Raymond Sanders scored two touchdowns in UK's 63-28 win over Western Kentucky in 2010. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With our series of positional previews coming to its conclusion and an unconventional short game week, our coverage leading up to UK's season-opener against Western Kentucky is going to look a bit different than our pre-game coverage for future games. Keeping that in mind, here's what you need to know about the Hilltoppers before kickoff at 9:15 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Taggart enters second season
Much like his UK counterpart, Joker Phillips, Willie Taggart enters his second year as head coach of his alma mater. He played at Western Kentucky from 1995-1998, rewriting the Hilltopper record book in the process. He set 11 school records as a dual-threat quarterback and is still the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. He played at Western for legendary head coach Jack Harbaugh and was recruited by his son, Jim.
He spent his first years after graduation as an assistant at WKU before new Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh hired him as running backs coach in 2007. He was part of a rebuilding effort that saw the Cardinal go from 1-11 in 2006 to 8-5 in 2009. In Taggart's final season in Palo Alto, Calif., running back Toby Gerhart finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Seeing his role in Stanford's turnaround, WKU hired him in 2010 hoping he could duplicate the feat. The Hilltoppers are the midst of a transition to FBS from FCS (formerly Division I-AA) that began in 2008. In Taggart's first season, WKU matched its win total from 2008 and 2009 combined with a 2-10 record.
Taggart is still in the process of building a talent base, but the team could take a step forward in 2011 with a number of contributors from last season returning. Rainey headlines Hilltopper attack
Senior running back Bobby Rainey headlines the group of returners. He was an absolute workhorse in 2010, leading the nation in carries with 340. He was also fifth nationally with 1,649 yards and ranked in the top 20 in touchdowns with 15. A chunk of that production came in the Hilltoppers' matchup with UK last year. He tallied 184 yards on 22 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the Wildcats' 63-28 victory.
Phillips said that last season's performance was a blow to the Wildcats' pride.
"You cannot allow a team to rush for that many yards on you," Phillips said. "Rushing yards demoralize you. You (have) to stop the run. When people are able to line up and run the ball on you, it's a slap in the face. Last year was a slap in the face the way they ran the ball on us."
There is no doubt that WKU is going to Rainey early and often. He will be an immediate test of the Wildcats' revamped defense under co-coordinator Rick Minter. UK will not hesitate to stack the line of scrimmage against the Hilltopper rushing attack, which will run behind an offensive line that returns three starters.
"To stop the run, sometimes you have to commit to getting enough people in the box to stopping the run, which sometimes hangs guys in the secondary out to dry," Phillips said. "Those guys (have) to compete like the dickens outside because we've got to try to commit extra people to the line of scrimmage."
Third-year starting quarterback Kawuan Jakes will look to make the Wildcats pay for leaving cornerbacks Anthony Mosley and Randall Burden on an island against Jamarielle Brown and his fellow wide receivers. Jakes is fairly athletic, but he spends most of his time in the pocket. The junior completed 51.2 percent of his passes last season for 1,680 yards and 10 touchdowns.
With some uncertainty at the wide receiver position, junior tight end Jack Doyle could prove to be Jakes' favored target. He caught 37 passes for 365 yards as a freshman and was the team's leading receiver with 20 catches in 2010 before his season ended due to injury after seven games. A big target at 6-foot-6 and 248 pounds, he could cause matchup problems for a UK team playing a number of smaller hybrid players along the front seven.
Wildcats not the only ones with new defense
The Hilltoppers were 99th in the country last season, allowing over 33 points per game on the season. The 63 points that UK scored were the most they gave up in 2010. The Wildcats sported a balanced attack, rushing and passing for over 200 yards in a comfortable victory. Junior quarterback Morgan Newton saw mop-up duty, completing two passes for 48 yards.
After a rough defensive 2010, Taggart brought in Lance Guidry as defensive coordinator. Guidry coached defensive backs at Miami (OH) last season before serving as interim head coach for the team's bowl game. UK has looked at tape of the RedHawks in 2010, but Phillips knows there's only so much that can be learned from that.
"You have to watch some film. We watched some Miami film from last year," Phillips said. "We didn't go all the way back to McNeese State where he was at. But we did watch the Miami tape. Sometimes it's hard to get the guys to focus. Hey, we're not playing Miami, we're playing Western Kentucky, so we'll focus just on the scheme."
Three new starters at linebacker will look to lead the charge under Guidry, including the presidentially-named Andrew Jackson. The sophomore played just one game last season, but has emerged in camp as a leader. WKU will turn to two more sophomores in the secondary. Arius Wright and Tyree Robinson entered the starting lineup were inserted into the starting lineup during the season in 2010 and showed significant potential.
With Newton throwing to an inexperienced receiving corps, expect UK to rely heavily on an experienced offensive line and running backs Raymond Sanders (who scored a pair of touchdowns against WKU last year) and freshman Josh Clemons to set up the pass, but UK will certainly look to capitalize on Newton's ability to throw the ball down field.
"We haven't changed much offensively," Phillips said. "We'll look the same. I think this guy that we have pulling the trigger can stretch the field. I'm really excited to watch him play."
Motivation shouldn't be an issue as these two in-state rivals open the season on an NFL field in Nashville. The Hilltoppers, playing as the home team, will view the game as a big opportunity for the program and will not be afraid of the Wildcats. They will look to establish the run and control time of possession with Rainey. Kentucky has plenty to prove though with new starters all along the offense and a much-talked about new defensive scheme. The Wildcats will be far from a finished product on Thursday, no matter how well they play, but watching how Newton has developed and the aggressiveness of the new defense will be interesting to watch.
We are closing in on 24 hours until the Kentucky Wildcats kickoff the 2011 season against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at 9:15 p.m. ET on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. We will have a detailed look at the Hilltoppers later, but in the mean team, below is information about parking, tickets and pre-game entertainment from the Nashville Sports Council.
Please note that all times listed below are EASTERN. Nashville is in the CENTRAL time zone.
Traffic / Directions
Fans that have pre-purchased parking passes, detailed directions to LP Field lots are located on the back of each assigned parking pass with specific instructions on stadium ingress.
For fans that do not have a pre-purchased parking pass, directions to LP Field are as follows:
From North of Nashville: Proceed south on I-65 to I-24 east and exit at James Robertson Parkway. This is now Interstate Drive, stay in the right lane. Go through first traffic light (crossing over James Robertson Parkway) and through the second traffic light (crossing over Woodland Street). Shoney's is on the corner of Woodland Street and Interstate Drive. Take the next right onto Russell Street. Turn left onto 2nd street; follow directional signs to parking lots.
From South of Nashville: Proceed north on I-65 to I-40 east to I-24 west and exit on the Shelby Street exit. Go left at the light onto Shelby Street. Proceed over the bridge and through the light, to 2nd street, follow directional signs to parking lots.
From East of Nashville: Proceed west on I-40 to I-24 west and exit at Shelby Street. Go left at the light onto Shelby Street over the bridge and through the light. Go right on 2nd street; follow directional signs to parking lots. From West of Nashville: Proceed east on I-40 to I-65 north to I-24 east and exit at James Robertson Parkway. This is now Interstate Drive, stay in the right lane. Go through first traffic light (crossing over James Robertson Parkway) and through the second traffic light (crossing over Woodland Street). Shoney's is on the corner of Woodland Street and Interstate Drive The next right is Russell Street. Take Russell Street and follow directional signs to parking lots. Parking options: Gameday parking at LP Field is not sold out. Lots A, B, E and F are available and passes can be purchased on-site at LP Field available lots. Parking passes are $20 per pass. Lots are open to fans beginning at 3 p.m ET. Fans interested in alternate parking options not at the stadium, please visit http://www.parkitdowntown.com/. The Woodland Street Bridge will be open to vehicle traffic.
Tickets for the College Colors Day Kickoff Game featuring Western Kentucky and Kentucky are on sale through Ticketmaster.com and are available at any Ticketmaster outlet including the LP Field Box Office. The LP Field Box Office opens at 11 a.m. ET LP Field gates open two hours prior to kickoff.
Prior to kickoff, a free pregame concert featuring Mercury Recording Artist Laura Bell Bundy will take place at Nashville's downtown (west side of Cumberland River) Riverfront Park. FREE Pregame Concert Information
Featured Artist: Laura Bell Bundy, Mercury Records Recording Artist Opening Artist: Brittini Black Where: Downtown, Riverfront Park Cost: FREE Concert Time: 6:30 - 8 p.m. ET *There will be vendors on-site for food & beverages Concert talent provided by The Art of The Game
There was a time, though, when it didn't look like Ukwu would wind up on such a big stage. He always had promising height, but initially the Wolverine star lacked the size to attract top college recruiters.
These days, the junior boasts the body of a top-tier SEC defensive end.
"Now when I'm walking on campus people say that I play for the football team just by seeing my size," Ukwu said. "I've added 15 pounds just since the offseason, and it's all muscle so I'm feeling pretty good."
Second-year UK head coach Joker Phillips was a standout wide receiver for the Wildcats from 1981-84 and directed his squad to a 6-6 regular-season record a year ago and the team's school-record fifth consecutive bowl game. He's ready to take his team to the next level when this season kicks off tomorrow night at 9:15 p.m. ET.
"We're excited about playing," Phillips said. "We've been beating up on each other for a month now. It's game week and you can feel it around our place with our players, especially our older players. It's starting to rub off on some of these young kids that understand how to handle themselves and prepare themselves for game week."
On Wednesday, Calipari showed his late-game magic isn't bounded by the United States' borders. Leading the Dominican Republic National Team in its second game in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship, Coach Cal's team pulled off a double-digit, fourth-quarter comeback to stun Venezuela 92-89 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
The Dominicans trailed Venezuela 49-41 at the half and 74-63 after three quarters, but Calipari's team tightened up its defense and outscored the Venezuelans 29-15 in the final period. The victory essentially assures the Dominican Republic will make it out of group play.
Trevathan admits that initially his new role is out of his comfort zone, but said Phillips helped convince him that it would be a key to UK's success this fall. While the prospect of "coming at grown men" didn't seem like his idea of a good time -- "guys have attitudes; guys don't like to be corrected" -- Trevathan has come around.
"I'm putting those pieces together," he said. "I'm finally seeing that I've got to be that man. Sometimes you've got to step out of your element and just try to help the young guys. Me being more vocal is going to help us be a better defense."
Turner called the defensive line the foundation to a defense. UK Coach Joker Phillips echoed his assistant by calling defensive tackle a key position to watch when the Cats open the season Thursday night against Western Kentucky.
If WKU tailback Bobby Rainey can duplicate last season's 184 yards and two touchdowns against UK, the opener might be more interesting than Kentucky would prefer.
"For us to stop the run, you have to have some big guys inside," Phillips said.
Here's one thing they can't hide: Matthews is 6-foot-5, rare height for a wideout. Browns camp is full of tall ones. Matthews is easily the tallest. He grew up thinking with each acrobatic dunk that the NBA was for him. He was a small forward, a bit too small, it turned out, for that dream. Yet, it's easy to tell when you talk to him that his NFL dream is very big, and very real to him.
Matthews exudes confidence. He plans to stay. It's not up to him.
Woodyard at 6-foot, 222 pounds seemed particularly miscast as an inside linebacker in Denver's 3-4 scheme the past couple sesaons. But with D.J. Williams out possibly a month with an elbow injury, and Denver's new 4-3 scheme featuring speed and attacking principles, Woodyard gets a chance to be an every-down contributor and could be a good fit.
With Evans gone, Johnson now becomes the No. 1 option and the unquestioned leader of the Bills' receiving corp, although it sounds like Johnson would like to share the leadership responsibilities.
"Why can't there be more than one? Who said there can't be more than one leader?" he said on Tuesday. "That's what I'm trying to build. Obviously the attention is on me but I feel like as a leader I want to create other leaders and not followers."
Coming to UK from the Cincinnati Bengals before the 2010 season, UK strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver has garnered quite the reputation for his tough workouts. The conditioning of last year's team improved significantly and it showed in the way UK was able to finish games. Here is a video that shows some of UK's training over the summer.
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. Last but not least, we profile the quarterbacks.
Joker Phillips' philosophy
"First of all, a quarterback has to be intelligent. He has to be a guy whose brain fires fast because things happen so fast and there are all kinds of adjustments you have to make in a short period of time. The guy has to be big, strong and he has to make great decisions."
Spotlight: Newton ready to lose red jersey, open season
Morgan Newton enters his junior season having won five of his nine career starts. (UK Athletics)
Preparing for the 2011 season, Morgan Newton has essentially been playing with one hand tied behind his back.
For his protection, Newton has worn a red jersey throughout spring practices and fall camp, meaning the defense has not been allowed to hit the junior quarterback. What it has also meant is that Newton has had to stay in the pocket, unable to use his abilities as a scrambler
As the only experienced quarterback on the roster, it simply did not make sense for the coaching staff to risk Newton's health, but taking away his weapons as a runner has hampered his game. However, when the Wildcats open the season against Western Kentucky on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn., offensive coordinator Randy Sanders knows that getting that red jersey off Newton will add a new dimension to the UK attack.
"When the quarterback can pull it down and run when everything is covered and still make yards, it's a great bonus for you," Sanders said. "That's something that's been missing in our scrimmages."
Although he certainly recognizes how valuable his scrambling can be, Newton is not ashamed to say that there are times when he has been very thankful that some of the hard-hitters on the defense haven't able to do anything more than touch him.
"I don't mind the red jersey right now," Newton said with a smile on his face. "With Danny (Trevathan) and Winston (Guy), let them hit the young guys. I'll be excited to come and play though, so that will be nice."
Simulating quarterback runs in practice has been nearly impossible. When the defense rushes the passer, it needs only two-hand touch to register a sack. In a real game, though, the 6-foot-4, 235 pound Newton will be much more difficult to bring down. His ability to extend plays with his feet and strength can't be measured until he plays a real game.
"You can't really simulate quarterback runs in practice because I have the red jersey on," Newton said. "I kind of look at it as one of the things that's only going to add to my game once we play. I've been focusing on being a passer and working hard on the run game."
Even though Newton had a limited understanding of the playbook as a freshman (head coach Joker Phillips says he knew "nothing"), his tools as a runner helped him to win five of his eight starts filling in for the injured Mike Hartline. His ability to make plays with his feet had to be accounted for by opposing defenses, which made passing from the pocket that much easier.
"It brings a lot to the game," Sanders said. "When you have a quarterback that can pull it down and pick up yards rushing, it changes the way teams rush you. They have to be a little more accountable for staying in their lanes and trying to get pressure that way. When guys have to stay in their lanes, it makes it easier on the offensive line. You have to give teams credit; sometimes they're going to cover you."
With two full years in the system under his belt, Newton has grown leaps and bounds in terms of his understanding of the offense. Instead of making one read and pulling it down to run, Newton is able go through his progressions and evaluate the best option. His experience in practices of not being able to run has been a key component of developing that.
"The more reps you get as a quarterback seeing routes develop, seeing them happen fast and having to do it with a rush while you're having to move in the pocket is invaluable," Sanders said. "You can't simulate those in individual drills. The more 11-on-11 snaps he gets and the more time he spends in the pocket, the more comfortable he'll be."
Newton's development as a pocket passer means Sanders will be more comfortable calling plays where he is called on to sit in the pocket. As a freshman, the Wildcats employed a number of "play-action runs" where Newton would feign dropping back to pass knowing he would run. In 2011, Sanders said that Newton's runs will be almost exclusively improvisational.
"I think there will be fewer designed runs because he can do more," Sanders said. "Sometimes we had him drop back to pass, but it was a designed run. I think his runs now will be more reaction to what the defense has done or lane opening up when he drops back to pass or things being covered."
Gone are the days when UK would only ask Newton to manage games. He will be called upon to make plays with both his arm and his feet.
"If you're going to judge Morgan, he's won games around here as a starter," Phillips said. "People talk about managing the game. I want a quarterback that can manage the game. I want a quarterback that can help us win games also. I think Morgan is ready for that."
Phillips called the difference between the Newton that played in the BBVA Compass Bowl and the Newton that will play against Western Kentucky "night and day."
"You won't recognize the guy that we had in the bowl game," Phillips said. "I mean, he's a lot different than what we saw in the bowl game. He's much improved. A lot of it has to do with his confidence. A lot of it has to do with getting reps and understanding of schemes better, understanding our protection."
Freshman Maxwell Smith - In a perfect world, Smith won't play a meaningful snap in 2010. However, Phillips and Sanders have both said they are more comfortable playing Smith than they were playing Newton during his freshman year in 2009. He arrived on campus in Dec. 2010, and has had nearly nine months to gain experience. The staff has no intentions of redshirting the California native.
Freshman Theltus 'Bookie' Cobbins - Cobbins is an athletic dual-threat quarterback. He was not called on to throw a great deal in high school, so he has some developing to do before he is ready to play. However, Cobbins had the confidence and leadership skills necessary to succeed at the position.
John Calipari and the Dominican Republic National Team moved to 2-0 in group play of the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship with a 92-89 win over Venezuela. (UK Athletics)
Trailing by 11 points after three quarters, the John Calipari-coached Dominican Republic National Team outscored Venezuela 29-15 in the four quarter en route to a 92-89 victory. Just as in the team's first game of the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship, Al Horford led the Dominicans in scoring, putting in 19 points. Jack Michael Martinez had his second consecutive double-double, pouring in 18 points and 14 rebounds.
The Dominican Republic moves to 2-0 in group play with the win with games against Canada and group favorite Brazil to follow on Thursday and Friday. The top four teams from Group A will advance to the knockout round of the event. The two opening wins for the Dominicans makes advancing to the next round nearly a certainty.
A win over Canada would indeed clinch that spot. The game tomorrow will be at 5:00 p.m. ET. Make sure to follow @CoachCaldotcom on Twitter for real-time updates.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Aug. 28:
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Arin Gilliland scored her first collegiate goal in Kentucky's 2-1 win over Eastern Kentucky ... After playing the entire first half on the defensive back line, Gilliland was moved up top to help generate offense ... Trailing EKU 1-0 late in the second half, Gilliland drew a foul inside the box resulting in a PK for the Wildcats, UK would convert with 10 minutes left in the match to tie ... Gilliland then scored the game-winner with just over two minutes left in the match
Women's soccer: Kelsey Hunyadi
Kelsey Hunyadi netted two goals in two matches on the week including an assist on the game-winning goal against Ohio ... She is the first player in program history to have scored a goal in each of UK's first three games of the season ... Against Eastern Kentucky, Hunyadi scored the game-tying goal off a penalty kick with 10 minutes left ... Against Ohio, Hunyadi put the Wildcats ahead 1-0 with her third goal in as many matches this season ... She then assisted on the winning goal nine minutes later collecting her first assist of the season.
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Junior Stephanie Klefot began the 2011 season right where she left off from a season ago. Klefot was tremendous in leading the Wildcats to a 2-1 record which included an upset of No. 23 Tulsa on the weekend. She averaged 5.08 digs per set and posted 20 or more digs in two matches, while reaching double figures in all three matches. She has now posted 40 matches in her career with 10 or more digs and 14 career matches with 20 or more scoops. She was served at 86 times and committed just five errors for an impressive .942 percentage. Klefot's exceptional passing and defensive effort helped propel UK's setter Elizabeth Koberstein to 70 assists in a win against Tulsa to become the first player since 2006 to tally 70 or more helpers. Klefot currently ranks second in the league in digs per set, but tops the league in total digs thus far into the season.
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Freshman Jackie Napper made a significant positive impact for the Wildcats in the opening weekend of action. In her first collegiate match she picked up a career-best 14 digs in a win over Albany. She also totaled 13 in the victory against No. 23 Tulsa. Her 2.42 digs per set ranked second on the team, and her .959 reception percentage was tops among defensive specialists. Napper is the first true freshman defensive specialist in the Craig Skinner era to begin her career with two of her first three matches posting 10 or more digs, and first with 10 or more scoops in her very first collegiate match. The last player to achieve the feat was former UK great and two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jenni Casper who had eight digs in her first match and then posted double-figures in the next two matches.
Volleyball: Becky Pavan
Senior Becky Pavan was named to the FSU Invitational All-Tournament team following a terrific opening weekend of action in leading UK to a 2-1 record which included an upset of No. 23 Tulsa. Pavan matched a career-high kill output with 19 kills in the win over Tulsa. She also tossed down 18 in a win over Albany. In both of those matches she used an above .500 attacking clip. Pavan led the team in kills and blocks in both of Kentucky's wins. As a middle blocker/right side hitter she also had five digs in a pair of matches. Her three assists against the Golden Hurricane also matched a career-best, showing her versatility. Her hitting percentage ranks as the fourth best in the league while also ranking seventh in kills per set average.
Men's soccer: Tyler Riggs
Had a breakout weekend in the season-opening wins over Dayton and No. 9 Michigan, coming off the bench in both games to lead the Wildcats to wins with three total goals ... Netted the game-winning goal in both games on opening weekend, getting the Wildcats on the board in a win over Dayton on Friday night in front of 1,334 fans at the UK Soccer Complex ... With UK trailing No. 9 Michigan in the 78th minute on Sunday, Riggs came off the bench to net the game-tying goal in traffic inside the six-yard box, then finding the net under four minutes later with the game-winning goal in the 82nd minute on a breakaway, beating the standout UM keeper one vs. one ... Riggs' first career two-goal game marked the 56th all-time multi-goal in UK men's soccer history, leading UK to its first win over a top-10 ranked foe since besting No. 1 SMU in 2007 in Lexington ... The win over Michigan was UK's second in the last three games, with the Wildcats victory coming over a Michigan club that advanced to the NCAA College Cup last season ... A 2010 All-Conference USA and freshman All-Conference USA selection, Riggs led UK with five goals as a freshman, needing just two games into 2011 to net three goals on six total shots.
John Calipari and the Dominican Republic National Team opened play in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship with a 90-60 win over Cuba. Al Horford led all scorers with 24 points and Jack Michael Martinez had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
After the game, Calipari took to Twitter to discuss the win and put the pressure he is facing as coach into perspective.
"Really proud of how we opened the FIBA Americas Championship," Calipari said. "We're getting better (and) everyone wants to be coached. After the game I was asked if I was feeling the pressure of trying to qualify the (Dominican Republic) for the Olympics. I said, 'You don't understand, Kentucky is like a country. There is only one thing UK fans want to do and that's win national titles. It's not qualifying for national titles; it's about winning them.'"
The game was the first of four games the Dominicans will play in Group A, where Brazil is the favorite to advance. The two top finishers in the tournament will advance to the London Olympics, with the third, fourth and fifth place teams earning a chance to play in another qualifying tournament immediately preceding the Olympics.
After starring at UK, Tim Masthay went to win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2010-11. (UK Athletics)
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. This week, we take a look at Super Bowl champion Tim Masthay.
The skinny Tim Masthay, a former All-American UK punter, enters his second season as the starting punter for the NFL's Green Bay Packers. UK background Masthay came to UK from Murray, Ky., in 2005 as a basketball, football and baseball star. He earned a role as the starting punter immediately, handling every punt for the Wildcats during his freshman season and averaging 36.4 yards on 54 punts. He returned in 2006 much-improved. He upped his yards per punt average to 39.2 and UK used his athleticism on a handful of trick plays. He ran for 17 yards on a fake punt against South Carolina and threw a 10-yard pass for a first down during a Music City Bowl victory. He also handled kickoff duties and had 12 touchbacks in 59 kickoffs. During his junior year, he earned UK Special Teams Player of the Year honors, increasing his punting average to 39.8 yards. As a senior, he took things to another level. He averaged 45.2 yards per punt and led the SEC with 23 touchbacks.
Professional update Masthay's stellar senior season earned him a spot in training camp with the Indianapolis Colts. He competed for a roster spot with former West Virginia punter Pat McAfee, eventually losing out. Knowing how rare it is for punters to catch on with an NFL team right out of college, Masthay rededicated himself to his craft. When he arrived to training camp with the Green Bay Packers in 2010, he was a different player and took over as the starter. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing when the regular season started. His early season struggles were punctuated by a disastrous game against the rival Chicago Bears in week three. He averaged 50.0 yards per punt, but all three were returned by Devin Hester, including a crucial touchdown in the fourth quarter that propelled the Bears to a 20-17 victory.
Masthay, though, bounced back. He played a crucial role as the Packers earned a wild card berth in the NFC, including the final game of the regular season against the Bears. He punted in eight times in wintry conditions, four of which landed inside the 20-yard line. In the playoffs, his season came full circle as the Packers faced Hester and the Bears for a third time. In a tight 21-14 win that sent Green Bay to the Super Bowl, Masthay again punted eight times. This time, five of his efforts ended up inside the 20-yard line. The Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. Our penultimate preview is a very competitive group: the tight ends. Joker Phillips' philosophy
"The tight end position is a unique position in football, especially in our system. A tight end has to be a guy that can really block like an offensive lineman, but also run like a wide receiver and be as nifty as a wide receiver. That's a really unique position in our offense. He has to be a smart guy because we like to line our tight ends up at numerous positions on the football field and it only helps if he has some smarts to him." Spotlight: Aumiller 'settles in' at tight end, earns starting role
Jordan Aumiller has earned the starting tight end role after making 18 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown in 2010
This time a year ago, Jordan Aumiller's head was swimming.
Coming to Kentucky from Danville, Ky., Aumiller spent a redshirt season in 2009 playing linebacker for the scout team. He twice earned Scout Team Player of the Week honors and seemed poised to start on UK's defense sooner rather than later.
Heading into the 2010 season, things changed. His coaches made the decision to deploy his 6-foot-4, 231-pound frame at tight end. He spent spring practice trying to learn the position and headed into fall camp with barely a dozen practices under his belt. Even with minimal experience, he managed to play himself into a regular role, catching 18 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Aumiller, though, did not fully adjust to the role in his first season at tight end. Now, with a full season under his belt, Aumiller is at ease.
"It was a big adjustment coming from linebacker to tight end," Aumiller said. "Now, I feel a lot more confident and I'm a lot more comfortable doing everything in the system compared to last year. I had 15 practices in the spring, then I came into camp, so I kind of felt nervous. This was my first real camp that I feel like I've been settled in."
Tight end had seen one of the most competitive position battles of any during fall camp, with four returnees who saw game experience in 2010. Senior Nick Melillo and sophomores Anthony Kendrick, Tyler Robinson and Aumiller hit the field every day aware of what was at stake, which made practices intense.
"It's been a stressful competition and the guys know they can't relax at all," tight ends coach Greg Nord said. "They have to go out and perform every day. They have to win their job every play, every drill. We've been able to keep the heat on them, which hopefully will translate into making them more game ready."
Although he doesn't deny the competitiveness among the tight ends, Aumiller says that their friendships have made the battle enjoyable.
"It was a lot of fun to push each other every day and we're all good buddies," Aumiller said. "So we know we have to go out there and bust our tail every day and do what Coach Nord asks of us."
The confidence that Aumiller has developed through a year of experience at tight end has shown throughout the competition. Nord has been waiting for one of his guys to grab hold of the job, and that's just what Aumiller has done.
"I think he's separated himself a little bit from the other guys," Nord said of Aumiller, "and that's what I was looking for in camp: the one guy who is our starting tight end. You don't have to mull it over, you know that's your starting tight end and you know who your backup is and what your alternative plans are if something happens from there. I think he's distinguished himself."
When talking about what has allowed him to emerge, Aumiller credits his confidence and what he has learned from Nord. The second-year coach's arrival coincided with Aumiller's transition to tight end and his teachings are manifested in him.
"I've been trying to put on tape of what Coach Nord teaches us, the techniques and different things," Aumiller said. "That's what he always says, he wants to see us put it on tape and I was doing that on a consistent level."
Aumiller's consistency stems from the fact that he is now well-versed in the offense and has moved on from trying to understand what he has to do to trying to learn why he's being asked to do it.
"He's become a pro, and by that I mean he studies the game, he doesn't accept failure, he wants to make sure he knows why we're asking him to do something," Nord said. "Once you start understanding that, then you can develop into a good player. If he knows why we're asking him to use certain footwork on a block, he realizes he needs to do that."
For a tight end in UK's offense, blocking is a must. The frequency with which multiple tight end sets are used in the running game makes the muscle that Aumiller has added in the offseason that much more important. Aumiller admits that he prefers being a receiver, but his background as a linebacker means he won't shy away from contact.
"One play you're down blocking a big d-lineman or reaching a linebacker and then going out and running a pass route against a safety," Aumiller said. "You have to do all different things. I definitely like running routes, but I don't mind blocking at all."
In the passing game, the best tight ends excel at exploiting mismatches. Aumiller recognizes that and is equally comfortable against either a bigger or smaller defender.
"Either one, I'll take it," Aumiller said. "If you have a bigger, slower linebacker I can beat him down the field on a corner route. Against someone smaller, I can win a jump ball."
Kentucky fans have been waiting three years for a player to step into the void at tight end left by current Indianapolis Colt Jacob Tamme. As luck would have it, Tamme and Aumiller are both graduates of Boyle County High School in Danville, Ky., and Nord believes Aumiller has a good chance at becoming the kind of safety blanket that Tamme was for Andre' Woodson.
"As a quarterback, you hope you have a tight end that you can get the ball to and count on to get you out of a pinch," Nord said. "It's usually routes that are a little bit more high-percentage than perhaps some of the other downfield throws we've got. Sometimes it's easier to get the ball to a tight end. It's not always the case, but certainly having one additional receiver there helps you."
Senior Nick Melillo - The converted wide receiver is currently listed second on UK's depth chart. He missed the first half of 2010 with a high ankle sprain, but returned to make a start against Vanderbilt. He made just one catch last season but has improved significantly as a blocker.
Sophomore Tyler Robinson - The Alcoa, Tenn., native played in 11 games and made three starts as a freshman, catching 11 balls for 80 yards and a touchdown. He has the combination of size and skill needed at the position and should contribute this year.
Sophomore Anthony Kendrick - Kendrick, like Aumiller and Robinson, got a start in 2010. He didn't see the field as a tight end until the final two games of the season, but started the bowl game and caught two passes for 19 yards. He is also a converted wide receiver, but his big body (6-foot-3, 264 pounds) gives him a chance to be a solid blocker as well.
Freshman Ronnie Shields - Shields may have four guys with playing experience in front of him at tight end, but his athleticism has coaches high on his long-term potential. Playing for a run-based attack in high school, he has established skills as a blocker as well.
Joker Phillips held his weekly press conference (video above) ahead of Thursday night's season opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville. In the way of breaking news, there is not much to report, but here are a few storylines that came to light on Monday.
Depth chart taking shape
For the first time since the beginning of camp, a full depth chart was released. With three days to go before the opener, it is obviously subject to change, but there is a lot of information to be gleaned from the preliminary depth chart.
The first thing that jumps out to me is how much experience is at the top of the roster. Among 12 listed starters on offense, there are four seniors, five juniors, two sophomores and one freshman. On the defensive side, there are even more veterans. Listed first on the depth chart at 12 starting positions are seven seniors, four juniors and one sophomore.
Although experienced, the two-deep depth chart is not without young talent. Most notably, freshman Josh Clemons is listed second at tailback behind only Raymond Sanders. Clemons has been raved about by coaches and teammates for his physical tools and his spot on the depth chart is confirmation of the hype.
Joining Clemons in the backfield is freshman D.J. Warren, who is listed first among fullbacks. Warren has been talked about during camp as the future of the fullback position at UK, but it looks like he is also the present. The Wildcats still figure to use a great deal of tight end heavy sets in run situations, but Phillips said they won't be afraid to use Warren either.
"We're not going to shy away because we have a young guy at fullback," Phillips said. "We'll play him. The reason why he's there is because he's talented enough."
On the other side of the ball, sophomore defensive tackle Donte Rumph is the youngest listed starter. Rumph had a two-year journey after high school to get to UK and made 12 tackles in 2010, but is being looked to as a key cog on the defensive front. Phillips reported that Rumph has been dominant at times in camp, giving the Wildcats a kind of player they haven't had in a while.
"He's 325 pounds, really strong, explosive, understands how to come out of his hips, use his hands, get off blocks," Phillips said. "He's an SEC three technique. He's what we see every week. It's a look we hadn't seen here in a long time."
With the amount of looks UK will show defensively, Rumph won't be on the field all the time. When he is, along with fellow sophomore defensive tackle Mister Cobble, he'll be very important to what the defense tries to do. Western Kentucky a 'barometer' for Cats
The Hilltoppers may have been 2-10 under first-year head coach Willie Taggart in 2010, but they will present challenges, particularly in the running game. Running back Bobby Rainey returns for his senior year after rushing for 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Rainey tallied 183 of those yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Wildcat defense last season, something that Phillips said cannot repeat itself.
"You cannot allow a team to rush for that many yards on you," Phillips said. "Rushing yards demoralize you. You've got to stop the run. When people are able to line up and run the ball on you, it's a slap in the face. Last year was a slap in the face the way they ran the ball on us."
UK's offense bailed out the defense, outscoring the Hilltoppers 63-28. With new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter having installed his new scheme, this game gives the Wildcats a chance to see the progress they've made.
"This is a good game for us trying to see how much we've improved," Phillips said. "I really think that we've improved a lot, but this game will be a barometer to see how much we've improved."
UK has had to settle for intra-squad competition since fall camp started and the team is excited about finally facing another opponent.
"We're excited about playing," Phillips said. "We've been beating up on each other for a month now. It's game week. You can feel it around our place with our players, especially our older players, and it's starting to rub off on some of these young kids that understand how to handle themselves and prepare themselves for what is game week." Offensive line headlines injury report
Outside of losing freshman wide receiver Daryl Collins to a season-ending knee injury, UK has escaped serious injury since the beginning of fall camp. However, the offensive line has been consistently banged up. Compared to a couple weeks ago when four of five starters were out with injuries, the group is significantly healthier, but guard Stuart Hines and center Matt Smith are still recovering.
Hines only recently returned to practice and has done so successfully, but he will likely not start the opener. Sophomore Kevin Mitchell will go in his place, but Hines is expected to dress and see game action. Smith will be handled in the same way, with senior Jake Lanefski expected to fill in when Smith cannot play. The good news is that, with the number of injuries on the line during camp, Mitchell and Lanefski have played significant time with the first team.
Wide receiver Gene McCaskill and defensive tackle Donte Rumph are both projected starters who missed time earlier in camp due to injury, but both have returned to full-speed practices and are not expected to be limited on Thursday.
Other players who have missed practice time recently include tight end Tyler Robinson and safety Taiedo Smith. Both are expected to play.
Men's soccer - The Wildcats posted a 2-0-0 mark on the week with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Eastern Kentucky and a 2-1 victory over Ohio. - The win over Ohio marked the second straight year the Wildcats have opened 3-0-0. Kentucky's best start to a season was in 2001 when the Cats won their first seven out of the gate. - The wins also marked the most victories by Kentucky in the month of August, besting the previous high of two set in 2000, '09 and '10. - Kelsey Hunyadi became the first Wildcat in program history to record a goal in each of the first three games of the season. It's also the second straight season Hunyadi has tallied three goals through the first three matches of the season.
Men's soccer - The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a stellar opening weekend with two wins at the UK Soccer Complex, besting Dayton 2-0 in the season lidlifter and posting a dramatic 2-1comeback win over No. 9 Michigan on Sunday night. Kentucky rode breakout offensive performances from Tyler Riggs, C.J. Tappel, Dylan Asher and Charles Pettys during the weekend. Riggs provided the heroics, netting game-winning goals in both games, including his first career two-goal game in the comeback win over UM. Riggs, a native of Louisville, Ky., came off the bench on Friday night to give UK a 1-0 lead with his sixth career goal, leading UK to the win. - On Sunday, UK faced a 1-0 hole in the 78th minute, when Riggs connected on the game-tying goal off the bench, adding the game-winning goal in the 82nd minute. Pettys and Asher each notched two-assist games, with Pettys handing out two assists on Friday and Asher notching his first two career assists on Riggs' goals Sunday. Tappel netted a goal and added an assist in the win on Friday. - UK's victory over Michigan marked the first win over a top-10 ranked foe since the Wildcats sprang a 2-1 comeback win over No. 1 SMU in 2007 at the UK Soccer Complex. UK has now won two of the last three meetings between the two clubs, with UM coming off its most successful season in program history, advancing to the NCAA College Cup. - The win on Friday night marked UK head coach Ian Collins 200th career victory, with the 19th-year UK head man owning 190 career wins as a Wildcat.
Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team began the 2011 season with a 2-1 record which included a victory over No. 23 Tulsa to cap off the weekend at the Florida State Invitational. - Kentucky was led offensively by FSU Invitational All-Tournament team members Becky Pavan and Gretchen Giesler. Pavan and Giesler, both seniors matched career-high kill totals in the win over the Golden Hurricane. - Freshman Jackie Napper ranked second on the team in digs per stanza and became the first player since Jenni Casper in 2003 to earn 10 or more digs in two of her first three career matches. - Sophomore setter Elizabeth Koberstein was phenomenal for the Blue and White. She dished out 70 assists in the win over Tulsa, finding four players for double-figure kill efforts. Koberstein is the first player since Sarah Rumely in 2006 to post 70 or more helpers in a match. - UK will now remain home for its next 10 matches of the season. The Wildcats own an .800 winning clip in Memorial Coliseum in the Craig Skinner era.
Tuesday, August 30 Volleyball hosts Cincinnati - 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, September 1 Football vs. Western Kentucky - 9:15 p.m. (Nashville, Tenn.)
Friday, September 2 Women's soccer vs. Central Michigan - 5:00 p.m. (Louisville, Ky.) Volleyball hosts Western Kentucky - 7:00 p.m. Men's soccer hosts Wright State - 7:30 p.m. Cross country at Belmont-VU Opener (Nashville, Tenn.)
Saturday, September 3 Volleyball hosts Ohio - 11:00 a.m. Volleyball hosts Virginia Tech - 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 4 Women's soccer vs. Baylor - Noon (Louisville, Ky.) Men's soccer hosts IUPUI - 2:30 p.m.
Later this morning, I will be heading to Joker Phillips' weekly press conference as football prepares for its season-opener against Western Kentucky at 9:15 p.m. ET. Metz Camfield and I will be hosting a live blog beginning a few minutes before 12:00 p.m., so make sure to stop by.
This weekend was an eventful one for UK Athletics, so let's wrap up some of the more notable happenings:
Ian Collins and men's soccer had a big weekend. Playing games on Friday and Sunday night, the Wildcats opened the season with a pair of big wins over Dayton and Michigan. The victory over Dayton was a dominating 2-0 result, building confidence heading into a showdown with ninth-ranked Michigan. Down 1-0 with less than 15 minutes remaining, Tyler Riggs scored a pair of goals (both assisted by Dylan Asher) to lead his team to the upset. The game was the second in a row that Riggs came off the bench to score the game-winning goal. The sophomore led UK with five goals in his first season, but has already scored three in just his first two games of 2011.
Volleyball also opened its season this weekend, making a trip down south for the Florida State Tournament. The Wildcats won their debut 3-1 over Albany before losing Friday evening to the hosting Seminoles. They rebounded on Saturday, though, posting a dramatic 3-2 upset win over No. 23 Tulsa. UK hosts Cincinnati at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday for their home opener in Memorial Coliseum.
Former UK outfielder Collin Cowgill had struggled since his call-up to the big-league Arizona Diamondbacks in July. He was batting just 3-of-29 over 14 games, showing little of the dominant form that had earned him a spot in the majors. Well, Cowgill ended his slump on Sunday. In a 6-1 win that extended the D-backs leads in the NL West to four games, Cowgill had four hits in four at-bats, including a home run, a double and a pair of runs batted in.
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. Today we take a look at one of the younger and more inexperienced units on the team: the tailbacks.
Joker Phillips' philosophy
"Out of the running back position, first of all you have to be a durable guy to be able to play in this league. You have to be a strong, tough guy that's physical and athletic. In our offense, you have to be able to run inside, you have to be able to run outside and you also have to be able to catch the football. We line our backs up at a number of different spots on the field so the guy has to be a smart guy and understand where he needs to line up."
Spotlight: Sanders ready to take over leadership role with tailbacks
Tailback Raymond Sanders is UK's leading returning rusher with 254 yards and three touchdowns. (UK Athletics)
Raymond Sanders enters the 2011 season as a sophomore with career totals of 68 carries and 254 yards. Believe it or not, Sanders also enters the year as the tailback on the University of Kentucky football team with the most carries and most yards.
When talking to Sanders or running backs coach Steve Pardue, you'd never know just how inexperienced he and the other tailbacks really are. Standing at 5-foot-8 with an infectious smile and outgoing personality, Sanders oozes confidence, but not cockiness.
"Being a sophomore, I'm still young, I still have a lot to learn, I never can stop learning," Sanders said. "I'm still going to continue to grow and continue to be anxious to know more and better myself."
Competing in a conference featuring the likes of South Carolina sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, the reigning national freshman of the year, and Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson, one of the preseason Heisman favorites, Sanders hasn't gotten much hype entering his sophomore season.
As a freshman, Sanders wasn't "the guy". That title belonged to Derrick Locke, the speedy senior tailback who had been through the ups and downs during his Kentucky career. Sanders showed promise, though, as a true freshman, competing with fellow freshman Donald Russell for touches. With Locke gone after having used up his four years of eligibility and Russell transferring, it's now up to Sanders to step forward to the front of the stage.
"I've been proud of him, he's done a good job both on and off the field and in the meeting rooms," Pardue said. "He did a good job with the young guys this summer when we couldn't be with them. He had them already kind of a leg up, so he made my job a little easier. And he has a real good understanding of the offense."
Being a leader isn't something new to Sanders, it's a job he says he held back in his high school days. Despite his sophomore standing, it's now a role he is trying to take over again.
"I help (the freshmen) understand things, not just on the field but off the field, how's schoolwork, how to do this, when to manage your time, differently things like that," Sanders said. "They see me as a big brother, someone who they can talk to, not just on the field but in life also."
It's a somewhat awkward position for Sanders to be in. Serving as the big brother is an honorable role, yes, but he's also competing with his "little brothers" so they don't supersede him as the starting tailback. One such player is freshman Josh Clemons, whom the coaches have raved about in practice.
Sanders and Clemons know each other from their "little league football" days growing up near Atlanta. Sanders played for the Tucker Lions while Clemons played for the Fayetteville Blue Devils. Sanders said his team beat Clemons', but that Clemons was always a good player and they have a good bond now. Don't ask him who can bench more though.
"Have you seen his arms?!" Sanders said before breaking out laughing. "Man he has some oversized triceps, he's huge, he's a big cat. We're just going to bring it out here on the field though. We're going to come out here and work and I'm going to stay on him and he knows I'm going to stay on him. I'm not going to let him take a play off."
It's that attitude and overall improvement from spring practice that has Pardue and the Kentucky coaching staff excited for Sanders' play in the upcoming season.
"I think right now he's doing a better job of making quick decisions," Pardue said. "He's making one cut now, where in the spring he wanted to make a couple of cuts and in this league you can't do that, they're going to be on you. He's gotten a lot better there and I think he's gotten a little stronger and faster so that's helped him a lot."
With zero expectations from the media entering the year (several publications list the Kentucky running backs unit at the bottom in the conference), Sanders and Co., have no choice but to try and prove everyone wrong. Don't expect him to be insulted by the low expectations though, that's not in Sanders' personality. Bring up the fact that they're at the bottom of the rankings and Sanders does what he always seems to do; he smiles.
"We're guys who are young but we're going to keep working," Sanders said. "We might not have a star right now, but I feel like we have a couple stars, that as the season progresses are going to come out and catch people's eyes. I feel like I could be one of those guys and the guys beside me - and I say beside me because we're a group. We're going to make some noise in the SEC and be productive."
Freshman Marcus Caffey - Serving as one half of the dynamic freshman running back duo from Georgia, Caffey has been hampered by a bad hamstring. Due to the injury, Caffey has missed some practice touches and is playing a little catch up. Look for Caffey to come on strong toward the middle-to-end of the season.
Freshman Josh Clemons - I'll admit, the first time I saw Clemons I thought he was either a safety or a linebacker. It wasn't until I looked closer that I realized I was seeing the guy coaches and coordinators have been raving over throughout summer camp. The beast from Fayetteville, Ga., rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior and had 25 touchdowns. Look for Clemons to make his mark on the Kentucky rushing attack - and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't take too long, either. Freshman Brandon Gainer - Gainer enters the season after having redshirted as a freshman in 2010. Coming out of high school, Gainer was the No. 15 running back, according to ESPN.com, totaling more than 4,700 rushing yards, along with 37 touchdowns in his high school career. Gainer will be looking to crack into that group of top three backs for Kentucky and earn some carries. Playing in the rugged SEC, don't be surprised if he doesn't.
Sophomore Jonathan George - George played sparingly in 2010 as a redshirt freshman, totaling nine carries for 25 yards. George is thought to be battling with Gainer for the No. 4 spot on the running back depth chart right now behind Sanders, CoShik Williams and Clemons, in no particular order. Similar to Gainer, don't be surprised to see George get some touches, especially with so little experience throughout the unit.
Freshman D.J. Warren - Warren comes to Kentucky from Alcoa, Tenn., the home of UK football legend Randall Cobb. Warren played defensive end and running back in high school ball, but has been moved to fullback for the Wildcats. Pardue has said Warren has had a really good camp at fullback for a freshman, and it sounds as though there's a good shot we'll see Warren on the field sooner rather than later. Junior CoShik Williams - Williams enters the year with the second most carries on the team (38) and should push Sanders each day in practice. After rushing for 95 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries against Charleston Southern, Williams has shown the ability to seize the moment and make his touches count. UK head coach Joker Phillips loves Williams' practice habits and says he's just a solid player all around.
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. Today we will be taking a look at the Wildcats' defensive backfield. Joker Phillips' philosophy
"One corner in the boundary has to be more of a cover guy. In the past, our cover guy we usually put to the field. Now what we do is put our cover guy to the boundary. Usually the (bigger corner) goes to the boundary and is really setting the edge and coming up in support, but we try to put our support people to the field and put our cover guy to the boundary."
Spotlight: Burden's role slightly changed in third year as starter
Heading into his senior year, Randall Burden didn't figure he would come across much that he hadn't seen before.
Senior cornerback Randall Burden returns to UK having started 26 consecutive games (UK Athletics)
With 26 consecutive starts under his belt, Burden had lined up across all the top receivers in the SEC. He had played in some of the nations' most famous venues. He had won some big games and he had lost some big games. He expected to come into his third year as a starter prepared for whatever was in front of him.
Enter new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter and his new scheme. Burden would again be starting at corner, but all of a sudden he was told he would be playing a position that is called a "boundary corner".
"Now, it's something new with Coach Minter," Burden said. "We have a boundary corner and field corner. I'll be playing the boundary corner so that's something new instead of just having a left and right corner."
When initially hearing of his new role, he admittedly did not know what he was in for.
"I didn't really know what it was at first," Burden said.
He wasn't in the dark for long. Essentially, Burden's new role will be covering the wide receiver on the short side of the field. The responsibilities of the boundary corner vary slightly in different defensive schemes, but in Minter's the boundary corner is called on to play one-on-one coverage regularly. Additionally, Burden will need to be able to be effective in playing the run.
"A lot of the boundary corner stuff is that the guy has to be able to play the run in certain situations, but he also has to be a really good cover guy," co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Steve Brown said. "Both he and Anthony Mosley could do that, but we chose to put Randall out there. Most of our guys can play the position because you have to be able to cover as corner period, but we really lean on the boundary corner to be a good cover guy."
Now that Burden knows what's expected of him, he's come to love the new defense. With decreased responsibilities close to the line of scrimmage, Burden said that he expects the secondary to force significantly more turnovers.
"What I like most about it is the emphasis it puts on turnovers," Burden said. "That's really the big thing that I like most about it. The way that the corners and the secondary plays, we don't really play too much down in the box with the linebackers. We stay deep and we'll be able to create more turnovers on balls thrown in the air."
Even though the defense is new as well as Burden's role in it, that doesn't mean the experience he has accrued over the past few seasons should be disregarded.
"It's pretty valuable because I've played just about every SEC receiver," Burden said. "I know what to expect. Going against Florida, they've got the speed. Going against South Carolina, they have the size. You have to put them together and work on it in practice and hopefully you'll be ready in the game."
Brown said that experience is especially valuable at the cornerback position. It doesn't matter how much tape you watch on South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery; you're not going to understand his combination of speed and strength until you step on the field with him.
"When you have familiarity with an opponent, you know how fast he moves and how he does certain things," Brown said. "You're able to get in the flow of playing him a lot sooner as opposed to someone that you've seen for the first time and you don't know much about him. It's hard to get that off of film as opposed to getting that practical experience."
Senior cornerback Anthony Mosley - Mosley will playing opposite Burden as a starting corner and is expected to be a very solid performer. He has emerged as a leader during this offseason after coming from relative obscurity to start 12 games in 2010. Junior safety Martavius Neloms - Neloms has been talked about a great deal during fall camp for his transition from corner to safety. The change has gone smoothly for the Memphis, Tenn., native and Minter will be looking for some big plays out of him at the safety spot.
Senior safety Mychal Bailey - Bailey came to UK last season as a junior college transfer with a reputation for big plays and bigger hits. He played most of last season at safety, but did not make as big of an impact as expected. Many junior college transfers don't realize their potential until their senior years, so keep an eye out for a breakout from Bailey. Junior cornerback Cartier Rice - Rice played in 11 games last year primarily in nickel and dime coverages. He figures to do the same this season and could play significantly more after Mosley and Burden depart at the end of this season. Redshirt freshman safety Miles Simpson - Simpson redshirted last year as a running back, but was converted to safety during the season. Like Winston Guy, he has played primarily in a hybrid safety/linebacker role during camp and could make an impact with his combination of size and speed. Freshman cornerback Dale Trimble - Trimble also redshirted last season. He was named Scout Team Player of the Week four times last year and developed a reputation for being very strong in coverage. Freshman safety Glenn Faulkner - Faulkner was the most highly-touted recruit in UK's 2011 class as a four star safety. Many expect him to make an instant impact, but his late arrival on campus and the time he has missed in camp due to a death in the family have slowed his development. Keep an eye out for him late in the season. Links
University of Kentucky men's basketball senior guard Darius Miller addressed the local media today about his trip to China with the USA team at the World University Games. The USA team finished in fifth place in the tournament. Here are some quick notes from the presser. Video from the presser can be found here.
UK senior guard Darius Miller talked about his experiences in China playing for team USA at the World University Games. (Chet White/UK Athletics)
Miller feels he's ahead of schedule going into season
Miller stressed throughout the presser that he feels as though he's gotten a jump start to the season thanks to his participation in the World University Games. By going up against some of the best collegiate players in the country in practice every day and playing against elite international competition, Miller said he feels like he's ahead of schedule.
As opposed to pick-up games where defense is really optional and players are more or less going through the motions, Miller faced the real deal at the World University Games.
"We did a lot of stuff conditioning-wise, I feel like my body is pretty good right now," Miller said. "... Playing at that high level, I feel like the season's already started for me."
To have Miller, the veteran with the most game minutes under his belt on the team, feeling like he's already in this form is a great thing for the Cats because the younger guys will be able to better see what college ball is like.
Miller looking to improve leadership by example in 2011-12
Staying with the younger guys, one thing I thought was very interesting about the presser today was when Miller talked about last year's team. As we all know, the 2010-11 squad really stepped up at the end of the season en route to making it to Kentucky's first Final Four since 1998. Well, Miller said last year's upperclassmen, himself included, did not do a great job at being leaders by example.
"This is my fourth year," Miller said. "I know what to expect. I know how intense it's going to be. I know what it takes for us to be a really successful team. I have to instill that in the team in the early going, which I don't think I did very well last year.
"I don't think we worked as hard as we should have at the beginning of the season," Miller continued. "Not saying we didn't work hard, but it takes a lot to get where we got last year. We didn't do a good job of leading by example -- the older guys, anyway. We need to do more of that."
Miller and Eloy Vargas will be Kentucky's lone two seniors this year. After having been to the Elite Eight and Final Four in each of the past two seasons, Miller's words should carry a lot of weight to the younger guys.
By all accounts, UK head coach John Calipari's third slew of elite freshmen are complete gym rats and love to work out and fine tune their games. That is a good start, but as Miller was saying, to have a veteran who can show the younger guys the ropes throughout the year would prove to be invaluable.
SEC shines at World University Games
At the World University Games, the US team was led in scoring by a pair of Southeastern Conference players, Vanderbilt sharp shooter John Jenkins (13.5 ppg), and Alabama big man JaMychal Green (12.6). The production from the two first team All-SEC performers points to the development of the conference in basketball.
"We're definitely a real competitive league," Miller said. "John's a great scorer, he can shoot the ball really well. As far as JaMychal, he just dominated, really. He's such a strong guy in the post, he really dominated in the post."
In Dick Vitale's preseason top 40 (yes, it's way too early to have a preseason list), four SEC teams are listed in the top 12, with Kentucky checking in at No. 2, Vanderbilt at No. 5, Florida at No. 10 and Alabama at No. 12.
Upon returning to the United States from his trip to China to play for Team USA in the World University, Darius Miller spent about 10 minutes talking to the media about the experience. Metz Camfield will be bringing you some additional notes later this afternoon, but here is video of Miller's question and answer session.
After practice on Friday, Joker Phillips announced that highly regarded freshman wide receiver Daryl Collins will miss the entire 2011 season with a knee injury. Collins will undergo surgery on Sept. 1 and will be redshirted. Collins was projected to be one of the freshmen most likely to make an impact in his first season, so the injury he sustained earlier this week is a blow. Phillips said the coaching staff was in the process of determining his role when the injury occurred.
Collins sustained the injury earlier this week and Phillips said his loss is a blow because
"He was right on the verge of whether or not he was going to help us," Phillips said. "We were going to continue to work him. It was going to be hard to make that decision for the first game because we wanted to make sure he was going to play enough snaps to play."
Other than that news, Phillips was happy with his team during practice and particularly encouraged that senior guard Stuart Hines was able to play a few snaps for the first time in a while. Phillips also announced that Hines was elected the captain of the offense for the season and linebacker Danny Trevathan was elected the defensive captain.
Jon Hood is beginning the recovery process after surgery to repair a torn ACL. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
I'll be heading to football practice shortly to hear what Joker Phillips has to say and talk to a couple players and coaches, but before I do, here are a couple notes and links:
Some guy named Eric Lindsey wrote an article last night over at CoachCal.com, maybe you've heard of him. In all seriousness, the former Mr. Cat Scratches wrote a great piece about junior guard Jon Hood, who recently had surgery to repair a torn ACL. It covers anything you would want to know about the injury from how Hood is handling to how it happened to how his recovery is proceeding. Hood is also extremely honest in the article about his own game, admitting that he was not working had enough last season. Head on over and give it a read.
Former UK wide receiver Chris Matthews has played with the Cleveland Browns this preseason as an undrafted free agent. He was pretty quiet in the team's first pair of preseason games, but came on to play the fourth quarter last night. Trailing 24-0, the Browns scored two touchdowns, the second of which was a four-yard pass from Jarrett Brown to Matthews. Hopefully the big wide out can parlay the touchdown into significant playing time in his final preseason game and a chance at a roster spot.
I talked about it a bit yesterday, but UK Volleyball begins its 2011 season at the Florida State Tournament today at 11:00 a.m. ET against Albany. If you want to keep up with the team via live in-game updates, follow @KentuckyVB, the official Twitter account of UK Volleyball.
Lastly, UK's women's and men's soccer teams play a rare double header tonight at the UK Soccer Complex. Jon Lipsitz and the UK women try to win their third consecutive game to open the season at 5:00 p.m. ET against the Ohio Bobcats. They will be followed by Ian Collins and the men playing their season-opener against the Dayton Flyers. We will have live blogs of both games beginning about 10 minutes before kickoff.
Junior La'Rod King is the leading returning receiver for UK in 2011. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. Today is a unit with many question marks but still a lot of potential: the wide receivers. Joker Phillips' philosophy
"We're looking for athleticism. A wide receiver has to be athletic, he has to be a guy that can get off the ground, jump and rebound for balls. He has to be a guy that can transition from being a wide receiver to being a running back as soon as the ball touches his hands."
Spotlight: King, receivers look to make themselves heard
In 2010, the University of Kentucky football team was set at wide receiver. Randall Cobb entered the season as the poster child of what the program was looking for in its student-athletes, and Chris Matthews had a world of positivity surrounding him as he entered his second year in the Wildcats' system. Well, in 2011, with Cobb and Matthews gone to the NFL, the Kentucky wide receiving corps will be looking to make a new name for itself.
The guy many people are looking at to help fill the role of Cobb and Matthews is junior wideout La'Rod King. The Radcliff, Ky., native enters the year as Kentucky's top returning receiver with 478 yards receiving one year ago. While those number aren't too eye-opening, the fact that Kentucky's second leading returning "receiver" is sophomore tight end Jordan Aumiller with just 193 yards, and that King is the only returning wide receiver with a touchdown in his collegiate career, shows that the Wildcats will have to have a few players step forward this season.
"It's not so much as being the man, as it is being the leader," King said. "My biggest thing is making sure everybody's on the same page as far as what our goals are as a receiving corps, lining up, doing the extra work with the quarterbacks, pretty much just doing your individual job to help the team out. Really, what I learned from Randall and Chris was just that, being a leader and knowing what to do. What makes a pro is knowing what to do at all times, even when the coaches aren't looking, and completing your assignment."
It's that attitude that has wide receivers coach Tee Martin so excited about King entering the 2011 season. When spring practice concluded, Martin wasn't happy with King. He didn't know what the problem was, if it was the pressure or what, but King was not playing the way he wanted him to play or how he thought he could play.
"He's a guy who's played, a guy who's got experience," Martin said. "Sometimes you have a guy like that and spring ball is kind of like 'ehh, whatever.' "
As the months on the calendar turned, so too did King's play.
"Talk about playmaking ability," Martin said. "He made some plays in summer camp that he didn't make in the spring; plays that I wanted him to make in the spring, wanted him to be successful in the spring, and didn't make it."
King has shown glimpses of that playmaking ability in each of his first two seasons. What the Wildcats need is for those glimpses to change to a week in, week out appearance. King says when Kentucky needs a big play, he wants to be that guy.
When asked what King should expect out of himself this year, Martin was quick to say, "Nothing but the best." A year ago, Martin said, he told Cobb that, yeah, Alabama receiver Julio Jones and Georgia receiver A.J. Green were good players, but there was no reason for him to be second or third to them. Now, Martin says, it's time for King to develop that attitude.
"I want them to be on that borderline of almost cockiness because that's the type of swagger you have to have to be a great player, a quiet confident kind of thing," Martin said. "That's where I want them. Hopefully they feel that way. I don't ask them how they feel. But, the way (La'Rod's) been going about his business, he's been practicing like he wants to be one of the top guys."
While King may want to be one of those top guys, he and the rest of the Kentucky receiving corps are not getting the publicity and the hype that the rest of the top guys have been getting in the Southeastern Conference. King said he enjoys the underdog role, though, and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Now, the 6-foot-4 receiver says, is the time to make a name for themselves and be heard.
"We haven't really made a mark yet," King said. "This is our time to make that mark. We lost both our guys who made most of our big plays last year so really it's all up for grabs. I might not be that guy. It might be Brian (Adams), it might be Matt Roark, I don't know who - hopefully it's all of us. Really, it's just coming out and making a statement. We have to make ourselves heard." Other contributors
Sophomore Brian Adams - Brian Adams is still somewhat of an enigma on the football field. While he has made some impressive catches on the baseball diamond, Adams has just one start and three receptions under his belt on the gridiron. Adams' speed and playmaking ability are enticing though, and the sophomore from Gainesville, Ga., should see a lot of playing time this year.
Freshman Daryl Collins - Mention Daryl Collins' name around wide receivers coach Tee Martin and his face lights up as if he just got a brilliant idea. If you're compiling a list of players who could have a breakout year as a freshman, Collins has to be at or near the top. Recruited - and offered - by many of the top programs in the SEC, Collins is a very athletic receiver who "can do it all" and "has it all," as Martin said. Junior Gene McCaskill - Before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in August 2010, Gene McCaskill was being looked at by the coaches as someone who would be a major contributor in the receiving game. Now, one year later, that sentiment hasn't changed a lick. McCaskill has started 10 games for the Wildcats and provides the receiving corps with some leadership and experience. His speed will be utilized in a number of different packages for UK. Senior Matt Roark - Similar to King and McCaskill, Matt Roark will be asked to take on a leadership role this year. Roark has improved his hand-eye coordination this summer, Martin says, and instead of thinking about running before he's gotten the ball, Roark is now "finishing the deal first." Roark is one of the bigger receivers on Kentucky's roster, and one of the better blocking wide receivers. He, along with King, will be looked to stretch the field vertically. Freshman Demarco Robinson - Based on Joker Phillips' philosophy of what he's looking for in a wide receiver (see above), Demarco Robinson has to at least appear to have a bright future with the Wildcats. Robinson, along with senior cornerback Randall Burden, is widely believed to be one of the players Phillips and Co., have been working out with the special teams unit in returning kicks. If Robinson has enough ability in the open field to have the coaches want him returning kicks, he should prove to be a dangerous weapon after the catch. Tee Martin has said that Robinson has come on and done some things as a freshman that "make you raise your eyebrows a bit." Links
Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to play his first collegiate game, but by the time he does, he will already have been featured in an HBO documentary called Prayer for a Perfect Season.
Kidd-Gilchrist played his high school basketball for national powerhouse St. Patrick's in Elizabeth, N.J. During his senior season, award-winning director Marc Levin and a camera crew followed his national championship-contending team that took an undefeated record into a end-of-season showdown against archrival St. Anthony's.
While St. Patrick's quest for a national championship will undoubtedly figure largely into the piece, Kidd-Gilchrist's personal journey and that of his team will be at its heart. Since he signed with Kentucky in November 2010, UK fans have come to learn about the perseverance that Kidd-Gilchrist has shown throughout his young life.
Tragedy struck Kidd-Gilchrist from an early age. He lost his father, Michael Gilchrist, Sr., at the age of two and a half and his uncle and surrogate father, Darrin Kidd, at the beginning of his senior year. All the while, in spite of great personal loss and a high level of scrutiny, Kidd-Gilchrist has remained grounded, humble and exceptionally hard-working. Prayer for a Perfect Season will debut exclusively on HBO on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 9:00 p.m. It will run for 90 minutes and should give Kentucky fans a chance to get to know a player they will come to love when he suits up for the Big Blue.
John Calipari, Doron Lamb and the Kentucky Wildcats will take the floor in primetime for ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When college basketball has its coming out party for 2011-12, the Kentucky Wildcats will be in the VIP section.
ESPN announced the schedule for its fourth annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon on Thursday and the Wildcats will play in primetime. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Kansas Jayhawks at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.
The game is being played in New York City's Madison Square Garden as part of the State Farm Champions Classic. Playing before UK and Kansas in the Champions Classic will be Duke and Michigan State at 7:00 p.m. ET.
The game between Kentucky and Kansas was already set to be one of the marquee non-conference matchups in 2011-12 and its spot in the Tip-Off Marathon makes it a can't-miss affair. Thirty-eight teams from both men's and women's college basketball will play 19 games over a 25-hour span beginning Nov. 15, at 12:00 a.m. Games will be played on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3.com.
Below is a complete schedule of the event:
Tuesday, November 15: 12 am ET - Washington State @ Gonzaga, ESPN 2 am ET - Northern Iowa @ St. Mary's, ESPN 4 am ET - South Alabama @ Hawaii, ESPN 6 am ET - Drexel @ Rider, ESPN 8 am ET - Morehead State @ College of Charleston, ESPN 10 am ET - Kent State @ West Virginia, ESPN 12 pm ET - Belmont @ Memphis, EA Sports Maui Invitational, ESPN 2 pm ET - San Diego State @ Baylor, ESPN 4 pm ET - Rhode Island @ Texas, TicketCity Legends Classic, ESPN 4 pm ET - Louisville @ Texas A&M (women), ESPNU 6 pm ET - Miami @ Tennessee (women), State Farm Tip-Off Classic, ESPN2 6 pm ET - TBD @ Virginia Tech, DICK'S Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off, ESPNU 7 pm ET - Duke v. Michigan State, State Farm Champions Classic, ESPN 8 pm ET - Florida @ Ohio State, ESPN2 9 pm ET - Kentucky v. Kansas, State Farm Champions Classic, ESPN 10 pm ET - Austin Peay @ California, CBE Classic, ESPN2 11 pm ET - TBD @ Stanford, DICK'S Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off, ESPNU TBD - TBD @ Syracuse, DICK'S Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off, ESPN3.com TBD - Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Oklahoma State, DICK'S Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off, ESPN3.com
Before the end of football practice today, UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell talked for a few minutes with the gathered media. This week has been the first that the Wildcats have held workouts with four-player groups, so he has had his first chance to see some of his players on the floor together and was encouraged.
Freshman Bra'Shey Ali, the newest member of the team, is one of those players who has worked out. Mitchell lauded Ali's athleticism, toughness and long term potential. He was very impressed by her ability to persevere through the workout even though she only recently arrived on campus.
"She obviously had not been on campus as the rest of the players had been all summer," Mitchell said, "and just made it through a difficult workout with just a lot of toughness and showed some of the things that we're looking for and will look for her to be - a rebounder, a defender and a player who can come in as a freshman and possibly impact us through our style of play."
A player who will certainly have an impact this year is senior point guard Amber Smith. Smith sustained a knee injury that forced her to redshirt last season and return for an extra year even though she graduated in May. The injury was tough to swallow last year, but Mitchell is thankful to have her around now. He said that Smith looked healthy in workouts this week.
"I was so impressed with how she went through the workout," Mitchell said. "It was very up-tempo, very demanding, a lot of footwork, a lot of staying low in a stance and exploding throughout the workout, and she looked very explosive and quick and I could not have been more pleased with how she looked yesterday."
After taking a day off for the first day of school on Wednesdary, Joker Phillips and the Kentucky Wildcats were back on the field for practice just one week before the season kicks off next Thursday against Western Kentucky. With the unusual Thursday game, Phillips said that the team is trying to get into a routine similar to one they would have before a Saturday game. He compared today to a Sunday, which he called a "recovery day". That will be followed by a pair of mid-week type practices to prepare for Thursday.
Phillips also announced today that 2011 wide receiver Nile Daniel did not qualify to play this season, but that it did "come down to the wire". The UK head coach talked about the uphill battle that Daniel had in attempting to become eligible since he had just six semesters to do so as opposed to the eight semesters of a typical high school student.
"Nile was only a six semester guy," Phillips said. "He only went to high school for six semesters so that was pretty difficult. He was trying to speed up the process and get out in six semesters whereas everyone else had eight."
Phillips did not announce any future plans for Daniel.
Phillips also talked about who will hold for field goals in place of Randall Cobb, whether he is concerned about the team's focus with classes starting.
I just got back to the office from a slightly soggy media session with Joker Phillips. I will have some video of Phillips' post-practice comments once I dry out, as well as video of UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell talking to the media. In the mean time, here are some notes and links for your late morning:
-John Calipari announced yesterday that senior forward Eloy Vargas did not make the final roster of the Dominican Republic National Team that Calipari will take to the FIBA Americas Championship. Vargas had been practicing with the team and traveled to Brazil as the team was sightseeing, but Calipari reported on his website that he will return this weekend to Lexington. Although he didn't make the final roster, Calipari made sure to point out how much Vargas has benefited from playing against top-level competition while he has been with the team.
Eloy was going against veterans like Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva and Jack Michael Martinez. He held his own, but these guys have been playing in the pro leagues for years. When everybody is so close, you've got to look at it as we need three big men, we need three point guards and we need to fill out the roster from there. Eloy understands the decision, and what I think he's done and what I told him is he's probably cemented his spot on the national team for years to come.
Calipari also took a moment to reassure UK fans that he isn't missing a beat in his full-time job.
One thing I want to assure the Big Blue Nation is that my time in South America hasn't taken me away from recruiting. I've been in contact with Kenny Payne and John Robic every day, and I've even made a few phone calls from abroad.
-Calipari and his Dominican Republic team played their first friendly against Brazil on Tuesday, falling 87-77. Calipari's team is in final preparations for the FIBA Americas Tournament which starts on Aug. 30 in Mar de Plata, Argentina with the two finalists from the tournament advancing to the London Olympics in 2012. Charlie Villanueva scored 18 points.
-Vargas and Calipari aren't the only ones with UK ties to be playing international basketball. Enes Kanter, the No. 3 pick of the Utah Jazz in this year's NBA Draft, is playing for the Turkish National Team, who faced off against New Zealand in a friendly. Kanter helped his team to a 70-64 victory, leading the Turks with 14 points.
-Women's volleyball departed Lexington this morning to head south. The Wildcats will open their season in the Florida State Tournament on Friday. On Friday, Craig Skinner will lead his team against Albany at 11:00 a.m. ET, then against Florida State at 7:00 p.m. They will conclude tournament play on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against No. 23 Tulsa.
-Finally, men's basketball announced details of its annual Women's Clinic today. The event will take place on Sunday Oct. 2, at 4 p.m. ET. Registration will be from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on the day of the event. Check out the release for complete details.
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. Today we cast a wide net and break down UK's special teams.
Joker Phillips' philosophy
"Cover guys, we have to have guys that are relentless and willing. I think the position of a cover guy is more of effort and desire than anything. We've had some guys around here that weren't as fast as most, but they were the first ones to get down the field to make tackles. You also have to be a tough guy to be a cover guy.
"When you're talking about return guys, we have to find guys who can make plays for us in the return game, but the most important thing is to take care of the football.
"Our kickers and punters are guys that are really smart and explosive when the ball comes off their foot."
Spotlight: With a professional approach, Tydlacka grows into full-time punting role
Ryan Tydlacka wasted no time in becoming a fixture on UK's special teams.
Ryan Tydlacka returns to UK after averaging 43.8 yards per punt as a junior. (UK Athletics)
After sitting out his first year in Lexington as a redshirt, he immediately found a role even though the Wildcats already had a future NFL punter in Tim Masthay on the roster in 2008. He took over as the pooch punter and excelled in the role, placing 16 of his 22 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Although a precocious freshman, Tydlacka knew he would have commit himself to improving in order to succeed in a full-time role. It's that kind of commitment that has led to consistent improvement in subsequent seasons.
"I think he's become a pro, and by that I mean he's dedicated himself to the game, he's studied it, he's worked at it, he's perfecting his craft," special teams coach Greg Nord said. "Right now, he's one of the better punters that I've ever been around and I've been fortunate to be around a couple guys that went on and did a really good job."
Filling the shoes of Masthay, who played a major role in the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl run this year, was a tall order, but Tydlacka has been up to the challenge. He averaged 40.0 yards per punt as a sophomore and only 11 of his 64 efforts on the season were returned. Still, he was intent of developing his power.
As a junior, he upped his punting average to 43.8 yards. He played an integral role in UK's signature win over South Carolina in 2010, pinning the Gamecocks inside their own 20 on three occasions in the comeback victory and earning National Punter of the Week honors for the performance.
The South Carolina win one of many big games Tydlacka has played in, arming him with invaluable experience.
"I have been around so many great returners in the SEC that I know what they're thinking," Tydlacka said. "They might be cheating over a little bit, so you can punt it away from them a little more. You know exactly where you need to hang the ball to get them to fair catch it. The experience I've had is just so helpful."
Some of the best return men in the country have terrorized SEC punters over Tydlacka's tenure. The confidence bred through punting to dynamic returners like Florida's Jeff Demps, Alabama's Javier Arenas and Ole Miss's Dexter McCluster helps not only Tydlacka, but his entire coverage unit.
"His confidence permeates the whole team," Nord said. "He's learned to know what the different returns look like so if he knows where the return is he can punt away from where the returner's going to be set to get to a return. He knows when the rush is coming, 'I have to get it out in a hurry.' So, a lot of those intangible things that only come with experience he's fortunate that he's now been able to learn."
Tydlacka has also developed a chemistry with his teammates in his coverage unit, many of whom he has played with since arriving on campus in 2007.
"I've been here with a lot of those guys for five years on the coverage team," Tydlacka said. "I'll be out there in the box getting ready to go out and I'll talk to a few of them and I'll say 'looking at the wind, I'm supposed to go right, but it might a little short because it's going into the wind or it might be a little left so be ready for that.' They'll run exactly where I tell them to be and the ball will be there."
It would have been easy for Tydlacka to be comfortable with that chemistry and his accomplishments of the last three years, but Nord wouldn't allow him to go through an offseason without improving. Tydlacka wouldn't allow himself to do that either.
"The (things) we talked about in the offseason," Nord said, "were the couple things he needed to improve on: his red zone punting - he's run out and he's worked on that and did a nice job of that today. We also wanted to work on punting away from some of the great returners in our league, and he's done that as well."
It's that kind of professional approach that could give Tydlacka a chance to follow Masthay be a 'pro' in the literal sense when he leaves UK after this year. Other contributors
Junior kicker Craig McIntosh - McIntosh came to UK as a member of the ROTC program. He did not come out for football until 2009 when he became the team's kickoff specialist. In 2010, he became the placekicker, hitting 11-of-15 field goals and 34-of-35 PAT's. He has worked to improve his craft and has taken a firm hold of the kicking job.
Sophomore kicker/punter Joe Mansour - Mansour came to UK last season as a highly-regarded kicking prospect and is currently listed second on the depth chart at both placekicker and punter. He probably has the strongest leg on the team but the coaching staff is looking for more consistency out of him. Mansour is likely to handle kickoff duties.
Senior cornerback Randall Burden - In the absence of Randall Cobb, Burden is slated to take over punt returns. Replacing the explosiveness of Cobb is a near-impossible task, but the staff will look at any play-making on punt returns as a bonus if he can take care of the football. Senior safety/linebacker Winston Guy - The senior may be playing some linebacker this season, but he still has the speed to make plays on kick returns. He nearly took a kickoff back for a touchdown against Georgia as a freshman, so he could be the kind of game-breaker UK is looking for.
Sophomore running back Raymond Sanders - Sanders has some experience in the return game from his freshman season and has the kind of shiftiness and speed needed to make an impact.
Freshman wide receiver Demarco Robinson - There are a few freshmen that could make a difference in the return game (Daryl Collins, Marcus Caffey and Glenn Faulkner, to name a few), but Robinson may be the most likely to do so with his open field ability. It may take him a while to get used to playing wide receiver at the college level with his relatively small frame (5-foot-10, 159 pounds), but he could make an instant impact as a return man.
Senior year in high school, Nadzam lost his best friend in a car accident, coming back from Spring Break at the beach. The small community of Monaca, Pa. was devastated and so was the town's premier athlete.
After graduation, Nadzam was looking for a way out of a self-described dysfunctional single-parent home in the projects outside of Pittsburgh.
While sports had always provided strong and steady support for the basketball and football player, at the end of Nadzam's high school tenure, he found his true path sophomore year on the track. And that path has changed his life.
"In high school, when we'd run the mile, I never really got tired," he explained. "Some of my friends told the new track coach about it, and that kind of got me into the sport."
Ukwu was 6-4 and 205 back then. He looked like a wide receiver maybe, but certainly not a Southeastern Conference defensive end. He was rated a two-star recruit by Rivals.com and had committed to Middle Tennessee State.
But Phillips saw a frame that could easily add more weight. He saw athleticism and instinct and a guy who set a record at his high school with 43 career tackles for loss.
"We want guys that are long and lean," Phillips said. "Throw them in the weight room and just see what they become."
When Calipari arrived at Kentucky from Memphis, the nation's all-time winningest program was coming off season in which they had finished .500 in SEC competition and had settled for an NIT appearance. Calipari quickly transformed Kentucky into one of the nation's most feared programs again with his recruiting prowess. Before he ever coached a game for Kentucky, Calipari had made his presence felt by signing a recruiting class that featured future lottery picks John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. That trio helped Kentucky go 35-3 overall and 14-2 in the SEC in Calipari's first season. All the Wildcats lacked was consistent perimeter shooting, which doomed them in an NCAA East Regional final loss to West Virginia.
The Cats wore their full game uniforms - which will be new this season - and went through all the paces, from pregame warm-ups to sudden change situations.
"It was a pretty good mock scrimmage, and that's what it was," Phillips said. "We don't get to have preseason games and that's what this was, a preseason game for us to try and make sure we get the game day organizations (right). How we stretch. How we take the field. The whole nine yards.
"I thought we were pretty sharp and fresh. We got a lot of different situations we went over and a lot of different personnel groupings we went over, a lot of different kicking situations and sudden changes."
There are plenty of options available and the combinations of options are endless, the coaches say.
"I don't think we have one back that's head and shoulders above the rest of them," Phillips said. "We'll have two, three, maybe four backs that play for us. Because they're so talented, we'll probably (travel with) five, maybe even six backs to play special teams for us."
Kanter is focused on playing for Turkey, who won a silver medal over the United States at the 2010 World Championships. They return the majority of an NBA packed roster that includes Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova formerly of the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago's Omer Asik, and Semih Erden from Cleveland.
"Playing for the Turkish National Team, there is a lot of pride at stake. You are playing with and against some real pros and I've learned a lot. It is really good for me. I'm feeling good and am just trying to get into game shape right now," said Kanter.
John Wall smiled late Saturday night as he explained the relentless, aggressive, high-leaping, trash-talking model of himself that has been popping up on YouTube videos all summer. It was all over the floor at Trinity University -- where Wall scored 28 points and helped the local Goodman League defeat the Los Angeles-based Drew League, 135-134, in an East-West summer league showcase for bragging rights.
"I'm back. I'm back, man. I'm back to myself," Wall said after an electrifying performance. "Now I feel I can do whatever I want to do again, blow past people, get to the basket. I think those things that I started the season with last year, I got that back. It's coming back. You're going to see some stuff this year, it's just whenever -- hopefully the season starts as soon as possible. The main thing is just working on my game."
Green Bay Packers rookie Randall Cobb listed his prognosis as "day to day," but when asked whether it was a given he would be ready for the regular-season opener, he couldn't answer yes.
It might be that it's just difficult for Cobb to know how quickly he'll heal, but his doubts also might indicate the severity of his injury. He is listed as having contusions to both knees after getting slammed during a kickoff return Friday night against the Arizona Cardinals.
When asked whether he had bruises on both knees, he said, "It's an injury. But it won't be anything that will hinder me and (make) me miss a lot of time. We're taking it day by day right now and trying to get better each day."
Ready or not, Johnson enters his fourth NFL season having suddenly ascended into the role as the Bills' prime receiving threat. And with that, he assumes the position of leader of what remains a relatively untested group of receivers on an offense that has a reputation for stumbling.
"Obviously, the attention's on me," Johnson said. "As long as I'm in this league, I'm going to have to prove myself over and over."
With rookie running back Ryan Williams down for the season, the spotlight now falls on undrafted free agent Alfonso Smith. Smith was with the team in camp last summer and on the practice squad during the season.
Smith said that he's been in this position before both in high school and college so he knows what it's like to take over for an injury player ahead of him in the depth chart. In college however, he felt he didn't take advantage of the situation and as a result didn't get enough carries and therefore wasn't drafted.
Alfonso has no intention of letting that happen again, "This is a dream come true. I'm going to come out here and work because this is for me, this is definitely for my family and my future so I've got to seize the opportunity."
New students arrived on campus last Friday and this weekend they gathered on the field of Commonwealth Stadium. In a feat of coordination and patience, the massive group was organized into a giant K and the video below is a time lapse of the entire process. Note how much more quickly the K disintegrates than comes together.
Arin Gilliland scored the game-winning goal in UK's home opener with her mother Letita in attendance. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Arin Gilliland is a talented freshman on the UK women's soccer team. Upon interviewing for the UK job over two years ago, head coach Jon Lipsitz identified Gilliland, a Lexington native, as a player that the Wildcats had to have to contend on a national level.
Lipsitz was able to sign her and, two games into her first season at UK, she has already made a major impact. In Tuesday night's home opener against Eastern Kentucky, she was the driving force behind a 2-1 comeback win. She drew a foul in the Colonels' box to earn a penalty kick, which Kelsey Hunyadi converted to tie the score with 10 minutes remaining. Just minutes later, Gilliland calmly received a pass from fellow freshman Stuart Pope and fired a shot past the Eastern Kentucky keeper for the go-ahead goal.
As compelling as the story of her play on the field is, her story off the field is even more moving. Gilliland's mother, Letita, suffers from cancer, which was originally found in her colon but has spread to her liver and stomach. Letita Gilliland's health is suffering, but she was on hand on Tuesday to see her daughter star in UK's home opener. Graham Hays from ESPN wrote an article on the way the Gilliland family has responded to the illness and how the relationship between mother and daughter has grown. Below is an excerpt from the piece, but I encourage you to head on over to ESPN and read the whole thing.
"The grace -- and I think that's really the word -- with which Letita has handled all of this really washes down over her family," Lipsitz said. "She's an amazing woman."
But the extent to which time is something fought for rather than relied upon was clear when Arin enrolled at Kentucky a semester early, something she said was done in large part to ensure her mother saw her play in a Kentucky uniform in a spring exhibition game.
They don't put names on the back of the uniforms at Kentucky, but an exception was made that day in the spring. Gilliland presented her mother with a jersey emblazoned with "Gilliland" on the back. Letita also was there when her daughter played her first official home game on Aug. 23, and hopefully will be there for many more to follow. But there are no guarantees.
"It's really scary," Gilliland said not long after seeing Letita for the first time since the most recent round of chemotherapy. "I didn't even recognize her. Her hair, it is way thinner than it's ever been. She was just really frail looking and her voice is really weak. I don't know, it's just moving. And it just sets in, you know?"
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. First up is a group that has gotten a lot of attention with the arrival of new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter: the front seven. Linebackers and defensive linemen are typically separated from one another, but with the amount of hybrid players and shifting around in Minter's scheme, we are going to address them together. Joker Phillips' philosophy
"Up front, we've been blessed and we have a few 300-pounders here that we haven't had in the past that are really explosive, really understand how to come out of their hips, really understand how to use their hands. Those guys don't play a lot of positions, they either play over the nose or over the guard, so the inside tackles don't play a lot of different positions, but we move them so much that they have to understand which gaps they're moving to.
"When you hear hybrid, you hear guys that are in between two different positions, so it's usually a guy who's pretty fast for the position you're putting him in, but he might be a little light also. It also allows us to get speed on the football field when you have hybrid guys. The Ridge Wilson's, the Winston Guy's, those guys are hybrid type of guys. They're not really defensive linemen, linebackers or defensive backs. With that, what you get is more speed on the field."
Spotlight: Guy, Wilson adapting to new positions, ready for season to begin
When Rick Minter came to Lexington in December to serve as the co-defensive coordinator, it was no secret that changes were in the making. Among those changes is an addition of multiple schemes to the 4-3 defensive formation. And part of making those schemes work will fall on the shoulders of senior safety Winston Guy Jr., and junior linebacker Ridge Wilson.
In years past, Guy, who stands at 6-foot-1, 216 pounds, roamed around the secondary
Winston Guy returns as UK's second leading tackler from 2010, but will play a new hybrid role in Rick Minter's defense. (UK Athletics)
looking to break up passes. But in 2011, Guy will be closer to the line of scrimmage, playing a hybrid safety/linebacker position that will allow him to be featured in more plays.
Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 243-pound linebacker from Louisville, Ky., will also be making a switch. After playing the first 24 games of his career at linebacker and excelling at the strong side, Wilson has moved to a new hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot that will give the Wildcats a lot of speed in their pass rush.
"He fits the physical description," co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "He's played some linebacker and can rush the passer. He's in between a defensive end and a linebacker so he fits the description quite nicely that we're looking for."
The advantages of having Guy closer to the line are obvious. A blazing fast player who finished second in total tackles in the Southeastern Conference one year ago among returning players, moving Guy closer to the football will enable the Wildcats to bring a lot of speed to the opposing quarterback on blitz packages.
"He plays as aggressively as anyone I've been around in a long time," Minter said. "I'm very happy with his progress where he is and he's come along nicely, getting a better grasp of what we're trying to get done and what his role is in the defense."
For Guy, the change in position comes just months after he went through the National Football League evaluation process. After hearing what the scouts had to say, Guy decided to return and now enters the 2011 season with a new position to play on defense, but one that he is familiar with after playing the role in high school.
Smith talks openly about how much it appears as though Guy and Wilson are both enjoying the position changes and are having fun with the transition. Going through the daily grinds of camp, a camp Guy says is the hardest he's gone through while at Kentucky, a fresh new position could be a healthy change of pace. While there are always growing pains when trying out something new, Guy says that won't deter him from still going full speed on the field.
"I'm just going to try and let my actions speak for themselves," Guy said. "I try to go hard every day and every play. I make some mistakes, but I know what mistakes I make and I correct them and my coaches correct me. Even if I mess up I'm still going to go hard and try to correct the mistakes I've done."
For Wilson, the move closer to the line is one that comes after a strong finish to the 2010 season. In Wilson's final three games he recorded 19 of his 30 tackles and all three of this tackles for losses. The hardest part of the move, Wilson says, is learning the 17-18 installations.
When watching practice or scrimmages, it appears as though the defense is running around in every direction possible. In reality, they are, but it's organized chaos.
"We're a lot faster," Wilson said. "When you move guys closer to the ball you become a lot faster, like moving me to a defensive end/pass rusher and Winston to linebacker/safety."
While Wilson may not be 250 pounds, he said he feels like a pass rusher. The skeptics will point to his size and say he will get pushed around at the line of scrimmage and not be able to get through to the quarterback. Wilson said that's fine, he's just ready to play and let the results do the talking.
"I'm pretty sure we have a lot of teams and players out there who are doubting us," Wilson said. "They're saying we're too small and this and that. All I can do is show you, I mean I'm ready to play. I'll let the pads and the game speak for itself."
Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan - Deservedly, Trevathan has been recognized by multiple outlets as one of the best linebackers nationally and one of the top players in the SEC. He is the best player on UK's defense and the hope is that Minter's new scheme will allow him to make even more plays than he did last season as a member of multiple All-SEC teams and a first team All-American, according to CollegeFootballNews.com.
Senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed - Sneed doesn't get the same attention as Trevathan, but his role as a defensive leader should not be understated. He is responsible for many of the team's defensive calls and is a solid presence in the middle. He has dealt with minor injury in fall camp, but will look to build on last season when he started all 13 games and was third on the team with 62 tackles. Junior defensive end Collins Ukwu - The 6-foot-5, 258-pounder has worked hard to develop his body since arriving in Lexington and has earned rave reviews for both his play and leadership during fall camp. In just two seasons, he has played in 26 games and made 16 starts, so he has plenty of experience. He has a pair of sacks in those 26 games and will look to develop as a pass rusher, though his role against the run will be very important in the new defense.
Junior defensive end/defensive tackle Taylor Wyndham - Wyndham moved from linebacker to defensive end when he arrived at UK and now is spending time at tackle as well. He earned freshman All-America honors according to some outlets in 2009 and looks set to split time between tackle and end this year. Sophomore defensive tackle Mister Cobble - Cobble sat out most of his freshman season due to academic issues, but hit the field for the BBVA Compass Bowl before sustaining a shoulder injury in the spring. He has recovered and is a prototypical size for the tackle position. His squat 6-foot, 332-pound frame should allow him to play nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment or either tackle position in a traditional four-man front.
Sophomore defensive tackle Donte Rumph - As long as the wait was for Cobble, it was even longer for Rumph. Like Cobble, he passes the eye test for a defensive tackle. He has built strength since arriving on campus and will look to improve on his form from last season when made 12 tackles in 12 games with much of his production coming late in the season.
Senior defensive tackle Luke McDermott - Unexpectedly, McDermott contributed last season and even made five starts. He's slightly undersized for the tackle position, but makes up for it with his motor. Cobble and Rumph have a lot of hype, but supplanting McDermott in the rotation won't be easy. Freshman defensive end/linebacker Justin Henderson - Henderson is another hybrid type that could figure into UK's pass rush. He gained notice by making a number of plays during UK's spring game. Sophomore linebacker Avery Williamson - Williamson played in all 13 games last year and was Sneed's primary backup at middle linebacker. He will play on defense, but his main role will be on special teams unless injuries occur.
Kentucky women's head basketball coach Matthew Mitchell made this statement today upon learning the news.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Coach Summitt and her family," Mitchell said. "She's done so much for me personally and I wouldn't be where I am professionally without the contributions she has made in my life. She has been such an incredible example to me and she is someone I care for tremendously. It took a great amount of courage to address this issue but it doesn't surprise me. She's always been a very courageous woman. My family is praying for Coach Summitt and Tyler. I also know Mickie (DeMoss) and Holly (Warlick) along with the entire Tennessee will be there for Coach Summitt during this difficult time."
Kentucky men's head basketball coach John Calipari also was affected by the news and made the following statement.
"Pat Summitt transcends her sport," Calipari said. "She is more than just a coach; she is a leader in her field. Pat Summitt was one of the original promoters of women's sports and no one has done more for her sport or for women in general than she has. She will be in my daily prayers and I urge all of the Big Blue Nation to keep her in their thoughts and prayers."
UK Athletics joins Mitchell and Calipari in encouraging everyone to keep Summitt in their prayers.
Ian Collins will be going for his 200th career victory as UK men's soccer plays its season opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the UK Soccer Complex (UK Athletics)
Suffice it to say that the 2010 season did not go as planned for Ian Collins and Kentucky's men's soccer team. Four Wildcats went down with season-ending injuries. Another four missed significant time due to injury. Two sat out all of 2010 due to NCAA transfer rules.
As a result, UK did not field the team it expected to have once all last year. The Wildcats had no choice but to turn to unproven talent to shoulder the load.
Last season may have been trying for Collins and his team, but it also reason for optimism in 2011. The Wildcats return most of their contributors from last season and add a handful of players recovering from injury and a group of newcomers laden with potential heading into a season-opening matchup against Dayton at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at the UK Soccer Complex.
"We had a difficult year last year to begin with injuries and things, so we had a lot of guys get a lot of experience," Collins, who will be going for his 200th career victory on Friday, said. "We've pretty much got all of our players back and those guys are another year older, another year wiser."
Fifteen of the 33 players on last year's roster were freshmen and the majority of them saw significant playing time. In other seasons, freshmen like forward Tyler Riggs, goalkeeper Tyler Beadle, defender Dylan Asher and forward Brendan Murphy would have had to wait to see the field, but they were forced into action last year. The situation may not have been ideal at the time, but there is no substitute for the experience those young players earned on the field.
"Everything you do, whether it's a job or a sport, you can talk about it and prepare people as best you can, but really the only way to get it done is to go through it," Collins said. "These guys have now been through it. They understand that it's a real marathon, not a sprint; that you've got to stay healthy all year; and that you have to take care of yourself."
Incoming freshmen inevitably hear about the challenge of transitioning into the college game, but there is no way to fully grasp that until they actually hit the field. Having already gone through that, they won't face any surprises in their second go-round.
"They understand the level of competition, the physicality and so a lot of those guys, their eyes are wide open," Collins said. "They're better adjusted to exactly what's going to happen to us."
Riggs, a product of St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Ky., stepped in to lead the Wildcats with five goals last season. He is thankful that he was able to play, but remains motivated to work hard because he knows how much talent the Wildcats added this year in the form of players recovering from injury and transfers.
"It's always a constant battle, but it was nice coming in and getting some action right away," Riggs said. "I knew I had to keep working because there are plenty of people right behind me that are willing to step right in."
Collins said that Riggs and the other young players were effective in their unexpected roles, but he agreed that they will be pushed and that's a positive for the team.
"I thought they did a great job, but now nobody cares how young they are or what they did," Collins said. "They have to prove it. I will say this: the internal battle within our own team is phenomenal. Last year we were so banged up and had so many guys missing that basically if you were healthy you got to play. Now, it's really hard to get on the field."
One position where that competition is most intense is at goalkeeper. Beadle started all 19 games last year a redshirt freshman, but Jack Van Arsdale is now eligible to play. He transferred from Virginia Commonwealth after playing as a freshman, but sat out last year.
Beadle knows he will rely heavily on the starting experience he gained last year.
"As a goalkeeper, experience is huge because it builds confidence," Beadle said. "My first year as a freshman coming in goal, I was real nervous, especially the first couple weeks, because the tempo of the games is so much faster. Having a year of experience will help me a lot coming into this year and hopefully I'll get better every year. This year I'm looking to do really well because it should be a really good year for us."
Beadle sustained an injury this summer in a car accident and was limited in practice until he was fully cleared to play on Monday. He acknowledged some rust, but said that he hopes to be ready to go later this week when UK opens the season.
Collins reports that Van Arsdale has done good work while he has recovered, but Beadle's performance last season is proof that he is capable of getting the job done on this level.
"Jack's done a great job but I like both the guys," Collins said. "I think they can both keep goal. Tyler demonstrated at times last year a superior level of play. He was fantastic and now he's got to understand that he has to put that out there every day and he can't afford a couple of the mistakes that we had at the end of the year. I think he's grown up from that and I think he understands that."
Although he was not a freshman last year, junior midfielder Matt Lodge is the player perhaps most emblematic of the 2010 season. He played in all 19 games last year, but struggled through early season injuries. Like the team, his form suffered and he found himself on the bench. His reemergence in the second half of the season coincided with the team's strong play conference play, where the Wildcats lost just two of their final eight games.
Lodge credited his turnaround to both Collins' patience and the motivation of losing his starting job.
"I'm fortunate that (coach) was patient with me," Lodge said. "I think halfway through the season I finally got into a rhythm. I started off on the bench and it kind of motivated me to get my spot back. I worked hard and it made me feel good that I could bounce back from something like that."
Both Riggs and Beadle pointed to Lodge as a team leader and Collins said the kind of example of toughness he set in rebounding from a lackluster start is a major reason why.
"He's a tough kid, he's a really tough kid," Collins said. "Not just soccer-wise, but in his life. He handles himself well, he does the work correctly and he's one of a number of guys that are going to be very interesting for our fans to see."
Lodge said he believes in himself as a leader, but was quick to point out that he is not the only player on this team who will lead.
"I feel confident," Lodge said. "We're got some great lads in here. Good freshman, good transfers and the returners are all good. They're all sound lads and everybody gets (along), but I think everybody bring their own thing to the team. I'm looking forward to helping this team progress."
Whether it's Lodge, Beadle, Riggs, a transfer like midfielder Josh Mulvany or a veteran returning from injury like midfielder C.J. Tappel, Collins believes that they work the team has undertook this offseason will make them unrecognizable.
"When people come out Friday, I don't think they are going to recognize half our players," Collins said. "If they saw them last year, they're not going to recognize them because their bodies have changed. It's going to be interesting. I'll never predict how we'll do or how we'll finish up, but I know we've got good players. We've got good, fit, strong, mentally tough kids that are ready to play."
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 1, Cat Scratches presents an exclusive series of positional previews to prepare you for the football season. Every day before kickoff, Metz Camfield and Guy Ramsey will bring you Joker Phillips' philosophy for each positional group, a spotlight feature on a selected member of the group and rundown of other projected contributors. First up is the unit that many are calling the strength of this UK team: the offensive line. Joker Phillips' philosophy
"This is the best group of offensive lineman (I've been around at Kentucky). You talk in terms of knowledge of our offense, experience and playing the game at a high level and this is the best. In terms of things that we're looking for, we want guys that are smart, guys that will compete and guys that are durable because up front you get beat up every play. Every snap is a train wreck and you've got to have guys who can withstand all those train wrecks."
Spotlight: Murphy ditches 'utility guy' role, takes over right tackle
Billy Joe Murphy has been there and done that.
The senior right tackle has played every position on the offensive line at the University of Kentucky except center, and provides the Wildcats not only with experience, but a wealth of knowledge that underclassmen can learn from.
Joker Phillips will call on Billy Joe Murphy to start at right tackle in 2011 (UK Athletics)
Entering the 2011 season, things are beginning to change for Murphy. Gone are the days of serving as the "utility guy" of the offensive line, filling in whatever holes the unit has. This year Murphy will be starting at right tackle on an offensive line that appears to be the strongest group on the team.
"It's always easier to focus on one certain technique than two different techniques, and when you count the different sides it's four different techniques," Murphy said. "So, I think it's benefitted me a lot by just concentrating on one spot and my development has come along a lot faster than it would have come if I was playing different spots."
That's not to say Murphy was raw and needed a ton of work, instead it's a glimpse into the mindset of a guy who takes every practice seriously. It sounds cliche - in part, because it is - but Murphy said he and the rest of the offensive line tries to practice how they would play in a game. The harder they practice, Murphy says, the less likely they are to have mental lapses in game.
"You have to treat every practice like a game, if you don't you're not going to get better," Murphy said. "At the o-line, (offensive line) coach (Mike) Summers does a great job at keeping us motivated and keeping the tempo up. It's really important to concentrate on practice and be able to focus like you would if it were a game. Because if you don't focus on practice like it were a game you're probably going to make a few mental mistakes you wouldn't make in a game."
For Summers, having Murphy starting at just one position is nerve-wracking in a way. If a starting offensive lineman goes down - four have already in fall camp - Summers can no longer plug Murphy in and expect all to be fine.
But having Murphy, who is entering his fifth year at Kentucky and has appeared in 33 games, is a blessing for the Wildcats in so many ways. Summers pointed to Murphy's knowledge of the position and the defensive schemes he faces as key attributes that help make him as good as he is.
"I think he understands a lot of the defensive structure he's looking at," Summers said. "He knows not just his position, but the concept of the plays so he's better able to identify what could hurt the play and put himself in the right position for it. All of that is knowledge and knowledge is power."
"A consummate leader" as Summers describes him, Murphy understands the Kentucky offense inside and out. While his name might not be talked about as much as offensive guards Larry Warford and Stuart Hines, don't let that fool you. Summers told his guys last year Murphy was their most valuable player.
"My statement to all those guys last year was, he was our most valuable player," Summers said. "We basically played six linemen all season last year which is kind of unusual," Summers said. "But we were able to do it because he could play all of those spots. Someone's going to have to fill that role this year."
To be able to do fill that role and to be able fill it as well as Murphy did will be a tall order. Murphy started six games in 2010, two at left tackle, two at left guard and two at right tackle, and appeared in all 13 games. With all of the injuries occurring at camp, Murphy's knowledge of lining up in both a left- and right-handed stance has been an advantage for the underclassmen.
"Billy Joe has done a great job of trying to lead those young guys (while the other four starters have been injured)," UK head coach Joker Phillips said. "I'm so proud of him. He's been a journeyman around here his whole career, played every position (in the offensive line) except center. Now he's getting into the right tackle (full time) and taken every snap for the first team in training camp."
Serving as the "utility guy" for three consecutive seasons, Murphy is now ready to step into the role of the starter at right tackle. Playing in the always brutal Southeastern Conference, injuries are bound to strike and newcomers will be called upon, as Murphy was as a freshman in 2008. Coach Summers and the Wildcats will be in safe hands, though, because the newcomers will have Murphy, who has been there and done that.
"He's willing to spend time with them to make our whole football team better," Summers said. "He's the definition of a selfless player. He's concerned about the team, he's concerned about the offensive line and where he fits into that group is secondary to the success of that whole group."
"We know all the pressure is on us, and we'll take it," Murphy said. "Coach Summers preaches to us that we should be the toughest group on the field and the most disciplined. ... It doesn't matter who has the ball in their hands, we just have to do our job."
Junior guard Larry Warford - Along with Murphy, Warford will anchor the right side of Kentucky's line. The 6-foot-3-inch, 336-pounder is a preseason All-SEC selection and has already established himself among the conference's elite offensive lineman in just two seasons. He has battled minor injuries in fall camp, but returned to the field for practice on Monday. Senior guard Stuart Hines - The Bowling Green, Ky., native returns to the offensive line after starting each of the past two seasons. For his career, he has played in 36 games and made 24 starts. He is an unquestioned leader of the team and has been identified as one of the faces of UK football, a rare feat for an offensive lineman. Like Warford, he has missed time due to injury but should be healthy enough to play in next week's opener.
Senior tackle Chandler Burden - Burden is perhaps the most amazing story of the unit. He came to UK as a defensive end and played at the position his first two seasons. However, the coaching staff made the decision to move him to offensive tackle and he responded. He started 11 games at left tackle, one of the most important positions on the field, and thrived. Playing just his second season at the position, he is more comfortable and should improve further. Junior center Matt Smith - The Louisville St. Xavier graduate won a battle for the starting center position before the 2010 season and did not look back. Like Burden, he arrived at UK as a defensive lineman before transitioning to center. He will be asked again to make calls at the line, a key role with Morgan Newton in his first full season as a starter.
Senior guard/center Jake Lanefski - If you're looking for an offensive lineman most likely to fill the utility role that Murphy played last year, the best bet is Lanefski. He made four starts as a redshirt freshman at right guard despite playing just one season of football in high school. In 2010, he played in 11 games at a number of different spots and played more and more as the season wore on. He may not be a starter, but Lanefski will play an important role this season.
Sophomore guard Kevin Mitchell - Mitchell is a very good athlete considering his 6-foot-6-inch, 296-pound frame. He came to UK as a tackle, but has played mostly guard since arriving on campus. With four of UK's five starters on the line missing time during camp, he has seen significant playing time.
Women's soccer: - The UK Women's soccer team opened the 2011 season with a 3-0 win at Oakland Friday. - Freshman Molly Huber led the Wildcats in scoring in the season opening win over Oakland tallying a goal and an assist. The last time a freshman led UK in scoring in the season opener was in the 2002 lid lifter. - Freshman goalie Kayla Price recorded a shutout in her first collegiate appearance. It was the first time in school history that a true freshman posted a shutout in the season opener. - It was the second straight season the Wildcats posted a shutout in the season opener and the seventh time in program history. Men's soccer: - The UK men's soccer team will open the 21st season in program history, Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, hosting Dayton at the UK Soccer Complex. - The Wildcats return a pair of former freshmen All-America selections, including defender Dylan Asher and midfielder Matt Lodge, in addition to all-conference performers goalkeeper Tyler Beadle and defender Brad Walker. - UK head coach Ian Collins, who has presided over 18 seasons of UK soccer, sits a win shy of 200 career victories entering the 2011 season. - Amongst C-USA coaches, the Wildcats were voted to finish fifth in the league in the preseason, with Asher and Lodge named preseason All-Conference USA.
Volleyball: - The volleyball team will open the 2011 season on the road in Tallahassee, Fla., at the Florida State Invitational. UK will take on Albany, No. 23 Tulsa and the host Seminoles in the two-day tournament. - All four squads in the round-robin tournament were NCAA participants a season ago. - Kentucky is one of just 18 teams in the nation to appear in six consecutive NCAA Tournaments. - The Wildcats return five starters to a 17-win team including reigning Southeastern Conference Libero of the Year Stephanie Klefot. - Klefot and senior Becky Pavan were named to the preseason All-SEC team as selected by the conference's coaches. - Kentucky's freshman class of Jessy Hoeschler, Jackie Napper, Lauren O'Conner and Kayla Tronick was rated among the top-30 in the nation according to PrepVolleyball.com.
Alfonso Smith rushed for 975 yards and eight touchdowns for his UK career (UK Athletics)
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Today is former UK running back Alfonso Smith. The skinny Alfonso Smith, a running back for UK football from 2005-2010, is on the preseason roster for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. UK background Smith was never a full-time starter as a Wildcat, but was a four-year contributor in the backfield and on special teams. As a redshirt freshman in 2006, the Louisville, Ky. native gained 250 yards on 60 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns. In back-to-back games against Mississippi State and Georgia, he gained a total of 168 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown. As a sophomore, Smith rushed for 149 yards on 7.1 yards per carry. As a junior, Smith played in all 13 games, rushing for 313 yards and two touchdowns. He also emerged as a threat in the passing game, catching 16 passes for 204 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown reception in a 21-20 home win over Arkansas. As a senior, Smith backed up Derrick Locke and was third on the team in rushing with 262 yards. He also returned kicks, totaling 155 return yards for the season.
For his career, he rushed for 974 yards and eight touchdowns on 215 carries. He also tallied 30 catches for 322 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He made just nine starts in his collegiate career, but his speed and potential earned him NFL potential. Professional update The Arizona Cardinals scooped up Smith before the 2010 season. He did not make the regular season roster, but spent the entire year on the Cardinals practice team. When the team drafted running back Ryan Williams out of Virginia Tech in the second round of the April draft, Smith looked destined to play on the practice squad again. However, Williams sustained a season-ending injury in Friday night's preseason game against Green Bay. The Cardinals are considering options for filling the backup running back role behind Chris "Beanie" Wells with Smith figuring in their plans.
Smith leads the team in rushing through the first two preseason games with 69 yards and has impressed his coaching staff. In his last game, Smith had 39 yards and a bruising one yard touchdown run. Wells is known for being a bruising runner, so with his speed Smith could complement Wells as a change of pace. Smith figures to see plenty of chances in the Cardinals' final two preseason outings and has a solid chance of making an NFL roster. What they're saying about Smith Williams' injury creates opportunity for Smith (Craig Morgan, FSArizona) Smith's UK bio
This may have been the last weekend without a home event for
quite a while, but there was still plenty going on around UK sports. Here are a
few notes to get your Monday morning going.
Women's soccer kicked off the season in Kentucky sports with
a 3-0 win over Oakland on the road. Four freshmen started for the Wildcats,
including midfielder Molly Huber, who registered a goal and an assist. The
Wildcat defense was in top gear, holding Oakland to just two shots. Goalkeeper
Kayla Price became the first goalkeeper in school history to post a
season-opening shutout, stopping one shot on goal.
Just a week and a half away from the start of football
season on Thursday Sept. 1, UK students can buy season tickets today at the UK
Athletics ticket office. Additionally, Metz Camfield and I will be bringing you
an exclusive series of positional previews beginning tomorrow. Keep an eye out
for those, because I think you will enjoy them.
Former UK golfer and current PGA Tour professional JB Holmes
will undergo "non-invasive" brain surgery early next week.
Holmes began to experience symptoms in May and dropped out of the PGA
Championship last weekend after an opening round of 80. The condition and
surgery are reportedly not life-threatening, but our thoughts are with Holmes
nonetheless. Here's hoping that he makes a quick recovery and is back on the
golf course soon.
Darius Miller and Team USA were eliminated from medal convention in the World University Games on Saturday (UK Athletics)
After winning five group games by double digits, Darius Miller and Team USA lost 76-74 to Lithuania to in the quarterfinal round of the World University Games. After mounting a late comeback to tie the game at 74 apiece with under two minutes remaining, the Americans missed their final five shots.
Team USA shot just 23-of-67 (34.3%) from the field and 5-of-30 (16.7%) from three point range in the defeat. The UK senior guard/forward scored one point and grabbed four rebounds. Although no longer in medal contention, Team USA will play Romania Sunday at 8:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m. ET) with the winner advancing to the 5th/6th place game. and below is a complete recap courtesy of USA Basketball:
Plagued by ice-cold shooting, including 0-of-14 from 3-point in the second half, the USA (5-1) fell to Lithuania (5-1) 76-74 in the quarterfinals of the 2011World University Games on Saturday night at the Universiade Main Gym in Shenzhen, China.
After battling back from as many as eight points down in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 74-74 with just under two minutes remaining, the USA missed its last five shot attempts as Lithuania sank two free throws to secure the win.
"I thought our guys came out and gave a good effort," said USA and Purdue University head mentor Matt Painter. "Lithuania was a little bit quicker to the basketball. They outrebounded us by about six. If you can pinpoint one area, probably the loose balls and a couple of those long rebounds probably ended up being the key to the game. That was something that we talked about. You got to give Lithuania credit. They did a good job of running down some long rebounds and being able to get the loose balls and in my opinion that was the difference."
The USA will play Romania (3-3) at 8:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m. Eastern Time) on Aug. 21, with the winner advancing to the 5th/6th place game.
In a game that featured 13 lead changes and eight tied scores, John Jenkins (Vanderbilt/ Hendersonville, Tenn.) finished with 17 points to lead the Americans, followed by 16 points from Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh/Scoth Plains, N.J.), who was 6-of-6 from the free throw line, and 12 points from JaMychal Green (Alabama/Montgomery, Ala.).
"We had some shots that didn't fall," Jenkins said. "We made a couple of mistakes on defense. They got to the free throw line. They hit some big shots and they were able to close it out.
"We still want to play hard," Jenkins replied on how the U.S. is looking to respond in its next two games. "We didn't accomplish our goal, but the worst thing we can do is give up and not play our hardest. We have to keep giving it our all and try to finish out strong."
For the first time in its six games the USA was outrebounded 43-37. Further, the U.S., which was a frigid 34.3 percent from the field (23-67 FGs) and 16.7 percent from 3-point (5-30 3pt FGs), fell short in the points-in-the-paint category, tallying 26 to Lithuania's 38, and in second-chance points, scoring six to Lithuania's 11.
"They fought hard," Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara/Seaside, Calif.) said. "They fought really hard. You could tell they've been together for awhile. They've been in games like this before. There were situations down the stretch we didn't execute ... we just didn't finish."
The two teams were separated by no more than four points in the first ten minutes. Gibbs scored the first basket of the game, and Lithuania immediately countered with a three. The U.S. put together five unanswered points with Jenkins' first long ball followed by a jumper from Gibbs at 6:20 to take a 9-5 lead, but Lithuania sank a bucket and knocked in a free throw to cut it to 9-8 at 4:12. From there each U.S bucket was countered before JaMychal Green's two made free throws at 57.5 seconds to end the first quarter with the USA leading 15-12.
Gibbs tallied six points in a 7-2 U.S. spurt to start the second stanza, but Lithuania countered with its largest run of the game, scoring eight unanswered points to tie the game, 22-22, at 5:49. The U.S. maintained a two- to three-point lead until a 6-0 Lithuanian run gave their side a 35-33 advantage at 1:23. Jenkins closed with three 3-pointers in the last 1:04 to help the Americans head to the halftime locker room with a 42-37 advantage.
Both teams ran into foul trouble as early as the second quarter, with Lithuania sending their third-best scorer entering the game, Gediminas Zyle, to the bench at 9:12 for the remainder of the first half and Draymond Green (Michigan State/Saginaw, Mich.) taking a seat with three fouls at 1:23.
Outscoring the USA 28-19, Lithuania's nine-point advantage in the third period proved to be the difference in the game, as the Europeans started out the quarter with a 7-0 run to recapture the lead at 7:27, 44-42. The U.S. fought back with four straight points from Gibbs followed by points from JaMychal Green, Marcus Denmon (Missouri/Kansas City, Mo.) and Jenkins, and Draymond Green battled on the offensive glass for a tip-in at 3:30 to put the U.S. up 54-53. The lead changed sides four more times before Lithuania closed with a 7-3 run, and by the time Denmon just beat the third quarter buzzer with a jumper off of an assist from Scoop Jardine (Syracuse/Philadelphia, Pa.), the USA trailed 65-61.
A 3-pointer from Lithuania's leading scorer, Gediminas Orelik, who finished with 19 points, gave his team its largest lead of the game of eight points, 72-64, at 6:01 in the fourth. JaMychal Green cleaned up his first miss at 4:57 and sparked the USA's largest run of the game, 8-0, to tie the score at 74-74 with 1:55 on the clock. Draymond Green fouled Lithuania's Mantas Kadzevicius, who made both of his free throws at 1:40 to give Lithuania the game's final two points.
The USA missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key on its next trip down, rebounded Lithuania's next miss and then missed a driving attempt to the basket. Lithuania clanked two free throw opportunities at 50 seconds, but the USA's shooting troubles continued as it could not connect on another shot attempt at 26 seconds. Jenkins stole the ball on the next defensive trip at 22 seconds, but the possession resulted in a missed three for the red, white and blue. The USA fouled Lithuania at 2 seconds, which missed two more free throws, but time ran out on the USA's medal hopes as Denmon's full-court shot attempt just rimmed out as the buzzer sounded.
Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota/ St. Paul, Minn.) grabbed 10 rebounds for the USA while Denmon and Jardine each dished out three assists.
In addition to Orelik, Lithuania featured three other players in double figures and recorded 18 assists on its 28 made field goals.
Cuonzo Martin of the University of Tennessee and Brad Stevens of Butler University are serving as assistant coaches for the 2011 USA Men's World University Games Team.
Lithuania advanced to the semifinal against Canada (4-1) which topped Romania 71-58. The other semifinal game will be determined following tonight's 8:30 p.m. quarterfinals between Germany (5-0) and Serbia (3-1) and Russia (5-0) versus Finland (3-2).
The World University Games is a multi-sport competition open to men and women who are between the ages of 17 and 24, who currently or have been within the past year, a student at a college or university.
The United States, which has claimed a medal in every World University Games since beginning play in 1965, has captured a record 13 golds, three silvers and three bronze medals in the 19 WUGs in which a USA Basketball squad has competed, and the U.S. owns a 131-8 record entering this year's event.
Third-year head coach Jon Lipsitz leads UK women's soccer into the 2011 season (Joey Wilkinson, UK Athletics)
Well folks, the 2011-12 University of Kentucky athletic year is upon us. All fall sports are now practicing with each season starting over the next couple weeks. There is plenty going on around here right now, so here are some notes for your Friday:
Women's soccer gets it all started today. Jon Lipsitz begins his third season as UK's head coach with a road trip to face the Oakland Grizzlies in Rochester, Mich at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Wildcats return nine of 11 starters from last season's team and will look to convert the work they've done over a long offseason into a successful year.
Today is also a big day for the university as a whole. It is move-in day for all new students and Joker Phillips the UK football team took a break from fall camp this morning to help with the effort. There's been a lot of talk about how Rock Oliver and the team's work in the weight room will benefit them on the field, but I think that they were really doing it to make lifting all those mini-fridges easy today. Here is a photo gallery and, in case you were looking for visual proof that Jack Gruenschlaeger (a 6-foot-11-inch, 360-pound walk-on offensive tackle) is a big human being, take a look at the 24th photo in the gallery.
One guy who I know had to be pretty valuable at move-in day for his heavy lifting ability was freshman running back Josh Clemons. The Georgia native looks more like a linebacker than a running back and could be just the kind of power runner UK has missed the last couple years. New UK beat writer Kyle Tucker wrote about Clemons in today's Louisville Courier-Journal. It features some quotes from Clemons' high school coach that show what kind of player he could be.
Last year at this time, former UK fullback John Conner (aka "The Terminator) was gaining notoriety during HBO's Hard Knocks for his bone-crunching blocks and Jets' head coach Rex Ryan's affinity for the then-rookie. Conner spent last season backing up veteran Tony Richardson at fullback, but this season, the role is all his. The Newark Star-Ledger has a profile of him today and it sounds like he is adjusting nicely.
Finally, I haven't been able to link to any of Eric Lindsey's work in his new gig over at CoachCal.com, but here is his introduction to his mission for the site. We look forward keeping close tabs on CoachCal.com and continuing to work closely with Eric.
"Woot" has officially been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Was there a Kentucky connection?
Have you ever wondered what it takes to make the dictionary? Odds are you probably haven't. But, if you have, the answer may be to make the NCAA softball super regionals for the first time in program history. That's what the Kentucky softball team did last year, fueled in part by their theme, "woots and dubs." Woots symbolized a moral victory for the team led by head coach Rachel Lawson. Well, I guess the Oxford English Dictionary has some Kentucky fans writing because "woot" is now an official word:
"woot: used to express elation, enthusiasm, or triumph (especially in electronic communication)"
Now before you say it, yes, don't worry, we do realize "woot" was already a term commonly used before the Kentucky softball team used it as a part of their favorite phrase. But it's still fun to think the Big Blue Nation has taken over our dictionaries. Will "3 goggles" be next?
Middle blocker Becky Pavan anchors a three-member senior class in 2011 (UK Athletics)
There just isn't much that UK's group of three seniors hasn't been through on a volleyball court.
Together, outside hitter Ann Armes and middle blockers Gretchen Giesler and Becky Pavan have been a part of extending the school's string of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to six. They've enjoyed the high of a berth in the Sweet 16 in 2009. They have endured the agony of falling just short in a quest for an SEC regular season championship.
Armes, Giesler and Pavan are more than prepared to take those experiences and apply them as they are turned to as team leaders. It's a role they relish as they seek to leave a lasting mark on the program in their final season.
"It definitely helps having experienced everything," Pavan said. "Being there before, you know what to do to get there. Having lost it, you have the drive to get there and go all the way through. It's really hard to go through the lows, but in the end they make you become a stronger leader, a stronger player and stronger person. I think that they're really going to help us go through the next level."
Head coach Craig Skinner has been right there alongside his seniors all along. He knows all the ups and downs they've negotiated and knows they won't come upon anything they don't know how to handle.
"These seniors have been through a lot," Skinner said, "great wins and tough losses and everything in between, so there's not an experience that they haven't had to help lead our team through."
Over a week into fall practices, that sort of background will help the team remain level-headed in the face of both good times and adversity once the season starts on Aug. 26 against Albany in the Florida State Tournament.
"I think it allows us to not really get caught up in the emotions and get too high or low," Skinner said. "We can keep a more consistent demeanor in practice or in games. If you can slow games down and focus on each individual point then you can absolutely perform at a higher level. That leadership is invaluable and something we will have to rely on throughout the year."
The most heart-breaking moment that the group has shared came in 2009. Playing Tennessee in the finale of the regular season with a chance to earn a share of the SEC regular season title, the Wildcats rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a deciding fifth set. Leading 14-10 in the fifth, UK allowed the Volunteers to score six straight points for the win. Though painful, Skinner knows that such moments can be very powerful.
"You learn a lot when you lose, when you win everyone feels good and you just move on," Skinner said. "When you lose you have to evaluate what you are doing as an individual and as a team. In the tough loss situations you have to bring out the things we don't do well and improve on them."
In fact, UK used the Tennessee loss as a springboard that very post-season. In the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats hosted first and second round games in Lexington. Skinner's bunch defeated Michigan State, then the tournament's No. 14 overall seed Oregon to earn the program's first Sweet 16 trip since 1992.
More than any difficult loss or exciting win, though, the three seniors have experienced something a bit harder to pin down: what it means to be a Kentucky Wildcat. From day one, the trio has fully embraced being a part of Skinner's program.
"They are three individuals that immediately bought into our program, our coaching staff and whatever changes have been made," Skinner said. "When you have people like that that are really selfless and realize the program is a lot bigger than just us it really filters to everyone involved with the team."
Perhaps the most important aspect of Skinner's philosophy is the concept that the choice to attend Kentucky makes you a Wildcat for the rest of your life, not just the next four years.
"We talk about that a lot with recruiting, going to UK is not just a college decision it is a life decision," Skinner said. "The people, the university, our fans have a lot of pride and they feel a sense of ownership in our athletes and the program as well. When they leave the program they still want to be involved."
Now that Armes, Giesler and Pavan are in their final season, they know that they are called on to play a vital role in building the foundation for the next chapter of UK volleyball.
"Even after you leave, you're always going to be part of this program," Pavan said. "What you've done, how you've affected the players under you is going to continue like a ripple effect. The way you help the younger players develop will play a huge role in how they affect the next generation."
The senior trio is a perfect example of that ripple effect in that they prepared for their current role by watching and learning from departed teammates like Blair Hiler and Lauren Rapp. Pavan, a preseason All-SEC honoree, is the most decorated of the three, but she lauds how Armes and Giesler set the tone for the rest of the team on and off the court.
"I love my group of three, of course," Pavan said. "Ann, she's here for her fifth year now and she's been through so much. She's worked so hard. Gretchen is such a hard worker and they're both people you can always turn to no matter what's happening. On the court, you can turn to them to get a big kill. Off the court, you can go to them if you need someone to talk to. I think it's really important for the seniors to be in that role, being someone for the younger players to look up to and confide in."
Armes, Giesler and Pavan have taken ownership of the program, which makes the fact that UK was chosen to host the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight this season very special for them.
"We've proven ourselves to be a top program for a few years now," Pavan said. "It means a lot for our athletic department as a whole because we've done such a great job hosting the first few rounds. The city in general (and) our fans are so great, so they want to have that kind of environment for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight because it's such a big deal. Being able to host it is a reflection of how our team has been doing."
The support of local volleyball fans is a big reason why Lexington earned the right to host. Armes, a Grand Island, Neb. native, comes from a volleyball hotbed and has seen UK develop into a power that she now happily compares to Nebraska when she talks to friends still playing there.
"(I came) from Nebraska to a program that had 88 people in the (stands) when I came on my visit as a junior," Armes said. "At Nebraska, they sell out with 4,000 (fans) every time. That aspect alone of coming from the bottom to now we're contending for the top spot in the conference it's really great. It's really cool to talk to my friends back in Nebraska who are still playing and compare programs and how similar they are."
Like Armes, Giesler and Pavan all came to UK from out of state, but have found a second home in the Bluegrass. It's difficult to imagine a better way for the three to close out their careers than playing deep into the NCAA Tournament in front of their adopted hometown fans.
"Kentucky is my home now," Pavan said. "It has become a home away from home. Our fans have embraced me, being so far away home. It's just such a great place to be and it would mean the world to be in Lexington playing in the Sweet 16 with all the people that I've come to love in the city that I've come to love."
Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips talked to the media following Thursday afternoon's practice. Phillips opened his comments with the news that sophomore cornerback Jerrell Priester has decided to leave the program.
Phillips said he thought the offense got after the defense and challenged the unit this morning and that the team got better all together by getting after each other this afternoon.
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats play a league-high 12 SEC games on national television (UK Athletics)
The Wildcats will have two highly anticipated games against Vanderbilt this year. The first of which will be played at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn., with the ESPN College Gameday crew of Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis warming up the crowd. The Commodores return all five starters from a year ago and Memorial Gymnasium always provides a great environment. Kentucky and Vanderbilt's second game is the CBS featured game on Feb. 25 at noon.
Kentucky's game at Mississippi State on Feb. 21 should be one of the more intense games on the conference slate. Neither Mississippi State nor Kentucky fans forget the last time the Wildcats visited Starkville, Miss. Trailing by seven on the road with three minutes left, Kentucky made a furious comeback to send the game into overtime. John Wall scored five points in the extra session and finished just two assists shy of a triple-double as UK came out with a six-point victory.
Staying with the Kentucky-Mississippi State series, a little stat to note is that the two schools have not played a game decided by more than 10 points since 2006 when Kentucky defeated the Bulldogs in Starkville 81-66. Kentucky leads the series 4-3 in the seven games played since then, with three of those seven games going into overtime, including UK's dramatic one-point victory in the 2010 SEC Tournament Championship.
Kentucky closes with a brutal final three games against traditional SEC Eastern division foes, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida. While the divisions are gone, the rivalries remain. Kentucky split the regular season series against each of the three teams last year with the home team winning each ball game.
Kentucky does not play Florida until Feb. 7 this year when it hosts the Gators for a 7:00 p.m. showdown on ESPN. Kentucky took the three-game series against Florida 2-1 last year, with the Wildcats taking the rubber match 70-54 in the SEC Tournament Championship. Billy Donovan's group will feature an electrifying backcourt led by All-SEC second team performers Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker and incoming freshman phenom Bradley Beal.
Last season's trip to Athens, Ga., did not turn out the way Calipari and Co., would have liked. The Wildcats will venture to Stegeman Coliseum on Jan. 24 this year looking for a different result from last year's seven-point conference-opening loss. Georgia travels to Lexington for Kentucky's Senior Day game on March 1. Kentucky will be honoring seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas.
Kentucky will face Tennessee and new head coach Cuonzo Martin on Jan. 14 for the first time. Martin left Missouri State to take over for Bruce Pearl at Tennessee and inherits a team that will feature a drastically changed roster as the Volunteers lost all five starters from last year's NCAA Tournament team.
Alabama got the best of Kentucky in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last year, holding on for a two-point victory and a signature win for head coach Anthony Grant and the program. While the Crimson Tide flew under the radar for much of the 2010-11 season, the 2011 National Invitation Tournament runners-up will enter the 2011-12 season high on everybody's radar. Grant welcomes back All-SEC first team forward JaMychal Green, All-SEC second team forward Tony Mitchell and SEC All-freshman guard Trevor Releford. Grant is also bringing in the No. 5 ranked recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com.
Kentucky will go up against new Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson on Jan. 17 at Rupp Arena. Anderson is no stranger to the SEC or Kentucky, though. Anderson spent 17 years with the Razorbacks basketball program led by then-head coach Nolan Richardson. Anderson was most recently the head coach at Missouri and will enter the 2011-12 season with the No. 7 ranked recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.
John Calipari will go up against his former player and assistant coach Tony Barbee on Jan. 11 when UK travels to Auburn for an 8:00 p.m. ET tip.
Today was photo day for the women's volleyball team and Sports Video was there to capture the behind-the-scenes fun. Fans can get a first look at the team on Sunday, Aug. 21 as the Wildcats host their annual Blue/White scrimmage. Admission to the 3 p.m. ET event is free to the public.
UK men's tennis enjoyed one of its best seasons in 2011. The Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, losing to the eventual national champion USC Trojans. The trip to the final eight marked the first time in school history that the Wildcats reached at least the round of 16 in consecutive seasons.
UK returns four of six starters from that team for the upcoming season, including No. 1 and No. 2 singles players Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek. Seniors Brad Cox and Alberto Gonzalez have graduated, but Anthony Rossi and Tom Jomby are poised to improve from strong showings last year.
Entering his 30th season as head coach at UK, Dennis Emery discussed the 2011 season and looked ahead to a bright future in 2012 in a video interview with UKathletics.com.
Darius Miller scored seven points as Team USA finished group play in the World University Games with a 5-0 record (UK Athletics)
-UK senior guard/forward Darius Miller and Team USA completed group play with a 94-84 win over Israel on Thursday. Miller had seven points, one assist and one rebound as the Americans moved their unblemished record to 5-0, though they trailed 43-41 at halftime. As the No. 1 seed in Group D, Team USA advances to quarterfinal round on Saturday against Lithuania at 6 p.m. China Standard Time (6 a.m. eastern). You can also view a box score and a full recap at USABasketball.com. Below are a few quotes from Miller on the win:
Darius Miller (University of Kentucky) On today's game: In the second half we came out with more energy. In the first half we played kind of sluggish, kind of slow. We didn't get off to a really good start, but in the second half we picked it up, especially on the defensive end. I think that's what made the difference. Is this a good type of game to get you refocused heading into the medal round? I definitely think we needed a game like this to get us prepared, make sure we're still on the edge. It's a good thing to see how it's going to be in the medal rounds, because there won't be any easy games in the medal round. On Israel: They did a great job of staying disciplined with everything they needed to do. They did a great job with helping each other on the defensive end and they executed every time on offense. We didn't do a good job of staying disciplined and playing with a lot of energy. What's life like in the village? It's really fun, especially with these guys. We've grown pretty close. Having guys to spend it with like this, they're all great teammates and I'm just having fun with it all.
-Former UK outfielder Collin Cowgill and his Arizona Diamondbacks faced the Philadelphia Phillies last night on ESPN. He started in left field and batted seventh in D'backs' 9-2 loss, but Cowgill made a dazzling play on a deep drive by Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard that earned him the No. 9 spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 list. I am unable to put the video on the blog, but click on this link to see the play.
Tailback Raymond Sanders rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. (UK Athletics)
Gone are the days of "three yards and a cloud of dust" being a passable offensive philosophy. In the era of the West Coast and run-and-shoot offenses, running the ball between the tackles every down is not exactly in style.
Fear not Woody Hayes, the power running game is not going away. Whether it's done traditionally, through a spread option attack or with the Wildcat, the ability to gain a consistent three yards when it's needed is a hallmark of a successful team. The teams that can turn those three yards into five or seven are the ones that really do damage.
Kentucky has plenty of offensive question marks this season, but with a stout offensive line, a stable of running backs and a commitment to rushing the football, that power running game could be a hallmark of this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats. Four of UK's five starters on the offensive line have missed time in fall camp due to injury, but that running game could be what sets the table for everything the offense does once back to full strength.
"It's frustrating for all of us offensively when you have three or four offensive lineman out," running backs coach Steve Pardue said, "but the other guys are working hard and you hope it will help us down the line. When we get everybody healthy I think we will be able to run the football. When you do that it opens everything else up."
Pardue is in his first season as running backs coach at UK after a long and successful career coaching LaGrange (Ga.) High School. He has instilled a philosophy that demands tough, hard-nosed running backs willing to seek out contact. For the offensive line, that kind of runner is exactly the one that they most enjoy blocking for.
In UK's first scrimmage of the fall last Saturday, the first team offense was able to pound out consistent yardage on the ground. Even though three starters from UK's five-man group sat out with minor injuries, the right side of the line remained intact with guard Larry Warford and tackle Billy Joe Murphy. The pair was able to assert its will, but Murphy said that should not come as a surprise.
"I know they expect that of me and Larry," Murphy said. "Whenever the ball is run to your side, they're calling your number so you have to step up and make a play."
Running behind them was Raymond Sanders. The sophomore stands at just 5-foot-8, but his short frame belies the punch that he packs.
"He's got a low center of gravity," Pardue said. "He's not a small kid, he's short. He's a really thick, strong kid. He runs behind his pads well. Sometimes it may be an advantage to be a little bit smaller, he may get lost in there some."
When Pardue arrived in December, Sanders embraced his philosophy and he believes himself to be the kind of back that can thrive in it.
"He just wants us to be tough guys and to explode through and get those extra two yards after contact," Sanders said. "Those are the things he wants us to do and I feel like I can do that (with my) low center of gravity. It's hard for guys to tackle me and wrap around me. I can also bring power. I have strong legs and I feel confident I can deliver the blow."
Although he has been the most consistent fall performer, Sanders isn't the only back well-suited to line up behind UK's bruising offensive line. Junior CoShik Williams, sophomore Jonathan George, redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer and true freshmen Josh Clemons and Marcus Caffey have all shown potential at various points.
"Young guys are pushing, old guys are stepping up and we're having a really good competition," Pardue said. "They're all in the mix getting reps. (We don't have) a true pecking order. It kind of changes day to day with the one consistent being Raymond."
Among the two true freshmen, Pardue said Clemons looked best, but partially due to a hamstring injury to Caffey that has forced him to miss four practices.
"They're both showing they have some talent and we're excited to see them Saturday in (UK's next) scrimmage," Pardue said. "Hopefully they know more than the Saturday before."
Murphy and the offensive line aren't concerning themselves too much with the battle for playing time in the backfield. They are simply intent on making the job easy for whoever is carrying the ball.
"I have faith in all those guys that I've seen," Murphy said. "I don't care who's back there and the offensive line doesn't care who's back there, we just try to make a hole for them."
The player who potentially stands to benefit most from a potent running game is quarterback Morgan Newton. The junior is playing his third season in offensive coordinator Randy Sanders' system, but he has made just eight starts in his career. Additionally, he is breaking in a receiving corps without a single wide out who has a 100-yard game in his career.
If Newton were stepping into a situation where he was called upon to throw 40 or 50 times a game, there may be some serious cause for concern. Instead, he will play in an offense unafraid to run the football, which should significantly open things up for him in the passing game.
"It makes his life easy," Pardue said. "It makes everything better if you're balanced. That's the key, to be balanced, to run and throw it. It's hard for the defensive coordinator to dial in plays."
An ability to run the ball not only opens up holes in the secondary for the quarterback to attack, but it also makes the job of the pass blockers that much easier.
"When everybody is worried about the run, they're not as worried about a pass rush," Murphy said. "They won't get as wide on third down because they're worried about the run game."
Sanders, while excited about what the running game could do to open up the pass, believes there will be games when UK is able to physically exert its will in the running game behind that offensive line whether they are throwing the ball successfully or not.
"I really think so," Sanders said when asked if they can dominate games on the ground. "Those guys are experienced and they're great players. I feel like they're the top offensive linemen in the nation. That's my confidence in those guys. I've seen how hard they work."
UK rifle head coach Harry Mullins has been busy this summer, preparing for the 2011-12 season. After claiming the program's first NCAA Title last season, Mullins and assistant coach Stacy Underwood have been working diligently to ensure that the program remains among the nation's elite. Cat Scratches visited with Mullins on Wednesday afternoon in his office.
Earlier today I posted a recap of Team USA 124-64 win over Finland in group play of the World University Games. UK senior guard/forward Darius Miller had a solid all-around game (eight points, six rebounds and four steals) and is featured on the video highlights below. At about the 0:30 mark, he has a nice drive and dish for an easy basket, then a tip-in immediately after. At the 2:30 mark, he has another assist.
In 2011, Joker Phillips signed two wide receivers from the state of Alabama: Daryl Collins and Rashad Cunningham. In an ongoing series of video interviews with UK freshman, strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver talked to both of them this week.
Kentucky junior midfielder Matt Lodge has had a dynamic career in his first two seasons in Lexington. A native of Rossington, England, Lodge became UK's first freshman All-America selection in 2009, before earning All-Conference USA accolades as a sophomore.
As one of the top players in collegiate soccer, Lodge will help anchor the midfield for the Wildcats in 2011. Check out the video to hear from Lodge and UK head coach Ian Collins and also get a behind-the-scenes look at the program.
Darius Miller has averaged 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in four outings at the World University Games (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Darius Miller had his best game yet in the World University Games as Team USA clinched the No. 1 seed in Group D with a 124-64 win over Finland. The senior guard/forward had eight points, six rebounds, two assists and a team-high four steals.
Moving to a perfect 4-0, Team USA posted most lopsided victory to date, extending its average margin of victory to 49.0 points per game in tournament play. Miller and co. will play their fifth and final game in group play Thursday at 3:30 p.m. China Standard Time (3:30 a.m. eastern) against Israel before playing in the quarterfinal round on Saturday against an opponent yet to be determined.
After a first-quarter fight from Finland (2-2), the 2011 USA Men's World University Games Team (4-0) went on to easily secure a 124-64 win and the No. 1 seed out of Group D in the 2011 World University Games on Aug. 17 at the Universiade Main Gym in Shenzhen, China.
Led by 21 points from JaMychal Green (Alabama/Montgomery, Ala.), who grabbed five offensive boards and shot 6-of-7 from the field and 8-of-10 from the free throw line, the USA collected 22 offensive rebounds overall on its way to a 47-27 advantage on the glass.
"We came out with a lot of energy," said USA and Purdue University head mentor Matt Painter. "We mixed up the line up a little bit tonight and swapped our point guards, Scoop (Jardine) and Ashton (Gibbs), just to get a different look and see how our guys would respond to it, and both groups played well. I thought our guys had a great effort on the glass, especially on free throws. Even though you don't want to miss your free throws, we did a great job of attacking the glass and getting second-chance opportunities."
The USA, which has cruised uncontested through its first four games, will wrap up preliminary round pool play against Israel at 3:30 p.m. (all times listed are China Standard Time, which is +12 hours from Eastern Time) on Aug. 18. The top two finishing teams from each pool will advance to the medal quarterfinals, which will be contested on Aug. 20. The semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 21, and the finals will be played on Aug. 22.
Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota/ St. Paul, Minn.) added fourteen points and six rebounds, Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh/Scotch Plains, N.J.) finished with 13 points and three assists, John Jenkins (Vanderbilt/ Hendersonville, Tenn.) was 3-of-4 from 3-point and tallied 12 points and Marcus Denmon (Missouri/Kansas City, Mo.), who was perfect from the field (3-3 FGs) and the charity stripe (3-3 FTs), rounded out the USA's double-digit scorers with 10 points. As they have in all of the USA's four contests, all 12 U.S. players put points on the board.
"I think we played well today," JaMychal Green said. "We did a good job on the defensive end and a great job on the offensive end. We played better help defense and took pride in guarding our own players. Coach (Painter) always preaches that we need to crash the boards, and we did that today."
Finland came out fighting and managed to take the lead from the USA three times in the first four minutes. A three-point play from Denmon at 5:54, however, tied the score 11-11 and was the start of a 9-0 spurt that put the USA ahead for the remainder of the game. Finland cut it to two points at 2:26, 18-16, but that was as close as they would get. Five points from Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara/Seaside, Calif.) were followed by scores from Ray McCallum (Detroit Mercy/Beverly Hills, Mich.) and Jenkins, and by the time McCallum just beat the first quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer, the red, white and blue led by 12 points, 31-19.
"Before the game in film today, coach Stevens really stressed coming out strong from the get-go, being focused and playing hard," McCallum said. "I thought that was what we did, and our walk-through this morning carried over to the game today. Everyone came out focused, played well together as a team and played good defense, and we got the job done."
The scoreboard read 33-23 in the second quarter before back-to-back 3-pointers from Demon and Draymond Green (Michigan State/Saginaw, Mich.) launched a 12-0 spurt that closed with two made free throws from Denmon at 6:04 to widen the margin to 45-23. Finland never quit fighting and called both of its timeouts hoping to cool the Americans, but the tactic did not work. The USA compiled another 5-0 run and outscored its opponent 32-19 overall in the period to head to the halftime locker room up 63-38.
"Coming into the game, we expected Finland to be the best team that we had played so far, and they played us tough, especially to start," Denmon said. "We did a lot of things well and improved on things that we didn't do well in our last game. We paid attention to detail and took what we learned in film this morning and applied it to the game, and that paid off with a big win."
With the game's outcome already decided the USA was on fire in the third quarter, scoring 37 points, while its defense allowed Finland just 13. The USA largest string of unanswered points, 14-0, came in the period, opening with a 3-pointer from Darius Miller (Kentucky/Maysville, Ky.) at 3:10 and continuing through to a made free throw from Mbakwe at 1:17. The Americans reached 100 points off of an Mbakwe score at 40 seconds, and had a 100-51 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
The USA, which shot 57.3 percent (43-75 FGs) from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point (9-22 3-pt FGs), went on to outscore Finland 24-13 in the final 10 minutes to capture a 124-64 win.
"We wanted to finish out the game, especially the fourth quarter, with a big lead and to put four solid quarters together," said Greg Mangano (Yale/Orange, Conn.), who finished with seven points, two steals and two blocks. "I think we did that. Being able to play 12 guys and using different line-ups helps us work on our chemistry. When we get into a close game, everyone will have had the chance to play some solid minutes with each other."
Cuonzo Martin of the University of Tennessee and Brad Stevens of Butler University are serving as assistant coaches for the 2011 USA Men's World University Games Team.
In today's other Pool D games, Israel (2-2) edged out South Korea (1-3) 87-82, and Mexico (3-1) topped Hungary (0-4) 86-74. Should the USA lose to Israel on Aug. 18 and Mexico improve to 4-1, the USA would still be the No. 1 seed having beat Mexico 108-67 on Aug. 13.
The World University Games is a multi-sport competition open to men and women who are between the ages of 17 and 24, who currently or have been within the past year, a student at a college or university.
The United States, which has claimed a medal in every World University Games since beginning play in 1965, has captured a record 13 golds, three silvers and three bronze medals in the 19 WUGs in which a USA Basketball squad has competed, and the U.S. owns a 131-8 record in the event.
In retirement, Joe B.'s "second act" has been a humdinger, filled with one surprise after another.
The coach who used to be second-guessed regularly, even savaged, on Kentucky radio sports talk shows has reinvented himself in "retirement" as a host of a show that is syndicated around the commonwealth.
Pardue proved he's more than capable of developing talent while at LaGrange, which had 26 players sign with major college programs during his final 10 seasons. They went to Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina. A dozen of them signed with UK, which put Pardue on Joker Phillips' radar.
The Wildcats' coach hired him largely because of Pardue's deep ties to other high school coaches all over Georgia, where UK would like to strengthen its recruiting efforts, but Phillips also predicts he'll make a fine position coach.
Jones spent most of his summer in Lexington, working on his ball-handling skills, shooting and conditioning while adding strength and bulk. Jones said he weighed 240 pounds as a freshman. Now he's up to 250. He hopes the extra muscle will help him absorb contact better under the basket, enabling him to finish plays.
When he wasn't working out, Jones took an equal interest in setting a good example for the Wildcats' newcomers.
"I wanted to make sure that I was going as hard as I could in front of my new teammates," he said. "It's obvious they look up to me. I try to show them how to do the right thing and what's best for them. When they ask me questions, I try to play the big brother role that my teammates played for me last year.
"College can be shocking for a freshman, because everything is so much different than high school. Everything is much more serious. It takes time to get used to. The summer is the best and easiest time to do it."
UK guard Darius Miller is traveling around the world to China for a basketball tournament. Will he return a better player?
Barring a complete destruction of self-confidence should he get dunked on by a 5-foot-9 foreign player, yes. Playing more basketball with good players and good coaches will help. Darius Miller post-China should be better (and more cultured) than Darius Miller pre-China. By how much, and improved in what aspects, is harder to determine, but anyone associated with international competitions invariably says it's a beneficial experience.
Incoming freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who played for the 2010 U-17 team that won a gold medal, said late-round games bring a different kind of pressure. The U.S. is widely expected to win these 2011 Games. The team has won a medal in every competition since 1965, and this is typically one of the weaker international events played. If the U.S. advances deep in the tournament, the pressure will be that of finishing the job as an expected favorite -- where Miller and UK will often find themselves.
"He's a guy who looks like a young Danny (Trevathan)," UK head coach Joker Phillips said. "Whether or not he'll develop into a Danny Trevathan, who knows? But he looks a little like Danny did when he was a freshman."
"He's shown some flashes that remind us of Danny," UK linebackers coach Chuck Smith said. "... Athletically, he's got the tools. He's fast, he's quick, he's explosive. He's going to be a good one."
And this from new Wildcat defensive coordinator Rick Minter: "I wasn't here when Danny was young. All I know is Danny now, and that's darn good. But Malcolm's on his way. He's a big positive for us and the future. The best thing about him is, he's got his whole future ahead of him."
1. What are your expectations, considering last year you finished in the top 16? ---My expectations this year is to simply play my game and focus on what I do best, However making the sweet 16 last year will help me this year knowing what to expect going into the tournament this year.
2. What preparations are you making for the championships in New Haven? ---I am playing many tournaments before the championships in new Haven. This will help me be match tough which will be important in the sweet 16 in New Haven!
Command is the key for Paxton. His walk rate was rather high at Clinton, but his stuff was so good he thrived anyway. His command has been excellent in his recent run of starts and the results are obvious. He didn't walk a lot of guys in college, but his command within the strike zone was inconsistent, and scouts felt he was hit harder than he should have been given the quality of his fastball and breaking ball. Note that Kentucky plays in a high-offense context, and his K/IP and K/BB ratios for the Wildcats were more indicative of his potential than the elevated ERA. In pro ball, the results have matched the potential.
There have been a few rumbles that Paxton could be promoted for September, but it seems more likely that he'll be a candidate for 2012. He is one of the top pitching prospects in the game, and profiles as a number two starter if he continues to progress with his command.
"About four or five of us guys jumped on the truck and reached in there and turned the keys off and just tried to make sure he wasn't going anywhere," he said.
He says it was a harrowing experience, but when he discovered there were young children in the backseat, he knew it was worth it.
"We were just worried because he could have put it in drive at any time and maybe ran somebody over, or while our arms were in the car, just kept going and we could have been drug or something. I'm the type of guy that, I want to make sure everybody else is alright. I saw it, I moved out of the way, I'm fine. My truck got hit, that's replaceable. I was just thankful nobody got hurt and the kids were fine," said Harrellson.
It was just one pre-season game, but former Kentucky standout Tim Masthay seemed to pick right up where he left off last season, booming punts Saturday night in the Green Bay Packers' loss to the Cleveland Browns.
"He's having a great (camp)," kicker Mason Crosby told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "From our off-season together to seeing him hit the ball the way he did (Saturday) was awesome.
Chris Rusin was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 MLB Draft after going 23-11 over his four-year UK career (UK Athletics)
The skinny Chris Rusin, a left-handed pitcher for UK baseball from 2006-09, is a fast-rising prospect in the Chicago Cubs' system and currently plays for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.
UK background Rusin came to UK from Canton, Mich., where he led Divine Child High School to back-to-back state championships. As a freshman in 2006, he contributed to UK's SEC Championship team as a mid-week starter and eventually out of the bullpen. In 16 appearances and 38 innings pitched, he posted a perfect 5-0 record and an ERA of 4.03. As a sophomore, he became UK's top weekend starter, winning five games and striking out 76 batters in 14 starts. In 2008, he had his breakout season, becoming the first UK pitcher since Scott Downs (the subject of our last "Kentucky in the pros" post) to earn first team All-SEC honors. In 13 starts, he had an ERA of 3.33, 6-3 record and nine quality starts.
His 2008 season was enough to convince the Oakland A's to select him in the 23rd round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but Rusin chose to return to Lexington for his senior season. In 2009, his ERA climbed a bit to 4.20, but he still had a record of 7-4 and struck out 108 batters in just 94.1 innings and is one of just 10 players in school history to record 100 or more strikeouts in a season. Returning to school ended up paying dividends when the Cubs selected the southpaw in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.
Professional update Rusin reported to the Cubs right away and pitched in Rookie and Single-A leagues in 2009. He posted solid numbers in his first professional season and was assigned to High-A to begin 2010. He appeared in 20 games for the Daytona Cubs and had an ERA of 3.36 and a dazzling WHIP of 1.03. His strong performance led to a late-season promotion to Double-A Tennessee, where he made four excellent starts en route to a 2-1 record and an ERA of 1.89.
In 2011, he returned to Tennessee and made 15 starts before earning a call-up to Triple-A. Since debuting with Iowa on July 7, he has pitched at least four innings and allowed two runs or fewer in all but two appearances and has an ERA of 3.47. On August 8, he turned in his best outing of the season against the Sacramento River Cats. Over seven shutout innings, he allowed six hits and no walks while striking out 11 batters.
Making his performance in Triple-A that much more impressive is the fact that he is pitching in a league (the Pacific Coast League) well-known for being favorable to hitters. With injuries and ineffectiveness plaguing the Cubs' major league pitching staff, Rusin figures to be a candidate for a September call-up when rosters expand.
Having a defense that heavily emphasizes forcing turnovers can be somewhat of a double-edged sword on practice days. Those days when the offense takes care of the football, the defense needs to force turnovers. When the defense does what it sets out to do and takes the ball away, the offense needs to do a better job being strong with the ball.
That was Joker Phillips' dilemma on Tuesday. Rick Minter's defense had multiple takeaways, particularly in short yardage situations, and Phillips was pleased with that, but he can't accept those kinds of mistakes from his offense. "We had too many turnovers," Phillips said. "We turned the ball over too many times offensively, but the good thing is that, defensively, we did a good job of taking it away."
Yet again, Phillips was pleased with the effort and speed that his team played with, but harped on cutting out mistakes like turnovers and pre-snap penalties, calling them "infectious". Even though many of the mistakes are being made by younger players trying to make plays, Phillips said that those errors cannot become habits.
Before returning to meetings this evening, the team will head poolside to "break up the monotony" of fall camp in the words of Phillips. Check out the video below Phillips' thoughts on the merits of back flips vs. front flips off of the diving board as well as all of his comments after practice on Tuesday morning.
Yesterday I posted a recap of Darius Miller and Team USA's 112-68 win over South Korea in the World University Games. Today we have video evidence of the win. Five of Miller's eight points are shown in the highlights above, including a three pointer at the 2:10 mark and a fast break dunk at 2:35. Team USA has a day off on Tuesday before facing Finland at 6:00 p.m. (6:00 a.m. eastern).
Junior RHP Alex Meyer has signed a professional contract after going 7-5 with a 2.94 ERA and 110 strikeouts (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky star right handed starter Alex Meyer agreed to terms last night with the Washington Nationals, the team that selected him 22nd overall in the 2011 MLB Draft in June. He agreed to his professional contract just before the 11:59 p.m. deadline for draftees to sign.
The deal means that Meyer will forgo his senior season at UK, leaving a hole in the rotation that won't be easy to fill. In just three seasons, Meyer wrote his name all over the record book at UK. He is fifth in school history in strikeouts with 253 on the heels of a dominant junior season that saw him lead the Wildcats in almost every major pitching category and earn All-SEC honors.
Although his loss will be felt, his signing is further evidence of the talent that is being brought to Lexington on a regular basis. Meyer is the fourth UK player to be drafted in the first round, all in 1996 or later. Since 2006, 14 Wildcats have been taken in the first 10 rounds of the MLB Draft.
With players like catcher Michael Williams spurning the pros to come back to play for Gary Henderson and a stellar signing class, UK should have plenty of talent. We will talk about that in the future, but in the mean time, check out the complete release on Meyer's signing and congrats to Alex!
Senior middle linebacker Ronnie Sneed was third on the team with 62 tackles in 2010 (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Tunnel vision can be a good thing in sports. Tuning out the outside world and zeroing in on the task at hand is a trait that many of the best share. Although UK's defense under co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter is certainly capable of that kind of focus, it's not the approach they always choose.
As fall camp drags on, Minter refuses to let his team get lost in self-pity in the face of long days, strenuous practices and demanding workouts. The Wildcats may be working nearly every waking hour to prepare for the upcoming season, but Minter is sure to remind them that they are playing a game they all love.
This year, Minter has a dramatic example he can use to make that point in his own meeting room.
"We've got a guy in our room now that's been in the military," Minter said. "I said 'you put life in perspective: ask him if what we're doing is tough.'"
The player he is referring to is defensive lineman James McDevitt, a senior transfer from Southern Mississippi. Before returning to school to play college football, the Mobile, Ala. native served in the United States Army, fighting in the War in Iraq in 2005-06. Having an example like that is a reminder to keep things in perspective, particularly when a tragic event like the death of 30 Americans in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Aug. 6 takes place.
"That means that life isn't as bad as they thought it was," Minter said. "I always try to remind our kids about a lot of things that are happening around the world. I remind our kids about how our nation lost 30 guys the other day in a tragic SEALs event and I said 'put it in perspective.'"
With something like that in the back of your mind, spending all day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in practice, meetings and workouts doesn't seem nearly as difficult to cope with, but that doesn't make it easy or any less important to what UK is trying to accomplish on the field.
With the adrenaline pumping over the first days of camp, bringing the requisite intensity is easy. The true test comes as camp wears on and players start to hope for the end to come. Especially in a system that demands that players play with such a high level of speed and aggressiveness, the lessons learned during fall camp will pay dividends if the team responds.
"You can get mental fatigue as much as physical fatigue and our system is as taxing as any," Minter said. "We just fight through it and that's part of mental toughness: learning when you're tired when you're in meeting at night. We're putting them through the grind and we don't deny that. That's what fall camp is all about and I appreciate their efforts. They're trying hard and we keep forging on."
After the team's first two-a-day last week, Minter preached the importance of mental fortitude and was pleased with his defense in that respect.
"Fall camp is about mental toughness as much as physical toughness," Minter said. "The strong endure both mentally and physically and that's what we're trying to push our guys to. Today is the first day of two-a-days and we don't have that many in our structure, but I thought the kids really did a good job pushing themselves through today and that's a good sign."
Senior middle linebacker Ronnie Sneed agreed that the mental aspect of two-a-days is the most taxing.
"(It's probably more difficult from) a mental perspective," Sneed said. "Physically it's always tough, but coming back and shaking off that stiffness from that first practice and knowing that you have another practice to go might wear on you (mentally). You just have to fight through it."
Minter isn't the only one taking an active role in making sure the team perseveres. Most of UK's top defensive contributors return from last year and all know how important camp is. They aren't afraid to let the young players know about it.
"The good news on defense is that we've got six, seven, eight guys that are seniors," Minter said. "This is their last go-round and their legacy, their imprint on this program is contingent upon how others help them reach their team goals. I think our older guys are doing a pretty darn good job of bringing the young ones along."
Sneed is one of those seniors. He's more than willing to be vocal in his leadership, but he also knows that leading by example is just as powerful.
"You just have to pull them along," Sneed said. "This is what we have to do to get better. You try to lead by example. You try not to have any backtalk. When coach says we're going out here for another practice or when we have an extra meeting, you just say 'OK' and the younger guys watch that and they follow."
Also helping to pull the defense along is an offensive line that leaves little room for error. Returning four of five starters, including star guards Larry Warford and Stuart Hines, UK's front line is its strongest unit. Slacking off is not a luxury anyone on the defense can afford, because the offensive line will knock them backwards if they do.
"It's really good because it gives us good competition," Sneed said. "When you have a veteran offensive line like we have, it helps us from the standpoint of knowing that we're playing a good opponent every day. When we go out on Saturday's we won't face anyone better because I feel like we have one of the better offensive lines in the SEC. We know that we're practicing against the best and it will convert on the field."
Minter said that the offense, led by the line, exerted its will over the first few days of camp. He has been pleased with how his defense has rebounded. That back-and-forth is an important part of offensive and defensive philosophies that are highly compatible.
"I love the physicality that (offensive line coach) Mike Summers and (tight ends coach Greg Nord) are trying to create on the edges and up front and that is only going to make us survive and get better," Minter said. "I've always said that the only good teams around are ones that have a complementary philosophy and the offense and defense are always, not only competing, but helping each other."
UK senior guard/forward Darius Miller tallied eight points and five rebounds for Team USA against South Korea in group play at the World University Games. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
Darius Miller returned to the starting line-up for Team USA's 112-68 win over South Korea as the Americans continued group play in the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen, China. Team USA moved to 3-0 with the win, remaining the only unbeaten team in Group D. Miller played nearly 21 minutes, third on the team, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds.
Links to the game story, quotes and photos are unavailable at this time, but you can view a complete box score at this link. Here is the game recap, courtesy of Team USA.
Outsized and overpowered, South Korea (1-2) was no match for the USA Men's World University Games Team (3-0), which featured six players in double figures and a 61-35 rebounding advantage as it cruised to a 112-68 win in the 2011 World University Games on Aug. 15 at the Universiade Main Gym in Shenzhen, China.
"South Korea gave us a different look," said USA and Purdue University head mentor Matt Painter. "They had quickness at every single one of their positions. They were hard to handle. They were in constant movement. It was a good look for our guys to be able to handle that. They played a lot smaller than we play, so that was a little bit of a tough match-up. But I thought our depth and our overall strength and our ability to rebound really helped us."
JaMychal Green (Alabama/Montgomery, Ala.) was the game's high scorer with 17 points and six rebounds, while Scoop Jardine (Syracuse/ Philadelphia, Pa.) added 16 points and three assists and two players finished with double-doubles. Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota/ St. Paul, Minn.) scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Draymond Green (Michigan State/Saginaw, Mich.) finished with 12 points, 12 boards and four steals.
Rounding out the USA's top scorers were Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh/Scotch Plains, N.J.) with 14 points and four assists and John Jenkins (Vanderbilt/ Hendersonville, Tenn.) with 12 points.
"We're an unselfish team," Jardine said. "We don't have too many superstars. We have a lot of good players, a lot of older players who have played in college three years and when you have a core like that, everybody knows what it takes to win games, we've all played in big games and that's what it's going to take to win the gold medal."
The USA's size advantage lead to 23 offensive rebounds and 64 points in the paint, allowing South Korea just 28 points from the key, and the U.S. offense shot a solid 54.9 percent from the field (45-82 FGs) as all 12 players recorded at least 10 minutes of action.
"It's always great to sit down and know that the team out there is still going to play well," JaMychal Green said. "We're not losing anything. That's always a great thing."
Jaeseok Jang gave South Korea a 4-0 lead to start the game, but a combined nine points from Mbakwe and Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara/Seaside, Calif.) helped the USA keep pace. The lead changed sides four times before two points from Jardine at 4:07 brought the score to 11-10 and put the USA up for the remainder of the game. South Korea answered nearly every USA score for the next four minutes, however, and the score was 24-19 at the first break.
After trading baskets for the first minute of the second period, the USA compiled its largest run of the game and reeled off nine unanswered points to take a 35-24 lead off of a bucket from Darius Miller (Kentucky/Maysville, Ky.) at 6:26. As five U.S. players combined for 20 more points in the stanza, South Korea sank three 3-pointers to prevent the lead from ballooning beyond the 55-42 halftime score.
"South Korea was a good team," Draymond Green said. "They were very fast. That kind of caught us off guard, but I think we did a great job adjusting to it. We're going to have to do a better job of it when we face fast guys like those guys, keeping them in front of us. Overall, we played a pretty good game."
The strength of the U.S. roster was especially evident in the second half as the Americans continued to push the tempo and share the ball. Nine players combined for 26 points while the U.S. defense limited South Korea to just four field goals and 12 points. The USA produced two more scoring runs in the third period, including an 8-0 spurt that brought the score to 63-45 when Jenkins scored a fast-break layup at 6:51 and a 6-0 streak that put the USA ahead 74-48 when JaMychal Green, who scored six points in the period, slammed home a U.S. miss at 3:19. Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame/Unionville, Conn.) ended the quarter with two free throws that widened the margin to 81-54.
The fourth quarter was more of the same as nine players tallied 31 points for the red, white and blue, including seven from Mbakwe and four from Gibbs. South Korea managed 14 points to bring the game to its 112-68 final.
"They didn't go to the bench that much compared to us," Abromaitis said. "We have 12 guys who are playing pretty equally. We definitely wore them out in the second half. We were able to get a lot of fast-break layups because I think they were tired by the end of the game."
Mingoo Kim tallied a team-high 12 points for South Korea.
Cuonzo Martin of the University of Tennessee and Brad Stevens of Butler University are serving as assistant coaches for the 2011 USA Men's World University Games Team.
In today's other Pool D games, Finland (2-1) beat Hungary (0-3) 78-54, and Mexico (1-1) will play Israel (1-1) later this evening.
The USA will continue play in the 2011 World University Games against Finland at 6 p.m. (all times listed are China Standard Time, which is +12 hours from Eastern Time) on Aug. 17 before wrapping up pool play against Israel at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 18.
Following the preliminary round, the top two finishing teams from each pool will advance to the medal quarterfinals, which will be contested on Aug. 20. The semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 21, and the finals will be played on Aug. 22.
The World University Games are a multi-sport competition organized every other year by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) and are open to men and women who are between the ages of 17 and 24, who currently or have been within the past year, a student at a college or university. The United States, which has claimed a medal in every World University Games since beginning play in 1965, has captured a record 13 golds, three silvers and three bronze medals in the 19 WUGs in which a USA Basketball squad has competed, and the U.S. owns a 131-8 record in the event.
The UK men's soccer team is gearing up to its 2011 season,
which opens on Aug. 26 against Dayton at the UK Soccer Complex. UKathletics.com
visited with three upperclassmen as they prepare for the season opener, senior
midfielder C.J. Tappel, junior midfielder Cameron Wilder and senior defender
Due to some power issues, Jeff Drummond of CatsPause.com beat me to the punch in collecting the stats for all the former Wildcats taking the field for the first weekend of NFL preseason action. Rather than duplicate what he's already done, here are some of the more notable performances as described by Drummond.
Randall Cobb saw his first NFL action with the Green Bay Packers, catching three passes for 60 yards
* Braxton Kelley, LB, Denver Broncos -- Kelley is trying to win a roster spot alongside a couple of former teammates in the Mile HIgh City. He may get a longer look after Friday's team-high seven tackles in the Broncos' 24-23 loss to Dallas. He was credited with four solo tackles.
* Wesley Woodyard, LB, Denver Broncos -- Kelley's high school and college teammate (By the way, how cool is that for the old LaGrange friends go through this many stages of their football careers together?) had two tackles against the Cowboys.
* Randall Cobb, WR/KR, Green Bay Packers -- The rookie looked like a seasoned veteran in the Packers' 27-17 loss to the Browns. Cobb led the team with 60 receiving yards on three catches, including a long of 28 yards. He also returned two kickoffs for 58 yards. He is thought to be the frontrunner for Green Bay's main kickoff return duties.
* Tim Masthay, P, Green Bay Packers -- The specialist for the world champions picked up where he left off a year ago with five punts for 261 yards (52.2 average), a long of 60 and one inside the 20 yard line.
Derrick Locke, RB, Philadelphia Eagles -- Locke looked good on his two rushing attempts in the Eagles' 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He had a 12-yard carry and a 3-yard rush.
Darius Miller and Team USA notched their second consecutive blowout win in the World University Games on Sunday. The Americans nearly doubled up Hungary, winning 102-53 and moving to 2-0 in group play.
Head coach Matt Painter of Purdue switched up his starting lineup, bringing Miller off the bench to play 17 minutes. Miller scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting with a three pointer. The rising senior also had an assist, a steal and a rebound. Another player from the SEC, Vanderbilt's John Jenkins was the star, scoring 20 points and pouring in six three pointers.
On Monday at 3:30 p.m. local time (3:30 a.m. eastern), Team USA will face off against South Korea, who is 1-1 in group play after falling to Mexico today.
As you can see in the highlights below, Miller (wearing No. 12 in white) is being mainly featured as a post player. His size and diverse skill set makes him a valuable asset in the international game.
At some point or another, every team is going to have to cope with injury throughout the course of a football season. Even the most fortunate teams have to deal with the bumps and bruises associated with the gridiron grind.
Particularly for the unit projected to be the strength of this year's team, the offensive line, the healthier that UK's starters can stay, the better. With that said, the stray missed game, quarter or series is close to inevitable. The best thing a team can do, then, is prepare accordingly for those injuries by developing quality depth.
With three starters along the offensive line sidelined with injury, developing that depth is exactly what UK is trying to do. Losing players even for the shortest time is never ideal, but it does come with a silver lining.
"Three offensive linemen that are starters are out," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We've got some young guys that are in there. Some might see that as a negative, but I see it as a positive. That's a chance to paint the picture that this gives us an opportunity to develop some depth."
Junior left guard Stuart Hines, junior center Matt Smith and senior left tackle Chandler Burden were all held of UK's first full-pad scrimmage of the fall. All are expected to make full recoveries for the start of the regular season, but there will almost certainly come a time where some of the players called upon to step up on Saturday will have to do the same in a game that actually counts.
"Our starters will all be back," Phillips said. "They don't have injuries that should keep them out long, but the young guys need to take advantage of the opportunity."
Senior Jake Lanefski, junior Trevino Woods, sophomore Kevin Mitchell and redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared are among the group asked to fill the void. Phillips said they did some positive things, but mistakes were made and most were mental.
"We expect those guys to understand the snap count," Phillips said. "Don't flinch. We had too much flinching up front on both sides of the ball. We've got to take advantage of opportunities and there are a lot of opportunities out there for young offensive linemen (to make) us to feel comfortable enough to put them in the game. They're getting a lot of snaps and they have to make those snaps count."
Chemistry between a quarterback and his offensive line is absolutely essential. Backup offensive linemen often end up playing with backup quarterbacks in practice, not the starter. However, Lanefski, Woods, Mitchell and Eatmon-Nared have a chance to line up with starter Morgan Newton and learn how to play with him, which could pay dividends in the long run.
In the short run, playing without three linemen as good as Hines, Smith and Burden is going to make life harder on a quarterback, especially against a defense as keen on attacking as Rick Minter's unit.
"He looked like he was in a hurry some," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said of Newton. "When you take three starters out, a lot of times that rush gets there a little faster and you have to rush a little bit more."
That kind of situation can also be excellent preparation for Newton, who will be the starter from opening day for the first time in his UK career. Games will come when Newton is under more pressure than he's accustomed to, whether due to injuries along the offensive line or due to a particularly strong opposing rush.
The way Newton coped on Saturday has to be viewed as a positive. Playing without 60% his offensive line and with his ability as a scrambler taken away due to strict rules against hitting quarterbacks in scrimmages, UK's first team offense managed to put together "five or six" touchdown drives on an estimated 55 plays, output that the Wildcats would gladly take on any SEC Saturday. Newton, though, is still intently focused on what it will take to improve.
"For what we had and what we have installed in our offense right now, we did a pretty good job," Newton said. "There are some positives, but we definitely have a lot to work on."
In case you missed it yesterday, Eric Lindsey announced that he will be "moving downstairs" to work as the new content editor for CoachCal.com. It goes without saying that Eric is a big loss for both UK Athletics and Cat Scratches.
He's the biggest reason why this blog is what it has become and it's our responsibility to ensure that we sustain that and build upon it. Eric leaves some big shoes to fill and it is currently being determined how that will be done. In the interim, Metz Camfield and I will be doing our best to continue to provide that "inside and unprecedented look into UK Athletics" that Eric talked about in his farewell post.
We wish Eric the best and I look forward to posting a bunch of links to the good work I know he's going to do over at CoachCal.com.
Amazingly, this weekend marks the end of the off-season for UK Athletics. With women's soccer kicking off its season next Friday, this weekend is the final one of the summer without an event, game or match for any Kentucky team. Even so, there is plenty going on:
Darius Miller and Team USA opened play in the 2011 World University Games early this morning in Shenzhen, China with a big 108-67 over cross-border rival Mexico. Miller got the start at forward for the Americans, playing 19 minutes. He didn't shoot particularly well, scoring just two points on 1-for-5 shooting, but he posted eight rebounds and a blocked shot. Ashton Gibbs of Pitt led five Americans in double figures with 20 points. Team USA will play their second game of the tournament Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. eastern) against Hungary. Here are a few links if you want to read more about the game, as well as a video of the opening ceremonies from earlier today.
Divers Greg Ferrucci and Lisa Faulkner have participated this week in the 2011 AT&T Diving Championships and have represented UK very well. Ferrucci, who just closed out one of the best freshman seasons in UK history, earned a bronze medal in the one-meter finals. Faulkner, who graduated this spring, finished eighth in the one-meter springboard event. Ferrucci also qualified for the final round of the three-meter springboard, which takes place this afternoon. NBC Sports and Universal Sports are televising the event, with the three-meter final taking place from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Universal Sports. Check your local listings and tune in if you can to support a diver who has a chance to be one of the best ever at UK.
UK football is holding its first scrimmage of the fall this afternoon after a solid initial week of practice. I know I am very interested to hear what comes of this scrimmage and how the offense and defense fare against one another. I will be heading to Commonwealth Stadium later this afternoon to talk to players and coaches and will be writing a feature on the happenings, so keep an eye out for that later this evening.
A number of former Wildcats have taken the field over the past couple days for the opening of the NFL preseason. With five games on tap Saturday evening, including Randall Cobb's anticipated debut with the Green Bay Packers, I will have a full breakdown of how Wildcats in the league fared in the first batch of games sometime tomorrow.
The first day still resonates with me like it was yesterday. Of all days to start a first-of-its-kind blog, we somehow picked Jan. 14, 2009.
What happened Jan. 14, 2009? What didn't?
Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe it was fate. Whatever the case was, the day we picked to start one of the nation's first athletic department blogs just so happened to fall on the day after the biggest individual performance in Kentucky basketball history.
Think about that for a second. College basketball's premier program has been full of historic moments and legendary individual performances, but of all days to begin our blog, we had somehow picked the day after Jodie Meeks scored a record-setting 54 points against border-state rival Tennessee.
And that was just the morning. By early afternoon, for my first inside scoop, I was informed star cornerback Trevard Lindley was putting his NFL dreams on hold and was returning for his senior year with linebacker Micah Johnson and defensive end Jeremy Jarmon.
You want to talk about overwhelmed. Sit in an office chair, spin around for a minute and stand up. That nauseating feeling in your head - yeah, that's what I was experiencing that day.
Faced with trying to capture and cover a day UK fans would never forget was not an easy task for a rookie. I had been versed in journalism and trained in reporting long before I walked through the doors at the Joe Craft Center - thanks in large part to UK's journalism school, the Kentucky Kernel and the Lexington Herald-Leader - but charged with being one of the official voices of one of the nation's most proud athletic departments was no easy task. A longtime Kentucky resident and UK graduate, I already understood who was at the other end of the megaphone.
Don't get me wrong, I was unbelievably excited for the opportunity to write about UK Athletics, but I understood the enormous responsibility and privilege of writing for the most passionate fans in the country. I was unbelievably overwhelmed.
Obviously I made it through that first day. There were certainly some bumps along the road, a few typos here and there, and a lot of fun stories to cover. Eventually, I think this blog found its place in the UK world and things calmed down.
But as I close my UK laptop for the final time, consider me overwhelmed again. I'm overwhelmed with loose ends to tie up, overcome with the number of goodbyes I have to make and overjoyed with the new opportunity I've been blessed with. More than anything, I'm overwhelmed with emotion.
Today will mark my final day with UK Athletics. I'm proud to announce I've been hired as the new content manager of CoachCal.com. I will be responsible for creating and managing all content on John Calipari's website as well some of his social media avenues.
As excited as I am for my new opportunity, I'd be lying to everyone if I said this day isn't without great sadness. For the last two and a half years, I've had the honor of calling UK Athletics home. In player interviews with the media or tweets by the program's head coaches, you've probably heard people inside the walls of UK Athletics talk about how this place is about family, or "La familia," as John Calipari likes to tweet so often.
I've learned firsthand what that's all about. At UK, I've forged relationships that will last long after my career is over, taken the step from college to adulthood and made memories I will never forget. A reporter at heart, I was trained to have a skeptical eye at institutions like UK, but as I walk out of the media relations office as a UK employee for the final time - in reality, I'm only moving downstairs to the UK basketball offices - I have nothing but positive memories.
Never could I have imagined following the Kentucky basketball team on every step of its journey to the Final Four. Riding with Joker Phillips thousands of feet in the sky in a Blackhawk with the doors wide open as he visited our armed forces was obviously a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And meeting LeBron James? Very, very cool.
I could go on and on and on about the experiences I've had over the past few years. I feel privileged to have covered all 22 sports at UK. The amount of time I've spent watching games, interviewing coaches and student-athletes, and sitting in front of a computer and typing is staggering.
All of it was done with one goal in mind: to provide an inside and unprecedented look into UK Athletics. When we set out to do this blog in early January of 2009, we did so with the intent of providing premium content without the premium cost.
As a worrier and constant self-evaluator, I've always wondered if we were accomplishing our goal. Just last week, I left a media panel with several of Lexington's finest reporters feeling like we have indeed achieved our objective.
One TV anchor looked at the position as a competitor in the media market. That was good. One thing we want to do is provide fans with another source for UK news. A couple of other reporters viewed the blog as a platform for stories that don't always get covered. Even better. As newspapers shrink and coverage is limited, it was my goal to continue to provide a spotlight on each and every sport, coach and student-athlete at UK.
As I walk away to a new adventure, I'm confident that goal will not change. Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and senior associate athletics director of communications DeWayne Peevy took a gamble on me a couple of years ago when they turned my job from a voluntary position into an internship and eventually a full-time position as an assistant director for new media. It was a sign of commitment to new and social media, and Kentucky will stay behind that push long after I'm gone.
Now it's time for me to take the next step. Fortunately, that next chapter happens to be at CoachCal.com. For me, that means I'll still be blessed to be around the UK family and its fans. For those that enjoy my work, it means I'll be just a few keystrokes and a click away.
I'd be remiss if I ended this final post without thanking the people I've come to enjoy working with so much over the last few years, as well as the hundreds of student-athletes and coaches I've met and interviewed. It would be impossible for me to list everyone who has helped me along the way, but know that just about all of you made an impact on my life and I'm grateful I'll still see you around the building.
As for you, the fans, none of this is possible or worth it without you. It's your passion and support that drives UK Athletics, and I have appreciated the reads, support and feedback I've received over the years.
With that said, I ask one final thing of you: Pray my first day on Monday at CoachCal.com isn't quite as crazy as my first day with UK's blog. Knowing Coach Cal's 24/7 world, I have a feeling it's going to be. And when it is and my head starts to spin again, I'm going to look back to Jan. 14, 2009, and smile.
Within the coaching fraternity, there is a common notion that your second year as a head coach is really your first true year.
From a coach's perspective, taking over a new program isn't easy. The first year is usually an acclimation process filled with pieces the new coach didn't put in place and isn't familiar with. The second year - generally the first time a coach has his or her pieces in place - is when the true rebuilding project begins, and the third year is when things are supposed to take off.
If that thinking holds true, the Kentucky women's soccer program could be primed for big things in 2011. As head coach Jon Lipsitz enters his third year as head coach of the women's soccer program, that trend appears to be taking place. In fact, it may be well ahead of schedule.
One year after making the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 2007, the Wildcats are expected to move up in the conference and compete for an NCAA Tournament berth. The reason is offense.
If you remember back to two years ago, the thought of UK making the NCAA Tournament on the shoulders of its offense seemed preposterous. Two seasons ago, in Lipsitz's first year as head coach, the Cats managed a measly 11 goals. Only once did UK score more than two goals in a game and 12 times the team was shutout.
Last season, the Cats matched their entire 2009 total in their two final regular-season games. For the year, they put 32 balls in the back of the net and took nearly 150 more shots.
"It's exciting, isn't it?" said assistant coach Michelle Rayner, who was filling for an absent Lipsitz during interviews Thursday.
Exciting, but hard to fathom.
How does a team that couldn't put the ball in the net one year find a way to increase its scoring average by more than a goal per game? Rayner said there were a lot of factors.
For one, Lipsitz's first true recruiting class at UK was packed with depth and talent. All seven freshmen Lipsitz brought in saw action last year, as did transfers Kelsey Hunyadi and Natalie Horner. Just about every one of them made a significant contribution, as Kentucky's top three scorers and five of its leading seven were first-year Wildcats.
"You're looking to bring better players in here each year," Rayner said. "I think as a coaching staff we do a great job of that. All in all, I think our players' mentality has progressed from year to year. They're not only buying in, but they've already bought in. The new players that are brought into this program already know the expectation level we're looking to get at."
Forward Kelsey Hunyadi led UK with eight goals last season despite missing four games with an injury. (photo by Joey Wilkinson, UK Athletics)
Those new players, in addition to a pair of key veterans in Alyssa Telang, Laura Novikoff, Jenna Goblirsch and Kelly Browning, allowed Lipsitz to return to an attacking style that was successful in his coaching stops at Denison and Charlotte. With the pieces Lipsitz had in place in his first season, the way he saw it was, if they couldn't score, they were going to at least try to prevent goals.
Last year, that changed with a talented recruiting class. Not only could the Cats defend - they allowed 23 goals in 20 games - they also could score.
"It was just a different mentality," Hunyadi said. "We had a different playing style two years ago compared to last year, which is something else we're trying to build off this year."
The 2010 team built its offense off quick counterattacks. That will remain part of the offense in 2011, but the Cats will also try to possess the ball more.
"Our biggest threat is going forward out of there very, very quick," Rayner said. "Not only do we look for our forwards to get goals, we look for our midfielders to get goals and even our defenders to get in there. We look for everyone to get involved."
With four of the team's leading scorers returning, including 26 of the 32 goals from last year, the UK coaching staff and players believe the trend of rebuilding has been sped up. The Cats aren't just looking to build off last year - they're hoping to compete for an SEC title and make it to the program's first NCAA Tournament since 2006.
Lipsitz's teams generally show vast improvement in their third season anyway, as he led Denison to the Elite Eight of the D-III NCAA Tournament in his third year and guided Charlotte to the NCAA Tournament in his third campaign.
"I think with the way we've been training, we're going to start off on the right foot, right where we ended last year and only get better," Hunyadi said.
Hunyadi led the team with eight goals last season despite missing four games with a head injury. The junior forward said the injury is a thing of the past, and she believes she can do even more this season.
"We want more like her," Rayner said. "She had a great season, but I don't think she's even scratched the surface of what she's capable of doing."
Hunyadi will have help up top from Horner (five goals, seven assists in 2010), sophomore Caitlin Landis (seven goals, one assist) and Telang (three goals, six assists). The one missing ingredient in the offense will be 6-foot Laura Novikoff, who completed her eligibility and serves as an undergraduate student-assistant coach.
Replacing Novikoff's height in the box won't be easy, but UK will have the fortune of having freshman Arin Gilliland, the most decorated recruit in Kentucky women's soccer history. Gilliland was a prolific scorer on the high school level and has been on a pair of the U.S. national teams.
Although Gilliland will start off as a defender because of preseason injuries to UK's backline, Rayner said she will almost certainly move forward as midfielder or striker before the season is over.
"She's such a weapon that you can use her anywhere on the field," Rayner said. "She might become an all-time 90-minute player if she stays healthy. She's been tremendous. She was here with us in the spring. She grew a lot. She is such a dynamic player. Expectations are high with her and I think you're going to be surprised at what she does this year."
Gilliland will help fill in for Goblirsch, who was lost for the season last week with a knee injury. There's a chance Goblirsch may redshirt and return next year, but for the time being, UK will have to do without one of its most steady players on defense.
"It's a crushing blow because you get a player like Jenna's capability and ability levels that works so hard for nine or 10 months to get back to where she needed to be," Rayner said. "She was in great shape and doing everything she needed to do to get back on the field, and then to have her go down early is hard. The players have risen up. They've not only gotten around Jenna, but they've also taken a step up knowing that they need to fill in for her role."
The loss of Goblirsch could be troubling because UK will have a different face between the pipes for the first time since 2006. Sydney Hiance, who recorded five shutouts and 98 saves last year, is out of eligibility, leaving UK with a three-woman battle for the starting position.
Sophomore Kayla King is the only returning goalie with any experience and she logged just 36 minutes last season, but King was thrown into full-time duty during the spring and didn't allow a single goal in seven exhibition games. She figures to be the favorite with a week and a half until the season opener on Aug. 23, but Rayner said the battle is still wide open for freshmen Taylor Mogel and Kayla Price.
"One person leaves or one person goes out with an injury, someone has to take that responsibility," Rayner said. "(Assistant coach) Aaron Rodgers does a tremendous job with the goalkeepers. He's an amazing coach in that area of the field as well as all over the field. He will bring the best out of the three we have and I think you'll be shocked who is going to be in goal for us this year. It's good because it's going to be a battle every day for them."
Former Kentucky men's tennis star Bruno Agostinelli, who is attending the Rogers Cup in Canada, recently had the opportunity to hit some balls with arguably the greatest player to ever play the game in Montreal, Canada.
For you tennis fans out there, we've been provided with some video below of Agostinelli hitting with 16-time grand slam winner Roger Federer, who is playing in the Rogers Cup this week. If you've grown up loving tennis, you can imagine how cool of an experience it must have been for Agostinelli.
In four years at UK, Agostinelli posted more than 100 wins, reached a ranking of fourth in the country, was a three-time SEC All-Conference selection, was named the ITA's Southeast Player of the Year, became the 15th Wildcat in school history to receive All-America honors and advanced to the singles and doubles championship twice.
Former UK men's tennis star Bruno Agostinelli, left, recently got to hit with 16-time grand slam winner Roger Federer.
Kentucky head men's basketball coach John Calipari, right, talking with Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, introduced a financial literacy program for the youth of Kentucky Thursday afternoon.
University of Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari announced a new initiative Thursday afternoon to bring financial literacy education to children across the Bluegrass with an engaging, interactive game for kids from 4th to 6th grade.
Accompanied by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, Congressman Hal Rogers, Congressman Ben Chandler, UK President Eli Capilouto and EverFi CEO Tom Davidson, Calipari talked about what the initiative means and what it will bring to the youth of the state.
"This has been a vision that my wife Ellen and I have held for several years, and we are excited to be launching a program that will focus on teaching young children the value of saving," Calipari said in a news release. "I applaud the local banks here in Kentucky who have made this possible and encourage others to join me in this endeavor. Together, we are empowering children to cultivate good financial habits that will stay with them throughout their lives."
The Calipari Family Foundation for Children is partnering with local banks and EverFi, Inc., to provide the Vault™ Understanding Money online learning program to hundreds of elementary schools across the state in the coming year.
Congressman Rogers said the information will be processed even further by the youth because of the way the literacy program is set up -- an interactive game where kids can personalize the video game's characters, answer questions and tweet out information.
"I think utilizing the new methods of communication, and plugging into these young peoples' almost inherent understanding of this new information age that we're in, talking to them in their language, on their medium, will have important and profound impacts," Rogers said.
Davidson and EverFi, Inc., self-described as the leading education technology platform company to teach, assess and certify students in critical skills, including financial literacy, are excited about the partnership with Calipari and in bringing this literacy program to Kentucky.
"I think this will be one of the most important policy initiatives that comes out of the state of Kentucky for a long time," Davidson said. "I think the compounding effect of this knowledge is going to be so interesting to watch in five years, six years. These students who become certified in financial literacy and spread it throughout their communities are eventually going to become entrepreneurs, borrowers and lenders in our community."
The Calipari Family Foundation for Children is dedicated to the betterment of the lives of the underprivileged children in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and also in Memphis, Tenn., where the foundation was started.
UK senior guard/forward Darius Miller recorded seven points and eight rebounds in Team USA's final exhibition game before the World University Games. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
This just in: UK men's basketball senior Darius Miller scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds for Team USA in its final tune-up before the World University Games. Miller sparked a 14-0 run with a pair of free throws that helped Team USA pull away from New Century in an 88-61 victory.
Here is the game recap, courtesty of Team USA:
After trailing by as many as eight points in the first quarter, John Jenkins (Vanderbilt/ Hendersonville, Tenn.) hit three straight 3-pointers during a 14-0 run in the second period to help propel the USA Men's World University Games Team to an eventual 88-61 exhibition win over Chinese professional team New Century on Aug. 11 at Huizhou Stadium in Huizhou, China.
Jenkins finished 8-of-10 from 3-point for a game-high 24 points, while Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara/Seaside, Calif.), Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota/ St. Paul, Minn.) and Greg Mangano (Yale/Orange, Conn.) added nine points apiece.
"I thought this was a great game for our team to get ready for the World University Games," said USA and Purdue University head mentor Matt Painter. "(New Century) presented a lot of challenges for us, especially in the first half. With their size, they did a good job of carralling us, not letting us get going. But this was a great tune-up game for us. I thought our guys did a good job of adjusting. We went through a period of time in the first half where I thought we missed some open shots, and our guys didn't get frustrated. We did our best to sub players in and out to keep everybody fresh and wear down our opponent. After John (Jenkins) got hot and made some 3-pointers and we got out in transition a little bit more, I thought our depth was really the key to our victory."
The USA will open play in the 2011 World University Games play on Aug. 13 against Mexico at 6 p.m. (all times listed are China Standard Time, which is +12 hours from Eastern Time).
"This was a great experience for our team to come out here and play in this exhibition game in front of a crowd," Jenkins said. "They came out strong and hit us pretty hard, and we had to battle back throughout the game. I want to thank my teammates for passing me the ball when I was open."
The USA led 15-10 at 3:30 in the first quarter after a long ball from Jenkins, but New Century responded with a 13-0 run to take a 23-15 lead at 1:26. Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh/Scotch Plains, N.J.) halted the streak with a jumper just before the period ended to cut the deficit to five points, 23-17.
The USA began to chip away at the lead from the start of the second stanza and had cut it down to two points, 24-22, with a 3-pointer from Marcus Denmon (Missouri/Kansas City, Mo.) at 7:40. The margin had returned to six points, 28-22, when two made free throws from Darius Miller (Kentucky/Maysville, Ky.) sparked the 14-0 spurt that included three consecutive 3-pointers from Jenkins, helping the USA to build a 39-30 advantage at halftime.
"We started off slow, but once we got into a grove and found our chemistry offensively, it got better," Gibbs said. "We started playing well. We played better on the defensive end and let that lead to offense. John (Jenkins) hit some shots to get us going, and we kept it going from there."
New Century had an answer for each of the USA's scores over the first few minutes of the third period, but cooled off the USA's depth proved too much for its opponent. This time it was a 3-pointer from Johnson that ignited off a 15-2 run that practically put the game out of reach for New Century with the USA leading by 25 points, 62-37, headed into the fourth quarter.
Mangano scored all of his nine points in the final 10 minutes to help the USA seal its 88-61 exhibition victory.
Every U.S. player recorded points and grabbed at least one rebound. Scoop Jardine (Syracuse/ Philadelphia, Pa.) dished out a game-high seven assists, while Mbakwe, who was 4-of-4 from the field, and Miller each collected eight rebounds.
"That is one of my goals, to lead the tournament in assists," Jardine said. "If I can get seven or eight assist in a night, that means we are playing well. Our guys are going to make shots, and I am going to find my teammates."
Cuonzo Martin of the University of Tennessee and Brad Stevens of Butler University are serving as assistant coaches for the 2011 USA Men's World University Games Team.
In all, 24 countries will compete in the international competition. The USA has been slotted into Pool D, along with Finland, Hungary, Israel, Mexico and South Korea. Following its contest against Mexico, the USA will play Hungary at 3:30 p.m. (all times listed are China Standard Time, which is +12 hours from Eastern Time) on Aug. 14; South Korea at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 15; Finland at 6 p.m. on Aug. 17; and Israel at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 to wrap up pool play.
Following the preliminary round, the top two placed teams from each pool will advance to the medal quarterfinals, which will be contested on Aug. 20. The semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 21, and the finals will be played on Aug. 22.
Darius Miller, Sr., G, Kentucky: "If we throw Darius in there with (forward Tim) Abromaitis and (forward JaMychal) Green, we can play different ways. He can help us play bigger or smaller. He has really improved his shooting since we had him in New Zealand. He's going to be good against a zone, and we'll just have to find the right place to play him. He's a very good player and will help us a lot defensively.''
In the interview with Katz, Painter also discussed the importance of having players like Pitt's Ashton Gibbs and Miller on the roster, two guys who were a part of the U-19 gold medal-winning team.
"It was important for them to talk about their experience in New Zealand and what it meant to sacrifice minutes and how important that was," Painter said.
Miller and Team USA are expected to play an exhibition contest against New Century, a Chinese Basketball Association professional team sometime Thursday before opening World University Games play on Aug. 13.
ESPN College GameDay visited Lexington during the 2009-10 season with a record crowd as its backdrop. (UK Athletics)
ESPN College GameDay has announced its stops for the 2011-12 basketball season. As is the case just about every year, UK will be featured in one of the eight games.
The GameDay gang will make a pit stop in Nashville on Feb. 11 for the UK-Vanderbilt game, the only Southeastern Conference matchup featured on the ESPN show this season.
All eyes will be on Memorial Gymnasium that night as UK freshman Anthony Davis will go head to head with Vanderbilt big man Festus Ezeli. Of course, with the game in Nashville this year, that also means the GameDay crew will not visit Lexington for the second straight year.
Defensive tackle Donte Rumph recorded 12 tackles in his first season at UK. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble have always looked the part. The problem is they haven't been on the field enough to actually play the part.
Seeing their tantalizing size and athleticism, coaches and fans alike have drooled at the prospect of the two defensive tackles wreaking havoc on Saturdays. Instead, Rumph and Cobble have spent the better part of their post-high school lives working to become qualified to play football for UK when they would have preferred to be spending time in opponents' backfields.
As UK readies for the start of the 2011 season, Rumph and Cobble are finally poised to take the field together and put some of that talent to use. They couldn't be happier about it.
"I've been waiting a long time for this and now that it's finally here, I don't know what to say," Cobble said before the start of practice on media day. "I've been quiet all day because I just can't wait to get out to practice."
Cobble's elation is easy to understand because his journey has been such a long one. After graduating from Central High School in Louisville, Cobble redshirted during his first year at UK in 2009. The 6-foot, 332-pounder quickly had a buzz about him as he earned Most Valuable Defensive Scout Team Player honors during the season. He looked to translate that to game action, but academic issues kept him off the field for the entirety of the 2010 regular season.
Cobble blames no one but himself.
"It was very difficult overcoming my faults and overcoming myself," Cobble said. "The hardest part was realizing what I did was wrong and overcoming that. Sitting out the whole season, I looked at that and said I took the greatest sacrifice and took the greatest punishment to have football taken away a year."
Rumph's journey has been even longer. He committed to play for UK in 2008 but spent two years in prep school working to earn his way on the team. Rumph was on the team for all of the 2010 season, making 12 tackles and 12 games and earning more and more playing time as his freshman season wore on, but this is the first time since Rumph committed to UK that he feels like he's on solid footing.
"It's great," Rumph said. "It's another opportunity to play the game at this level in the SEC and it's a blessing. I just thank God for it every day. I didn't have to come here, I didn't have to be in this position, but I'm going to try to make the best of it. Coach Phillips and the whole staff presented me with an opportunity and I have to take advantage of it."
A sense of gratefulness for getting to play football is just one of many things that Rumph and Cobble have in common. The pair have developed a close relationship and each views the other as a brother.
"He's like a big, little brother to me," Rumph said of Cobble. "That's my guy. We're friends on and off the field. That's my brother and that's how I feel about all my teammates, especially on defense. We do have a close relationship and that's my dude."
Cobble (who also goes by "PC," which stands for Percy Charles) had to watch as Rumph and the rest of his teammates took the field last season. He recognized that he had to buckle down and focus more on academics than his social life if he was to join them. Even so, Cobble believed all along that he would see the field at UK.
"I never doubted myself that I would make it here," Cobble said. "I did the crime so I had to do the time. I had to sit back and just deal with it. I looked at it as a learning experience."
Eventually, Cobble earned his way back onto the field for the BBVA Compass Bowl, where he made one tackle in spite of less-than-ideal conditioning. Unfortunately, another obstacle awaited him.
Cobble underwent surgery more than three months ago to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Cobble reports that he has regained most of his strength in rehab and hopes to be cleared to play soon so that he can meet his goal of playing in UK's season opener.
Defensive line coach David Turner looks forward to getting Cobble back so that he can finally have his chance to show what he can do.
"Hopefully we'll get him back pretty soon," Turner said. "He really hasn't had a chance to prove himself on the field. He's got a ton of potential, but potential is a fancy way of saying you haven't done it yet. Until we get him on the field on a consistent basis and he has a chance to get consistently better, he's a work in progress."
Cobble's journey to this point has helped him keep things in perspective through his injury and is thankful that he was able to at least get on the field for one game last year.
"The first couple snaps I was shaky because of the crowd and the noise," Cobble said. "I had never been on the field when it's all doing down. That experience, I look at it as I'm used to it now and I'm going to be focused for my first game this year."
Continuing his intertwined history with Cobble, Rumph also dealt with an injury this summer. He sustained a concussion in a recent minor car accident, which has kept him out of the beginning of camp. He began working out this week and expects to be ready to go soon.
Rumph is itching to see the field because he is in better shape and wants to put it to practice in Rick Minter's new defense.
"I'm in way better shape than I was last year," the 6-3, 308-pounder said. "I had plenty of time to learn the new material and I love the new defense -- just absolutely love it. (It demands) a little more mobility and it's a little more fun. I'm excited and I just can't wait until the season starts."
Turner likes what the defense is doing from a scheme perspective, but he knows it's still a player's game. Putting good players in a position to succeed is what coaching is all about, and Cobble and Rumph have a chance to be the kinds of players UK needs on the defensive line.
"Sometimes getting caught up in schemes is overrated," Turner said. "Better players make you a better coach, but as coaches we've got to get them in the right spot. I think what we're doing right now is a little more aggressive. We're moving guys around a little bit, which I think takes advantage of what our guys do."
With the recent success of Alabama with Marcell Dareus and Auburn with Nick Fairley, the importance of a powerhouse defensive tackle in a league as competitive as the SEC has never been more apparent. If UK is to take the next step that so many talk about, the emergence of Rumph or Cobble would make a world of difference.
"I would like to think (they can help us do that) since we've got to play and beat some SEC teams," Turner said. "Physically those guys are what you're looking for. There's no question about it. Donte has shown a good knack for having a good feel of things. I'm interested to see how he progressed this summer. PC is a guy that's strong. He's naturally built for a nose guard inside."
Having tackles that consistently get a push on the inside will free up space for the rest of the defense to make plays, especially the defensive ends. At the end position, UK has a mixture of young and experienced talent that Turner is excited about.
"We feel good about the defensive end spot," Turner said. "(Collins Ukwu) had a great spring. Ridge (Wilson) and Justin Henderson are learning. Tim Patterson is probably going to do some spots there for us and if we need to get a little bit bigger, we can always bring in another tackle and move Taylor (Wyndham) out there. He's kind of cross-trained. We feel good about the people we have out there."
Ukwu, a redshirt junior, has emerged as a leader of the unit.
"He's played the most and he understands what we're trying to get done in terms of philosophy and the standard we're trying to build towards," Turner said. "He's a guy that had a tremendous spring. He's worked his tail off this summer and he's a natural leader. Guys gravitate to him and follow him."
Both Rumph and Cobble pointed to Ukwu as a player who encouraged them as they have tried to get on the field and stay on the field. Ukwu knows what it means to play football at UK, and now Rumph and Cobble do too.
"We've got to develop a standard of excellence," Turner said. "That means doing everything right on and off the field. That means guys have got to invest time. It's a full-time gig playing in this league. It's a full-time gig playing in the best league in the country. That's the way you have to approach it."
Joker Phillips had several announcements to make after football practice on Wednesday:
Sophomore linebacker Qua Huzzie has decided to transfer for undisclosed reasons. Phillips said he doesn't know how long Huzzie has been thinking about it, but Phillips was surprised. "It always is (disappointing) when someone leaves the program, especially Qua," Phillips said. "He's got a special place in my heart because I had a chance to recruit him. I've known his family for a long time. We wish him well."
Senior Josh Gibbs, who was listed second on the depth at free safety, is giving up football because of personal reasons.
Senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines has suffered a sprained knee and is expected to miss the next few weeks. Phillips expects him to be available by the season opener against Western Kentucky on Sept. 1.
DeQuin Evans totaled 7.5 sacks in two seasons at Kentucky. (photo by Barry Westerman)
In case you didn't see it Tuesday or on Guy's links post below, Kentucky women's basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell and his wife, Jenna, gave birth to a newborn daughter, Saylor Rose, on Tuesday. Saylor Rose weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces. Both Jenna and Saylor Rose are doing fine.
UK men's basketball coach John Calipari will announce a "commitment to financial literacy effort" on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at a news conference. With Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, Congressman Hal Rogers, Congressman Ben Chandler, UK President Eli Capilouto and EverFi CEO Tom Davidson in attendance, Calipari will discuss a major initiative by The Calipari Family Foundation for Children. More on this Thursday.
It's easy to get caught up in all the football preseason action going on this time of the year, but let's not forget that a pair the men's and women's soccer teams and the volleyball team have also reported for preseason practice. Volleyball had its first practice Tuesday and is again expected to field a strong team despite the loss of All-American Lauren Rapp and Blaire Hiler. The Cats are one of just 18 teams to make the NCAA Tournament field six straight seasons.
UKathletics.com, with the special help of UK Sports Video, will be unveiling a series of video interviews throughout Kentucky football camp to introduce fans to UK's newest football players, the freshmen.
With strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver as the show's host, "Rockin' with the Rookies" will feature each and every one of UK's freshmen in a daily show on UKathletics.com.
Making the case for Trevathan: Talk about someone having a true nose for the ball. Trevathan has accumulated 226 tackles in the past two seasons and has been the best player on Kentucky's defense in that time. Trevathan doesn't just find players with the ball, he flies at them with his 6-foot-1, 234-pound frame. Trevathan might be the heart of Kentucky's defense, but his main goal during the offseason was to become more of a leader. In his final season in Lexington, Trevathan wants to not only wreak havoc on opposing offenses but he wants to elevate the play of his teammates around him.
Faulkner idolizes Baltimore Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed, but he also admires another player. He will wear No.18 in part because of former Wildcat Randall Cobb.
Faulkner hopes to make an impact defensively the way Cobb sparked the offense.
"What can I say?" Faulkner said. "Randall influenced me big time. I came down here and I fell in love with him. Randall is an outstanding football player. He's one of my idols. I'm going to do my best to make his jersey live on."
Let's get right to the point. In the list of people who influence the NBA, John Calipari isn't at the top. But the empire he's built and transferred to Kentucky to expand may be the center of the NBA universe outside of New York and Miami. And if you want proof, you only need to look at what's going on in Lexington this summer.
We start with the expected, another stellar team from Calipari. But this one, it's a little bit more than even the normal outstanding classes of prospects Calipari produces each year. In addition to Terrence Jones, who would have been a first-rounder this year had he elected to jump, the 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats feature three players CBSSports.com placed in the top ten of a 2012 mock draft, and four in the first round. Anthony Davis is considered by many to be the number one overall pick next year, Michael Gilchrist is talked about as being potentially just as good. Marquis Teague is plotted as a mid-first rounder (which means he could very easily wind up in the lottery). Only Doron Lamb, who Calipari has called the best player on this year's Kentucky team, isn't expected to go in the first round.
(Maxwell Smith) will be ready if something happens to Morgan Newton, who Smith acknowledges has a comfortable hold on the No. 1 spot.
"I'm just working hard. If anything happens, I've got to be ready," Smith said. "I can't let the team down, the coaches down or the fans down. I have to be prepared. That's what I've been trying to do since the minute I got here in January."
Kentucky's third-string quarterback, freshman Bookie Cobbins, offers a polarizing contrast from Smith. Cobbins is considerably smaller, listed at 6-foot-0 and 187 pounds. Smith said he models his game after Tom Brady and Sam Bradford; Cobbins is a dual-threat passer who said he compares himself to former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. "But I like throwing it more than him," Cobbins said.
There might be some growing pains on offense, but it'll come. The truly scary bit is what the Cats appear capable of doing on defense. Of course, Calipari-coached teams always defend; since 2006, only two of his squads have finished lower than No. 10 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. (Those years were 2007, when Memphis ranked No. 11, and 2011, when Kentucky ranked No. 15.) Calipari has a rare coaching talent, one that's often overshadowed by what Basketball Prospectus writer Kevin Pelton once dubbed his "Calipari-ness." The dude can coach defense. More accurately, Calipari might be the best coach in the country at getting the talented stars of the AAU circuit -- he inherits a new batch of elite freshmen every year, especially at UK -- to buy in on the defensive end.
For as long as he can remember, Raymond Sanders has been told why he's too small to be a big-time football player.
Yet going into his sophomore season, the 5-8 Sanders is poised to be Kentucky's starting tailback after a solid all-around freshman campaign in which he ran for 254 yards and three touchdowns on 68 attempts and caught 16 passes for 114 yards and another score.
"I have been dealing with that my whole life. My mom always told me it was not the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog," Sanders said. "I have a bunch of heart. Everyone knows that. I am not going to back down from anyone. I don't care how big you are.
Marquis Teague has been the best college guard by a long shot. He's shown the ability to find teammates on the break, he handles the ball on a string, and his strength allows him to finish in the paint. At times he got a little erratic going for flashy plays and making turnovers but displayed some solid playmaking skills for others, which seems to be the biggest debate over his long term potential.
With strong safety Winston Guy moving to linebacker, with promising Dakotah Tyler not enrolled in school for the fall semester and with free safety Mychal Bailey suspended for the season's first game, true freshman safeties Lowery and Glenn Faulkner (the top-rated prospect last season in Illinois) have a viable chance to play right away.
Says Lowery: "I'd like that. But I've got to work hard, figure everything out, get in the groove. Then we'll see."
Calipari said the 6-foot-4 Lamb worked on his ballhandling extensively in the offseason. He said he has seen him mature off the court as well. Lamb did score 32 points with seven 3s in a win over Winthrop last season, so it's not like he hasn't shown the ability. But he had plenty of single-digit scoring outputs and his minutes fluctuated.
"In my opinion, he's going to be one of the top-15 players in the country,'' Calipari said. "He was a freshman last season and it's hard for those guys to be consistent. The same thing occurred for Terrence Jones. [Lamb] has a great feel for the game. He was here for most of the summer and is now home for three weeks in New York before school starts. These are a big three weeks for him.''
JOHN WALL, WIZARDS "Find out who your real friends are. Sometimes it seems like the person you're hanging with is the right person to be around, and then all of a sudden he might change or betray you. It can be tough, but find the right people."
After three years as an assistant basketball coach at Bourbon Co. and Powell Co., Preston LeMaster is getting his dream come true. He is the Head Coach at East Ridge High School in Lick Creek, Kentucky.
It isn't everyday that as a reporter you get to talk to anyone this happy.
"I am very excited," says the former UK walk on who wore the same number as his father did when he played for UK.
Below is the fifth and final excerpt of the series Guy Ramsey and I are doing for CoachCal.com. We are profiling the Kentucky men's basketball team's five newcomers in an exclusive series for CoachCal.com. Because it's an exclusive, we can only post a portion of the story below. You'll have to head over to CoachCal.com to read the full story.
Kentucky basketball pickup legends have become a fixture of summers at the Joe Craft Center.
When news is slow and the unquenchable thirst of rabid UK fans is left dry, people start to talk and rumors begin to pick up steam. Without mentioning names, there have been a handful of players over the years who have been billed as "the next big thing" at Kentucky without ever actually playing a game.
By all accounts and comments, Ryan Harrow seems to fit the definition of one of those guys.
Though few in Lexington have ever actually seen him play, whispers around the UK facility are that Harrow is every bit as good as each of the studs in the 2011 four-man freshman class that easily ranks as the best in the country. Chatter from some of the guys involved in the pickup games indicate that if the season started tomorrow and Harrow was eligible to play, he would make the most immediate impact.
"I think he'll surprise a lot of people when he can play," former UK forward Josh Harrellson said recently at the Prasco John Calipari ProCamp held at the Joe Craft Center. "I thought John Wall could jump; just wait until you see this kid. Never seen anything like it."
Prohibited from playing this season due to NCAA transfer rules, Harrow has rapidly earned a reputation as John Calipari's next, next great point guard. Should Marquis Teague choose to stay at Kentucky after a year or not, Harrow, once eligible, is expected to fall in line with Calipari's line of great guards that includes 2010-11 NBA MVP Derrick Rose, 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, 2010 No. 1 NBA Draft pick John Wall, Final Four-leading guard Brandon Knight and Teague.
"He's a really crafty player," Teague said in a recent interview with CoachCal.com. "He plays hard and he's very, very athletic for his size. He can score the ball at will basically and people will see that when he gets to come out and play next year."
Here's the thing about Harrow, though: He's not just a projected prodigy; he's experienced legitimate success on the college scene.
UK Sports Video has sent us a couple of a videos that I thought you might enjoy. One is a recap of highlights from the 2010-11 basketball season and the other is a program overview. Check them out below:
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Today we will be talking about Scott Downs. The skinny Scott Downs, a left-handed starter for UK baseball from 1995-97, is a key cog in the bulllpen for the second-place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
UK background Downs is a native of Louisville, Ky., where he attended Pleasure Ridge Park High School and earned Mr. Baseball honors as a senior. He was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 12th round of the MLB Draft in 1994 but decided to attend UK rather than sign a professional contract. He was a starter from day one in Lexington and led the Wildcats in both ERA (3.30) and strikeouts (102) as a freshman in 1995. In 1996, UK featured its best team during Downs' tenure. Downs helped lead the Wildcats to a 35-24 record and a berth in the SEC Tournament, where UK lost to eventual champion Alabama. Downs again led the team in strikeouts with 92. The Wildcats struggled in the 1997 season, but Downs was a consistent performer, leading the team with seven wins, 105.2 innings pitched, 99 strikeouts and seven complete games and winning SEC Pitcher of the Week honors twice.
After a junior season during which he earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors and was nominated for the Golden Spikes Award, Downs was selected in the third round of the MLB draft (94th overall) by the Chicago Cubs. The southpaw finished his UK career with a record of 17-15, an ERA of 4.12 and 293 strikeouts (most in school history). Professional update Downs spent his college career and most of his professional career as a starter and played parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Cubs and Montreal Expos. In 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays, his career shifted. He became a full-time reliever that year and allowed just one run in his final 14.1 innings over the final month and half of the year. Since then, he has become one of the best left-handed relievers in all of baseball. From 2007-10 with Toronto, he had an ERA of less than 3.10 each year, including 2007 when had an ERA of 2.17 in a league-leading 81 appearances.
He parlayed that success into a three-year deal with the Angels worth approximately $15 million and has proved to be well worth the investment in his first season out west. In 41 appearances and 37.1 innings, he has a 5-2 record and an ERA of 1.45, eighth best among all major leaguers who have pitched at least 30 innings this season. He has allowed just six runs on 23 hits and eight walks all year and is particularly tough on lefties, holding them to just nine hits in 58 at-bats (.155 BA) and just one extra-base hit. Before allowing a solo home run on July 28, he had not allowed a single run since June 22, a streak that spanned 11.2 innings.
The Angels will rely heavily on Downs and his signature sinker and curve ball in a hotly contested race in the American League West. Downs' squad currently has a record of 63-52, just 1.5 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers.
Senior cornerback Anthony Mosley hauled in the game-clinching interception in the upset over South Carolina last year. (UK Athletics)
Anthony Mosley says he's always had a knack for talking and leading, but at first glance he doesn't portray an image of a guy who can hold a room with a speech.
He's as articulate as anyone on the football team and speaks with a certain poise, confidence and thoughtfulness of a player everyone has labeled as one of the leaders on this year's Kentucky football team, but there's also a sense of humbleness and coyness you don't see with a lot of other vocal leaders.
Apparently he's just being polite.
Word out of UK football camp this summer is that Mosley has matured into the voice of the Kentucky defense. On a unit that features the Southeastern Conference's leading tackler, Danny Trevathan, and a potential pro in Winston Guy, it's actually Mosley who has evolved into the vocal leader of the defense.
"What he's done a great job in is he's really taken ownership in being a senior," said Steve Brown, co-defensive coordinator and Mosley's position coach in the secondary. "He's done a great job in the offseason in keeping people accountable. Players from Danny Trevathan on down listen to him and adhere to him because he walks the walk and talks the talk."
Mosley still isn't what Brown describes a "rah-rah" guy in practice - although he will call a guy out if the situation asks for it - but he has been one of the leaders during a positive offseason of development who has held players accountable in the weight room, made sure guys show up to meetings on time and mentored some of the young additions.
If Mosley doesn't like what he sees or thinks one of his teammates can do something differently to help the team, he's usually one of the first ones to pull a player to the side and respectfully let him know about it.
"We have a lot of guys that can lead in different ways, especially on the field," said Mosley, a senior cornerback. "Off the field I just want to make sure everybody knows how to do it right and knows how to do it the Kentucky way, the way I learned when I got here. I just want to make sure we do it correctly off the field all the time."
Perhaps it's no coincidence then that Mosley has aspirations of going into politics in the future.
A community communications and leadership development graduate who plans on getting his master's this year, Mosley hopes to one day work in the White House as the head of communications. Mosley says he would like to be in a position where he can talk about the issues because he likes doing interviews and answering questions, a rare quality for a player at his age.
"As a young guy I really liked to talk," Mosley said. "I really like to share my feelings and open up. I always try to be professional. As I got to college and picked a major, I realized that I can talk and lead professionally."
For the last couple of years, Mosley has certainly looked the part of a politician. On a camp roster with more than 100 different player personalities, Mosley, despite his quiet nature, is arguably the most polished and humble speaker in interviews with the media.
But following a disappointing 6-7 season last year, Mosley took it upon himself this offseason to become a more vocal presence in the locker room to ensure that his final year at UK would put the Wildcat program back on the winning track.
"I think he's blossoming as a man, but it's really something that, because it's his last hurrah and his last year, he's made the decision to step up," Brown said. "He could have not played this year because he has his degree already, but he wanted to come back and play his senior year. He decided if he was going to do it, he was going to do it 100 percent the right way."
Mosley's rise to senior leader has come out of the blue. The Ellenwood, Ga., native didn't even begin playing football until his junior year in high school when Tucker High School coaches saw how fast he was and convinced him to try to sport.
Head coach Joker Phillips recruited Mosley to Kentucky as a wide receiver, but he was switched to cornerback in the spring of 2008 after Brown was exposed to Mosley's footwork. Brown saw potential in Mosley as a defensive back, but he only played in five games with a tackle and a pass breakup through his sophomore year.
Quite honestly, a rather large contingent of UK fans didn't even know who Mosley was until he made arguably the biggest play of the 2010 season when he snared an interception in the end zone in the closing seconds of Kentucky's upset of No. 10 South Carolina.
By year's end, Mosley played in all 13 games with 12 starts and finished the season second on the team in pass breakups and seventh with 34 tackles. As a senior, he's been locked into one of the starting cornerback positions.
"It's my last year to make a change on the program, to try to get to a better season, so I'm really excited to get started and get ready for the season," said Mosley, who credits much of his development to former UK cornerbacks Trevard Lindley and David Jones.
Looking back at last year, Mosley played at less than 170 pounds, a weight that wasn't conducive for a Southeastern Conference defender. On one occasion last season, when Mosley walked into a room full of reporters, several media members wondered if Mosley had an SEC-caliber body.
Now, after an offseason with strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver, Mosley has filled out and is up to what he says is around 185 pounds (UK's fact book lists him at 178). The added strength, most noticeably to his arms, should bolster his efforts in the rugged SEC.
"It certainly helps," Mosley said. "It just makes you feel a little more confident, especially when you're pressing in coverage and tackling and wrapping up."
Mosley is one of a number of veterans in one of the most experienced secondary units in the league. Opposite of Mosley is two-year starter Randall Burden, senior Taiedo Smith is slated to get the starting spot at free safety, and Guy, a three-year safety who has been converted to a hybrid linebacker position, will still be utilized in pass coverage in certain Rick Minter schemes.
The only starter with question marks is junior Martavius Neloms, and those concerns are only prompted because Neloms is making a position change from cornerback to safety. The coaching staff believes his hard-hitting mentality aligns more as a safety, plus he still has the pass-defending skills as a corner.
"It kind of fits his nature a bit," Brown said. "He's a visional kid. He's a guy that probably has the body type and movement skills of a really good safety. He definitely has the mentality of a safety and maybe a linebacker. We've just got to continue to bring him along. He's only been through a spring with us doing this so we've still got to bring him along and watch his progress, but he's doing some really good things."
Developing depth is Brown's camp priority, but that shouldn't be a problem with veterans Mychal Bailey, Cartier Rice, Josh Gibbs, Dale Trimble and the talented Jarrell Priester in the mix.
"The starting four are pretty good, but we can't just have four starters," Brown said. "We've got to get at least eight guys that can play because, in this conference and this game, one play and you're on to the next guy. We're trying to get everyone ready to play and see where the cards fall."
UK will also welcome newcomers Eric Dixon, Daylen Hall and Ashely Lowery into the fold, but the freshman with the best chance to make an immediate impact is four-star signee Glenn Faulkner.
Ranked the No. 1 prospect in Illinois and the No. 8 safety in the country by Rivals.com, Faulkner joined the program as the gem of the 2011 class. The 6-foot-2, 194-pound defensive back is a little behind to start camp because he arrived on campus late, but there's little disputing the talents of a player who totaled 123 tackles and seven interceptions in his final two years in high school.
Phillips said Friday that talent can overcome experience any day when talking about Faulkner's chances to come in and play right away. The coaches believe he has that ability.
"That's why we recruited him," Brown said. "He has a chance to be pretty good. It's just a matter of learning what to do and letting his talents shine. He has to be comfortable to play fast."
Mark your calendars for Aug. 18 as UK men's basketball head coach John Calipari will make an appearance on ESPNU in a roundtable discussion.
ESPN.com senior college basketball writer Andy Katz recently sat down with 31 NCAA head basketball coaches, including Kentucky's Calipari, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando to discuss the biggest topics in the game today. ESPNU will air the intimate roundtable discussions in five 30-minute specials beginning Monday. The five-part series will be televised daily at 5 p.m. through Friday, Aug. 19.
Calipari is scheduled to appear on Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. with Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Saint Joseph's Phil Martelli, Rhode Islands's, Jim Baron, Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor and Florida State's Leonard Hamilton.
A number of topics are discussed in the series, including pay-for-play, the NBA Draft, recruiting and the trend of mid-majors competing for the national title. The Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East are all touched upon as leading conferences.
Following Monday's football practice, the fourth since camp opened last week, head coach Joker Phillips informed the media that the coaching staff is giving the players a word a day in practice to tailor their practice around.
On Monday it was two words: totally focused.
"We are competing our tails off," Phillips said. "I really like the way this team is competing against each other. But being totally focused is understanding your assignment, understanding your alignment and then understanding how we practice. We were competing (but) we kind of lost how we practice. We try to stay up off the ground so nobody gets hurt. We try to face up the runners and sometimes we got away from that, which sometimes takes away from your technique when you're trying to tackle and you're trying to wrap up. But I really like the way we're competing and the attitude on both sides of the ball. We're playing physical and we're playing fast. We've just got to be totally focused on the little things. The little things is why we were 6-7 last year."
Preseason first-team All-SEC selection Larry Warford says the Kentucky offensive line "can be as good as they want to be." (UK Athletics)
They're the hogs, the big uglies, the big nasties and the road graders. They're the big boys who protect the quarterback yet never get any credit. That is unless you're an offensive lineman for the Kentucky football team.
For UK head coach Joker Phillips, the offensive line is a unit on the team that he and the rest of the coaches can hang their hats on and look at -- not as the guys who go unnoticed -- as the players who can help lead the program in trying to make a leap in the Southeastern Conference.
"We've been saying for a couple years that the strength of this football team offensively will be our offensive line and, well, I'm now happy and proud to say that they should be the strength of the program on offense," Phillips said during UK's football media day.
Led by senior left guard Stuart Hines and junior right guard Larry Warford, the Kentucky offensive line is not only the strongest unit on the team but also one of the strongest units in the SEC.
With junior Matt Smith at center and seniors Chandler Burden and Billy Joe Murphy at tackle, the Wildcats have one of the more experienced lines in the conference, returning four starters from last year's group. While Murphy is not counted as a "returning starter," the 6-foot-6, 308-pound lineman started six games a year ago and has appeared in 33 games during his career -- hardly newcomer numbers.
Don't bother letting the guys know how much pub they're getting, though, because it's not something they're concerned with.
"Usually if you're an offensive lineman, getting recognition it's probably something bad," Hines said. "What we try to do is be the most physically dominant position on the field. That's our main goal. We want to be physically dominant and protect the quarterback."
The experience of the offensive line will be crucial while UK breaks in new full-time starters at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions. Although players like Morgan Newton, Raymond Sanders and La'Rod King have shown they can be relied upon when called into action, they will be taking on even larger roles than the ones they've experienced before, meaning the offensive line may have to carry the load early.
For Newton, the BBVA Compass Bowl was his first start since the 2009 Music City Bowl against Clemson. Sanders has experience at tailback, earning carries in nine games as a freshman, but has never run for more than 80 yards in a game. And while King has shown glimpses of his potential, he has never been the No. 1 wide out during his career with the Wildcats.
The offensive lineman said they recognize that a strong, experienced unit can be a great asset for an offense that will need to gel quickly. In addition to giving the skill position players more time, Warford also pointed out that the offensive line will be able to call out front calls more easily with all of their game time together. Being the best unit on the team is something they take pride in and strive to achieve, Warford said.
"That's how you win football games," Warford said. "Having a good O-line is the first step in having a great team. ... We always want to be that unit. We want to set examples here so we try to carry ourselves as a standard of excellence so our team can feed off that."
For Warford, a preseason first-team All-SEC selection by the conference coaches and media, a standard of excellence is something offensive line coach Mike Summers sees in the near future.
"Larry has developed so much over the course of the year," Summers said. "It really is amazing to watch what he can do on the field. I just am so excited to watch like everyone else and see his development. I think he can be very special."
Phillips went even further, saying he believes Warford will be one of the best to ever play at Kentucky before his career is over.
Playing on the other side of the line, Hines enters his senior year with more than 35 games of experience in the trenches under his belt. Summers sees Hines as a rock on the offensive line and someone who, when called upon, can respond to it passionately. Hines said that's just how he goes about his work -- a leader by example who tries to do the little things that go a long way.
Serving as one of the faces on UK's three posters, and the hand holding the helmet on the cover of the team's media guide, Phillips praised Hines' ability on and off the field as one of the reasons to place him as one of the faces of the program.
"The reason why we wanted him to be one of the faces of this program is he does everything right," Phillips said. "He does everything right academically, socially, football, and if he does make a mistake in football, he does everything he possibly can to try to get that corrected. We want a guy like Stuart Hines being the face of this program."
Leading this group with so much promise is Summers. Going up against some of the best and fastest defenses in the country, it will be Summers directing the group in charge of protecting an offense that is likely to feature a wealth of new faces.
"Coach Summers means everything to our O-line," Warford said. "He's such a smart guy and he's so passionate about coaching O-line. He teaches us so many things that make our job easier for us. Everything he teaches us lets us read defenses like a book."
Though the starters have played numerous games together, the Wildcats still need to develop some depth. Battling in the trenches each game puts a lot of wear and tear on the line in a hurry. and with so many appearances and starts going to the starters, UK's second string has not seen a ton of minutes.
Among the players looked at as potential contributors are redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared at left tackle, behind starter Chandler Burden, and sophomore guard Kevin Mitchell, who Phillips said has lost weight and added strength and muscle. Senior Jake Lanefski gives Kentucky versatility on the line with the ability to play right guard or center. And don't forget about 6-11, 360-pound Jack Gruenschlaeger, a walk-on with raw skills but physical attributes that have to entice the coaches for the future.
With the season just over three weeks away, it's now time to put up or shut up for the group that says they really don't pay attention or care about the preseason accolades. As Warford says, it's all about staying humble.
"We can be as good as we want to be," Warford said. "We can also be as poor as we want to be. It depends on how we take the job. If we go in it big headed or whatever we probably won't be that good. If we just stay humble and keep working hard like we've been doing we're going to be a great O-line."
Speaking with ESPN.com writer Andy Katz, head coach John Calipari made an interesting comment that, even with the star-studded freshman class and forward Terrence Jones returning, sophomore Doron Lamb is Kentucky's "best basketball player." Here are some of Calipari's direct quotes on Lamb:
"Terrence has used this time to get stronger and I'm hoping Darius will use this experience overseas to help him,'' Calipari said. "But Doron is a better player, in better shape and he can take the pressure off those freshmen so they don't have to be anyone else but themselves.''
"In my opinion, he's going to be one of the top-15 players in the country,'' Calipari said. "He was a freshman last season and it's hard for those guys to be consistent. The same thing occurred for Terrence Jones. [Lamb] has a great feel for the game. He was here for most of the summer and is now home for three weeks in New York before school starts. These are a big three weeks for him.''
Calipari goes on to say that, while Lamb isn't the biggest or moth athletic on the team, he does things well with the ball. Keep in mind, Lamb averaged 12.3 points and hit a team-high 48.6 percent of his 3-point shots.
But is he the best? Or is this is a Calipari motivational tactic to inspire Jones and senior Darius Miller?
Staying with ESPN.com, the Worldwide Leader in Sports also has an in-depth look at Kentucky in its "Summer Buzz" series. Ian Gordon of ESPN.com takes a look at the overall team, the newcomers, who will be taking on a new role (Lamb) and who needs to put in work this summer (Jones).
Since it is an ESPN Insider story, I can't post the full story here, but here is a small excerpt:
Darius Miller is one of 12 players on the USA World University Games roster. (photo courtesy of USA Basketball)
Hole to fill: Interior toughness Say what you will about Harrellson. Nothing Jorts did was pretty, but he stuck with it, particularly on the offensive end, where he graded out as an incredibly adept rebounder (22nd in the country in offensive-rebounding percentage). As the season went on -- and particularly during the Wildcats' late-season 10-game winning streak, which took them all the way to the Final Four -- Harrellson played a key role, putting up double-digit point totals in six of the last eight games. While Davis lacks Harrellson's burly build, he's got the length (7-4 wingspan) to alter a ton of shots, much like North Carolina's similarly lithe John Henson. And should Calipari feel that he needs some more muscle inside, he can turn to little-used Eloy Vargas (6-11, 244 pounds), who is hoping to grab some PT much like Harrellson did a year ago.
Miller, who was recently named to the 2011 USA Men's World University Games team roster, was awarded with jersey No. 12 for the games. You can view his Team USA picture to the right as well as his Team USA bio page here.
The team is expected to depart for China today. Miller and Co. will play in an exhibition contest against New Century, a Chinese Basketball Association professional team, on Aug. 11 in Huizho, China, before opening the World University Games play on Aug. 13.
Below is the fourth excerpt of the series Eric Lindsey and I are doing for CoachCal.com. We are profiling the Kentucky men's basketball team's five newcomers in an exclusive series for CoachCal.com. Because it's an exclusive, we can only post a portion of the story below. You'll have to head over to CoachCal.com to read the full story.
Marquis Teague knows what it's like to follow in the footsteps of an accomplished predecessor.
Teague has a brother, Jeff, who is five years his senior. The elder Teague earned All-America honors at Wake Forest before being picked in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks.
Before he even took the floor at Pike High School in Indianapolis, he bore the Teague name and the expectations that came with it. Instead of dwelling on the pressure of those expectations, Teague set out to use his brother's success as motivation, as a roadmap to creating his own legacy. His relationship with Jeff has helped him arrive at Kentucky as a part of the nation's top recruiting class.
"We've got a good relationship," Teague said of his older brother. "We call each other and talk a lot. (He) pretty much tries to be a good role model for me and we have a great relationship. He has shown me how hard you need to work to get to that level."
Who better then to be the next point guard at UK?
By now, the names roll off the tongue. Brandon Knight, John Wall, Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose are John Calipari's last four point guards. Each took his team to at least the Sweet 16. Each was picked in the top eight of the NBA Draft. Two went on to earn Rookie of the Year honors in their first professional seasons.
Many a player would shy away from trying to fill the shoes of that quartet and choose to play college basketball somewhere he could make his own name. Teague simply is not built that way.
Passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Tee Martin (left) believes wide receiver Daryl Collins (right) could make an immediate impact at wide receiver. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
That buzz you've heard over the last few days since the start of Kentucky football camp is likely the arrival of UK's freshman class.
The consensus since media day is that this year's crop of freshmen could be the program's most impressive group in a long time. They look the part physically, and just about all of them said the right things in their lone opportunity with the media on Friday.
The players are calling it "swag," but whatever it is, there is something noticeably different about this class.
Their undeniable talent and need at several positions prompted head coach Joker Phillips to admit at his media day news conference that freshmen will play a prominent role in this year's success. Entering camp, Phillips said every freshman will begin the season third on the depth chart to have the opportunity to move up and play.
"I think we will play more freshmen than we have in the past, especially at the skill positions," Phillips said.
It's early, but let's take a look at who some of those freshmen are that could step in and play right away. RB Marcus Caffey (5-11, 189 pounds) - The departure of starting tailback Derrick Locke and the relative inexperience at the running back position opens up an opportunity for playing time. Sophomore Raymond Sanders begins camp as the starter, but he's far from a polished product at this point with 68 career carries. Behind him are a sophomore (Jonathan George), a former walk-on (CoShik Williams) and two redshirt freshmen (Brandon Gainer and Edmund Allen), meaning Caffey, who ranked as one of the nation's top 40 running backs out of high school by Rivals.com, could move up the depth chart quickly. Caffey rushed for 1,611 yards and 17 touchdowns in his senior season. RB Josh Clemons (5-10, 201 pounds) - Physically, no one looks the part more than Clemons. If you didn't know he was a freshman, chances are you'd mistake him for a senior. With biceps the size of boulders, Clemons is as chiseled as any player on UK's football roster. He looks like he has been in a collegiate strength and condition program for years and he won't be overwhelmed by the adjustment to Southeastern Conference football. He rushed for 2,003 yards and 25 touchdowns, averaging 8.3 yards a carry, as a senior at Whitewater High School in Fayetteville, Ga.
WR Daryl Collins (5-11, 203 pounds) - Labeling someone the next Randall Cobb would be getting a little ahead of ourselves, but that's exactly the kind of whispers we're hearing about the versatile Collins. Wide receivers coach Tee Martin said he has the certain skill set to be special, and Collins hasn't shied away from the gargantuan void left by Cobb. "I can be great," Collins told WLEX's Alan Cutler. "I can be just like Randall. I just got to play. Wildcat, pretty much all the things he could do, I could do." Collins signed with Kentucky over Alabama for the chance to play right away, and based on what everyone has said so far, he's the freshman with the best change to make the biggest impact.
WR Rashad Cunningham (6-4, 200 pounds) - Cunningham doesn't come in with as much hype as some of his freshman counterparts, but he has the physical tools to play immediately at a position that has a lot of holes. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Cunningham is a big, physical wide out who could turn into a good possession receiver and a deep threat. He caught 39 passes as a senior for 555 yards and five touchdowns and has a reputation as an outstanding blocker.
TE Alvin Dupree (6-4, 229 pounds) - Playing a position that includes as many as four players with significant experience may seem like a first-year death sentence for most players, but not Dupree. "He's a guy that we think can come in here and play this year," Phillips said Friday. Dupree was listed as an "athlete" on signing day, but he primarily played tight end in high school.
DB Glenn Faulkner (6-2, 194 pounds) - The gem of the 2011 class, according to the star system, Faulkner begins camp with a ton of hype. He was the No. 1 prospect in Illinois and the No. 8 safety in the country, as evaluated by Rivals.com. Faulkner got to campus late, but Phillips said Friday that a talent like Faulkner can overcome inexperience. He's as good as any freshman Phillips has ever seen at UK, but the head coach cautioned reporters that it's difficult to go off potential. Still, it's hard to argue with 123 tackles and seven interceptions in his final two years in high school. LB Tim Patterson (6-4, 225 pounds) - Patterson has become a bit of a forgotten man because he deferred enrollment last year while he rehabilitated an injury, but he was the top prospect in the 2010 class, according to Rivals.com. A first-team all-state selection by the Associated Press and Courier-Journal, Patterson is a rangy linebacker with outstanding height and sub-4.7 speed in the 40-yard dash. There are questions as to whether or not Patterson is back to 100 percent yet, but if he is, Phillips believes he can develop into a guy like Ridge Wilson.
Freshman wide receiver Demarco Robinson (left) battles with junior cornerback Cartier Rice (right) for a deep pass at UK Fan Day on Saturday. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
WR Demarco Robinson (5-10, 159 pounds) - Lightning quick is probably the best way to describe Robinson. What he lacks in physical size he makes up for in pure speed. Robinson caught 73 passes for a state-record 1,655 yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior season at Martin Luther King High School in Lithonia, Ga. It remains to be seen whether Robinson can physically adjust to the strength of the SEC, but asked Friday who he thought could make an instant impact at wide receiver, Martin said Robinson and Collins.
QB Maxwell Smith (6-4, 220 pounds) - The starting job is Morgan Newton's, but as the backup quarterback, Smith is one snap away from being forced into duty. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Smith is another one of those guys that looks the part. Blessed with a strong arm, Smith threw for approximately 2,500 yards and 24 touchdowns with only two interceptions in his senior season at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif. More importantly, Phillips loves Smith's leadership skills. "He's the perfect quarterback," Phillips said. Freshman quarterback Bookie Cobbins didn't make the list just because he'll likely be the No. 3 guy on the depth chart, but keep an eye on him as well.
FB Darrell "D.J." Warren (6-0, 230 pounds) - Warren did just about everything in high school. He played defensive end, running back and even saw spot duty as a linebacker en route to all-state honors in the state of Tennessee as a junior and senior. With Kentucky, Warren will get his first shot at fullback, a position bare with experience. For that very reason, there is a good shot that the physical skills of Warren could land him some immediate playing time. If he matures into the position, he could give UK an extra running threat as he rushed for approximately 1,300 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior.
La'Rod King, with 36 catches last year for 478 yards and five touchdowns, is UK's leading returner receiver. (UK Athletics)
For all the experience and talent last year's receiving corps had with Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews, this year's crop of question marks, inexperience and freshmen have already outdone them in one key department in Tee Martin's mind.
Martin, UK's passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach, assigned Kentucky's wide outs the same daunting task he handed last year's group: catch 50,000 balls during the offseason off the "jugs" machine. The catches didn't mean tossing a ball with a teammate or the grabs they made in 7-on-7 offseason drills. No, Martin meant the darts the jugs machine fired out.
He couldn't actually be there to witness the catches because it was the offseason, but Martin assigned UK's managers and graduate assistants to tally the receptions. This year's group not only shattered the 36,000 mark of last year's receivers, they also beat the 50,000 challenge with 51,000 catches. Of those 51,000, junior Brian Adams caught 10,000 by himself.
The offseason workout by Kentucky's pass catchers is one of many reasons why Martin isn't entering camp with as many questions as the rest of the UK fan base. While everyone is quick to point to the losses of the program's career touchdown leader, Randall Cobb, and last year's second-leading wide receiver, Chris Matthews, Martin is just as quick to note the potential of Adams, the leadership of La'Rod King and the wealth of talented freshmen UK has signed.
"We lost a lot of production and we lost a lot of talent, but this time last year I was being asked the same questions," Martin said. "Randall Cobb was coming off a 400-yard season. Chris Matthews had played just a little bit and we didn't know what he was going to be. We knew what kind of talent Randall Cobb was, but no one could have predicted that he would have the type of season that he did last year as a wide receiver. I'm answering the same questions I did last year.
"With that being said, we replace a lot of production with talented guys. We have some guys who are fairly inexperienced as receivers, but they're talented. We look forward to going out there and proving ourselves."
For the first time in recent memory, UK signed five "true" receivers who have played the position before. In years past, the coaching staff had to gamble on signing "athletes" who they hoped to mold into wide receivers.
Cobb, a second-round NFL Draft pick by the Green Bay Packers, was one of those players. "I think we went out and were able to find guys that had played that position, caught a lot of balls, and I think that's important," head coach Joker Phillips said. "So now, (they) understand the position, how to line up in a stance, in their mind they've got an idea how to defeat press coverage, got an idea of how to read coverage on the run, and now we've got to teach them plays. Before we had to teach those five that came in. We had to teach them everything."
Of the freshman receivers who could make the most immediate impact, Martin mentioned Daryl Collins and Demarco Robinson. Collins, a 5-foot-11, 203-pounder, was ranked the nation's No. 62 wide receiver by Scout.com, and Robinson, a 5-10 speedster, caught 73 passes for a Georgia state record 1,655 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior.
"It's unbelievable what (Collins) can do on the field," said Adams, Collins' camp roommate and self-described older brother. "He's got tremendous athletic ability and we're really excited about what he can do."
Martin has had to remind himself to taper his expectations because they're still just freshmen, but the reports he's received from the offseason are hard to ignore.
One thing fans will certainly like is that Collins understands that nothing is going to be handed to him, even if Phillips keeps his word and starts every freshman at No. 3 on the depth chart to give them a chance to compete.
"(Coach Phillips) is not going to just give it to you," Collins said. "You have to work for it, you have to earn it. I believe I can work for it and earn it. That's what I came up here to do."
With all this talk about the freshmen, though, what about some of the upperclassmen that have waited for their time to play?
"Better step up," Phillips said recently at the Governor's Cup Luncheon. "That's the message and that's our policy. At the end of spring, you had to be in the top two or else a freshman is coming in ahead of you. Same with the freshmen that were on campus last year. They know that. They know now."
Phillips wasn't referring to guys like King, Adams and senior Matt Roark, two of which (King and Roark) have plenty of game experience and the other (Adams) who is blessed with arguably the most raw athleticism on the team. All three of those guys figure to get considerable playing time and will be counted on early, especially King.
King, who made 36 grabs for 478 yards and five touchdowns as the third option last year, will likely be Newton's primary target with Cobb and Matthews gone to the NFL. The change in roles from an underclassmen role player to an experienced, go-to leader wasn't easy at first for him.
Martin said King felt the pressure in spring and pressed a little bit, but the 6-4, 194-pound junior has since embraced his new role.
"I saw him develop throughout the summer and take on a leadership role in how he approached the summer," Martin said. "I saw him doing a lot of extra stuff. I saw him going in with the young guys and teaching them the offense. He's doing a lot of things I don't recall him doing last year. He told me that he wants to grab that responsibility and take advantage of it."
Said King: "I've taken what I've learned from Randall and Chris and the veteran guys last year and apply it to the freshmen now. I have to take the same steps Randall took me in. It's really just follow and repeat."
Before missing last year with a knee injury, Gene McCaskill had 32 receptions for 344 yards in his first two years at UK. (UK Athletics)
The forgotten guy of the group seems to be junior wide receiver Gene McCaskill, who missed the 2010 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. McCaskill suffered the injury during a scrimmage in last year's camp.
"I was real devastated," McCaskill said. "It was a fluke play. I was blocking and someone came and got tackled into me and my foot got stepped on. As far as last year, it would have been me, Randall, Chris Matthews and La'Rod. We would have had a great season. We still had a good season, but we could have had a really good season as far as receiving."
McCaskill said he's near 100 percent, but he will be limited in the first couple of weeks of camp as a precaution.
The shadow that's been cast over him by missing a season doesn't bother him, McCaskill said, but Martin said McCaskill isn't telling the complete truth as to how much he's using the missed year as motivation.
"Gene has a chip on his shoulder coming back from an injury like that, and the way he was practicing - last summer during training camp, he was phenomenal," Martin said. "He was doing really well and then he went down and didn't get to go through the spring, so he's hungry to come back and prove himself."
McCaskill remained with the team throughout last year and watched Cobb and Matthews from afar as he rehabbed the knee. While no one expects him to be able to replace everything Cobb did last year, he actually resembles Cobb in some of the things he's capable of doing, including playing in the Wildcat formation.
"Gene is the X-factor," Martin said. "He can play all three positions just like Randall could. He's a guy who can be a returner for us, he can do all the screens and all the different things we did with Randall Cobb. That's where we were headed last year before he went down. Now we can pick up from where we left off and add to it with a Demarco Robinson and a Daryl Collins."
If you have a hard time believing McCaskill is capable of doing some of what Cobb did, take it from the man McCaskill is trying to live up to.
"When (Cobb) left, he actually called me on the phone and said, 'It's your team to take over.' He always told me that I was on the brink of being a great player," McCaskill said. "I took that and ran with it. It's amazing for somebody to even say something like that about you. Once he said that, my mindset just changed to nothing but football now."
As for veterans like juniors E.J. Fields and Aaron Boyd, who could be passed up on the depth chart by the influx of freshmen and the return of McCaksill, Martin said it's up to them to fight back and earn playing time.
"Be consistent and make the plays we expect them to make," Martin said. "It's the fourth year for those guys. It's no longer waiting anymore. That was my attitude with those guys during the spring. It was like, 'Hey, we're going to leave out of the spring knowing what you guys can do because when those young guys get in here, we're going to give them an opportunity to play.' "
Defensive back Glenn Faulkner, who recently reported to UK's campus, is being tabbed as an instant-impact freshmen. (photo by Pete Camagna, UK Athletics)
Immediately prior to the opening of fall camp, UK football held its annual media day. Joker Phillips addressed reporters and took questions to open the festivities and the contingent then headed to the field of Commonwealth Stadium to talk to players.
We will have more coverage of the event later today and into next week, but here are some of the most noteworthy items from Phillips' comments and interviews with players:
UK has instituted a new policy of limiting media access to freshman this season. All first-year players were available at media day on Friday, but they will not be again until after the conclusion of fall camp. Phillips said the new policy will allow freshman to focus on what they need to do in camp, especially in light of the fact that more freshman that normal could contribute this season.
"They've got a lot on their plate and we just think that it's good for those guys to concentrate," Phillips said. "We're going to be counting on a lot of the freshmen, so we'll allow you guys to talk to the guys today, but then we won't allow you to talk to them until they play, and I think that's fair. I think that's fair to the teammates. Once they start contributing then you guys can talk to them."
With the departure of Randall Cobb, Chris Matthews and Derrick Locke, those newcomers at the wide receiver and running back positions figure to have the best opportunity to play right away. At wide receiver, La'Rod King, Brian Adams and Gene McCaskill, among others, return, but UK signed five players at the position who will have an opportunity to play early. Phillips said that all the freshman wide receivers will play initially with the third team.
"I think we will play more freshmen than we have in the past, especially at the skill positions," Phillips said. "They will not be buried in the depth chart. I think that's only fair to them. I think it's a negative when you bring a freshman that's been a star in his high school and you bring him into your program and he's buried in the depth chart."
Daryl Collins, Rashad Cunningham and Demarco Robinson highlight the five-man group looking to make an early impact. Joker Phillips has emphasized since signing day how important it is that all five are wide receivers by trade, not converted from another position. That background figures to give them a leg up. Even though the opportunity is there and it played a role in his decision to come to UK, Collins recognizes that he has a long way to go before he earns it.
"(Coach Phillips) is not going to just give it to you," Collins said. "You have to work for it, you have to earn it. I believe I can work for it and earn it. That's what I came up here to do: to play."
Collins and Cunningham both come from Alabama, the home state of wide receiver coach Tee Martin. Collins said that his comfort level with Martin was a big part of what brought him north to Lexington and away from a commitment to Nick Saban and Alabama.
"Tee Martin is a great man and I couldn't turn that down," Collins said. "I'd rather be coached by him."
At running back, Josh Clemons and Marcus Caffey will also push for playing time. Phillips praised their natural ability as a reason for excitement.
"Those guys, the two guys that we've got in here (have) great ability," Phillips said. "Backs are not made; they're born. You know, it's hard to make great backs. You can make them tougher, you can make them stronger, but you can't make them have the vision and the balance that the great backs have."
Clemons, a native of Fayetteville, Ga., knows that with returners like Raymond Sanders, CoShik Williams and Jonathan George, nothing is guaranteed for a freshman. His approach is to work hard and let things take care of themselves.
"I'm just ready to work hard," Clemons said. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm just trying to work hard, learn the playbook and get in good shape."
At safety, Winston Guy's move to a hybrid position closer to the line of scrimmage opens up a spot in the secondary. Four-star safety Glenn Faulkner, UK's most heralded recruit of 2011, will try to use fall camp to position himself to play there. He only recently arrived on campus and is thankful to have finally arrived.
"I was looking forward to meeting my fellow teammates," Faulkner said. "Now that I'm here, I'm excited and I'm ready to play football."
Although he is getting somewhat of a late start, the fact that UK is implementing a new defensive scheme under Rick Minter puts him slightly less behind the eight ball than he would otherwise be. Faulkner said that the new defense fits his skill set well. In particular, Faulkner's skills in coverage will be an asset to a defense looking for force turnovers.
"I'm much more of a cover guy," Faulkner said. "I like to shut guys down and make interceptions."
That kind of talent will help Faulkner overcome the deficit in experience.
"Glenn is probably a little bit further behind than the other guys because he just got here on campus, but talent wise, we always say that talent will overcome any experience any day," Phillips said.
At quarterback, there will not be nearly as much opportunity for playing time with junior Morgan Newton the projected starter. However, the only two other quarterbacks on the roster are both freshmen. Maxwell Smith and Theltus "Bookie" Cobbins will compete in camp for the backup position.
Cobbins, despite arriving on campus just a short time ago, has already established a relationship with the Big Blue Nation via Twitter. In speaking with him, it's apparent why UK fans have been drawn to the charismatic New Orleans native.
"It's a good thing for me to get in touch with my fans before I even step on the field," Cobbins said with a smile on his face, "but when I step on the field, I'm going to get more (fans)."
Dropping back, facing a rush and making contested throws, confidence is a must for a quarterback. That's never going to be a problem for Cobbins.
"I've got the swag," Cobbins said. "I've got the swag of a quarterback. I'm going to bring leadership."
Cobbins usually relied on his legs to move the chains in high school, but he knows that he needs to work on his throwing to contribute when his time comes.
"I just need to throw a lot," Cobbins said. "In high school, I never threw that much. My main focus is working hard. That's what I do in the weight room, on the field and off the field. When my chance comes, I'm going to make it work."
Crawford working to be a part of team
Phillips addressed the status of senior defensive tackle Mark Crawford, who has recently been the subject of disciplinary action.
The head coach said Crawford is being evaluated on a "day-to-day" basis as he tries to reestablish his position with the team. The 6-foot-1, 338-pound defensive tackle is on the media day roster.
"Crawford is still working to be a part of this football team," Phillips said. "We expect him to do what he's supposed to do all the time. He has done that for the most part, but he's still working his way to be a part of this football team."
Bumps and bruises
Heading into practice, a handful of players are dealing with injuries but most are not serious.
Donte Rumph sustained a concussion in a car accident last week and will miss a couple days while he is being monitored. McCaskill's recovery from reconstructive knee surgery is ongoing, but is nearly able to fully participate in team activities. Raymond Sanders, Jake Lanefski, Mister Cobble and James Elliott are limited in practice and are classified as day-to-day.
Tandy, Washington going the Juco route
Signees David Washington and Bubba Tandy were curiously missing from the media day roster. Phillips later explained why.
Tandy, a listed "athlete" out of Hopkinsville, Ky., and Washington, a defensive lineman of Locust Grove, Ga., will head to junior college.
There's nothing quite like sleeping on a mattress as thin as a pancake. Getting your car keys taken away for a month certainly isn't fun. And two-a-day practices? They're definitely not something to look forward to.
But the biggest thing the Kentucky football players dread about starting fall camp?
"The heat, man," senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "When you just look out there at that field, there are heat waves. You're like, 'Man, I've got to do this all day.' The heat and those back-to-back practices. They're not really all in one day but after a while, towards the end it feels that way because your feet start hurting."
Kentucky football players reported for fall camp Thursday at the Nutter Training Facility. After a relatively quiet, upbeat and positive offseason, Thursday was the first day coaches could begin to offer instruction to the players for the 2011 season.
"I'm really excited," senior cornerback Anthony Mosley said. "It's my last year to make a change on the program to try to get to a really better season, so I'm really excited to get started and get ready for the season."
Defensive players had their first meeting at 3:15 p.m. followed by the offense at 3:45 p.m. Players who hadn't already been fitted for their equipment had that done as well Thursday.
On Friday, shortly after a morning of interviews and photos at media day, the real fun begins for the first practice of the 2011 season.
Sure, it'll be hot, long and sometimes painful, but the grind of camp means the season opener against Western Kentucky on Sept. 1 is just a few short weeks away. For players like senior wide receiver Brian Adams, the eagerness to start the season overshadows the near month-long run of 90-degree days.
"It's football all day, every day. What more could you want?" Adams said. "You don't have to go to school. You don't have to do anything else. You just play football. It's really what you've done since you were a kid."
While UK will deal with a wealth of offensive losses, including starting quarterback Mike Hartline, starting tailback Derrick Locke and the program's career touchdown leader, Randall Cobb, there is a belief among the players that this team can improve upon its 6-7 season from a year ago because of positive offseason workouts.
"We've got really good team chemistry, a lot better than we've had in the past," Sneed said. "Before, we had a lot of people who didn't take it as seriously as they needed to. This year, when we call an extra practice or an extra running session, everybody is out here. That's really important because when it comes down to it on Saturday, your teammates are all that you have. You can't look for coach to come out there on the field with you and play. Knowing that we have each other's back and we're willing to work hard to push each other when we're down is great and it's needed."
Make no bones about it, just about everybody was disappointed with the way last year ended.
"It was a big disappointment, especially for us seniors because it was our first losing season," senior cornerback Randall Burden said. "It was something we don't want to happen again. We're trying to have a way better season than we had."
If they're going improve upon last year, the season starts with fall camp.
On the first day of camp, most of the buzz centered on the depth and talent of UK's incoming wide receiver class and the new scheme of co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter's defense. Sneed is interested to see how much of the new defense his teammates have retained after a dosage in the bowl game, a spring full of installation and an offseason packed with studying.
"We had the films that we were supposed to be watching and now it's time to go in and see if everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing," Sneed said. "It's time to put everything to the test."
As eager as everyone was to start the football season, understandably not everyone was giddy to go through the rigors of practice after practice after practice. When the hours and days of work start to pile up and the muscles start to tighten and hurt, the promise of a new year can be overshadowed by the brutality of a month full of work.
Sneed said the camaraderie they get out of camp makes it all worth it.
"The most rewarding part is bonding with the team," Sneed said. "Everybody comes together and we have a lot of fun. When you look past all the football stuff, you really build friendships."
To break up the monotony, several players have different tactics for creating a little fun. Burden arrived at camp wearing a straw hat while senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines continued a camp tradition of growing a mustache.
"Camp is long and tedious," said junior wide receiver LaRod King, whose new hairdo included the Dallas Cowboys logo buzzed into the side of his head. "There are a lot of intensity and emotions, but you've got to have fun with it."
Hines said he plans on growing his mustache throughout camp and welcomed anyone to join him.
"It's whoever wants to jump in on it," Hines said. "It's kind of been a camp tradition since I've been here. The older guys did it and I didn't want to let it die out this year."
Sneed may be a veteran, but don't count him in as a participant.
"The linebackers don't really do that," Sneed said. "We're too tough for that."
And if standing out isn't fun enough, there are always freshmen to tease.
"We try to scare the young guys," Sneed said. (We say things like,) 'Hey, man, you might not make it out.' We try to shake them up a little bit."
Asked what he'd tell some of the younger players about what to expect at a collegiate camp, Adams said to soak it all in.
"Don't get caught up in the negativity of it," Adams said. "Your body is going to get tired, but enjoy today and enjoy the opportunity you have. We're all extremely blessed to be out here, so have fun."
Without naming names, King said a lot of the young players have really impressed him, but he said he's not going to single anyone out until they can back it up in fall camp.
"Camp determines whether or not you're ready for the season, honestly," King said. "It's really like, you can talk all the stuff you want to now, but once you put the pads on and get hit for the first time it's like, 'Oh, OK, I know where I'm playing now. I'm playing in the SEC.' You're going to feel it in the morning."
Before I head over to the Nutter Training Facility for the first day of fall camp, here are a couple of notes you may be interested in:
USA Today released its Coaches Poll on Thursday with Oklahoma grabbing the top spot to start the season. The Sooners, who garnered 42 of the 59 first-place votes, were followed by Alabama (13 first-place votes), Oregon (two), LSU (two) and Florida State. Although UK didn't receive a vote, eight Southeastern Conference teams made the top 25 with a ninth team, Tennessee, earning seven votes. To give you an idea of how tough UK's schedule is, after facing Louisville on Sept. 17, UK will face three consecutive top-25 foes in No. 23Florida (Sept. 24) at No. 4 LSU (Oct. 1) and at No. 12 South Carolina. (Oct. 8).
UK men's basketball junior Jon Hood tweeted Thursday morning that he was scheduled to have surgery soon on his injured right knee. Hood tore his anterior cruciate ligament in mid-July but has been unable to go under the knife because of swelling in the knee. In the meantime, Hood has been seen around the Joe Craft Center walking with a pretty bulky knee brace. No timetable has been given for Hood's return and he hasn't been ruled out for the 2011-12 season, but most torn ACLs usually take at least six months to fully recover from.
Joker Phillips is looking to improve upon a 6-7 first-year season as head coach. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky football team officially reports for the 2011 season Thursday afternoon at the Nutter Training Facility.
Defensive players have their first meeting at 3:15 p.m. and offensive players meet at 3:45 p.m. The players will also be fitted for equipment before their first day of practice on Friday.
As we get ready to dive into another football season, here are five questions the UK football team will have to answer over the course of fall camp.
1. Can UK take the next step? Head coach Joker Phillips has made it no secret that the theme of this year's team is "Rise." Phillips wants his players to rise to the occasion and for his team to rise in the Southeastern Conference standings.
Are his goals realistic though?
As always, the SEC is going to be super difficult to navigate through. For the second straight year, the SEC West is stacked with talent. Alabama and LSU are preseason national title contenders, and Auburn, last year's national champion, is expected to finish fifth in college football's toughest division.
The East looks to be remarkably improved after a down year in 2010. Building off an SEC East championship, South Carolina returns starting quarterback Stephan Garcia, running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Georgia should be improved and the chances of Florida staying down are very, very slim.
So what does that mean for a Kentucky team that loses its starting quarterback, running back and top two wide receivers? Can the Wildcats really take a step forward when everyone else has improved so much and they've lost so much offensive firepower?
That is Phillips' challenge to his players this year. He's calling on his defense to be the strength of the team, his offensive line to carry a young and inexperienced offense, and his young players to step up and fill the voids of lost veterans.
If Kentucky is going to rise in 2011, unexpected heroes are going to have to step up. 2. Is Newton ready to the lead the team? Morgan Newton has been tabbed as the next great Kentucky quarterback ever since UK signed him out of Carmel, Ind.
Newton showed promise his freshman season, leading UK to wins at Georgia and Auburn, but he failed to beat out Mike Hartline for the job last year and looked rusty in the BBVA Compass Bowl game. Now in his junior season, is Newton ready to lead the UK offense?
If you ask his teammates and coaches, the answer is yes. Offseason accounts indicate Newton has taken a major leap forward with his work ethic and leadership. He's organized offseason workouts, held his teammates accountable and he's reportedly throwing the ball as well as he ever has.
It sounds like a transformation similar to what Andre' Woodson experienced before his breakthrough season in 2006. But if that's true, that leads us to our next question. 3. Who is Newton going to throw to? If you haven't done so already, it's time to come to grips with the fact that Randall Cobb isn't walking through that door anymore. Neither is Chris Matthews.
If you count pass-catching tailback Derrick Locke and a couple of other minor losses, UK lost 196 of its 298 catches last year, including 1,942 yards and 16 touchdowns from Cobb and Matthews. Folks, that's a lot of production.
Returning for UK will be senior Matt Roark, junior La'Rod King and sophomore Brian Adams. King, who caught 36 balls for 478 yards and five touchdowns last year, has the talent to be a No. 1 wide receiver, while Adams is blessed with elite speed and athleticism.
One guy no one is talking about is junior Gene McCaskill, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. McCaskill is actually the second-most experienced of the returners with 32 career catches, plus he has the skills to play the outside or slide inside to the slot position.
Phillips has raved about his incoming freshman receiving class because they are natural wide receivers who can make an immediate impact. The only question out of that group is who will emerge out of the gates?
Newton will also have five tight ends returning with experience to lean on early in the season.
Maybe the position isn't in such dire shape after all. It just has a lot of questions and possibilities.
Tailback Raymond Sanders rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. (photo by Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
4. Can Sanders carry the load at tailback? There are no questions about Raymond Sanders' natural ability. The diminutive tailback displayed his ability to slash and squeeze between tight holes for 254 rushing yards on 68 carries.
But is Sanders capable of carrying the load and being an every-down back? At 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, that could prove to be difficult in the SEC marathon.
If he can't, sophomore Jonathan George and junior CoShik Williams will be called into action. George only got nine carries as a freshman while Williams, a former walk-on, totaled 136 yards and four scores on 24 rushes as a sophomore.
Highly touted tailback Brandon Gainer redshirted last season and could move up the depth chart pretty quickly, but keep an eye on incoming freshmen Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons, two of the gems of the 2011 signing class.
Both Caffey and Clemmons possess a nice mix of speed and power, and the bet here is that one of them becomes a significant contributor this season.
5. How will Kentucky adjust to Minter's new defensive schemes? At this point, we've all heard about co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter's new schemes. Whether it's a 3-4, 4-3 or 4-2-5 set is hardly the question anymore. Now it's about how the players will adjust to the system.
As you'd expect, the players and coaches are saying all the right things. Winston Guy, Ridge Wilson and Martavius Neloms say they love their position changes. Minter keeps stressing the emphasis on speed. And Phillips is raving about forcing more turnovers.
But for a defense that returns its top 11 tacklers, will they be able to make the adjustment from their old defensive principles to the new schemes?
At the end of the day, tackling is tackling and defense is defense. Based on all accounts, while the terminology and schemes are different, the change was just as much about attitude and passion.
If you don't believe that, remember that Minter got the job just a couple of weeks before Kentucky's bowl game in Birmingham, Ala. While it didn't get off to a rousing start, the players had a chance to get an early taste of the system and adapt to it.
After a full set of spring practices and an offseason film session that has included voiceovers from Minter, the players have had plenty of opportunities and time to adjust. It's up to them to make the necessary changes.
13. Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky (SR) 2010 stats: 144 tackles, 16 TFL, 3 sacks Trevathan finished 2010 as one of the SEC's best linebackers, but did so without much national fanfare. Considering Kentucky's defense ranked near the bottom of the SEC against the run and in points allowed, Trevathan didn't get the credit he deserved. Trevathan led the SEC with 144 tackles and finished second with four forced fumbles. He earned first-team All-SEC honors and was named conference player of the week with his performance in the season opener against Louisville. Why he's ranked 13th: Kentucky's defense is under the direction of new coordinator Rick Minter, but Trevathan's role shouldn't change. The senior is one of the SEC's top linebackers and is a preseason All-American by Athlon Sports. Trevathan is the leader of Kentucky's defense and should be one of the team's building blocks for improving that side of the ball this year.
21. Larry Warford, OL, Kentucky (JR) The 6-foot-3 340-pound hog molly returns to what should be the strength of Kentucky's offense. The preseason first-team All-SEC guard led the team in knockdown blocks with 43 in 2010.
2. Kentucky - Unlike the past two years, the latest version of the Wildcats has a decent amount of experience to blend with its youth. Terrence Jones was one of the top two players on last year's Final Four squad while Darius Miller and Doron Lamb played key roles, as well. The biggest stars, however, will probably be a pair of freshmen. Forward Anthony Davis and point guard Marquis Teague are both projected to be top 10 picks in next summer's NBA draft.
Regardless of how much Vargas contributes on a team looking to qualify for the Olympics, the experience should carry over to the UK season. Vargas said he looks at Josh Harrellson's turnaround his senior season as an example of what can be achieved.
"If he can compete with these players - he's going against three NBA players every day - if he can compete with those guys, he's going to help us this year," Calipari said.
Martin: "I am really excited. I thought about football more on vacation this year than I ever have. I was just excited to get back. Like coach Phillips said, we have a lot of questions to be answered. We do have the challenge of hopefully answering those questions.
"We have talent. We just have to get those guys out there playing. Throughout the offense season from what I have heard from (strength) coach (Rock) Oliver and his staff, we've had guys come in with the right attitude, right work ethic and they are talented. So that's why I am excited to see what we can do with this recruiting class as well as some returning players we have.
Joker Phillips clearly stated his goal for the 2012 class and beyond: recruit south Georgia.
"We want to get more into south Georgia," the Kentucky head football coach said last month at SEC media days. "We feel we've done a really good job in the Atlanta and central Georgia area. We want to get in the south Georgia area to see if we can attract more quality players, and Steve brings that to us."
Steve is Steve Pardue, who was hired in December to coach Kentucky's running backs and be its lead recruiter in the area he knows best -- south Georgia.
Miller and the rest of the team had finished the fourth training session at a complex called "SportsCenter II" in Colorado Springs. A week remained until the team left for China, and the roster had to be trimmed. Twenty-one players had come to Colorado on Friday. Fourteen would be left after Sunday, and now the entire team was called into a room at the same time to hear the announcement of who made it and who didn't.
"I was definitely nervous going into that room," Miller said in an interview with the Kernel. "They talked to us about how it was a tough decision, how everybody played pretty good. Then they just went to announcing the names."
The Packers haven't had a kick return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum took back a kickoff 92 yards on Nov. 19, 2000. (When I was NOT 10 years old.)
"Hopefully that's something I'll be able to do moving forward," Cobb said, "and take that task on and help us get better field position to start the offense."
It shouldn't devalue kick returns in any way to point out that, immediately following the draft, most of you were hoping Cobb would immediately step in as a multipositional receiver/returner/running back/wildcat quarterback in the mold of Percy Harvin. That could all come soon enough, but for now the Packers are smartly limiting his exposure.
"I'm glad I played in the SEC, I'll tell you that. It got me up to the speed of the game, it's just a little faster, I got great coaches up here though so I'm in that playbook like it's going out of style. I feel like I don't have nothing to lose but If I make the team which, you know, I'm praying for, I'm laying it all out here on the field, that will just be a blessing that nobody ever expected."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis says Evans has a shot.
"He certainly looks the part and he catches your eye that way physically. Hopefully he'll have a great opportunity this summer to prove that he can make an NFL football team," said Lewis.
Kanter's agent, Max Ergul, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that his client has official offers from two Chinese teams. Ergul does not want Kanter to miss another year of basketball, and he will seriously weigh the offers if the lockout stretches into late September.
"It's very interesting stuff," said Ergul, who said he could not reveal the names of the clubs because details of the negotiations are still confidential. "We'll be entertaining those ideas as well as the lockout progresses. He's a ballplayer -- he has to play."
Kanter will compete for Turkey during the 2011 EuroBasket tournament, which is scheduled from Aug. 31 to Sept. 18 in Lithuania. He is expected to be scouted by the Chinese teams that have made the offers during the tournament.
Although the NBA lockout is ongoing, John Wall is finding ways to show that he can still play a little basketball. In what seems like a throwback to watching Wall mix tapes before he made his debut at UK, here are some highlights of the former Wildcat point guard. Stay tuned until the end for a ridiculous behind-the-back to crossover.
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Even though we've already profiled him in the "Where are they now?" series, first up is Collin Cowgill.
The skinny Collin Cowgill, a former UK baseball first-team All-America outfielder, was recently called up to the playoff-contending Arizona Diamondbacks and made his big-league debut last week.
UK background A native of Lexington, Ky., and the 2004 Kentucky High School Mr. Baseball out of Henry Clay High School. Cowgill played four years at Kentucky, helping the program to its first Southeastern Conference championship as a sophomore in 2006, when he hit .298 with 16 home runs and 61 RBI. After missing 2007 due to a hand injury, Cowgill returned for an All-America campaign in 2008, joining fellow All-America selection Sawyer Carroll in the outfield. A first-team Academic All-America selection, Cowgill batted .361 in 2008 with 15 doubles, two triples and 19 home runs, adding 60 RBI, stealing 23-of-27 bases in 2008. Following the 2008 season, Cowgill earned first-team All-America honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and second-team honors from Rivals.com and Baseball America. During his UK career, Cowgill batted .306 (171-for-558) in 165 games, totaling 166 runs, 35 doubles, 37 homers, 140 RBI and 32 stolen bags.
Professional update After a brief struggle in his first week in the big leagues, Cowgill collected his first hit over the weekend, a line drive to center field off Scott Elbert of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since going 0 for his first 11, Cowgill has collected two hits in his last four at-bats. Overall, he is 2 for 14 with an RBI, three walks and two stolen bases. Prior to his promotion, Cowgill was on a tear in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .354 with 24 doubles, eight triples, 13 homers, 70 RBI and 30 stolen bases. In 353 career minor-league games after signing as a fifth-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2008, Cowgill has totaled 46 homers and 225 RBI, stealing 70-of-86 stolen bases with a .299 career average.
In the middle of May, Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips and seniors Danny Trevathan and Stuart Hines, along with Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and a couple of UK marketing staffers, took a UK-sponsored trip to Ethiopia to learn about the culture while doing community service for five days.
Eli Capilouto is the 12th president of the University of Kentucky. (photo courtesy of UK public relations)
On July 1, 2011, former University of Alabama Birmingham Provost Eli Capilouto stepped into office as the University of Kentucky's 12th president. Capilouto replaced Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr., who retired after 10 years as UK's president.
With change come a lot of questions. What are Capilouto's goals? What is his vision for the university? What are the school's most pressing issues? What can the university do to better prepare its students? How can UK continue to move forward as one of the nation's pre-eminent public research institutions?
Somewhere along the way, once Capilouto is able to catch his breath, get his feet under him and address some of those questions -- a month into the job, Capilouto is still getting acclimated to the university -- one of the things he'll evaluate and assess is the UK athletics department and the relationship it has with the university.
The university and athletics department have experienced a strong association under Todd and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, but with a new president in office, we wanted to know where the relationship is headed and how it can be improved. What are his views on the current landscape of collegiate compliance? What are some of the conversations Capilouto and Barnhart have had? What are his impressions of the athletic passion of UK?
Those are some of the questions I asked Capilouto in a recent Q and A with the 12th president of UK. Here are some of the questions:
Question: You've been in the president's chair now for about a month. What's that first month been like? Dr. Capilouto: The first month has been energizing. What moves me the most is the affection people have for the University of Kentucky and the high hopes they have for this university and the high expectations they have of me.
Question: Obviously you have a ton on your plate and a lot to address. How do you go about prioritizing what you need to and what you need to take care of first? Capilouto: There are many constituent groups who I feel like it's important for me to reach out to and to serve. I would say they are the students, faculty, alumni, our board of trustees because they represent the people of this state, elected officials, and I'm trying to visit people in their home communities to get a better perspective. I think of my calendar in terms of the constituents we serve. I try to apportion my time to get to touch those groups.
Question: One of those things that I'm sure you will get around to eventually is evaluating the athletic department and the relationship between the university and the athletics side. How do you envision that relationship working? Capilouto: First of all, let me say that before I even took the job, I started a relationship with UK Athletics. I certainly talked to Mitch Barnhart, formally and informally. We've had many, many conversations. I've talked with some of the coaches. It's kind of hard to miss the Big Blue Nation because they are everywhere you go. How does it work? We have to share the same goals, which is success in the classroom for our student-athletes and success on the playing field. We want to do that with integrity, honesty and class.
Question: The two work separate of each other in a lot of aspects, but how vital is it that they work together and that they share the same vision for each other? Capilouto: I think athletics is one of the most important assets that we have for the University of Kentucky. I'll tell you a true story. Since I live on campus, on the weekends especially, I meet people who visit here. As I walked over to my office this past Saturday, I saw a young man wandering around campus and I said, 'May I help you?' I still remember his name because he sent me an e-mail afterwards. I said, 'What are you doing here?' And he said, 'My parents are driving back from Detroit and I so wanted to see the campus.' I said, 'What do you know about it?' (He said,) 'I love your basketball team.' So I said, 'Have you ever thought about coming to school here?' He said he hadn't thought about it so I told him he should think about it. So I said, 'Where are your parents?' He said, 'They're down in the van,' so I suggested we go down and see them. We went down there and I had my picture made with them and I got them to the bookstore so they could get Kentucky memorabilia. He sent me an e-mail on Monday and said he was interested and asked who he could talk to about coming to the University of Kentucky. I think that happens a thousand times a day because of the attention athletics can give to our academic programs.
Question: Can it be used as a pedestal to promote each other? Capilouto: Let's say a portal. It can serve as an entrance, sort of a gateway into our academic programs. The relationship works both ways.
Question: The relationship between the athletics department and the university was very strong under the previous president. I know you're still evaluating that relationship, but are there ways to improve it? Capilouto: One of the things I liked about the University of Kentucky is no one is ever entirely satisfied with where we are and they always want to get better. But I do want to salute Dr. Todd and Mitch Barnhart and all the coaches because I do think we have something special here in the athletics program. Everybody has done their job.
Question: One of the things the athletics department has prided itself on over the last few years is being one of the few self-sustaining athletic departments nationwide. Can you talk about the importance of having an athletic department that can support its own budget without the help of the university? Capilouto: It is critically important. We're one of only 22 universities with an athletics program that is financially self-sustaining. We have the broadest athletics program in the SEC with 22 sports. Under Mitch's leadership, we've made significant investments in all of our programs, creating many more opportunities for student athletes, both young men and young women, to successfully compete at the highest levels. The experiences of most universities are quite different. To support athletics often times requires hefty student fees, which we've been able to avoid. Also, I think athletics has contributed to our academic side as well, providing nearly $2 million annually for academic scholarships, some $500,000 annually for institutional advertising, as well as supporting a number of important research initiatives in recent years such as the Center for Research on Violence Against women. In all, our athletics department is not only financially self-sustaining, it also returns more than $20 million annually to the university.
Question: You mentioned that you've met with Mitch already. I believe you met at the SEC spring meetings in Destin. What were some of the things you two discussed to start the relationship? Capilouto: The first thing we talked about was the welfare of our students and how they do in our classroom and what kind of support they have. I was pleased that I believe Mitch has an individual interest on a personal level in all of our athletes. He cares deeply about them. That was the most important thing to me. In the era of oversight that we live in, he explained to me the robust compliance efforts that go on here. I felt good that the efforts were not just in the spirit of complying with any regulations, but I felt like there was a high principle of doing the right thing.
Question: I know you've already had conversations with Mitch, but will you at some point sit down with him and evaluate the job he's done and the direction of the program? Capilouto: I'm sure we'll meet several times. Many of the positions at the university -- in fact all of them -- are evaluated every day, not only by your supervisor but by the public. I look forward to forging a strong partnership with Mitch and I believe we are off to a good start
Question: Compliance is obviously a big topic of conversation nationally in today's modern athletics. With so much stuff to deal with on the university side, how do you monitor what's going on in the athletics department? Capilouto: First of all, I don't ever want to underestimate the importance of playing by the rules because what you lose is priceless. You can lose your reputation and you can damage individuals and the things that follow them in their careers and their entire lives. We need to do everything we can to prevent those type of mistakes. I have to trust those people who hold responsibility in those areas because on a day-to-day basis they are responsible, but everybody within the organization has to share that same commitment. There has to be a culture that supports it. Trust is important in all the relationships at our university.
Question: You said you have met with some of the coaches. Who are some of the coaches you have met with and what were those conversations like? Capilouto: I met briefly with Coach (John) Calipari. He also called and welcomed me to UK. I met briefly with Coach (Joker) Phillips at the spring meetings. I've also met some others but the meetings were too casual for me to remember. I'm scheduled to meet with most of them soon and I look forward to it as I understand how important successful athletics program is to the success of the institution.
Question: What were your impressions of Coach Calipari and what do you think he's brought to this university? Capilouto: I think he's done an exceptional job. I know from personal stories that I heard long before I came here that he cares about his athletes, he cares about his profession and he cares individually about his colleagues.
Question: At the end of the day, the goal of the university is to provide these students with an education, an opportunity to graduate and a chance to go on to the career path of their choosing. How committed do you feel like the athletics department is to that mission? Capilouto: I think they strongly share that same value. I haven't met everybody, but the people that I have met are here for these students. That's why they're here. They have an unyielding commitment to those students' success. I played high school athletics and it's just how it's always been my whole life. Those coaches that coached me over 40 years ago remain role models for me. They care about me, call me every once in a while or send me an e-mail to see how I'm doing. It was a relationship that was forged in a unique environment. I've watched coaches at the collegiate level extend their concern about their players and their players' families long after they leave college.
Question: I know all the students aren't on campus, so maybe you haven't experienced the full effect, but are you surprised at the passion of this place and how much people are drawn in to the university through the Big Blue Nation? Capilouto: To be honest with you, the times I was on campus previously -- before I officially assumed this position -- all the students were here. I enjoyed so much getting to interact with students, including several student-athletes who took the time to come to one of the campus forums I was at prior to my selection. It was a demonstration of how much they care about the institution and their academic careers. They're not here right now so I'm still going through a blue withdrawal. There was so much blue my first visit here. I just can't wait for them to get back.
It's been nearly two months since a Kentucky athlete has competed in an NCAA event, but the wait for the 2011-12 athletics season is almost complete. Beginning this week, student-athletes for several sports will begin to report for practices for their respective seasons.
The women's soccer is scheduled to report Tuesday, followed by the football team on Thursday, the volleyball team on Aug. 8 and the men's soccer team on Aug. 9. The football team will also have its annual media day on Friday (closed to the public) and fan day on Saturday, which you can read more about here.
Women's soccer will officially kick off the 2011-12 athletics season on Aug. 19 at Oakland. The first home event of the season will be a women's soccer match against Eastern Kentucky on Aug. 23.
Ever wonder what it's like to be a collegiate star and experience the perks and responsibilities of being a student-athlete at the University of Kentucky? The following video should give you a better idea.
UK Sports Video was along for the ride at Southeastern Conference Media Days on July 21 to shoot a behind-the-scenes video of what a typical media day is like for some of UK's student-athletes. The staff followed head coach Joker Phillips, senior linebacker Danny Trevathan, senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines and junior quarterback Morgan Newton as they worked their way through a full day of interviews at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham, Ala.
As you'll see in the video, it's an exhausting, exhilarating and honorable experience for the student athletes. The entire UK football team will go through it Friday for UK's media day at Commonwealth Stadium (the event is not open to the public).