October 2013 Archives
Derek Willis buried five 3-pointers en route to a 21-point performance at the Blue-White Scrimmage on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For more than a month, John Calipari has been running his Kentucky team through a complete practice schedule.
During that time, the Wildcats have become intimately familiar with one another. They've had more than their share of intense battles, culminating with Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage.
The process has been fun and beneficial, but the Cats are ready for the practice-only period to be over. They're ready to see some colors other than Blue and White.
"We've been playing together now for 22 practices, so I think they're just about ready to put it out there against somebody else," Calipari said.
It isn't just that the Cats are tired of beating up one another either. With 12 talented scholarship players on the roster, practices and scrimmages have been ultra-competitive and physical, but that's exactly what this group wants.
The reason why the idea of taking on Transylvania in UK's first exhibition at 7 p.m. ET on Friday is so enticing is that the Cats are eager to see what it looks like when all that talent is on one side.
Instead of doing battle with Willie Cauley-Stein in the post and chasing him up and down the floor, Dakari Johnson will be checking in for him or even playing alongside him. Instead of Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins dogging Andrew and Aaron Harrison every minute, they'll be giving them breathers.
"It's going to be scary," Dakari Johnson said. "We go up against each other and you're going up against guys as the same talent level as you and when you mix us all together, I'm just looking forward to seeing how it looks."
Not even Johnson's coach is sure what it will look like.
At the Blue-White Scrimmage, fans got a taste of all the lineup options Coach Cal has to choose from. Calipari has been gathering as much information and measuring players in competitive scenarios as possible and the exhibition is another opportunity to see how the Cats look with the lights on.
"We'll see," Calipari said. "We're still trying to evaluate who's in that top six, seven, eight, who is it? We get another look. The scrimmage kind of put out one thing, well let's see it against somebody else and see how our guys do."
Most of the big names impressed in the scrimmage, but it was a freshman without a five-star rating who was the revelation. Derek Willis poured in 21 points, including five made 3s, in spite of being matched up with preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Julius Randle for much of the evening.
"Practice, it definitely carried over into the game and I was just shooting well," Willis said. "It was a scrimmage, but I felt like I showed people what I could do and I had fun."
Willis includes Calipari in that group of people he may have surprised.
"I think Cal's expectations definitely changed for me," Willis said. "He didn't know how good I was."
Just as importantly, Calipari says Willis didn't have a complete grasp of his own talent.
"He didn't know how good he was," Calipari said. "He's playing in the best shape he's ever been in; he's more physical than he's ever been. He's driving balls through bumps, which I'd never seen him do."
Willis has come a long way from pickup games this summer when he was forced to ride the bench as former Wildcats now in the NBA paraded through Lexington.
"There wasn't a lot of space to play," Willis said. "So coming around practice time and stuff, I was getting to play more and I was getting to blend in and feel myself out. It ended up working well and I'm playing real well with the guys."
So well, in fact, that Willis is making a major push for playing time.
Just seven months removed from a season during which UK had no bench to speak of, Calipari is finding himself wondering how he can even work his way to down to his customary seven- or eight-man rotation. That's a challenge, but one that figures to only help the Cats.
"The great news is, everybody's challenged," Calipari said. "You have guys playing really well, where now all of a sudden I'm in my office at 10:30 (p.m.), and I hear, 'Thump, thump, thump.' The guy playing against that guy now, he's in the gym saying, 'I've got to get some extra work in, this guy's really playing well.' "Cats sound off on No. 1 ranking
Johnson heard the news from reporters as he fielded questions about UK's exhibition vs. Transylvania: The Cats will open the season at the nation's No. 1 team in both major polls.The Associated Press released its preseason top 25
on Thursday afternoon and UK came in just ahead of second-place Michigan State, receiving 27 of 65 possible first-place votes.
"I didn't know that," Johnson said. "It's a blessing to be ranked No. 1, but it just says we have a (target) on our back now. We really have to stay focused. That's not the main thing we're focused on is being No. 1. We're just trying to be the best team we can be."
Willis had gotten word before he stepped into the media horde, but his reaction was much the same.
"It's a great thing," Willis said. "Being No. 1 is a great achievement so far, but we have a lot of work to do."
Considering how heavily UK will rely on its highly regarded eight-man freshman class, shouldering the burden of a top ranking is a natural concern. But this is Kentucky, after all. Pressure is just part of the deal.
"I feel like even before the season we had a lot of pressure," Willis said. "There was a lot of talk about 40-0 and all that stuff. We've ignored that. We're just continuing to work every day and work on ourselves. We're not worried about what the media is saying right now."Andrew Harrison's knee creating opportunity for others
Asked about the knee injury that kept Andrew Harrison out of the second half of the Blue-White Scrimmage, Coach Cal said he was not sure yet whether the freshman point guard will play on Friday.
UPDATE: Calipari tweeted after practice on Thursday
that Andrew Harrison will miss the Transylvania game, saying Alex Poythress -- who "had a great practice," according to Coach Cal -- will start in his place.
The injury is a bone bruise, which means the only remedy is time off. As a result, his twin brother Aaron has had to step in at point guard in practice, which Calipari believes will only help the long-term prospects of the team.
"And right now it's good because Aaron's playing point," Calipari said. "It's giving us a chance to look at James Young playing both the two and the three. Now it gives us a chance to maybe put other guys at the three, try Julius at the three."
This kind of situation is exactly why Coach Cal built this roster the way he did. A short-term injury last year would have - and often did -- cripple the Cats in practice to the point where there were times UK couldn't even go five-on-five.
Now, it's just next man up.
"We kind of got a good kind of mix," Calipari said. "But right now with him being out, one guy's misery is another guy's blessing, another guy's opportunity, and that's what's happened for us."
UK will host Alabama State for Homecoming at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops sees signs.
Whether it's an impressive defensive stop or a methodical drive, he can't miss the progress Kentucky has made seven games into the season. With each passing week -- save for a blip against Alabama, the nation's top-ranked team -- UK gets closer to putting together a total team effort, but wins continue to elude the Wildcats.
"I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time, but that's not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC," Stoops said. "You've got to be good top to bottom, and you've got to be good in critical situations."
Looking at the offensive side of the ball alone, Neal Brown sees the same thing.
"You know, I think we've had bits and pieces of success along the way," Brown said. "We just haven't been able to sustain it. That's the thing that's been frustrating is, we've done some really good things."
With a reprieve from the SEC grind awaiting them on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET for Homecoming vs. Alabama State (CSS), the Cats are looking to string together four quarters of "really good things." More importantly, they're looking to string together four quarters that will end in a victory.
"We gotta take advantage of each one that we can get," senior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "So this week the focus is like it has been all year: come out and try to get a win."
The Cats knew as soon as the schedule came out that the five-game stretch they just wrapped up would be tough, and it proved to be just that. UK went winless against Louisville and four conference foes, so the Cats are without a victory since Miami (Ohio) came to town on Sept. 7.
UK, however, has been consistently competitive. Only against Alabama were the Cats completely out of contention in the second half and UK's last two road games against South Carolina and Mississippi State came down to the final possession.
"I think if you've noticed us as a program each week, no matter who we're playing, I think we gave ourselves a real chance to go out there and compete and win that game, and that's what we're looking for," Stoops said. "The preparation, the effort, and go out and play and give yourself a chance to win. We're never going to concede anything."
Nor will Alabama State concede anything.
The Hornets, who play in the Football Championship Subdivision, are winners of six straight. They have scored at least 31 points each of those victories and figure to come to Lexington confident and ready to play.
"They should be feeling good about themselves," Stoops said.
On offense, Alabama State averages 261.8 rushing yards per game and 5.4 per carry. The Hornets have two runners with at least 740 yards through eight games and a sound passing offense to go with them.
"I think they're a very good football team, very well-coached team," Stoops said. "I think they're really solid in all phases of the game. I think offensively they do a really nice job of trying to keep you off balance. They run the ball very well. But again, they've got great balance."
For all that balance, running back Isaiah Crowell still sticks out. The junior ran for 850 yards as a freshman at Georgia in 2011 before transferring to Alabama State. In less than two full seasons there, he has 27 touchdowns.
"They do have some talented guys," Williamson said. "Isaiah Crowell, he's a real good running back. He was there my sophomore year at Georgia, so I remember him. But he's a real good player so really gotta tackle him well. He's fast and he's a good kid."
Defensively, Alabama State is defined by its aggressiveness. The Hornets have 80 tackles for loss and 38 sacks by 16 different players.
"They will zero blitz probably more than a lot of people we play, so we've got to be prepared for that," Brown said. "The quarterbacks have got to be ready to get the ball out of their hands."
Sophomore Jalen Whitlow will get the call at quarterback on Saturday after being limited to second-half spot duty last week with an ankle injury. He added the AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder to his list of ailing body parts against Mississippi State, but will play.
"It will just be trying to play through pain," Whitlow said. "It hurts. I'm not going to lie. It hurts a little bit. But I'm just going to try to play through it."
Whitlow was one of a handful of Cats who did just that last week. Bud Dupree, coping with a strained pectoral muscle, was the headliner after he tallied 13 tackles and a sack while playing through pain.
"Everyone appreciates it when you go out there and play," Dupree said. "Guys with casts on, everyone appreciates those guys too. Guys playing through nicks and bruises, it just means a lot to the team and to the coaches that they know you're going out there and playing for them and not just only for yourself."
Stoops started this week by talking extensively about the toughness it takes to play through the bumps inevitable during the course of a college football season. With yet another chance at a win ahead this weekend, he wants his team to take another step ahead in that area, as well as others.
"I think we're learning as we go and getting tougher and getting tougher mentally, and we need to keep on progressing," Stoops said.
Head coach Mark Stoops
Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown
With Kentucky having played just two games in the last three weeks and with an extra two days to prepare following a Thursday game, Mark Stoops said early Wednesday afternoon that the Wildcats are as healthy as they have been in a long while.
Later in the day, the Cats practiced at close to full strength and -- for the second time in as many days -- practiced well.
"I like the team's attitude and their work ethic, and again a pretty good, physical day, and I liked the energy," Stoops said. "I think we got better again today, so hopefully we'll keep on improving. We all know we need a lot of improvement, so another day in the books."
According to Stoops, execution in "crucial situations" is one of the areas in which UK needs to improve the most. Perfectly replicating game situations is impossible, but the coaching staff is doing its best in practice. Take third downs as an example.
"Just keep on working our third downs and different pressures and offensively execute in third downs and third and short, third and medium, third and long," Stoops said. "We need help in all of them. I think that's a big deal, just execution on those downs and getting as much different looks as we can, as much pressure on as we can in practice."
The Cats hope to improve on third downs solely by virtue of Jalen Whitlow's presence. The sophomore quarterback played only sparingly against Mississippi State due to injury, but has returned to the top spot on the depth chart and has been getting all starter reps in practice. Maxwell Smith and Reese Phillips are splitting snaps with the second team.
"I think in a perfect world we'd keep our quarterbacks healthy and whoever was in there would be running the offense efficiently," Stoops said. "And in this case, Jalen starting the game, it would be really nice to have him start a game and finish a game unless we decide to take him out for good reasons."
Whitlow is dealing with injuries to both his ankle and the AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder, but he will once again tough it out on Saturday against Alabama State.
"It will just be trying to play through pain," Whitlow said. "It hurts. I'm not going to lie. It hurts a little bit. But I'm just going to try to play through it."
James Young had seven steals and a block at the Blue-White Scrimmage on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has spent an entire offseason talking about the NCAA-mandated increased emphasis on the proper officiating of physical play
If officials call games the way they are being directed to -- most notably by calling hand-checks and giving the benefit of the doubt to drivers -- Calipari knows college basketball is going to change drastically this season.
After Kentucky's first chance to play in front of a crowd in game-like scenario at Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage, it seems the Cats could thrive under the new guidelines.
"I like the fact that we defended without fouling," Calipari said. "The officials came up, and especially the SEC official (John Hampton), and told me that this is the best I've seen. You've got your hands up, your body in. We don't try to foul anyway. That's not how we play."
In the Blue team's 99-71 victory, referees called just 20 fouls. Eleven players were on the floor for 25 minutes or more, but only Dakari Johnson was whistled for more than three fouls. Nine of those players who played major minutes committed two fouls or fewer.
As a point of reference, the 20 fouls were the fewest called in a Blue-White Scrimmage under Calipari, tying the 2009 mark when officials still called the game more liberally. Thirty-one fouls were called in 2012, 27 in 2011 and 32 in 2010.
"I like the fact that we did not foul, and we're driving on every possession, folks," Calipari said. "It's not like we're running patterns. We're driving. So in that game, if that was a 40-minute game there were about 60, 80 drive attempts, and to have 20 fouls between your teams is pretty incredible."
It's not happenstance either.
Calipari has been coaching to the new guidelines since the first practice of the fall and the Cats are already accustomed to having real referees on the floor.
"We do that when we scrimmage," Calipari said. "We'll come in and we'll bring officials. We try to get college officials to do our scrimmages, and then the whole time they're calling--every time a hand goes down they call it. They call a foul. If you stop a guy from cutting where he wants to go, they call a foul."
Having already played a season at the college level, Willie Cauley-Stein has had to adjust to the changes. That work began in practice, but he said the scrimmage was somewhat of a light-bulb moment.
"We're trying to work on not fouling so you just kind of put your hands up," Cauley-Stein said. "With the people we got, everybody can score so it's just bucket after bucket after bucket. But to see them in a live setting, I get it now. It makes more sense."
But as many weapons as were on display Tuesday -- nine Cats scored in double figures -- Calipari couldn't help but be encouraged by his team's defense. UK's guards, and even Cauley-Stein at times, pressured in the backcourt much of the time, contributing to the 38 combined turnovers.
"I like picking up the ball, Dominique (Hawkins) picking up the ball, Aaron and Andrew (Harrison) picking up the ball and then playing off that," Calipari said.
The Cats had 27 steals, including 16 by the Blue team that featured many of UK's projected starters. With no player under 6-foot-6 on the floor for most of the night, the length and athleticism of the Blue team proved to be quite disruptive.
"We defended a lot better today, but we've got a lot of stuff we've got to work on," Julius Randle said. "It's just the beginning of the season. We've got to keep getting better, get better defensively, and we'll get there."
Leading the way on defense (as well as offense) was James Young, who was a terror in both passing lanes and defending on the ball. He tallied seven steals in victimizing the smaller guards on the White team and showed the form that led Coach Cal to mention him as a potential defensive stopper.
"I definitely wasn't a defender in high school," Young said. "Ever since I got here they've been on me about my defense and how it wasn't so good. I've just been trying to work as hard as I can like everybody else has been. I guess it just showed tonight that we can all play defense."
For both Young and the team as a whole, much work still lies ahead. Team defense is still coming along and Johnson's play in the post before Calipari began calling for double teams showed UK remains susceptible to a solid back-to-the basket scorer.
By no means, however, should that worry UK fans. The Cats have been working intensively on defense for all of a week and a half.
"If we're going to be what we want to be, we've got to be a better defensive team, and I'm starting to zero in on defense," Calipari said. "I'm telling you, from the 18th until this date, we've just started defense."
Before Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage, John Calipari announced he would pay spring tuition for two lucky students who were in Rupp Arena. Late in the second half, senior Josh Lawson and freshman Amanda Dowell were selected as winners. After the scrimmage, they took the podium alongside Coach Cal to talk about it all.
Willie Cauley-Stein blocks a Derek Willis dunk attempt during Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The record-setting 15,035 fans who attended Tuesday's Blue-White Scrimmage entered Rupp Arena buzzing about Julius Randle. They couldn't wait to watch the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron. They were eager to see what all the James Young hype was about.
But as they left the building, just as many were talking about the two-handed dunk freshman walk-on EJ Floreal threw down on Randle in the second half.
The same went for the Wildcats themselves, who immediately reacted with smiles and plenty of friendly jabs at the all-world freshman forward that don't figure to stop anytime soon.
"E.J. put a helmet on him, so that will be a picture in the hallway," John Calipari said, referencing UK's tradition of making dunked-on Cats pose for a picture in a football helmet.
"That was crazy," Young said. "Nobody expected it. For EJ to do that, I think it was mind-blowing."
Randle has been on the giving end of a number of those kinds of dunks, and was on a couple of them en route to a 21-point, eight-rebound performance in leading the Blue team to a 99-71 victory. But turnabout, especially in the eyes of his teammates, is fair play.
"That's exactly what 'Drew said," Randle said. "He said basically karma. He said, 'It's about time the tables turned on you.' "
With this team, table-turning is a regular occurrence.
Derek Willis might have the misfortune of guarding Randle most days, but the Kentucky native "with no conscience whatsoever," according to his coach, won't hesitate to pull up for a 3 in Randle's face on the other end of the floor. He did on Tuesday, matching Randle point for point with 21 on five made deep balls.
Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins might be victimized from time to time by the physicality and size of their opposites on the Blue team, the Harrison twins, but they won't back down either.
The result is a team with talent at every spot.
"It just means everybody can play," said Young, who poured in a game-high 25 points to go with seven steals. "Coach Cal did a great job recruiting everybody and everybody can play. Coming from the bench and the starters, our whole team can play."
On the heels of a season in which a lack of depth had a lot to do with a disappointing NIT finish, Calipari set out to build a team that would have no such issues. He ended up with an eight-player freshman class many already talk about as among the best all time to go with four experienced scholarship returnees.
Now he has an entirely new set of problems, but it's one he hardly minds having to deal with.
"We've got to figure out how we're going to do this," Calipari said. "We've got to have a little plan about it, and then everybody has got to buy into what we're doing and their roles on the team."
The 12 players who saw double-figure minutes during the Blue-White Scrimmage all, to borrow a phrase from Calipari, "belong." All seemed more than capable of playing a significant role on a team that advances deep into March.
"When you looked at what we did, you kind of got a picture of while you've got this guy, this guy, that guy, but what about Derek Willis?" Calipari said, wheels seeming to turn. "Where does he fit in here? I mean, and then you look at, well, what about Marcus Lee; he's pretty good too, now. And then you look at Dominique and say, wow, I'm not going to play 11 guys. So there's a little bit of a dogfight."
Calipari is already beginning to figure out the best way to coach his way through that dogfight, and it begins with letting it play out it game-like scenarios. The Cats have already scrimmaged more than any team Calipari has had, but now he'll begin throwing some wrenches at his team.
The idea behind it all is to define winning and losing and, just as importantly, the consequences that follow.
"So I may give one unit a 12-point lead, and we're playing for real," Calipari said. "Now, you're down 12, do you want to win or lose? You're up 12, do you want to win or lose? What are you doing? Whoever loses runs. We're going to do that from here on in. I need that competitive spirit."
Competitiveness may define UK's practices, but it's tempered by a quickly developing closeness. The Cats may go head to head daily with eventual playing time on the line, but malice is completely absent.
"Most people think we're just a selfish team, but that's not it at all," Young said. "We look for other people before we can score ourselves. Coach Cal really drills that into us and we've just been working on it every day."
That was plain to see on Tuesday night.
Young attempted a scrimmage-high 16 shots, but seven of his teammates joined him in taking 10 or more shots. All told, nine Cats scored in double figures.
"It's just saying that we're coming together as a family," said Aaron Harrison, who had 19 points and six assists in spending extended time at point guard as Andrew sat out the second half with a knee contusion. "If you're around guys so much, you get to know how they play and stuff. So we just want to win and we just feed each other on each other's strong suits and we're starting to mesh."
That bond will be tested as UK begins to face actual opponents, which will happen for the first time on Friday in an exhibition vs. Transylvania.
Calipari has said throughout the preseason that he has a team full of players capable of going off on any given night. He reiterated that following the Blue-Shite Scrimmage, saying as many as eight Cats could put up 30-point games. With that kind of talent, each player will have games in which he takes a backseat as a teammate fills it up. How the Cats cope with that will go a long way toward determining their success.
"They really like each other, but we've got a whole season," Calipari said. "We've got to get dinged up a little bit. Like I said, you can't compare how you're playing to somebody else. Just be the best version of yourself."
Head coach Mark Stoops
Defensive Coordinator D.J. Eliot
Mark Stoops took multiple signs of encouragement from his team's Tuesday practice after he had shown lingering frustration from last Thursday's loss at Mississippi State during his Monday press conference.
"I feel good today because I got it all off my chest yesterday," the UK coach said in reference to his first full-team meeting since last week's game. "We had a good meeting, and the guys responded. They understand. They know there are a lot of things we can do better. That's the bottom line. Like I said over and over again they care and think it's important, but we need to do it for 60 minutes, every play."
Stoops and his staff emphasize consistency because there's no way of knowing when the opportunity to make a play might arise.
The first-year head coach was perhaps most frustrated by his team's missed opportunities in last Thursday's Mississippi State game. Going forward being ready to make a play at any and every point in the game will take precedence within the Kentucky football team's focus.
"You don't know what play's going to change the game," Stoops said. "It's not just the obvious play all the time. There are a lot of plays in there that could change the game. And that's the message, so take them all (as) very important and do the details on all plays. And that's where we're working to get better."
Stoops was also quick to point out that despite its Football Championship Subdivision status, Alabama State will pose plenty of challenges for a Wildcat team looking to get back to winning ways.
"I'm sure they'll be very jacked up," Stoops said of his team's next opponent. "They're going to play on TV against an SEC school, and they want to prove to everybody that they're not just one of the better teams in the SWAC; they want to be recognized as a very good team. And they (have) won six in a row, so they should be optimistic and confident.
"They're a good team, and I think they're well-coached. We're worried about continuing to get better as a program. And I say that, I don't care who we're playing. We need to put it together and execute and play with great passion, great energy and let's play a little bit smarter."
Even five days removed from last Thursday's game, the Nutter Football Training Center was still buzzing on Tuesday about Alvin "Bud" Dupree's career-best game at Mississippi State. Dupree's 13 tackles - in his first outing since missing the majority of the two previous games with injuries - were the most for a Kentucky defensive lineman since such stats began being recorded in 1992.
"Bud played fantastic, made a lot of plays in the run game, but also had great pass rush, was there when we needed him and played through pain," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He had two things that were ailing him and he just toughed it out and played every single snap and we're very proud of his efforts."
Indeed the vibe all around Tuesday's Kentucky football practice was upbeat. The positive energy permeating UK's practice couldn't have been hurt by the fact that all the coaches families were in attendance, as they are almost every Tuesday, with the staff-members' children decked out in Halloween costumes.
Two days into game week preparations for Alabama State, Stoops and his staff had plenty of reason to be encouraged that despite its record, UK is taking the necessary steps to improve.
"We got better today," Stoops said. "We had good energy today, guys were moving around. Good practice on both sides of the ball. I thought we were as physical at practice as we have been in a few weeks. It was good overall work."
Bud Dupree had a career-high 13 tackles in UK's game at Mississippi State last Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Playing in front of a national-television audience and through injury, Bud Dupree had his coming-out party.
The junior defensive end/linebacker tallied a career-high 13 tackles, two half-sacks and two tackles for loss. Dupree was in the backfield throughout Kentucky's Thursday-night game at Mississippi State and nearly led the Wildcats to a comeback win.
Viewers needed only to watch Dupree to realize he was one of the best players on the field that night, but a deeper dive into play-by-play data reveals exactly how impactful his presence was. Here's a look at the plays on which he made each of his tackles.
- Dak Prescott run (Gain of three yards)
- LaDarius Perkins run (Gain of three yards)
- Perkins run (Gain of four yards)
- Josh Robinson run (Gain of five yards)
- Robinson run (Gain of three yards)
- Prescott pass to Jameon Lewis (No gain)
- Prescott sacked (Loss of 18 yards)
- Perkins run (Gain of three yards)
- Nick Griffin run (Gain of three yards)
- Perkins run (Gain of six yards, first down)
- Prescott run (No gain)
- Perkins run (Loss of two yards)
- Prescott sacked (Loss of nine yards)
- 13 tackles for a total gain of one yard
So, Mississippi State gained an average of 0.077 yards on the 13 tackles Dupree made. None of those plays went for longer than six yards and only one resulted in a first down.
Offering a little perspective, Dupree's game against Mississippi State is one of seven double-digit tackle efforts by a UK defender this season (four by Avery Williamson and one each by Eric Dixon and Khalid Henderson). The smallest yards-per-tackle average in any of those games was when Louisville averaged 5.5 yards on Williamson's 15 tackles. Granted, Dupree plays a different position, but the difference is notable nonetheless.
Going back to the Mississippi State game, let's see how the UK defense performed when Dupree was not involved in the play.
Discounting the plays in which Dupree was involved, the Bulldogs gained 446 yards on 66 plays, an average of 6.8 yards per play. Not counting the one first down Mississippi State gained on a penalty, the Bulldogs gained first downs on exactly one-third of the plays that did not end in a Dupree tackle.
As impressive as all those numbers may be, those who have watched Dupree all season know his game against Mississippi State didn't come out of nowhere.
Dupree now has been involved in 40 tackles (32 on runs, two on passes and six on full or partial sacks) on plays from scrimmage this season (for the purposes of this post, we'll ignore the one special-teams stop he made against WKU). Opponents have gained an average of just 1.5 yards on those plays. On the 382 plays on which anyone other than Dupree makes a tackle, opponents have averaged 7.88 yards. Taking it a step further, opponents have gained just five first downs when Dupree makes a tackle (or 12.5 percent of those plays) and 142 when anyone else does (37.2 percent).
(Note: Incomplete passes are not included in the above calculations.)
It's also worth pointing out just how much Dupree is thriving in his first season playing in UK's new defense. A season ago, Dupree had 88 tackles from scrimmage on which opponents gained 21 first downs (23.9 percent) and an average of 3.5 yards per play. He has improved significantly in both measures in a more settled role this season, which makes sense given Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot's history of developing pass rushers.
Regardless why it's happening, Dupree's emergence, whether you're using statistics or the eye test to gauge it, is unmistakable.
Last year, Kentucky surged into the top spot among the schools with the most former players on NBA rosters. This year, UK takes a commanding lead.
Twenty-two former Wildcats are on NBA rosters as the league opens play on Tuesday night, giving UK a lead of seven over Duke and North Carolina, which are tied for second at 15 apiece. Of those 22, 19 are active, as Nerlens Noel, Darius Miller and Rajon Rondo are out due to injury.
Here is the list of schools with at least 10 players on opening-night rosters.1) Kentucky -- 22
2) Duke -- 15
2) North Carolina -- 15
4) Kansas -- 14
5) UConn -- 12
5) UCLA -- 12
5) Florida -- 12
Incredibly, 16 of the 22 players who begin the season in the NBA have played at UK during John Calipari's four-year tenure. Another impressive feat is that 20 of the 21 former Cats who were on opening-night rosters last season are in the league once again. Not only are UK players getting opportunities to play at the highest level, they are taking advantage.
The two new players in the NBA this year are first-round draft picks Noel and Archie Goodwin.
Here are all 22 Cats in the NBA and their 2013-14 teams:
Eric Bledsoe -- Phoenix Suns
Keith Bogans -- Boston Celtics
DeMarcus Cousins -- Sacramento Kings
Anthony Davis -- New Orleans Pelicans
Archie Goodwin -- Phoenix Suns
Josh Harrellson -- Detroit Pistons
Chuck Hayes -- Sacramento Kings
Terrence Jones -- Houston Rockets
Enes Kanter -- Utah Jazz
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- Charlotte Bobcats
Brandon Knight -- Milwaukee Bucks
Doron Lamb -- Orlando Magic
Jodie Meeks -- Los Angeles Lakers
Darius Miller -- New Orleans Pelicans
Nazr Mohammed -- Chicago Bulls
Nerlens Noel -- Philadelphia 76ers
Daniel Orton -- Philadelphia 76ers
Patrick Patterson -- Sacramento Kings
Tayshaun Prince -- Memphis Grizzlies
Rajon Rondo -- Boston Celtics
Marquis Teague -- Chicago Bulls
John Wall -- Washington WizardsNote: Information for this post was compiled using NBA player databases on ESPN.com and CBSSports.com.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 27:
Football Top Performers:
- Alvin "Bud" Dupree - Career-high 13 tackles, including two tackles for loss and a quarterback sack
- Raymond Sanders - Rushed 15 times for 86 yards, caught two passes for six yards
- Jojo Kemp - Rushed 15 times for 63 yards and a touchdown
- Ryan Timmons - Caught five passes for 69 yards
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
MAC Hermann Award finalist Arin Gilliland netted her team-high 11th goal of the season in the 64th minute to draw even with the Tigers. Gilliland now has 11 goals and nine assists for 31 points on the season. With three points this weekend, Gilliland now has 72 career points, which is fifth all-time in UK history.
Women's soccer: Caitlin Landis
Senior Caitlin Landis scored her 21st-career goal on Friday night, as she is now the active career goal-scoring leader for Kentucky. The Milton, Penn., native has 12 points this season, with four goals and four assists. Landis had the assist on the game-tying goal on Sunday afternoon to Arin Gilliland, and was a crucial component for the other two goals in the UK offensive attack.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Senior Alexandra Morgan had a terrific week for the Wildcats en route to a 2-1 week, with the only loss a heartbreaking 3-2 loss with a 23-21 score in the fifth set. Morgan averaged 2.50 kills per set on a team-high .436 hitting clip. She also averaged a team-high 1.25 blocks per set and ranked second on the team with 3.54 blocks per frame. She began the week with an 11-kill performance at Georgia which was the first double-figure kill effort in conference play of the season for the middle blocker. She also posted a team-best six blocks in the match and added a season-high three service aces. Against Mississippi State she notched five kills on a .400 hitting clip while adding a trio of blocks. Against her home-state team, Alabama, she posted a season-high 14 kills on a blistering .619 hitting percentage while adding six block assists. With a .436 hitting clip and 55 attempts on the week, Morgan moved into second-place all-time in the history of the UK program for hitting percentage with a career-clip of .346.
Volleyball: Anni Thomasson
Freshman Anni Thomasson continues to bring a consistent presence to the Wildcat lineup. Thomasson contributes in every facet of the game and this week was no exception as UK earned a 2-1 week against league foes with the only loss coming in five-set fashion with the fifth set resulting in a 23-21 score. Thomasson notched a career-high three assists and a career-best four blocks against the Bulldogs while adding seven kills and nine digs. She received 42 attempts from the serve-receive line and did not commit a single error. Against Mississippi State she reached double-figure kills for the fourth time in her career and with 12 resulting as a career-best in league competition. She laid down her kills with a .357 hitting clip, while adding three digs and a pair of blocks. In the four-set win over Alabama, Thomasson notched six kills, and 10 digs. She has topped the 10-dig plateau on six occasions in her young career. She also aided the Wildcat cause with a pair of assists.
- The Kentucky football team fell last Thursday night at Mississippi State 28-22 after a strong second-half rally fell just short on UK's final possession of the second half.
- The UK offense moved the ball against the Bulldogs, recording 325 yards of total offense, which is the most UK has had against a SEC team this season. UK also rushed for a SEC-game-high 160 yards.
- The Kentucky defense had eight tackles for loss in the game, which was a season high. Junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree led Kentucky with 13 tackles, including one sack and two tackles for loss. Dupree's 13 tackles was the most by a UK defensive lineman since game-by-game records were kept back to 1993.
- The 21st-ranked Kentucky women's golf team completed its final fall tournament of the season with an eighth-place finish at the Stanford Intercollegiate Oct. 25-27. UK turned in a final round score of six-over par, 290 and finished with a three-day total of 874 (+22).
- Sophomore Cylia Damerau led the Wildcats with a three-day total of two-over par, 215. Her score of 215 is a season-best, as she finished tied for 20th. Senior Liz Breed finished tied for 36th at six-over par, 219.
- Sarah Harris tied for 44th (+9), Haley Mills tied for 54th (+12), Alessandra Walker tied for 65th (+14) and Megan Kinney tied for 87th (+31).
- Kentucky opens the spring season at the UCF Challenge in Orlando, Fla., from Feb. 9-11.
- The Kentucky rifle team went 2-0 this weekend, defeating No. 15 North Carolina State on Friday, before taking down No. 8 Memphis on Sunday.
- Senior Emily Holsopple led the Wildcats in both guns in the win over Memphis, shooting a 584 in smallbore and a 594 in air rifle.
- Junior Ethan Marne set a new personal best in air rifle on Sunday with a 588, while junior Jonathan Pinkel posted a new personal best in smallbore with a 579.
- The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game week with a setback vs. FIU on Saturday night at the UK Soccer Complex. UK tied Tulsa earlier in the week with a shutout in goal from Callum Irving, who saved a career high seven shots.
- Kentucky (4-8-2, 1-3-2 Conference USA) will return to action on Wednesday, traveling to Marshall to take on the Thundering Herd at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will then return home for its home conference finale on Sunday, hosting Florida Atlantic at 4 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex.
- Kentucky went 1-1-0 this weekend, earning a 3-1 win on Sunday over the LSU Tigers, scoring three unanswered goals to close out the match in the second half.
- MAC Hermann Award finalist Arin Gilliland netted her team-high 11th goal of the season in the 64th minute to draw even with the Tigers. Gilliland now has 11 goals and nine assists for 31 points on the season. With three points this weekend, Gilliland now has 72 career points, which is fifth all-time in UK history.
- Starting centerback Kaitlin Miller got her first two points on the season, netting two assists on Kentucky's second and third goals in Sunday's win over LSU. Both were service balls from long-range set pieces. A freshman, Miller has played the most minutes of any player on the UK roster this season.
- Senior Caitlin Landis scored her 21st-career goal on Friday night, as she is now the active career goal-scoring leader for Kentucky. The Milton, Penn., native has 12 points this season, with four goals and four assists.
- Kentucky now sits at 13-4-1, 7-3-0 SEC and has clinched an opening-round bye in the 2013 SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala. UK currently sits fourth on the SEC table, but still has an opportunity to share the SEC regular-season title with a win on Thursday night at South Carolina and help.
Swimming and diving
- The UK swimming and diving team posted its first wins of the season with a sweep by the women and a split from the men against Missouri and Southern Illinois Oct. 24-25 at SIU.
- The UK women (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference ) swept both SIU and Mizzou, with a 228-218 victory over the Tigers and a 310-138 win over the Salukis. The Wildcat men (1-3, 0-2 SEC) posted a 312-136 win against SIU but suffered a 267.5-177.5 defeat to MU.
- On Oct. 24, junior Christina Bechtel won two individual competitions and a third as part of the 400 yard freestyle relay. Freshmen accounted for six wins, including two each from Brendan Flynn and Kendal Casey. Freshman Andrew Aviotti and Galyer also tallied their first collegiate victories, while junior Abby Myers won one.
- On Oct. 25, senior Eric Bruck, Casey, Flynn and Myers each posted two wins. Galyer recorded a first-place finish after her first collegiate victory the previous night. Bruck's second win was part of a relay, with fellow senior Chris Lott, junior Derrick Smith and senior Will Heidler.
- Kentucky sophomore Nadia Ravita fell just short of the main draw singles title at the USTA/ITA Regionals in Memphis, Tenn. Ravita, who is ranked No. 26 in the nation and was the top seed in the tournament, had a tough route to the finals. In a challenging match against Vanderbilt's Georgina Sellyn, Ravita fell in the first set, 6-2 before she tried to make a comeback in the second but was defeated 6-3.
- The second-place finish was the highest finish for a UK team since 2007. Last season, the ITA Regionals ended for the Wildcats in the singles round of 16 and in the doubles quarterfinals.
- Kentucky took home five wins in singles competition against North Carolina State at the Tennessee Fall Invite including freshman Aldila Sutjiadi who defeated No. 45 Joselle Kissel and 6-1, 6-2 and junior Stephanie Fox took down Elisha Hande, who led the Wolfpack in singles wins last season, 6-1, 6-2.
- In the singles championship, Sutjiadi fell to Tennessee's Joanna Henderson in a close three-set match, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4.
- The Wildcats will begin their regular season against the University of Cincinnati and Ball State University on Jan. 18, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.
- The 15th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team enjoyed a 2-1 week which included home victories over Mississippi State and Alabama. The only defeat came on the road at Georgia in a five-set thriller in which the Bulldogs claimed the fifth frame by a 23-21 margin.
- Kentucky's offense was the key component in a sweep of Mississippi State, while a season-high 15 blocks resulted in a win over the Tide. Three players logged six or more blocks, including a career-high from senior Whitney Billings. Sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder also added eight, while senior Alexandra Morgan contributed six. Morgan averaged 2.50 kills per set on a team-high .436 hitting clip. She also averaged a team-high 1.25 blocks per set and ranked second on the team with 3.54 blocks per frame.
- Morgan began the week with an 11-kill performance at Georgia, which was the first double-figure kill effort in conference play of the season for the middle blocker. Against her home-state team, Alabama, she posted a season-high 14 kills on a blistering .619 hitting percentage while adding six block assists. With a .436 hitting clip and 55 attempts on the week, Morgan moved into second-place all-time in the history of the UK program for hitting percentage with a career-clip of .346.
- Freshman Anni Thomasson against Mississippi State reached double-figure kills for the fourth time in her career and with 12 resulting as a career best in league competition. She laid down her kills with a .357 hitting clip, while adding three digs and a pair of blocks. In the four-set win over Alabama, Thomasson notched six kills, and 10 digs. She has topped the 10-dig plateau on six occasions in her young career. She also aided the Wildcat cause with a pair of assists.
- Kentucky returns to the road for a tough weekend stretch beginning at Arkansas on Friday. UK will then head to 11th-ranked and undefeated Missouri on Sunday.
Monday, Oct. 28
Men's Golf at Invitational at The Ocean Course - All Day (Kiawah Island, S.C.)
Tuesday, Oct. 29
Men's Golf at Invitational at The Ocean Course - All Day (Kiawah Island, S.C.)
Wednesday, Oct. 30
Men's Soccer at Marshall - 7 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 31
Women's Soccer at South Carolina - 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 1
Swimming & Diving vs. Indiana/Tennessee - 2 p.m. (Bloomington, Ill.)
Men's Basketball vs. Transylvania (Exh.) - 7 p.m.
Volleyball at Arkansas - 8 p.m.
Cross Country at SEC Championships - All Day (Gainesville, Fla.)
Saturday, Nov. 2
Football vs. Alabama State - 7:30 p.m.
Rifle at TCU - All Day
Sunday, Nov. 3
Women's Basketball vs. Eckerd College (Exh.) - 1 p.m.
Volleyball at Missouri - 2:30 p.m.
Men's Soccer vs. Florida Atlantic - 4 p.m.
Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Homecoming matchup with Alabama State on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
More than halfway into Mark Stoops' first season as head coach, effort is no issue for Kentucky. The Wildcats have continued to show up at practice and in games, no matter the circumstances.
But even though UK has shown improvement through that consistent effort, wins have been difficult to come by. The Cats have lost five games in a row, most recently at Mississippi State when their comeback bid fell just short.
Four days removed from the 28-22 defeat, Stoops is still stewing over it. Having watched the tape -- and probably more than once -- he still sees the hard work that has defined his team, but far too many mistakes as well.
"After going back and watching the Mississippi State game, I thought we did some very good things in that game, gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game," Stoops said. "Felt like our players competed extremely hard. We need to be a smarter football team."
From day one, Stoops didn't hide from the enormity of the rebuilding task facing him and his program. He recognizes the strides that have already been made, but he also sees players reverting at inopportune moments.
"I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time, but that's not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC," Stoops said. "You've got to be good top to bottom, and you've got to be good in critical situations, and most importantly when you're under pressure situations, our habits, bad habits, come right to the surface."
Stoops had specific plays in mind in saying that, namely a handful of the 10 third downs Mississippi State converted and the successful onside kick UK had nullified by an offsides penalty. His frustration bubbled to the surface as he described them to the media assembled for his weekly press conference on Monday.
That also won't be the last time he brings them up.
"We'll watch those critical mistakes as a team," Stoops said, "not just an offense and not just a defense like we normally do, but the whole team will watch critical mistakes and plays that are not very smart. We need to play better."
Stoops acknowledged that confidence could be playing a role in the miscues that continue to cost UK so dearly. Unfortunately for the Cats, the success that it takes to build confidence is difficult to come by in the SEC.
"There's no gimmes in this league," Stoops said. "So anybody that's trying to rebuild a program will tell you that the best way to rebuild and get that confidence is get some wins. Well, they don't exactly give those out in the SEC."
This weekend, UK will step outside the SEC for its final nonconference game of the season. The Cats will host Alabama State (6-2) for their annual Homecoming Game at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, but the Hornets -- who play in the FCS's Southwestern Athletic Conference -- will present plenty of challenges of their own.
"I think they're a very good football team, very well-coached team," Stoops said. "I think they're really solid in all phases of the game. I think offensively they do a really nice job of trying to keep you off balance. They run the ball very well."
Alabama State has won six straight games after starting 0-2, largely on the strength of that running game. The Hornets feature two backs who have 740 or more rushing yards, including former Georgia standout Isaiah Crowell. Crowell has rushed for 833 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second season at Alabama State.
"We recruited him quite hard during my time at Florida State," Stoops said. "I remember him. He was a fantastic player, one of the top players in the country coming out of high school, fantastic player, just very hard runner, elusive. For his size and strength, he's elusive."
Because of Alabama State's talent and Stoops' approach, UK won't treat Saturday's game any differently than the ones it just played against four consecutive conference opponents.
"This is the next game for us, therefore it's extremely important," Stoops said. "I think anybody that thinks that we can just roll out there because we're an SEC team and think you're going to roll out there and win this game, you're sadly mistaken."
Stoops has no reason to think his players will feel that way.
"I wouldn't think our players would feel overconfident about anybody we're playing I wouldn't think, and we'll address that," Stoops said. "But no, we've taken the approach, we're worried about ourselves. I can see our players doing that. I think we're trying to get better as a program."Whitlow to start at QB
After coming on only for second-half spot duty against Mississippi State due to an ankle injury, Jalen Whitlow is back at the No. 1 spot on the depth chart UK released on Monday. Stoops said Whitlow also sustained an injury to his AC joint in his shoulder, but "should be fine" to play.
As long as Whitlow is cleared to play by the medical staff, Stoops wants his sophomore quarterback to take a lead from Connor Shaw and Johnny Manziel, who played through pain last weekend and led South Carolina and Texas A&M to victories.
"I see it as a guy that's leading the program in the SEC and I see other SEC players banged up and leading their team to victory, don't you?" Stoops said. "That's what we need to do."Game vs. Missouri set for noon kickoff
The SEC released kickoff times and television information for conference games on Nov. 9. Kentucky's home game against Missouri will start at noon ET and will be televised on either ESPNU or FSN.
Max Godby or Teven Eatmon-Nared
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
Early in the second half of Sunday's UK women's soccer game, it looked as though Senior Day would end on a sour note, but apparently Caitlin Landis and the rest of the seniors didn't want their final regular season home match to end in a loss.
Down a goal 51 minutes in, being forced to endure yet another injury to a key player -- this time attacking play-maker Stuart Pope -- continuing to be frustrated by LSU's physical defensive tactics and having spurned countless scoring chances for a second straight game, Jon Lipsitz finally vocalized his frustrations from the touch line on the hour mark.
"Grit is something we've been talking about a lot," Lipsitz said. "The only clips of the Missouri game I showed the team yesterday were our missed chances and our lack of toughness. That was it, that's all I cared about. I thought the first half was very difficult because we had so many special chances. We had a lot of chances where we had actually pulled the goalie outside the frame of the goal, and we still missed the open goal.
"Of course the challenge at halftime was are we going to continue to play well or are we going to get our heads down? We got scored on, and I thought scoring pretty soon after was huge because it helped us relax, and get back into our play."
Less than five minutes after Lipsitz loudly voiced his concerns, and 13 minutes after LSU's goal, Landis created another goal-scoring chance, and finally someone tucked it home.
From there the Wildcats took control of the game, but as 3-1 score lines go, Sunday's result was a gritty as they come. Even with the plethora of first-half chances the Wildcats struggled to find their comfortable possession-based playing rhythm. Still UK found a way to produce a positive outcome when the pressure of two straight losses and all that would go along with another bad result was beginning to mount.
"We talk a lot here about wanting pressure," Lipsitz said. "You want pressure. If you lose all your games, you don't have any pressure. We're in a situation now where we're fighting for an NCAA bid and a place in the SEC Tournament. There is pressure on us. That's what we want. We want players that love that."
The Wildcats have dealt well with such pressure all season, having won the game following a loss three times this season and drawn after the only other loss.
Landis's assist on the equalizer continued a strong weekend as she scored a game-tying goal in Friday's double-overtime match, but her goals and ability to create chances meant more to UK than just affecting the score sheet.
Landis and the rest of UK's seniors' ability to respond to the team falling behind or facing other forms of adversity has led the team by example, embodying exactly what Lipsitz asks of his leaders: grit.
"They have to be our leaders, and they have been," Lipsitz said of the players honored as part of Senior Day festivities. "Each one of them has a special story. Each one of them has different trials and tribulations that they've gone through to get to this point. I'm so proud of them. Every time I felt like I was going to get a little choked up I just kept looking at them and going, 'This is fantastic. I shouldn't be upset; I should be happy.' I just kept reminding myself how much I enjoy coaching them."
Sunday's comeback had to be all the more enjoyable for Lipsitz due to his teams response, led in part by seniors like Landis.
"Cat Landis has learned so much in her career," Lipsitz said. "She is playing her best soccer, by far her best soccer at the end. It's not just getting a great goal on Friday for example. She's scored some really good goals. The way she sees the field and her ability to play other players in now is something she didn't have before.
"She was not starting early in the year, and we made some adjustments. I said, 'Hey Cat, it's your time.' It was the next person up. She has put a stranglehold on it ever since. I hope she feels like I was totally wrong when I wasn't starting her early. I hope she looks at me every day and thinks, 'You are an idiot,' because I want my players to want to be on the field and think they deserve to be. She was ready when her number was called and she's been ready ever since."
UK defeated Alabama in four sets on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. (Britney McItnosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky could have wilted, and it seemed for a moment the Wildcats might.
After UK charged to a 2-0 lead, Alabama responded with a 25-18 third-set victory. The Crimson Tide sustained the momentum in the fourth, grabbing a 16-14 advantage in the and appearing poised to even the match.
The Cats responded.
"I thought we went soft in set three and Alabama played well," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "To completely reverse that and play as tough as we did at the end says something about the character of this group."
UK went on a 4-0 run and took 11 of the match's final 15 points to seal the victory. During the decisive spurt, the Cats were especially exuberant after a number of highlight-reel kills and blocks. Even the normally stoic Skinner got involved with a couple emphatic fist pumps.
"Well, Alabama's a good team and they're tough and they keep coming at you," Skinner said. "They got us on our heels set three and at the beginning of set four, so we needed to dig down and produce. When you're able to do that and able to execute and get kills when you needed it, it is an emotional sport."
Alexandra Morgan had just one kill and one block during the run, but the senior's fingerprints were all over the rest of the match. She led the way with 14 kills and added six blocks, hitting .619 and committing only a single error in the process.
"I saw a little extra in her today," Skinner said. "With her aggressiveness in attacking and aggressiveness blocking, that's the Zan we need to see day in day out. But she's such a presence, such a factor over there every team has to pay attention to her. When she produces like that, it makes us all better."
Kentucky (15-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) will need Morgan to be at her best once again next weekend. The Cats face a tough road trip and will take on Arkansas and SEC-leading Missouri on Friday and Sunday.
"Arkansas is having a good year and Missouri's at the top of the league," Skinner said. "So going on the road in this conference is never easy and we'll need a good week of practice so we can execute down at those two places next weekend."
UK is now halfway through its conference slate and sits in third place, but the Missouri match will offer a chance to make up ground. Skinner isn't thinking that way.
"It's so early," Skinner said. "There's still nine matches left and so many things can happen. Coach speak: The most important match of the year is the next one. So that's really all we're focused on."
For the only time this season, the Kentucky volleyball team faced a two-day turnaround following a midweek match in Southeastern Conference play on Friday.
UK played a 6 p.m. ET match at Georgia on Wednesday, traveled home late that night and practiced the next day ahead of two more matches on Friday and Sunday.
The schedule, without question, was demanding. But given the circumstances, it was exactly what the Wildcats wanted.
The Cats lost that match against Georgia in heartbreaking fashion, dropping the final two sets in a five-match defeat. That meant they wanted no part of a long break before their next chance to take the floor.
"One of the best things that could have happened for us after not performing the way we wanted to on Wednesday is get back on the court quickly on Friday," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "I'm glad we were able to get back in the win column."
No. 15 UK (14-5, 6-2 SEC) bounced back with a 3-0 sweep of Mississippi State (11-10, 2-5 SEC), helping to erase the sting of the Georgia loss. Senior All-American Whitney Billings led the way once again, posting 15 kills to lead a UK attack that hit .367.
The difference between Wednesday and Friday was the Cats' mentality.
"I think our energy was a lot better," said freshman Anni Thomasson, who had 12 kills of her own. "We just had fun out there and we were making errors, but they were aggressive. At Georgia, they weren't so aggressive."
That aggressiveness was on display from the first serve, as UK rolled to a 25-13 win in the opening set. Mississippi State, however, would battle in the second set and even earn two set-point opportunities. UK was unfazed, as the Cats took the final four points and the set.
"The thing that we're continuing to learn is that every team in this league is capable of winning," Skinner said. "Mississippi State struggled last year but they have a much-improved team this year, swept last week (against South Carolina and Tennessee). And I thought we relaxed a little bit after we got the win in the first set and Mississippi State's an athletic team."
In the third set, UK grabbed a lead and wouldn't let go to clinch the sweep.
After the match, the Cats participated in a ceremony that put the victory in perspective. Friday was DanceBlue Night at Memorial Coliseum, as UK joined the fight against pediatric cancer. The Cats wore gold warm-ups and Skinner a gold tie that will be auctioned off on UKathletics.com beginning on Monday, with all proceeds going to DanceBlue, which raises money for the Golden Matrix Fund of UK's Pediatric Oncology Unit.
"We're community strong, so it's really important to us to give back to the community," Thomasson said. "We are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to play at Kentucky, so it means a lot to give back to the Lexington community."
The women's soccer team held its Kick Cancer Match earlier this fall and Skinner has a friendly wager going with fellow head coach Jon Lipsitz. If volleyball raises more money, Lipsitz has to shave his head. If women's soccer wins, Skinner will wear a wig for UK's first match next season.
"That'll be one heck of a bet," Skinner said. "I hope it's a tie."
Freshman Napo Matsoso has started all 13 games during his first season and leads the team in minutes played. (Chet White/UK Athletics)
The Kentucky men's soccer team was going through its typical walkthrough in Norfolk, Va., before a game with Old Dominion when dynamic freshman midfielder Napo Matsoso went down with a turned ankle.
While limping through the rest of the night and into the next day, it seemed unlikely that UK would have its star freshman on the field.
|NAPO'S COLLEGE SOCCER FAMILY
MF, Fr., Kentucky
Lesotho/Louisville, Ky. (St. Francis)
2013: 13 games, 1 goal, 1 assist
MF, Fr., Northern Kentucky
Lesotho/Luisville, Ky. (St. Francis)
2013: 10 games, 2 goals
F, Sr., Maryland
Lesotho/Louisville, Ky. (Trinity)
2013: 14 games, 5 assists
2012: 24 games 2 goals, 4 assists
* Second-Team All-ACC
* NCAA Runner Up
2011: 20 games, 1 goal, 8 assists
2010: 19 games, 3 goals, 1 assist
MF, Sr., Northwestern
Lesotho/Louisville Ky. (Trinity)
2013: 14 games, 1 goal, 4 assists
2012: 21 games, 1 goal
2011: 21 games, 5 goals, 3 assists
* Second-Team All-B1G
2010: 18 games, 2 goals, 1 assist
* B1G All-Freshman Team
Come kickoff that night and after giving it a test run during warm ups, Matsoso was in the starting 11 for UK's crucial conference clash with ODU. He played every second of UK's overtime victory over the league-leading Monarchs, with the Wildcats winning it in the 98th minute on Brad Doliner's golden goal.
Matsoso, a native of Louisville, Ky., who originally hails from Lesotho, a small landlocked country in the middle of South Africa, attended St. Francis High School in Louisville, where he earned first-team all-state honors, amassing a total of 72 goals in four years.
He has been a sparkplug for the Wildcats as a freshman, starting all 13 games in the midfield and leading the team in minutes played. He is one of only three players to start each game, joining fifth-year seniors Doliner and Steven Perinovic.
"Everything is going well, even though we haven't had the best results, we're having fun and we just have to keep it up," Matsoso said. "Coming from a different country, this is my second home. Everyone on the team is there for me whenever I get homesick. They are always there to pick me up and tell me to keep my head up."
After coming to the United States from Lesotho, Matsoso was adopted by Marc and Pam Maguire and he quickly joined a family legacy of soccer stars. He has five brothers, James Maguire (22), Setho Moshoeshoe (18), Lepe Seetane (21), Sunny Jane (21) and Marc.
Like one would imagine, there was an adjustment period when he first arrived in the United States.
"At first I was scared because I didn't know how to speak English but I adjusted a little quicker because I have four brothers that were also adopted in my family," Matsoso said. "They were always there to help teach me English and get me used to the environment."
James played at Mt. St. Joseph's College in Ohio, Setho is in his first year with Northern Kentucky, Lepe stars for Northwestern, Sunny is one of the nation's top talents at Maryland and Marc is currently working on his undergraduate degree at UK.
With three brothers also playing Division I soccer, it might be a tough task to find out who is the best among them.
"Obviously, me," Matsoso said without hesitation. "I'm the best; there are no worries about that."
But with less than a full season of collegiate soccer under his belt, Matsoso realizes there are still areas of his game that he needs to improve.
"I need to work on my strength and be more involved with the ball. So far I have only one goal and that's not the way I want it to be," Matsoso said. "That is something I'm working on, as well as shooting. I haven't had a lot of shots on goal and that's something I need to improve."
Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren echoed his young star's assessment of what he still needs to improve in order for him to become a complete player.
"We need to work a little bit on his finishing," Cedergren said. "He gets in good spots and sometimes we could ask a little more there, but his strengths outweigh his weaknesses. He just reads the game so well and his touch and his control for the ball is fantastic."
When Cedergren took the job at UK in December of 2011, he immediately started hearing things about this 5-foot-6 inch, 138-pound kid from nearby Louisville.
"I thought there was talent there but I thought his size might hinder him a little bit in college," Cedergren said. "As I kept watching him, he kept growing on me. He's always been small and I think he can handle it because he's pretty physical himself. He was someone that initially I didn't know if he was going to be able to handle Division-I soccer but the more I looked at him the more convinced I became that he would be a good fit for us."
For freshman to step in and contribute right away on the field is not common in Division I soccer. Cedergren said that it's hard to expect freshmen to have an impact immediately because there is a sizable adjustment period.
Even Matsoso said he didn't foresee himself starting instantly because of the physical nature of the college game compared to high school. But there's something special about Matsoso that is hard to ignore.
"We were looking for someone in the midfield that can have that creative role," Cedergren said about Matsoso's impact. "He battles. He is good on the ball. We knew he was definitely one of the two or three guys that would be able to start immediately for us. I knew he would have a good chance to play a lot but I didn't know he would be able to step up this quickly. Clearly, he's done a great job."
When you watch Matsoso play, it's easy to see why his head coach has such high regard for him. He is one of those players that just seem to constantly be around the ball. The ball finds him. He runs with ease and he looks like he could go for days.
He has played every minute in 11 of the 13 games this season, including two double-overtime games that ended in ties. Players like Matsoso don't come around all the time.
"It's called reading the game," Cedergren explained. "Can you be a little quicker? Can you think on your feet? He's really, really smart. He's a very intelligent player and he's really good when he starts playing with (Bryan) Celis and some of the other guys we have.
"His ability to turn a bigger defender and use the mass that he has to his advantage is great. There isn't a tight space that he can't get out of. He's someone that we aren't afraid to play the ball to in a tight space because we know he's going to get out of it. That's really important, someone that retains possession and creates attack for us."
If this season is any indication of what the next three years hold for Matsoso at Kentucky, then it looks bright.
"Gritty," Cedergren said when asked to describe Matsoso. "Because he does get kicked a lot and by now when we're 13 games into the season, every team we play from this point forward, they are more or less man-marking him, so he's got to battle with a much bigger guy for 90 minutes. Every time he's trying to get on the ball, he has a guy trying to get him off the ball and he just does not stop. He keeps going. Grit and determination are two words that are definitely on the top of my list for Napo."
Sounds like a pretty good description for a player who has only just begun to scratch the surface of his full potential.
With the start of one of the most anticipated seasons in Kentucky basketball history just weeks away, three Wildcats will take some time out of their busy schedules to chat with fans.
On Friday, Andrew Harrison, Jon Hood and Alex Poythress will join Cat Scratches and CoachCal.com for a special interactive live blog. Beginning at 11:15 a.m. ET, Harrison, Hood and Poythress will take comments and questions from fans in a real-time format on UK's live blog application.
We expect a large audience for the live chat, so we ask that you be patient if your comment or question is not immediately approved by the moderator. The chat will last for approximately 30 minutes and we will try to get to as many fans as possible.
Harrison is a freshman and a preseason candidate for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation's top point guard. Hood is one of two seniors on UK's 2013-14 roster and has played for John Calipari since his arrival in 2009. Poythress, a sophomore, returns to Kentucky after bypassing the NBA Draft. He averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds and was a Freshman All-Southeastern Conference performer last season.
After another hard-fought loss, Mark Stoops had yet another opportunity to pick out silver linings.
He could have cited Kentucky's unwillingness to give in after facing a 14-point second-quarter deficit. He could have talked about the way UK played in front of a pro-Mississippi State crowd and had the ball with a chance to score a game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
Stoops, like anyone else who has watched these Wildcats, has seen his team improve, but that's not what was on his mind in the wake of a 28-22 defeat.
"We need to execute better, that's the bottom line," Stoops said. "We have our opportunities, I think. Our team is going to work. Our team needs to improve. We all need to do a better job starting with me and that's the way it is and we'll do that. We're not gonna hesitate. We're gonna go back to work and we've gotta execute when the game's on the line and we're gonna do that."
UK will go back to work with the idea of capitalizing on opportunities the next time a game is on the line, and that's not isolated to the game's final drive when Maxwell Smith's fourth-down pass from the MSU 29 fell incomplete. In fact, it begins all the back in the first quarter.
"Started too slow again," Stoops said. "We tried to combat that all week. We talked about it. We needed to come out strong and execute in the first half on both sides of the ball. Didn't do that. They did."
After UK's game-opening drive stalled, the Bulldogs took possession. On third-and-6, the UK pass rush seemed to have Dak Prescott in its crosshairs for a sack, but he escaped and hit Malcolm Johnson for a 60-yard touchdown.
Mississippi State would go on to gain 291 of its 447 yards in the first half to claim a 21-10 lead, though UK's defense would improve after halftime behind Bud Dupree. The junior defensive end returned to the lineup after missing the Alabama game with a strained pectoral muscle to tally 13 tackles and a sack.
"They do a nice job," Stoops said. "They keep you off balance. Give them credit. They kept us off balance. We didn't do a good enough job in the first half. That's too many yards. They converted too many yards and too many big plays and I thought in the second half we did a better job, were a little more aggressive and made some plays when we needed to."
With that improved second-half defense, UK closed to within 21-19 late in the third quarter after scoring nine points in 1:07 on a safety and a 14-yard touchdown run by Jojo Kemp -- the freshman's first.
Sensing an opportunity, Stoops dialed up an onside kick that Joe Mansour placed perfectly into the waiting hands of Javess Blue. The play, however, was eventually nullified when Daron Blaylock was determined to be offsides.
Once again, Stoops refused to make excuses. He has experienced a great deal of success in his coaching career, so he knows those kinds of miscues represent the razor-thin margin between victory and defeat.
"I thought we had good momentum," Stoops said. "We had the lob set up and it was perfectly executed and somebody on the back side that had nothing to do with the play was evidently four or six inches offsides. So that's the difference. We did not do what we needed to do and that's disappointing."
That disappointment and lack of execution leaves UK with a 1-6 record, 0-4 in Southeastern Conference play. Just as he answered questions from the media with a sense of accountability, he did the same in addressing his players in the postgame locker room.
"We're gonna to look it dead in the face," Stoops said. "It is what it is and it's not OK. We're all gonna coach better. They're gonna play better. We're gonna address these issues and we're gonna get better and we're going to keep on fighting and that's it. End of story."
Kentucky junior guard Tod Lanter. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Throughout the 2013-14 season, UKathletics.com and CoachCal.com will be here to serve as your primary source for Kentucky basketball coverage. From feature stories to game coverage, video and more, we pride ourselves on being your one-stop shop for all things UK basketball. However, nobody can paint the picture quite like the people who create the artwork. Throughout the 2013-14 year, the players who make the stories will share in writing a season-long blog to share with the Big Blue Nation their experiences, their thoughts and how the year develops in their own eyes. This week Tod Lanter shares his thoughts about Big Blue Madness and bonding with his teammates with the Big Blue Nation.
By Tod Lanter (Follow on Twitter)
What's going on, Big Blue Nation? Glad to get this opportunity to talk to you.
Since Big Blue Madness is fresh in everyone's mind, let's start with that. Although I was on the team last year, this was my first Big Blue Madness experience as a part of the team (more on that later). Growing up here, I had been to a couple as a fan, so it was obviously a special experience for me to actually be a part of it.
The build-up for it was pretty crazy. As all of you know, a lot of people were talking about what dances we were going to do, but we didn't know who was going to do what until we took the stage. The guys were joking around all week saying, "I should do this," but really they were just trying to see what everybody's reaction was to make sure it was good. The exception was Jarrod because he was the first guy who was going to be introduced and we wanted the lead person to do something different and get things started off right.
Honestly, we had no clue what to expect. The first time we saw the setup was Thursday night during our walkthrough. That was actually the first time we found out about those warm-ups with the lights on them. I was the first one to see them because my locker is at that first corner. I turned around and I was like, "Look at these sweat suits. Are those lights?" Right after that, one of the guys from our marketing department walked in and said, "Make sure your battery packs are working." He told us they would control the lighting and they would light up as we were coming up the lift and on to the stage. It was kind of relieving to us to wear those and see the setup because we didn't have to do much to make the whole thing exciting. (A big shout-out to the people in the marketing department for that because it was really exciting and made things easier for us.)
Anyway, when the night actually came, I thought I would be a lot more nervous then I was. I remember Jarrod telling us how he was still nervous even though he'd been through it three years already. He was the first to go, so it was understandable, but as I was standing there, I was expecting my hands to start sweating but it never happened. Julius was really nervous, but it was weird for me. I felt more excited than nervous when it came time to take the stage, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I don't know that I would have danced.
I still didn't know if I was going to dance until I went up the lift and finally got up there. Once I did, I decided to go with it. You know how they say when you're young, if they can't see you then they think you can't see them? That's how I felt. I couldn't see anybody's face because it was so dark out there. At that point, I was like, "I'm going to do it." My dance was alright, but I've got to give Jarrod and Sam some credit. I didn't get to see Jarrod's live since I was the fifth one up the lift, but Sam's was pretty awesome.
Looking back, it all happened so fast for me. We did all that preparation for it and were excited about it all week, but before I knew it we were in the locker room taking a picture with John Wall and Anthony Davis and it was all over. I guess that's because we were having fun. Hearing my name called and rising up to see all those cheering faces is something I dreamed about for a long time. It was something I'll never forget.
It was also extra special for me because of my dad. He was actually part of the first Big Blue Madness here, when they held it in Memorial. I obviously wasn't there for that one, but he said they just announced the players and they ran out onto the floor. Now it's evolved into this spectacle where we've got light-up warm-ups with a rising floor and smoke coming out of everything. It's crazy.
It's exciting for him to see me get to go through this because he told me when I was growing up and working in the gym late at night that nothing comes easy without hard work. He said, "If I could take my experiences and hand them over to you, I'd do it, but that work that gets you there is what makes it so sweet." The fact that I'm getting to experience it and do it on a whole 'nother level than he ever did with this team is just an unbelievable gift.
One of the things I'm really enjoying about this year is just knowing what to do and what to expect. At this point last year, my head was kind of spinning. I was cleared to play the day of Madness last year, and my first practice was that next morning with another practice in the afternoon. Two days earlier I wasn't even a part of the team and all of a sudden I'm in two-a-days and eating lunch at Coach Cal's house that afternoon during our break.
I can remember my first practice last year. I specifically remember Coach calling "Two Circle" and thinking, I have no idea what that is. I think it was JP who told him, "Coach he doesn't know that play. He wasn't there for that play." I'm usually pretty good at remembering things by doing them, but I'd only done them a few days last year by the time I was playing in the Blue-White Scrimmage. I was sitting in the locker room before the scrimmage trying to remember where the ball went for certain plays and where I was supposed to screen. I was over-thinking everything.
This year I'm a lot more comfortable. I know the plays better than just about anybody outside of Hoody, Jarrod, Alex and Willie because I was in there last year and played just about every position at some point in practice. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there this year for the Blue-White Scrimmage and feeling comfortable with how to execute everything we've been working on.
One of my favorite things about this team is just how close we all are. Everybody got here in the middle of the summer and we went to a movie like six hours after meeting everyone for the first time. It was just like a random group of strangers at the time who had just met, but we all felt so comfortable with each other. And it doesn't matter who it is or what our role is on the team, we're all friends. Like the other day, Brian, Julius, Andrew and I all went out and ate together. We don't have a certain group of teammates that just hang out. We've literally done all kinds of different stuff with different kinds of people, and I think that's important.
The better relationships you build with your teammates off the court, the more you're going to be able to trust them on the court and mesh well with each other. The more that we can build those types of relationships, the more we can trust each other. Cal always says he wants to be able to hand the reins over to the team at some point during the season and run ourselves. A team that he trusts enough to be able to do that needs to start with trusting in ourselves, so that bonding stuff is important.
Things like going to the hockey and volleyball games together, going bowling and out to eat, it matters. We're having fun together. I know Marcus told you guys about the hockey game a few weeks back when we dropped the puck at center ice. Yes, I did almost fall. The first thing they told me was not to fall, but you don't realize how slick it is until you start sliding. I played it off with a move to act like I had it under control. (On a side note, I want to encourage everyone to go support them on Fridays at midnight. They're a lot of fun to watch).
It's things like that remind me we're just a bunch of kids getting to do something really special here. Before I got here last year, I didn't realize that all these guys I grew up looking up to and idolizing are kids just like me. Now that I get to be a part of this, I realize that we're all just a bunch of college-aged kids who enjoy the same things like everyone else. I strive to be a good influence for people who look up to me like I did to those players back then. I'm grateful for the opportunity
Alright, I've got to get out of here. I enjoyed sharing some thoughts with everyone. You stay classy, BBN.
When it comes to uniforms, you never know what you're going to see.
After some buzz early in the week about UK wearing gray uniforms for Mississippi State was shot down by Mark Stoops ("No, absolutely no," he said when asked to address the rumors on Tuesday.), it turns out the Wildcats will be sporting a never-before-seen look after all.
Kentucky will wear custom thigh pads on Thursday night that feature the UK logo and uniform numbers for each player. @UKequipment
(the official Twitter account for UK's equipment staff) gave the first look on Wednesday afternoon.
UK will wear blue pants with white jersey and blue helmets against the Bulldogs (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), but here's how the new thigh pads will look with white pants.
Maxwell Smith will start at quarterback on Thursday at Mississippi State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The timing was close to ideal.
Of course Kentucky would have liked to have gotten back on the field immediately to wash away the taste of defeat, but bye weeks are built into the long college football season for a reason. The Wildcats, with 12 days between games against Alabama and Mississippi State, took full advantage of theirs.
"I think the bye came at a good time," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We were a little banged-up coming out of that Alabama game for sure. It was really a culmination of four consecutive tough weeks."
UK's injury report was seemingly interminable after the loss Alabama, but it's now much more manageable. Just as importantly, the Cats have had a chance to get their minds right after four straight games against top-20 opponents.
"I think having a chance to recoup physically and mentally I think should help us going into this game," head coach Mark Stoops said. "I think our preparation has been very good. I feel like the team is in a good place right now. I feel like we're getting our legs back up underneath us."
UK will need to be focused, because the Cats are in for a challenge the likes of which they haven't seen.
To begin with, they'll be playing a Southeastern Conference game on a day other than Saturday for the first time since 2007. The bye week preceding UK's 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday matchup with Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC) allowed the coaches to move the team's practice schedule ahead by two days to make preparations as close to normal as possible, but the game still represents a change in routine.
"There will be some subtle changes in there because Saturday morning they're up usually watching football if we're playing a Saturday-night game or in between meetings, and now they'll be sitting there watching soap operas, I guess," Stoops joked.
With only soap operas on television on Thursday, apparently, many viewers figure to tune in for UK's primetime appearance.
"It is nice to get the national exposure," Stoops said. "It's certainly nice to play a Thursday night game because I think a lot of people watch that game, so hopefully we'll go out and represent us the right way and play tough and play the way we're capable of. I anticipate that we will."
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will be looking to do the same.
Like Kentucky, Mississippi State will be after its first SEC win and will rely on a solid ground game. Quarterback Dak Prescott leads the way with 457 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
"Anytime you got the quarterback involved with the run and they're physical, it makes you add numbers," Stoops said. "We have to be very disciplined with all the different option that they do and all the quarterback run game and then you gotta get them on the ground. And then of course when you commit numbers, you gotta play the play-action. That's the big thing."
Mississippi State relies on pace heavily to move the ball, so the experience the UK defense has going against Brown's offense in practice will be an asset.
"That's what Coach has been telling us a lot, so we really gotta make sure we're getting the calls in fast and make sure we're getting lined up fast and we gotta read our keys fast as well because they're going to try to gas us," linebacker Avery Williamson said.
On offense, UK will look to get back on track after Alabama shut down the UK attack. Maxwell Smith will start at quarterback, though Jalen Whitlow -- who sprained an ankle agains the Crimson Tide -- will be available in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.
"What I'm doing is, we've got a package in for him, and I probably won't be able to tell until later in the week how much of it we're gonna use, or how much we'll be able to use," Brown said. "If he keeps progressing then I think he'll be fine on Thursday."
Regardless who takes the snaps, UK will have to contend with an imposing State defense.
"The first thing I see when I see State's defense is how big they are," Smith said. "They got tons of length, huge d-line, the biggest linebackers that we'll probably see all season long. They're really big and they're really physical."
The UK offense will also have to cope with Mississippi State's most famous game-day tradition. As they did before a trip to South Carolina, coaches pumped in noise at practice this week, but there's no simulating the cowbells of Davis Wade Stadium.
"If I hear the word cowbell, I think Mississippi State and I think loud and annoying," Smith said. "I'm pretty sure that's why they do it."
If the last time UK went on the road is any indication, the Cats aren't likely to wilt in the face of a little noise, as foreign as the noise may be.
"I don't feel like we've laid down all year," Williamson said. "I feel like we've just given up certain plays and then played good at times. I definitely feel like we've been continuing to fight. If we keep that mentality, we can still win some games in the second half of the season."
Head coach Mark Stoops
Having not played for 10 days, Kentucky wrapped up an extended period of practice with a day of "good preparation" for Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Continuing to make the lead-up to this midweek game as similar to a typical game week as possible, the Wildcats held a regular Thursday practice.
"We went through our normal Thursday routine," head coach Mark Stoops said. "We stayed with a normal Thursday practice, which consists of the normal things. We start with a special-team period and we go to situational work then we go to another special-team period then we come back with team with moving the ball in a game-like situation."
Maxwell Smith continued to take the majority of snaps at quarterback and Stoops confirmed the redshirt sophomore will start Thursday's game. Jalen Whitlow, who is nearing full recovery from an ankle sprain he suffered against Alabama, will be the backup.
"He'll be ready to go, if we need him," Stoops said. "Again, I think Max got most of the reps last week and this week, but Jalen will be ready to go and we'll use him if we need to."
Whitlow wasn't the only Wildcat to take advantage of the bye week and UK hopes to reap the benefits.
"We're feeling pretty good," Stoops said. "We're, I think, much healthier than we've been in some time mentally and physically and ready to go."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 20:
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Junior Arin Gilliland recorded her second hat trick of the season on Sunday afternoon, scoring the first three goals in Kentucky's 4-2 win over Alabama on Sunday afternoon. With the three goals, Gilliland now has 10 goals on the season and a team-high 28 points in 2013. Gilliland becomes just the second player in UK history to record two hat tricks in the same season, as she also had a hat trick last Friday night vs. Tennessee. All of Gilliland's goals were scored in the first half (23', 40', 45').
Matthew Mitchell interacts with a fan at the Big Blue Madness campout. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell normally has no issue coming up with answers to questions lobbed at him by reporters, but he was stopped in his tracks as he made the rounds at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
"I was down in Birmingham last week, and the league, we were doing some different things for media day," Mitchell said on Tuesday, "and we were doing some promotional work to promote women's basketball and doing one of these commercials, and the league asked me to describe myself in one word."
Searching for a response, Mitchell began thinking of how the important people in his life would describe him. Naturally, his wife came to mind first.
"So I started thinking, how would Jenna describe me in one word, and I thought about that for a second and I quickly moved on because I didn't want to use that," Mitchell said to laughs.
His players were next, and he joked that words like "crazy," "nuts" and "not that smart" would likely be first on their lists. Again, not what he was looking for.
Finally, Mitchell came up with an answer of his own.
"I landed on grateful," Mitchell said, "and I would describe myself this morning as very, very grateful to have a seventh opportunity to coach the Kentucky Wildcats."
Mitchell has accomplished things that no head coach in UK Hoops history has, but he credits others for his success. Above all, he's thankful to God. He appreciates the athletics department administration for hiring him and now supporting his program. He'll never forget the players who helped him build UK into a perennial contender.
"Players like Carly Morrow and Victoria Dunlap and Lydia Watkins and Amani Franklin, A'dia Mathies, those kind of kids that came in here and really did things not their own way, but they embraced the Kentucky way, which is honesty, hard work and discipline," Mitchell said. "Really grateful to them, and we find ourselves with this '13 '14 team in a great position to have an outstanding season, and so we would not have been able to do that with all the efforts of the people that have come before this team."
Those players also helped pave the way for UK's successful bid to host the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament in March, which is another reason for Mitchell to be grateful.
"You just don't write on a piece of paper we want to have the first and second round and you get it," Mitchell said. "A lot of people did a lot of hard work to get that done, and it is an incredible advantage."
UK has advanced to the Elite Eight in three of the last four seasons in spite of never enjoying that advantage. Of course, it's on the Wildcats to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, but the idea of playing two postseason games in Memorial Coliseum -- where UK has a 62-3 record over the last four seasons --is exciting to Mitchell and his players alike.
"I think the urgency would be 10 times more," junior guard Bria Goss said. "We know what it means to us, the fans know what it means to them and the way we play in front of our fans is so important. So just for them to be able to be there for us during those times is going to be beneficial."
On the day the news about the NCAA Tournament came down, Mitchell was otherwise occupied. His wife gave birth to the couple's second daughter early in the morning on Oct. 9, giving Mitchell yet another reason to step back and count his blessings.
"We had a little baby, Pressly Blue, six pounds, 12 ounces, future shooting guard here at Kentucky if they don't fire me before then," Mitchell said. "She is doing well. Jenna is doing well. Our family is just so blessed. We thank God for that, as well. Things are really good."
Flexibility -- literally -- the key to Mitchell's Madness dance
Mitchell outdid himself once again at Big Blue Madness, channeling The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, before dancing to Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time."
Other than the wig he wore for the opening act, there was one particularly jaw-dropping moment from the performance that Mitchell addressed on Tuesday.
"The real issue, I think, just the elephant in the room, is everyone wants to know how did I do the split and how did I get to that position at 42 years old, and let me tell you, it was not easy to do," Mitchell said.
Just a few weeks ago, the move would have been impossible.
"So on October 1, I could barely just get into the position stationary," Mitchell said. "I was sitting on the floor and I was like, there's no way I can get this done."
With the help of UK dance team coach and choreographer Dawn Walters, Mitchell went to work.
"So over the next 17 days you see the results," Mitchell said. "I did the work, I stretched out, and we really -- the video before the dance would have been -- we could have sold that. I danced for about 45 minutes back in the dressing room to try to get my muscles loosened up to get the split, so we did the split, and that's really all that had to happen in the dance was the split."
With the splits behind him, Mitchell can rest again, at least until next October.
Cats adjusting to early-morning practice
Habitually nocturnal media members had an early wakeup call on Tuesday, as Media Day activities began at 8 a.m. ET to account for UK's new morning practice schedule.
The change from afternoons to mornings was made to allow some of UK's five seniors to take classes needed for graduation and Mitchell hasn't noticed any issues coming along with it.
"They get started about 7:40 each morning," Mitchell said. "We huddle up and circle up and then get going after that. There's a lot of folks in the world going to work a lot earlier than that, so it's not all that tough. And the players have just handled it great."
The Cats have plenty of experience with hard work in the morning. In fact, in-season practices offer somewhat of a reprieve considering UK's summer schedule.
"They're up even earlier in the summer," Mitchell said. "It's unbelievable what our players do when they choose to come in and go through the voluntary workouts during the summer. They're up before 6 every morning training."
UK Hoops is in the midst of preparations for the 2013-14 season, which begins Nov. 8. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Take a quick look around the practice floor and you'll see seven former McDonald's All-Americans, multiple players with professional futures ahead of them and depth both inside and out.
Incredibly, that's the case in both the men's and women's gyms at the Joe Craft Center.
John Calipari might be the one with the reputation as the nation's top recruiter, but Matthew Mitchell is right on his friend and colleague's heels in terms of attracting blue-chip recruits. Year by year, as UK Hoops has ascended the ranks in the women's game, Mitchell has added to his team's pool of talent.
Entering the 2013-14 season, Mitchell -- at least on paper -- has his most gifted team to date.
"You know, what I love about our entire team is the talent level," Mitchell said at UK's Media Day on Tuesday, "and I don't know where we would land on the most talented team in the country, but we have a very, very talented team, and they are all mobile and agile and athletic."
In the post, UK returns starters Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth, who emerged as one of the top duos in the Southeastern Conference a season ago, to go with Azia Bishop, Samantha Drake and Jelleah Sidney. On the perimeter, Jennifer O'Neill, Bria Goss, Kastine Evans, Bernisha Pinkett and Janee Thompson give Mitchell one of the deepest groups anywhere.
And that doesn't even include the highest-ranked recruiting class in school history.
Mitchell adds freshmen Linnae Harper, Makalya Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers to the mix. Harper -- a 5-foot-8 guard from Chicago -- is the top-ranked recruit in UK Hoops history and was joined at the McDonald's All-American Game by Epps, the daughter of former Wildcat national champion Anthony.
"Our freshmen have been doing a great job," Stallworth said. "They've been improving daily and that's what we're looking for."
On a team with such an established veteran presence, newcomers as highly touted as UK's might fall victim to distress over immediate playing time, but not these three. They know featured roles are up for grabs in Mitchell's signature fast-paced style and, more importantly, they are putting team goals ahead of any individual concerns.
"Last night we had our tip off celebration with our booster club, and we talked to her and she addressed the crowd, and she said she's just here to help and she wants to win championships," Mitchell said of Epps. "So just a very humble attitude for a player of that caliber is exciting for a coach to see."
That kind of humility is a necessity for any UK freshman, particularly given the change in mentality required to play in Mitchell's 40 minutes of dread defense.
"Well, I have found this: They don't teach much defense at the McDonald's game," Mitchell said with a smile. "They're not working very hard on the defensive end of the floor, so some of the McDonald's All-Americans have a bit of an adjustment period when they get to Kentucky from that respect."
Sixteen practices in, Harper feels like she's on the right path.
"I really think it is all mental," Harper said. "It's really about the fundamentals of basketball. Just sticking to it and doing the little things and taking it step by step daily and putting all the pieces together and becoming a great team."
With that goal in mind, Mitchell has actually tweaked preseason preparations this season.
After an offseason of "self-evaluation" following a third Elite Eight loss in four seasons, Mitchell has put an unprecedented emphasis on offense. UK managed just 62 points per game on 31.6-percent shooting in the three season-ending defeats and the Cats are addressing that as they seek to break through to the Final Four.
"I just think that we need to make sure as coaches we give them enough opportunity to get to a spot where they, under pressure at the most important time, can execute," Mitchell said.
After a summer and fall of work, Mitchell sees a team that is "much further ahead" than it was this time a season ago on offense. The fact that players are taking their coach's cue away from formal team activities is helping matters as well.
"To begin with, we've all gotten in the gym a lot more," Goss said. "We'll see each other in the gym all throughout the day, sometimes even late at night ... whereas I didn't really see that my first two years."
UK, however, is targeting offensive improvement without its top scorer from a season ago. A'dia Mathies graduated in May and has gone on to a WNBA career, meaning the Cats no longer have the player they turned to when things broke down.
Mitchell says it's too early to tell whether one individual will emerge as a go-to player in her place, but he has an idea of who he'd like to end up taking over that mantle.
"From a coaching standpoint (getting) the ball to get to DeNesha Stallworth would be at the top of any list right now," Mitchell said. "I would want the ball in her hands just from a physical standpoint. She can make plays. I have a lot of confidence in a lot of the players, but I think DeNesha is probably the most gifted and talented offensive player that we have."
Stallworth, a preseason All-SEC selection, had a strong first season at UK after transferring from Cal, but Mitchell expects even more from the 6-3 forward in 2013-14.
"I think she ought to be one of the top 10 or 12 players in the country," Mitchell said. "I think she should be an All-American. I think she could work herself into the position of being a top-five draft choice."
Clearly, Mitchell has no shortage of belief in Stallworth. Now, she's working to follow suit.
"It makes you feel good and it makes you just realize, 'Hey, you can do it. If your coach believes in you, why can't you believe in yourself,' " Stallworth said. "I definitely appreciate him saying that and I'm definitely going to work hard to accomplish that goal."
The goals Mitchell has in mind for Stallworth mirror those he has for his team as a whole. There's no questioning the talent of Stallworth or her Kentucky team. Because of that, it won't take any kind of superhuman effort for them to accomplish what they want to accomplish.
"What we're focusing on this year is real, real simple concept," Mitchell said. "It's not going to be easy, but it's real simple. We just want to try to be our very best, and we talk about that virtually every day. If we can become our best, we can have a terrific season here at Kentucky."
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
With just three days before Kentucky's game at Mississippi State, the Wildcats practiced on Monday like they would on a Wednesday before a regular Saturday game.
UK's bye last week allowed the Cats to shift their preparation ahead by two days, but more importantly gave them an opportunity to heal, and not just physically speaking.
"I think the bye came at a good time," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We were a little banged-up coming out of that Alabama game for sure. It was really a culmination of four consecutive tough weeks. But I think as much mentally as physical, also. Our guys got a chance to catch their breath and relax a little bit and kind of get refocused."
The coaching staff hasn't reported many difficulties in adjusting this week's schedule. In fact, Brown likes the idea of playing a midweek game.
"Once you get your clock set it's not too difficult," Brown said. "Now, it's hard on a short week, when you play on Saturday and go to Thursday. But this sets up nice for us, because you got the bye week before and you got a couple extra days after it. I like them. You're one of the only shows going to play that primetime game. I think it's exciting for our kids."
The Cats, however, aren't getting too carried away with the excitement of playing with the eyes of college football world on them.
"We're treating it just like any other game coming in," quarterback Maxwell Smith said. "We're working as hard as we can this week, but we all know and we've been told it's a Thursday game. It's the only game on television, so we gotta showcase ourselves and we gotta play much better than we have been."
Smith was listed as the starter at quarterback on UK's depth chart released Monday and has been getting snaps accordingly, though Jalen Whitlow has returned to practice.
"Maxwell's been getting all the starter's reps," Brown said. "Really didn't know until probably yesterday what Jalen's status was gonna be. But Maxwell's been getting those starter's reps and Jalen's been getting the backup reps."
UK is preparing under the assumption that Whitlow will be available, but will adjust his package based on his health. If the last two days are any indication, he could be close to full speed.
"He's progressed really each day," Brown said. "Moved around probably a little better today than he did yesterday, and so I think he's got a chance."
Other than having one of the team's best athletes available, Whitlow's improving health is good news on another front as well because the staff would like to redshirt both Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips.
Overall Record: 4-7-1, 1-2-1 C-USA
Record Last Week: 1-1-0, 0-1-0 C-USARecent Results
Wednesday, Oct. 16 - won vs. Valparaiso, 2-1 | RECAP
Saturday, Oct. 19 * lost at Charlotte, 0-1 | RECAPUpcoming Schedule (times Eastern)
Wednesday, Oct. 23 - vs. No. 29 Tulsa - 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 26 - vs. FIU - 7 p.m.TEAM NOTES
The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game week with a home win over Valparaiso on Wednesday and a road loss to Charlotte on Saturday. Kentucky will return to action on Wednesday with a matchup with No. 29 Tulsa, with kickoff at the UK Soccer Complex slated for 7 p.m. ET. UK will then host Florida International on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex.
Kentucky (4-7-1, 1-2-1 Conference USA) posted a comeback win over Valpo on Wednesday, 2-1, getting a pair of second-half tallies to rally from behind. On Saturday, the Wildcats suffered a 1-0 loss at Charlotte, the 2011 NCAA Runner-Up, after conceding an own-goal in the 47th minute.
The Wildcats have been led in scoring by senior Brad Doliner, who has four goals and one assist. Sophomore Isak Krogstad has three goals and two assists, with sophomore Jacob Scearce and freshman Sam Miller each contributing one goal and two assists. Junior Justin Laird leads the team with four assists, with freshmen Nao Matsoso, Charlie Reymann and Kaelon Fox each charting a goal and an assist. Senior Tyler Riggs also has a goal, with Bryan Celis and Matt Quick sporting assists.
In goal for UK, sophomore Callum Irving has a 1.08 goals-against average in eight games, with 19 saves and three shutouts. Senior Jack Van Arsdale has a 1.50 goals-against average, with five saves in four games.
On Wednesday, UK faced a goal deficit to the Crusaders in a driving rain, before insterting a fresh lineup in the second half and resting eight starters. UK's youth movement led to two goals, the first of the careers for Miller and Scearce. Van Arsdale turned in his first win of the year in goal, with UK claiming its second all-time win over Valpo.
In a Saturday tilt at Charlotte, the Wildcats played the 49ers to a scoreless tie at the half, before suffering the deciding goal on an own goal as a UK defender attempted a clearance by the near post. UK got a career-high tying six-save performance from Irving who kept the Wildcats in the game throughout in the second half with four saves. Over the last 14 years, Kentucky has surrendered just seven own goals. The own goal allowed on Saturday in Charlotte was the first for UK since a game with Marshall in 2010.
Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Thursday game at Mississippi State this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The last time Kentucky hit the road, the Wildcats found themselves trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter after a game-opening blitz by South Carolina. UK would steady the ship and nearly rally to victory, but the slow start ended up being too much to overcome.
A few weeks later -- as his team prepares for a trip to Mississippi State -- head coach Mark Stoops knows UK will need to be ready for an opponent looking to put UK in a similar hole.
"I think it's no secret any time you're playing a team that's struggled a little bit like we have, that's what they're going to say, they're going to want to get off to a fast start and put a dagger in us early," Stoops said. "We have to go out and offset that and play and execute well to start the game."
Mississippi State has scored 142 of its 183 points in the first half so far this season, outscoring opponents by 73 points before halftime and being outscored by 28 after the break.
Stoops also said he expects Mississippi State to try to involve its home crowd in Davis Wade Stadium early, one that has a reputation for affecting opponents with its unique form of ambient noise.
"The cowbells is going to be new to me," Stoops said, referring to Bulldog fans' traditional noisemakers.
Also new to the Cats will be the Thursday-night kickoff. UK hasn't played a Southeastern Conference game on a Thursday since 2007 and Stoops is already pondering game-day routine.
"There will be some subtle changes in there because Saturday morning they're up usually watching football if we're playing a Saturday night game or in between meetings, and now they'll be sitting there watching soap operas, I guess," Stoops said, drawing laughs at his Monday press conference. "I think we'll try to get them up and have a few more meetings and not as much dead time."
Though players' television-viewing habits may be a consideration, Stoops is much more concerned about a Mississippi State team (3-3, 0-2 SEC) also looking for its first conference win.
"You see a physical team, a team that can create the quarterback run game, put you in a bind with the quarterback run game and still be physical, throw the ball off of that, the play actions off of that," Stoops said. "It'll be a real challenge."Stoops talks Madness, dancing
Friday was a holiday of sorts for the Big Blue Nation, as UK's men's and women's basketball teams held their annual Big Blue Madness event. Stoops, however, was holed up at the Nutter Training Facility preparing for Mississippi State.
"I had some work to do, but I would have enjoyed being there myself," Stoops said. "I'd like to see Matthew Mitchell do his dance and all that."
As a follow-up, Stoops was asked whether he himself would dance if he knew it would help his recruiting efforts. He gave a progressively more honest answer.
"I probably would," Stoops said. "In fact I know I would. I probably have. I'm just not as talented as Matthew, so I can't do it for everybody to see."
On a more serious note, Stoops does take notice of the passion of Kentucky fans when he sees a night like Madness. It also makes him even more steadfast in his belief in UK football's bright future.
"I think when our recruits come on campus and our players are on campus and they see the success of all of these programs and the way they go about their business, I definitely think it helps," Stoops said. I think we feel an obligation to live up to those standards, and we're working to get there, and we embrace that. We want to be at the level of some of these programs, and we're working hard to get there."Whitlow returns to practice
Soon after Jalen Whitlow sustained a sprained ankle in UK's loss to Alabama, Stoops said he did not expect the sophomore quarterback to be available for the Mississippi State game.
After Whitlow practiced on both Sunday and Monday, there is more hope.
"He was out there practicing," Stoops said. "Max (Smith) was getting most of the starting reps but he was out there working, and we'll see how it goes the next couple days."
Smith was listed as the starter on UK's updated depth chart on Monday with Whitlow listed as the backup. Stoops said Whitlow "has improved" and will practice again on Tuesday and no decision on a starter has yet been made.
"We'll see how it plays out here today and tomorrow," Stoops said.
Max Godby or Zach West
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
Nate Willis or Fred Tiller
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
With Kentucky set to play its first Thursday night conference game in six seasons this week, the Wildcats have shifted their practice schedule ahead by two days.
The Cats prepared for Mississippi State on Saturday and Sunday as they would on a typical Monday and Tuesday.
"We just took an approach like it was a regular Tuesday and they went out there and practiced like it was a regular Tuesday," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said on Sunday.
With no game on Saturday, players and coaches were able to watch more games from around the Southeastern Conference. What they saw was one of the most memorable days of upsets in recent memory.
"I think the league is a strong league and every week you gotta come to play regardless who you're playing," Eliot said. "This weekend just justified that. All those teams that got those upsets are on our schedule and we still gotta play them. We just approach it one week at a time and know that there's no shortcuts in this league. I think that every team in this league knows that."
Unranked Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt defeated No. 6 LSU, No. 11 South Carolina and No. 15 Georgia, respectively. No. 24 Auburn also took down No. 7 Texas A&M on the road.
"I wish we could have played yesterday," defensive end Bud Dupree said, smiling. "We probably would have upset somebody real big."
As much as the Cats feel like they missed out, the string of upsets serves as a reminder of why they continue to work so hard each day.
"I don't feel like we've laid down all year," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I feel like we've just given up certain plays and then played good at times. I definitely feel like we've been continuing to fight. If we keep that mentality, we can still win some games in the second half of the season."
Also working in UK's favor looking ahead to the second half off the season is a bye week well spent. Williamson, nursing a bone bruise, was wearing only a wrap on his injured hand after previously playing with a cast. Dupree, meanwhile, said he was allowed much more contact on Sunday as he recovers from an injured pectoral muscle that kept him out against Alabama.
"I feel like we're significantly healthier and the off week was good for us for that reason," Eliot said.
From Matthew Mitchell's James Brown/Britney Spears impression to an amazing fan-driven light show, the 2013 edition of Big Blue Madness made for another memorable night in Rupp Arena. We'll be updating this post with videos from the evening.
Men's basketball intro video
Women's basketball intro video
John Calipari's speech
UK Hoops spirit video
John Calipari delivers his state-of-the-program speech at Big Blue Madness. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Below is a complete transcript of the speech John Calipari delivered at Big Blue Madness on Friday night.
How about this?
This is an incredible night to celebrate the things that make our program great ... that make the Commonwealth of Kentucky's basketball program the best in the country.
You are part of that program, the Big Blue Nation ... The sixth man of Kentucky basketball.
You lined up early ... before there WAS a line ... for a limited number of tickets to a practice ... A PRACTICE ...
Have I told you that you people are crazy?
24,000 strong tonight behind our players, but the Big Blue Nation extends far beyond the hallowed halls of college basketball's greatest arena.
It's a nation that stretches across 120 counties in Kentucky, all 50 states and to every country in the world.
We are borderless. We are everywhere. No corner is left untouched by the blue mist.
Four years ago when we started on this journey together, I shared with you a vision for this program: The gold standard of college athletics.
Two years ago, we talked about the Kentucky Effect, as we re-defined college basketball and more importantly the lives of the players in this program.
Tonight, we build on that legacy ... that tradition.
As I've told our players many times, our program isn't for everybody.
Take a look around. This is it. Every night we play, 24,000 pack the house that Rupp built. You can feel the sound in your soul.
To play here, they have to want this.
This is the preeminent stage for college basketball. This is the place where nothing is given to you and everything is earned.
You have to be tough, not just physically, but mentally. You have to wake up ready to beat your best time, to practice your hardest each and every day.
Our biggest opponent? Ourselves. At Kentucky, we are competing against ourselves every day. We can't let the strain and spotlight of this program affect you.
We are the place to help you achieve your dreams. We don't just play college basketball, we ARE college basketball. As you know, we are everyone's Super Bowl.
They need to be prepared not just to play against great players, but to play alongside great players. Look at this group we have here today.
You are your brother's keeper. If you want to succeed at Kentucky, you will succeed as a team. You play more for your teammates than yourself. If you want 30 shots a game, this isn't the place for you.
The first two draft picks in the 2012 NBA draft - Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - were the fourth and fifth-leading shot takers on their team. They played for their team, their family, and not for themselves. That sacrifice became success ...(PAUSE) our eighth national championship.
Our players learn as a family, practice as a family and play as a family so they can win as a family. We are a players-first program. If you want to be developed as an NBA player, if you want to be developed as a person of character, you come here.
I'm proud of what we've accomplished on the court, two Final Fours, a national championship, 17 NBA Draft picks over the last four years, including 13 first-round picks, but I'm just as proud of the guys who have earned degrees.
I'm proud that we have graduated 10 of our last 10 players who have been here at least three years. I'm proud that some of our players have gone to the NBA AND earned a degree, like Darius Miller, who is in the crowd with us tonight. I'm proud that we've had a 3.0 grade-point average the last three years, including a 3.4 GPA last spring. I'm proud that John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins each donated 1 million dollars to charity the second they signed their max deals. Think about that.
We teach more than just basketball here. We teach character on the court and off. This is a place where our players prepare not just for a career, but for the rest of their lives.
This program teaches players about life ... about the next step. We are teaching them to be men of integrity and honor. Men of character on and off the court.
We call it the Success Rate ... and I'm proud of that. Let me make this very clear: A player's success here is not optional.
But you have to want it. You have to want your education. You must have a love of learning. You must put service before self to truly succeed here.
Last year, we learned some very important lessons.
We were humbled. I was humbled.
Tonight, we put into action what we learned as we strengthen our program and take the first step on a new journey.
The competition will be fierce, the road will be difficult. Every team we play will be more experienced than us. But if we become one unit, play with one heartbeat and a love for each another, we will be unbreakable ...
My role, and that of my staff, is to serve the players. Inspire them to reach higher than they thought possible ... To mentor them ... To build exceptional men and respected sons of the Commonwealth ...
... And, most of all, to help them reach their dreams as they help us reach ours.
With these players, these fans, and this coaching staff, we will build on the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.
Thank you, Big Blue Nation, for the privilege of representing you to the world and for helping us be the standard bearer in college basketball.
We Are UK.
John Wall's namesake move helped start the start the trend of dancing at Big Blue Madness in 2009. (UK Athletics)
Big Blue Madness organizers go to great lengths to make sure plans for Kentucky's first open men's and women's basketball practice stay quiet, and rightfully so.
Fans -- though tickets are free -- spend days camped out for tickets to the event and surprise is part of the fun.
In 2013, with Madness anticipation at an all-time high, players are following suit when it comes to the dance moves they'll break out when introduced to the capacity crowd.
"We've all talked about what we want to do and I have everything picked out but it's a surprise," freshman guard Dominique Hawkins said.
Hawkins has had 18 years to think about his big moment. The Richmond, Ky., native grew up hoping he would get a chance to walk -- and dance -- across the Madness stage. On Friday night, he'll get it.
"I know it's going to be wild, the place will be packed and the fans will be going crazy," Hawkins said. "Growing up I wanted to be that person that everybody was screaming about when they come out in Rupp Arena. Now I'm actually going to get to do it. It's insane. I can't wait."
Three years ago, fellow Bluegrass native Jarrod Polson was in Hawkins' shoes as a first timer. Now a senior, Polson will be participating in Madness for the fourth time, but it's far from old hat.
The fan favorite said on Tuesday his "wheels are turning" about his dance and has an idea what he'll do, but he's not telling either.
"That'll ruin the fun," Polson said.
Not everyone has finalized their dancing plans yet, however.
"I'm not really a dancer, so I don't know what I'm going to do to be honest," Andrew Harrison said. "But I'm just looking forward to it. A little nervous, but I'm excited at the same time."
Nervousness is natural for UK's newcomers given the magnitude of Madness. Members of UK's top-ranked recruiting class are just two weeks removed from seeing the anticipation for Madness firsthand as fans lined up for tickets in record numbers. Now that they'll be directly involved for the first time, they're eager to see what's in store even though many were on campus for visits during the 2012 event.
"I asked some of the other players," forward Julius Randle said. "I was like, 'Do we practice or do we go out there a couple days before and see what we're going to do?' They're like, 'No, it's pretty much a surprise for you too.' I don't know what to expect. I've already seen how crazy these people are when they camped out and stuff, so I don't know what to expect."
One thing Randle can expect is another show-stopping dance by Matthew Mitchell after the women's head coach's idea for a "The Lion King"-inspired Madness introduction was nixed by his wife, Jenna, who gave birth to the couple's second daughter last week.
"This year, I was thinking, maybe we would try to have a live birth out there on the main floor -- all right -- and offer up the child to the Big Blue Nation," Mitchell joked. "I think that would be an outstanding way to usher in the season."
Instead, Mitchell will try to once again one-up his own moves. Over the last three seasons, Mitchell has done The Dougie and channeled both MC Hammer and Michael Jackson.
"You're stuck with me dancing again this year," Mitchell said.
This year's dance, of course, remains a secret.
Thirty-one years ago, Joe B. Hall had an idea. Capitalizing on an NCAA rule that allowed teams to begin practicing at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 15, Hall wanted to involve students and get them fired up for the 1982-83 season. UKNow has the story
The first Big Blue Madness, billed as "Midnight Special," did not have all the glitz and glam that is now associated with UK's first practice.
"We had some little games set up for the students to participate and so the night that we had our first madness I think we drew about 8,500 students," Hall continued. "The word spread and it turned out to be so much fun and the students just absolutely loved it; I mean, anything students will do at midnight is fun. The day, the pressures of their classwork had worn off and it was just a great evening. It was stimulation for players, a way to kick off the season and the first practice with that kind of exhibition. It just proved to be really a lot of fun."
So much fun that word quickly spread about UK's midnight practice that the following year, fans, not just students, flocked to Memorial Coliseum to get a first glimpse at their Wildcats.
And it's only grown since. Now, Big Blue Madness has become one of most anticipated UK Athletics events of the season. Thousands camp out for tickets to the event, which has evolved into more of a show than a practice.
It's going to be another packed house in Rupp Arena for the 2013 edition, which begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday. This year, fans can be part of the show like never before by downloading the Wham City Lights app on the App Store
or Android Marketplace
There were certainly no smart phones back when Hall was coaching, but he got it all started. Head to UKNow to read more about the history of Madness
James Young answers questions at Kentucky's annual Media Day on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The NBA scouts lining the wall of the Joe Craft Center probably had a feeling they would leave Lexington wowed by a couple of players.
Julius Randle was probably one of them. Willie Cauley-Stein, likely. The Harrison twins probably intrigued them. And in all likelihood, Marcus Lee made their jaws drop a couple of times.
But the guy they talked about the most, the one that left them wowed when they boarded their planes and headed home, wasn't who most people think it would be.
"Everybody that walks in the building, the guy that they're saying is the standout is James Young - like every day," John Calipari said Tuesday at UK Media Day. "We've had NBA scouts in here every day. They're all speaking about him."
It wasn't as if Young wasn't one of the gems in this year's top-ranked recruiting class. Ranked No. 11 overall by Rivals.com, Young signed with UK with a reputation as a great shooter, a top-level athlete and an explosive driver.
What Calipari and everyone else are finding out is those superlatives are just scratching the surface.
"I never got the opportunity to play against James except at a camp or whatever, but I've seen his growth and development," said freshman teammate Julius Randle. "He's gotten bigger. He's gotten taller, faster, stronger. He could always really shoot the ball, but now he's learning how to attack. His game is really evolving."
Randle was labeled a month ago by Calipari as being the "alpha beast" of the team, a role many predict he will still assume once the season starts, but Coach Cal said Tuesday that Young has been just as good, according to the scouts.
"I just listen to it and try not to think about it as much," Young said. "I keep trying to go day by day and make myself even better than they think I am. I'm trying to shock everybody."
Young has certainly shocked his teammates and coaches with a number of things.
- There's his ability to absorb contact and get to the rim: "In transition, he's kind of like Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist)," Coach Cal said. "If he's out ahead, you throw him the ball (and) something good will happen."
- He has a better-than-advertised shooting touch: "You can't leave him open," Alex Poythress said. "He hits all of his shots."
- And his speed is second to none on this team: "No one knows how fast he is," Jarrod Polson said. "I think he's definitely probably the fastest person on the team. He can fly up and down the court if you get it to him."
But what's taken Calipari by surprise more than anything else is Young's potential to be a lockdown defender. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, he has the ability to shut down two guards and wings on the college level.
"He has really long arms," Polson said. "He's 6-7 right now and he's quick. That's really the perfect build. He kind of reminds me of DeAndre (Liggins)."
Liggins didn't buy in to being a defensive stopper until midway through his second year at UK, but once he did, he was one of the best defenders in the country. Like Liggins, Young is still getting accustomed to giving the type of energy it takes to defend on the college level, but the pieces are there.
"He's so long, he's so quick," Hood said, "you just have to make him want to do that all the time. That's what every freshmen that's ever come through here (has had to deal with). You have to make them want to do something all the time."
In due time, Young could become the next great defender. In the meantime, he seems to be doing enough right to catch the attention of NBA scouts.
"I've just been doing me actually, just going hard in practice," Young said. "People I guess didn't think I was going to come out and show my talent but that's what I came here to do."
For all the talk about the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, Calipari's best teams have all shared a different staple: defense.
From his 2008 national runner-up team at Memphis to the 2010 Kentucky squad and the 2012 national champions, they've all been terrific at locking down when they need to, blocking shots and holding the opposition to a paltry field-goal percentage.
With more size, more athletes and perhaps more depth than he has ever had, does Coach Cal think this has a chance to be one of his best defensive teams ever?
"I don't know," Calipari said. "You don't have an Anthony (Davis) even though we have some good shot blockers. And I don't know if we have a Michael Kidd because Michael had the combination of toughness, mental toughness and length to do it - and athleticism. So that ended up making that team the best defensive team in the country."
Even without Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, Calipari said this team has the makings of a dominant defensive team because the guards are bigger than ever (see the Harrison twins and Young). And though there may not be a Davis on this team, Marcus Lee terrorized high school players last year with a 6.9 blocked shots average.
The hesitation by Calipari to call it a great defensive team is because he hasn't worked with his players on defense yet.
Where some teams and coaches like to institute defense first, Calipari prefers to go over the Dribble Drive to start the season because it forces the players to learn how to guard the driver anyway - what he calls the hardest thing to teach in the game - while schooling the offense.
"There's all kinds of ways of doing this job. ... We just do it the other way," Calipari said. "That doesn't mean it's the right way, but you want to establish that. We've always become a pretty good defensive team, but we've done nothing. Haven't done pick-and-roll defense, post defensive, playing the screen."
If this team is indeed in the mold of those other great teams, the defense will come in time.The players determine their playing time
If there are potential traps for this Kentucky team, some people will tell you it's one of UK's greatest strengths: depth.
With so many players, with so much talent, how will Calipari find enough minutes for everybody? How will he manage egos?
Apparently he won't.
"They're in control," Coach Cal said.
Calipari dismissed the notion put forth by a reporter at UK Media Day that he held the strings to this team and would ultimately be the one who decides who dances and who sits the bench.
"They earn it," Coach Cal said. "No one's promised anything here. You're going to have to earn minutes."
Calipari said he doesn't have the luxury of some of those Dean Smith-coached North Carolina teams that would substitute five guys at a time - the "bomb squad," he termed it - because of youth and inexperience.
Instead, he'll preach that playing time and shots aren't what this team and the players' futures will ultimately being judged on. As he's noted before, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist took the fourth- and fifth-most shots on that 2012 title team and still went one and two, respectively, in the NBA Draft.
"Go rebound, defend, run the floor, make baskets," Calipari said. "Do the things that help us win and make you look good. You just have to explain it."
Calipari does that early in the recruiting process and makes sure his players understand that a players-first program doesn't mean it's all about one player doing what he wants.
"As long as you're about them, they'll listen," Coach Cal said. "They trust you, they'll play hard. You're not getting as many minutes because of this and this, but we've got your back. You're fine. You're going to be good. That's a challenge when you have a good, full team."
Rich Brooks was recognized in Commonwealth Stadium during the Oct. 12, UK vs. Alabama game. Photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics
A familiar face roamed the halls of the Kentucky football building earlier this week. Former head coach Rich Brooks was offering up just the prescription the Wildcats need at the moment: inspiration.
After four straight games against top-20 teams capped by last Saturday's 48-7 loss to top-ranked Alabama, a downtrodden mood overtaking the Nutter Football Training Center might be understandable.
Even though the Wildcats have just navigated through the toughest four-game stretch in school history, they still play in the Southeastern Conference, and as such face a second-half schedule which features next week's trip to what head coach Mark Stoops considers an underrated Mississippi State team, undefeated No. 14 Missouri, No. 15 Georgia and a Tennessee team which took Georgia to overtime in its last game.
But Stoops would never allow his players, coaches or even support staff to give up, let alone become discouraged.
"I was very honest with you after the game: I was frustrated and down, but we don't have any time for that," Stoops said. "Come Sunday morning, after a win or a loss, you've got to be ready to go. That's where the consistency comes in. That's what we ask of these players, and that's what each of us coaches have to do each and every day. So coaches need reminded of that from time to time. But for the most part, our coaches have been very consistent."
By no means do any of Stoops' words fall upon disinterested ears on the UK campus. Still, when Stoops' statements are reiterated by a UK legend who has successfully undertaken many of the challenges facing the current UK football team, such remarks take on added weight.
The former coach was in town for the Alabama game, and he received a rousing Commonwealth Stadium ovation upon being introduced on the field between the first and second quarters. Brooks made the rounds to all his old Lexington stomping grounds during his time in town, but his time around the football team seems to have made the most lasting impression.
The former UK coach met with the current man at the helm of the program, the two hit it off and Brooks described some past experiences leading UK to help encourage the current group of Wildcats.
"I talked to Coach Brooks yesterday for a good while," Stoops said on Tuesday. "I really enjoyed it. That's the second time we got a chance to sit down and talk, and I love visiting with him and have a lot of respect for Coach Brooks and what he's done, and I want him to feel welcome and be around here. He came to practice today and I asked him to talk to the team for a little bit, and it was great. It was a great message."
As it turns out, the current 1-5 Wildcats are in a position similar to a team from relatively early in Brooks' tenure. In 2006, with Kentucky looking to be on track for a fourth losing seasons in a row a 49-0 loss to LSU made the Cats 3-4 on the year.
Brooks saw fit to tell the story of how those Wildcats picked themselves off the mat, and bounced back to salvage the season after a disappointing first half was capped by a big loss to a SEC power.
"I just think they need to know there are better things in the future, and that they're improving," Brooks said of his address to the players. "The improvement they've shown even since the start of the year fundamentally and competitively hasn't shown up in the won-loss column, but it could happen at any time."
Perhaps Brooks' words could spur somewhat of a reprisal in UK history.
The 2006 Wildcats had a bye off the big loss before traveling to Mississippi State, much like the 2013 edition of the team does now. Kentucky beat Mississippi State 34-31, and went on to win four straight and five of its last six games, which included a memorable win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
Brooks' message made an impression on UK coaches and players alike.
"I thought that was a good message," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I think we're probably in a little bit different situation as far as where we're at (with the) youth of our team. But I think obviously we got handily beat like they did and we've got an opportunity to bounce back and go down to Starkville and have a chance to turn our season around."
Senior members of the team like Mister Cobble and Avery Williamson, who are quite familiar with Brooks considering he was head coach when their recruitment process began, were also moved by the striking similarities between the two teams' plot.
"He reinforced the motivation not to give up on the season just because the first half didn't go the way it should have gone," Williamson, who leads the SEC in tackles, said. "We just have to keep grinding, and as leaders we have to keep the guys motivated. We need a confidence booster to keep everybody going because we still have a long six games to go."
For his part, Brooks very much enjoyed the ovation received from the Big Blue Nation during Saturday's game, and he, like much of the Big Blue Nation is excited about the program's direction under Stoops.
"It was nice to be recognized," Brooks said. "I'm hopeful that the program can get back and compete at the upper level of the SEC where they can be able to knock off teams like we were fortunate enough to do during my last three-year period there.
"I think (Stoops) is truly a professional. He and his staff are doing a good job of coaching fundamentals. They seem to be off to a great recruiting year for the incoming season so I think they will get the play-makers that they need to compete moving forward."
Brooks' comments were in line with what Stoops has been preaching to his team of late, and the message he will continue to hammer home over the next few days. While the UK coaching legend's speech to the team certainly provided much-needed positive reinforcement, Stoops knows his team's goals are only attainable through hard work.
Just ask Brooks, hard work was how the 2006 team achieved its success.
"That was good to hear, but I'm not getting that far ahead of myself; I'm worried about one," Stoops said of Brooks' story about the 2006 season. "I would just like to get one, but it was good to hear that. And I think that's where he started turning the program. It just clicked and it turned and they had some good success from there. So it was good to hear those stories and just visit with him."
For months, Kentucky has been referred to as the potential preseason No. 1 team in the country. On Thursday, it finally became official.
UK comes in at No. 1 in the preseason USA Today coaches poll
, receiving 16 of a possible 32 first-place votes to come in ahead of No. 2 Michigan State and No. 3 Louisville.
Though the ranking is hardly surprising, it's still historic. UK is the first team in the 22 years of the poll to go from unranked at the end of the previous season to ranked No. 1 at the start of the next. Coaches from around the country are clearly bullish on John Calipari's latest top-ranked recruiting class.
Also, this marks just the second time the Wildcats have been ranked No. 1 in the preseason. The only other time it happened was in 1995-96, when UK would go on to win its sixth national championship.
UK's ranking will be put to the test immediately, as the Cats will square off against the second-ranked Spartans on Nov. 12 in Chicago. Nonconference games at No. 11 North Carolina on Dec. 14 and in Rupp Arena against No. 3 Louisville on Dec. 28 also await UK. The only other ranked Southeastern Conference team is No. 8 Florida. UK will face the Gators twice in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Here's the complete top 25 with first-place votes in parentheses and UK regular-season opponents in italics:1. Kentucky (16)2. Michigan St. (3)3. Louisville (10)
4. Duke (3)
7. Syracuse8. Florida
10. Ohio St.11. North Carolina
12. Oklahoma St.
15. Virginia Commonwealth
16. Wichita St.
20. New Mexico
22. Notre Dame
25. VirginiaOthers Receiving VotesBaylor 102
; Colorado 93; Creighton 87; Iowa 86; Tennessee 73
; Georgetown 38; Harvard 28; Pittsburgh 23; California 16; Boise State 11; Saint Louis 8; La Salle 7; Temple 4; Missouri 4
; Villanova 4; Kansas State 3; LSU 2
; Iowa State 2; Arizona State 2; Illinois 2; Georgia 1
; UNLV 1.
On Wednesday, head coach John Calipari and sophomore Alex Poythress represented Kentucky men's basketball at Southeastern Conference Media Days. Here's video of their comments.
On Wednesday, head coach Matthew Mitchell and senior DeNesha Stallworth represented UK Hoops at Southeastern Conference Media Days. Here's video of their comments.
Head coach Mark Stoops
Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown
With his team in the middle of a bye week, Mark Stoops said on Tuesday Kentucky would hold a less physical Wednesday practice to give the banged-up Wildcats a chance to heal.
But when Stoops walked into the team meeting room to deliver a few pre-practice remarks, he found his players dressed in full pads with loud music blaring, eagerly anticipating an intense day of work.
As much as Stoops liked his team's approach -- particularly on the heels of a Tuesday practice during which UK was "a little bit down emotionally" -- he still opted to stick with his additional plan. Even so, he liked what he saw once the Cats hit the field.
"It was a more spirited practice today," Stoops said. "I thought we got some good work in. Guys enjoyed themselves. I thought we got better. Overall, it was pretty good."
It was a rainy Wednesday in Lexington, but not at the start of practice. Even as the rain picked up, however, UK got done what it needed to.
"It worked out pretty good today, really, because when we first went out there, there was nothing and then it was very light, then during our last 20 minutes it started coming down pretty heavy," Stoops said. "But that was pretty good for us to work in the rain and work a wet ball and all that. We still got the looks we needed."
Getting the "majority" of the snaps at quarterback was Maxwell Smith, who is stepping up in place of the injured Jalen Whitlow (ankle). Whitlow's status for next Thursday's game against Mississippi State is uncertain, so the Cats are preparing as if he will not be available.
Smith is not far removed from an injury of his own after leaving UK's game vs. Louisville early due to a shoulder injury. In spite of Smith's injury history, offensive coordinator Neal Brown says Smith is still capable of making all throws that will be required of him, so long as he remains sound mechanically.
"It's his lower body," Brown said. "He's not using his lower body, which causes him to lose velocity on those maybe hash(mark) to sideline throws. When he uses his body, he's got no issues whatsoever."
Smith understands that.
"It's been a focus to just make sure I keep a good base and use my lower body and throw the ball," Smith said. "Like he said, I know I can make any throw on the field."
Assuming Whitlow is unable to play, UK will have to select a backup between Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips. Multiple factors will go into the decision since Stoops and Brown would ideally like to redshirt both.
"It's gonna be determined by how hurt Jalen is for the backup," Stoops said. "If it's gonna be one game, we don't want either of those backup quarterbacks to play, because we'd like to redshirt both of them. But Patrick sacrificed a little more in that he's the sophomore and he wanted to take that redshirt, so I think we got to be conscious of that as well."
Regardless, the coaches know both Towles and Phillips will do what's asked of them without a second thought.
"We're just looking at the best option," Stoops said. "And either of the guys would do whatever we needed them to do. They've been very unselfish."
Freshman forward Julius Randle. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari knows a surefire way Julius Randle could terrorize the college basketball world from the moment he first sets foot on the floor. If Calipari would just send his 6-foot-9, 250-pound "alpha beast" into the post, he's certain Randle would dominate.
Because of that, you'd likely assume Coach Cal is sending his prized freshman forward into the paint in preseason practices where Randle can immediately capitalize on his size, strength and athleticism.
You'd be wrong.
"That's not preparing him for what's ahead for him," Calipari said at Tuesday's Media Day. "I could play him at seven feet and try to win college games, tell him, I'm really helping you, or I can make him play out on the floor like we did Patrick Patterson."
If not for Calipari's background with Patterson, the approach might seem crazy.
Four seasons ago, Patterson was the best returning player on Coach Cal's first Kentucky team, an All-Southeastern Conference performer who played strictly in the paint for most of his first two seasons. Bypassing the NBA Draft, Patterson opted to return to UK for his junior season and Calipari quickly went about shaping him into a versatile power forward.
His game expanded, the Wildcats thrived and Patterson became a lottery pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and now has a regular role with the Sacramento Kings thanks in large part due to a knockdown midrange game.
Now, Randle is going through a similar transition.
"We're changing how he plays," Calipari said. "So he's not as confident. He doesn't have the swagger that he had right now because we're changing you can't do it from seven feet. Now get out there and do it from the perimeter."
Randle -- the media's preseason SEC Player of the Year pick -- is accustomed to success. After returning from a fractured right foot that cost him most of his final high-school season, Randle averaged 32.5 points and 22.5 rebounds in leading Prestonwood Christian Academy to a state title. He was a McDonald's and Jordan Brand All-American and a top-five recruit according to every major outlet.
His background means the growing pains which he's now coping with are unfamiliar. Calipari says Randle is still a work in progress when it comes to decision-making and rebounding when he's so far from the hoop, but Randle isn't batting an eye.
"I came here because I trusted him, so I am going to do what he says," Randle said. "It can be difficult because you want to do things your own way, but from what I have learned so far in practice, if you keep working on it and working on it the way he teaches you to do it then it starts to work out and you start getting good at it."
So, what are practices now like for Randle?
"In workouts I pretty much work on everything from shooting the ball, shooting the ball off the dribble, coming to one-two stops, shooting floaters right- and left-handed," Randle said. "Just have to keep working on that stuff and be patient enough to know it will work out."
Randle's teammates say they have already noticed improvement in the big lefthander.
"He's shooting a lot better now," James Young said. "Very strong. He's using his right hand more. I've already seen him use it and he's getting better with it."
Randle's new role, however, isn't wholly unfamiliar. He would often flash ability away from basket and prided himself on being able to play all over the floor.
"It hasn't been a tough adjustment because in high school I played out there a lot, just basically being like a combo forward, a guy who could play inside and out," Randle said. "I think my trainers in high school, my mentor Jeff Webster (a former star at Oklahoma), and how they trained me in the past has kind of made it an easy adjustment because I've already had that training, but it's just taking it to the next level here."
Calipari is sure he will reach that next level, and it has a lot to do with Randle's work ethic. In fact, the only player Calipari can remember coaching that has matched Randle's work habits was Brandon Knight.
"I come in last night," Calipari said. "I'm in my office about 11, 10:30. He's in there shooting. This morning, I hear blup, blup, blup, and I look out my window in the morning, and he's got a full sweat going, and he's going to practice today."
With that willingness to work, imagine what Randle could do to opponents if he simply focused on playing inside. That's surely a tempting thought for Calipari, particularly as the season approaches, but he knows both Randle and the team will be best served by pushing his limits.
"If I'm about my players and I do right by their growth, we'll win our college games, make it simple for you," Calipari said.
Willie Cauley-Stein averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Willie Cauley-Stein emerged from the Joe Craft Center film room, saw the throng of Media Day reporters and turned back into the hallway.
It turns out Cauley-Stein needed to set something down and couldn't put it next to him with that many people surrounding him for an interview. A year ago, the move would have represented Cauley-Stein's apprehension about the idea of being a star.
Then, Cauley-Stein wasn't ready for the spotlight. He preferred to stay in the shadows as a supporting cast member. Let the other talented, more highly touted freshmen take center stage, he thought. He figured, as a lower-ranked, relatively unknown "project," he could come in, figure out his role on his time and blend in.
But that never quite happened.
Cauley-Stein's talent became apparent almost immediately, and with limited depth inside, he was thrust into a role he never truly expected to fill, at least not so soon. The media loved him for his openness and candid comments, and he teased fans with NBA lottery-type potential.
But once Nerlens Noel went down with his season-ending injury, Cauley-Stein not only became an important piece, he became the focal point inside, the big man on campus. Now, a season later, Cauley-Stein admits he not only struggled with being in the spotlight, he wasn't ready for the big time and everything that came with it.
"I didn't want to be a leader," Cauley-Stein said Tuesday and UK Media Day. "I was OK with being in the shadow and just doing me, being able to just do whatever and learn as I go."
Doing him was part of the evolution of Cauley-Stein in year one.
As a new face in a new place, Cauley-Stein was trying to get comfortable in his own skin. Here he was, a 7-foot kid from Kansas who dressed a little differently, acted a little differently, and didn't want to necessarily do and talk basketball all the time.
None of that's changed for Cauley-Stein - he's eclectic as ever, evidenced by his talk on Tuesday about surviving a possible zombie apocalypse (no, seriously) - but now he's more ready than ever to balance what makes him unique with the responsibilities of being a leader, being in the spotlight and everything center stage entails.
"It's fun to me being in the spotlight now that I know how to do it," Cauley-Stein said. "Not knowing how to do it is the worst battle. You've got to try to figure out how you're going to do that and if you're even ready to do it."
Cauley-Stein said he had no idea the effect his role as a basketball player had on this state and its fans when he came to college last year.
"Heard about it," Cauley-Stein said. "Didn't believe it until it actually happened. You definitely have to experience it to believe it. Telling somebody about it, they think you're exaggerating about it, but it's really like how people explain it."
The spotlight includes more than just what happens on the court.
Cauley-Stein said he didn't understand the impact he has on people as a Kentucky basketball player and the significance the program has in the eyes of its fans until going through the Big Blue Madness campout last year.
"Last year, in my opinion, I was like, 'It's just a scrimmage, why is this such a big deal?' " Cauley-Stein said. "And then you go out there and you're signing autographs and taking pictures and just talking to people ... that's when you realize. You see a different side of why they're camping out and why it's such a big deal. It's actually kind of heartwarming. It's kind of inspirational, too, because you don't know what other people are going through unless you really sit down and take a look at why are you camping out for this for a week."
As recently as Monday, Cauley-Stein was reminded of the magnitude of his role. Walking back from lunch, Cauley-Stein said a girl approached him, asked if he would take a picture with her and then started hyperventilating when he agreed.
"I was just like, 'It's OK, I'm just a regular person, I'll take a picture with you,' " Cauley-Stein said. "She was just like, 'Oh my god, I'm your biggest fan .' Like I swear she was about to pass out."
Those moments never bothered Cauley-Stein - he still seems flattered by them - but it was never a position Cauley-Stein truly understood until this year. To him, he was just Willie, a simple kid from Kansas trying to figure out this whole school and basketball thing like any other 18-year-old.
Now he understands he means more than that to a lot of people, and whether or not he's more than just a "regular person," he can either run into the shadows or embrace the spotlight.
Cauley-Stein said he's choosing the latter.
"I was like, 'Dang, I have that big of a toll on somebody.' That's heartwarming to know that by you just acknowledging somebody walking down the street that you can make their day," Cauley-Stein said. "It's kind of cool to have that ability."
UK men's basketball held its annual Media Day on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson have played a combined seven seasons at Kentucky, so they've gotten to know John Calipari well.
They've watched him mold young teams. They've heard "play fast, think slow" more times than they can count. They know what mistakes will throw Coach Cal into fits of rage. But perhaps more than anything else, the two seniors have come to realize that Calipari is constantly searching for new ways to motivate and teach, even though he's more than two decades into his head-coaching career.
That's why neither was surprised as Coach Cal has trotted out a new catchphrase early in preseason practices: Fail fast.
"That's something that I've never heard him say," Hood said.
"He always has new stuff every year," Polson said.
So, what does the latest Calipari-ism mean? Let the man himself fill you in.
"The thing that we're working on right now is failing fast," Calipari said on UK's annual Media Day. "Fail fast. In other words, try things, go, attack, so I can correct and you can figure out what's not going to work and work. We don't have seven months. We've got a brand-new team. Fail fast so we can work and move on, and they've been doing a pretty good job of that."
With a team featuring eight freshmen and two sophomores among 12 scholarship players, Calipari knows mistakes are inevitable. Based on that knowledge, he doesn't want the Wildcats paralyzed by a fear of failure.
"I definitely think that applies to us this year just because there are so many people and he's asking a lot of the freshmen to do things they've never done before," Polson said. "So obviously you're not going to do something and get it your first time. So he just wants to get all the failures out of the way, try to get them uncomfortable and I think that's going to help them in the long run."
But for a group of newcomers accustomed to success, embracing the notion that miscues are OK is not easy.
"You always want to win," Andrew Harrison said. "Failure's not really a good option."
In many ways, that approach has defined the careers of the UK freshmen to this point. They have won at the highest levels due in large part to their refuse-to-fail mentality. Marcus Lee, however, is the exception.
"When I was younger, I failed a lot," Lee said. "My teachers told me you had to fail to succeed. I actually didn't understand that when I was little and I started to understand it, so I knew that the more I failed the more I got to learn how to do it right, which is what we're all learning right now and what we're trying to figure out together."
Though the "fail fast" mantra may be new to Hood and Polson, they understand its meaning as well as Lee does. They intend to help their younger teammates get there too.
"I went 10-13 my senior year (in high school)," Hood said. "I was used to failure. But these freshmen aren't used to it. I'd be surprised if some of them had lost a game in high school unless they played each other. But we've got a bunch of guys that love to compete and love to win. That's what you want to start every team out with."Dunk disagreement
Coach Cal, asked whether he's been pleasantly surprised by any of his incoming freshmen, named Lee. With his athleticism and energy, the Antioch, Calif., native has been a revelation, even drawing comparisons to Dennis Rodman from his coach.
The other surprise, Calipari, said, has been Derek Willis. In fact, there was one specific play that caught his eye.
"So Derek Willis dunked on both Julius (Randle) and Dakari (Johnson), like both of them," Calipari said.
The two supposed victims aren't so sure.
"It was not (a dunk)," Johnson said. "It was a layup. A hard layup. He did not dunk on us."
What the parties involved do agree on was that Willis drove on Randle, Johnson came to help and the ball ended up in the basket with the rim rattling. Randle, however, doesn't agree that he or Johnson should have to suffer the humiliation of posing with the helmet that dunked-on players have to pose with at UK practices.
"It was a glorified layup," Randle said. "That's exactly what it was. It was a nice layup, but it was a glorified layup. And I made the basket. I blocked it into the rim."
Sensing defensiveness on the subject, Randle and Johnson's teammates were eager to egg on curious reporters.
"It was really a dunk," Andrew Harrison said. "It was top 10, definitely. SportsCenter."
The one person not interested in perpetuating the story was the man responsible for starting the whole thing.
"It's just a play," Willis said. "I just drove and went up and it was really about it. It's really not like that big of a deal. I'm not trying to act like it's something I do all the time, but it's just another play that happens."Calipari happy with NCAA officiating changes
This summer, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a change to the way controversial block/charge calls are made.
"Under the revised block/charge call in men's basketball, a defensive player is not permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has started his upward motion with the ball to attempt a field goal or pass," Greg Johnson wrote on NCAA.com in June
. "If the defensive player is not in legal guarding position by this time, it is a blocking foul. "
Coach Cal has been pushing for such a change since before he arrived at Kentucky. He's happy to hear of the news, as well as the NCAA's mandate that hand-check fouls be called more consistently.
"It's going to open the game up," Calipari said. "Here's what a press will be now: If you want to press and hold and bump, you're going to foul out your whole team, but you can track quick and try to steal the ball, but if you don't steal the ball, you've got to run back because, if you bump that driver, it is now a foul."
Calipari is now imparting that to his team.
"You drive the ball and you get your head and shoulders by the guy, and there's contact, where before they could sometimes say, well, the offense created it," Calipari said. "No, the rule states, you get your head and shoulders by the guy and there's contact, that's a foul on the defense. It's the new rules."Cauley-Stein returns to practice
A little more than two weeks ago, Willie Cauley-Stein suffered a hand injury that kept him out of UK's first few practices. But on Monday, the sophomore 7-footer returned to the floor.
Cauley-Stein is still feeling lingering effects of the laceration -- which required 18 stitches -- but is happy to be back.
"It still hurts quite a bit, but it's not that much of a bother," Cauley-Stein said. "I kind of forget about it when I'm playing until I hit it against something and realize that it still hurts. Other than that, it's not that big of a deal."
John Calipari spoke to reporters at UK's annual Media Day on Tuesday afternoon. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The question everyone wants to hear answered was being tossed at John Calipari in all different forms.
Just how excited are you for this team compared to where you were a year ago? Does this team have a shot to go 40-0? Should this team be No. 1?
Like a 747 jetting through a rainstorm, Calipari seamlessly deflected the questions.
So, finally, a reporter came out and just said it. He asked, "Independent of experience, is this the most talented team you've had?" (It was as close as anyone was going to get to, "Hey, Coach Cal, is your team every bit as good as everyone is making it out to be?")
And for the first time - and really the only time during his 45-minute Media Day news conference - Calipari was at a loss for words. He paused, thought about saying something, and then paused again.
The silence said it all.
Coach Cal went on to talk about how talented his first Kentucky team was with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, the 2012 title team, and even the 2011 Final Four team that no one thought could make a Final Four. But everyone already knew what Calipari was thinking: Yes this team is good, and he knows it.
"I will tell you," Calipari conceded, "this team is deeper than that (2010) team. We have a couple more (players) that we didn't have."
Calipari, understandably, said he would like for the season to play out a little bit before passing judgment on the merits of this group, but he also couldn't disguise his faith in this team. He certainly hasn't been able to in tweets this past week that have raved about the quality of practice, the surprising play of James Young and the attitude of the players.
All together now: "You won't believe this," Calipari said, "I like my team."
But that statement, perhaps, has never been truer than it is now.
There's the No. 1 recruiting class that features six McDonald's All-Americans. There's All-Southeastern Conference returners in Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, both projected NBA first-round draft picks. There's the veteran leadership of Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson.
Mix those in the fire burning from last year's disappointment and there seems to be a realistic possibility that this Kentucky team could come back stronger than ever. Preseason talk certainly has some of college basketball worried that UK could be starting a wildfire that no one will be able to contain.
"I can't even speak from experience because I've never played a college game," said freshman forward Julius Randle, the anointed leader of the über-talented freshman class. "I just know who we have here. It seems like we have a really good team, but Nov. 8 - I think that's our first game - we'll be able to go out there and see what we're really made of."
If the reports from preseason practice are any indication, this team is championship quality.
For one, Calipari is surprised at how good some of his newcomers are. He didn't realize Marcus Lee was athletic as he's been showing when grabs lob passes above the square (Hood said he could grab a quarter off the top of the backboard if he had to). He didn't know Derek Willis could shoot the ball as well as he has. He knew Young was one of the best players in this freshman class, but he was just as shocked as everyone else when NBA scouts came to practice earlier this week and talked about him more than anyone else.
"Really, everybody on the team is good," Poythress said. "Each and every practice you might have a different best player."
And that's where the potential scariness of this team comes in. There's the depth. The improvement of Hood and Polson. The extra practice time this year. The competition. The motivation to right last year's wrongs.
It all has the makings of a special year. The question is, can talent trump inexperience like it did in 2012, or will inexperience jumble the puzzle pieces? Calipari isn't sure if his 2012 team was the exception to the rule or the start of a new trend.
"We had good players, but more importantly, we were the best team (that year)," he said. "We were the most efficient team in the country. We were the best defensive team in the country. They were a great team. We had really good players, but we were a great team."
Does this have the potential to be a great team?
"I don't know," Calipari said. "We've had 10 practices. Today will be our 11th practice. Could we become that? If we choose to."
Calipari has led five previous teams to No. 1 rankings, but he said it's too early to tell if this one will be worthy of the top preseason ranking it is in the discussion for right now.
"Those players have got to come together," Calipari said. "They've got to share. They've got to be good defensively. They've got to be efficient offensively. And my best teams have been that way. We're not near that yet, but the team has a chance."
If there is a potential pothole that Coach Cal fears this early in the season, it is certainly that inexperience factor. Calipari wonders how his team will fare when it gets up on teams and worries that his young guys will put it in cruise control.
"Will they bury them, or do they go show time?" Calipari said. "Do they let up off the gas? If you ask me right now, that will be our Achilles heel early. We'll let up off the gas. We'll have it going good and then back up because that's what they've done their whole lives, and they're 18 years old."
Calipari said sometimes you've got to get "dinged" to be great, a la the 2012 title team when it lost at Indiana, but that would obviously put the 40-0 talk on the shelf.
The talk of perfection isn't something Coach Cal is shying away from - he repeated on Tuesday that he would like to coach a 40-0 team before he retires - but it's also not an end-all goal.
"We don't talk about it as a team," Calipari said. "I mean, it's not like, 'Oh, we're going 40-0.' We don't. The way we do this is a process. .. You may not go 40-0, but you're doing special things."
And special is all Calipari is focusing on right now.
He may not want to come right out and say it, but all signs point to the makings of something special. His silence showed it, his comments about practice have hinted at it and even his players have noticed it.
"You can tell that he's really positive about this year," Polson said. "He's said we've done a really good job in practice. He does have a little extra step this year. He knows the talent but also the competitiveness. I think it's definitely good."
But nobody can blame Calipari for not wanting to come right out and say how good this team is. The polls may place his team at No. 1 and the individual accolades of his players can back it up, but Calipari wants to give it time before declaring just how good this group is.
After all, it isn't even Big Blue Madness yet.
"Let them get on the court," Calipari said. "We've got tough games early. We've got one of the best schedules in the country. We've got one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. So it will be interesting."
Head coach Mark Stoops
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
Mark Stoops gave his players an extra day off, adding Monday to the usual Sunday away from practice, following the team's loss to Alabama last Saturday.
Coming off a tough result - with a game against the top-ranked, two-time defending national champions concluding a brutal stretch of four straight games with top-20 opponents - conventional wisdom would dictate the Wildcats were chomping at the bit to get back on the field.
Yet, Kentucky has an open date on Saturday, meaning 12 days will pass before UK faces its next opponent on Thursday, Oct. 24 at Mississippi State. Faced with the prospect of a long and relatively uneventful buildup to the next game, the full practice week got under way on Tuesday, and the afternoon workout started a little slower than the coaches had expected.
Stoops and his staff took matters into their own hands, and injected some energy into the team themselves upon sensing the practice's sluggish start.
"Just an OK practice today," Stoops said. "I thought we were a little bit down here emotionally; physically, still beat up a little bit. Emotionally, maybe down a little bit. So just an average day. I thought we got ahead and started working a little bit on Mississippi State. That was good, get some looks for the coaches, get the players getting a little bit of an early start on Mississippi State, but I think we've still got a little work to do physically and emotionally getting back, getting our energy level back up again.
"Yesterday we came in and watched the tape, and we didn't practice. Today is the first practice out and they're not used to two days off. It just took a little while to get going. The energy wasn't what I would like it to be. We will gear that up as we get going here."
Having to provide energy to their younger players posed a challenge for the coaches, but the UK staff took the obstacle in its stride. After all, UK coaches "attack every day" with the same enthusiasm.
"We just tried to motivate them, try to create the energy out there for them," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Coaching college football can be hard in a lot of ways, but you just keep plugging and just keep coming to work every day. You take the same approach that the players do, that you've got to get better every day as well. You just wake up in the morning and go to work, take it on with the right attitude."
"With ankles I hate to say that because things change with ankles," Stoops said. "People respond differently. I'll give you a little nugget every three or four days on that because that's what I think will be an indicator on that."
Stoops did confirm that while he will only give status updates on Jalen Whitlow's left ankle once every three or four days, the team will go into Mississippi State preparations as if the quarterback will be unavailable, at least for the time being.
"Not much different," Stoops said of Whitlow's status after confirming he thought the sophomore would be out for a few weeks on his weekly radio show Monday. "(With) those types of injuries we will know things about every three days or so. I'll give you a little bit update on it.
"I hate to say that because things change with ankles. People respond differently. I'll give you a little nugget every three or four days on that because that's what I think will be an indicator."
The injury news was a little better on the defensive side of the ball as junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree returned to practice on Tuesday. While the Preseason All-SEC selection isn't quite back to full-strength, his coordinator was encouraged by the progress of returning to the practice field.
"Bud got some reps, did some things," Eliot said. "He's moving around ... It's good to see him out there at practice, moving around. It's nice to have him out there."
In lieu of an unconventional schedule considering UK's next game is on a Thursday with 12 days between games instead of the traditional six on a normal week - or the typical bye week's 13 - Stoops laid out how his team will approach preparations for a trip to Mississippi State.
"We have to get back and be ready to go. That's our job this week. It's kind of in between a full off week and not. As you know, we play on Thursday so it's a little different than a complete bye week. We will be out here practicing this weekend."
And despite completing the toughest four-game stretch in school history Stoops isn't letting his team think they'll have any easier time next Thursday against another strong Southeastern Conference opponent.
"You watch this league and you go see Mississippi State, there's no drop off there," Stoops said. "That's a big, long, physical, good football team, and they are chomping at the bit to get a win too. For us we just have to worry about ourselves."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 13:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Senior Whitney Billings registered her 38th career double-double with an 18-kill, 10 dig performance in a 3-0 sweep at South Carolina. Billings was UK's top threat with the 18 kills on a blistering .484 hitting percentage, while adding the 10 scoops. The 18 hammers marked a career-high in a three-set match. Even more impressive with Billings' play against South Carolina was that it was in response to a blatant effort by No. 2 Florida to slow the right side hitter down in the top-15 showdown. Billings managed five kills (one shy of a team high), but was one of only two players to record double-figure digs with the 10 scoops against the Gators.
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Arin Gilliland scored three goals in Friday night's 4-1 win over Tennessee, collecting her first-career hat trick. Gilliland scored all three goals in the run of play, with the tallies coming in the 8th, 25th and 40th minutes. The MAC Herrmann Award finalist now has seven goals and eight assists on the season, and has scored multiple times in two games this season.
Women's soccer: Caitlin Landis
Senior Caitlin Landis had her best game of the season, scoring a goal and assisting on two other goals, both to Arin Gilliland. Landis' goal was the game-winning goal, which was her first of the 2013 season, and sixth in her career.
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Sophomore Jackie Napper led the defensive effort for the Wildcats in a 1-1 week. Napper logged 28 digs for an average of 4.67 for the week, well above her season average of 3.88. She's eclipsed the 10-dig plateau in 12 of her last 13 matches to lead the Cats. She also contributed four assists on the week continuing to be a strong presence in the offensive game as well.
NASHVILLE TO HOST SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE MEN'S & WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENTS FOR 12 CONSECUTIVE YEARS
-Music City Designated as Primary Site for Men's TournamentNASHVILLE, Tenn.
- The Southeastern Conference has entered into an agreement with the Nashville Sports Council to play its men's or women's basketball tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., each year for 12 consecutive years beginning in 2015, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive announced Tuesday.
The Music City will serve as host to the men's tournament nine times between 2015 and 2026 and the women's event will be played three times during that period.
At the SEC Springs Meetings in Destin in May, the league's athletic directors voted to select a primary site at which most SEC men's basketball tournaments would be played in future years. With this agreement, the SEC has officially designated Nashville as its primary site for the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament.
"Nashville has long been a valued partner of the Southeastern Conference and we are pleased to establish this long-term agreement that will benefit our men's and women's basketball tournaments," Slive said. "Nashville, as a proven host, provides SEC teams and fans with a wonderful experience."
Under the terms of the new agreement, the men's tournament will be played in Nashville every year from 2015 to 2025 with the exception of 2018 and 2022. The women's tournament will be played there in 2018, 2022 and 2026.
The agreement to play the men's tournament in Nashville in 2015, 2016 and 2019 was previously announced.
"The entire Nashville community is honored to be named as the host city for the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament and have the opportunity to continue to host the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament during the next 12 years," said Scott Ramsey, President & CEO, Nashville Sports Council. "We appreciate the opportunity to work with the SEC and ESPN to create a showcase event for SEC basketball teams, coaches and fans."
Bridgestone Arena opened in 1996 and has hosted SEC basketball tournaments on nine occasions. The SEC Men's Basketball Tournament was played there in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2013, while the SEC Women's Tournament was held there in 2002, 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012. The facility is Nashville's No. 1 venue for large-scale musical productions, as well as one of the nation's most highly acclaimed entertainment and sports venues.
Nashville was also the site of the men's tournament in 1984 and 1991 when it was played at Memorial Gymnasium on the Vanderbilt campus.Future SEC Basketball Tournaments at Nashville Bridgestone Arena
2015 Men's Tournament
2016 Men's Tournament
2017 Men's Tournament
2018 Women's Tournament
2019 Men's Tournament
2020 Men's Tournament
2021 Men's Tournament
2022 Women's Tournament
2023 Men's Tournament
2024 Men's Tournament
2025 Men's Tournament
2026 Women's TournamentVia SECDigitalNetwork.com
- The University of Kentucky football team completed the toughest four-game stretch in school history
over the weekend with a 48-7 loss to No. 1-ranked Alabama at Commonwealth Stadium. It was the
fourth straight game UK has played a top-20 ranked opponent.
- The Kentucky defense had a strong first quarter, forcing and recovering two fumbles while holding Alabama scoreless in the opening quarter of a game for the first time all season.
- The UK offense put together a scoring drive in the third quarter on when quarterback Maxwell Smith connected with wide receiver Javess Blue for a 30-yard touchdown pass. The touchdown was the first given up by the Alabama defense since week two vs. Texas A&M.
- The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game home week in the midst of its season-long,
three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon. Kentucky suffered a non-conference loss to Evansville, 2-1, on Tuesday, before posting a shutout in a scoreless draw with South Carolina on Sunday.
- Kentucky (3-6-1, 1-1-1 Conference USA) will return to action on Wednesday, taking on Valparaiso at the UK Soccer Complex at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will then hit the road to take on Charlotte on Saturday.
- The Wildcats have netted 11 goals in 10 games to open 2013, surrendering 13 goals and owning staggering advantages in shots (176-88) and corner kicks (75-37).
- UK has been led offensively by senior Brad Doliner, who has four goals and one assist. Sophomore Isak Krogstad has three goals and two assists, with freshmen Napo Matsoso, Charlie Reymann and Kaelon Fox each sporting a goal and an assist. Senior Tyler Riggs has a goal, with Justin Laird and Sam Miller each notching two assists.
- In goal for UK, sophomore Callum Irving has made seven starts with a 1.09 goals-against average, owning three clean sheets with 13 save. Senior Jack Van Arsdale has a 1.67 goals-against average, saving four shots in three games.
- In UK's game with South Carolina on Sunday, UK mounted a steady attack throughout the game that saw a 28-11 advantage in shots, with the Gamecocks getting outshout 11-1 in the overtime periods. In the 2-1 loss to Evansville, UK got the first goal of the year from Tyler Riggs as part of a furious secondhalf rally that saw UK outshoot the Purple Aces 18-3.
- The UK women's soccer team moved to 11-2-1, 5-1-0 SEC on Friday night with a 4-1 win over the Tennessee Lady Vols. The Wildcats got three goals from junior Arin Gilliland, and a goal from senior Caitlin Landis, all in the first half, to lift Kentucky to the 4-1 win.
- Arin Gilliland scored three goals in Friday night's 4-1 win over Tennessee, collecting her first-career hat trick. Gilliland scored all three goals in the run of play, with the tallies coming in the 8th, 25th and 40th minutes. The MAC Herrmann Award finalist now has seven goals and eight assists on the season, and has scored multiple times in two games this season.
- Senior Caitlin Landis had her best game of the season, scoring a goal and assisting on two other goals, both to Arin Gilliland. Landis' goal was the game-winning goal, which was her first of the 2013 season, and sixth in her career.
- Kentucky next takes to the pitch on Friday night at Florida. The match will be televised on Fox Sports South, with kickoff slated for 6:30 p.m. ET live from Gainesville. The Wildcats then travel to Alabama for a 2 p.m. contest against the Crimson Tide on Sunday.
Swimming and diving
- On the strength of victories in all four diving competitions, the University of Kentucky swimming and diving team won nine events, but lost its home opener to Ohio State Friday in front of a capacity crowd at the Lancaster Aquatics Center. The UK men lost 176-122, while the women fell to OSU by a 195-
104 margin. The meet marked the home debut for first-year head coach Lars Jorgensen.
- Senior Greg Ferrucci and junior Christa Cabot both swept the diving events, with top scores in the 1- and 3-meter springboard competitions. Ferrucci has won all four diving events he has competed in to open the season, while Cabot has claimed victories in three of her four events.
- Junior Christina Bechtel also posted two wins, in the women's 100 and 200 yard butterfly. Senior Maclin Simpson notched a first-place finish in the men's 200 yard butterfly for his second win of the season. Eric Bruck and Lucas Gerotto, both seniors, rounded out UK's victories with wins in the men's 50 freestyle and the men's 100 yard butterfly, respectively.
- In addition to one-two finishes in three events, the Wildcats notched second-place finishes in six additional competitions. Three of UK's runner-up totals were from freshman.
- UK returns to the road Oct. 24 and 25 when it travels to Carbondale, Ill., to face Southern Illinois and fellow SEC foe Missouri. The competition will get underway at 5 p.m. ET on Oct. 24 and resume at 10 a.m. on the 25th.
- The Kentucky volleyball team went 1-1 on the road this week with a 3-0 loss at No. 2 Florida Friday and a 3-0 win at South Carolina Sunday.
- In the sweep of the Gamecocks, senior Whitney Billings logged a career-high 18 kills in a three-set match on a .484 hitting percentage to lead the way for the Cats. She also logged her 38th career double-double with a 10-dig performance as well. UK had three players register five or more blocks including six from senior Alexandra Morgan.
- Junior libero Jackie Napper had 15 digs against the Gators and followed that with 13 against the Gamecocks. Her 4.67 digs per set led the team.
- Kentucky will enjoy a 10-day break from action before returning to the floor on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at
Georgia. That match will air live on ESPNU at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Monday, Oct. 14
Men's golf at Autotrader.com Collegiate Classic - All Day (Duluth, Ga.)
Tuesday, Oct. 15
Men's golf at Autotrader.com Collegiate Classic - All Day (Duluth, Ga.)
Wednesday, Oct. 16
Men's soccer vs. Valparaiso - 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 18
Women's Soccer at Florida - 6:30 p.m.
Women's Tennis at ITA Regionals - All Day (Memphis, Tenn.)
Saturday, Oct. 19
Rifle vs. Ole Miss - 8 a.m.
Men's Soccer at Charlotte - 7 p.m.
Women's Tennis at ITA Regionals - All Day (Memphis, Tenn.)
Cross Country at Pre-NCAA Invitational - TBA (Terre Haute, Ind.)
Sunday, Oct. 20
Women's Soccer at Alabama - 2 p.m.
Women's Tennis at ITA Regionals - All Day (Memphis, Tenn.)
A record 651 ladies spent their Sundays in Memorial Coliseum to get an up-close look at John Calipari's program. Some even lined up early, but all enjoyed an evening full of events with the team and the practice they got to watch. See what the Women's Clinic was like in the video below.
Overall Record: 3-6-1, 1-1-1 C-USA
Record Last Week: 0-1-1, 0-0-1 C-USARecent Results
Tuesday, Oct. 8 - lost vs. Evansville, 1-2 | RECAP
Sunday, Oct. 13 - tied vs. South Carolina, 0-0 | RECAPUpcoming Schedule (times Eastern)
Wednesday, Oct. 16 - vs. Valparaiso - 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 19 - at Charlotte - 7 p.m.TEAM NOTES
The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game home week in the midst of its season-long, three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon. Kentucky suffered a non-conference loss to Evansville, 2-1, on Tuesday, before posting a shutout in a scoreless draw with South Carolina on Sunday.
Kentucky (3-6-1, 1-1-1 Conference USA) will return to action on Wednesday, taking on Valparaiso at the UK Soccer Complex at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will then hit the road to take on Charlotte on Saturday.
The Wildcats have netted 11 goals in 10 games to open 2013, surrendering 13 goals and owning staggering advantages in shots (176-88) and corner kicks (75-37).
UK has been led offensively by senior Brad Doliner, who has four goals and one assist. Sophomore Isak Krogstad has three goals and two assists, with freshmen Napo Matsoso, Charlie Reymann and Kaelon Fox each sporting a goal and an assist. Senior Tyler Riggs has a goal, with Justin Laird and Sam Miller each notching two assists.
In goal for UK, sophomore Callum Irving has made seven starts with a 1.09 goals-against average, owning three clean sheets with 13 save. Senior Jack Van Arsdale has a 1.67 goals-against average, saving four shots in three games.
In UK's game with South Carolina on Sunday, UK mounted a steady attack throughout the game that saw a 28-11 advantage in shots, with the Gamecocks getting outshout 11-1 in the overtime periods. In the 2-1 loss to Evansville, UK got the first goal of the year from Tyler Riggs as part of a furious second-half rally that saw UK outshoot the Purple Aces 18-3.
Maxwell Smith completed 7-of-16 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in UK's 48-7 loss to Alabama on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the first time all season, Mark Stoops stepped to the podium for his postgame press conference dissatisfied with his team's effort.
The execution had not always been there, but Stoops had not found himself questioning his team's fight until after Kentucky fell to Alabama, 48-7. Of course, a lot of that had to do with facing a team that has won three of the last four national championships.
"Disappointing night," Stoops said. "I thought we'd compete a little bit harder than that, but give credit to them. Like I said, that's the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason. I was really impressed with them, just like you watch them on tape."
Even as UK played its way to a scoreless tie at the end of the first quarter, Stoops felt like his team was overmatched. The Wildcats forced a pair of Alabama fumbles with the Crimson Tide driving into the red zone, but UK was unable to capitalize.
"They drove it down there, and we'd get the turnover, and they kept us back there, playing great defense," Stoops said. "Even though we got a couple of turnovers, we were still behind the eight ball most of the night and chasing it. It was an uphill climb."
The statistics show just how uphill the climb was. UK (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) was outgained 668-170, its offense hurt by a sprained ankle suffered by Jalen Whitlow. Maxwell Smith stepped in at quarterback, but was unable to find a rhythm. Smith prepared as well as he could in a backup role in case his number was called, but he faced a tall order.
"It hurt in a sense that Jalen, we gave him a bunch of reps," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We gave him the starter's reps this week and Maxwell didn't get as many as he had been. And then we had a lot of quarterback run game in the game plan, so it took us a couple series to get a plan together because we were going to use the quarterback run game and use some of that as a decoy also."
Between facing a team loaded with future professionals and injuries to a number of key players, UK could make all kinds of excuses. Stoops, however, isn't interested.
"We've got to hold ourselves to a higher standard," Stoops said. "We've got to coach better. We've got to play better. That's not acceptable no matter who we're playing. We know how good Alabama is, but we could do some things better."
Brown feels the same way.
"Our production is unacceptable," Brown said. "Obviously not used to it. We will use this bye week and we will be significantly better."
After an "unacceptable" performance, pursuing improvement is the only rational response.
With a brutal four-game stretch against top-20 teams now in the rearview mirror, UK is halfway through the 2013 season. The Cats have 12 days to prepare for a Thursday-night trip to Mississippi State and take inventory of the progress they've made to this point, which is far from negligible.
Save for a third-quarter touchdown drive -- the first allowed by Alabama in nearly a month -- positives from Saturday night are hard to come by, but that's not the case for the other five games from the first half of the season. The Cats went toe to toe with some of the nation's best teams and refused to back down.
"We got half the season left, so I think you look at it and say, 'Hey, here's what we did. Here's where we're at. Our record's obviously not where we want, but here's where we're at. This is where we have improvement,' " Brown said. "And trust me, we have drastic improvement that needs to be made. And then you treat it like a new season from here on out."
Stoops and Brown may have coached together for less than a season, but you wouldn't know it from the way they echo one another.
"We'll clean up our mistakes, and we will compete for the second half of this season," Stoops said. "I expect our players to bounce back and prepare the right way and play hard."
The record being what it is, concern over the Cats' ability to remain tuned in is reasonable, but UK's senior leader isn't worried.
"I feel like these games are winnable and we can still become bowl eligible," said Avery Williamson, who had a game-high 13 tackles. "We gotta win five games to be bowl eligible and we just gotta really grind and dig and try to get some wins."
For both UK's mental and physical health, the timing of the bye week could be ideal. Injured players have extra time to heal and coaches can hone in on making sure players' psyches are where they need to be.
"We have this bye week like we have been talking about," Smith said. "Guys will get healthy, we are going to keep practicing and keep getting better. Those guys are going to get healthy. We are going to be all right. We are going to come through this thing."
Williamson knows the message he'll be delivering.
"You've just gotta tell yourself that we can win," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "That's the biggest thing. You've gotta tell yourself that we can win. And you can't focus on the negative. We just gotta move on from it."
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
Quarterback Maxwell Smith
Linebacker Avery Williamson
At one point this offseason while Edrick Floreal was interviewing candidates to take over as men's distance coach, one of the team's top runners - Matt Hillenbrand - was calling his head coach every other day to see how the search was going.
"For a while there I was thinking, 'At least he wasn't calling me every day,' but then I found out the days he wasn't calling me he was talking to women's distance coach Hakon DeVries about the search," Floreal said. "But it shows just how much he cares about our program. You want to have people who are invested in the program.
"I'm glad we hired Coach Sean Graham to work directly with our men's distance runners because now Matt can blow up Graham's phone instead of mine. I admired that Matt takes ownership of our program because we are trying to build something where we talk about our team, not my or your team."
Hillenbrand's hands-on approach very much embodies the commitment Floreal and his staff asked of the team upon arriving in Lexington late in the summer of 2012. Some Wildcats showed results right away, while others, like Hillenbrand, took time to perform up to their abilities.
UK vs. Alabama football game programs are available inside Commonwealth Stadium.
Floreal's team had to buy in. Such was the first message Floreal delivered to the Wildcats upon meeting them. Some just took longer to do so than others.
At the forefront of buying in, and as such experiencing stellar results, was Cally Macumber. The women's distance standout embraced a new training plan under DeVries, she began running times she had never ever considered when setting goals before the season and eventually she won the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Southeast Region Championships before continuing a great year in track.
"Starting out as a freshman in college, who couldn't break five minutes in the mile and couldn't run under 2:17 in the 800, I definitely would not have thought that things would have progressed the way they did," Macumber said. "Going into college you really have no idea what to expect, but each year your standards and goals change and mine definitely changed for the better last year. Coming into last cross country season with an entirely new coaching staff and an entirely new training plan there was an adjustment period. However, once we all got the hang of things I started to feel better and stronger than I ever had - we all did."
Hillenbrand too, saw improved results, but they didn't come as quickly as they did for Macumber. Instead he experienced a great deal of trial and error before seeing the desired results.
"Some people on the team got a grasp of everything and made a quick turnaround and that's really what you want," Floreal said. "With some people it took a little bit. We tried a few things with Matt, including some longer distances and a little bit of steeplechase. Having a guy that will try everything to get to the next level is they type of person you want.
"Later in the season he really turned things around when he decided to showcase how talented he was. He helped the team in numerous ways. It's credit to his work ethic, and his belief in the process."
Hillenbrand was a middle-of-the pack finisher for most of the 2012 cross country season, and those types of results continued into the 2013 indoor track season. All throughout, he was experimenting at different distances while adjusting to a higher-volume training regimen under the new coaching staff.
The work began to pay dividends at the Indoor SEC Championships. In the Mile Final, Hillenbrand surged on the last straightaway of Arkansas' 200-meter track to knock off the defending conference champion from the powerhouse hosts, and claim a photo-finish SEC title. The win was the first in a string of strong results, which culminated in outdoor All-America status. More broadly the win meant a realization that goals which may have seemed impossible when initially proposed by the new coaches months earlier were in fact within grasp.
Hillenbrand's success continued into the outdoor season when he qualified for the NCAA Championships for the first time in his career, where he was named an All-American at 1,600 meters.
Macumber and Hillenbrand have continued to progress into the early stages of the 2013 cross country season. The two are part of a small group of Wildcats that have experienced success in the first year and change under Floreal's leadership.
More is expected from more people. Additional numbers are needed to reach Floreal's ultimate goals for a program which encompasses six sports: men's and women's cross country, men's and women's indoor track and field and men's and women's outdoor track and field.
Floreal's first recruiting class made up of 49 athletes - with 55 individual high school state titles, 17 college All-America honors and 16 college conference titles (from college transfers) divided among the class - says as much.
"I would probably define our team as 'under construction,' " Floreal said. "We spent most of our time developing our top-runners and integrating our freshmen. We continue to test the foundation of the house we have spent the last few months building."
Mike Tyson once said: "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." The former heavyweight champion's words often hold true in the world of Southeastern Conference soccer.
Jon Lipsitz spends a great deal of time analyzing video with his staff, breaking it down and showing it to the UK women's soccer team as part of devising a game plan.
Still, sometimes the opponent executes its own game plan a little better. They hit you before you can get to them and once you're down you can't recover.
Kentucky's 3-0 home-loss to Arkansas three weeks ago was a notable case of an opponent preventing UK from settling into its ideal style.
Since the loss two Fridays ago, UK has drawn first blood three straight times. Friday's 4-1 victory over Tennessee -- in which the Wildcats scored twice inside the first 15 minutes for the second time in as many matches -- was no exception.
Kentucky scored early and often, figuratively hitting Tennessee in the mouth, and the Lady Volunteers were unable to adjust, let alone recover.
"We had a very tactical week in training," Lipsitz said. "We got way ahead last week on film because there was only one game this week so we could focus a lot more on it, and I thought that helped us a lot. As I have said all year when the coaches get to give the players a game plan and they work so hard to meet that plan we can show how special we can be.
"Tennessee is a great team. We caught them early, and that was obviously the start we were looking for being back home. It's just a lot of hard work. You don't know from day to day if a shot is going to go in or not go in. What we can control is how hard we work. I thought we worked hard tonight."
Lipsitz's plan required some of his defenders to play major roles in attack. After picking up some of Tennessee's tendencies in film study, the UK coach knew he had advantage on the flanks with his wide backs getting forward.
Indeed both Kelly Hubly on the right and Cara Ledman on the left played in forward positions throughout the first half, with a cross from the latter leading to the opening goal.
Lipsitz's plan was certainly aided by having two talented fullbacks, who have spent most of their careers as forwards. As such, they are more skilled than the typical college defender.
Hubly had the second-most goals on the team last season as a freshman, and Ledman is no slouch as an attacking player herself. Lipsitz has described the converted left back as the team's most talented finisher inside the 18-yard box, a bold statement considering she plays on the back line.
"One of the things that is difficult about playing Tennessee is they have great movement between their midfielders and their backs interchanging positions," Lipsitz said. "We actually said what might end up happening is we may have to track their backs into our back line, but then our wide backs would get to take off. We worked a lot this week on our wide backs setting the play instead of our wide forwards. It obviously is an advantage having two forwards at wide back in a game where they get to go forward like they did."
UK went into the Tennessee game with an aggressive plan, but such tactics require a great deal of confidence and fearless attitudes. Such qualities are central to Lipsitz's most trusted on-field leader: Arin Gilliland.
The junior captain certainly repaid her coach's trust as she enjoyed her first-career hat trick, but her third goal was what best exemplified the aggressiveness Lipsitz has be preaching.
After receiving the ball with space in midfield ahead of the rest of her teammates, Gilliland decided to run on the ball straight toward goal. Electing to take on the defenders, she used her speed to get by three Lady Volunteers.
All three defenders attempted to knock Gilliland off the ball, and all three seemed to bounce off as the Lexington product found herself one on one with the goal keeper before she calmly slotted the ball home.
"Jon has talked about being more aggressive and having a fire when attacking," Gilliland said. "He started telling us that before the Vanderbilt game. When I saw three players coming through with all the space behind I thought I would take a touch, run through them because I am either going to get out into space or they will foul me and I'm going to get a penalty kick. I definitely think practicing that definitely worked and I hate to say it, but Jon's practice did work."
With all due respect to the rest of the Wildcats, Gilliland is the team's most talented player. But she's also the hardest worker, and she's always looking to improve. She has certainly improved her physicality in recent months, her second goal showed as much.
"I actually watched a game from last year this week because only preparing for one team allows you a little extra time," Lipsitz said. "I watched in order to evaluate how our individuals were developing. One of the things that was pretty stunning on the film was to see how different Arin is as a complete player than she was a year ago. Her ability to handle physical play without having it get under her skin is a huge part of that."
Gilliland would also reluctantly, but jokingly, admit -- because it would require crediting her coach -- that she was the beneficiary.
Lipsitz's initial tactical decision as UK's second goal came on a glancing header -- which she barely made contact with, redirecting the ball just enough to put the goalkeeper out of position -- from a cross made deep into the box, very close to goal. The Wildcats worked on such balls all week after too many crosses were too far from the goal in weeks past.
Like so many other training-pitch exercises from the previous week, the work paid off.
Even up 4-0 at half, Lipsitz still had helpful hints to give his players. After all, he couldn't let all the knowledge gained from hours spent in the film room go to waste just because his team had scored four times in one half.
"If you looked at Tennessee's stats they have now scored 12 goals in the second half and they've allowed one," Lipsitz said. "We knew they were going to come out in the second half. Obviously they are very well coached. We knew they were going to make adjustments so the key for us was to stay calm. Did we want to give up a goal? Well heck no. Did we want to score more? Absolutely, but the key was to stay calm. We had done the work so we just had to keep possessing the ball. We say all the time the best way to kill a clock is to have the ball."
Such a stat may have seemed miniscule amongst the broader themes of such a lopsided win, but his players' response illustrated the clear lines of communication, which have allowed UK to win 10 of its last 11 games.
Without prompting, Gilliland referenced Lipsitz's halftime message after the game.
"Jon put up a statistic on the board at halftime saying Tennessee has 11 second-half goals, and just one in the first half this season," Gilliland said. "We knew coming into the second half that they were going to be impressive from the start. At first we struggled because they were so aggressive out of the locker room. We got the restart under our belt, got a feel for it and handled it."
And yet, as perfectly as UK executed the game plan on Friday night, scoring four goals in the first half of an SEC game still came as a bit of a surprise.
"Any time we score four goals on a fantastic team of course it's a huge surprise," Lipsitz said. "There's a part of me that expects that because I've seen that in training. There's another part of me that goes, 'Wow, it came out in the game.' You're always surprised when you respect a team so much and you know that they're so good. To be up four goals at half is very surprising, but the other side of that is we didn't do anything today in this game differently than the way we trained this week."
Lipsitz may have been surprised that four goals came with such ease, but careful execution of a game plan allowed UK to land an early knockout blow on Friday.
By now, you've likely caught wind of the Wildcat Code. John Calipari has made mention of the system on a few occasions and Dominique Hawkins let some details out back in May.
But still, the system remained shrouded in mystery, at least until now.
On Friday -- giving a sneak peak at a story that will appear in the Official 2013-14 Kentucky Basketball Yearbook -- CoachCal.com describes how and why Calipari adopted the Wildcat Code
. It started with strength and conditioning coach Ray "Rock" Oliver, who was trying to come up with a way to push the Wildcats on the heels of a disappointing 2012-13 season.
One day, sitting in Coach Cal's office, Oliver had an idea that would not necessarily change the culture of the program and work ethic of the players, but ensure that standards were met with a strict outline of accountability. Oliver wasn't exactly sure how the code would look, what it would entail or how Calipari would even respond to it, but he knew Coach Cal was an idea man who could take his thought and flesh it out.
The result was the Wildcat Code, a points-based system that rewards players for meeting their athletic, academic and leadership responsibilities. At the core of the code is accountability. While playing basketball at the University of Kentucky offers certain opportunities, there are privileges which must be earned.
"We have the best facilities in the country, the greatest fans in all of sports and the most efficient tools to help you reach your dreams," the Code reads. "But none of that is given. All of it is earned. And starting today, you will be graded on your work ethic, your character and your leadership."
The Wildcat Code originally began as a summer-only program, but was so successful that Oliver, Calipari and academic adviser Michael Stone decided to carry it forward as the Cats prepare for a season they'll likely enter ranked No. 1. To learn all about it, check out Eric Lindsey's complete story.
Wildcat Code: In the UK basketball program, everything is earned
The Lancaster Aquatics Center has had a new energy about it since May, when Lars Jorgensen took over as the UK swimming and diving program's first new head coach in 22 years.
The UK swimmers, divers and staff members have had plenty to buzz about, and they haven't even had a home meet yet. That all changes on Friday at 5 p.m. ET when the Wildcats will host Ohio State in a dual meet, which will be the team's second competition of the season.
"We're looking forward to Ohio State on Friday," Jorgensen said. "We have a chance to be at home, which is a huge advantage for us. I think both the women and the men are going to be very competitive against Ohio State. We look forward to hearing the fans come out to support the Wildcats on Friday."
The Wildcats will without doubt be up for their first home meet of the 2013-14 campaign, but they will also be hoping some of their excitement rubs off on the Big Blue Nation.
The die-hard swimming and diving fans in the Lexington community always turn up to support the Wildcats at their few home meets. Yet those who don't keep the sport on their radar all the time, especially in Olympic years, could also be in store for a good time at the first of UK's two home meets this season.
Jorgensen and his staff have taken it upon themselves to create a more fan-friendly atmosphere starting on Friday.
The meet will begin the way many sporting events in Kentucky do: with a UK marching band member playing the "Call to the Post." In support of Breast Cancer Awareness the team will be wearing pink swim caps, and all fans who wear pink to the meet will be entered into a raffle to win a prize.
Still, Jorgensen and the rest of UK's swimming and diving program have no illusions. The fact remains that the greatest excitement at any athletics event comes from the competition, and the more competitive the meet is the more entertaining it is.
To that end UK will have a solid nucleus of returning stars with four athletes who qualified for the 2013 NCAA Championships. Chief among them will be senior diver Greg Ferrucci, who became the first ever UK diver to earn First-Team All-America honors on the 1-meter, 3-meter and platform during the same season in 2013.
"Greg Ferrucci is our superstar diver," Jorgensen said. "He was UK Athlete of the Year at the CATSPY Awards among all sports, which is phenomenal. Every time he competes in a dual meet setting he gives the team a great chance to take two of the 16 events. That's a big help."
Ferrucci is off to a great start to his senior season, having won both the 1- and 3-meter competitions in the season-opener at Georgia two weeks ago. Ferrucci and Christa Cabot on the women's side headline the diving teams, which are currently focal points of the program.
"We have a really good diving program," Jorgensen said. "It gives us a chance against the No. 13 Ohio State men's program. Both are outstanding programs, but our diving will be a big difference to me."
It's a testament to Jorgensen's team-first philosophy in a sport, which is at its core very much individual-based, that even when talking about some of most effective contributors he ties it back to how everything fits in with the team.
"It is all about the team in college," Jorgensen said. "To me that's what is fun. It's a lot different than the Olympics, which is all based on individuals making a team. College swimming is all about the team. That's what I love about it. I'm not as concerned about just one particular person, our staff buys into the philosophy of it all adding up as a team."
UK's swimming program is not yet as developed as the diving aspect. The challenge of getting his teams to be more balanced across all disciplines is something Jorgensen is meeting head on, both in developing his current team as well as recruiting potential newcomers.
"We try to get our kids better every day," Jorgensen said. "Every single day is an opportunity for us to get better. If it's 6 a.m. or if it's in the afternoon I love going to practice. Everybody has some things they love about their job, but my favorite thing is practice. I love the opportunity to teach and try to make kids better.
"Recruiting and establishing the base of your team with kids that have good character and work ethic is important. Instilling that across the board is challenging. Once you have that ability you can create a culture where you are able to attract some better recruits."
Jorgensen is just months into a project that will take at least a few years to reach the new head coach's ultimate vision. Still the prospect of helping, and watching, as his team improves is what Jorgensen finds most exciting.
As intriguing as Jorgensen may find the day-to-day grind of swimming and diving training -- a process that takes hours of each day and pushes the human body beyond imaginable limits if it is to yield the results UK's coach has said he desires -- athletes still need benchmarks to keep them encouraged that they're on the right track.
And an early step to reaching those benchmarks will be establishing a home-meet experience that generates a buzz in the local community. People take notice when teams improve, and the UK swimming and diving teams will look to show how much they've done just that on Friday.
Craig Skinner and the Wildcats will travel to face No. 2 Florida on Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Opportunity is a word that comes up frequently with the Kentucky volleyball team.
Every practice is an opportunity to improve. Every weight-lifting session is an opportunity to get stronger. Every match is an opportunity for the Wildcats to test themselves.
Craig Skinner built UK's schedule with that in mind.
"Lipscomb was an opportunity to play in front of a hostile crowd and environment," Skinner said. "Minnesota was an opportunity to play against a top-five team from the Big Ten."
So far this season, UK has taken advantage of those opportunities more often than not. The Cats are 12-3 (4-0 Southeastern Conference), including wins in both those matches mentioned by Skinner. Now, they will face a challenge that combines a road crowd with a top-ranked opponent as UK travels to face No. 2 Florida (15-1, 4-0 SEC) on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET on SportsSouth).
"Florida's the perennial power in the SEC," Skinner said. "It's an opportunity for us to go toe to toe with them and see what we're all made of."
The Gators will surely give the Cats everything they can handle. Florida has won 10 straight matches, losing just one set in the process.
"They're very athletic at every position and physical," Skinner said. "I think they have a couple seniors that have a big desire to be successful. Their middles and right-sides, statistically, are off the charts."
The seniors are setter Taylor Brauneis - who ranks 10th in the nation at 11.62 assists per set - and middle blocker Chloe Mann. Mann also falls into the latter group, averaging 3.46 kills per set while hitting an astounding .527 to rank second nationally. Mann spearheads a Florida attack that also ranks second nationally with a hitting percentage of .349.
A few weeks ago, facing such an offense would have been much more troubling to Skinner. Since then, UK's defense has taken a step forward. The Cats have 41.5 blocks in their four SEC wins, holding opponents to a combined hitting percentage of just .137.
"We're physical in the front row and so we have to force their attackers to make choices," Skinner said. "They can't just have the freedom to do whatever they want. So our block is a big factor in that and channeling their attacks in certain directions and forcing a couple players to beat us and not allowing all five players to go for big numbers."
Skinner is concerned about that because of Florida's remarkable balance. Five different Gators are averaging at least 2.31 kills per set.
"You have to do some specific things with your block," Skinner said. "You have to serve tough to get them out of system so they can't set everybody. If every rotation they can set any one of the hitters they need to or want to, that'll be very difficult for us. But if force their setter to have to set one or two people as opposed to three or four, then we have a good shot."
If things go as planned, Skinner expects a close battle, which could end up favoring Kentucky. The Cats have already played four five-set matches, winning each of their last three, while Florida has played into the fourth set just three times and never gone the distance.
"Being in those kinds of situations helps you," Skinner said. "Our leadership for our seniors and captains, they're very even-keeled and the same all the time. So whether it's the first set or fifth set, I don't worry at all about how we're going to approach it.
"I think it's going to come down to: Can we score points when we need to? Can we finish? Can we force Florida to be a little bit uncomfortable out there? It's a tall task, but something that we're going to have to do to be successful."
Should UK come away with the win, it will be a signature road victory on an already-impressive resume. The Cats will get a boost in the polls and the RPI and grab a leg up on the Gators in what is shaping up to be a tight race at the top of the conference.
But no matter what, there will still be another road match to be played at South Carolina on Sunday. There will still be a month and a half left in the regular season. There will still be plenty of opportunities ahead.
"There are 18 matches in conference," Skinner said. "This is the fifth match and there are a lot of them left. We can't put all of our eggs in one basket. We're going to prepare hard and be ready for Florida and Saturday, win or lose, it's time to focus on South Carolina."
Quarterback Jalen Whitlow leads UK into a Saturday matchup with top-ranked Alabama. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Over the last month, Kentucky has played an unprecedented stretch of difficult games.
First was a matchup with No. 7 Louisville. Two weeks later, the Wildcats had a bye week to prepare for No. 19 Florida. The next Saturday, they would head on the road for a test against No. 13 South Carolina. To finish it off, UK will welcome top-ranked Alabama.
Could there be a more fitting way to cap the first set of four consecutive games against top-20 opponents in school history than by facing the two-time defending national champion?
"Another very tough task playing Alabama, extremely well coached team, very physical, and everything they are built up to be," head coach Mark Stoops said. "They deserve all the credit they have been given for what they have done through the course of this year, and of course with their history.
In evaluating the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), Stoops could not be more impressed. With his defensive background, Stoops has admired Alabama head coach Nick Saban for years and scarcely sees a weakness in his team.
"It's almost a pro attack on both sides of the ball," Stoops said. "They are very efficient and very accurate with the ball, with all the short game stuff. And of course they can run the ball. So they can move the ball. They just, honestly, they'd just as soon do it with what they want to do. If they need to score a bunch of points, they'll score a bunch of points. If they want to run the ball, they'll run the ball. They're very efficient with everything they do, really."
With an Alabama team that does everything well coming to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), how then do the Cats approach the task they will face?
"It's just about us and our execution as well," Stoops said. "We're gonna go out there to compete and play. It's about putting one good play out there and then another. We can't get ahead of ourselves. We can control the things we can control, and we can execute better than we have been."
That's what UK has been working on this week.
The Cats are less than a week removed from nearly overcoming a 21-0 deficit at South Carolina. Led by Jalen Whitlow -- who took over full time at quarterback after sharing snaps with Maxwell Smith to start the year -- UK outscored the Gamecocks 28-14 over the final 44:20.
"The biggest thing was that we just didn't give up," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I just feel like the team, we stuck together and in the second half we put it in our heads that we were going to come back and fight and try to get a victory. We came up short, but we didn't give up. We were that close and I feel like if we could have done the little things right we could have had the game."
Stoops now wants his team to carry that knowledge forward.
"I just hope we continue to understand that we can win these games," Stoops said. "It's not just me up here talking about that. If we truly believe; if we go about our business; if we work the right way; if we prepare the right way and execute and make plays when the game is on the line--We had every opportunity to win that game and that's a very good team, very well coached and we have a lot of respect for them."
Clearly, the same sentiment applies to Alabama.
The Crimson Tide ranks 12th nationally in total defense -- representing the third top-12 defense UK will face during this four-game stretch -- and that includes the 628 yards Alabama gave up in a 49-42 win over Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel.
"They're pretty good," Whitlow said. "Every week we try to find a weakness in the defense and try to exploit it. But Alabama seems to have less because, you know, they're a good football team. They won the last three out of four national championships, so we're just going to keep studying film and keep preparing until Saturday and see what happens."
Just as the Cats agree about the magnitude of the challenge awaiting them on offense, they also know a getting off to a good start will be crucial to taking it on. Unfortunately, UK has had trouble out of the gate as opponents have scored first in all four of the Cats' losses.
"You got to go out there and execute and get off to a better start," Stoops said. "We understand that. I think it's really just about the things we've been preaching, and that's getting off to one good play. Let's have one good play and then try to stack another one on there and then another one."
The Cats are following their coach's lead and will attack the game in chunks, but they can't help but step back and consider the stage they'll be playing on Saturday. UK hasn't taken on a top-ranked team since 2011 and last defeated one in 2007 -- an unforgettable triple-overtime win over LSU.
"It's very exciting," Williamson said. "It's going to be a great challenge. They've got a lot of talent on the team. It's going to be a great chance to go against the best in America."
Freshman Jason Hatcher has some experience in these kinds of games, but from a different perspective. In high school, he played on a Trinity team that won state titles his final three seasons and claimed a national championship in 2011. Hatcher likes the idea of being on the other side now.
"I like being the underdog because nobody's really expecting it," Hatcher said. "When we go out there and we stop teams and we force three-and-outs, that's a great feeling."
UK knows Alabama will be the favorite over any team it faces for a reason and the Cats respect the Crimson Tide a great deal. They won't, however, be in awe when they line up on Saturday.
"They're a team just like us," Williamson said. "They're human, so go out there and play."
Kentucky swimming and diving will host its home opener with Ohio State on at 5 p.m. ET at the Lancaster Aquatics Center on the UK campus. Here's what first-year head coach Lars Jorgensen had to say to preview the meet.
We caught up with senior guard Kastine Evans after UK Hoops' Thursday practice. In the video below, she talks about practicing without Matthew Mitchell -- who is away after the birth of his daughter -- and the news that UK will host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games in March.
Kentucky freshman guard Dominique Hawkins. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Throughout the 2013-14 season, UKathletics.com and CoachCal.com will be here to serve as your primary source for Kentucky basketball coverage. From feature stories to game coverage, video and more, we pride ourselves on being your one-stop shop for all things UK basketball. However, nobody can paint the picture quite like the people who create the artwork. Throughout the 2013-14 year, the players who make the stories will share in writing a season-long blog to share with the Big Blue Nation their experiences, their thoughts and how the year develops in their own eyes. Today we hear from Dominique Hawkins.By Dominique Hawkins
Hey, how are you, Big Blue Nation? How's it going?
I have to talk first about what I saw at Tent City last week. I didn't expect that many people to camp out for free tickets. I got to meet the biggest fans in the nation. We love them to death just because they do that for us. It's crazy because when you talk to them, they want to talk about nothing but basketball. Since I was a little kid, I knew about it, but I didn't know how insane it was even though I grew up in Kentucky.
My favorite fan was the little girl I posted a picture of on Instagram. I met her and she just kept on hugging me and grabbing my neck and didn't want to let go. I thought that was pretty sweet of her.
Looking at the little kids, we know we're their role models. It's kind of neat to know that all the little kids look up to us and want to know about how we're doing, what we're doing in life so they can be just like us. It was just pretty neat to experience this at the campout and also when I went to visit Morton Middle School with Alex, Julius, Tod, EJ and Coach Robic.
We went to the school and we talked about how important academics are. There was probably like 400 kids in there. They were going crazy once we came out. We basically just told them to stay in school and keep doing what you're doing because without academics, you can't go as far as you want to.
Before we visited the school, we made snack bags for God's Pantry to take to the kids, and that was pretty fun. We were racing each other on the side. We're always making things into a game and competing with each other, whether we're in the gym or playing video games in our rooms.
We play a soccer video game a lot, but I haven't won yet. I would say James Young is probably the best at that game. I can't beat him, but that's the only person I play because I always want to play the best. I'm going to keep on playing him until I beat him. I'm pretty bad, but we also play a basketball game and nobody can beat me in that. I want Julius to play me but he's scared to play me, so we'll have to see what's up with him.
We don't just play video games though. We went to the huge water balloon fight on campus together and it was insane. I thought it would be easy to find the balloons since there were so many, but everybody was there and I could hardly even pick one up. When I went to throw a balloon, I would squeeze it too hard and it would blow up right in my face, so I didn't really get to hit anybody. Luckily I wasn't the tallest one out there because Marcus and Dakari, they got hit a lot. Plus they were surfing the crowd so people started throwing balloons at them.
I've also had fun going to football games. I had actually been to a couple when I was a kid, but I never noticed how many fans actually go to the football games. It's been packed at every game I've been to this year. It's crazy how they support the football team as much as the basketball team. Just to be able to watch the football team, that probably gives them a lot of confidence because of how many fans that come to support them. I played running back and slot receiver in high school and used to face Ryan Timmons, so it's cool to watch him play. They always beat us in football but we always beat them in basketball. It made it even.
Classes have been a big change coming from high school, but I'm getting used to it and adapting. It's getting a little bit easier, but once practice started up, it made it tougher because we are so busy. We have to find a way to get our homework done between practices, lifting weights and everything else. I stay up late at night trying to get it done a lot of times.
I've had to get used to practicing too, but we're having fun with it. I thought practice was going to be miserable because the first day was so long and we had to learn all this new stuff. It felt like we went four hours, but we only went two and a half. But now since we're about eight practices in, it's been easier.
One of the hardest things has been learning how to play fast and think slow like Coach Cal says. We're so confused about that because it's hard to do. When you're going so fast, you're out of control most of the time. For me, I have never played this way before, so playing fast and thinking slow is pretty difficult. I'm getting used to it though. I can also tell we're getting in better shape as a team. With the way Coach Cal does things, when we practice, we know that we're conditioning, too.
Right now, I'm definitely looking forward to Big Blue Madness because I've watched it before. I've always wanted to be that person to go on that stage and have all the Kentucky fans yelling for me. That's going to be a special moment for me. I'm blessed to be on this team and to be able to do something like that. It's going to be fun to be able to do something like that with my teammates that I'm becoming brothers with.
I have something special planned but I'm not going to let it out yet.Follow Dominique on Twitter @Dhawk_25
Head coach Mark Stoops
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
UK took another step toward its matchup with Alabama, logging a solid day of detail-orientated preparation on Wednesday.
"Good work in today," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Good situations. Worked on some third down. Overall good day. Pleased. Pleased with the week so far, and we'll see if we can cap it off tomorrow with another good practice."
The coaching staff continues to emphasize third down on offense even though the Wildcats showed significant improvement against South Carolina. UK was a combined 1-for-21 converting third downs against Louisville and Florida and started 1 for 7 against the Gamecocks before converting its final four in a near-comeback.
Jalen Whitlow was a central figure as UK scored 21 fourth-quarter points, repaying Stoops for sticking with him at quarterback throughout.
Whitlow played the best game of his career last Saturday, completing 17-of-24 passes for 178 yards, running for 69 yards and accounting for three total touchdowns. Stoops attributes his emergence to a couple factors.
"I think some of it was confidence," Stoops said. "You could see he was a little bit uneasy, and he's working his way through that. I think, like I've said many times, it has to do with a lot of players around him. You gotta have good players around him making plays. A lot of times, quarterbacks look good because of the other players around them, and I think we're improving in that area as well."
Brown estimated that Whitlow got 65-70 percent of the snaps in practice last week and even more this week and UK's offensive coordinator agrees that assuming a more regular role has helped the sophomore.
"He's learning," Neal Brown said. "It's an ongoing process. He's learning how to prepare week in and week out. But as far as, I think his personality's coming forward a little bit more maybe. That would be fair to say as far as speaking up."
Whitlow, meanwhile, insists he has tried to approach his preparation the same way. He still treats practice as a competition, and so does Maxwell Smith.
"It's always competition, so you gotta try to be at your best because you don't want to go through what you've been through earlier," Whitlow said. "You just try to prepare and try to stay on top of your game."
Dupree sits out again
Defensive end Bud Dupree aggravated a strained pectoral muscle he suffered during weight training last week in making a sack against South Carolina. He has not returned to the field this week.
"He hasn't practiced," Stoops said. "He has not. Has not practiced, so it doesn't look good."
UK has been hard at work coming up with plans should Dupree be unable to go.
"Well, we're working on some things, but (Jason) Hatcher will get a amped-up role," Stoops said. "We're moving some guys around and getting the best options."
Jason Hatcher has 14 tackles and a sack five games into his college career. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Jason Hatcher has played football for most of his life, but he had somehow never broken a bone.
The first two came at an inopportune time.
Filling in for an injured Bud Dupree, Hatcher was playing and playing well in his first Southeastern Conference road game. He had already tallied his first career sack when his hand got caught in a pile-up and he immediately felt pain.
"I just feel like it's a part of the game," Hatcher said. "When my number was called, unfortunately Bud had to go out and I just wasn't going to let my hand stop me. I knew it was hurting but I had to fight through it."
What he didn't know is that he had broken two bones: his knuckle and another bone in his right hand. He kept the injury to himself and finished the game, finally telling his coaches on Sunday.
"I didn't say anything 'til the next morning," Hatcher said. "That's when I said something about my hand because I didn't want to come out of the game and I just felt like it was my turn to step up."
That Hatcher didn't think twice about playing injured against South Carolina should hardly come as a surprise. Coaches have raved about the true freshman's love for the game and consistent energy in playing it, but this was surely the most dramatic example to date of both.
"It tells me that his toughness is there and his heart is in the right place," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Like I said, he didn't flinch."
Hatcher's role has expanded as the season has worn on and the former four-star recruit doesn't plan on letting anything impede that process, not even the cast he's wearing at practice this week.
Everyone agrees the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has all the physical tools. Now he just needs to build experience, particularly as Hatcher switches between the defensive end spot he's played throughout his career and an unfamiliar outside linebacker spot in UK's bigger package.
"I think what he does well is he always plays hard," Stoops said. "He lacks some experience and with the different things we're doing and the different positions we have him at, it's just a matter of playing and getting some experience. But he's a tough, hard-nosed guy and he's going to be a very good football player."
Avery Williamson - who's wearing a cast of his own to protect a deep bone bruise on his left hand - agrees that Hatcher has a bright future. Williamson also says Hatcher has already been an asset to the defense, though he needs work on some of the more nuanced aspects of his game.
"He's just got to learn, especially when he's playing an option-style team, to keep his shoulders square when he's going down the line," Williamson said.
That issue cropped up a couple times against South Carolina on Saturday with the athletic Connor Shaw running a number of read-option plays.
"In the heat of the moment when the game and stuff gets going, I gotta focus in and play assignment football with zone reads and stuff like that," Hatcher said. "Not turning my shoulders and getting up field."
Hatcher has already advanced to the point where he realizes immediately when he's made that kind of mistake. That's another step in an evolution that's still very much ongoing.
"I feel like I've grown up, but at the same time I feel like I'm a freshman because I'm still making freshman mistakes," Hatcher said. "Those are just things I have to work on throughout the season."
With top-ranked Alabama coming to town and Dupree's status uncertain, Hatcher is likely to have another chance to grow up on Saturday. Having played three straight top-20 opponents already, the shock of playing on a big stage is already beginning to wear off.
"Going into South Carolina, walking out there and hearing that stadium and all those fans, it was just like, 'Wow,' " Hatcher said. "Now we walk in this morning and we got Alabama packets, it's like, 'OK, we gotta line up and play again this week.' "
In many ways, Hatcher's season mirrors that of his team as a whole. The Wildcats are young, but they refuse to back away from any challenge. There have been mistakes and missteps along the way, but the talent is there. And from week one to today, Kentucky has improved by leaps and bounds.
Now, Hatcher and Cats will look to put that improvement on display against the two-time defending national champions.
"I just look at it as a great opportunity, not only for myself but as a team, to make a statement, to go out here and keep showing people that we get better each week," Hatcher said.
Head coach Mark Stoops
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
The last time Mark Stoops spoke to reporters after practice, he was not happy. His team had just turned in one of its worst days of work and he didn't hesitate to acknowledge that fact. UK, however, rebounded from that subpar Wednesday in nearly pulling off an upset win at South Carolina.
Two practices into game-week preparation for Alabama, the Wildcats have sustained that momentum. Stoops is glad, because he doesn't want to find out if UK can bounce back from another bad practice.
"I was pleased with our work today. Guys had a good practice, both sides of the ball," Stoops said. "Good energy. Overall good practice. It was good. We're gonna need to have another one tomorrow and Thursday, obviously, to prepare for this team."
Outside of last Wednesday, Stoops has been consistently pleased with his team's approach in his first season. The Cats have continued to show up as they've faced an unrelentingly tough schedule. Now that they're about to play host to the nation's No. 1 team, Stoops sees a little extra fire.
"They do (seem excited to face Alabama)," Stoops said. "It's no secret. I've told you guys over and over again that I thought overall this team really has a good attitude and comes every day and they're fun to coach. I felt that on Monday and I felt that again today."
UK will gladly take any edge it can find against the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide.
"They execute so well," Stoops said. "They can be as multiple as they want to be on both sides of the ball and they can just line up and use great technique and play good football...old-fashioned football."
Stoops is hoping to have as close to a full complement of players as possible on Saturday, but the Cats are coping with a few injuries. Freshman defensive end Jason Hatcher practiced on Tuesday with a large cast to protect two broken bones in his right hand, while Bud Dupree - the player Hatcher stepped in for at South Carolina - remains day-to-day as he nurses a strained pectoral muscle.
UK's defensive line has been a strength all season and the coaches are shuffling personnel as needed to ensure it remains that way.
"We're gonna work on it and see how things go this week and we'll see where we go," Stoops said. "We're mixing it up. We got to see how Jason is as well in all of our different packages and who we put in there. We'll see."
On Monday, John Calipari and Matthew Mitchell attended the Alumni Tip-Off Luncheon on Louisville. There, they spent a few minutes talking about their teams and previewing the upcoming 2013-14 season. As usual, they were entertaining.CalipariMitchellVideos via KSTV
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, October 6:
Volleyball: Morgan Bergren
Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren led UK's offense to a pair of sweeps against SEC foes. Bergren dished out 10.5 assists per set while leading UK to a .391 hitting percentage combined in two victories well over UK's season average of .247. Bergren had seven kills of her own on a .333 clip, but it was her serving that was masterful. The sophomore had five aces on the weekend for an average of .83 per outing. She also contributed six blocks on the weekend and averaged 1.00 per set, second only to reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week Alexandra Morgan's 1.09.The three aces she posted vs. Tennessee is a career-high total.
Men's soccer: Brad Doliner
Senior Brad Doliner had the best game of his career in leading Kentucky to a thrilling 2-1 overtime win at Old Dominion ... Doliner had his first career two-goal game, including netting the golden goal in the 98th minute to seal the win and adding a go-ahead score early in the second half ... Doliner now has four goals and one assist - his first career goals - with two game winners, 19 shots and 10 shots on goal ... A native of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Doliner leads C-USA in conference games only in points (six), goals (three), goals per game (1.50), shots per game (four) and game-winning goals (one), also ranking second in shots (eight) ... Doliner's first goal of the game at ODU came as a penalty kick tally in the 52nd minute, his second consecutive game with a PK goal ... After UK allowed the tying goal in the 77th minute, Doliner struck for the golden goal in the 98th frame, a laser from the edge of the 18-yard box, lifting UK to the thrilling win ... A selection to the Gamecock Classic All-Tournament Team earlier in the year, Doliner has played throughout the lineup for UK as a versatile weapon, seeing starts at center back, outside back, outside midfield, holding midfield and forward.
Men's soccer: Callum Irving
Sophomore goalkeeper Callum Irving had a breakout game in between the pipes at Old Dominion on Friday night, equaling his career high with six saves in leading UK to a 2-1 win in overtime ... Irving made all of his saves after halftime, including four in the second half and a pair of thrilling saves in overtime ... Irving had a save with a minute remaining in regulation after the ball bounced curving off the far post, keeping the well-struck, curving ball from crossing the end line ... A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Irving also made a tremendous, diving save on a hard-hit offering in the second half ... "There were a couple of times today that I was sure the ball was in the goal and he came up with the save," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said postgame. "There were a couple of times when there were cleats flying around his head and he did not back down." ... On the year, Irving has started five games with a 1.18 goals-against average, saving 10 and owning two clean sheets.
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Junior Jackie Napper led the defensive effort for the Wildcats in a 2-0 week that included two sweeps over SEC foes. Napper opened the week with a career-high 18 digs for a three-set match, while also contributing five assists and a career-high two aces. She followed that performance with 16 scoops vs. Tennessee while adding three assists and a kill. It was her third kill of the season. The 34 digs in back-to-back three-set matches is a career-high for six sets. She registered a .950 serve-receive percentage for the weekend, while helping lead UK's offense to a .391 hitting clip for the two victories.
Women's soccer: Zoe Swift
Freshman Zoe Swift continued her prolific freshman season, scoring just one minute into the match on Sunday to give No. 19 Kentucky the early 1-0 lead on Sunday atVanderbilt. The Naperville, Ill., native then assisted on the game-winning goal just two minutes later, as she gave a pass off to Arin Gilliland, who struck the back of the net in the fourth minute. The multi-point game was Swift's third of the season, and the second time she has scored three points in a single game in her career.
Volleyball: Anni Thomasson
Freshman Anni Thomasson had an outstanding weekend for the Cats en route to a pair of sweeps over conference opponents. Thomasson opened the weekend with eight kills and 10 digs in the victory over Ole Miss. She followed that performance with the first errorless match of her career with six kills on a career-high .545 hitting clip vs. Tennessee. She also added a pair of assists and a career-best three service aces. Furthermore she totaled seven digs. For the weekend she ranked second on the squad in kills, hitting percentage, aces, digs and points. She was perfect from the serve-receive line, being served a team-high 22 times and did not commit a single error. Her 2.33 kills per set on a .444 clip is significantly improved over her season averages of 1.61 kills per set on a .196 hitting clip.
In May, all-time Wildcat great Steve Meilinger was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. On Monday, the do-it-all two-time first-team All-American dubbed "Mr. Anywhere" spoke to reporters about his induction, Mark Stoops and his playing days. It's one of the more entertaining press conferences you'll ever watch.
Meilinger will be recognized during Kentucky's game vs. Alabama on Saturday.
- The UK women's cross country team was the top-NCAA team finisher, and No. 2 team overall with 130 points on Saturday at the Greater Louisville Classic.
- Seniors Cally Macumber and Allison Peare posted top-10 finishes, Nos. 2 and 7 respectively with times of 16:57.75 and 17:24.67.
- The UK men's team placed 27th overall on 688 points. MacKay Wilson was UK's top finisher in 42nd (37 points) with a time of 25:28.89.
- Freshman Cassidy Hale turned in a top-10 performance in her hometown with a 17th-place time of 17.40.77.
- Kentucky will return to action for the last race of the regular season, the Pre-NCAA Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 19.
- The Kentucky football team's upset bid over highly ranked South Carolina fell short after a second-half comeback that saw the Wildcats score 21 points in the fourth quarter - the second most points a UK team has scored in a fourth quarter in school history.
- The Wildcat offense posted 28 points against South Carolina, which is the third-most points an opponent has scored against South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007. Kentucky's Jalen Whitlow led the UK offense going 17-for-24 for 178 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the team in rushing with 69 yards on 17 attempts and a touchdown.
- Kentucky won the turnover battle against South Carolina forcing a fumble and turning it into seven points, while UK also won the time of possession battle for the first time this season. Defensively, senior linebacker Avery Williamson led UK in tackles with nine, while Blake McClain, Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Jason Hatcher recorded sacks.
- Kentucky (3-5, 1-1 Conference USA) pulled off an exciting, 2-1 overtime win in its league road lidlifter on Friday night in Norfolk, Va., spoiling a homecoming celebration for the Monarchs in their first-ever home C-USA game. UK's win came against a strong ODU team that had posted a pair of tremendous results last week, including a tie at No. 8 Maryland and winning its league debut at No. 9 Tulsa. The Monarchs - who had 14 goals in their first seven games - had just suffered losses to William and Mary and No. 1 Creighton in 2013.
- After Doliner got a penalty kick goal early in the second half for a go-ahead tally, ODU scored off a corner kick in the 77th minute. In the 98th frame, Doliner struck for the golden goal, marking his first career two-goal game. UK got a brilliant effort in goal from sophomore Callum Irving, who tied his career high with six saves, with each coming after halftime.
- The Wildcats will return to action with a two-game week, starting with a 7 p.m. ET matchup with Evansville on Tuesday night at the UK Soccer Complex. UK will then host South Carolina in a conference showdown on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. UK will conclude its season-long, three-game homestand on Wednesday vs. Valpo.
- No. 19 Kentucky stayed in second place on the SEC table with a 2-0-0 weekend, picking up a 3-1 win at Mississippi State on Sunday night and a 2-1 win at Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon to improve to 10-2-1 overall and 4-1-0 in SEC action. The last time Kentucky won four of its first five SEC games dates back to 2003.
- The Wildcats had two different players record multi-point games this weekend, with sophomore Kelli Hubly collecting three points on Friday night, and freshman Zoe Swift scoring three points on Sunday afternoon. On both occasions, the players had a goal and an assist in the same match.
- Kentucky outshot its opponents 60-29 on the weekend, recording five goals and 15 points over the two-game stretch.
- Goalkeeper Kayla King only allowed two goals all weekend, as the senior from Louisville, Ky., has now allowed one or no goals in four of the first five SEC games of the season.
- Kentucky next takes on border rival Tennessee on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET in Lexington. This will be the Wildcats' only game of the weekend, with an open date on Sunday.
- The University of Kentucky women's tennis team brought home a championship at the conclusion of the Wildcat Invitational hosted by Northwestern University over the weekend. Junior Stephanie Fox and senior CeCe Witten defeated Jarret Fisher and Zaina Sufi from DePaul. The UK duo had little struggle beating Sufi and Fisher, 6-2, in the Brown Flight championship.
- Fox fell to Northwestern's Rebeca Mitrea in the tournament's Green Flight. In a close first set, Mitrea pulled through with the win, 6-5. In the second set, Fox fought her way back to beat Mitrea, 6-4. Mitrea topped Fox in the final set, 6-4, to win the match.
- The Wildcats will be back in action Monday, Oct. 14, in South Carolina at the Rock Hill Rocks Open.
- Kentucky opened SEC play in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum and turned in a pair of sweeps over Ole Miss and Tennessee. Kentucky has now won seven-straight matches including opening to a 4-0 start in league play. It's the best start since 2009.
- Freshman outside hitter Anni Thomasson, sophomore setter Morgan Bergren and junior libero Jackie Napper were the top performers for the week for the Cats. Thomasson averaged 2.33 kills per set on a blazing .444 hitting percentage. She turned in the first errorless match of her career in the victory over UT, while also adding a career-best three aces.
- Napper reached double-figure digs in both matches for a total of 34, which is the most in consecutive three-set matches in her career. Bergren directed UK's offense to the tune of a .391 hitting percentage, which is well above UK's average for the season of .247.
- Kentucky returns to action with a pair of road dates. Up first is a showdown with No. 3 Florida in Gainesville, before traveling north to South Carolina on Sunday.
Monday, Oct. 7
Women's golf at Schooner Fall Classic - All Day (Norman, Okla.)
Tuesday, Oct. 8
Men's soccer vs. Evansville - 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 11
Swimming & Diving vs. Ohio State - 5 p.m.
Volleyball at Florida - 6:30 p.m.
Women's soccer vs. Tennessee - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 12
Football vs. Alabama - 7 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 13
Men's soccer vs. South Carolina - 1 p.m.
Volleyball at South Carolina - 1:30 p.m.
UK will host No. 1 Alabama at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
As he interviewed to be Kentucky's next coach, Mark Stoops had done his homework.
He had a detailed plan for how he would succeed. Stoops understood the unique set of challenges that faces UK, had a grasp of returning personnel and even knew the recruiting areas he would target, and it convinced Mitch Barnhart that Stoops was the man for the job
But for all the preparation he had done, Stoops didn't know about UK's early-season 2013 schedule.
"I didn't," Stoops said with a laugh. "I didn't. I really didn't, because we were in the middle - we were in season there at Florida State so I was pretty consumed with what I was doing."
With the latest rankings coming out on Sunday, it became official that this weekend will mark the end of a stretch during which UK (1-4, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) will face four consecutive top-20 opponents for the first time in school history.
The idea of guiding a young team through such a grueling month would have been a daunting prospect had Stoops known about it when he took the job, but by no means would it have affected Stoops' thinking.
"Wouldn't have deterred me, though," Stoops said.
As UK prepares to conclude the four-game stretch against top-ranked Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) on Saturday, Stoops sees a team taking on a similar attitude.
The Wildcats hung tough against both No. 7 Louisville and No. 19 Florida, but turned in arguably their best effort of the season in a near-comeback at No. 13 South Carolina. Trailing 21-0 seconds into the second quarter, UK twice rallied to within one possession of the home-standing Gamecocks in the fourth quarter of a 35-28 defeat.
The Cats were just a third-down stand away from getting the ball back with a chance to tie the game in the final minutes. Stoops sensed plenty of frustration on the part of his team that it couldn't finish the job, but a productive kind of frustration.
"When we talked after the game I saw a bunch of guys right up there, all eyes on me, guys are very focused," Stoops said. "Some guys were hurt and I'm sure disappointed and the whole bit, and I hope they are tired of that."
That disappointment stemmed from the fact that UK was so close to pulling off the upset. In spite of the hostile environment and an early deficit, the Cats never quit believing. Stoops doesn't want that mentality to go anywhere.
"I just hope we continue to understand that we can win these games," Stoops said. "It's not just me up here talking about that. If we truly believe, if we go about our business, if we work the right way, if we prepare the right way and execute and make plays when the game is on the line we had every opportunity to win that game and that's a very good team, very well-coached and we have a lot of respect for them."
It's a credit to the coaching staff that the Cats have not only stayed engaged in facing ranked opponent after ranked opponent, but improved as the weeks have gone on. It's also a credit to UK's undisputed defensive leader, Avery Williamson.
"He's the model of consistency and leadership," Stoops said. "He's exactly what you want. He's there every week and it's not something that we take for granted because I think he's a very good player, like I say every week, and a very good leader in somebody that we need in there."
Williamson -- a senior -- has played each of the last games with a cast on his left hand to protect a deep bone bruise, but still ranks second in the SEC in tackles with 51.
On Saturday, Jason Hatcher followed suit in playing through pain. The true freshman defensive end broke his hand in two places against South Carolina, but trainers put a cast on it and he returned.
"It tells me that his toughness is there and his heart is in the right place," Stoops said. "Like I said, he didn't flinch."
What's most encouraging to Stoops is that approach is permeating his entire team. From seniors like Williamson to freshman like Hatcher, the Cats are hungry to play and play well. And by the week, they become more steadfast in their self-belief.
"I feel like more and more are starting to understand that we can do that and we can compete and play with anybody, and just sticking together," Stoops said. "So I think it's a good locker room right now. I think, you know, last week was a point where we could have gone either way. I felt like this team would respond the right way, and I think we are going to keep on improving."
Showing improvement against the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide will be no easy task. Stoops knows that and so does his team. All they can do is continue to work.
"Obviously we know how talented this team is and how well coached they are," Stoops said. "It's going to be a real tough challenge, but again, we'll measure (success) by how we play, how we compete and go from there." Dupree 'day-to-day'
In extending his streak of games with a sack to four in the second quarter of the loss to South Carolina, Bud Dupree aggravated a strain to his pectoral muscle that he suffered in weight-lifting earlier in the week. He missed the rest of the game and Stoops said on Monday the junior defensive end is dealing with soreness and swelling.
As for Dupree's status this week, Stoops is uncertain.
"I really don't know to be honest with you," Stoops said. "He'll probably be day to day most of this week."
Max Godby or Zach West
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
Nate Willis or Fred Tiller
Craig Skinner hadn't used a timeout all weekend. Through three sets of a Friday victory over Ole Miss and the first two against Tennessee on Sunday, Kentucky was dominant so he didn't need to.
But as UK looked to finish off a second sweep in three days, the rival Lady Volunteers wouldn't go away. When Tennessee closed to within 18-17 in the third, Skinner finally called a timeout.
Displeased with the drop-off in his team's play from the opening two sets, Skinner called the Cats to the sideline. They reacted well to his message, scoring seven of the next nine points to salt away another win.
"We were not very sharp in that third set 'til the end," Skinner said. "It's the level of concentration we have to have and the way we were playing, it was good, suffocating defense and I just felt like we let up a little bit in set three. So it was good to see us respond at the end."
UK got back to the way it had played all weekend to move to 12-3 on the season and a perfect 4-0 through the first two weekends of Southeastern Conference play. All told, the Cats outscored Ole Miss and Tennessee 150-86 in six sets - no easy feat against conference foes.
"I think the thing I'm most proud of is that we limited our hitting errors and we limited our mistakes on our side of the net," Skinner said. "We had a couple OK streaks, but for us to be efficient on what we we're doing I think is the most important thing in my opinion."
UK committed just 15 total errors on the weekend after hitting .348 on Sunday. Whitney Billings once again led the way with 13 kills, showing impressive awareness with a number of touch kills.
"We work on hitting off speed when you can't kill the ball," Skinner said. "We need to know where the open spots on the court are, if the block is up or if we don't have our feet to the ball. We did a good job of that this weekend. There were a couple spots we could take advantage of and our team knew the game plan, did a good job getting the ball in the right spot."
The Cats were similarly effective on serve, posting a season-high 10 aces.
"That was as much pressure as we've put on a team with our serve in a while," Skinner said. "And they have some very good passers on their team and I thought we did a nice job of hitting the zones that (assistant coach) Lindsey (Gray-Walton) was giving. Against good teams and as we go through the season, we're going to have to do that because you can't just align your block all the time. Your serve's got to give you opportunities to score."
If UK can duplicate that serving performance this weekend, it will be a major boost. The No. 19 Cats travel to face No. 3 Florida on Friday with an early edge in the SEC race on the line. The teams are among just three unbeatens left in the conference and UK is looking forward to the opportunity to play one of the nation's best teams.
"It'll be a fun match," Skinner said. "I know our team will take this week serious to prepare so I'm not going to worry about the effort in practice, but we just need to make sure we're focused on the right things."
Consistency has been UK's hallmark this season, particularly in recent weeks. The Cats have won seven straight matches and 19 of their last 20 sets in playing their best volleyball of the year.
"They seem to be ready to go each and every match," Skinner said. "I don't really sense and kind of different team depending on who we're playing, whether it's home or on the road and that's a good sign of senior leadership and our captains making sure that everybody's engaged."
Jalen Whitlow accounted for 247 yards and three touchdowns in nearly leading UK to a comeback win at South Carolina. (Jeff Blake, USA Today Sports)
For fans watching the start of Kentucky's game at South Carolina, it was a worst-case scenario.
The Gamecocks raced out to a 21-0 lead, rolling up 228 yards just two plays into the second quarter. The sell-out crowd in Williams-Brice Stadium was rocking and memories of UK's 54-3 defeat the last time the Wildcats visited Columbia, S.C., resurfaced.
Mark Stoops, however, was steady. Of course he was frustrated with the way his team had played, but the scenario was not wholly unexpected.
"Things played out about how they thought they would," Stoops said. "We knew - and we talked about it all week - that they would start fast here at home. A team that can get you off balance and strike very quickly, they did that early."
Taking a cue from their coach, the Cats were undeterred.
UK mounted a spirited rally, outscoring South Carolina 28-14 over the final 44:20. Twice the Cats climbed to within a single score in the fourth quarter, but the comeback bid was finally foiled when the Gamecocks picked up a pair of first downs on their final drive to salt away the 35-28 win.
Stoops has little interest in moral victories, but even he couldn't help but be pleased by the way his team responded to the largest deficit it has faced all season.
"I was proud of our team because we did talk about it and prepare for it and if they did, we would stay in there and not flinch, take their best shot and battle back and have an opportunity to make plays in the fourth quarter to win the game," Stoops said. "I was proud of the fact that we were in position to do that and very frustrated that we did not do that."
The play weighing most on his mind was a third-and-3 on South Carolina's final drive. Stoops expected a read-option with Connor Shaw potentially handing to Mike Davis, so the Cats blitzed. Davis got the ball and appeared hemmed in, but managed five yards to prolong the possession and keep the ball away from Jalen Whitlow and the suddenly hot UK offense.
For the first time this season, UK used a single quarterback from start to finish and the change paid dividends. With Jalen Whitlow running the show, the Cats had some early hiccups on offense. Stoops, however, resisted the urge to make a switch to Maxwell Smith.
"I gotta admit: I was thinking about some things in the middle of the game," Stoops said. "I said, 'No, let's go with it and see where we're at.' "
Whitlow and the young group of skill players surrounding him rewarded their coach's patience.
UK scored touchdowns on each of its final three drives, rolling up 191 yards of total offense on 25 plays. Whitlow was proficient as both a passer and runner, completing 17-of-24 passes for 178 yards, running for 69 more, accounting for three total touchdowns and flashing the kind of ability that makes his presence so intriguing.
"With that dimension, it does add some things," Stoops said. "That was good to see. Now you start putting some real stress on the defense when you can do our normal offense and try to pick up the tempo and with the way that we try to stretch the field with the passing game and all the options that (offensive coordinator) Neal (Brown) can do with a guy that can run the ball, it could be a good threat."
Whitlow's emergence is certainly encouraging for the short-term future of Kentucky football, but Saturday night's performance could be even more meaningful in the long term.
Just three days ago, Stoops was fuming after his team's worst practice since the new staff's arrival. He minced no words, saying his team would likely be blown out if the Cats played the way they practiced on Wednesday.
Nonetheless, the fact that they turned around and went toe to toe with a team that still harbors national-championship aspirations on the road did not surprise Stoops.
"I thought they responded after the disappointment throughout the week in our preparation and they responded and came back with great effort and passion," Stoops said. "We all can do things better, as a coaching staff and as players. We're all in this together and we all need to do what we need to do to make plays at the end of this game to win."
That's all part of the process to which Stoops so often refers.
Establishing Kentucky as a player on the national scene will take time, but Saturday night served notice that Stoops has his program on the right track.
"We in that locker room are changing a culture and I believe that," Stoops said. "... We need to do things better as a whole organization. Starting with myself and the coaching and all the players, we know can do better. But I believe the culture is changing. I thought that was evident tonight."
The crowd set the tone even before the first serve.
With hundreds of fans making the short walk from their tents at Big Blue Madness campout outside, Memorial Coliseum was rocking. A "Blue-White" cheer pinged across the floor as Craig Skinner gathered his team for some final words before Kentucky's Southeastern Conference home opener against Ole Miss on Friday.
"If that doesn't get you pumped to play, I don't know what does," Skinner said.
The Wildcats took it from there.
No. 19 UK (11-3, 3-0 SEC) swept past the visiting Rebels in dominant fashion, leading for every point of a 25-13, 25-16, 25-8 victory, save for three ties early in the first and second sets. The Cats turned in one of their best offensive performances of the season, hitting .439 as a team and committing a season-low-tying five errors.
"Pretty much everything (was working)," Skinner said.
This season, Skinner has installed an offense that calls for more back-row attacks. In doing so, the Cats have a fourth potential attacker on any given play. The offense hasn't always run smoothly a month-plus into the season, but the Cats - winners of 16 of their last 17 sets - are clearly finding a rhythm.
"We've implemented a couple different plays and (setter) Morgan's (Bergren) doing a better job getting her feet to the ball, so we utilized some of the back row tonight which wasn't always effective but it makes the other team think about it," Skinner said. "It's continuing to get better and I want to make sure we continue to have that as an option so we have at least four attackers on every rotation."
Even though Bergren has plenty of options, she still looks frequently to Whitney Billings. The senior seems intent on defending her SEC Player of the Week after tallying a match-high 12 kills while hitting a scorching .600 on Friday.
"The thing I'm most pleased about with Whitney is her concentration and effort in practice," Skinner said. "Every day she brings it and is ready to go, very focused on what we're trying to accomplish and that is translating into matches. She had another great match tonight."
Billings - a two-time all-conference selection - has been through the rigors of SEC play before. As UK wrapped up nonconference play, she knew the Cats would be in for a different kind of test in facing familiar SEC foes every Friday and Sunday. Three matches and three wins in, Skinner likes the way his team is responding.
"Different in each match," Skinner said, "but the mental concentration and toughness on the road at Auburn and Alabama and then for us to be able to get up 2-0 and the way we were playing for us to stay mentally aggressive and in tune with what was going on in the third set was a great job by our team."
Now UK will look to keep the momentum going against rival Tennessee on Sunday.
On Sunday, the Kentucky women's soccer team held its annual Kick Cancer Match. You may have already read about how the Wildcats' victory over Georgia made the evening even more special, but today you can hear about it directly from one of the players.Star junior Arin Gilliland dedicated her latest espnW.com blog entry to the match
. Here's an excerpt.
Before the game, we celebrated the life of a very special young lady and our honorary ball girl, Allison Berger. She and her family (Steve and Crystal Berger) forever changed multiple people's lives on this team, and they did the honors of presenting the game ball before the match, followed by a moment of silence in remembrance of Allison.
We came out ready to play. Every person on that field had channeled every bit of emotion they had bottled up. This game was much more than just a soccer game for us, and we weren't settling for anything less than a win. After a long battle against a great Georgia team, we finally found the back of the net to take home a 1-0 win.
Afterward we held a ceremony with all the fans and family and whoever else wanted to participate in the remembrance of their loved ones, family and friends who had fallen to cancer. Everyone received a flower that was donated by a local grocery company and placed it on the goal line inside the goal, when they were ready, during a moment of silence.
The Cats wore special gold jerseys for the match and they are now up for auction here
along with other items. All proceeds from the auction will go toward the fight against pediatric cancer.
Back the action on the pitch, No. 19 UK (8-2-1) hits the road for a pair of Southeastern Conference matches this weekend
. The Cats face Mississippi State at 8 p.m. ET on Friday and Vanderbilt at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Alexandra Morgan won SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after posting 17 blocks in wins over Auburn and Alabama. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Ten days ago, the Kentucky volleyball team wrapped up nonconference play. After the Wildcats swept Morehead State, Craig Skinner was happy, telling reporters that his team had met its goal of an 8-3 record entering the Southeastern Conference regular season.
Skinner, however, was not content.
"I feel like our blocking still needs to get better," Skinner said on Sept. 23. "In the SEC it's going to be a little more physical and people hitting the ball pretty hard, so we gotta slow the ball down at the net."
Over the four days the Cats had to prepare for a two-game road swing at Auburn and Alabama, Skinner turned that feeling into something more substantial.
"We challenged them to one-on-one competition between you and the attacker and then we did some technical things throughout the week to work on it," Skinner said.
It wasn't that UK did anything drastically different in practice. The Cats just put more of a focus on blocking and accepted the challenge to be more physical at the net.
"It's kind of like you against the other girl on the other side of the net and either she's going to get a kill or you're going to block it," senior Alexandra Morgan said. "A lot of times getting a huge block is more important than getting a huge kill and more rewarding for both the blocker and the team."
All that work, well, it worked.
UK won six of seven sets in taking a pair of matches in Alabama largely on the strength of its defense, and more specifically its blocking. The Cats had 26 total team blocks in the two wins - the most they have had in back-to-back matches all season - and Skinner called UK "a completely different team" in that area.
Morgan - playing in her home state - had 17 blocks on her own en route to receiving SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
"I was excited," Morgan said of the award. "I kind of struggled with blocking earlier in the preseason, so I was glad to get a lot of blocks these last few games and glad I could help my team."
Morgan's effect, as well as that of the entire block, was felt much more than in just the numbers themselves. A good volleyball defense requires players at the net and back-line defenders work in concert, and the Cats continue to make strides.
"Everyone knows that we're not going to block every single ball," Morgan said. "So we set up our defense with diggers around the block so if the blockers don't get a block, all the diggers should be in position to dig the ball to the best of their abilities."
UK's diggers were on their game this past weekend, particularly in the Friday-night win over Auburn. The Cats had 60 digs against the Tigers, most ever for a three-set match during the Skinner era.
"If we just got touches our diggers were doing a great job of picking us up as well," Morgan said. "It was a complete team effort that did it, not just the solo blocking."
UK will be looking to replicate that this weekend as it opens its SEC home slate against Ole Miss on Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. The Cats have been hard at work trying to establish consistency with their defense, but took a break on Thursday evening to distribute an early dinner to fans at the Big Blue Madness campout.
"Kentucky fans are the best in the nation," Morgan said. "I know they're there for basketball and they want to see basketball players and they want to see the practice, but they love us out there. Anything Kentucky they love, so it's a lot of fun interacting with them."
The Cats are now hoping a number of those fans seeking tickets to Madness will make their way into Memorial to see a sport played with a slightly smaller ball. If they do, Skinner is convinced his team will have some new devoted followers.
"I think if they haven't seen a volleyball match, they'll walk out of here thinking, 'Wow, that was pretty cool,' " Skinner said. "I have no doubt in my mind that if they come out and see a high-level Division-I volleyball match on Friday night, that they'll have a whole different perception of what volleyball is."
NEXT. That is the slogan for this year's 2013-14 University of Kentucky women's basketball program. The word next can take on many meanings, but head coach Matthew Mitchell is looking for his next big stars.
The Wildcats return four of the five starters from last season's Elite Eight squad and 10 letterwinners overall, including All-Southeastern Conference selections DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker and junior
UK freshmen Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Linnae Harper and Makayla Epps. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
sharpshooter Jennifer O'Neill, who was named to the 2013 Bridgeport Regional All-Tournament Team. However, there are three new faces that are looking to make an immediate impact on the program.
McDonald's All-Americans Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper join Kyvin Goodin-Rogers to create a top-10 recruiting class. With the newcomers, the Wildcats' roster of 13 student-athletes features seven McDonald's All-Americans, which is a school record.
"When you think about it, seven McDonald's All-Americans, that's a huge number and I think the seven of us have something different to contribute to the team," said the Chicago native, Harper. "That's why I think we're so special and different from other teams. That's why we're next. We're next up to being the best."
"When you see that seven of the 13 girls on our team, that's half the team, are McDonald's All-Americans, that's big," Epps echoed. "Having seven McDonald's All-Americans on a squad is just true talent. Coach Mitchell just recruits players and he ended up with seven McDonald's All-Americans."
With the highly rated recruiting class, Mitchell notched his fourth consecutive class ranked in the top 15 and highest since signing the No. 5 class in 2009. The class of three freshmen was ranked as high as No. 5 by All-Star Girls Report, No. 8 by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and No. 10 by Blue Star Basketball.
The door is now open for Mitchell to continue to bring elite young talent to Kentucky on a consistent basis and with his signature style of play, early playing time is an attractive offer to recruits. The Big Blue Nation is well aware of the "40 Minutes of Dread" the Cats rely on, and because of that style Mitchell will use a lot of bodies to ensure fresh legs are always on the court.
"The '40 Minutes of Dread' really made a difference in the long run when they were playing teams," Harper explained. "That's what I like to play. I like to play that aggressive and intense type of basketball. Coach Mitchell and the coaching staff have high expectations, but they don't just put all their focus on basketball. They focus on things off the court as well to better us as a person. Those qualities led me here."
Under Mitchell, the women's basketball program has become one of the nation's best, while 11 different players have received All-SEC accolades. Another 12 have been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. A UK player has won the AP SEC Player of the Year four straight seasons, the first school in SEC history to do so. Two of his players, Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies, were drafted in the first round of the WNBA. Dunlap was the 11th overall pick by the Washington Mystics in the 2011 Draft, while Mathies was the highest draft pick in school history, chosen as the 10th overall pick by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2013 WNBA Draft.
For the three fresh faces on the squad this season, it will be their goal to be the next great Wildcat.
"The 2013 class is a great class for the UK Hoops program," Mitchell said. "We signed three of the very best players in the country. These players are very talented and all three bring unique gifts to our program. We are beyond thrilled to have them join the UK Hoops family."
Harper comes to Lexington with a stacked résumé as the nation's No. 5 prospect overall, which makes her the highest-rated recruit in UK Hoops history. This is just an example of how Mitchell has lifted the program to an extremely high level.
With that high ranking, however, come expectations. On whether or not Harper felt the pressure of those high expectations, she said yes and no.
"I was happy and shocked (about being the highest-rated recruit) and that actually put a little more pressure on me, but I knew regardless of what happens this year that I was going to strive for my goals," Harper said.
Harper averaged 19.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game for powerhouse Whitney Young High School as a senior, while helping her team go 34-0 and win the Class 4A championship.
Epps was ranked as the 15th-best overall player by All-Star Girls Report, while also earning a McDonald's All-American game invitation. The 5-10 guard recorded 23.0 points, 5.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 steals a game during her senior campaign and was named Kentucky Miss Basketball and 2013 Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year.
"That was a complete shock," said Epps who hails from nearby Lebanon, Ky. "I know I'm good, but being a McDonald's All-American is the highest honor you can receive coming out of high school, so just to be rewarded for the work I've put in and have people take notice of it, means a lot to me. I was with some of the biggest names in the 2013 class and I never would have thought it."
The final piece of the puzzle is another Lebanon, Ky., native in Goodin-Rogers. Goodin-Rogers and Epps were teammates at Marion County High School where they led their squad to a 39-0 record and its first state tournament title in eight appearances.
Goodin-Rogers was ranked in the top 75 in all major recruiting sites after nearly averaging a double-double. She plans to look back to former Wildcat great Victoria Dunlap's decorated career and apply it to her own game.
"She always worked hard in games and did what she was supposed to do," Goodin-Rogers said. "She played her role and hopefully I'm able to do the same."
In Mitchell's tenure, two players have earned All-American honors, Dunlap and Mathies. Epps, Goodin-Rogers and Harper all have the ingredients to be the next All-Americans at Kentucky.
"That's my goal, to become an All-American by the time I get out of college and to also be the SEC All-Freshman of the Year," Harper explained. "All these achievements or goals I want to get up to won't come easy, it comes with hard work and dedication and commitment. If I do everything I have to do and exceed in everything then I feel like I have a good shot at it."
The track record for young players having success early on in their careers favors Epps, Goodin-Rogers and Harper. In the last four seasons, Mathies and Bria Goss have earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors. In all, Mitchell has produced five All-SEC Freshmen honorees during his first six seasons in Lexington.
Even with a veteran-heavy roster, the three freshmen will be called upon to contribute this season, whether it's in a starting role or off the bench.
"Whether I'm starting the game or sixth man, seventh man or last person to go in the game, I'm still going to go in and give Coach Mitchell, the staff and the rest of my teammates my all, regardless of whether or not I'm coming in off the bench or starting the game," Epps said. "That doesn't matter to me because I'm going to contribute what I can to the team."
The trio will be an integral piece to getting the Wildcats back to the Elite Eight and beyond during their four years wearing the Blue and White.
"With the three of us freshmen I feel like we can live up to those expectations and get the job done," Harper said.
Head coach Matthew Mitchell
Bria Goss and Samarie Walker
With every new tent that pops up, "Tent City" grows to an unprecedented size.
As of 9:30 a.m. ET on Thursday -- barely 24 hours into the three-day campout for Big Blue Madness tickets -- approximately 755 tents have been set up on the grounds surrounding Memorial Coliseum. The 2013 campout continues to distance itself from the previous record set in 2012, when 595 tents were erected at the final Friday afternoon count.
More than 60 new tents were set up since the last official count, with nearly all being directed across the street to Stoll Field.
Campers got a pleasant wake-up call on Thursday, as coaches and players from the Kentucky volleyball team made the rounds with McDonald's breakfast. The Wildcats are hoping campers help create a home-court advantage for their home match vs. Ole Miss on Friday night, as all fans showing the picture below at the Memorial ticket windows will receive free admission for as many as four people.
Also, Kentucky Wildcats TV continues to produce videos from the campout. Here's the latest.
From left to right, Julius Randle, Derek Willis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee make up a deep UK frontcourt. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari's instinct will always be to shield his players. Whether it's from fan criticism, media scrutiny or their own bad habits, it's just in his nature to protect.
But Coach Cal has learned anything as a coach and as a parent, it's that there is one thing from which he absolutely cannot hide young people.
"You can't save these kids from competition," Calipari said. "I can't save my own children from competition. That's the United States. That's what we're about."
Even so, Calipari admits he spent much of a disappointing 2012-13 season fighting that immutable truth. He put together a thin roster of just eight Wildcats recruited as scholarship student-athletes, betting on talent and his own track record of maximizing it.
It didn't take long to discover that competition was missing from the equation. And by trying to save his players from that competition, Calipari ended up doing them more harm than good.
"You can't do it that way," Calipari said. "I know there is a number that is too many, but you can't do what we did a year ago, and that was my own (doing). It's what I did. It was my choice. You look back and say we put the kids in a bad position on a lot of fronts."
Calipari often talks about the bench being the most powerful motivator. But with minimal options, he had to ride players who would have been better served taking a breather.
"It's kind of like you're playing golf and it goes south, so you try to play 27 more holes and it just gets worse," Calipari said. "Your best bet is when it started to go south, go home, have a beer, laugh about it, and then go out tomorrow and you play better."
With added depth this season, players won't have to keep teeing it up when they get a case of the shanks.
Calipari signed an eight-member signing class hailed by many as among the best in college basketball history. The six McDonald's All-Americans and two in-state stars who comprise the class join returners Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson. Add in freshman EJ Floreal and three more returning walk-ons and you have a 16-member roster that dwarfs last year's.
It's not the raw numbers that will make the Wildcats special this year; it's the way players approach practice.
"Everybody's super-competitive," said Julius Randle, the nation's second-ranked freshman. "I kind of already knew before coming in because I've played so many of these guys in AAU, but everybody's competitive. We all hate to lose and we just take a lot of pride in our game."
Randle has been involved in one of the more intriguing individual battles in pick-up games in practice. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward has been a matchup nightmare throughout his basketball career, but goes head to head with a near-athletic equal in Alex Poythress (6-8, 239) daily.
"In high school, guys aren't going to be as good as you on your team, so it's easy to say, 'I can take a day off,' or 'I don't have to come with the same intensity,' and you still may dominate," Randle said. "But you know you're going to have to be on your game every day when you come in here. You're going to have focus and work hard."
A season ago, Poythress didn't have a peer pushing him in that way. The hope, now, is that Randle's presence will lift Poythress's game to a new level.
"You don't feel like playing today or I don't feel like embarrassing anybody, well, the choice is you embarrass him or he's embarrassing you," Calipari said. "It's not about not embarrassing anybody. You embarrass him or he's embarrassing you. So now all of a sudden you start changing. You're like, whoa, how do I do this? What do I do?"
"It pushes you every day," Poythress said. "It brings out the competitor in you."
That's true at nearly every position. At point guard, Andrew Harrison has to take on Hawkins. On the perimeter, Aaron Harrison and James Young face off. In the post, it's Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson.
"It's tremendous," Cauley-Stein said. "Everybody has a competitive spirit this year. Nobody wants to lose. Nobody likes losing. And the pick-up games are crazy. They're like all-star games. So the talent level and the amount of competitiveness on the court is unbelievable. It's hard to explain. You've got to watch it for yourself."
With competitiveness taken care of, a couple new issues have arisen for Coach Cal.
First of all, how does he manage his rotation? Does he press and play 10 guys? Does he follow the advice John Wooden gave him during the 2009-10 season and cut down his rotation? Does he go big? Does he go small?
"Luckily, I'm not a coach. That's not my job. I'm just going to go out there and play and lead this team. That's that man up there's job," Randle said, pointing to Calipari's office.
The other problem with such a talented, versatile group won't rear its head until the end of the season. After UK won the national title in 2012, six Cats went on to the NBA Draft and Calipari had to reload. Following a workout late this summer, Coach Cal realized something similar could happen in the spring.
"I went home and I was singing to myself and back and ready start talking crap again and here we go, and then what popped in my mind?" Calipari said. "Oh my gosh, these guys are all going to leave. Where's my phone? And now I'm calling (recruits). I made two calls before I got home, and you know I don't live that far from (the Joe Craft Center)."
Coach Cal, however, needs only think back to a season ago to remind himself there are worse problems to have.
In September, John Calipari sat down with a select group of media members to talk about his 2013-14 Kentucky team. We will be posting a transcript of the entire conversation on Tuesday and Wednesday in four parts. Calipari closes it out today by talking in more detail about individual players. Check out parts one, two and three here, here and here.Question: When you say Willie can be what Willie really is, what is Willie?Calipari:
In other words, when he's really going good you go. When he's not going as good, he doesn't have the heat on him. The question is: How do you get better? OK, well either you are a kid that's going to drive yourself. I walk in the gym, you're in here 11 o'clock at night. Brandon Knight, some of these other kids. Or you're not. If you're not, then who's on the team that's driving you that's either going to go by you -- he goes by you -- there's nobody promised here that's going to play - either goes by you or you stay in front of him and you keep improving and figure out ways of knocking this dude back. And he's got that in Dakari. I'm telling you, Dakari's better than I thought. He's legitimately like, oh my gosh, I didn't know. Now can he and Willie play together? I know this: Willie can guard a bunch of positions. The thing with Willie that makes it nice and having a 6-5 point guard that weighs 220 pounds is that you can switch all pick-and-rolls. So all this pick-and-roll, high pick-and-roll and I only pick-and-roll, Coach, you better try something different. That ain't working because you just switch everything. When have a 6-5, 220-pound point guard and your five man is Willie Cauley and can play the point, how do you pick-and-roll? He can guard your point and I can guard your five. Now it's not like I'm starting a game that way, but in a pinch, the ball swings, we switch back. We may do it. We're not going to start that way, but there's things you can do and why Willie has a strength that makes us unique and different.Question: How would you describe Andrew's approach to playing point guard?Calipari:
I don't know yet until I get him. We're trying to figure it out. I don't know everything these kids can do yet. And that's one of the reasons why I want to do pickup - controlled, coached five-on-five - so I can watch and see. OK, wow. In the small period of time I worked with him the other day, Aaron is unbelievable -- he's better than I thought. Everyone is saying Andrew's way above Aaron. That's not true. And you won't believe this: They really look the same. Like, they do. And I'm telling you, he went to his left hand, shouldered and laid (it in) easily. Like lefty. And I'm like saying, he may be a strong left driver. Andrew seemed want to go a little more right and when he went left he didn't do it as well. I told Aaron after, "You need to teach your brother what you're doing going left because I'd like him to be able to go left and maybe start the offense on the left side rather than right side." But I can't do that unless he can go hard left like that. But Aaron did stuff and I'm like, wow, I didn't realize. And so I'm going to learn about them. I don't know all the stuff about these kids.Question: Do you think they are interchangeable?Calipari:
Yeah. We can switch jerseys. There's a lot of stuff we can do.Question: Can you tell them apart?Calipari:
They have a different haircut right now so I can.Question: By orders?Calipari:
No. Uh huh. Mom tried to tell me something about this kid has a thing (points to forehead) and I'm like, what? So I may be able to in time if I'm around them know who's who, but I'm just telling you: They are identical twins. They look alike -- talk a little bit different. You can tell they're different when you're with them and they're speaking to you.Question: It seems like you're a little giddy about a chance to work with these guys.Calipari:
I do, but I'm telling you that I'm also on the phone three hours a night trying to figure out who's our '14 class going to be. I'm sitting with coaches and guy's saying, "Yeah, we only got one scholarship next year." What? Or, "We're only recruiting big guys. Our guards are set for the next three years." What? I mean, it's not what I want, it's not my rule, but it is what it is. And when I watch kids I have a good feel for, 'Alright, if plays out, what's going to happen here?' And you don't always know. I never thought Marquis Teague would leave after a year. And that kind of got us last year. Even as the year wound down, I thought, this kid's going to stay. When he comes in, "I'm going to go." Now all of a sudden, uh oh, I only got this guy in the program, do I want to go out and get one or two more? How do I do this? He'll be good enough, and all of a sudden you get trapped. That's what happened, but it was my choice. Part of my choice was I didn't want to bring in anybody scaring away the class we had coming in. Alright, well then eat it. You just went through what you went through and it was your choice. That's why I didn't blame anybody. And I'm not taking the credit for us winning the national title. I had good players. Went to a Final Four. I had good players. I had good players. They wanted to come together, they were good kids. We'll do our job, but I think, again, yeah I'm excited about coaching this team. I'm excited this week because we got alums coming in. Go play against my guys and come back and tell me what you think. Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus (Cousins) went crazy when they played. Well let Terrence and these guys come in here and play these guys, tell me what you think. And so I'm hoping the next few days they get to play against the guys and we have an idea who is who.
Question: Has Dakari improved that much since he got here?Calipari:
Body fat's down six or seven percent, his weight's down, so now all of a sudden he's running better, he's more nimble on his feet. His conditioning is better which means he's trying to dunk balls. A lot of times you say, "Well, he plays below the rim." Because it was his choice. Well, he could have played higher but it's hard. "For me to do that all the time, oh my god, I got to work like crazy." Yeah. Now you're starting to see it. And I think he's challenged by Willie. Like, I'm not going anywhere. If it's me and you, then I'm coming at you. Either you fight me back or I just bury you. So it's good.Question: You mentioned Terrence and you mentioned DeAndre. You talk a lot of times about these guys being your kids. They've had a couple things happen this summer. Do you reach out to them and what do you say?Calipari:
I talked to both of them. I just say, "How can I help you? Is there anything you want me to do or help you with?" But they're grown men. They're still considered, to me, children to me, but they're not. They're grown men. And guys make choices and then you got to deal with it. It's the great thing about our country: In most cases, you choose to do something you have to deal with it. But I think overall, our kids, we got great kids. How about them all coming back (for the alumni game)?Question: How do you keep it in perspective with this young group, especially after last year? I think the word delusional was bounced around here. How are you trying to keep their mental focus, maybe trying to use last year's team as an example?Calipari:
Listen, I've talked more about last year's team right here than I have since the Robert Morris game. That thing is so far behind me, it ain't even in my mindset. I don't want them to think about last year. They have nothing to do with last year. The only thing we're talking about is: How do you get better, how do you come together as a team, how do you sacrifice for your teammates? Do you know we played Louisville in the Final Four? No one on the team took more than nine shots and we won the game. Go back and look, I bet you it's never happened in the history of the Final Four that no one on a winning team took more than nine shots. Jerry (Tipton) will look and write if I'm wrong, but I don't think it's ever happened. So my thing to my team is: What happens? They all sacrifice for each other. Are you willing to do it? And now, what happens here? And they're telling me they're sharing the ball. It's amazing. They're passing it to each other. I think they know what's out there. I think the twins know what's said about them. You don't think they look on the Internet and (see) this stuff? Whether it's James -- James will defer a little bit like Eric Bledsoe. Don't defer, you're as good as any of these guys. Don't defer. You're not being selfish. Just attack, be strong, know you can play with these guys. All that being said, I don't talk about any of that. I've talked about, to you, the mistakes that I made that led to what we did and how we played. I'm telling you how we try to cure that. One is - ready? Good players. More of them. You know, so some it wasn't their fault. I had guys that were in the game that needed to be out. OK, put in Twany (Beckham). Wait a minute. You can't. We weren't able to do it. So I'm worried about this group moving forward. Not using last team to, you know, try to say, "Hey, this could happen." No, that doesn't happen unless we choose to make it happen with this group.Question: Do you want to go into the season with a 10- or 11-man rotation or do you figure that out as the season goes along?Calipari:
I don't know. I don't know. I'll play as many guys as can play. The guys are telling me Jarrod's (Polson) playing well. OK. Jon Hood's playing better. OK. What does that mean? I don't know yet until we start playing, until I put them in the game and they perform. If they deserve to get playing time, we will. If we press, I'll be playing more people anyway. But I'm not going to play 11, 12 guys. I won't do that, but you get to nine, maybe a 10th guy play, but we could settle on seven. Alright, these are the seven. I remember when Coach (John) Wooden was alive, I called him about my team in 2010 and I said, "You're watching my team, I'm trying to get guys together. What do you think?" He said, "Coach, you play too many guys." I said, "Really? Why do you think that, Coach?" He said, "Because you do it because of recruiting and everything else. You can't afford not to play guys if you (are trying to recruit). When we played, we played six guys, seven guys. That's it. If you wanted to play, you go in practice and you prove that you're better than him and then go in the game and perform. Then he'll sit and you play. And if you have to sit two years, then that's not my (problem), but you have other things that you understand." But I don't feel that way. And at the time he was right because of the team I had. I had just walked in here, I had a lot of guys I was trying to play. Jack Leaman told me the same thing when I was at UMass. The year I played six guys, we went to the Final Four and had the best team in the country. The year I played six guys. The year before, I played nine guys, we got to the Elite Eight. We were good, but he always said, "You're not going to be quite as good as a team when you're trying to play nine." So all the old-timers tell you the same thing. Now if you want to be about you and your system and all that, you keep flipping guys in and out and in and out and in and out. You think, but the reality of it is, if you really want to be good, you get a team of guys together and you just -- as the year goes on, they get better as a team because they get to learn about each other.Question: Hood and Polson are guys that have been around here for awhile? What can they give you off the court that you need?Calipari:
No, look, they can give us stuff on the court. They're going to have an opportunity to play and it's a challenge, but they're going to have an opportunity. Now I would tell you that the way they handle themselves in all the workouts to drag these guys, trying to finish first in all the runs, trying to push these guys in the weight training, try to explain to them - because they've been around - that every game we play is someone's Super Bowl. You're not going to realize it until you're in the games. You better train like your life depends on it. And then when you play you better have more fun than that other team because that other team is wound tight and trying to kill you. And they can tell them - not coming from me - we went through it. Willie and Alex, the same thing. Now what I told the team as a whole, "We need leadership and you young guys, if these guys lead you, then go. If they don't, you lead. Run right by them and you lead." I don't care who leads. We've had freshmen lead before. We've had juniors and seniors lead. But someone's got to step up and drag the team and teach and talk and do that. So hopefully those veteran players are going to do that.Question: How about Derek Willis? How do you see him in where he's at?Calipari:
I mean, the challenge for him is he's going against physical men. When you talk Julius, you talk Alex, you talk Dakari, you talk Willie, you're talking four guys that physically can throw (down). You don't know the maturation process. But right now, he's stronger and in better shape than he was, but he's got a ways to go with that. He's not playing a position where you can physically not be up to snuff. And it's the same thing with Marcus Lee. And then you're trying to say, "What strengths do you have that you can add to the team right now?" I think he's going to be fine. I think Dominique's going to be fine. They're not as far along as some of the guys we have, but they'll be fine.
Chet White, UK Athletics
As he praised his team for a second consecutive solid day of practice on Tuesday, Mark Stoops made it clear he wasn't just being positive for the sake of being positive.
"I'm not ever gonna try to mask any of that," Stoops said on Tuesday. "If I was unhappy with their preparation, the way they're trying to go about their business, I'd tell them and I'd tell you."
A day later Stoops proved it, mincing no words in evaluating Kentucky's effort.
"Very unacceptable practice today," Stoops said on Wednesday. "Just very frustrating. Preparation wasn't good enough, effort wasn't good enough, attitude wasn't good enough. Not good."
Throughout his UK tenure, Stoops has been consistently pleased with his team's approach, so Wednesday was quite a departure. The fact that the Wildcats turned in such a subpar effort days before a Saturday road trip to No. 13/12 South Carolina makes it that much more troubling.
"This is the most frustrated I've been, probably, because we're right in the middle of a tough stretch and we're getting ready to play a tough game on the road in a hostile environment and with that attitude, we're gonna get rolled," Stoops said.
The message wasn't easy to hear for the players - who likely heard an even sterner version of Stoops' remarks to reporters - but they wouldn't have it any other way.
"That's why we love him though," Sanders said. "He's going to shoot us straight when you're doing good and when he doesn't like something, he's not going to beat around the bush or be nice about it."
In talking about the offense alone, Neal Brown wasn't quite so unhappy.
"It was a little bit better on our side of the ball today," Brown said. "We had pretty good focus until we went into our blitz segment of our practice, then we had a couple of miscues there."
At quarterback, Brown assigned majority of snaps (65 to 70 percent, he estimated) to one quarterback as he did on Tuesday. By giving the second quarterback plenty of repetitions in practice, UK will have a backup plan should the first struggle.
"I've got a plan. I've really had a plan since Monday," Brown said. "The thing about it is, I've got a plan going into it. We're going to give that quarterback an opportunity, but then the other one's going to be ready."
Stoops, however, was in no mood to discuss specific positions on Wednesday.UK will return to the field for its final practice ahead of the South Carolina game with a simple goal: improve.
"It's not acceptable, it's not all right," Stoops said. "We'll do our best to get it out of them, but we got to coach better, we got to play better and it's not OK. We're here to get better every day and reach the most potential we have and if we do that, I'm OK with it. If we don't, I'm not."
Head coach Mark Stoops
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
A shot from the Big Blue Madness campout minutes after campers set up tents beginning at 5 a.m. ET on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Walking around the annual campout for Big Blue Madness tickets, you overhear some interesting bits of conversation. I have an early favorite this year.
A boy of about 10 years old was with his father talking about his first Tent City experience. Amazed by the scene, he said, "This is kind of weird. Do they do this every year?"
Indeed Kentucky fans do spend three days braving the elements for tickets to a practice every year, but never quite like 2013.
Still less than 12 hours into the campout, approximately 690 tents have surrounded Memorial Coliseum as of 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. The total is up 40 from Wednesday morning and now puts the 2013 campout nearly 100 ahead of the previous record set in 2012.
The bulk of the gains came on Stoll Field, where an additional 27 tents were set up in the past seven hours. Here's a look:
Rested after an early-morning wake-up call, there was more activity around the campout even with cloudy skies and a few raindrops. Senior guard Jon Hood made an appearance to play corn hole with fans, while Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and others signed autographs as they walked from the Joe Craft Center back to their dorm rooms.
Seeing the players for whom they cheer is a big reason why the campout has become as big as it has, and more such interactions will follow in the coming days. Stay tuned for coverage of that, as well as the next tent count on Thursday morning.
Kentucky's lone touchdown in last Saturday's game against No. 18 Florida came from an unlikely source: kicker Joe Mansour, who ran 25 yards to the end zone on a fake field goal.
The fake field goal and resulting touchdown came as a surprise to Florida andnearly everyone else inside Commonwealth Stadium. A closer look at the man behind the call reveals a coach who has shown a great feel for calling great fakes at the right times throughout his career: UK special teams coordinator and safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto.
Peveto is known throughout the Big Blue Nation for his sharp wit and candid quotes. On Saturday the humble, but funny coach provided some substance in the form of a well-executed trick play.
Mansour's score, which tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter, brought an excitement -- not to mention a decibel level - to Commonwealth Stadium rarely felt in recent years.
Yet Saturday's fake field goal attempt came not on a whim. Instead, the decision came after hours of film study, like most things that happen on the field under Stoops' direction.
"It's something like all things that's been out there for a while," Peveto said of his fake on which the holder flips the ball blindly over his head to a right-sweeping kicker. "Coach Stoops was very aware that that was the fake that we should run. He and I game plan all of that together.
"He's highly involved, and very helpful in all phases of our special teams. He knew we thought it would be there. We called it, it was there and it was well executed by our players."
But the fake was not a one-off for Peveto. He has used similar forms of trickery in Southeastern Conference games past.
Peveto was special team's coordinator under Les Miles, the Mad Hatter himself, when LSU famously ran the same fake against - coincidentally Kentucky's next opponent - Steve Spurrier's South Carolina during a national-championship season in 2007.
Peveto's influence was on display three years later even after he had departed Baton Rouge for a head-coaching job at Northwestern State as Miles used the same fake late in the fourth-quarter of a comeback win against an Urban Meyer-coached Florida team in the Swamp. And Peveto's Northwestern State team also perfectly executed a fake punt against top-ranked LSU in 2011.
Mansour's touchdown came on one of the more complicated fake-field-goal plays in football. It's one Peveto's teams seem to execute perfectly, while imitators around the country have struggled to master it.
"There are a lot more moving parts to any fake that meets the eye," Peveto said. "We keep several of them greased up. That was one we thought was a good one to carry into that game. I'm just glad we have a head coach like Coach Stoops, who's a big believer in special teams and having fakes greased up and ready to go."
Indeed Peveto, himself a former head coach, is fiercely loyal to Stoops and most everyone he has worked with throughout his career. The UK special teams coordinator is insistent on passing along most of the credit for the play-call's success with Stoops.
"Coach Stoops is highly involved in our special teams, highly involved in what we do," Peveto said. "He makes it really clear that if we're in a situation where we see an opportunity to run a fake, were we feel the fake is there, we are going to get it ready to go. It was a situation where we thought it was there. Coach Stoops wanted to call it.
"He's the guy that has a say in whether you run a fake or not. Basically we look at the tape, and if we think one of our fakes are there we get it ready to go for that week and run it in the game."
Calling the fake largely resulted from watching Florida game film, as the Gators had shown aggressive block formations throughout the year, but Mansour's decidedly un-kicker-like speed must have made the coaches' decision easier.
"I mean, he can run," Peveto said of Mansour, who showed off the speed that made him a successful high school receiver in Georgia.
Still the players had to execute a play with a very high degree of difficulty. After all, if a blind overhead flip from a holder to a 189-pound kicker was easy it would likely be seen more often on Saturdays across the country.
"We executed perfectly," Mansour said. "We practiced it and we went out on the field and they gave us a perfect look like we have been working in practice and we executed. We got a perfect snap from Kelly Mason and a perfect toss from Jared Leet and I ran for the touchdown."
As well as Peveto prepared his specialists to execute on Saturday, he still pulled Leet aside before the holder ran on the field for the fourth-down attempt fully ready to make a difficult pitch. Peveto's success as a special teams coordinator can largely be attributed to those types of details.
"One of our goals on special teams every week is to make a difference for our football team. That play made a difference. Another one of our goals is to score, and we scored to give us momentum.
"That one kind of encompassed everything in one. Our job is to make a difference, to put our offense and defense in positions to have a chance to be successful. We had a chance there and we did it."
As UK embarks upon the third leg of a four-game stretch during which each of the opponents is currently ranked inside the AP top-20 the Wildcats will look to special teams to continue making a difference. So Peveto will very likely keep plenty of the options in his bag of tricks "greased up."
Head coach Matthew Mitchell
Senior DeNesha Stallworth
Campers seeking tickets to Big Blue Madness had already set up a record 650 tents as of 9:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For three years, I've counted tents at the annual Big Blue Madness campout. Each time, I've thought the previous year's tent-count record would be tough to beat.
It's time to stop doubting Kentucky fans.
As of 9:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday - just four-and-a-half hours into the campout and nearly 72 hours from Saturday's ticket distribution - approximately 650 tents had encircled Memorial Coliseum, setting an all-time record. Last year's campout held the record previously with 595 tents, but did not top the 2011 record until Friday afternoon.
Somewhere, John Calipari is saying, "You people are crazy."
The mood around "Tent City" on Wednesday morning was calm, as campers had been up since the wee hours to be ready for the official setup time of 5 a.m. As the days pass, the atmosphere figures to become more festive, particularly as fans await the visits from various UK teams that have become tradition.
Although there are many familiar faces, the annual event has grown each year and demand for tickets to UK's first open men's and women's basketball practice opportunity is at an all-time high in 2013. During last year's record-setting campout, 425 tents had been set up on the first morning of the campout, more than 200 fewer than this year. More than 70 tents have already been set up across the street from Memorial on Stoll Field. In previous years, only a few tents had been erected on Stoll Field by this time.
Even though the record has already fallen, we will continue to continue to count tents to see just how high the bar is set for future campouts. Stay tuned for the next tent count late Wednesday afternoon.
In the meantime, catch up on the campout by checking out Chet White's photo gallery from Wednesday morning
and the video below.
McCombs Photo Gallery
Longtime UK athletics trainer Walt McCombs with Joe B. Hall, John Cropp and Jim Madaleno at the 2013 Catspy Awards. (Photo by Chet White, UK athletics).
Legendary Kentucky men's basketball coach Joe B. Hall is known as a master story-teller. One of his best tales revolves around his longtime athletic trainer, Walt McCombs.
Hall's UK club had just narrowly pulled off a win at Vanderbilt in the late 1970s. Hall was giving the team a spirited postgame talking-to in the locker room when he saw a water cooler and gave it a swift kick. The cooler flipped up in the air and came pouring down on McCombs, who was standing quietly in the corner of the locker room.
"I was so respectful of Walt and in my anger I accidently took it out on him," Hall remembers. "So I picked up that bucket and dumped the rest of the water on my own head, just to show him that I was so sorry."
Now in his 39th year with the UK athletics department, McCombs, 64, is memorable for much more than playing a leading role in Hall's signature story. He has had an undeniably positive impact on countless student-athletes, coaches and staff members.
"If you could sum up Walt in one word, I would say 'selfless,' " former UK men's soccer All-American Barry Rice said.
"He is one of my favorite people in sports," Hall said.
THE EARLY YEARS
A South Carolina native, McCombs attended The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, where he earned his undergraduate degree in physical education and worked as a manager for the football team.
When the trainer needed help, the hard-working McCombs volunteered to help, quickly finding a calling.
"I could never see myself wearing a coat and tie and sitting behind a desk 40 hours a week," McCombs said. "Plus I always liked athletics, working with people and student-athletes."
In August of 1971, McCombs ventured to Lexington to work with the UK football program and coach John Ray as a graduate assistant trainer. After spending two years splitting time between football and the powerhouse men's basketball team under hall of famer Adolph Rupp, McCombs accepted a position as the full-time football trainer at Clemson. That position was short-lived, however, as McCombs was quickly hired full-time by new UK football staff in 1973 under coach Fran Curci.
McCombs would work with football until the mid-October start date for basketball, where he began to form a long-standing relationship with Hall and an appreciation for the whirlwind that is Kentucky basketball.
"I didn't realize then, what magnitude everything was at Kentucky," McCombs said. "Being from South Carolina, there wasn't too much news about Kentucky basketball. I didn't learn anything about the history of the program until I got involved with it. Then I realized how blessed I was to have a position like that. It is big-time pressure when you are the men's basketball coach at Kentucky."
CARRYING ON A LEGACY
In the modern era of catering to college coaches, it has become commonplace for the athletic trainers to come and go as coaches do. Head coaches want their own, trusted trainers with them as they build a program.
After spending just one year working with Rupp, McCombs and Hall quickly developed a close personal and professional bond in the years following Rupp's retirement.
"Walt McCombs was the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a coach," Hall said. "He fell in my lap and I never had anyone that meshed with the program the way Walt did. Walt was the best that I was ever around in my total coaching career. Walt is an example for all trainers."
While Hall directed a winner on the floor, McCombs found a perfect balance between confidant to the student-athletes and as an extension of the coaching staff.
"Walt loved the players," Hall said. "He was loyal and respectful to the coaches. He bridged that gap very well as a trainer between the players and the coaches. He fought for the players when he needed to and he represented the coaches and their ideas, always."
UK continued to build on the championship tradition that was founded under Rupp, with the Wildcats finishing as the NCAA Runner-Up in 1974-75, before breaking through for the 1977-78 national championship.
Spurred by Jack "Goose" Givens, who averaged 18 points per game, Rick Robey and Kyle Macy, the Wildcats rolled to a 30-2 record and a win over Duke in the NCAA Title Game.
"The national championship was special," McCombs said. "Any time you win your division, your conference, your conference tournament or go to the NCAA, it is great to see the excitement in the athletes. That is what it is all about. The coaches also get real excited too because they are all competitors and that is what coaches do: They get their boys to compete."
When asked to remember some of his fondest student-athletes, McCombs quickly references some of the top players in program history.
"Sometimes it may be a starter on the team. Sometimes it may be someone riding the bench," McCombs said about some of his favorites. "Rex (Chapman), Sam (Bowie), Melvin Turpin, they were all great kids."
Bowie, a 7-foot-1, 230-pound superstar for the Wildcats, was one of the transcendent players of the Hall era.
"I got there in 1979 and Walt was probably one of the first people that I got really close to," Bowie said. "I never really looked at him as a trainer. He was always in a very enjoyable mood and he was very good at his profession but I thought he was more, he was more than an employee for the University. He was someone that really took a personal interest in us and he was one of those guys that acted like every day was a holiday. He is just a very good man."
After bursting on the scene as an All-SEC standout in 1979-80, Bowie battled injuries and sat out the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons. That created a lot of time spent with McCombs in and out of hospitals, training and X-ray rooms.
"Walt was the one that took me down to Memphis, where I had my first couple of surgeries," Bowie said. "Coach Hall had him literally take me down there and stay with me for the few days after surgery. I just remember that as an employee, he was obviously there to take care of me as a patient, but he was there 24/7 as a friend. Walt will always be special to me."
Bowie returned to the hardwood in 1983-84, earning All-America honors and becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers.
"When I think of Walt McCombs, the last thing I think of is somebody wrapping an ankle," Bowie said. "He was very good at his profession, but I just knew Walt as a personal friend."
"The stuff that Sam had to go through, after he left here, surgeries, coming back and having to do the same thing over again," McCombs said. "Sam is just a real human being. That is about the biggest compliment I can give someone, is that they are a real human being."
McCombs continued to direct the training needs of the men's basketball program through the Eddie Sutton era and two years into the Rick Pitino era.
BUILDING A SOCCER PROGRAM
In 1992, Pitino brought in his own trainer to work with basketball and McCombs found a home helping build the men's soccer program from its infancy.
While working with the first coach in program history, Sam Wooten (1992-93) and then-coach Ian Collins (1994-2011), McCombs saw a program rise from the ground up. UK went from a club sport, to a NCAA sponsored team, to a powerhouse in the Mid-American Conference.
"We used to play where the tennis courts are now," McCombs said as he detailed the facilities UK used in the early 1990s. "It used to be an intramural field. It had a cage around it, looked like an octagon almost. There wasn't much space between the sidelines and the fence."
McCombs worked with the fiery Collins for his tenure, with the Wildcats dominating the MAC in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He worked with some of the top players of the era, including Riley O'Neill Ilkka Jantti, Andy Gruenebaum and Jamal Shteiwi, with Rice, Dan Williams and Jason Griffiths emerging as stars in the 2000s.
"Walt was the guy that no matter what you needed or what you needed to get done, he would do it for you, no questions asked," Rice said. "He made sure that he did everything possible to keep you healthy and made sure you could do everything you needed to on the field. He pretty much drops whatever he is doing to make sure his athletes are taken care of."
As UK transitioned to the more competitive Conference USA, McCombs got to see the development of the program from a front-row seat. With the transition came a new era in the UK athletics department, as Mitch Barnhart was hired as the athletics director and quickly began to emphasize a broad-based athletics program.
"It is just amazing what Mitch and the athletics department have done and are doing for the Olympic sports," McCombs said about the impact of Barnhart. "Mitch has been dedicated to raising the level. That gives the athletes a lot more pride then maybe the pride they had way back when, when they were riding in vans. It is the way the program should be."
With Griffiths, Rice and Williams leading the way, UK posted strong seasons in 2006 and 2008, with the Wildcats feeling snubbed by the NCAA Tournament committee in both years.
Despite the occasional heartbreak of UK's student-athletes, McCombs always found a way to keep the mood light.
"Walt is always the guy that brightens up the room," Rice said. "We may have been having a bad stretch of games where we were struggling and everyone was kind of down and you would go into the training room and Walt would have everyone laughing by lightening the mood or cracking a couple of jokes. He is always good to be around. He is fun."
In December of 2011, Barnhart turned the keys of the program over to Johan Cedergren, a former star at Cincinnati and decorated associate head coach at powerhouse Dartmouth. An energetic, organized young coach with an infectious personality, Cedergren changed the culture around the UK program. In his first year, Cedergren paced the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament since 2003, earning a hosting berth in the first round.
"Walt is a guy that has been around the block once or twice," Cedergren said. "There is really nothing that he hasn't seen. He bleeds blue. There is nothing that he would not do for the University, the athletics department or the team that he is working with."
On one of the first road trips of Cedergren's debut season, McCombs noticed his new head coach was having a hard time with a back injury from his playing days. Without missing a beat, McCombs found a battery operated pillow that was designed to give some relief to the back, bringing it to Cedergren for the following road trip.
"There is nothing he will not do for the team or the staff," Cedergren said. "One of Walt's great strengths is that he may not be super involved in the training aspect of practice but he is always there. He is always watching. There is nothing that Walt will miss. If there is a guy trying to cover an injury or a guy not working hard enough, whatever it is, Walt will see it. That was very reassuring for a young head coach."
Cedergren benefited from his relationship with McCombs and his role during that historic season a year ago, as the Wildcats had several players battle injuries en route to the big dance.
"It might be the first time that a player has had that injury but Walt has seen it multiple times and that really helps a staff," Cedergren said. "He knows the different variations of the injury, the timeline and the best way to go about treatment. The guys feel reassured too when Walt is treating them because they know and they can just tell he knows what he is talking about."
Throughout the 2012 season, it became apparent how much McCombs was enjoying the thrill of a winning season, the energy of the new coaching staff and the excitement of his student-athletes.
"Johan has been a breath of fresh air," McCombs said. "He encourages the soccer boys a lot. He seems to make an effort to be positive, or he is just blessed with encouraging people to do their very best and when they do mess up he doesn't just go ballistic, he tries to make it a positive, it's a learning experience."
While serving as the volunteer assistant on Cedergren's coaching staff, Rice was able to see McCombs' enjoyment of the season and his never-yielding passion for the well-being of his players.
"For a guy that had been around one coach for almost 20 years and then switch and adjust to another coach, who to put it lightly, does everything the exact opposite of Ian, he did better than anyone could," Rice said. "That just speaks to the kind of person he is. He showed Johan the utmost respect. He is just an all-around good guy. He deserves a lot more credit than what people realize. But he is just very quiet, calm and collected and just works in the background."
LOVING WHAT HE DOES
With the joys of retirement in the horizon, one couldn't blame McCombs for planning the next chapter of his life without taping ankles, fixing strained hamstrings or icing down leg cramps. McCombs, however, can't really imagine life without his life's work.
"As long as I enjoy doing it, I can physically do it and as long as they will keep me around, I want to keep going," McCombs said. "My father didn't have the opportunity to finish college, his father passed away when he was in his teens and he had to go to work. He put five of us through college and he worked 40 years at the same plant so that is sort of my upbringing.
A father of two girls and one son, who is finishing up school at UK, and the grandfather of four boys, McCombs' positive impact on others is seen throughout a loving family, and his family of former and current UK athletes.
"I would definitely say team player and loyalty are the things that come to mind," McCombs' boss, longtime UK football trainer Jim Madeleno said about his soccer trainer. "One of the best things someone could say about a trainer a lot of times is that Walt is just someone you don't even know is there. And his job is getting done and done well."
As the Kentucky soccer season rolls on in its second year under Cedergren, McCombs continues to guide his roster of young competitors through the rigors of collegiate athletics and the challenges of being a student-athlete.
"Very rarely to you see one person stay in a position for their lifetime," McCombs said. "I am just taking it day by day. I am very blessed."
His calming presence and caring personality has not changed in 40 years, something that has created an undying loyalty in his friends and co-workers.
"I'll do anything for that man," Madaleno concluded. "Walt McCombs is all UK."
In September, John Calipari sat down with a select group of media members to talk about his 2013-14 Kentucky team. We will be posting a transcript of the entire conversation on Tuesday and Wednesday in four parts. Today, Calipari discusses a few of his players individually. Check out parts one and two here and here.Question: What have you seen from Alex this year?Calipari:
His head's up. He's looking you in the eye. I think he's more confident. He's ready for the year. His hamstring, he did something to it a few weeks before he got here, so he's been out, but he's well beyond where he had been. But that's the growth. And again, when you look at his numbers as a freshman in this league, you say he had a hell of a year for a freshman. But this is Kentucky. This is a different animal. There is nothing like this. There's never been anything like this, what we're going through. And everybody is held to a different standard. And you know what? If you want to come here you better accept that, or don't come here. It's not changing. You thinking it's changing? No, it isn't. Now, what happens to him is, he comes back and he knows I've got to change. There are things I'm going to do different, and I'm going to do them. It's part of growth. And that shouldn't be like something bad. You know how happy I'd be if I had guys for three and four years? I'd be ecstatic. Are you kidding me? But each year, each kid is on his own timeframe. Like I tell these kids when we recruit them, I don't know what your timeframe is. I don't know what your maturation process for your body is going to be. What, do you think I'm looking into a crystal ball and I know stuff? I don't. I don't know if your skill level - I don't know if you have toughness in late games to turn people on. We don't know all that. If you have all that, then you're going to leave after a year. If you don't, you're not leaving after a year.
Question: Your initial impression of Julius Randle was that he was an alpha beast.Calipari:
In the workouts, he's like, you know. There are times where he wants to settle on the perimeter or be like a guard, but we were doing drills where he had to attack and he's a little -- he's got to get to his right hand more because you know how everybody's going to play him: Make him go right. And he can, but he's more comfortable getting to his left. But when he missed it, his head was right back on the rim until it went in. Like, oh my gosh. And then I tell the guys, what happened two years ago is Michael dragged us to that level as a team. And that's what I'm asking Julius to do. Forget about everything else. Just do that right there and drag us. We'll help you with all the other stuff. You don't lose that.Question: Does he seem to be a ready participant in that? Does he want to drag?Calipari:
Yeah, and he wants to impress me but he's quiet about it. He knows. He's different now. That's a skill. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got drafted number two on that skill. It wasn't any other skill. It was that skill.Question: Does he have even more skills than Michael?Calipari:
I don't want to say that. I don't want to say he's better than Michael. Michael, there's stuff I've seen Michael do that I couldn't believe human beings could do. But this kid, he's his own guy. He's 6-9, 250, nimble and he's tough.Question: In high school he loved having the ball. He liked to pass and initiate for his teammates.Calipari:
He is. That's what he can do. Yeah, that's what happens in the Dribble Drive when you have four guys that all can do it. Now all of a sudden, you can't -- and if you can shoot a little bit, you can't leave. They got to kind of stay in between out and in. You can't just stay in because the guy just pulls up and shoots it. But, no, I haven't figured out where we're going to play he and the three. I've done it different ways. Patrick Patterson played behind because I didn't think he was as good at finishing. Alex, if you asked me who was a better finisher if you threw it ahead, probably Julius. But it may change. So what we might do with he and James and Julius, both of you are running this side of the floor. Whoever runs faster, you're front and the other guy's behind. But you're running the same side. So if you both start running, one of you talks to one and we're good where whoever's out ahead goes. I don't know that. I don't know if we're running them left side, right side. That stuff, I'm going to try to figure out between the 15th and the 26th (of September). OK, what am I comfortable with?Question: You talked last year about Willie not knowing what he can be and talked about it throughout the year. Do you and him know what he can be now?Calipari:
No. He's still -- and I think Dakari's going to bring a lot of it out of him. But this team, last year we needed Willie to do stuff, again, that he wasn't capable of. Now when Nerlens was there, he looked really good because when he didn't look good I could take him out and put Nerlens back in. I could play them together a little bit. A little bit. I could tease you when you watched. Then Nerlens went down and what happened? Now he's got to play 35 minutes and you see every wart, every kink, everything. And we needed him to do more and he wasn't capable of doing it yet. Yet. Now he's on a team, he can basically be who he is. Now the question is: Will he be challenged enough to take his stuff and not just defer to all these guys? Take your stuff to this level. Well, how do you do that unless you have competition, unless you have that mindset? Well if he doesn't have that mindset, then we have the competition that we have. And I think the same with Alex. You fight like heck, you stay focused, you stay upbeat or someone else plays. Then when you watch him and that guy plays real well, you're like, man. That's what competition does. And I think we don't have too many guys, but I think we have enough where everybody's going to be kept honest. But we're young. When we had three guys come back from the one team (in 2011-12), you guys said, "Yeah, but you had veterans come back." Yeah, but those veterans went to a Final Four. Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. This team went to an NIT and lost on the road. Question: Can you talk about James Young? What is it about his game that you like so much?Calipari:
First of all, his core strength has to improve because, to play the way we're playing, when you get the bump, you got to be in a position, and your core strength is what leverages you to be able to stay the course. I call it bulldogging. You can bulldog if you have to. He doesn't have that yet. His is kind of a slippers game. If he gets bumped, he'll kind of you know (flails arms). But he can really score and he's really skilled. He plays low already. My other guys, even Julius, they play standing straight up and down. You can't play that way. You're not quick enough, you don't react, you don't have the quick twitch when you're up like this because you got to go down first. He naturally, when he has it, he's down. Aaron and Andrew are kind of up still because they could do that. They were always - it didn't matter because I'm going to be quicker and faster than you. Now all of a sudden, if you don't bend over, you're not going to be able to get shoulders by people, you're not going to be able to do those things. He already has that in his game. Now the question will be with all these young kids, you know, defensively, will you be what you're capable of being? The thing that turned me on against James, I'm watching him and I always questioned is he rough enough? On this team, you don't really have to be rough because you got three guys that are pit bull dogs, OK? That's pretty good on one team to have three guys like that. But I always said I want to see. So he played a team that put a football player on him down in Augusta and I watched the whole game. And the guy beat the living crap out of him. He went inside, he wasn't afraid, he still scored and it didn't faze him. To put him in as a football player to play him and try to beat him up, and he held his own. From that point, I was sold. OK, let's get this kid. Because that was my only question: When this stuff gets rough, what's he going to do? He didn't away one bit.
Question: Who are your three pit bulls? Are
they the Harrisons and Julius?
Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has been nothing short of effusive in his praise of Julius Randle.
Calipari has lauded the nation's second-ranked freshman for his versatility. He's pointed out his rare combination of size, strength and skill. He's fawned over Randle's athleticism and finishing ability.
But to anyone who follows Kentucky basketball closely, it's not any description of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward's measurables that sticks out. Rather, it's Calipari's comparison of Randle to a past pupil that is most exciting.
Calipari sees shades of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Randle's game.
In an August workout, Calipari watched as Randle missed a shot at the rim. In an instant, Randle's head was right back at rim level attempting a put-back. Calipari can't remember exactly how many times Randle repeated the process, but he didn't stop until the ball went through the net.
"What happened two years ago is Michael dragged us to that level as a team," Calipari said. "And that's what I'm asking Julius to do. Forget about everything else. Just do that right there and drag us. We'll help you with all the other stuff. You don't lose that."
That directive is equal parts simple and extraordinarily difficult.
Kidd-Gilchrist's capacity to work and, by extension, lead is almost without equal. The youngest player on a team that featured six future NBA Draft picks, Kidd-Gilchrist emerged as the tone-setter en route to a national championship.
Randle - who played in the McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games just two years after Kidd-Gilchrist did the same - understands the weight behind his coach's words.
"It's definitely humbling," Randle said. "Michael did a lot of great things for the team two years ago. To be compared to a guy like that as far as work ethic and stuff like that, it's a great thing for sure."
Short of Calipari, perhaps no one understands the value of a Kidd-Gilchrist-like presence than Dakari Johnson. The 7-foot center was a teammate of Kidd-Gilchrist's at St. Patrick's High School back in 2010-11 when he was a freshman and still counts the current Charlotte Bobcat a close friend.
"He's the ultimate team player," Johnson said. "Even in that one year, I was struggling for most of it and he would always be in my ear telling me to pick it up, just to push myself. He really showed me what it was to work hard and why he was so successful on the court."
Johnson has noticed a similar drive in Randle since the two have been on campus starting back in June.
"I kind of see it because, Julius, he has a non-stop motor. He's relentless too like Mike," Johnson said. "They're like non-stop, both of them."
Randle doesn't balk at the idea of being mentioned in the same breath as the former No. 2 overall pick. In fact, he embraces it as a challenge. He attributes his inexhaustible work ethic to a fear of failure and his capacity to lead to his upbringing.
"Just because my mom, it's something she instilled it in me," Randle said. "I saw how she had to be a leader in taking care of us, taking care of my family. So she's always done it by herself and I want to pay her back, take care of her."
That close relationship with his mother is another thing Randle has in common with Kidd-Gilchrist and he hopes to use it as fuel to push his teammates just as his predecessor did. Kidd-Gilchrist, however, succeeded in large part due to the fact that his teammates were willing participants. Randle already sees signs he's a part of a similar group of Wildcats.
"I'm not a selfish person," Randle said. "I want people to do great just like me. I think it'll be a lot easier to because we have guys that are willing to put in the work."
Calipari recognizes he's putting quite a bit on the shoulders of a player who won't turn 19 until after the seventh game of his college career. For that reason, Coach Cal isn't asking Randle to be anything more than who he is when he steps on the floor. That will make Randle a different player than Kidd-Gilchrist, but special nonetheless.
"Michael, there's stuff I've seen Michael do that I couldn't believe human beings could do," Calipari said. "But this kid, he's his own guy. He's 6-9, 250, nimble and he's tough."
Head coach Mark Stoops
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
Mark Stoops admits that losing isn't fun.
Going back into the office for film work on Sunday morning after a defeat can be a tall task, but he and his staff are unwavering. Stoops is finding out more every day that his players are the same way.
"I think their attitude's right, and we truly just try to make it a one-week season again," Stoops said. "Let's come in Monday, let's prepare the right way. Let's go about our business the right way. Let's have the right attitude. Let's put a little bit more into it, do a little extra."
And you can be sure that's not coach speak.
"I'm not ever gonna try to mask any of that," Stoops said. "If I was unhappy with their preparation, the way they're trying to go about their business, I'd tell them and I'd tell you. I think we're trying to do the right things. We need to make more plays."
With an eye on that, UK incorporated more situational third-down work into Tuesday's practice with the first-string offense and defense going head to head. The Wildcats have converted just 23 percent of their third-down attempts this season, including 1 of 21 in losses to Louisville and Florida over the last three weeks.
"Got into third down a little bit earlier, see if we can improve in that area," Stoops said. "Had some good work. We're still in search of making some plays in some critical situations offensively."
After saying at his weekly press conference on Monday that his intent was to settle on a starter this week, Stoops told reporters that one quarterback got the majority of the snaps with the first team in those situational drills. However, he's not yet willing to say whether it's Maxwell Smith or Jalen Whitlow.
"Let me see where that goes. If we can get any small advantage, maybe... try to help us a little bit," Stoops said, suggesting a starter might not be named before Saturday's game vs. South Carolina.
On the defensive side, the Cats are installing their game plan for a dangerous Gamecock offense. South Carolina has rolled up over 400 total yards in each of its four games this season, but like his head coach, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot is excited to match wits with Steve Spurrrier.
"He's put up a lot of points, a lot of numbers against a lot of people over the years, so you know he knows what he's doing and he's going to have his guys ready to play, so I look forward to that challenge," Eliot said.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, September 29:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Senior Whitney Billings was Kentucky's impact player en route to a 3-0 week which included a pair of SEC victories on the road. Billings logged a pair of double-doubles, while reaching double-figures in the kills' column in each of the three wins. Her six blocks in the win at Alabama marked a season-high. The 17 kills was a season-best for a three-set match in the sweep of Auburn. In the two road victories in league play, Billings averaged 4.43 kills per set on a sizzling .377 hitting percentage. She also added 3.14 digs per frame and 1.43 blocks per stanza. The .448 hitting percentage against the Crimson Tide marked a season-best in a four-set match.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Senior Alexandra Morgan was terrific for the Cats in a 3-0 week. Morgan averaged 2.10 kills per set while hitting on a .472 hitting percentage. She added 17 blocks and 11 digs for the week for an average of 1.10 digs and 1.70 blocks per frame. Her nine blocks in the win at Auburn marked a season-high and just one off her career-best of 10. The nine blocks was also just one rejection shy of a single-match record in UK history for a three-set match. In the two SEC wins, Morgan averaged 2.14 kills on .429 hitting. She added a squad-best 2.14 blocks per stanza in helping UK to a pair of wins in her hometown state.
In September, John Calipari sat down with a select group of media members to talk about his 2013-14 Kentucky team. We will be posting a transcript of the entire conversation on Tuesday and Wednesday in four parts. Today, Calipari touches on topics ranging from physical play to 3-point shooting to the block-charge rule. Check out part one here.Question: How much more physical do you think your team is going to be this year?Calipari:
Oh, man. Yeah, it's (going to be different). I keep hearing that they're going to call fouls this year. I just watched a whole season where people beat the living crap out of each other, all the way through to the finals. So we're going to play like we're on the verge of fouling every possession. I've got enough guys. So that's what I think others are teaching. Just play so you're on the verge of fouling and I'll complain about too many fouls called. We can play that way because I've got more numbers. And then physically, you have to want to play that way. You have to have the physique to play that way, and I think we do. I think we have it. Hopefully they start calling it. We can always back up, but it appears as though, get body to body, hip check people, push them in the back, just play, bang, do it. And that was not one team; there were 50 teams last year that played that way. And that's how the game ended up being. And now they're all mad. The guys that were all doing it are saying we've got to call more fouls. Are you out of your mind? You're the reason we're playing this way. You see how it's played; we can play that way with this team. I want to press more with this team. I don't know if we'll press with a big on the ball, but you can with both Marcus (Lee) and Willie. Dakari would have to go back and play our normal press. We played with Willie on the ball at times last year and I kind of liked it. We have more players now. We have more toughness and that kind of stuff; more athleticism. We may press from 25 feet and down. In other words, in the quarter court. Well, how do you do that? You're trapping certain passes. You're trapping certain areas on the court and scrambling. So we may do that because of this team. But at the end of the day, this team, like my other teams I've - well, last year's team with Nerlens (Noel) was one of the best defensive teams for who we had. When we had Nerlens, we were still one of the best defensive teams. After Nerlens left, we weren't the same. But, this team should be like my teams where we should be one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country; stop drives, being physical, making it tough on people to score, length. I think a lot of teams will play zone against this team. If we really get going how we want to play, I think teams will just say screw it, play zone, make them shoot it. The difference with this: It can shoot. So now all of a sudden you've got four and five guys that can make shots. It's a different (game). The other thing is I like size against zone because you can just look over it. When you've got smaller or weaker guys, they're just trying to throw it to the guy next to him. When you've got bigger guys, they're looking at the zone like, whoa man, that guy's open. So my best teams against zones have just been longer teams. This team should be pretty long.Question: Are you confident you have enough 3-point shooting on this team?Calipari:
I would say. We talk about Alex and just a disappointing year, (but) I think he averaged 11 points and seven rebounds, shot 58 percent, 42 from 3. He just wasn't Anthony Davis. But as far as freshmen go, he was good. But, I had to play him whether he was playing bad or good. It wasn't his fault what happened. But he can shoot it. All I want to do is we've got to figure out how we're going to play, who we're going to have where. We're starting to work through some of that as I work them out. I may do something different this year. On the 15th of September, we can start working out with the team twice a week. We may do one hour a week - the drill work we always do to get them ready for Dribble Drive and teaching them how to play basketball. And then for an hour a week, they play and I kind of coach them through it, which I've not done before. So in other words, they're playing 5-on-5 and we're just playing. Like right now they're playing pick-up. The weight staff and people are saying they're playing so hard. We don't have the coolness, like I'm going to act like I just don't care. You know what I'm saying? We don't have that. These dudes are going after each other. So if you play for an hour and a half and you're really going and you're up and down the whole time, that's good. You're learning about each other, you're getting in shape. You don't need to do all kinds of other things if you'll do that. So when I heard that, I told the guys, I said, "Look, if that's what these pick-up games are like, then when we start practicing, I'm going to coach you while you're playing and I'm going to get you playing. I'll stop you and make you (do the right things). We'll go up and down the court." Now we're not playing any pick-and-roll basketball right now. See, I think pick-and-roll basketball has set our game back. And what happens is, because you watch the NBA run pick-and-roll, what's every team from seventh grade on running right now? So you do get movement? Do you get motion? Do you get cutting? Do you get screening? You get none of that. Two guys come down and the other guys space out and you go pick-and-roll. Well, think about that. So we're not right now, there is absolutely no pick-and-roll basketball when they play. You've got to create for your teammate, you've got to get it on the drive, set a screen for your man, run the court, create, cut hard, get a backdoor (cut), cut to the ball. You've got to learn to play basketball. So that's what we're doing right now.Question: On sheer volume of talent, have you ever had a roster like this?Calipari:
Until I get with them, I don't know. My first year in 2010 was really a good (team). I told you at that time it was the most talented team I had ever coached, probably more talented - more guys than the 2012 team. But see, we all look at the 2011 team and say, "Well, that team wasn't (very talented)." Wait a minute. Doron Lamb in the NBA. Terrence (Jones) in the NBA. Josh (Harrellson) in the NBA. Brandon (Knight) in the NBA. DeAndre (Liggins) in the NBA. "Yeah, that team was shaky." Darius (Miller) in the NBA. You had six guys that played in the league, and still do now. "That team, how did they get to the final four?" You know what I say? Like some other guys say, I say I coached them up. That was me. We should have never been to the Final Four with that team. That was the way I coached (sarcasm). The reality of it is we had six pros. I mean, we didn't know it then. None of us knew, but in reality we did. So you're talking 2010, that team in 2012, you had a lot of talented kids on that team that decided to come together. And we talked about it with this team. This team, reaching their dreams is going to be based on how far this team goes and what this does and how much we win.Question: How confident are you that the block/charge change will be called?Calipari:
How long have I been saying it? There are a lot of things I've been saying for five years that are coming to fruition. The block/charge, I've just been screaming about. Well, you've got teams that can't play, so what they do is they just flop in front of people and just start flopping. Well, that's not our part. Recruit better players. Do what the NBA does. If it's even close, it's a block. Stop it. Play defense. Quit trying to have a bearing on the game because you're not this. We're going to do this to play. No, you've got to play basketball, and if you're in there flopping around, if you're on the ball and the guy sticks his shoulder down, that's a charge. If you're standing there and his head is down and he runs into you, it's a charge. If this guy is driving and he comes over, "Well, his toe was -" That's a block. "What? That's a charge." No, if it's close, it's a block, which I hope they do. It's good for the game. We have to play that way, too, now. Now you encourage more blocks versus charges. Block the shot. Come weak side and block it. Well, I can't so I'm just going to flop underneath this guy and hope they give me a charge. The crazy thing was if he was outside the area, what'd they do? They called it a charge. Like what in the world? But they say they're changing it so we'll see.Question: Can you talk about Marcus Lee and what you see from him?Calipari:
He's different than all these guys. He and I talked the other day and
he was in the office and I said, "Look, you just keep being you." I
said, "What do you do well?" He said, "I defend, I block shots, I run
the court." Do that. We'll figure out your offense. You just do that. So
we're playing and doing drills one-on-one-on-one with the bigs and he's
there. He gets scored on and didn't try to block it and I go, "Didn't
you tell me you block shots?" "Yeah." "Well then block it. You're just
standing there. Go block every shot. Go try to rebound every ball. I'm
not asking you to be Dakari. Guess what? Dakari can't be you. Just be
you." So in time he's going to be really good. And these practices, he
wants to learn, he wants to get better. He's a guy that wants to be in
this kind of environment. He'll be fine.Question: He's a volleyball guy that blocked over 500 balls in high school. What natural ability does he have there?Calipari:
You look at his body, he's got those long legs, long arms. We're doing
on one-on-one-on-one with the bigs where you play him, then he'll play
you and just keep rotating, and he's going against Dakari. Now, Dakari
weighs more pounds than him - at least 45. So are you going to bang with
him? You've got to out-quick him. So he's trying to bang. Stop. Why are
you trying to do that? You lose that battle every time. Dakari is going
to do it to you because he wins that battle every time. So you're going
to use your quickness to not let him get the ball, try to steal it from
him. You're going to use your quickness. Try to block a shot that he's
trying to put his body on you. And when you catch it, you're trying to
run by him. He's trying to put a body on you. Don't let him. It's all
the coaching them to play to their strengths, which we're trying to get
them all to do.
In September, John Calipari sat down with a select group of media members to talk about his 2013-14 Kentucky team. We will be posting a transcript of the entire conversation on Tuesday and Wednesday in four parts. First up, Coach Cal discusses his latest young team and reflects on last season.
Question: You've had young teams and you've got another young team. What did you learn about last year's young team that you can apply to this year?
Calipari: The No. 1 thing is that you have to have - you can't do what I did last year and have eight kids on scholarship. You just can't. What happens is people want to talk about just the competition of it. And it's true. You can't save these kids from competition. I can't save my own children from competition. That's the United States. That's what we're about. So what I tried to do was like, it's his turn, it's his turn, we just won a national title, I don't want to bring kids in. Let these kids (play). You can't do it that way. So we had no competition. But more than that, there are guys that needed to be out of the game, and they knew it. Like Alex (Poythress) at times. It's kind of like you're playing golf and it goes south, so you try to play 27 more holes and it just gets worse. Your best bet is when it started to go south, go home, have a beer, laugh about it, and then go out tomorrow and you play better. Well, that happens if you have enough players. So it's not just about competition. There were times when Archie (Goodwin) needed to just - 'Sit for a while, kid. I'm not mad at you. Just sit down.' We couldn't' do it. I did it and I looked for a minute and I went, oh my gosh, go back in. You can't do it that way. I know there is a number that is too many, but you can't do what we did a year ago, and that was my own (doing). It's what I did. It was my choice. You look back and say we put the kids in a bad position on a lot of fronts.
Question: A couple of your guys said they were too high on themselves going into the season. Will you approach that any differently this year considering the hype of your team?
Calipari: You had guys that were delusional, too, about who they were. When we started practicing we knew. After the Maryland game I knew. Like, guys, this is not what we've been coaching, this is not how we've been playing and we don't have a whole lot of good choices here. This team will be different. I worked them out the other day. It's what I was used to seeing. I don't think that will be a problem. The issue for us is going to be how quickly can we come together? Can we get in the kind of shape you have to be in to compete at the level we're going to try to compete? They get along. They got along together before they got here kind of like other teams I've had where, before you walk on campus, they know each other and they like each other. Last year that wasn't the case. Willie (Cauley-Stein) didn't know Nerlens (Noel). Nerlens didn't know Archie. None of them knew Alex. They had played together a little bit, but they didn't' know each other. This group, you could tell they're hanging around each other, they're following each other. And again, you can't compare one year to the next. The one thing - and then I would rather just move forward because that's how I am - but in a lot of ways, last year was a total success for players. Three guys graduate. 3.4 grade-point average. Two No. 1 picks. Julius (Mays) gets a contract overseas. The two kids that come back (Cauley-Stein and Poythress), they were projected that they could have been first-round picks. Kyle (Wiltjer) is the (Southeastern Conference) Sixth Man of the Year. When you look at it, (win) 20 games. If you beat Vandy in the (SEC) tournament you're probably in the NCAA Tournament even though we weren't a very good team. There were things that happened for those kids that was really good. For us and for me as a staff, it was really disappointing that we didn't come together or that guys weren't able to elevate their game. Maybe they just weren't capable But, aside from that, when I look back, I say for the kids, they can look back and say, was it a bad year for this guy, that guy, that guy? They go, nope, it was a good year for me. It just wasn't what we expect a team to be able to do.
Question: When you talk about those numbers and guys getting to know each other and the chemistry, how hard was it to wait for those last three guys (Andrew and Aaron Harrison and James Young) to get here after missing this summer? Did they miss much?
Calipari: No. They had academic stuff they had to finish, which they did. It was nothing crazy, but again, you've got to understand that our summer school (terms), they overlap. I haven't talked to our president about it, but we've almost got to do something. I've never heard of two summers schools overlapping. Why would that happen? We don't even know why. Why wouldn't you have a June summer session and then one that starts after July 4, which is what everybody in the country does. So if you're in Chicago, those schools don't let out until the 23, 24 of June. Guess what? Those kids can't even get in our summer school - either one. Like, you can't come to summer school. You're not out of high school yet. So, the way we do this, we knew, OK, I don't think those two are going to get done - those three - are going to get done with this class or that or whatever they had to finish up, and they didn't. And so that was the issue. But we knew. We were comfortable throughout. I don't know if John (Hayden) or DeWayne (Peevy) said there are all kinds of rumors. There's always all kinds of rumors at this place. But they're fine.
Question: Have they slid in seamlessly with the rest of the guys?
Calipari: Yeah, they all know each other. This group, they want to know, and they know they need each other. They know it's going to take each of them. We've been kind of clear with individuals what we're having to do and what we're trying to do. They're good.
Question: You talk about this team coming together. Is there anything that might speed that up or slow that down?
Calipari: Speeding it up, just you get into games and they feel it going faster than they normally do, but there's a process here. Don't know how many freshmen will start, but you could start anywhere from three to five. And that just, they haven't played together. Right now, we're already showing them more of the Dribble Drive than we have since my first year, and so I'm showing them tape of some of my Memphis teams of how we played. But when I look at it, those guys have played it three years except for Derrick Rose. Those other guys played it three years. It takes time for things to develop. You hope it's quicker than it should be. You hope your veterans, your sophomores, Alex and Willie, elevate so they can drag. But, you just don't know. I think the biggest thing - the conditioning, the toughness, the mental toughness - if that's not where I think it is, than that will slow down the process. But the other thing is just through experience. You've got to get on the court. You build your own self-esteem. You build your confidence through demonstrated performance. And they've got to get on the court and do it.
Question: Do you believe Alex has made the strides you hoped he would?
Calipari: He's way better, but the guys around him are way better. But he's made strides. I'm happy. This summer going against Julius (Randle) every day, that's a handful. That's like going against a 6-9 Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist) every day where he's not slowing down; he's trying to dunk every ball on you. You don't feel like playing today or I don't feel like embarrassing anybody, well, the choice is you embarrass him or he's embarrassing you. It's not about not embarrassing anybody. You embarrass him or he's embarrassing you. So now all of a sudden you start changing. You're like, whoa, how do I do this? What do I do? So he's done fine. He's got a hamstring right now so he hasn't played since we've been back. But he'll be fine.
Question: How do you hope some of the individual matchups in practice help individual guys improve, sort of like Alex and Julius? Are there some others that you think could benefit?
Calipari: I'm going to tell you who is better than I thought he was is Dakari Johnson. His body is fat I think seven percennt, so now all of a sudden he is dunking everything around the rim, where before, the question mark we all had was he plays well below the rim, (but) how do we do this? All of a sudden I'm sitting there watching him and all the stuff we're doing, and he's easily dunking balls now. He's one of those bigs that we've had to play against that puts his body on you and you have to do something. One guy can't do it. So he's better than I thought, and that's really going to challenge Willie. It's almost got to make Willie mad. We did some stuff yesterday, and all of a sudden Willie got mad and then how he's going to have to play came out. It's not like I want kids to play angry, but some kids - it's all different for every kid. I think what Dominique (Hawkins) can do for Andrew and Aaron what they need to see. The guys that are going to guard them, how big are they going to be? How big is the point guard on the other team going to be? 6-6? He's going to be about 6-1. He's going to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical (guard). Well, that's what Dominique is. So you go right after these guys. You physically, defensively show them what they're going to be facing. I think that's going to be good. I even think James and Alex having to go (at each other helps) because I think Alex looks around and says, maybe let me play the three some. I don't have to play this way. Let me go against this guy. I think that's going to be there. But we can play big, we can play small. It's back to where we were. I'm watching right now when we're doing drills and they're just playing through bumps and naturally getting to the rim. They're banging each other. I went home and I was singing to myself and back and ready start talking crap again and here we go, and then what popped in my mind? Oh my gosh, these guys are all going to leave. Where's my phone? And now I'm calling (recruits). I made two calls before I got home, and you know I don't live that far from here. It's the life we chose, I guess you could say.
Question: You have two guys in Andrew and Aaron who have shared everything growing up together. Do you have to do anything different with those guys to make sure they get involved with everybody?
Calipari: Well, we've talked about it. What were the myths when John Wall came here? What were the myths? (Selfish). What else? Do you remember what happened before he got here? (Not a good teammate). Go ahead, what else? (Bad kid). We heard it all. And then you all were stunned that this is a great kid. One thing happened during the year. Everybody figured we've got to take him out, so their whole defense was geared to him. It got harder and harder and harder, and then he came out one day and said I'm having fun. No kidding, it's hard. They're trying to take you out now, and you've got to figure out what you're going to do. But at the end of the day, everyone walked away and said what a great kid this is. Well, every kid on the team, you've got different guys that will come in with myths. One of the things that they'll say is, "Why would you want to play with those two? They only play (with each other)." Who started that myth? Everybody recruiting against us. So all of a sudden they fed that to the media. They fed that to everybody, and they know it's out there. They know it's a myth. But when you watch them, they don't even hang together. Like they're not hanging in the same room together. They'll have their own two or three guys. But, they have the same DNA. I had two kids when I was at UMass that were not twins and were not brothers, but (they) were born on the same day in Puerto Rico and spoke Spanish. Those two were like twins. My team got really good because they could look at each other and they knew what it meant. They talked in Spanish. "Go back door." The defense didn't have any idea what the dude was saying. And the guy went back door and he just threw it to him. If they were yelling at each other, they were doing it in Spanish. (Do the Harrisons speak in Spanish?) Their DNA is the same. They can look at each other and they know what the hell they're talking about. (Carmelo Travieso and Edgar Padilla who you are talking about?) Yeah, yeah.
UK's top-ranked 2013 signing class. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Three seasons into his tenure at Kentucky, John Calipari had become accustomed to having a certain kind of team. Each year he tweaked his style to fit his personnel, but Calipari's teams shared a few defining characteristics, even dating back to his final seasons at Memphis.
They were competitive. They embraced the importance of defense. Players sacrificed for their teammates and were aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
During the 2012-13 season, Coach Cal noticed quickly that the Wildcats weren't all there in those areas. The result was a disappointing campaign that ended in the NIT.
It hasn't taken long, however, for Calipari to figure out 2013-14 will be different. Running his team through an August workout, he had an unmistakable feeling of deja vu.
"It's what I was used to seeing," Calipari said.
Those concerns alleviated, Calipari is shifting his attention.
"The issue for us is going to be how quickly can we come together?" Calipari said.
Fielding his deepest team since 2009-10, Calipari will have to juggle minutes and establish a rotation. With another top-ranked recruiting class and eight players among Chad Ford's top-100 prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft on the roster, Calipari - well established as the NCAA's top producer of next-level talent - faces a challenge the likes of which even he hasn't seen.
The good news is he has a decent track record when it comes to such matters.
In 2011-12, Calipari guided a team featuring six future draft picks - including No. 1 and No. 2 overall - to a national championship. In trying to reestablish UK as the annual contender it was for his first three seasons, Calipari is teaching much more from what that title-winning team did right than what went wrong a season ago.
"I don't want them to think about last year," Calipari said. "They have nothing to do with last year. The only thing we're talking about is: How do you get better, how do you come together as a team, how do you sacrifice for your teammates? Do you know we played Louisville in the Final Four (in 2012)? No one on the team took more than nine shots and we won the game."
That's a particularly instructive example because of an early similarity Calipari sees between the championship team and this year's squad.
With that team, the newcomers were familiar with one another from the AAU and high-school all-star circuit. They visited campus together and bonded with their veteran teammates. That's happened again.
"They got along together before they got here kind of like other teams I've had where, before you walk on campus, they know each other and they like each other," Calipari said. "...This group, you could tell they're hanging around each other, they're following each other."
With most of the roster on campus for classes and workouts during the summer, that process started immediately. Even before the official start of practice, one UK returner is already thinking of his teammates as "siblings."
"I don't see any cliques," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Everybody does everything together, whether we're in one room playing video games or we're out getting something to eat or we're just out doing something walking around campus. Which is crazy because we have 16 people and we're all just squadded up together having fun."
Dakari Johnson echoes the sentiment.
"We've bonded," Johnson said. "When we came in this summer, we bonded with the rest of the guys. And it's crazy because we're so close. Every day we're doing something, we're doing some kind of activity. I think that's good when we have all this training and stuff. It's a long day and you can come back home to jokes and laughs and playing video games with your friends and stuff like that."
Johnson is one of eight members of a freshman class billed already by many as among the best in college basketball history, and the group comes from coast to coast. Johnson is a Brooklyn, N.Y., native and played high-school ball in Florida. Marcus Lee is from California, while Aaron and Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle call Texas home. James Young is from Michigan, while Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins add some Bluegrass flavor.
But as different as their backgrounds may be, the group has meshed relatively seamlessly.
"I think it has to do with how we were all raised as people," Randle said. "Our parents definitely instilled great qualities into us and I think it also has to do with high school and AAU basketball. We've been playing against each other for so long. Now that we're playing together, it's like, 'Man, what a relief. I don't have to go against this guy. He's on my team now.' "
Randle clearly had the Harrison twins on his mind when he said that. The three players - all ranked among Rivals.com's top seven for 2013 - became familiar with one another at an early age and a rivalry bloomed. Rumors about personal dislike between the twins and Randle followed, but were put to rest the day Randle announced he would attend UK.
The twins, however, were delayed by class schedules in arriving on campus and so was Young. But now the entire team is finally together and showing its vast potential.
"It's been great," Randle said. "Those guys, they just take the team to a whole 'nother level. When you see those guys on the court and see how well we play together, it's definitely an eye-opener for how good we can be."
Even with how well things have gone thus far, questions about how the team will come together will persist. How will the Harrisons adjust to being surrounded by so much talent? How will Randle respond to not having the ball in his hands as often? Where will the returners fit in?
Calipari knows no other way to approach those questions than to do it directly, particularly since he knows there's no shielding players from hearing the buzz about themselves.
"So my thing to my team is: What happens? They all sacrifice for each other. Are you willing to do it? And now, what happens here?" Calipari said. "And they're telling me they're sharing the ball. It's amazing. They're passing it to each other. I think they know what's out there. I think the twins know what's said about them. You don't think they look on the Internet and (see) this stuff?"
Ultimately, none of the players on the roster would be at UK if they weren't willing to share, if they weren't willing to compete every day in practice. They chose the school they did because they knew it would best prepare them for their futures and, perhaps even more importantly, to make a run at bringing a national championship back to Kentucky.
That single-mindedness what Calipari is counting on.
"This group, they want to know, and they know they need each other," Calipari said. "They know it's going to take each of them. We've been kind of clear with individuals what we're having to do and what we're trying to do."