisville as a chance to plant "the Commonwealth's team" in Louisville. No matter what Calipari does or says, he believes someone is going to make a big deal out of it or get offended. Bringing his camp into UK's rival's city is just another example. "When you throw a bone in a pack of dogs or a rock, the one you hit in the head starts yelping," Calipari said. "I speak in general terms. I'm not worried. We are the Commonwealth's team. That's what we are. Whether it's this city or another city, we try to move around. (We're) not trying to make anyone feel bad, but we just take care of our own business and what we've got to do."

- If you didn't hear it earlier in the week, Calipari again brought up what he's terming "The Kentucky Effect," a noticeable value to playing at UK. Calipari said it adds 20 percent to what you really are. "Sometimes you're taller, you're faster, you're quicker, you shoot better, but also, your draft position is better, your shoe contract is better, your marketing dollars are better. I don't know, but it's like a 20 percent hit you get being at Kentucky. Guys like DeAndre and Josh have benefitted by it. Now, they've played well and they deserve to be in that position, but I think the opportunities they're going to get because they were at Kentucky will be more so than if they went somewhere else."

- After talking about the Kentucky effect, a reporter told Calipari that it sounded like a recruiting pitch. Calipari smiled and said, "I'm never recruiting. I'm here running basketball camps."

- In regards to Kentucky's current roster and the possibility of future additions, Calipari said, "Right now, we're sitting where we are." Calipari acknowledged that he still has a couple of scholarships to use should he choose to, but he said he would probably use them for the walk-ons.

- Calipari will hold a mini-camp at the end of the recruiting season in New York for the Dominican Republic national team. Players trying out for the team will be on UK's campus in early August and Calipari will work those guys out for 16 to 17 days.

- Dominican Republic native and UK senior-to-be Eloy Vargas figures to make the squad after Calipari's comments Thursday. "It's important because he's going to be going against Charlie (Villanueava) and Al (Horford). Now, let's see what you are, let's see what you do. This year, for him, it's a big year. He's got to prove himself. I don't play just to play people. ... There's no way he shouldn't be a lot better. You look at a Josh Harrellson. Change your habits, change your skill set, change your body - change, change. If we see the same thing, you're going to have the same results."

- If you didn't see it on the homepage, the Lexington Center Corporation Board of Directors approved a construction plan to enhance the availability of accessible seating in the upper level of Rupp Arena. Work will begin immediately and will be completed before the 2011-12 men's basketball season begins. Additional upper level accessible seating will be available to current season ticket holders based on K Fund priority points, prior to the 2011-12 season. For more information, including which seats are impacted by the constructions, please go here.

Doron Lamb, who averaged 12.3 points as a freshman, will be counted on even more in 2011-12 from John Calipari, even at point guard. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Doron Lamb, who averaged 12.3 points as a freshman, will be counted on even more in 2011-12 from John Calipari, even at point guard. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- Even by today's college basketball standards, John Calipari's first two Kentucky basketball teams were young.

Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson were at Calipari's disposal in his first year, but that team was built largely around the talents of freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, in addition to Patrick Patterson. Last year's Final Four team was led by three freshmen scorers in Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.

Now, for the first time since coming to Kentucky, Calipari will have a team that is mixed with youth, talent and experience.

"The best thing you can have is experienced players who are really talented," Calipari said Thursday at Christian Academy of Louisville, one of his many pit-stops this week in his weeklong satellite camp tour. "It just doesn't happen right now with the rules the way they are. Your option is to have talent or experience."

In 2011-12, Calipari will have both. It's the most experience and largest point production Kentucky has returned since Calipari landed in the commonwealth, a big reason why UK will be one of the favorites to win next year's national championship.

"We've got a good team coming back," Calipari admitted. "We're going to be good. You can sit here and downplay it, but we're going to be good. Everybody knows it. I wish we had a little more this or a little more of that, but the reality of it is we're going to be better, we're going to be deeper."

If Calipari wants to get picky, he could point out that Jones and Lamb are only going to be sophomores, but judging by the last two teams and how well the freshmen performed, sophomores might as well be veterans.

UK will lose Josh Harrellson to graduation and Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins to the draft, but Kentucky appears to have the pieces in place to cushion the blows, particularly at the defensive end.

"I still haven't figured out if all my guys hate me and that's why they leave," Calipari said, jokingly.

Make of it what you will when it comes to experience - some people think it's overrated, others think it's crucial to win a national title - but there certainly seems to be an advantage to having key players who have been to a Final Four.

"I'm older and more wise in knowing what to expect," Jones said last week. "As a freshman, you're just about being in college and having the whole experience for the first time, but the second time you know everything to expect."

If nothing else, next season's team will have depth, a stark contrast from last year's six-man rotations. That means the veterans won't be able to rest on their laurels.

"Be careful because, (as) you're looking over your shoulder, those (new) guys are running," Calipari said. "It's not a year ago. We're not playing six guys. All of a sudden we have six, seven, eight, nine guys we can play. We don't have a program that's based on 'my turn.' "

Calipari emphasized that point in an interview with Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated earlier in the week in which he said no one is guaranteed a starting spot next year.

"Everybody's starting in the same spot," Calipari told Dawson.

Even so, if Kentucky is to build and improve on its Final Four run of a year ago, Calipari said it will be on the backs of the so-called veterans.

"Our returning players, if we are going to reach our potential, Darius (Miller), Terrence and Doron must be better than they were a year ago," Calipari said. "They must be stronger, they must be more aggressive and they must be more skilled. If not, we're not going to reach the potential that this team has."

Calipari used Lamb and the point guard position as an example. As talented as Teague is and as likely as he is to start, UK doesn't have a bona fide backup.

It will be up to Lamb, Calipari said, to get tougher, stronger and improve his ball handling to play some minutes at the point.

"He's capable of it," Calipari said. "Obviously, he came a long way. We tried that in Hawaii and it wasn't real good. It wasn't a very good experiment. He's got some things he's got to get better at, but he is a terrific talent. In the Final Four, in the game against Connecticut, he was the one guy that just played. He had no fear. He just played. But you can't say one game. What are you going to do this summer to get better? If it's playing off last year's game, you'll get passed up."

The call for improvement is not just relegated to the returning starters. If seldom-used players like Eloy Vargas, Jon Hood and Stacey Poole want to see the floor next year, Calipari said they would be wise to take note of the transformations Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins underwent last season.

"Change," Calipari said. "Change your skills, change your attitude toward basketball, and all of a sudden your body changes and all of a sudden you're a different player and you're playing more. Doing the same things over and over again and expecting to play is not going to happen."

LOUISVILLE -- Men's basketball head coach John Calipari spoke to reporters Thursday during one of his satellite camp stops at Christian Academy of Louisville. Calipari, who will leave Thursday afternoon to attend the NBA Draft in Newark, N.J., discussed his feelings about this year's draft and the draft-eligible Wildcats in the video below. I'll have a written feature on the current team in just a little bit as well as some additional notes that didn't make it in the video or story. Stay tuned.

2011 NBA Draft primer

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for NBA-Logo.png

The day head coach John Calipari calls one of the most important days in Kentucky basketball history is upon us again.

On Thursday, four draft-eligible Wildcats -- Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson -- will anxiously await to hear their names called in the 2011 NBA Draft. The draft will take place Thursday at 7:30 p.m. from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., live on ESPN.

You can go just about anywhere at this stage and read a ton about which team is going to pick who -- especially when it comes to Knight and Kanter -- but at this point, it's all speculation. To get you ready for Thursday night's draft, I'm going to post a few mock drafts below, the NBA.com profiles of each player and a couple of quotes from Calipari on the draft.

Thursday night, I'm hoping to get in touch with a couple of guys after they get selected and should have a post or two on here. As always, we'll have a release on the front page with the basics.

Mock drafts

Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com
3. Enes Kanter (Utah Jazz)
5. Brandon Knight (Toronto Raptors)
45. DeAndre Liggins (New Orleans Hornets)
Josh Harrellson - not drafted

Chad Ford of ESPN.com
3. Brandon Knight (Utah Jazz)
4. Enes Kanter (Cleveland Cavaliers)
56. DeAndre Liggins (Los Angeles Lakers)
Josh Harrellson - not drafted

Draft Express
3. Brandon Knight (Utah Jazz)
4. Enes Kanter (Cleveland Cavaliers)
DeAndre Liggins - not drafted
Josh Harrellson - not drafted

NBADraft.net
3. Brandon Knight (Utah Jazz)
4. Enes Kanter (Cleveland Cavaliers)
59. DeAndre Liggins (San Antonio Spurs)
Josh Harrellson - not drafted

MyNBADraft.com
3. Brandon Knight (Utah Jazz)
4. Enes Kanter (Cleveland Cavaliers)
DeAndre Liggins - not drafted
Josh Harrellson - not drafted



NBA.com player profiles (excerpt from each)

Brandon Knight (including video)

NBA projection: Lottery pick. Just as former John Calipari point guards Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall before him, Knight used his freshman season in college to continually evolve as a point guard. He'll continue to get better and better in the NBA and add the dimension of consistent deep shooting that his predecessors didn't have. 

 

Enes Kanter, despite never playing a game in college, is expected to be a top-five pick in Thursday's NBA Draft. (photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Enes Kanter, despite never playing a game in college, is expected to be a top-five pick in Thursday's NBA Draft. (photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)

Enes Kanter (including video)

Strengths:

   * Big body, strong, long arms (7-3 wingspan)
   * Good skill level
   * Solid stroke with ability to shoot 3's when set
   * Good on block, utilizing strength and footwork
   * Solid basketball IQ and pretty crafty
   * Good rebounder

Weaknesses:

   * Good athlete, not great
   * Runs well but does not possesses average NBA-level speed
   * Can get a bit lazy and inconsistent at times
   * Ruled ineligible at Kentucky due to NCAA Amateurism rules

 

DeAndre Liggins (including video)

NBA projection: The word is a couple of NBA teams really like Liggins. And it only takes one. So he's got a shot of getting picked, or at least, getting a free-agent deal. And once he gets his shot, Liggins is going to be hard to cut because of his defensive skills and the intensity he brings to the court. Could become a perfect lockdown defender and all-around disruptive presence.

 

Josh Harrellson

NBA projection: This season, Harrellson impressed NBA scouts with his work ethic on and off the court. They were particularly intrigued by his rebounding ability, and though he didn't show it, his face-up game. Harrellson could be a pick-and-pop guy in the NBA. There's a chance he sneaks into the second round and ends up on an NBA roster, because as NBA director of scouting Ryan Blake said, "you can't coach big."

 

What Calipari thinks

On the Kentucky Effect ...
"There is what I call the 'Kentucky Effect.' When you play at Kentucky, you get a 20 percent bump, whether it's your draft position, your shoe contract. There is that 'Kentucky Effect.' We're on national television more than any team. We move the needle more than any team in the country. When we're on TV, people watch. That may not have been the case a few years ago, but it is now." -- from The Cats' Pause

On Liggins and Harrellson ...
"I still think (Harrellson will) get drafted, but he knew what could happen. Sometimes to get drafted late in the second round, it's better not to get drafted and then go work out for a team that you know you can make. You could end up with a team that's not a good fit for you. He can guard three positions and defend and rebound. He's proven himself. It's interesting. I've gotten some great calls on both of them. It would be a heck of a thing if all four got drafted. If they all four got drafted in the first round, I'd probably retire because there's nothing more I could do. I'd sit up in the seats and say, 'Somebody else try this.' " -- from The Cats' Pause

On where Kanter will go ...
"If I'm Cleveland, Enes is the No. 1 pick. But, a safer pick would be the kid from Duke (Kyrie Irving). That's a safer pick. That's a pick where you look at, even if doesn't do great, great, it's a good, it's Duke, it's a safe pick and all that. Neither one of them (played a lot last year). One (Irving) played 11 games and the other (Kanter) didn't play, so it's not like you're looking at one saying, 'Well, this kid played.' Enes Kanter is younger. Enes Kanter just turned 19 two weeks ago. I know people were made to believe he was 25 years old and a veteran NBA player or a professional player (but) he just turned 19. He's a beast. He creates double teams. You're going to have to have him on the boards when you're playing against him. How do we guard this guy? Who do we send to double team him? Now, he has a ways to go, but all of these young kids have a ways to go." -- from Kentucky Sports Radio 

On Knight being the least likely of the picks to fail ...
"Some people have his upside different from others, but whatever you think his upside is -- whatever it is -- he'll reach it because he's going to work and he has a mentality. Here's a kid who had a 4.0 grade-point average, had 60 college credits at Kentucky. Granted, our grade-point average for the last term was a 3.14 and we have nine players over a 3.0 last term, but he's the one that dragged us. He had a 4.0. If he had a 91 or a 92, he was upset. That's how he approaches everything. That's why he is safe. There are players in the draft you look and say, 'Boy, this kid has so much potential, I wonder if he'll every reach it.' You're not saying that about Brandon." -- from Kentucky Sports Radio


John Calipari is full of ideas, some more off-the-wall than others.

Speaking to Matt Jones on Kentucky Sports Radio on Wednesday, Calipari may have formed his most off-the-wall idea yet. It also may have been one of his most intriguing.

Asked about his opinion on paying student-athletes, Calipari's response eventually ended up in a  suggestion to create four new 'super conferences' that, presumably, would be separate of the NCAA.

Those four super conferences, as Caliapri explained it, would consist of 16 to 18 teams (depending on the final number of schools that would split). The conferences would be separated geographically: west (traditional Pac-10, Big 12 teams), north (Big Ten, Big East), east (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East) and south (Southeastern Conference, Big 12).

In football, Calipari suggested that the teams would have a playoff or championship in their league, with the four winners advancing to the semifinals of the football championship. All the other teams would continue to play in the traditional bowls, meaning no current revenue would be lost.

In basketball, Calipari said all 64 or 72 teams make the NCAA Tournament.

The four new super conferences was a bold suggestion given the context of the original question. The whole idea came up when Calipari was asked to clarify a Tuesday report that he would be comfortable with players making money, an extremely hot topic in today's modern world of college sports.

"In the old days, they got laundry money, expense money, movie money," Calipari said. "Well, why weren't they professionals back then? They did all that. Kentucky, one guy was responsible for laundry money. That's how they did it back then. It changed. Now, if you give the kid a Coke, he's now an NBA player. Come on stop."

(Student-athletes' scholarships currently cover partial living expenses for room and board.)

As Calipari explained to Jones, he was specifically asked Tuesday as to how schools would be able to pay student-athletes. Calipari said there are complications of doing it for every program in the NCAA, some of which are financially strapped. Those complications include covering living expenses for every sport, regardless of gender.

"Are you going to give the football and basketball players that cost of living and not your track or baseball?" Calipari said.

Calipari said the decision for schools would be whether or not to add a million or more dollars to their budget to provide the living expense. Calipari believes the vote would be something like 64 in favor to 300 against, the 64 or so of which are the traditional BCS programs with larger budgets.

That's where Calipari's idea of the super conferences came into play.

The way Calipari sees it, if everyone still wants to move forward with paying student-athletes, those 64 to 72 schools that vote for it could split off into a separate league.

Because those schools would generate so much money, they would have enough revenue to pay the student-athletes.

"All that television, all that revenue goes back to the schools," Calipari said. "You probably have $10 million that would go directly to the schools, to their academics and not have anything to do with athletics. You'd be able to give that living expense to all your athletes. You'd probably be to get your Title IX in order. ...

"And, lastly, you would be able to give money back to, let's say, on campus for intramurals. Each school would have the best intramural program for the kids on your campus so that they can do athletic things and stay in shape and those sort of things. All that money would go back to those schools and not be divided and paid for this and that." 

Compliance wise, Calipari suggested having each league audit each other. If the leagues couldn't resolve an issue, a separate body or organization with subpoena power could be created.

"It's separate from the organization that's doing these tournaments," Calipari said.

Of course, what happens to schools like Butler and VCU, which made runs to this year's NCAA Tournament, if these super conferences are created? As Jones pointed out on his radio show, not giving those smaller schools a chance at the championship would be unfair, especially considering they've proven they can compete.

Calipari admitted he didn't have an answer to that one.

"I'm just a basketball coach with a whistle around my neck," Calipari said. "I can't think of another way to try to do what people are doing other than that. Maybe there is another way, and I would say fine."

Calipari said he was just trying to answer a question to an ever-growing issue in college sports. Right now, there isn't a surplus of money to simply decide to pay student-athletes.

"Do you know how it would be without this (to pay the student-athletes)?" Calipari said. "It would be a quarter of a billion dollars. Where would we get it? Should we ask the federal government for it? How about we tax? What are you talking about? This is a quarter of a billion. This isn't a little bit of money, so you would have to do something drastic or it will not be voted on in the way we are right now in this organization."

Calipari made sure to point out that it was an idea solely on solving an issue.

"This has nothing to do with any organization or anything else," Calipari said. "They asked me specifically a question, and you know when you ask me a question, I'm going to give you my answer. ... The issues we're having right now with the way we are, people are complaining and yelling. Well, then here's another way."

Albeit a little off the wall.

Ranking the SEC's best units, players

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Linebacker Danny Trevathan led the SEC in tackles last year as a junior. (photo by Victoria Graff) Linebacker Danny Trevathan led the SEC in tackles last year as a junior. (photo by Victoria Graff)

I'm back, everyone. My second vacation has come and gone, meaning no more breaks on here in the UK action. It looks like I've missed quite a bit over the last couple of days, a lot of which you can catch up on in Guy Ramsey's link post below.

One thing I wanted to compile that I've mised over the last week-plus is ESPN's football rankings. Southeastern Conference blogger Edward Aschoff has been busy ranking the different units of the SEC along with some of the best players.

Below is a list of how UK has fared so far along with Aschoff's summary of each:

Defensive backs (team)

10. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience with four senior starters returning, but the unit has to show that it can be consistent in big games. Safety/linebacker hybrid Winston Guy leads the group with his speed, strength and athleticism, and will move down into the box as the nickel linebacker. Seniors Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley are back at corner after combing for 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. Junior Martavius Neloms began the spring as the starter at corner, but could see more time at safety this fall. Mychal Bailey will line up at safety and was second behind Guy with two interceptions last season. Inexperience behind this group is still a problem.


Linebackers (individual)

4. Danny Trevathan, Kentucky, Sr.: Talk about being the hardest working man on the field. Trevathan led the SEC with 144 tackles a year ago and was third with 16 of them behind the line of scrimmage. He's Kentucky's most trusted defender and was the first Kentucky linebacker to ever earn any sort of All-America first-team honors.

Linebackers (team)

6. Kentucky: Things start with one of the nation's best in Danny Trevathan. He led the SEC with 144 tackles a year ago and the word out of Lexington is that he's looking to be even better this fall and wants to move around the field a lot more. Ronnie Sneed returns as the starter in the middle, after grabbing 61 tackles a year ago. He made some nice improvements this spring. Ridge Wilson will be another hybrid on the outside, and will occasionally lineup as a rush end for the Wildcats. The talented Winston Guy, who has played just about everywhere on Kentucky's defense has finally settled into his home at linebacker and should play closer to the line of scrimmage and be a nickel linebacker. 


Defensive line (team)

12. Kentucky: End Collins Ukwu and tackle Luke McDermott return with the most experience on Kentucky's line. Ukwu improved not only on the field but in the weight room this spring and is expected to be a more consistent pass-rusher. McDermott is a walk-on currently ahead of Donte Rumph, who has the talent to be one of Kentucky's top defenders, but has yet to fully buy in to the program. The coaches are also waiting for tackle Mister Cobble to finally break out of his funk and be a regular contributor. The rest of Kentucky's linemen have some developing to do and are inexperienced. 


Offensive line (individual)

4. Larry Warford, Kentucky, Jr.: He's the best of a veteran group in Lexington. Warford, who was an All-SEC second team selection in 2010, has ideal athleticism to play inside and started every game for the Wildcats at right guard. He also led the team with 43 knockdowns.


Offensive line (team)

4. Kentucky: The Wildcats return four starters on their line. Right guard Larry Warford headlines the group after gaining second-team All-SEC honors a year ago. Kentucky also returns two-year starter Stuart Hines at left guard and Matt Smith at center, who was solid in his first year there. Left tackle Chandler Burden missed spring practice, but is expected back by fall practice. Finding a suitable right tackle is the next step for Kentucky.


Receivers (team)

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a lot when do-everything Randall Cobb left early for the NFL and things didn't get any better by losing No. 2 wideout Chris Matthews. Now, it's back to the drawing board in Lexington. La'Rod King should be the top target for quarterback Morgan Newton, but he disappointed at times this spring. Matt Roark and E.J. Fields will compete for time, but both need vast improvement. The top athlete could be Brian Adams, but he spent spring playing for Kentucky's baseball team.


Running backs (team)

12. Kentucky: Derrick Locke had been the heart and soul of the Wildcats' running game the past couple of seasons, and now he's gone. The good news is that sophomore Raymond Sanders was one of the Wildcats' most-improved players in the spring and looks like he's more than capable of being their go-to back. Several other younger guys are also waiting for their chance, including redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer, and the Kentucky coaches are extremely high on incoming freshmen Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons.


Quarterbacks (individual)

10. Morgan Newton, Kentucky, Jr.: The Wildcats had high hopes for Newton when they signed him. Now that it's his job going into the season, look for him to play with more consistency.


Quarterbacks (team)

10. Kentucky: Morgan Newton was forced into some tough situations over the past few years, filling in as a true freshman when Mike Hartline was hurt and then filling in a year ago in the bowl game when Hartline was suspended. Now, it's Newton's job, and with most of his key playmakers gone, he faces a stiff challenge in 2011. Consistency will be the key for him, though, and the Wildcats don't have any proven depth behind him now that Ryan Mossakowski has transferred.


 

 

Web Wednesday: NBA Draft week edition

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John Calipari is touring the state of Kentucky this week for his satellite camps before heading to New York Thursday evening for the 2011 NBA Draft. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari is touring the state of Kentucky this week for his satellite camps before heading to New York Thursday evening for the 2011 NBA Draft. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
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

UK has the edge athletic edge over UofL in 2010-11
(Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader)
With final baseball results still to be tabulated, Louisville stands 32nd in the Director's Cup and Kentucky is 35th. Since both UK and U of L missed the NCAA baseball tournament, neither can gain points in the final standings.

In all sports other than football, The Director's Cup is based on how a school's teams perform in NCAA tournaments only. Which means head-to-head results, conference titles etc. ... don't count.

I would argue that in the ways that matter most to sports fans in the commonwealth, UK got the better of U of L in 2010-11.

Men's basketball: Cal goes camping (Brett Dawson, Cats Illustrated)
Calipari's stop here was the first on a five-day satellite camp tour of the state, which continues Monday afternoon in Bardstown.

About 180 campers attended the camp at Bowling Green High School. It's expected to be the largest crowd of the week. Many had multiple family members in attendance as camp opened.

Calipari called the satellite camps "probably the most powerful thing we do."

Men's basketball: Wiltjer's hook a part of dad's playbook (Jerry Tipton, Herald-Leader)
Greg Wiltjer, 6-foot-11 and a former basketball player himself, worked with his son since Kyle was in elementary school. Father preached hard work and a versatile game.

The father's influence seems most telling when Kyle shoots -- if you'll pardon the expression -- a hook shot. The son came reluctantly to this largely forgotten region of versatility.

"When it's coming from dad, 'Oh, it's old school,' " Greg said of the now largely extinct scoring maneuver.

Football: Fans cheer for video promoting 2011 season (Cole Claybourn, Herald-Leader)
One of the first to show was Richard Mullins, who said he rarely misses a UK football event.

"Any time UK needs me, I'll be here," Mullins said. "I've been to every game here at Commonwealth since they opened it. Any time they put out the call, I'm right here."

Men's basketball: Calipari: extending SEC slate to 22 games would be "disaster" (Darrell Bird, Big Blue 247)

"Sixteen should be fine, 18 would be OK. I'd rather not have it, but if it would be best for the league that would be fine," Calipari said. "But it's about our non-conference scheduling. If we get that right, the other stuff falls into place and we get eight teams in the discussion and have a minimum of six teams every year in the NCAA Tournament."

Calipari admits anything above the current 16-game league schedule will impact Kentucky more than any other SEC school.

"It would, but if it's going to make the SEC better then it's fine for us," the coach said. "It's not going to devastate us, but it would take money away from our other programs. Obviously, we generate a lot of money from our home games and if you take away even one home game away from us, you're talking about a million dollars."


Men's basketball: Calipari previews UK in NBA Draft (Darrell Bird, Big Blue 247)

Then there is the 'it' factor, which Calipari has already assigned a clever name.

"There is what I call the 'Kentucky Effect,'" Calipari said. "When you play at Kentucky, you get a 20 percent bump, whether it's your draft position, your shoe contract. There is that 'Kentucky Effect.' We're on national television more than any team. We move the needle more than any team in the country. When we're on TV, people watch. That may not have been the case a few years ago, but it is now."


Men's basketball: Miller is leader of the pack (Matt May, Big Blue 247)

When Kentucky coach John Calipari suggested to Darius Miller he should enroll in a martial arts class over the summer the veteran forward laughed, assuming his coach was just spewing another one of his many off-the-wall ideas.

It wasn't a joke, at least not the premise behind the suggestion. If Kentucky is going to get back to a second consecutive Final Four its most experienced player must blaze the trail for a roster that once again features four elite freshman recruits with no collegiate experience.

"(Calipari) has talked to me about it a couple of times and I feel comfortable with it," Miller said. "I can't wait to get the season started. I'll just do the best I can. I just have to do my part and lead the team and get these guys ready for what they're going to experience."


Men's basketball: At UK, experience is no PT guarantee (Brett Dawson, Cats Illustrated)

As Calipari's team spends the summer readying for a 2011-12 season high on hype, Calipari has cautioned his returning players that nothing is promised as the Wildcats welcome the nation's top-ranked recruiting class for a third straight season.

"In our program there never has been, anywhere I've coached, (a sense of) 'It's my turn,'" Calipari said. "There's no such thing as 'It's my turn.' Everybody's starting in the same spot and let's go."

 

Former Wildcats making headlines

Getting to know Randall Cobb (IMG Madden Football Academy Blog)

His childhood home  sat close enough that the lights of Neyland Stadium could practically shine through his window, but Tennessee only half-heartedly recruited Randall Cobb. After all, he only won four straight state championships -- the last two as the starting quarterback -- won the state's Mr. Football for Class AA and finished third in the state 100. So Cobb chose Kentucky, which recruited him early and honestly. Now a member of the Green Bay Packers after being selected in the 2nd round, Cobb recently took time to discuss giving back to the community, his favorite receivers and a lesson learned in middle school.

Brandon Knight confident during workout with Utah Jazz (Brian Smith, Salt Lake Tribune)
The 6-foot-3, 177-pound Knight asserted that he is a true point guard. He attended Kentucky and followed in the footsteps of NBA stars such as John Wall to learn the position. He then attempted to prove during his Jazz workout that he can excel when commanding a professional team.

"I was working with all the coaches," Knight said. "It was pick-and-rolls, spot shots, finishing with my left hand. ... Pretty much everything."

He added: "I got a pretty good vibe. Everywhere I've been has been a pretty good connection with the team and the coaches. I felt good being in this environment."
Regarding Kanter, introductions are still in order (Jerry Zgoda, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
He spent all year in Lexington attending classes and working as a student assistant coach and working out first with the team and then with coach John Calipari and others to prepare for the draft after he permanently was ruled a professional in January.

"I mean, it was really hard because when I watched the game I was crying because I could not help my team," he said.
Collin Cowgill has chance to be minor league MVP (Herald-Leader)
Former Henry Clay and University of Kentucky star Collin Cowgill has taken the Pacific Coast League by storm in his first season at Triple-A Reno.

The 25-year-old Diamondbacks prospect entered Sunday's game second in the league in hitting, first in hits, first in runs, second in total bases, second in stolen bases and sixth in on-base percentage.

"It's pretty special what he's doing," veteran infielder Andy Tracy told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "He could lead the league in most offensive categories, he's unbelievable defensively and he works every single day."
Raptors set to hire former Cat Dwane Casey (USA Today)
The Toronto Raptors hired Casey as their coach on Tuesday, nine days after the Dallas assistant helped the Mavericks win the championship.

Casey succeeds Jay Triano, a Canadian who became a consultant after the Raptors finished 22-60. Casey was the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves from June 2005 to January 2007, compiling a 43-59 record.

Casey said his No. 1 goal is to give the Raptors a "defensive identity." In Dallas, he said the coaches even used hockey footage during the NBA finals to make their point.

Josh Harrellson's life as a hopeful draft pick (Aaron Smith, Kentucky Kernel)
"Me, personally, I feel accomplished after all my workouts," Harrellson said. "A couple coaches have told me I will get picked up in the late first or second round. ... But there's no promises. There's a lot of players out there for 60 spots."

The workouts give players a chance to expand on the skills they showed throughout the year. For Harrellson, one talent that often went unused throughout the year has impressed teams: shooting.

Tweet of the week


This was already close to a certainty, but on Monday John Calipari confirmed that will indeed be in attendance with Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter in the NBA Draft green room. Eric Lindsey will bring you more comprehensive draft projections before Thursday evening's festivities, but both Kanter and Knight are expected to be picked in the first six picks. Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins will be looking to be drafted in the second round.
"Exciting week ahead (with) the NBA Draft on (Thursday). I'm looking forward to being in the Green Room w/ Enes & Brandon as their dreams come true." - @UKCoachCalipari

Video of the week

Following successful rookie seasons, the trio known during their year at UK as the "Three Amigos" has made an appearance in a homemade version of those hilarious big-headed NBA commercials. Yes, the Dougie is involved.

Jones explains decision to return to Kentucky

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Terrence Jones averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Terrence Jones averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

It was a day Kentucky fans had been nervous about since the final buzzer sounded in Kentucky's 56-55 loss to Connecticut in the Final Four. Would then-freshman forward Terrence Jones return to UK or enter his name in the NBA Draft where he was a projected lottery pick by many scouts and analysts?

In the end, Jones tweeted out his love of the college life and his desire to hang an eighth banner in the rafters of hallowed Rupp Arena. If Kentucky is going to follow through on that, Jones will likely play a large role. The 6-foot-8 forward from Portland, Ore., said he needs to mature and be more focused on and off the court.

Jones did say he has had numerous people, including his family, ask him why he made the decision he did when many people believed he had an opportunity to be a lottery pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

"Really, I just felt it wasn't going to go anywhere," Jones said of his decision to leave the guaranteed contract on the table for another year in college. "And that'd I'd be able to hopefully make that jump whenever I do feel ready."

Jones' teammate, however, rising sophomore guard Doron Lamb, said he may have made a different decision had he been in his shoes.

"If I was him I would have left," Lamb said. "If they said I was going in the lottery. But that's him and he decided to stay so I think he'll be good next year for us."

Jones said it was a tough decision between coming back and going pro, but that he's struggled before in making those types of decisions, perhaps hinting at his struggle as a high school senior to pick a college. Ultimately, the decision to return to Kentucky was his own, and was one he said he'll have no regrets over -- whether his NBA stock rises in the future, or falls.

"I'd be very frustrated (if my stock fell), but I just feel it would be on me," Jones said. "For that to happen it would be because I did something wrong. I just feel I won't let that happen to myself."

Jones, who broke the UK single game freshman scoring record with 35 points against Auburn, said his goal is to become a top-three pick in the NBA Draft.

After averaging 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman, Jones, and Lamb, who shot 48.6 percent from beyond the arc, will be two important pieces to the Final Four puzzle the Wildcats will be attempting to assemble in 2011-12. Lamb said coming up short by one point in last year's Final Four is still something he thinks about today.

"I think about that every day," Lamb said. "We were right there, national championship and we left it short by ... one point. But I hope this year we win the whole thing."

Returners excited about incoming freshman class

Each year, the long summer months that lie between the Final Four and Big Blue Madness seem like an eternity for the Big Blue faithful. For the summer of 2011, that sentiment has proven to be as true as the humid weather.

It's not just the fans that are ready to have the ball tipped at midcourt though; the players seem to be just as giddy. And now that the freshmen are in Lexington and the guys have gotten to play in a few pick-up games, it's obvious the returners from the Wildcats' 2011 Final Four run are just as excited to have the new guys in the gym.

"The minute they got here they were working out, shooting shots, making shots," Lamb said. "Mike (Gilchrist) is always running on the treadmill every day, working on his body. I think the freshmen are gym rats, really. It's good for us. If they keep doing that they can push us and we can push them back."

While many of Calipari's recruits in the first two years waited until close to the signing deadline, the freshman class of 2011 has been on board for awhile, signing in the fall of 2010. Because the current crop of Wildcats has known who their future teammates will be for so long, they've gotten to see each other, talk to each other and hang out with each other more than in previous years. That opportunity has perhaps put Kentucky ahead of the curve as far as camaraderie goes, rising senior Darius Miller says.

"They've been here a few times, we got to hang out with them a little bit and now we're getting to see them on the court a little bit when we play open gym, stuff like that," Miller said. "So, I feel like we've gotten kind of a head start with it."

Miller said they haven't gotten to play too much, but he's liked what he's seen so far.

"From what I've seen, everybody's really competitive, just like always, and everybody's a great teammate, just like last year and the year before that," Miller said. "I feel like we have a good team and I feel like we'll be able to compete this year."

With Brandon Knight gone, freshman guard Marquis Teague will look to fill the void as the leader of the offense. While Teague has a strong offensive game himself, Lamb said all he talks about is finding the right pass to make.

"All he talks about is throwing assists, really," Lamb said. "I never heard him say like, 'I'm going to score a lot this year.' He's always talking about throwing assists."

Lamb also said he sees what Calipari has talked about when he raves of the potential defensive ability of this team.

"I saw (our defensive potential) in pickup," Lamb said. "Anthony Davis was blocking a lot of shots and Mike Gilchrist, too."

Vargas gains valuable experience overseas

At this point, we all know the Josh Harrellson story. The then-senior forward sent an ill-advised tweet, was subsequently punished and then used the extra conditioning to his advantage, taking his game to new heights. In the end, Harrellson's tweet and its repercussions helped lead the Cats to their first Final Four appearance since 1998.

What is often left out of this bizarre, Hollywood-esque storyline is Harrellson's participation and play with the Reach USA summer basketball program. Harrellson starred overseas in China, leading the team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (9.2) and blocks (1.3).

This summer, rising senior forward Eloy Vargas played with the Reach USA crew and put together some impressive performances of his own in helping lead the team to a 6-2-1 record. The Moca, Dominican Republic native played in eight of Reach USA's nine games (he sat out the final game due to an illness) and averaged 10.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

"It gave me a lot of confidence playing like I want to play," Vargas said. "I know if I can play like that way over there, then I can play like that over here."

Miller, who played overseas one summer ago with USA in the World University Games, said he's seen a change in Vargas on the court and expects big things from the 6-11 forward in the upcoming season. Miller said Vargas is playing more aggressively now and seems more comfortable on the court.

"We expect a lot from him," Miller said. "The only thing he has to do is keep working. He's been working really hard. Like I said, everybody's picked up their intensity. I think it was because of the Final Four run we had and how close we were. He just needs to continue to work hard like he's doing, he's definitely improved, and we expect stuff from him."

After consulting with the NCAA, it turns out that John Calipari has not officially reached 500 wins yet.

In a release that Kentucky sent out Thursday that followed a week of controversy, Kentucky has been informed that honoring its men's basketball head coach for his 500th career victory on Feb. 26 against Florida was made in error. All future media guides, Internet sites and other publications will be consistent with the NCAA's official records and statistics.

Here is the official release from UK:

"After consulting with the NCAA, the University of Kentucky has been informed that the honoring of our head men's basketball coach for his 500th career victory on Feb. 26, 2011 was in error and that, henceforth, we will reflect our head men's basketball coach's career record in our media guides, Internet sites and other publications consistent with the NCAA's official records and statistics."

Officially, because 42 of Calipari's wins at Memphis and Massachusetts were vacated after the NCAA determined the schools used ineligible players -- Calipari was not found to have violated any NCAA rules -- Calipari's win total sits at 467.

Speaking Wednesday at a ceremony in Richmond, Ky., Calipari said he is ready to move on.

"Let's just say my record is 0-0," Calipari to Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated. "I'm fine with that. This is about those kids, and that's what I've always been about."

Wright, Kapteyn sign with MLB teams

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Juniors Chad Wright and Braden Kapteyn will not be back with the Kentucky baseball team after signing contracts with MLB teams.

Kapteyn, a 15th-round pick, has signed with the Boston Red Sox. Wright, a ninth-round selection, has already signed with the Detroit Tigers. Their signings mean they cannot return to the UK baseball team next year for what would have been their senior seasons.

Kapteyn signed with the Red Sox as a starting pitcher despite serving primarily as a reliever and first baseman with Kentucky. Kapteyn finishes his UK career wtih a 7-3 record, 6.15 ERA and eight saves on the mound, plus a .304 average, 16 home runs and 97 RBI in 504 at-bats.

Wright ends his collegiate career with a .339 average, 12 home runs and 100 RBI, including a .359 clip, six home runs and 40 RBI this past year.

Juniors Alex Meyer and Michael Williams and sophomore Jordan Cooper have not signed contracts yet and could return next year if they don't sign a deal with their respective MLB teams.

Back to my previously scheduled vacaction. See you all next week.

One more vacation

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Just wanted to alert our readers that I'll be on vacation once again from Thursday through next Tuesday or Wednesday. Metz Camfield will have some men's basketball updates later Thursday, but after that things could be pretty slow on here again (not as if they weren't already with summer in full swing).

If a story breaks in the next few days, Metz or Guy Ramsey will do their best to fill in, but unless it's major, chances are we won't have it this week.

We'll get things rolling again late next week with some NBA Draft coverage, a men's basketball story from one of next week's camps and another part of the "Where are they now" series.  

In the meantime, thanks for reading.

Former UK gymnast Jenny Hansen is the only woman to win three straight NCAA all-around title (1993-95). She also captures NCAA titles on the balance beam (1994, 1995), vault (1994, 1995) and floor exercise (1995). (UK Athletics) Former UK gymnast Jenny Hansen is the only woman to win three straight NCAA all-around title (1993-95). She also captures NCAA titles on the balance beam (1994, 1995), vault (1994, 1995) and floor exercise (1995). (UK Athletics)
"Where are they now" is a weekly six-part summer series that will take a look back at the careers of former Kentucky athletes and find out what they're doing post-UK. Today we will catch up with record-setting gymnast Jenny Hansen.

To call Jenny Hansen's career as a gymnast at the University of Kentucky "decorated" would be a gross understatement. Running down a list of her achievements is mind-boggling in and of itself.

Eight NCAA gymnastics championship titles. A record three straight all-around titles from 1993 to 1995. Thirteen All-America honors. Kentucky Sportsman of the Year in 1995.  Most outstanding gymnast of the past 25 years as recognized by the NCAA.

Simply put, she's still the greatest gymnast in program history and one of the best student-athletes to don UK's colors.

For Hansen, though, the honors that meant the most were her inductions into the hall of fames for both UK and the state of Kentucky. Being recognized alongside fellow inductees like Pat Riley, Allan Houston, Tim Couch and Hillerich & Bradsby (the makers of Louisville Slugger baseball bats) was an experience that stopped Hansen in her tracks.

"It's kind of surreal," Hansen said. "I think of myself as Jenny Hansen. I'm Jen. I'm Hansen. I'm just me. I've been given this amazing gift and this incredible talent to be able to do what I can do. For the University of Kentucky and the state of Kentucky to recognize me and put me in their hall of fame, I was just blown away. There are no words really to explain it."

Humility and self-awareness are traits that we look for in athletes, but finding them in genuine form is often a tall task. With Hansen, they are unmistakable. She recognizes that the natural talent that she has been blessed with is a gift; a gift that has taken her places she could not possibly have foreseen; a gift that she believes she is responsible for stewarding and continuing to share with others.

It's that kind of attitude that has brought Hansen back to the place that made her a hall of famer: the gym. Her return started out as a foray into the world of television when a friend called her while Hansen was living and working in North Dakota.

"Two years ago, one of my best friends is a stunt woman, she called me up when I was living in North Dakota and she said, 'You need to train again, there's a show,' " Hansen said.

The cable television channel ABC Family was beginning filming on a new show that needed skilled gymnasts. Hansen picked up and moved to Simi Valley, Calif., for the new gig.

"I started training for this show called 'Make It or Break It,' " Hansen said. "It's an ABC Family show and it's about four girls that are trying to make the Olympics in gymnastics. They needed gymnasts and I ended up being a gymnastics double on the show and then I did background work and things like that."

Hansen had not seriously trained for a while, but the competitive fire that still burned inside of her responded in a way that she didn't foresee. She took her workouts "to the highest level" and found that her substantial talents had not yet been lost to the hands of time. Production on the second season of the show wrapped in December, but Hansen was not willing to end things there.

In fact, she has even higher aspirations. More than 15 years removed from her final season at UK, Hansen is trying to re-enter the elite level of gymnastics competition.

"That was for two years and at the end of December, we just finished up season two and during that time I guess I just started feeling like I wanted to continue on and keep working on it," Hansen said. "My ultimate goal would be to get to the Olympics but my current goal is just to try to get on the national team."

Of all sports, gymnastics is one that perhaps belongs most to the young. The roster of the United States national team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics included three 16-year-old gymnasts, one 18-year-old and two 20-year-olds. For perspective, Hansen was in college in the mid 1990s.

Hansen recognizes the challenge in front of her and embraces it. She is just a couple weeks away from the next milestone in her comeback. She will be participating in an elite qualifier on July 2 in Houston and there are two more meets on the horizon if things go according to plan.

"If I get the qualifying score, I'll get to go to the Cover Girl Classic and that's in Chicago," Hansen said. "In Chicago, hopefully I'll get the qualifying score to go to the Visa Championships in St. Paul (Minn.). This year that's my ultimate goal."

Hansen has learned the hard way that there is a reason why youth is favored in gymnastics, but the journey has been enjoyable nonetheless.

"There are a few little injuries that pop up, so I've had to back off my training a little bit, then I go back to it," Hansen said. "It's frustrating, but at the same time it's so much fun."

Naturally, Hansen is the type of athlete that will push herself to the brink in her preparation, even if the odds tell her that her chances of succeeding are extremely slim. Being more advanced in age than the last time she competed, Hansen has learned how to listen to what her own body is saying.

"It's taken a bit for me to listen to my body and what it needs," Hansen said. "I just can't stop and not work and everything is going to start piling up. It's my responsibility, as an adult, to keep myself afloat."

Also helping in her efforts is her sister, who serves as her coach for meets.

"I was talking to my middle sister who was on the national team in 1986 or 1987," Hansen said, "and I said, 'I don't know what to do. I don't have a coach and I have to go to this meet.' And she said, 'I'll be your coach.' She registered with USA Gymnastics. She got her coaching registration, she got all of this stuff and at the meets, she's my coach. It's really great."

While Hansen calls training her "full-time job," she still spends time as a personal trainer for a few clients and as a coach at her gym in California.

"I do a little personal training on the side, since out here you have to do everything," Hansen said. "I do a little personal training; I just have three clients. They're so much fun and I love working with them. I incorporate the gymnastics that I know and the things that I'm learning now. It's fun. I like encouraging these women. I also coach at the gym that I train at, only two days a week."

Once her gymnastics career reaches a conclusion, Hansen isn't willing to restrict herself to a single profession. Rest assured, though, she'll be using her talents and background as a gymnast, whether as a stunt woman, a trainer or a coach.

"That's my ultimate goal, to stay in the stunt world," Hansen said. "I would really like to do personal training and motivate people and maybe even motivate kids just to have fun in the sports that they do. There's so many things that I love doing and I want to stay in everything. I don't want to have just one occupation."

Whatever the future holds, much of Hansen's foundation was established during her time at the University of Kentucky. Though it was two decades ago, Hansen still looks back at her college experience fondly, from competition to academics to social life.

"An amazing experience," Hansen said. "I can't say enough about (then-UK head coach) Leah Little and (assistant coach) Tim Myers. I loved UK. I loved the college experience, I loved my roommates."

Hansen was especially full of praise for the athletic training staff during her time at UK, as well as her professors and classmates that she got to know as she worked toward her degree in animal science equine. Hansen had to cope with dyslexia as a student and said that without the support and tutoring at Kentucky's Center for Academic and Tutorial Services, her success in school would not have been possible.

"The CATS program was amazing," Hansen said. "Mike Haley, he was my adviser and he was the best. I would ask Mike what classes I should take and he was like, 'OK, Hansen, this is what you're going to do.' Being a student-athlete, you're so focused on (sports) that it was nice to have that CATS program to help you through so many difficulties, especially because I am dyslexic. That was a big help in my school."

Hansen has had the chance to briefly introduce herself to UK's newly-minted gymnastics head coach Tim Garrison and had a very positive impression about where he will take the program. She said that she was impressed by the work Garrison did with a gymnastics team in California close to Hansen's home.

"He was really great," Hansen said. "It's crazy that he's only the third coach at UK. I wish him success. I saw that he coached out here and he got a couple girls to nationals and things."

Little, Hansen's coach at UK, was largely responsible for the founding of the gymnastics program at the school. If there is one thing about Little that Hansen hopes Garrison can duplicate, it is the infusion of a spirit of fun into training and competition.

"I hope he keeps it fun for the girls," Hansen said. "That's what Leah was so wonderful at. She pushed us, but she let us enjoy our college experience. If we had problems, she would talk to us. There were times when I would just need a hug and she said OK and it was always such a heartfelt hug. She was right there with us. When we were crying, she would try to console us."

The semiannual Scratchies

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scratchies semiannual (2).jpg Move over Tonys. Take a backseat Oscars. The Scratchies (again, not a skin disease) are back.

I know it's been an unbearably long and grueling six-month wait since we introduced the Scratchies, but fear no more, it's time to introduce the 2011 spring semester winners.

Not to be confused with ESPN's Herbie Awards or UK's end-of-the-year CATSPY Awards - although I must confess, many award winners will repeat the CATSPYs - the Scratchies offer no actual hardware or glitzy awards show. Instead, these honorees have earned the appreciation of a lowly blogger trying to pass the beginning weeks of a long offseason.

A couple of the award names have changed, but the objective is the same - to look back at another semester of UK Athletics. Remember, these award winners only constitute the spring semester of UK Athletics action. The fall winners can be found here.

Please feel free to disagree and comment on who you think should have won in the comments section below. Keep in mind, this is all for fun.

Without further ado, here are the semiannual Scratchies:

MVW (Most Valuable Wildcat)
Brandon Knight, men's basketball - There were a lot of candidates for this semester's awards. There is Eric Quigley, who guided the men's tennis team to a national quarterfinals berth and finished the season ranked No. 7 in the nation. There is Megan Yocke, the heart and soul of the record-setting softball team. And let's not forget about Ethan Settlemires' clutch performance in the rifle national championship. But it's hard to ignore what Knight did in this year's NCAA Tournament. Knight's dramatic game winners against Princeton and Ohio State were the highlights of a Final Four run that fans will never forget. Stepping into the gargantuan shoes of John Wall and the sensational freshman class of 2009-10, Knight and the 2010-11 team proved it could play a little basketball as well. Next week, Knight is expected to be a top-five pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Honorable mention: Megan Yocke (softball), Eric Quigley (men's tennis), Ethan Settlemires (rifle), Victoria Dunlap (women's basketball)

The Dream Team (team of the semester)
Rifle - Much like the previous award, this could have gone to a number of squads, including the men's basketball, men's tennis and softball teams. But the rifle team won a national championship. You know, that ultimate goal that every team sets out for at the beginning of the year that only a select few ever win.  Ethan Settlemires didn't know it at the time, but his last shot in air rifle - the final shot of the match - would determine the national championship. Settlemires needed at least an 8.0 to capture the elusive title. The junior came through in the clutch with a 10.7, winning the program's first national championship.
Honorable mention: Men's basketball, men's tennis, softball

Harry Mullins has been the one constant staple in the success of the UK rifle program over the last three decades. (UK Athletics) Harry Mullins has been the one constant staple in the success of the UK rifle program over the last three decades. (UK Athletics)
The Adolph Rupp Award (coach of the semester)
Harry Mullins, rifle - As sweet as that rifle national championship was, it was even sweeter for Mullins, the longtime coach and most important figure in program history. Since 1982, Mullins and the UK rifle team have been one in the same. In his journey from a former student-athlete to a part-time coach to the symbol of the program, Mullins has taken the rifle team from its infant stages and built it into one of the nation's top programs. Year after year, Mullins and the rifle team came agonizingly close to winning the whole thing, only to fall short with seven top-three finishes. Whether it was by a string of fate or pure coincidence, Mullins finally won that coveted national title in the same town where his late father served as a sergeant in the military and raised his family.
Honorable mention: Rachel Lawson (softball), John Calipari (men's basketball), Dennis Emery (men's tennis)
 
The Josh Harrellson Award (most improved player)
Josh Harrellson, men's basketball - Harrellson's turnaround his senior year was so significant and so inspiring that we've renamed the award after him. Before this year, Harrellson had played a total of 403 minutes and scored 151 points for Kentucky. By the end of his senior year, Harrellson had transformed himself into the nation's most improved player and one of the best big men in the NCAA Tournament. Transforming his body and work ethic after the legendary tweet about his head coach, Harrellson went on to average 7.6 points and 8.7 rebounds this year, including an 11.0 scoring average in the NCAA Tournament against some of the nation's top post players. Harrellson's spirit and leadership were just as valuable to the team's Final Four run as his presence in the paint and unpredictable production. Harrellson's storybook season will be remembered decades from now.
Honorable mention: Alex Musialek (men's tennis), Meagan Aull (softball), Samantha DeMartine (softball)

The Butler-VCU Award (surprise team)
Women's golf - In her first year as head coach, Golda Johansson Borst wasn't expected to do much with the Kentucky women's golf team. After all, the program had been to just one NCAA Tournament since 2000. But with just one senior on the team and a wealth of midseason injuries, including two to the top two players, Ashleigh Albrecht and Betsie Johnson, UK returned to the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time in school history. With most of the team returning next year, the future is bright for women's golf.
Honorable mention: softball

One Shining Moment (best moment)
Annie Rowlands and Meagan Aull's hits send softball to Supers - The Kentucky softball team went to its third straight regional appearance with bigger expectations and higher hopes. The coaches and players talked about making it to their first Super Regional in program history, but as the third-ranked team in the Ann Arbor Regional and with the second-ranked team in the nation in the same regional, the reality of advancing was pretty slim. And yet, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with one win over No. 2 Michigan standing in the way of a historic march, Kentucky entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 1-0. With Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Jordan Taylor dealing a gem and the nation watching on ESPN, Meagan Aull belted a changeup over the fence in right field to tie the game. Five batters later, with one out and the bases loaded, senior Annie Rowlands, a sub-.150 hitter, came through with the biggest hit in program history, a game-winning single over the first baseman's head. The RBI bloop advanced UK to its first Super Regional, which the school would go on to host.
Honorable mention: Brandon Knight's game-winning layup vs. Princeton; Knight's game-winning shot vs. Ohio State; Ethan Settlemires' winning shot to capture the national championship; Alex Musialek's match-clinching win vs. Louisville; gymnast Andre Mitchell's 39.550 score in the all-around, UK's highest score in 15 years

The "Band is Out On the Field" Award (best game/match)
Men's tennis vs. Louisville in the NCAA Tournament - What happens when you combine your archrival with postseason play? You get some edge-of-your-seat theater. That's what the Kentucky-Louisville men's tennis match brought in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. After UK grabbed the doubles point, the singles matches went back and forth in front of a raucous crowd at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. Every 10 minutes it looked like the match was going to go a different way. With Kentucky holding a 3-2 lead and courts No. 1 and No. 2 split in a 1-1 tie, everyone raced to the center courts to watch the decisive matches. Eric Quigley, UK's top player, dropped his match in three thrilling sets to tie the match 3-3. Moments later, though, after dropping the first set 5-7, Alex Musialek won the third set in dominating fashion, 6-0, to clinch the match and send UK to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.
Honorable mention: softball's win over Michigan in the regional finals; men's basketball's upset of No. 1 Ohio State

Brandon Knight hit a game-winning jumper over Ohio State's Aaron Craft with seconds remaining to send UK to the Elite Eight and eventually its first Final Four since 1998. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Brandon Knight hit a game-winning jumper over Ohio State's Aaron Craft with seconds remaining to send UK to the Elite Eight and eventually its first Final Four since 1998. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Doug Flutie Hail Mary Award (best play)
Brandon Knight's game-winning jumper vs. Ohio State - Once again, there was plenty to choose from, but Knight gets the nod on this one given the magnitude of the situation. Against the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and with the game tied 60-60, Knight pulled up from just inside the arc and drilled a jumper with five seconds left to send Kentucky to the Elite Eight and eventually the Final Four. For a team that failed to close during the regular season, it was an unforgettable moment in an unbelievable season.
Honorable mention: Brandon Knight's game-winning layup vs. Princeton; Ethan Settlemires' winning shot to capture the national championship; Brittany Henderson's game-winning layup vs. LSU

The Jimmer Fredette Award (breakthrough player)
Alex Meyer, baseball - Alex Meyer's first two years in the at UK were defined by potential and upside. In 2011, Meyer broke through with the type of year that everyone expected years earlier when Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein showed up on his doorstep at the end of Meyer's high school career with a lucrative multi-million dollar contract. Meyer, with big-league stuff, finished the year as the Southeastern Conference leader in strikeouts, complete games and complete-game shutouts. Two weeks ago, Meyer was selected by the Washington Nationals with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, UK's highest draft pick since Joe Blanton went No. 24 in 2002.
Honorable mention: Meagan Aull (softball), Greg Ferrucci (swimming and diving)

All-Calipari Team (all-freshman team)
Greg Ferrucci, swimming and diving - Named SEC Male Freshman Diver of the Year and advanced to the NCAA Championships
Terrence Jones, men's basketball - Tabbed SEC Freshmanof the Year after averaging 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first year
Doron Lamb, men's basketball - Not to be overshadowed by Knight and Jones, Lamb averaged 12.3 points, hit a team-high 38 3-pointers and poured in a then-freshman record 32 points in December
Emily Holsopple, rifle - Appeared on the fall semester's list, but she certainly qualifies again after earning first-team All-America accolades and winning a national championship
Bernisha Pinkett, women's basketball - On a team with talented freshmen, averaged 7.0 points in just 18.7 minutes of action    

All-Up-and-Comers (non-freshmen on the rise)
Jessica Stiles, women's tennis - Led a rebuilding women's tennis program with 11 wins  
Darius Miller, men's basketball - Came on late in the season to win SEC Tournament MVP
Chanda Bell, softball - UK's all-time strikeout leader will enter her senior season as one of the top pitchers in the nation
Thomas McCarthy, baseball - Ranked third in the SEC with .371 batting average, including 19 doubles and 39 RBI
Brittany Cervantes, softball - UK's career home-run leader will be the centerpiece of next year's offense
  
All-Wildcat Team (the Scratchies equivalent of the All-America Team)
Brandon Knight, men's basketball - Replaced No. 1 overall pick John Wall by averaging 17.3 points and leading UK to the Final Four, plus first-team Freshman All-America honors
Victoria Dunlap, women's basketball - Program's No. 2 all-time scorer led the team to its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and became the highest WNBA draft pick in school history
Eric Quigley, men's tennis - The nation's No. 7 player finished the year with a school-record-tying 45 wins
Megan Yocke, softball - Heart and soul of record-setting softball team became just the second player in school history to earn All-SEC accolades all four years
Colin Boevers, track and field - Won the SEC discus title and was one of nine student-athletes to advance to NCAA Outdoor Championships

All-Rex Ryan Team (when you need a sound bite, these are your go-to guys)
Josh Harrellson, men's basketball
John Calipari, men's basketball
Matthew Mitchell, women's basketball
Harry Mullins, rifle
Amber Smith, women's basketball

Stacey Eden of the UK track and field team (second from the left) confessed that he's owned the jacket he wore to the 2011 CATSPY Awards since middle school. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Stacey Eden of the UK track and field team (second from the left) confessed that he's owned the jacket he wore to the 2011 CATSPY Awards since middle school. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Craig Sager Award (best/worst dressed)
Stacey Eden, track and field - Depending on your taste in style, Stacey Eden of the track and field team was either the best dressed of the year or the worst. One thing is for certain: he caught people's eyes at this year CATSPY Awards. Eden (pictured to the right) attended the annual end-of-the-year awards show with a shiny gold suit, a patterned button-up, blue bowtie and sunglasses. Top that, Craig Sager

The Streak (strangest stat or streak)
Men's basketball in the clutch - Before the NCAA Tournament, the Cats couldn't hit a shot to save their lives. UK entered the tournament 1-6 in games decided by five points or less, which included missed last-second shots that could have won or tied the game against Florida, Arkansas and Ole Miss. But when the season was on the line and the stakes mattered most, Kentucky - particularly Knight - came through with game-winning shots against Princeton and Ohio State.

She said what? (quote of the semester)
Rachel Lawson, fighting back tears after losing to Cal in the Lexington Super Regional - "I feel really good about the future of the program. But I feel best about the fact that this group was - nobody thought they could win. I love (Samantha) DeMartine and (Meagan) Aull, (Megan) Yocke's OK. I know (Annie) Rowlands, for her to be able to come up with that big hit. I wanted them to go to the World Series. So far I'm the only one who's been there and I'm tired of having the upper hand on them."

The Best Dougie (best dance/celebration)
Jarrod Polson, men's basketball - In 2009-10, the John Wall Dance was the unofficial celebration of the Wildcats. This past year it was, without question, The Dougie, a dance made famous (or infamous) by Matthew Mitchell at Big Blue Madness. Jarrod Polson continued the craze on national TV after Kentucky defeated North Carolina and advanced to the Final Four. Check out his rendition below.

Web Wednesday: Secure softball future edition

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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

Softball: Lawson rewarded with new contract (Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald-Leader)
"The team is a model," he said. "(The players) are consummate student-athletes. She's an educator. She's a teacher of the game. When they take the field, they do it with class."

Barnhart saluted Lawson for raising the softball program's profile from local afterthought to national contender in four years as coach.

"When I came here nine years ago, there were people who had invested time," Barnhart said, "but, unfortunately, the results didn't come close to what Rachel has done."
Football: A trip the Wildcats won't soon forget (Chris Low, ESPN)
Hines and Trevathan said they will have a hard time getting the kids out of their minds. Several of the kids they came into contact with were HIV-infected, but the Wildcats' players never blinked, whether it came to showing them how to throw a football or simply hugging them.

"Being here, we have never really been around kids that you have no idea when the last time they bathed or something like that was," Hines said. "You had no idea if they had some type of disease of whatever. There were definitely some issues that might come up in your head.

"But, the thing was, that we were there for them, and we didn't let that get in our way."
Men's basketball: Jones aiming for all-around impact (Andy Katz, ESPN)
Jones said he wants the players to lean on him. He said he needs to become an all-around player -- a better rebounder, a better defender and a better leader. Jones will attend the Kevin Durant camp in Chicago later this month, but took a pass on USA Basketball. He wants to stay in Lexington to ensure there is cohesion with the freshmen and the returnees.

"I'm enjoying the experience," Jones said. "I want to gain maturity. I want to learn how to be a better leader. I want to try and win a national championship with the new guys coming in."
Women's basketball: Kentucky the right choice for Ukari Figgs this time around (Tipton, Herald-Leader)
On Friday, Figgs was introduced as the University of Kentucky's new assistant athletic director for women's basketball.

"It's a great opportunity for me both professionally and personally," said Figgs, who spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach at Purdue after leaving Toyota. "... I grew up watching the University of Kentucky (teams). A lot of the players I tried to emulate."

Former Wildcats making headlines

Astros sign Neiko Johnson (Herald-Leader)
University of Kentucky senior infielder/outfielder Neiko Johnson signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Astros on Sunday night.

A native of Redan, Ga., Johnson will report to the ­Tri-City Valley Cats in the New-York Penn League, the rookie-level affiliate of the Astros that starts their season on Friday.

Mom appreciates Harrellson's concern for her daughter (Larry Vaught, Danville Advocate-Messenger)
When Harrellson came to Mercer County in late May for a charity fundraising game, he asked if he could bring Alex Otte with him.

"If I had said no, she would have never spoken to me again," her mother said.

The family met Harrellson at the Kentucky Basketball Academy in Lexington, and there were former Wildcats Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson and Jared Prickett along with Harrellson.
Wizards, Wall ready for jump (Dan Steinberg, Washington Post)
Saunders said John Wall has been working out in Verizon Center for three or fours a day over the last several weeks.

"His shot is almost 100 percent better than what it was about a year ago," Saunders said. "I think he's gonna made a huge stride from where he was last year to this coming year."
Brandon Webb progressing toward big league return (Gerry Fraley, Dallas Morning-News)
The rehabilitation of Rangers right-hander Brandon Webb enters a new and more challenging phase Monday.

Webb will begin a 30-day injury-rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Frisco by starting against Tulsa, of the Colorado organization, in a 4:05 p.m. game at Dr Pepper Ballpark. It will be Webb's first true game appearance since April 6, 2009, when he worked four innings in an opening day start for Arizona.

News from UKathletics.com

Track and field: UK concludes NCAA Outdoor Championships

Softball: Lawson signs contract extension

Men's basketball: Harrow enrolls at UK

Men's golf: Trainor named head coach at Akron

Football: UK needs your (the fans') help


Video of the week

With Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight set to be high lottery picks, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins haven't gotten quite the level of attention that the aforementioned two have seen. However, Harrellson and Liggins are on a workout tour with teams throughout the NBA. Eric showed you some video of Harrellson being interviewed after a workout with the DeMarcus Cousins' Sacramento Kings, but here he is showcasing his skills on the court alongside a few other prospects.

UK football needs your help

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The Kentucky football team wants you to be a part of the 2011 football season.

UK is holding a video shoot for the 2011 season on  and needs your help. The program is inviting any and all fans to be a part of the video on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.

Fans that wish to attend are asked to dress in UK gear, park in the green lot and enter through gate 1.

The shoot is expected to last two hours.

Softball coach Rachel Lawson (right) was all smiles at a news conference Monday in which Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart officially announced her new five-year contract. (photo by Pete Camagna, UK Athletics) Softball coach Rachel Lawson (right) was all smiles at a news conference Monday in which Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart officially announced her new five-year contract. (photo by Pete Camagna, UK Athletics)
If there is one thing Rachel Lawson learned from being one of 12 children and the ninth girl of a "man's man" father, it's the importance of supporting herself and taking advantage of opportunity.

"Even though (Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart) says it's not about money, this is obviously a huge opportunity for me," Lawson said Monday at a news conference to announce her new five-year contract. "In today's standards, it's a lot of money. It's a lot of money, especially for a female in the athletic world."

On the surface, it is a nice chunk of change for Lawson, who, a half decade ago was trying to build a program at Western Kentucky. Although Lawson wasn't eating bologna sandwiches or struggling to pay rent, as she so eloquently put it with her old UK contract, the new five-year deal worth a total of $727,500, plus the opportunity for performance-based incentives (which ranks in the top third in the Southeastern Conference), certainly makes life easier.

But Monday's contract extension for Lawson, who is fresh off guiding UK to a school-record 40-win season and the program's first Super Regional appearance, looks to be more of a show of loyalty, commitment and reward for a job well done than a just a simple pay raise.

"I came nine years ago to Kentucky and there were people who invested time in Kentucky softball, but unfortunately the results (never) came close to what Rachel has been able to put together in her time here," Barnhart said. "She obviously came from Western Kentucky, so it's been a fast-tracking last four years for us to get to this spot where we're in national consideration and our coach is being talked about for jobs all over our league, all over the country. She is a person who has made a name for our program as well as herself. She's very deserving."

When Barnhart outlined the historic progress UK has enjoyed under Lawson, the model in which she's built for her players and passion in which she teaches the game, Barnhart was admitting that Lawson was a coach UK couldn't let go.

In a jokingly awkward situation for a negotiator, Barnhart said that Lawson has exceeded expectations. As little leverage as that could give him in future dealings down the road, he wasn't exaggerating.

Kentucky was an annual cellar dweller before Lawson arrived and a program that had never even been to the NCAA Tournament. Since then, Lawson has guided UK to three straight postseasons, too many statistical records to count, and created an identity and passion for Kentucky softball.

At last month's Super Regional game, more than 1,700 fans showed up to the UK Softball Complex for each of the two-day series, an unprecedented figure for a program that once struggled to draw a couple hundred.

With that kind of resume and that kind of success at a place that appeared forever stuck in neutral, Lawson no doubt warranted consideration from other schools in a talent-rich conference that featured three offseason vacancies.

Lawson said she never entertained or listened to any other offers, but the new contract was certainly a sign that the school is willing to do what's necessary to continue to build the program.

"She's been a topic of conversation at a lot of different places," Barnhart said. "I always hear people say it's not about money, it's not about this, it's not about that. You find the true measure of a person when you get into those moments and those decision spots. They're hard because they're life changing and they move people to different spots in their life in a lot of different ways. ... I always knew who Rachel Lawson was. I felt like we have for the last four years that she's been here, but we now know truly that we've got a special, special person amongst us and we're very fortunate."

For Lawson, the loyalty was a two-way street.

"He took a real chance on me when a lot of people probably wouldn't have," Lawson said. "I'm just happy we're starting to see a return on that investment. Hopefully we'll continue to move forward because sometimes people forget and start to listen to all the hype. I think it's important to realize and remember the people that helped you get to this point. ...

"We would have never had this opportunity had (Barnhart) not given me one four years ago. I'm a much better coach now than I was then, but the reason I'm a much better coach is because I've been coaching in the SEC. If I was not in the SEC right now and I didn't go against (Tim) Walton and (Patrick) Murphy, (Lu) Harris, the Weeklys (Ralph and Karen), and Yvette Giraud, who just retired, if I did not go up against them, we would not be winning. In fairness to them, because I had that opportunity and because I've gotten better, I think I need to move it forward."

Of course, who could blame Lawson for wanting to leave a team whose stock is pointing straight up? With a good chunk of this past year's team returning and the proven support that the school and fans showed at the Lexington Super Regional, Lawson feels like she'd be taking a step down at just about any other place.

"(Assistant coach Kristine Himes) said, 'You've convinced all these kids to come here without a facility, and I have a hard time seeing you bail on them," Lawson said. "I think she's right. I love the people around here."

Speaking of facilities, Lawson said that's the only thing that would persuade her to go to another program and the only thing left that the school needs to make a firmer commitment to.

Barnhart said UK is in the process of upgrading the UK Softball Complex, which had to undergo several upgrades, including temporary seating, to host a Super Regional. In addition to a new video board that will be in place for next year, Barnhart mentioned extending the fences, enclosing UK's batting practice structure and adding radio broadcasts for games.

"We have a responsibility there," Barnhart said. "We have a feasibility study out there now and I just checked my calendar and we are supposed to get those results back in the next week or two. We will have a conversation about what those look like. ... Absolutely it is on the docket and our responsibility to get that done."

Kentucky softball coach Rachel Lawson, who led the Wildcats to a school-record 40-win season and its first NCAA Super Regional appareance last month, was rewarded Monday with a new five-year contract worth a total of $727,500, plus the opportunity for performance-based incentives.

Here is video of the announcement:

Teague's big shot, big weekend

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In case you haven't heard about it, read about it or watched it this weekend, Kentucky men's basketball signee Marquis Teague hit a pretty big shot a couple of days ago to highlight the annual Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Classic.

The incoming freshman drilled a game-winning jumper Friday night to lead Indiana to a 105-103 victory. After scoring 18 points and dishing out five assists in Friday's win, Teague followed the performance with 12 points, five assists and five rebounds in Indiana's 94-82 sweep of Kentucky on Saturday.

Below is video of Teague's shot, and you can listen to Teague's comments following the game-winning jumper on John Clay's blog.

Also, Kentucky women's basketball signee Bria Goss sparkled in Saturday's girls' game with 25 points, six rebounds and three assists. She scored 23 on Friday.

Joker Phillips was one of seven people on a UK-sponsored trip to Africa last month that learned about the culture of Ethiopia while doing community service for five days. (photo courtesy of Jason Schlafer, UK Athletics) Joker Phillips was one of seven people on a UK-sponsored trip to Africa last month that learned about the culture of Ethiopia while doing community service for five days. (photo courtesy of Jason Schlafer, UK Athletics)

Press conference transcript & video

The conscientious decision to say phrases like "it changed my life" are made as easily these days as the effort it takes to voice the sound and form the words. The notion has become more a cliche than a true life-altering experience, a throwaway phrase, if you will.

Watching Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, football head coach Joker Phillips and two of his players, seniors Danny Trevathan and Stuart Hines, talk about last month's service trip to Ethiopia, one doesn't get the feeling that their travels to Africa was just any other experience.

Seeing the four talk at a podium about the love, gratefulness and warmth the people of Ethiopia showed them in a poverty-stricken, disease-riddled country that features dilapidated living environments, homeless children, bad drinking water, scarce food, rolling blakcouts and a life expectancy of less than 50, there's a genuine feeling of a new appreciation for life in America and the privileges of being at the University of Kentucky.

As Barnhart said Friday in the opening minutes of the media availability, what they saw over in Ethiopia was "not good," but it no doubt served as an eye opener and a life changer.

"It was overall an unbelievable experience," Phillips said. "If you have any heart or anything in your soul, you can't go over there and it not change your life."

Barnhart, Phillips, Trevathan and Hines went to Ethiopia last month on a UK-sponsored trip to lend a hand to people in dire need of help. The group did plenty of charity work while they were there, but the four received just as much in return.

"We went over there to serve all those people and we really got a lot more out of it than they did, I'm sure," said Hines, an offensive lineman.  

That tends to happen when you see children without shoes, running water and barely any muscle to cover their bones digging through a landfill to find food and tradable goods. That's what happens when you see people that have next to nothing look past bitterness and open their arms to more fortunate people. That's what happens when you see starving children smile and laugh over the simple kick of a soccer ball or the throw of a football.

The four, particularly Hines and Trevathan, came back from Africa with a different view of the world.

"We are here playing football and on scholarship, have our school paid for and have a roof over our head and food provided for us," Hines said. "It is not like that at all in some places. There are 500,000 kids that live on the street in Ethiopia. That could have easily been one of us that ended up in a life like that, but we are blessed enough to have the opportunities that we have had."

Jason Schlafer, associate athletics director for marketing and licensing , who has an adopted child from Ethiopia, concocted the trip during the 2010 Gam3Day Ready Tour.

The idea behind the original Gam3Day Ready Tour, a five-city trip last summer through the state of Kentucky, was to show kids across the state the importance of getting out in their communities and staying active. During each stop, Phillips and the UK marketing team hosted a free mini-combine at local parks for boys and girls eighth grade and under to teach them more about the game of football.

On the way back from one of the stops, as Phillips and the staff rested, they decided to watch "Invictus," a film that chronicles Nelson Mandela's unification of his apartheid-torn country of South Africa through the enlistment of a national rugby team. In the movie, the Gam3Day Ready staff watched closely as the 1995 South African rugby team went into the communities of South Africa to promote a foreign game and inspire unification.

As Schlafer observed the film, he realized they were doing something of similar motivation and wanted to take the tour to the next step. Eventually, it evolved into May's trip to Ethiopia, a summer mission that Barnhart hopes to expand into an annual program that could feature up to eight student-athletes from UK's various sports.

One thing it is not, Barnhart said, is a recruiting ploy.

"Our goal, as a department, is to educate," Barnhart said. "We get to play a lot of games and do a lot of things that you guys count in Ws and Ls, but at the end of the day, our job is to educate young people and to expand their horizons and their minds and their hearts. This is part of that process."

It was a trip Trevathan and Hines will never forget, both good and bad.

They delivered food to 48 families in Korah, a village near a landfill where residents sift through garbage to find food and the life expectancy is 37. They dug ditches, planted trees and flowers, painted an outhouse and visited an orphanage.

The group laughed at the podium as they reflected on the NASCAR-like driving of one of their tour guides and talked about a mix-up with the military, a misunderstanding that resulted in three AK-47s being pointed at them.

While learning about Ethiopia, its people and their struggles, Hines and Trevathan gained lessons they said they could apply to their upcoming football season. Hines said he learned about leadership through local village leaders, and Trevathan gained a better understanding of unification and coming together after watching the people of Ethiopia work together through near-unbearable conditions.

Of his experience in Ethiopia, senior linebacker Danny Trevathan said, Of his experience in Ethiopia, senior linebacker Danny Trevathan said, "People over there are so happy for what they get and they have so little. They appreciate you for a lot of things that we take for granted." (photo courtesy of Jason Schlafer, UK Athletics)

Maybe their most rewarding work was just playing soccer with the kids or teaching them football. Many of the kids were diseased and hadn't bathed, but Hines tickled them and Trevathan hugged them anyways.

They hardly flinched, Phillips said, in relating with kids they could barely understand or hardly relate to. Phillips said he learned that Hines has a great sense of humor and a great personality. Trevathan, he found out, "is a hugger." And of Barnhart and his wife, Connie, Phillips learned they don't mind getting their hands dirty to help out others.

All four shared a bond that's carried over from the trip.

"What I was most proud of was the guys here on the end (Hines and Trevathan) and the way they conducted themselves and the way their hearts reached out to a country of people and the things that they did to help," Barnhart said.

"Stuart had an unbelievable ability because of his size that kids were attracted to him. He would play ball with them and we took a bunch of Nike balls and football and they played not knowing the language. It was fun to watch them play. Danny has a way with little babies and children like you can't understand. He has a great heart for that. He was in a nursery doing stuff and holding them in his arms and rocking them and playing with them and sitting on the floor with them. You never knew he could be that kind."

Two moments that may forever live with Trevathan and Hines happened in Korah, particularly when Trevathan watched a 35-year-old lady die right before his eyes.

The UK linebacker was delivering food in a tent no bigger than a trailer when a woman, shaking, caught his eye.

"I felt like something was wrong right then and there," Trevathan said. "At first I was taken back and then I looked up and she looked right at me and looked like she wanted my hand. I have her my hand and she said thank you. After that, I turned around and shook my head and was walking back and someone told me that they thought that was her last breath.

"She found time to say thank you for me with her last breath and that is what touched me the most. We live good every day and sometimes we can't find the time to say thank you, but she did."

The other moment, a telling sign of what the four got out of Ethiopia, came when the UK party met a woman suffering from AIDS who had recently given birth to an HIV-negative child. The woman had to make a choice between feeding her starving child with her breast milk and possibly passing on the disease or not feeding the child at all.

Phillips and Barnhart refused to leave until they could gather enough money to pay for some formula.

"That, in a nutshell, shows you what kind of people they are and what it was like to be around them," Hines said. "They are extremely caring and generous."

Lawson also to receive contract extension

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Moments after tweeting out that men's basketball head coach John Calipari would receive a contract extension in the near future, Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced on Twitter on Friday that softball coach Rachel Lawson would receive a new deal as well.

The details of the contract have not been released yet but will be made available Monday at a news conference.

Lawson has guided the UK softball team to three straight NCAA Tournament apperances, including the program's first Super Regional apperance this past season.

UK, Calipari working on contract extension

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Kentucky spokesman DeWayne Peevy said in a tweet to the media Friday that UK and men's basketball coach John Calipari are working on a contract extension to "ensure that he has (a) long tenure at Kentucky."

Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart followed with a tweet that said a formal announcement would be coming soon.

"Cal and I are (on) the same page and share some of the same thoughts on our careeers and I'd like to align his contract with my current 8-yr deal," Barnhart said via Twitter. "Once we get a finalized contract, we'll make a formal announcement."

Calipari is currently in the third year of an eight-year contract worth $31.65 million plus incentives.

We'll have coverage in the following weeks once the extension is signed.

From left to right: Stuart Hines, Joker Phillips, Mitch Barnhart and Danny Trevathan

Two leftovers not in the video:

- Friday was the first time UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell has talked publicly about UK Hoops' latest addition, DeNesha Stallworth.

"(Stallworth and Samarie Walker) are both frontcourt players," Mitchell said. "We've been working hard to add talent in that area. Samarie is just a tremendously talented player in the frontcourt and really, really tough around the basket and can finish with contact, has a knack for scoring. She has the level of talent that we feel like can help us get to where we're trying to be on the national level and the SEC as well.

"DeNesha has a very similar set of skills just from an offensive standpoint as far as being productive. What's so great about both of those is they've already shown on the college level what they can do. DeNesha gets the benefit of a year in our program and really work on some of her individual skills and improve as a player. I think you'll have a very mature in two seasons that's been a first-team All-Pac-10 selection. With a year more of development, I think she can big a great impact."

Stallworth, a 6-foot-3 forward, was Cal's leading scorer (13.3ppg) and rebounder (6.4 rpg) last year as a sophomore. She'll have to sit out the 2011-12 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but she will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Fellow transfer Walker will be eligible in January 2012.

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- Senior point guard Amber Smith, who redshirted last year with a knee injury, is nearing 100 percent and is on schedule to return at full strenght next season for the Cats, Mitchell said.

Trevathan on Athlon cover

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Kentucky linebacker and last year's Southeastern Conference top tackler Danny Trevathan is on the cover of this year's Athlon Sports preview for the Southeastern Conference.

Harrellson, Knight pre-draft interviews

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The 2011 NBA Draft is pretty much right around the corner. At this point, draft-eligible players are traveling around the nation and working out for NBA teams, including former Kentucky stars Josh Harrellson and Brandon Knight.

Below are a couple of pre-draft interviews with Harrellson and Knight. Also, Chad Ford of ESPN.com has unveiled his latest mock draft. It's an Insider story, so what you need to know is Ford has Knight going No. 3 to the Utah Jazz and Enes Kanter going No. 4 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. DeAndre Liggins and Harrellson are not listed in Ford's first-round mock draft.

Harrellson's post-Sacramento workout

Knight's post-Toronto workout

Mitch Barnhart signed a contract extension in February to remain at Kentucky as athletic director. Mitch Barnhart signed a contract extension in February to remain at Kentucky as athletic director.
Upon Mike Hamilton's resignation as the athletic director at the University of Tennessee on Tuesday, Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, an assistant AD at Tennessee from 1986 to 1998, became a popular name as a possible replacement.

Those thoughts turned into speculation and rumor later Tuesday when ESPN's Chris Low tabbed Barnhart as a possible successor, and that report got legs as the week wore on and Tennessee moved forward into the next era.

Barnhart tripped up any speculation Thursday by telling the Lexington Herald-Leader that he plans to remain at Kentucky.

"I don't have any interest (in the UT job)," Barnhart told the Herald-Leader's Mark Story. "I've got good coaches (at Kentucky), I have a family that has settled in here, I have a son who is about to be a senior in high school."

Barnhart signed a contract extension for "exemplary performance" in February, but that extension came under President Lee T. Todd, Jr., who will retire at the end of the month. Some have wondered how Barnhart will fit with the incoming president, Dr. Eli Capilouto.

Thursday's comments seem to indicate that Barnhart looks forward to working with the new president and continuing his work at UK.

"I said when I agreed to my last contract that (Kentucky) is where I plan to be until I decide on my next path, something that will probably be outside athletics," Barnhart said in the Herald-Leader story. "I've got things I still want to accomplish here and I'm excited about doing that."

Clarification on Harrow announcement

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Kentucky announced Thursday that North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow has enrolled in summer classes at and will play  basketbal at UK in the 2012-13 season after sitting out a year because of NCAA transfer rules.

Uh, that was so two weeks ago.

Actually, not quite.

Although Harrow declared he was a Kentucky Wildcat on his Twitter account more than two weeks ago, Harrow's transfer didn't become official until enrolling in and attending classes this week at UK. According to NCAA bylaw 13.10.9, an institution cannot publicize a prospective NCAA student-athlete until he/she has "signed a National Letter of Intent or accepted written offers of admission and/or financial aid from the institution."

NCAA rules prevent transfers from signing a national letter of intent, so Harrow's verbal commitment a couple of weeks ago didn't bind him to the school. Albeit a moot point now, Harrow's announcement wasn't official until Thursday. 

As for the accolades of Harrow, head coach John Calipari got another big-time point guard. A 6-foot-1 guard, Harrow averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman at North Carolina State last season. He was the Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga., and was rated the 19th-best prospect and seventh-best point guard by Rivals.com in its 2010 signing class.

The full details on Harrow can be read here.

Although Harrow will have to sit out all of next season because of NCAA transfer rules, he'll provide Calipari with a high-caliber scout player that few other programs can boast. Matching up Marquis Teague and Michael Gilchrist with Harrow, a proven collegiate point guard, should speed up the maturation process of Kentucky's highly touted freshmen. 

And when the 2012-13 season rolls around, regardless of what happens with Teague, Gilchrist, Doron Lamb or any recruits in the 2012 signing class, Calipari will have a bona fide player ready at the point guard spot.

It didn't become official until Thursday, but chalk this one up as another win for Calipari.

Calipari nominated for regional Emmy

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Head coach John Calipari helped raise more than $1.3 million in earthquake relief efforts with the Head coach John Calipari helped raise more than $1.3 million in earthquake relief efforts with the "Hoops for Haiti" telethon. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
As head coach of the Kentucky men's basketball program, John Calipari has been called a savior, a recruiter and a salesman. Pretty soon, he might add Emmy winner to his resume.

In what is truly a unique honor, Calipari, as a part of WKYT's "Hoops for Haiti" telethon, has been nominated for a regional Emmy.

Calipari and 11 other people WKYT submitted as part of its entry are one of four nominees in the special achievement for community category in the Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Awards competition.

"Congratulations to everyone at WKYT on their Emmy nomination under the category of Special Achievement - Community Service for our Hoops for Haiti telethon," Calipari said Wednesday night in a statement. "I'm extremely grateful to be listed among you and all the other nominees but the real Emmy nomination goes to all the people that donated and made the telethon a success for the people of Haiti."

Calipari and WKYT station manager Wayne Martin orchestrated the telethon, which involved the entire UK men's basketball team and raised more than $1.3 million for earthquake relief in Haiti. President Barack Obama called the players and coaches to thank them for their generosity.

The "Hoops for Haiti" nomination will go against "The Autism Puzzle" from WCMH, "Tales for the Pet Lover's Heart" by Blind Squirrels Production Group, Inc. and "WHAS11," from WHAS. The winner will be announced at a ceremony at the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville on July 30.

Undrafted McCarthy coming back?

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Third baseman Thomas McCarthy hit .411 in SEC play and finished third in the league with a .371 overall batting average. (photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Third baseman Thomas McCarthy hit .411 in SEC play and finished third in the league with a .371 overall batting average. (photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)

It took three days and 50 rounds to get through 1,530 selections in the 2011 MLB Draft. Shockingly, Kentucky baseball's Thomas McCarthy wasn't one of them.

Six UK baseball players, which includes Alex Meyer (first round), Chad Wright (ninth round), Braden Kapteyn (15th round), Taylor Black (16th round), Jordan Cooper (23rd round) and Michael Williams (37th round), were selected in this year's MLB Draft. But outside of Meyer, none of them were as good as McCarthy this past year.

Although Kentucky stumbled to a 25-30 record this year, McCarthy was one of the best players in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference. The third baseman was third in the league in batting with a .371 clip.

In addition to batting average, McCarthy led UK in hits (78), doubles (19), slugging (.581), two-out hits (31) and two-out RBI (20) en route to first-team All-SEC honors. McCarthy hit .411 in SEC play and finished the season on a 10-game hitting streak (26 for 43).

And it isn't as if McCarthy is a one-year wonder. In 2010, as a sophomore at Feather River College, he batted .415 with 59 hits, 39 runs, 14 doubles, three homers and 36 RBI.

That's why it's so surprising that McCarthy wasn't called over the last three days. It's not that McCarthy was projected to go in the top half of the draft, but to slip through 1,530 picks without a single team selecting this guy is pretty surprising.

While head coach Gary Henderson would have rather had his star offensive player hear his name called, it likely means good things for the team next year. McCarthy could still very well forego his senior season and pursue his pro dreams by way of free agency, but going undrafted will likely convince McCarthy to return to school next season.

If that holds true, Henderson will have a stud to build around at the hot corner.

Although Meyer, Wright, Kapteyn, Cooper and Williams were all selected in the draft, as underclassmen, they can still return to UK. If a few of them return and join McCarthy -- not to mention some or all of seven drafted signees -- on next year's team, Kentucky could be in store for a quick turnaround.  

Dunlap impresses in WNBA debut

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Former UK Hoops star and 2010 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year made her debut for the WNBA debut last weekend for the Washington Mystics.

Dunlap played 16 minutes in her first game, scoring five points on 2-of-2 shooting. UK Hoops' second all-time leading scorer also grabbed four rebounds and three steals in an 89-73 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Saturday.

The Mystics return to the court Thursday in Atlanta followed by Dunlap's home opener with Washington on Saturday. For those in the Lexington area looking to catch one of Dunlap's games, the Mystics will be at Indiana on July 9.

Dunlap was drafted 11th overall by the Mystics in April, the highest draft pick in UK Hoops history.

Web Wednesday: MLB Draft edition

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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

Baseball: Alex Meyer realizes potential (Aaron Smith, Kentucky Kernel)
When Alex Meyer turned down a multi-million dollar deal from the Boston Red Sox out of high school after being drafted in the 20th round, it was a risk. Sure, he certainly had the potential to end up making his decision worth it -- look at any picture of Meyer throwing and you think of a slightly lesser version of Randy Johnson -- but there's also many things that could lead to regret by going to college.
Men's basketball: 2011 class puts UK atop SEC yet again (Jerry Meyer, Rivals.com)
The string of No. 1-ranked recruiting classes at Kentucky under John Calipari continued in 2011. All four of Kentucky's recruits are five-star prospects, and three of those prospects rank in the top 10 in the country.
Track and field: Sprinter Tyson Gay a UK fan (Larry Vaught, VaughtsViews.com)
"It is really more fun to keep up with UK and follow UK again now. I love Kentucky basketball. They are great," he said. I am gone a lot, but it's nice to have Kentucky basketball to watch and talk about. It's really nice when I come back home. I go to a lot of beautiful countries and cities, but there is nothing like coming home and I love watching UK."
Men's basketball: Jones chooses summer school over Team USA (Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald-Leader)

University of Kentucky forward Terrence Jones will not try out for the USA Basketball team that plays in the Under 19 World Championship this summer.

Jones will attend summer school at UK, USA Basketball's Sean Ford said Tuesday.


Football: Phillips sees perception of Kentucky changing (Edward Aschoff, ESPN.com)

Kentucky has now played in five straight bowl games and has won three of them. Second-year coach Joker Phillips is looking to take the Wildcats to their sixth straight bowl game -- something Kentucky football has never done.

For a school known more for hoops than pigskin, that's an accomplishment. But it's not enough for Phillips.

Phillips said he and his players are focused on something else, something more exciting. Phillips doesn't just want to reach bowl games, he wants to compete for SEC titles.

Men's basketball: Lamb one of college basketball's most underrated (Jason King, Yahoo! Sports)

Doron Lamb, Kentucky, guard - Although he tapered off a bit at the end of the season, Lamb still played a vital role in the Wildcats getting to the Final Four. He averaged 12.3 points and shot 48.6 percent from 3-point range - not bad for a freshman coming off the bench.

Former Wildcats making headlines

John Wall brightens youth basketball clinic (Dan Steinberg, Washington Post)
Horn said the guard spent at least 30 or 45 minutes with the group, taking individual pictures with every kid, signing everything that was given to him and chatting with the parents, who were also excited. One of those parents -- David Cordell -- sent an e-mail about the experience to Ted Leonsis, who passed it along to me. Cordell isn't much of a pro basketball fan, but he's seen pro athletes act in ways he doesn't always like, and he wanted to thank Wall for changing his impression.

"A lot of stars don't even have the time to sign autographs; the fact that John Wall would actually come down on his own volition after working out, I think it was great," Cordell told me. "I have to tell you, I think it's so refreshing. All I can say is, I don't know who his mother is, but she brought up him up well."

Cordell's 14-year old son, Sam, left the gym having made his first basket -- "one of the best days ever," his dad wrote. David, meanwhile, wrote that Wall "restored my faith in professional basketball players."
Rex Chapman set to enter Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame (Mark Story, Herald-Leader)
On Wednesday night in Louisville, King Rex will be among seven taking their place among our state's sports royalty.

In the rich history of hoops in our state, I'm not sure any home-grown player has ever electrified the commonwealth quite like the bundle of contradictions that was Rex Everett Chapman.
Mallory Blackwelder qualifies for US Open (Irv Moss, Denver Post)
A long day on the golf course and perhaps what seemed like a longer wait afterward proved worthwhile for Mallory Blackwelder in Sunday's qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open at The Broadmoor.

Blackwelder, from Versailles, Ky., shot a 14-over-par 156 over 36 holes, good enough to claim the third and final qualifying spot by one stroke. She will play in her first U.S. Open, to be held July 7-10 on the same Broadmoor East Course.


News from UKathletics.com

Track and field: Nine athletes set for NCAA Outdoor Championships

Baseball: Chad Wright drafted in ninth round; Black and Kapteyn picked; Cooper selected in 23rd round

Women's basketball: Pam Stackhouse named Associate AD by Bellarmine

Golf: Current, future golfers begin summer play

Swimming and diving: Derek Perkins named assistant coach

Men's tennis: Quigley named ITA Singles All-American



Tweet of the week

Monday night I mentioned the mini-UK alumni club that is developing in Washington, D.C. with Alex Meyer joining John Wall, Jeremy Jarmon and Victoria Dunlap in the nation's capital. After Meyer's selection, Wall reached out to Meyer to congratulate him, prompting a brief interaction between the two.

"@AlexMeyer17 (what's) good man and congrats on getting drafted." - @jimmywa11

"@jimmywa11 Thanks man I appreciate it..maybe I'll run into (you) sometime soon. Hope you're doing well man." - @AlexMeyer17

"@AlexMeyer17 yep we will and I'm (doing) good man" - @jimmywa11


UK only the fourth-best job in the country?

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Kentucky prides itself on having the best men's basketball program in the country.

UK has more wins than any other program, consistently ranks No. 1 in attendance (that goes along with having the most passionate fans in the country) and is tied with North Carolina for the most NCAA Tournament wins.

That has to make it the top coaching job in the country as well, right?

Not quite, according to Mike DeCourcy from The Sporting News. DeCourcy, who has often profiled Kentucky's return to glory under head coach John Calipari over the last two years, surprisingly ranks UK as the fourth-best job in the country behind North Carolina, UCLA and Texas.

While a noteable achievement for most porgrams, that seems to be a little low, don't you think?

You'll have to click here to read DeCourcy's full post, but in my opinion, the order is a bit surprising, especially with Texas at No. 3 and Duke all the way down at No. 8.

DeCourcy is a great writer who is generally right on the money, but Kentucky has to be in the top two, doesn't it?

Keep in mind that this is all hypothetical and that Calipari is going nowhere.

Back in the saddle

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After a fantastic (and much-needed) vacation, I'm back in the saddle for a little bit, at least until I take another vacation in the coming weeks. A big thanks goes to Guy Ramsey for filling in for me while I was gone. It looks like he kept everyone up-to-date on the Southeastern Conference meetings in Destin, Fla., as well as kicked off the "Where are they now" series with a great story on Dicky Lyons Jr.

Here are a few notes that we didn't get around to that should catch you up on everything going on around Big Blue Nation:

- Alex Meyer became Kentucky baseball's highest MLB Draft pick since 2002 when he was chosen by the Washington Nationals with the 23rd overall selection Monday, but the draft is far from over for current Wildcats. Rounds 2-30 will take place Tuesday, starting at noon, followed by rounds 31-50 on Wednesday. Current Wildcats Chad Wright, Thomas McCarthy, Jordan Cooper, Braden Kapteyn, Michael Williams and Taylor Black could all hear their names called over the next couple of days. Wright, McCarthy, Cooper, Kapteyn and Williams are underclassmen and could return to UK next year.

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- One thing that wasn't mentioned on here last week from the SEC meetings was the new oversigning limit for football scholarships. The presidents and chancellors of the league voted unanimously last week to cut the number of scholarship players a school can sign from 28 to 25. It was a pretty fair compromise between the SEC coaches, who didn't want any restrictions on how they manage their rosters, and the critics of the critics of oversigning. Jon Solomon of The Birminghman News has a pretty good recap on the new limit here.

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- Former UK women's golfer Mallory Blackwelder will play in her first U.S. Open on July 7-10 after qualifying for the major tournament this past weekend. Blackwelder, the daughter of former Kentucky coach Myra Blackwelder, finished third out of 69 players in the qualifying event with a 14-over-par 156 total. The U.S. Open will take place at Broadmoor East in Colorado Springs, Colo., the same course where Blackwelder qualified.

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- Men's basketball head coach John Calipari continued his "State of the Cats" series last week on his website, CoachCal.com. In last week's address, he talked about UK's draft-eligible players and gave his opinion on each. You can read his full thoughts here, but the most interesting part, I thought, was that Enes Kanter would be his No. 1 pick if it were his decision. Here is an excerpt of what Calipari had to say:

This one is so hard for me because as more and more people see what we saw all year at the Joe Craft Center with Enes, I can't help but think how much more special last season could have been if our big teenager had been able to join us for our Final Four run! He just turned 19 a few weeks ago. There is a strong possibility that Enes could be the No. 1 overall pick. If it were my decision,  Enes is who I would pick at No. 1. Here's why: he can truly be a dominating kind of player; he can be a Karl Malone-type big man. As the league gets smaller (size-wise) his ability to dominate his position will grow. He's got a position and a true size. If he doesn't go No. 1 he will go shortly thereafter and the teams that passed on him will look back and wince at that decision. I'm biased because I love him, but I'm also talking in pragmatic terms.

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- The final UK Athletics event of the 2010-11 athletics year takes place this week in Des Moines, Iowa, for the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Sean Hilen is traveling with the team and should have the full details of the event later Tuesday in a release. The championships begin Wednesday.

Alex Meyer is UK's highest draft pick since Joe Blanton went No. 24 overall in 2002. (UK Athletics) Alex Meyer is UK's highest draft pick since Joe Blanton went No. 24 overall in 2002. (UK Athletics)
Alex Meyer has been here before. For the second time, the big right-hander is experiencing a moment that so many young athletes strive for: hearing his name called on draft day.

The first time, Meyer was selected in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB First-Year player draft by the Boston Red Sox. Making a decision he hoped would help his long-term development both on and off the field, Meyer chose to rebuff a lucrative offer by the Red Sox and honor his commitment to pitch for the University of Kentucky.

After being selected with 23rd pick of the first round by the Washington Nationals in this year's draft, he is sure to be even more hotly pursued. Having made the decision to head to Lexington three years ago, Meyer is equipped with everything he needs to succeed at the next level.

"This is what I went to college for," Meyer said on a teleconference Monday night. "I wanted to go to college and develop my game and become the best baseball player that I could be and I feel like I took great strides this year to get to that point."

Meyer's selection comes on the heels of a standout junior season that saw him earn All-Southeastern Conference honors. In spite of occasional struggles by his offense and bullpen, Meyer led his team with seven wins, posting an SEC-high 110 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.94 in the process.

With exceptional arm and a 6-foot, 9-inch frame, Meyer has always stood out on the diamond. However, Meyer recognizes how far he had to come to deliver the kind of consistent season he had in 2011.

"Coming into campus, everybody knew I was going to be a huge project from the beginning," Meyer said. "I knew my stuff was good when I got there; it just needed to be fine-tuned a little bit."

UK head coach Gary Henderson was elated at Meyer's decision to attend school and laid out a plan to transform him from "intriguing" to "dominant". Although there were bumps along the road, particularly during freshman and sophomore seasons marked by struggles and inconsistency, they stayed true to the plan.

"When Coach Henderson brought me in, he laid out exactly what his plan was for me," Meyer said. "We did a good job of accomplishing it. It took a little longer than we would have hoped, but we got it done."

A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer had to learn what it meant to be a pitcher when he arrived on campus.

"He did a great job of teaching me about the game of pitching," Meyer said. "I came from a small town, I didn't know too much about it. I was just throwing the ball. Coach Henderson did a great job developing me as a pitcher and get to where I am today."

Meyer took full advantage of the unique baseball rule allowing a player to be drafted yet still return to school. Henderson's tutelage has helped put Meyer in a position where he feels prepared to take on the professional ranks.

His feelings upon being drafted this time around are exclusively positive. He was joined by his parents, his brother, his sister, his aunt and uncle for his big moment.

"When it happened, I took in a deep breath and put my hands over my face and got a little emotional there for a second," Meyer said. "You've just got to take it for what it is and I'm extremely happy right now. I can't put into words how I feel. It's been an awesome night and I'm really excited for my opportunity."

The pick was the second of the first round for the Nationals after the team took third baseman Anthony Rendon of Rice sixth overall. Some projections had Meyer in contention at the sixth pick, but he did not anticipate going that high.

"I had a pretty good idea of what I thought was going to happen and they were definitely in the mix," Meyer said. "I definitely saw the chances of going at No. 6 and I knew that was kind of a stretch, but it worked out the way I thought it would and I couldn't be happier with it."

Meyer joins an organization that has been making high draft picks for a number of years and hopes to be a big part of the Nationals' bright future.

"I'm extremely excited to be drafted by the Washington Nationals," Meyer said. "They're a team on the rise with the prospects they've drafted over the last few years with Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and obviously this year they selected Anthony Rendon with their first pick. It's pretty special to be selected by a club like that and I couldn't be happier."

A return to UK for his senior year is still an option, but Meyer is looking forward to negotiations with the Nationals and getting a deal done.

"It's just a matter of time and I just have to sit down with my family," Meyer said. "I just got off the phone with the (Washington general manager) Mr. (Mike) Rizzo and they want to talk in the next couple days and I'm guessing we'll have a better idea (about a potential agreement) after that."

If a deal is reached and Meyer eventually joins the big league team in the nation's capital, he will become a part of a quickly developing UK contingent in Washington, D.C. Between John Wall, Victoria Dunlap and Jeremy Jarmon, Meyer would have a group with which he can reminisce about the old college days.

"It's ironic that it all falls into place like that," Meyer said. "I talked to John Wall a couple times while I was at school and he's a great guy. If it all works out, maybe we'll all get together some time."

Notes for a Thursday afternoon

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There's not a ton going on right now, but here are a few notes to tide you over on another sweltering afternoon:

- If you haven't read it yet, check out my piece from yesterday on Dicky Lyons, Jr. Dicky was always a fan favorite while he was at UK and in spending some time talking to him for the story, it's pretty clear why. His sense of humor was sharp as ever and he truly loves everything about Kentucky. Most importantly, he seems content with his life and excited about what his future holds. Hopefully we'll get to hear more from him as a coach soon.

Additionally, we will be continuing our six-part "Where are they now?" feature next week when Eric Lindsey returns from vacation, so make sure to check back for that.

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- Yesterday I reported the recommended elimination of the divisional set-up in SEC basketball by conference coaches. Well, the league's athletic directors wasted no time in approving the change, which will take effect beginning in the 2011-12 season.

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- Another piece of news that you may have missed yesterday was the release of the updated Capitol One Cup standings. The cup is awarded to the nation's top overall men's and women's athletic programs with the scoring system based on top finishes at NCAA championships and final official coaches' polls.

This year has been a strong one for men's sports at UK and the standings reflect that. With men's tennis' run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky is now 13th among all men's programs in the country. Congratulations to all the men's programs on an exceptional season.

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- We are less than one week away from the MLB's annual First-Year Player Draft and UK RHP Alex Meyer is slated to be one of the top picks. The first round of the draft gets underway on Monday and Meyer figures to hear his name called early. In Baseball America's latest projections, Meyer is projected to go No. 6 to the Washington Nationals. If he is selected there, he would become the highest drafted player in Kentucky baseball history. We will have coverage of Meyer's selection next week.

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- On the official Twitter account of UK Hoops, it was announced that freshman forward Sarah Beth Barnette has made the decision to transfer. Barnette, a Lexington native, averaged 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in her only season at UK. "I appreciate the contribution Sarah Beth made to the UK program," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I wish Sarah Beth the very best as she moves forward with her career."

On Tuesday, basketball coaches in the Southeastern Conference recommended that the league scrap the the conference's traditional two-division setup in favor of a single 12-team division. Later this week at the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., athletic directors will decide whether to enact the recommendation.

In recent years, the divisional split has been criticized because of an imbalance between the league's East and West divisions. In the 2010-11 season, all five SEC teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament came from the East.

The change will be felt most in two areas: scheduling and SEC Tournament seeding.

Under the divisional format, each team's 16-game conference schedule is comprised of two games each against intra-divisional opponents and one game against teams from the other division. With a single division, teams will play home-and-home series with both East and West teams.

As for tournament seeding with a single division, the four teams with the overall top records in conference play would receive byes. With two divisions, the top two records from the East and West received byes.

If approved, the switch would take effect during the 2011-12 season. Next season's schedule is already finalized, so the change in scheduling would come until 2012-13. However, byes would be awarded to the four teams with top conference records, regardless of previous divisional alignment, and a single league champion would be crowned.

Calipari told ESPN's Andy Katz that the goals of the proposed changes are to position eight conference teams for NCAA bids while keeping top teams in contention for high seeds and therefore national championships. Calipari also said that 16-, 18- and 22-game league conference schedules were discussed, but that there was not enough time to fully flesh out the topic.

Former UK wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. finished his collegiate career with 141 catches for 1,752 yards and 18 touchdowns. (UK Athletics) Former UK wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. finished his collegiate career with 141 catches for 1,752 yards and 18 touchdowns. (UK Athletics)
"Where are they now" is a weekly six-part summer series that will take a look back at the careers of former Kentucky athletes and find out what they're doing post-UK. First up is UK football wide receiver and fan favorite Dicky Lyons Jr.

Thinking back on the decorated career of former Kentucky football wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr., selecting just one highlight is an unenviable task.

Is it his 80-yard touchdown catch in the 2006 season opener against Louisville? What about the touchdown he scored in the Wildcats' Music City Bowl victory over Clemson that same season? Consulting YouTube, could it be the bone-crunching fourth-quarter block he laid in UK's upset of eventual national champion LSU? Hold on, you can't forget about how he was named the team's Most Improved Offensive Player during his sophomore season and Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll the next.

When Lyons recalls his most memorable moment as a Wildcat, he can't help but hearken back to a day that no fan was present to witness. It was one of a thousand spent toiling on the practice field.

"The biggest moment probably came on the practice field," Lyons said. "There were a couple guys who got in trouble and had to run."

In the middle of the punishment, with the group of players dragging after countless sprints, quarterback Andre Woodson stood up. It wasn't a gesture borne out of defiance or disrespect, rather one borne out of leadership, out of loyalty. Woodson declared that he would run stride for stride with his teammates even though he had broken no rules.

The moment won't go down in UK football lore, but Lyons sees it as one that helped set the tone for the winning culture that began to define the program under Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips.

He's not proud of it, but It just so happens that Lyons was one of the players in the doghouse.

"I didn't want to say it, but it was actually me who got in trouble," Lyons admitted. "Having him get down next to me when I was hurt and tired being made an example out of (by the coaches), Andre said, 'We're going to do it as a team' and ran with me. That meant a lot to me."

On that day, Lyons learned a lesson that many people don't grasp until much later in life, if at all: that you come to define yourself by how you respond in those moments of adversity, when things aren't quite going as you expected.

Ironically, Woodson was also there on another notable occasion when Lyons would be called on to put that lesson into practice. This time, the unexpected came in the form of pondering his future sooner than Lyons anticipated.

Woodson and Lyons were playing together in the UFL for the Hartford Colonials when they were released in August 2010. Faced with the harsh reality of not knowing what he would do next, Lyons leaped at the first opportunity that presented itself. He heard about work in Grand Isle, La., that was just a couple hours away from his hometown of New Orleans.

For Grand Isle, the unexpected came in the form of a disastrous oil spill that cast into doubt the survival of a small community that relies on tourism and saltwater fishing.

Lyons' next step would come as a part of the cleanup effort in Grand Isle.

"My cousin was working down here spotting oil and he told me he could get me a job," Lyons said. "I thought I might as well. I just got released three days before that."

He went to work for ES&H, the company that had won the contract to lead the response and recovery efforts in Grand Isle. Lyons knew the degree he had earned at UK would be important to his life after football. He just didn't think he would use it so soon.

"I came down there and I had a college degree so they put me in the office, in accounts payable," Lyons said. "I was programming third-party contractor invoices for about 14 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week. That was September 1 (last year) and I've been here ever since, working every day."

Lyons' degree and his willingness to put his head down and work have paved the way for rapid advancement. In just nine months, he has moved from accounts payable to billing to his current position of housing director for the entire island operation.

Even though he's not putting on his pads anymore, the competitiveness that defined him as a player has continued to serve him well.

"It's almost like competition," Lyons said. "When I came down here, there were 30 some odd guys in the warehouse and we were all fresh out of college. After 100 days, a bunch of guys were getting tapped out and it was a challenge just to beat out the rest of them. I think (the experience at UK) helped out tremendously to get where I am."

The last year has been full of more early mornings than he cares to remember, but he was more than prepared for that after Kentucky.

"It definitely helped out being able to have that experience (at UK)," Lyons said. "I was up at 4:30 in the morning to run, so waking up at 4:30 in the morning to go into the office really wasn't all that hard for me."

The hundred-hour weeks have made staying in football shape nearly impossible. Even though Lyons says it wouldn't be difficult to get back to his playing weight, he doesn't see himself giving his professional career another try. Football, though, is something he'll never shake completely.

"Working 14 hours a day, there's not a lot of time to work out, but that little 10-pound beer gut that I've got now wouldn't be too hard to get rid of," Lyons said. "With football, I'd love to pursue coaching. Playing, I think I've put that behind me and I'm fine with that. I'd really like to pursue coaching if the opportunity presents itself."

The experience Lyons had at UK has made turning the page on his playing days a lot easier.

"It was the best time of my life, especially after you go to the pros and you see how cutthroat it is," Lyons said. "In college, especially with how our group of guys came together, it was the best time of my life. You realize that in the real world, you don't get to meet friends like that. You have so many friends that you can always rely on and trust, guys that will have your back in anything you do. That experience at Kentucky is one I wouldn't give up for anything."

As Lyons works in the "real world" waiting for his opportunity to get into coaching, he is getting his football fix by watching his alumni. For the first time, Lyons is able to watch games with his father, UK football great Dicky Lyons Sr.

"We love watching games together now, Lyons said. "It's finally something we can enjoy. We never really got to watch the games together. This was the first year I was actually close enough to home where we could get together and watch games. He's funny and it's been a great time and it's something that we'll always have. We talk about (our time at UK) a lot. We're two of the biggest UK fans you'll ever see."

Lyons is excited about the future of the program under Phillips. The two worked very closely while Lyons was at Kentucky from 2004, 2006-08, with the current head coach working with wide receivers when Lyons first arrived and eventually moving up to offensive coordinator before he graduated.

Speaking like a true fan, Lyons just wants to see some more wins now.

"His goal is always to improve," Lyons said. "He has improved position-wise as much as you can, now I think he just needs to improve his record with more wins. If anybody is going work hard to make that happen, it's going to be him."

In spite of his busy schedule, Lyons was able to return to Lexington for Senior Day in 2010 to cheer on his former UK and high school teammate Moncell Allen. Lyons saw firsthand what Allen went through to get to that point and could not have been happier for the running back turned fullback.

"I went to Senior Day for Moncell and that was awesome," Lyons said. "A lot of guys who came from the Ninth Ward where he was from never would have made it as far as he did. It was great to just see him and I was so proud of him. It's just another moment in Kentucky football history where nobody knows how hard some of these guys have to work to get where they are."

Lyons will make another return trip to Lexington for the Swings for Soldiers Classic on July 18. He is coming in support of former teammate Jacob Tamme, who is hosting the event with his wife, Allison, but is also concerned about defending the long drive title he earned last summer.

"I'll definitely be there because last year they had to change the name from the long drive contest to the try and beat Dicky's drive contest," Lyons said. "I have to go hold my record."

When listening to Lyons talk about his life now and his time at UK, it's impossible to miss how often names like "Andre," "Moncell" and "Jacob" are mentioned. The longest-lasting memories for Lyons aren't big catches, touchdowns or even big wins, but rather the relationships he built in Lexington.

"That's what it was all about, building relationships," Lyons said. "I think that's what life's about. It's the people you meet and how true of friends they are. That's what you come to find after leaving is that good friends are hard to find. I found about 250 of them going there, from all of the seniors that came in ahead of me to the guys who came in after. I've got them all in my phone and I guarantee I could call every single one of them and, if I needed them, they would come. To me, they're all my best friends and they always will be."

Recent Comments

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