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Wendell Bell speaks at the dedication ceremony for UK's new soccer complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Wendell Bell speaks at the dedication ceremony for UK's new soccer complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mitch Barnhart came across more new faces than he could count when he came to Kentucky in 2002.

There were two he just kept noticing.

"We came here about 13 years ago as an administration and this couple kept walking around our program," Barnhart said. "And they kept showing up at events and we got to know them a little bit and spent a little time with us and they'd go on trips with us. Next thing I know, they're traveling with the rifle team, the volleyball team, the women's soccer team, showing up at softball."

The faces belonged to longtime UK supporters and K Fund members Wendell and Vickie Bell, and Barnhart couldn't help but build a relationship with them. It didn't take him long to understand why they were always around.

"What we began to realize is that they've invested in the lives of all these young people," Barnhart said.

On Sunday, UK Athletics recognized that investment with the grand opening of the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex before a women's and men's soccer doubleheader.

"It's a really, really cool day," Barnhart said at a ceremony attended by President Eli Capilouto, coaches and players from both teams and fans. "We get to dedicate our soccer complex to Wendell and Vickie. After all the contributions they've made, we tried to find something that would give them the credit they deserve for all the things they've done."

The new $7.7 million complex houses separate facilities for both soccer programs, with team rooms, lounges, locker-room areas, coaching offices and new grandstand.

"You have no idea how much this means for us," women's soccer senior Arin Gilliland said. "Being here for the last four years, I've gotten to see a change from aluminum bleachers to this amazing facility. We have the best field in the SEC. Now we have the best facility."

The women's soccer team is in the midst of the best years in school history under Jon Lipsitz, while Johan Cedergren is building the men's program in his third season. Walking through a typical visit when he hosts a recruit, Cedergren talked about what the new facility means to that process.

"At the end, it's down to me and they're basically, 'Where can I sign?' " Cedergren said. "As a men's soccer program to have the stuff that we have here is absolutely mind-blowing."

The Bells enjoy being a part of it all.

"We've been very involved with the program for so many years and I was talking with Dr. Capilouto and Mary Lynn," Wendell Bell said. "Just the transformation academically and athletically that we have seen and the changes over those years are just amazing. And the vision going forward."

As meaningful as the new soccer facility made possible by the Bells is to that vision, their meaning to UK Athletics goes far deeper. That's why the two teams presented jerseys to the Bells and the ball used to score the first regular-season goal in the Bell Soccer Complex on Friday.

"Obviously something like this doesn't happen without the money," Lipsitz said. "It takes money to do these things and we know they've been incredibly generous. But I literally made a note and I wrote down a dollar sign and I crossed it out and I drew a heart. Because that is my first thought when I think about them."

That makes the tribute to the Bells unveiled on Sunday all the more fitting.

After the speeches were done, Barnhart led the Bells outside, where a new bell and plaque were unveiled next to the field as a surprise. The bell will ring after each UK goal, creating a new tradition that will be part of all game days to come.

Courtney Raetzman scored in UK's 3-0 win over Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Courtney Raetzman scored in UK's 3-0 win over Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Within 14 minutes in the first game after the stadium's dedication, the bell rang after a Jade Klump goal. The Wildcats would add two more from Courtney Raetzman and Alex Carter in a 3-0 victory, moving to 3-1 on the season in the process.

"We talk about how important it is to leave a legacy," Lipsitz said. "This is the beginning of a new legacy for our players to leave and be able to come back years from now and say, 'Remember when? Remember when we started everything here with the new stadium?'

"It's just so special having Wendell and Vickie here and Mitch and the administration and Dr. Capilouto. You can't really ask more than for the environment we had here today."

In the nightcap, the men's soccer team leveled its record at 1-1 with a 2-0 win over Belmont. After dominating play in a scoreless first half, Kristoffer Tollefsen and Ryan Creel scored UK's first goals of the season and Callum Irving posted a shutout.

"It felt really good, the first home game of the season," Creel said. "Coach said, 'We gotta ring that bell today.' "

"I just think that with all the people here, opening weekend, you want to put on a good show," Cedergren said. "And I thought that the guys were really, really good today."

The Bells were there for all 180 minutes of action on a rainy day, cheering passionately, which is exactly what anyone who knows the Bells and what's important to them would expect.

"We've been blessed," Wendell Bell said, "but truly for us we're just appreciative that we have the opportunity to invest in this program and make an impact on these kids because, at the end of the day, that's what counts."

Video: UK football's 2014 intro

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Reymann's versatility fills many roles

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Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics. Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics.
By Brent Ingram.

That first year in college can be a challenging transition for all student-athletes.

For Kentucky defender Charlie Reymann, that transition involved getting acclimated to the stress of playing every day as a true freshman and adjusting to the challenges of academic life.

A native of Worthington, Ohio, Reymann's adjustment in his debut season continued into the summer of his freshman year, when he joined nine UK student-athletes on a service trip to Ethiopia.

Reymann and the UK student-athletes worked with children, helped build homes, provide supplies and enjoy a life-changing experience.  

"It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like that," Reymann said. "As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted."

Throughout the trip, Reymann was constantly reminded of the challenges of everyday life in Ethiopia and was deeply moved by his experience.

"In Ethiopia, everything is about relationships and I experienced that right when I got off the bus," Reymann said. "A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball.

"Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was."

Reymann's  trip to Ethiopia came just a few months after his debut as a collegiate soccer standout for the Wildcats. His freshman season on the pitch was highly successful, as the 5-foot-9, 163 -pounder, played in all 20 games, seeing starts in 17 games.

"I learned that I have a lot of work to do before I can get to where I need to go," Reymann said. "I have a lot of things to improve on. Over the season, college soccer caught up to me, played against good players and that really showed and highlighted aspects of my game that I need to work on. Every part of my game needs to step up if I want to be the kind of college soccer player I can be."

Reymann saw time in the midfield but primarily as an attacking outside back as a freshman. He finished with two goals and one assist, serving as the primary corner-kick taker.

"Having (head coach) Johan (Cedergren) and (assistant) Chase (Wileman) give me quality coaching of where they want the ball to go, and when it should be there has helped me a lot because as you grow up you are just trying to get it to the big guy on the team," Reymann said. "But the structure we have here, it is so professional. Johan has made it very clear where he wants the ball to go on set pieces. Most of the time, I can get it there. It helps that those guys really teach us and the attackers know where the ball should be so we are on the same page."

One of the exciting elements of Cedergren's exciting style of offensive play is the ability of the outside backs to support the offensive attack, a role that perfectly fits Reymann's game.

"That was one of the reasons Johan recruited me, because I take pride in that part of my game," Reymann said. "I try to get forward as much as I can. Sometimes Johan and I joke around that maybe I get forward a little too much. The way we can be successful is to have out offensive guys be creative but if we can have our outside backs come up it will really help our offense. Sending in good crosses, that is probably one of the best parts of my game, just being able to pass the ball and distribute. Having that skill set should help our offense."

Reymann will join forces on a dynamic backline with center backs Jordan Wilson and Kaelon Fox. With an injury to his opposite member at outside back, Alex Bumpus, the back four will need to break in a new defender. Even with a new face, UK's defensive unit should be a strength of the team in 2014, including first-team All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving.

"We can be one of the best defending units in the country," Reymann said. "Jordan and I played a good amount together last year. Then having Kaelon Fox come in this spring to the backline, we all have a really good understanding of each other. In the first preseason game, we felt really comfortable with each other. We are starting to understand what each other likes and doesn't like. And having Cally back there, he is just a great leader, organizer. Everyone respects him and listens to him. Everyone being on the same page is going to help us a lot. Last year, with three freshmen coming in on the backline it is going to be a little different this year."

An important aspect of having a good back line in college soccer is constant communication amongst the back four and the goalkeeper.

"There are a lot of things going on at once," Reymann said "Especially against some of the teams we will play against this year, some really dynamic players. Just being able to communicate at a high level and knowing what each other generally likes to do. If Jordan wants to step here, or Kaelon is going to step up, we just have a good understanding of when we are going to do that. Against these good teams, we just have to react and know that your teammates are going to be there. Communication is just a huge part of us having success. Halfway through the year, we really started to communicate better. Now coming in with experience on the backline will definitely help."

With Kentucky coming off its season opener on Friday night at Wright State, the Wildcats now turn their attention to preparing for the home lidlifter on Sunday vs. Belmont at 5 p.m. at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex, the grand opening of UK's sparkling new facility.

"Oh my gosh. There are no words," Reymann said about the excitement for the new facility. "Last year, we were watching it get built. We just hear rumors about how nice the locker room would be, or the lounge. The field is already the best I have every played on, that by itself is amazing but know that they got it all built it is just amazing. We are just so excited to just get out there and play in front of a huge stadium. Now we have to win at home and build up that fan base."

Patrick Towles had one of the best starting debuts for a quarterback in UK history on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Patrick Towles had one of the best starting debuts for a quarterback in UK history on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Two years ago, a second-quarter 71-yard touchdown drive led by then-true freshman Patrick Towles impressed a fan base desperate for excitement in the midst of a disappointing season.

On Saturday he showed his talent in broader strokes as he turned in one of the best statistical debuts by a UK starter of the last 20 years.

Towles' 377 yards on 20-of-29 passing with one passing and one rushing touchdown gave him a 189.5 passer rating.

The line was on par with fellow Air Raid signal-callers Dusty Bonner (34-62, 446 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) and Jared Lorenzen (22-34, 322 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT) in terms of yardage. His performance was certainly better in terms of efficiency.

"I was very pleased with Patrick," Mark Stoops said. "Very happy for him. The big thing was, to me, he was very poised and he made very good decisions.  You know, we know he has the talent to get the ball down the field.  I think it was important for him to be efficient in the intermediate area and I thought he did that." 

And yet Towles' first start will also be compared with his previous Commonwealth Stadium outing.

"Two years ago was kind of a flash in a pan in terms of having a good first series against Mississippi State before getting injured," Towles said. "It was important to come out today and play clean to build a solid foundation for the rest of the season. Two years ago certainly gave me confidence in terms of playing in front of the Commonwealth Stadium crowd."

The drive in 2012 brought an injury-plagued Kentucky team within a touchdown of then-No. 20 Mississippi State, but more importantly showed the Big Blue Nation the hype around a former Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year was justified.

This UK Athletics Department staff member won't forget tending to the CWS press box phone that day and taking calls from every major sports network on such basic questions as, "How do you pronounce Towles?"

But the excitement was quickly tempered.

Towles suffered an ankle injury on the ensuing drive and played sparingly the rest of a 2-10 season.

And then Towles did not play during Mark Stoops' first season at UK. Going into new staff's second season, the redshirt sophomore had to win a quarterback competition over formidable teammates Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and the experienced Maxwell Smith.

After winning the starting job, Towles entered UK's season opener looking to live up to a world of expectations given his performance in camp and his high school pedigree, not to mention the brief moment of brilliance he showed two autumns ago.

Saturday, facing an opponent admittedly not up to the level UK will face in Southeastern Conference play, Towles delivered on what his 2012 cameo appearance promised.

"Y'all know Patrick ... he doesn't lack for confidence, which is a good thing," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "That's a good thing. He thinks he can make every throw and he thinks he can make every run. That's exactly what you're looking for. I knew he was going to be ready to play."

Towles quarterbacked the UK offense to the fourth-best performance in terms of total offense (656 yards) in school history.

His game featured a 79-yard completion to Demarco Robinson on a first down from his own 13-yard line and a 22-yard touchdown run as highlights.

Towles' offensive coordinator and position coach was confident the player he placed faith in during the preseason would deliver, especially given the way recent practices had gone.

"On Wednesday he had his best practice that's he's probably ever--I know that he's had since I've been coaching, he had his best practice," Brown said. "Decision-making, throwing the ball. I sent him a text that next morning after I watched it and told him that same thing."
 
But Towles didn't enter the game completely assured of success.

"I was very nervous," Towles said. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I got some sleep, but not as much I would have liked to. I was just ready to go, I wanted to get out there and start playing.

If anything Brown was most impressed by his quarterback's response to adversity. After a turnover on downs to open the game, and some bad decisions early in the second half, Towles showed resilience.

The plays he made in response showed Brown he can depend on his quarterback when the competition gets tougher in coming weeks.

"The most important thing is he came out, first drive of the second half, and made two poor decisions," Brown said. "Made two poor decisions, then he came back the very next series and made two big plays. That's the thing: Bounce back.

"We've had this next-play attitude. That's what we talked about leading up to this game and I told you I preach it to myself more than those guys. But he did. He came out, had a bad series, bounced back, had a real positive series, had a nice run for a touchdown."

Looking back on his first start in a UK jersey, Towles' report card was good. But tougher tests remain.

"I felt like I did well as a whole," the UK starter said. "There were a couple bad decisions that were made by me but as you saw, I did what coach has been wanting me to and that was coming out in the next series and making two good decisions that canceled out my bad ones."

Towles certainly built off his previous CWS appearance on Saturday. The feat is not to be taken lightly given the excitement generated by his previous cameo.

And yet next week's test against a more competitive opponent in Ohio could go a longer way in showing UK's long-term outlook, if not just for the 2014 season.

Braylon Heard carried twice for 116 yards and two touchdowns in UK's 59-14 win on Saturday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics) Braylon Heard carried twice for 116 yards and two touchdowns in UK's 59-14 win on Saturday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
Throughout fall camp, Mark Stoops and his staff have preached the importance of making the simple play and executing assignments.

Braylon Heard's first two carries in a Kentucky uniform looked anything but simple.

The Nebraska transfer took the first 73 yards for a touchdown, sprinting through a big hole and slowing down only to make sure no UT Martin defenders were on his heels. They weren't.

On the next, less than four minutes of game time later, he found another seam and went 43 yards for another score.

The plays will surely end up on UK's highlight reel at the end of the season. And of course, they speak to the talent of the player who made them.

That doesn't mean they weren't perfect illustrations of what the staff has been saying.

"The two runs he had that he broke were extremely disciplined runs," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.  "... The thing that's going to be encouraging to me is we turn on the video tomorrow and here's Braylon doing the thing exactly the way we coach it. Exactly, to a T, the way we coach it. Boom, big play."

Heard was far from the only Wildcat to make big plays on Saturday. All told, UK had nine offensive plays of 20 yards or more in a dominant season-opening 59-14 victory, not to mention the defense's two interceptions and three fumble recoveries, one of which Khalid Henderson returned 89 yards for a touchdown.

In reflecting on the win, though, Stoops didn't marvel at his team's newfound game-breaking potential. Asked what single thing stood out to him about UK's performance, he gave an answer that was characteristically simple.

"Really just clean," Stoops said. "I think they were just--it was relatively clean."

The fans at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday left singing a slightly different tune.

After all, they had just seen the influx of talent that Stoops has brought to Lexington back up the hype bestowed on it by recruiting services more than at any point since the second-year head coach's arrival.

They watched Heard -- limited to two carries by an ankle injury that knocked him out of the game for precautionary reasons -- led a ground game that rolled up 243 yards and six touchdowns on 28 carries. They cheered a young receiving corps that caught deep balls and turned short passes into long gains in equal measure, just as true freshman Blake Bone did on a screen pass that became a 29-yard touchdown.

"Definitely impressed," quarterback Patrick Towles said of the receiving corps. "The ball I threw to Blake that he scored on was behind. That should have been farther in front, but he made a really good play. The receivers all around played awesome."

Towles, starting for the first time at Kentucky, deftly ran the show. He completed 20-of-29 passes for 377 yards and a touchdown, adding 30 yards and another score on the ground.

"The big thing was, to me, he was very poised and he made very good decisions," Stoops said. "You know, we know he has the talent to get the ball down the field. I think it was important for him to be efficient in the intermediate area and I thought he did that. He missed a couple, but overall, just very pleased with his poise."

Towles was in Lexington before Stoops' arrival, but he's in the minority among UK's top offensive contributors. Players recruited to Kentucky by the current staff accounted for 529 of the Cats' 656 yards from scrimmage.

"I was very pleased with the young guys in general," Stoops said. "You can see the ability of some of the guys that we've been talking about, all the freshmen running backs, the freshmen wide receivers looked very poised out there and made some good plays."

That poise has everything to do with preparation, says running back Mikel Horton.

"I don't even think our coaches look it like freshmen being played because how prepared we are," said Horton, who carried seven times for 45 yards and two touchdowns. "Each freshmen, each senior, sophomore , junior are very prepared and each can rotate in and know the plays. I don't even look at it as freshman anymore. I look at us as players. When you're well prepared and you don't have a class on you, you can go in and handle your business."

UK's defense didn't rely quite as heavily on newcomers, but its biggest star on Saturday suited up in blue for the first time.

Safety A.J. Stamps has drawn raves all offseason from Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. The first-year junior-college transfer didn't wait long to back up the talk.

After Heard scored his first touchdown late in the first quarter to give UK a 14-0 lead, Stamps came flying into the backfield on the first play of the ensuing UT Martin drive. Before Ladevin Fair could hardly see him, Stamps flipped him into the air with a big hit for a three-yard loss.

"A.J.'s a very talented player and I've said all along he's been a great addition to our defense," Eliot said. "He's a very athlete, a very good football player, but he's also a good leader and he's got a lot of good instincts."

Those instincts showed up again on the Skyhawks' next drive. Reading a deep ball by UT Martin's Dylan Favre, Stamps sped over and snared the pass with his right hand, making a play sure to be seen again on the SportsCenter Top 10.

"Everybody said I could have made it with two," Stamps said. "But hey, one hand looked better."

Stamps -- who finished with a team high-tying eight tackles -- clearly had some fun on Saturday. He wasn't alone.

"This is the most fun I've had in a football game since (November) of 2012, probably," Brown said, recalling a text message he sent after the game. "And here's the thing: It's been fun all camp. It really has. I've had a good time. I appreciate the way our guys have worked, how they've prepared."

During camp, Brown joked about the gray hairs he's spouting coaching so many youngsters. In a good mood on Saturday following a big win, he talked about the flip side of coaching an up-and-coming group.

"These guys really want to be good," Brown said. "Our talent's getting better. We haven't arrived by any means, but our talent's getting better. They're eager, really eager to do well and they've been a fun group to coach. Not just myself, our whole offensive staff. We really enjoy coaching this group and I really think you're going to see continued growth as we go along."

On Saturday evening, UK released the following statement on cheerleader Brooke Gibbs, who was was injured after a fall on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Brooke Gibbs, a sophomore on the UK Cheer team, has been treated and released from UK Chandler Hospital following a fall during the 4th quarter of Kentucky Football's victory over UT Martin. Brooke, her family and the cheer program are appreciative of the efforts and expertise of the athletic trainers, team doctors and paramedics who cared for her at the stadium, as well as the doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital. She has heard of the outpouring of thoughts, prayers and concerns from the Big Blue Nation and can't wait to get back on the field with her teammates and the football team soon.

Video: Post-UT Martin video interviews

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Head coach Mark Stoops


Offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot


A.J. Stamps, Braylon Heard, Ryan Timmons, Patrick Towles, Dorian Baker and Mikel Horton


Live blog: Football vs. UT Martin

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Live Blog Football vs. UT Martin
 
Anni Thomasson had 13 kills and 12 digs in UK's season-opening win on Friday night. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Anni Thomasson had 13 kills and 12 digs in UK's season-opening win on Friday night. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
In practice leading up to the 2014 volleyball season, kills were hard to come by.

What Craig Skinner wondered was whether that had more to do with the strength of Kentucky's defense or the offense's need to improve.

After a season-opening win over Wichita State, the former seems more likely.

Facing a team that reached the NCAA Tournament a season ago, the Wildcats were dominant on the attack in a decisive sweep of the Shockers.

"I'm very happy with the way we played in our first match," Skinner said. "Who knows what to expect. You know how you've been playing against your own team. Wichita State, even though they're a young team, they're always well coached and always very athletic."

It was a balanced effort that carried UK, with four Wildcats putting down at least six kills on the opening night of the Bluegrass Battle. Senior setter Morgan Bergren guided an offense that hit at a .372 clip with 31 assists as No. 19 Kentucky moved to 1-0 entering a Saturday doubleheader against Butler and Virginia Tech.

"I thought Morgan did a really nice job of finding the right people at the right time," Skinner said. "Everybody got involved in the offense. Wichita State had a hard time knowing who she was going to set."

Anni Thomasson was the most likely candidate to finish off points. The sophomore had 13 kills and just two errors in hitting .440.

"Anni's just a great volleyball player," Skinner said. "She figures out ways to score. When she can't pound it straight down, she's going to find a seam or a hole in the defense."

Not only does she find holes in the opposing defense, she also fills them in UK's. Thomasson added 12 digs in what figures to be the first of many double-doubles for her this season. Thomasson was one of UK's best players a season ago in receiving All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team honors, but she appears poised to be even better in 2014.

"No one outworks her," Skinner said. "She just is a grinder and wants to be really good and never takes a day off. When you're like that, it's hard not to improve."

The Newark, Ohio, native is an outside hitter, a position sometimes occupied by offensive specialists, but Thomasson is as much of a contributor on defense. That's a big reason why Skinner says this could be the best defensive team he's coached.

"There's not a position that's weak defensively," Skinner said. "Typically you'll have one, maybe two people that struggle defensively. I think we're going to make it tough for people to score, but we gotta do it every day."

That means practice too, where more intense offense-defense battles are surely in store.


What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me: A Look Back

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Countdown Recap.jpg
To count down the days to the start of the 2014 season, the UK volleyball team and coaching staff talked about what Kentucky volleyball means to them as part of the Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball.

For head coach Craig Skinner, it's "a culture of great people that are striving to be the best." Junior Morgan Bergren added that playing for UK is about "being part of something bigger than yourself," while freshman Ashley Dusek said UK volleyball means "passion."

Comments from the student-athletes ranged from "family" and "commitment" to "determination and pride" and "the opportunity of a lifetime." Each answer was a different opinion of what makes UK volleyball a special program to be a part of and such a great place to play.

As the Wildcats prepared for the upcoming season, the daily feature, which coincided with updates on the team throughout preseason practice, gave the team a chance to reflect on what being a part of Kentucky volleyball and the UK community is all about. It was also an opportunity to look forward, as several student-athletes also talked about the opportunity to win a championship as they set their sights on the season.

An archive of  "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason can be found here. Each day, a UK student-athlete was featured as part of the countdown, in correspondence with their uniform number in addition to the coaching staff.

The countdown also included updates, news and notes from UK's preseason practices. From preseason national rankings to the release of a feature film about the team's trip to China earlier this summer, it was an eventful month leading up to the 2014 season-opener.

For additional updates on the UK volleyball team, follow them on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Laird looks to fill scoring void

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Justin Laird. Men's Soccer Justin Laird. Photo by Barry Westerman
By Brent Ingram

As the Kentucky men's soccer team enters the 2014 season, one of its biggest unanswered questions is who will replace some of the team's departed scoring.

With the graduation of leading scorers Tyler Riggs and Brad Doliner, Kentucky must replace 64-percent of its goals from a year ago. One of the players tasked with picking up the scoring load is senior forward Justin Laird.

A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Laird is UK's leading returning scorer after pacing the team with six assists in his first season in Lexington.

The Wright State transfer played in 17 games and made seven starts, finishing with one goal on 22 shots, with his golden goal in overtime vs. Old Dominion in the C-USA Tournament Quarterfinals lifting UK to the semis.

Now entering his final season with the Wildcats, Laird will be counted on as a forward in UK head coach Johan Cedergren's attacking system, a role that requires a physical presence up top as a primary distributor.

"It has been difficult for me, especially since I am the type of player that just likes to run and not really body up guys," Laird said about adapting to the system. "I like to be facing goal, not getting the ball with my back to it, but it has been a change for me. At the same time, with the changes of the coaching staff, I have a lot more clarity of what needs to be done and I feel like I have been adapting to that role real well. I think they get more pleased with me in that role, day-by-day."

A star at Hartford Union High School in Hartford, Wisconsin, Laird began his collegiate career at Wright State.

During his debut season at Wright State, Laird totaled team-highs in points (15) and goals (seven), earning a spot on the Horizon League Newcomer Team.

"I learned that D1 soccer is going to be a lot of work," Laird said about lessons learned at Wright State. "It is going to be a complete grind. Coming to Lexington it really just shows me how blessed we are to have the things that we have and have the coaching staff that we have. It just helped my momentum going forward and helped me learn about what soccer can do for a campus, and we have big things in store here."

After earning a starting spot at forward in UK's first exhibition tune-up of the year at Northern Kentucky, Laird came off the bench to play the final 45 minutes in UK's final exhibition against Georgia State. Upon entering vs. GSU, Laird's impact was immediately felt, as UK picked up the offensive intensity and attacking mindset.

"I feel way more comfortable around campus," Laird said. "I need to be more of a leader out there. I hope that I am a guy that players can look to with questions, on and off the field. I feel like I have a good relationship with this campus right now."

One benefit to Laird and UK's offensive attack in the preseason has been the daily battles with UK's stout defensive unit. With junior Callum Irving, "one of the top three goalkeepers in the country," according to Cedergren, and three starters returning on the back four, UK's defense will be a strength in 2014.

"It is hard," Laird said about facing the UK defense in training. "It is the best four that I have ever played against. In practice it is really hard to get goals on them. Their formation is set and skill wise they are almost unbeatable. It is definitely a struggle when you have to face them up in practice."

Laird has learned a lot over his time at Kentucky and has been struck by the commitment from the UK support staff in building a first-class operation.

"It all starts with the department," Laird said. "UK facilities and everything we have, we are super spoiled and super blessed. I learned that this is a place with big goals and we have the facilities to reflect and reach those goals. We can go big places with this team."

The Wildcats will open their 2014 season against Laird's former squad, Wright State, on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio. UK will then return home for its first game at the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Sunday, hosting Belmont at 5 p.m.

"Goals for the team are to get to a final four this year. We are going to have to have a lot of leadership and a lot of people step up. But at the same time, it is possible. Individually, my goal is to have 10 or more goals."

Video: UK Athletics 2013-14 year in review

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Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball: 24 Hours

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24 Hours Tweet.jpg
The 2014 season is 24 hours away. At 6:30 p.m. ET, Kentucky will kick off the new season against Wichita State in Memorial Coliseum.

For a complete preview, Bluegrass Battle schedule, match notes, TV and live results information and more, check out UKathletics.com: Volleyball Hosts Bluegrass Battle to Open Season. The preview also includes video from Tuesday's media day and a feature on Cat Scratches, written by UK's Guy Ramsey.



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For an archive of  "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.



It was Kentucky's habit a season ago to hold one final full practice on Thursday of game week before a lighter practice on Friday.

Mark Stoops is flipping the script in his second season.

"We're actually changing things up this year," Stoops said. "We're going very light and minimal on Thursdays. We're going to go fast on Fridays. It's a little different changeup."

The thinking is that the new schedule will allow the Wildcats to be at their best on game day. By the time Saturday rolled around a season ago, players had gone 48 hours without going full speed. By moving the recovery day earlier in the week and a more intense practice later, Stoops anticipates the Cats will be primed to play fast against UT Martin this weekend.

Though the move is a departure, it's not unprecedented. Stoops cited Oregon as one of a handful of college teams to make the change.

"There's plenty of other schools who have done this and so we did a little study in the offseason and looked at it and it's just another part of the plan to play faster," Stoops said.

With the nervous energy around the Nutter Training Center these days with the season opener so close at hand, players aren't likely to mind the chance to fly around on Friday.

"Just anxious to get going," Stoops said. "I think the players are anxious. Just seems like the summer went extremely fast, but this week seems a little bit slow. We're ready to get out there and tee it up and get playing."

UK football season opener pump-up video

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Consistency UK's aim in opening 2014 season

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Patrick Towles will make his college starting debut in UK's season opener on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Patrick Towles will make his college starting debut in UK's season opener on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Last Monday, Mark Stoops summoned Patrick Towles into his office.

After briefly letting Towles hang out to dry, the second-year head coach told the Fort Thomas, Ky., native he had won Kentucky's long-running quarterback battle.

Considering Towles had spent most of his football-playing life working toward the moment, the celebration that followed was more short-lived than you might expect.

"Obviously I got the nod, I'm excited about that," Towles said. "It's what I've always wanted, but that's over with now. I've gotta worry about playing Tennessee Martin on Saturday."

Once he was named the starter, Towles went from competition to preparation for UK's season opener at noon ET on Saturday. The transition has been relatively seamless, mostly because Towles hasn't really changed his approach. In the huddle, he's the same guy.

Of course there's some extra adrenaline flowing, but he's still managing to stay on an even keel.

"It's hard, but I'm excited," Towles said. "You know that you have to get prepared for the game and you can't be all excited and your mind going everywhere and 25 different places during practice or else you're not going to get anything productive done."

Adopting that mentality, Towles following the lead of his head coach.

"I think just try to stay as normal as possible," Mark Stoops said. "He doesn't need to put any more undue pressure on himself. The whole team needs to play well. I expect that he will be a little bit antsy, I'm sure, like you said. But he's just got to calm down and stay within himself and operate the offense."

Though Towles will certainly have the most eyes on him come Saturday, he really isn't much different than most of his teammates. The Wildcats a team full of players who must fill roles for the team to succeed, regardless whether they're the Southeastern Conference's active sack leader like Bud Dupree or a true freshman like Blake Bone, Stanley "Boom" Williams or Matt Elam.

"We've improved," Stoops said. "Our football team has worked hard. We'll see where we're at. I know we're going to play better. It will be good to see these young guys get out there and play, see how we've improved, see the veterans, guys like Bud and (Za'Darius Smith), see them come out and see how much they've improved."

For the first time since 2007, a home crowd will be able to see UK's offseason improvement firsthand. With eight true freshmen, six redshirt freshmen and three first-year junior-college transfers on the two-deep depth chart, Stoops knows UK can't afford to squander the opportunity to get off to a quick start.

"I know our fans are ready to go," Stoops said. "We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans."

Neal Brown is thinking the same thing.

After implementing his version of the Air Raid last season through fits and starts, the second-year offensive coordinator says the Cats are already ahead of where they were a season ago in terms of tempo. UK is far from a finished product, but Brown believes fans will see his group has made significant strides.

"I want to make sure that we're not playing so fast that we're hurting ourselves, you know?" Brown said. "But we're in a position now, going into our second fall, that we're able to play really fast when we need to. And there's going to be some times in this game where we'll play at a really quick pace -- faster than we ever executed last year."

UK's offense will contend with a UT Martin defense led by All-American linebacker Tony Bell. Bell led the Ohio Valley Conference with 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for less.

"They have a great defensive player, No. 40, the linebacker, an exceptional player," Stoops said. "He's a really good football player. He can play anywhere in the country. Really like the way he plays. Like I said, I think they're a well-coached team. They're very multiple on both sides of the ball, can do a lot of things."

With an offseason for UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson to make changes, Stoops knows better than to try to predict what he'll see from the Skyhawks on Saturday. It's a good thing, then, that his primary objective for Saturday is all about his own team.

"We've got to go play well and be consistent," Stoops said. "We're not good enough to make simple mistakes and shoot ourselves in the foot, turn the ball over, things like that obviously. We want to be very consistent. We want to pick up our tempo offensively and continue to grow and move the ball like we want to move the ball.
 
"Defensively, again, be more consistent. We need to get more turnovers. We certainly need to get more interceptions."
 
Kaelon Fox. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics. Kaelon Fox. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics.
By Brent Ingram

As a freshman, Kentucky utilized Kaelon Fox in just about every position on the field except goalkeeper.

Now, entering his sophomore season, UK head coach Johan Cedergren is hoping that a firm positional role for Fox will help the standout from Louisville's St. Xavier High School.

A 6-foot-2, 155-pounder, Fox is firmly entrenched as a center back, alongside 6-foot-3 sophomore Jordan Wilson. The duo helps the Wildcats boast the potential for a dynamic defensive squad, with outside back Charlie Reymann also in his second year as an everyday starter.

As a freshman, Fox started eight games and played in 19 of UK's 20 games, totaling two goals and one assist, firing 29 shots. He saw starts on the backline, in the midfield and as an attacking player.

"I learned that college soccer is a difficult game," Fox said. "Coming in as a true defender and having to play forward, midfield and some defense last year, it gave me more knowledge how certain players move on and off the ball, how forwards move on and off the ball. It gave me more of an insight into how to properly defend those attacking players. It developed me more as a center back."

Fox netted his first career goal at Xavier, before adding a tally in UK's win over Florida Atlantic. He also added an assist vs. IPFW and had at least four shots in four games, including a six-shot effort vs. South Carolina.

After spending the spring playing on the backline with Wilson and Reymann, the three have formed a solid chemistry. With UK sophomore Alex Bumpus suffering a season-ending injury in the offseason, it means that the backline will feature a new face at the outside back position opposite Reymann.

"It is really good to have chemistry between your backline, because if you don't things can break down and that is not what you want from your back four and your keeper. Jordan, Charlie and I, the chemistry between us on and off the field is great. It just comes down to having each other's back on the field. When Jordan or Charlie steps up in the attack, we have the ability to cover for them. If someone gets beat off the ball, having their back there. I know Jordan and Charlie have my back. It is a great comfort feeling knowing we are there for each other."

With the backline supported by three veteran starters and a goalkeeper that Cedergren considers "one of the three best goalkeepers in the country" in Callum Irving, Kentucky will be anchored by its defending unit.

"Johan tells us that defense wins championships," Fox said. "That is a true statement. Having chemistry on the backline is great. Jordan, Charlie and I played the whole spring together on the backline which helped us with the chemistry. The defense that we have this year can be really great. We just have to keep building on it game after game."

While his defense will be a strength on the 2014 roster, Cedergren is going to count on Fox and Wilson to provide some scoring threats on set pieces with their size, physicality and athleticism.

"It is going to be pretty important," Fox said about the backline coming up on set pieces. "Johan wants our center backs to get four or five set-piece goals. We need to get our goals-per game up a little bit."

Kentucky opens its 2014 season Friday at 7 p.m. at Wright State. The Wildcats will debut the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Sunday with a twinbill with the women's soccer program, with UK taking on Belmont at 5 p.m.


Front seven taking shape as opener approaches

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If the Wildcats are nervous as the final days pass before Kentucky's season opener against UT Martin, it isn't showing in practice.

It was another day of productive work for UK on Wednesday.

"We had a good practice today," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys were into it, focused, getting better fundamentally and ready to play."

Ready to play and mostly healthy. Outside of wide receivers Jeff Badet (eye) and Alexander Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery), UK is expected to be at full strength at noon ET on Saturday.

"We're right where we thought we'd be," Eliot said. "Everybody's ready to go. Everybody's geared up and ready for the game and we won't miss a beat."

That includes star senior Bud Dupree, who made it through fall camp even though he was prevented from doing his favorite thing: hitting the quarterback.

"It's horrible having the quarterbacks in red jerseys and having to stop on a play, stop before you can get to them and stopping on offensive linemen sometimes," Dupree said. "Sometimes you want to go through the linemen and just hit them but you know you can't."

The Southeastern Conference's active sack leader only has to wait three more days before getting a shot at an opposing quarterback, and he'll do it both standing and with his hand in the dirt. Dupree will play defensive end opposite Za'Darius Smith in UK's 4-3 set and linebacker when the Cats go 3-4.

"The 3-4 is great for showing athleticism and keeping as many good guys on the field as you can, as well as having big edge setters too," Dupree said.

In the starting 3-4 look, UK will play with tackles Melvin Lewis and Mike Douglas and Smith along the line. Dupree and sophomore Jason Hatcher will play outside linebacker. Hatcher hasn't gotten the attention of some of his teammates in camp with Dupree and Smith returning, but the coaches know they have to find ways to get him on the field.

"He's had a great camp," Eliot said. "Jason's gotten better every day. There's always a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and we've seen it with him. He's a better athlete. He's a better player. He understands the game better. And we're very pleased with his progress."

Josh Forrest and another player will complete the front seven in the 3-4 at the two inside linebacker spots. As for who will start with Forrest, a decision has not been made between junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson. Henderson, a junior, has experience on his side, but Flannigan is competing.

"He's right where I expected him to be," Eliot said. "He has transitioned well. He's picking up the defense. He's physically right where he needs to be. He's right on track."

Celis ready to take next step

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Bryan Celis. Photo by Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics Bryan Celis. Photo by Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics
By Brent Ingram

Kentucky's 2014 men's soccer team features four upperclassmen on a youthful roster with high hopes for the upcoming season.

Because of the nature of the roster, those four upperclassmen will be counted on to shoulder a large share of the leadership burden.

Among them is junior midfielder Bryan Celis, a talented product of Houston's Mayde Creek High School.

Celis enters his junior season after starring in the midfield for the Wildcats the last two seasons. Celis is coming off a sophomore campaign that was limited to 12 starts due to injury. Despite missing time, Celis totaled three assists, including a pass that set up on the game-winning goal in the season opener vs. Georgia State.

A 5-foot-8, 159 pounder, Celis stepped right into the UK lineup as a freshman in 2012, helping pace the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. Celis played in all 21 games in his collegiate debut, with 11 starts as an attacking midfielder and forward. Celis finished with a goal and four assists. His four assists ranked second on the club.

"Coming in my freshman year I didn't know what to expect," Celis said. "I didn't know much about college soccer so it was all basically new to me. Now that I've spent three years here, I've learned a lot, how to manage my time with school and soccer, what to expect on and off the field, being a leader, being one of the older guys, and having to teach the young guns how things are done around here."

Celis joined the UK roster after a standout prep career in Houston. He saw time on the US U-17, U-15 and U-14 national teams, while TopDrawerSoccer.com ranked him as the 75th-best player in the class. He also saw time with the Dallas Texans in the US Soccer Development Academy.

"We all come from different backgrounds and different playing styles," Celis said. "Johan (Cedergren) really looks up to players the come from MLS academy teams. Me being one of them, he knows that I know the right things to do on and off the field. He believes that I can be a huge leader in the team and he wants me to teach the other guys how to overcome some of the obstacles that they are going to face and tell them to keep working hard and always being there for them and helping them play at 100 percent."

An obvious strength of the Kentucky squad entering 2014 is its defense, which is led by preseason All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving. Irving will help anchor the backline, along with talented returning starters Jordan Wilson, Charlie Reymann and Kaelon Fox.

"Having Callum back this year is going to be a great help to us," Celis said. "Cally has been with the Vancouver Whitecaps training all summer. Having Jordan, Fox and Cally back there is going to be a good help this year just because we all played together last year. We are a little bit more familiar with each other and our strengths and weaknesses. And same in the midfield with Kristoffer (Tollefsen), we all know how we play, we all know our strengths and we try to play towards our strengths so we are not exposed and vulnerable against teams."

As Kentucky gets ready for the 2014 season, one dominant storyline is the debut season of the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.

"We are really excited," Celis said about opening up the new stadium. "I am sure I am speaking for everybody, we got the help through Mitch Barnhart and others who were kind enough to donate money to the stadium. New team, new training facilities, everything has us excited to get back to the season and start playing again. That is pretty much what we came here to do, is play soccer."

Kentucky opens its 2014 season on Friday at Wright State at 7 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio. UK will then debut the Bell Complex on Sunday at 5 p.m. vs. Belmont.

Video: Eckstein, Henderson meet with media

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ECKSTEIN

HENDERSON

2 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Craig Skinner

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SKINNER_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. The final feature is head coach Craig Skinner:

"Kentucky volleyball is a culture of great people that are striving to be the best.  Our staff and players over the years have created an environment of achievement and success.  We collectively work daily to be elite and become better than yesterday.  Each year, athletes join us who are willing to embrace that concept."

Head coach Craig Skinner enters his 10th season at the helm. With 202 career victories in Lexington, Skinner sits just eight wins shy of becoming the program's all-time winningest coach. He has led the Wildcats to a school-record nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, a feat only 12 other schools in the nation have achieved. He has directed UK to three Sweet Sixteen appearances since 2009 and was named the 2011 AVCA All-South Region Coach of the Year. Kentucky has won 17 or more matches in each of Skinner's nine seasons, including 20 or more victories in six of the last seven campaigns.

Preseason Team Update: August 27, 2014
Today is the first day of class, and the Wildcats have their last day off of the 2014 preseason. The team will be back in the gym tomorrow, preparing for Friday's season-opener vs. Wichita State.

Cat Scratches, the Official Blog of UK Athletics, has a feature on the team. By Guy Ramsey, the article looks back on the team's trip to China earlier in the summer and how that has helped the team during preseason practice.

Yesterday was media day UK volleyball. Head coach Craig Skinner, seniors Jackie Napper and Lauren O'Conner and junior Morgan Bergren met with the media to preview the upcoming season. Video from the event can be viewed here.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.



Craig Skinner was visiting with his assistants earlier this week about Kentucky's run of practices leading up to the 2014 season.

There have been up and downs, to be sure, but the coaching staff could find little to complain about in the effort department.

"The coaches kind of said that we really haven't had a day where the concentration and intent to perform wasn't there, and that's fairly unusual because you go so hard for so long and a short period of time that you're bound to have some days where it's not really focused and energetic," Skinner said. "But that hasn't been the case."

If you ask Skinner or the Wildcats themselves, that has a lot to do with a cultural exchange trip to China the team took in May. For two weeks, UK toured the Far East on a journey that combined high-level volleyball, education about the nation they visited and plenty of team bonding.

"It went really well. We played professional teams over there which was even more experience," senior outside hitter Lauren O'Conner said. "It's great that we were able to get experience with the team that we had without the seniors (from the 2013 season) to get even more practice with us and to build the chemistry on the court playing together with a new lineup. So I think it helped out a lot both physically and mentally."

That's especially true on defense.

Given the experience and talent of the opponents they faced in China, the Wildcats learned quickly no points would be given to them. That resulted in some losses, including a 3-0 defeat in their final match with each set being decided after a deuce point, but also a new mentality in practice this August.

"We've talked about how this could be the best defensive team we've had here at Kentucky," Skinner said. "I think part of it is talent, but I think also that it is because all but three of the girls (true freshmen Kaz Brown, Ashley Dusek and Darian Mack) saw firsthand how hard it was to win a rally over there and that you have to work for it."

The Cats won't go up against any teams as veteran as the ones they saw in China, but UK won't get much of a reprieve to start the season or really at any point during the 2014 season. In hosting two tournaments in Memorial Coliseum to start the season, the Cats will go up against three teams that reached last year's NCAA Tournament, including Wichita State in Friday's 6:30 p.m. ET season opener and Elite Eight participant USC next week.

UK will have to do it without Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan, two players honored as All-Americans last season who have since graduated.

"We've had to adapt a little bit, to change our style a little bit and I think our players understand and appreciate that challenge and are certainly embracing it and we're finding new ways," Skinner said. "Now it's just putting all of it to the test when we finally play against outside competition to see if those things have worked."

Even without Billings and Morgan, it's not as if UK is devoid of experience.

The Cats return five of seven starters from last year's team, which reached the tournament for a record ninth season in a row. Leading the way will be O'Conner, senior libero Jackie Napper and setter Morgan Bergren.

"We have a core group of people on the court that are working together," Napper said. "Morgan's a junior, but she's really stepped up to be a leader, as well as other underclassmen and upperclassmen. So together, we all try to figure out what works best with this team, ways to lead others, and ways to bring others on board."

UK's roster features a mix of veterans and players who will look to contribute for the first time, with seven seniors or juniors and five freshmen. Skinner doesn't downplay the importance of experience, but he also doesn't believe it's the most important thing once the ball is served.

"I think in our case, probably the most important thing in all of our athletes is that they're talented and motivated," Skinner said. "So whether they've been here for four years or just beginning, we feel very good about the group of people that we have and now it's about getting on the court Friday and seeing what it's all about for us this year."

Transcript: Rick Eckstein Joins Big Blue Insider

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Baseball_newcoach (2).jpg Newest Kentucky baseball assistant coach Rick Eckstein joined Dick Gabriel's Big Blue Insider on Tuesday night. Eckstein talked about his time as a big-league hitting coach with the Washington Nationals from 2009-13 and his last year with the Los Angeles Angels and UK baseball great Collin Cowgill.

On why he would leave the big leagues to come to the SEC ...
"That's an easy question. To reconnect with Gary Henderson and be in the SEC. Raise my family here in Lexington. There are just so many positives; I can go on and on."

On his previous relationship with Gary Henderson at Florida ...
"He recruited me as a preferred walk-on. Made the team and earned my way. We ended up finishing third in the country that year. When the year was over, I was offered the opportunity as a volunteer assistant coach and that is where I really got to work side by side with Gary and see how he went about his day. And right away I recognized why we were so good. Gary is meticulous, just so knowledgeable. Gary was our recruiting coordinator and we were just getting so many great players. As my career unfolded we stayed in touch and this opportunity came up and my wife and I looked at each other and said this is the right opportunity for us. I couldn't be happier. We are here in Lexington and looking forward to raising our family here and settling down in Lexington. Jumping in head first the last few days has been great, getting to meet the staff and the players, I just couldn't be more excited."

On following along with UK when it soared to its first No. 1 national ranking in 2012 ...
"It doesn't surprise me. I know Gary. I know what Gary stands for and I know what he is going to build. When I had the opportunity to be a part of that I didn't even hesitate. I knew it was where I needed to be. On a side note, being with the Angels and Collin Cowgill being on the major league roster, I got to talk extensively with him about his time at Kentucky. And Collin is just a wonderful human being and just an outstanding player on top of it. It is no wonder the Angels are right there in first place because he is a part of that. He brings that type of attitude with him. And that is what Kentucky baseball represents and he is representing UK in the big leagues with that same attitude."

On working with Collin Cowgill as he impacted the Los Angeles Angels ...
"Having worked under Mike Scioscia and knowing his philosophy. It's everything that I believe in, and Gary too. It's the character of the player. It's the work ethic. It's the attention to detail. It's the commitment to excellence. Its giving it everything you have for your teammates. That is what Mike Scioscia values for his system. And when Collin came over in spring training and was earning a spot on the team, it was visible from day one that this guy was going to help us win. Whether it was coming off the bench to steal a base, or coming off the bench to get a bunt down. Or whether he was going to hit the game-winning home run like he did against Oakland earlier in the season. He had every trick in his bag and that is because of the development Gary and his staff had in the program. It is just a wonderful process that you can see in Collin."

On his relationship with Albert Pujols ...
"Well Albert and I were able to work together through the years. My brother was a part of the St. Louis Cardinals and I was around them for a lot of time and then in 2007 I was hired by St. Louis and got to see Albert 1-on-1 for a good portion of the season. He has a work ethic that is second to none; his attention to detail. He would not let anything go. He wants to know everything and he will work until he figures it out. Our relationship blossomed because of one at-bat. It was against Carlos Zambrano and needless to say he did a few things to get himself in position and the rest is history from our relationship standpoint. We reconnected again with Anaheim and from day one it was the same type of approach, the same mentality, the same work ethic. He showed up every day with the same commitment on day one that he has on day 162 and more. It is phenomenal."

On how much he can talk with UK's hitters about his big-league experience ...
"No you are absolutely right. This is about JaVon Shelby. This is about Zach Arnold. This isn't about Albert and Collin. It is my job to understand our guys as a person and a player. Get inside their head and understand their mindset. I believe in coaching as a two-way street. We are both going to understand each other so we have a great line of communication and dialog. The buy in is going to be easy, they are going to understand where I am coming from and I am going to understand where they are coming from. That respect is where you gain miles and miles of knowledge and acceptance and everything that comes with achieving the goals that come with that. I am sure players are going to want to know about Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Barry Bonds and all the guys that I have had the great fortune to work with. But at the same time, I am going to focus on our players and I am going to use the knowledge I have working with those guys to talk about adjustments. To talk about mindset, the mentality, about the character it takes and the understanding that failure is a part of how to be successful and how do you handle the tough moments and how do you rise to the top. That is all a part of the message."

On if UK's offense has some big pieces to replace in former stars AJ Reed and Austin Cousino ...
"Absolutely. You are going to lose some of those good guys in AJ and Austin Cousino. But we are going to get to replace them with some great guys that Brad Bohannon and Keith Vorhoff have helped bring in and recruited. They are getting talent into the system and that is exciting. I am glad to be a part of that. I am proud to be a part of that. We might miss out on a little power but we have team speed, we have the ability to get on base. We have the mentality, I know has been preached and that is right up my alley. The make-up of our team is going to be a huge strength. We had a team meeting last night. Gary Henderson led the meeting and I just sat back and watched the room. I watched the players. They were into it. They were there. You felt like one big family. I tell you what, I left that room and I told my wife after I got home late, 'I am fired up. I am ready to go. These guys are ready to go.' I am not a big guy. My brother is not a big guy. We were raised on the mentality that the size of the player doesn't matter. It's what you give every day. It's how much you pour into the program. What stamp are you leaving on the program? That is indicative, whether you are the giant monster of Kyle Cody or the little big guy of Rick Eckstein."

On what hitting philosophy he subscribes to ...
"I would say that I know Charley Lau's theories. I know Ted Williams' theories. I know Davey Johnson's theories. I've worked for Frank Robinson. I know Mike Scioscia's theory. I've had the great fortune to work with some of the best hitters that have ever played the game, and talk with them. I had a chance to work 1-on-1 with Barry Bonds for three weeks in Japan for the Major League All-Star Series and literally was fascinated with how his mind worked and we talked and hit it off. I have taken pieces of everyone I have been around and you file those in your head. Everyone is unique. Everybody is different. Everybody is going to stand in the box different. Everybody is going to see the baseball coming at them differently. It is my job to get into the mindset and understand how they see and how they digest that information to make it efficient. To say that I am a Charley Lau guy or a Ted Williams guy, no, I am a guy that is going to work to help each guy individually to see who they are supposed to be with the parameters of that I believe that there are table setters and I believe that there are run producers. When you have a table setter like David Eckstein trying to hit home runs, then that isn't going to work. And when you have a run producer, like Barry Bonds, we don't want him hitting singles the other way. There is a common sense in that philosophy, where we are looking at you like what is your potential?  What are you supposed to do in our system? Where are you supposed to be? And that is how the philosophy shapes the guys while they are here under my watch and by the time that we get everything settled and the lineup, top to bottom, everybody will be pulling their weight."

BROWN

STOOPS

TOWLES

The schedule calls for Mark Stoops to talk to the media on Mondays and Thursdays during game week, with UK's offensive and defensive coaches available on Tuesday and Wednesday. After his weekly media luncheon on Monday, Stoops was supposed to have a two-day break.

As he came off the field on Tuesday, Stoops was in a jovial mood, even stepping over to the podium for an unscheduled media opportunity.

"It was good," Stoops said of UK's Tuesday practice. "We had a lot of work. We got a lot of work done today. We needed to. Good hot day. Felt good about the energy. Guys are starting to lock in and execute well. So overall, it was a very good practice."

With the Wildcats just five days from its season lidlifter vs. UT Martin at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday at noon on the SEC Network, Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown are continuing to get the offense working at the desired tempo and excelling on first down.

"We'll be much faster week one this year than we were at any point last year," Stoops said, referencing UK's 2013 season opener against WKU. "Like I said before, we've got to get some production on first down. That's a big key for us to move the football. We're not good enough on any side yet to go fast and not get first downs. So we have to move the ball, and even though you're going fast, you still have to chew up some clock by getting first downs and running plays. But I feel good. I feel like we're improved, and they're ready to go."

Brown echoed Stoops' assertion that a high-tempo offensive unit needs to excel on first down in order to run the desired offense.

"We did not play with very good tempo at Western," Brown said about the tempo of 2014 camp compared to 2013. "We tried to early and we just didn't do a very good job of it at all. We'll pick our spots in this game. I want to make sure that we're not playing so fast that we're hurting ourselves, you know? But we're in a position now, going into our second fall, that we're able to play really fast when we need to. And there's going to be some times in this game where we'll play at a really quick pace - faster than we ever executed last year."

With sophomore Patrick Towles earning the starting quarterback job entering the campaign, Stoops and Brown are focused on getting the 6-foot-5, 238-pounder and the offense off to a strong start.

"Yeah, I think it's important to get Patrick and everybody (off to a fast start)," Brown said. "Y'all looked at our depth chart. We've got a bunch of young guys in that two-deep, especially at the skill positions. So we've got to be simple. It's important to get Patrick off to a good start, but it's also important to get Kyle Meadows off to a good start. It's also important to get Stanley (Williams), when he gets in the game, off to a good start, all those freshmen wideouts that are going to play. So you've got to not only take Patrick into (account), but you've got to take everybody."

While Towles and the entire UK squad will be eager to get on the field and face a team not wearing blue and white, Stoops stressed the importance of keeping things as normal as possible.

"(Patrick) doesn't need to put any more undue pressure on himself," Stoops said. "The whole team needs to play well. I expect that he will be a little bit antsy. But he's just got to calm down and stay within himself and operate the offense. And that's where it is important to get off on a fast start and give him some things that he can manage early until he gets settled in."

3 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Sharay Barnes

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BARNES_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is redshirt freshman Sharay Barnes:

"Kentucky volleyball is all about improving yourself as a person as well as a player. By being in this program, my teammates and coaches have helped me gain confidence in my play."

A redshirt freshman from Swarthmore, Pa., Sharay Barnes did not compete in her first season at Kentucky. A four-year letterwinner for Strath Haven High School, Barnes was a two-time All-State selection and was named Player of the Year as a senior. The middle blocker/outside hitter also competed for Synergy Volleyball Club and was named one of the top seniors by PrepVolleyball.com.

Preseason Team Update: August 26, 2014
Today was media day for several of UK's fall sports, including the volleyball team. Head coach Craig Skinner, seniors Jackie Napper and Lauren O'Conner and junior Morgan Bergren met with the media to preview the upcoming season. Video from the event can be viewed here.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Video: Men's soccer media day press conference

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Video: Cross country media day press conference

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Video: Volleyball media day press conference

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Junior goalkeeper Callum Irving was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2013. (Chet White, of UK Athletics, took this photo) Junior goalkeeper Callum Irving was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2013. (Chet White, of UK Athletics, took this photo)
It is common that good goalkeepers don't hit their peak until their late 20s, early 30s.

It is a position that require vocal leadership, quick thinking and a mature physical presence.

In his third season in between the pipes for the Kentucky men's soccer team, Callum Irving is developing into one of the best goalkeepers in college soccer.

Coming off a first-team All-Conference USA season as a sophomore, Irving enters the 2014 season with high hopes of taking the next step in his development, while helping lead the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

With a stated goal of allowing 18 goals or less on the year, Irving and the Wildcats have high hopes for a strong defensive unit. With a back four featuring returning starters Jordan Wilson and Kaelon Fox at center back and Charlie Reymann at outside back, the strength of the UK roster appears to be in its defense.

Part of a strong defensive unit involves a vocal leader in goal, a role that Irving is embracing as a third-year standout.

"It is massive to be a vocal goalkeeper," Irving said. "As a keeper I have to be loud and commanding because I can see everything on the field. I need to be able to help guys out whenever I can. They also need to be able to let me know when I am doing things wrong or when I need to help them in certain areas. The communication with me, and not just the backline but with the entire team, is really important to keep things cohesive."

A 6-foot-1, 190-pounder, Irving has been tabbed a team captain for the 2014 season, with UK third-year head coach Johan Cedergren employing a leadership council.

"It's a real honor," Irving said about being a team captain. "It is something I've wanted to do for a while. I am just happy that I have been able to be put in a position to be one of the leaders on this team. It is a big challenge with such a young squad but the guys have a lot of respect for each other and I think they respect me as a player and a person. I look forward to being able to share some of the tougher situations I've been through as a junior player and help the freshmen get past that learning curve so they can all have a good impact on our season."

In 2013, Irving entered the season as the backup to senior co-captain Jack Van Arsdale. Van Arsdale shined in 2012 after earning the job midway through the season. Irving moved into the starting role for the final 13 games of 2013, totaling 16 starts on the year and allowing 18 goals in 1484 minutes. He finished with a 1.09 goals-against average, the 11th-best total in program history, with his six shutouts ranking ninth.

Irving was voted by the league coaches to the C-USA first-team in 2013, marking the second first-team all-conference goalkeeper in UK history and the first since Andy Gruenebaum in 2005.

Irving enters 2014 having transformed his body and benefiting greatly from two years of experience for the Wildcats.  

"Naturally I have physically matured quite a bit, putting on 30 pounds since my freshman year," Irving said. "Other than the physicality, it is just about being through different game scenarios. Being down, letting in own goals, making saves, there are a bunch of different scenarios that you go through and you learn from. For a keeper every game is a learning experience. Having a bunch of reps and having some game time has really helped me understand a lot of different scenarios, especially when it comes to college soccer, because it is a real different game from youth soccer. Being able to start leading the team has helped me mature and made me more calm at the back and have an expectation of what's going to come."

One of the keys to Irving's development has been the individual instruction from third-year goalkeeping coach David Casper.

"It has helped a ton," Irving said about his relationship with Casper. "It is great that we have a goalie coach that works with us every day. He puts in a ton of work on and off the field. He is one guy that is never satisfied, which is the best thing. Even if I had a good game, he will congratulate me, but we are still focused on the things that I did wrong in the game. He helps to keep me humble and keep me focused on always getting better and not being satisfied. No matter what he has always had my back. He is pretty big in getting me where I am."

As a freshman, Irving came in as a highly touted recruit out of Vancouver, British Columbia. In a preseason battle with Van Arsdale, Irving won the starting job for the season lidlifter at Dayton. He allowed four goals in a 4-3 loss but made six saves on 15 shots, making several jaw-dropping saves that left glimpses of his raw abilities.

Van Arsdale started the next two games before Irving returned to the starting lineup in Cedergren's first career win, posting a clean sheet vs. St. Joe's.  After starting vs. No. 4 Charlotte and allowing a first-half tally, Irving gave way in the second half to Van Arsdale. The next game sparked a season turn around for the Wildcats, as Van Arsdale turned in a heroic effort in leading UK to a win at No. 18 Louisville, securing the starting job for the remainder of 2012, with UK earning an NCAA Tournament hosting berth.

"I learned how to bounce back from failure and realize that not everything is going to be handed to you," Irving said about what he learned as a freshman. "And you have to work to earn the respect from the people around you. It was a really good learning experience and I think it benefited me more than if I had played."

After resting the two-game exhibition schedule to open the year, Irving returned to the training pitch on Monday and is eager to get on the field for the season opener. Kentucky will open its 2014 season on Friday at Wright State at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will then open up the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex with Belmont on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. 

At long last, UK's season opener is on the horizon.

After months of work in spring practice, summer conditioning and fall camp, the Wildcats are about to line up across from opponents in different color jerseys. Finally, Mark Stoops' offseason refrain about the progress of his team will be put to the test.

"As I said before throughout this summer, we've improved," Stoops said. "Be interesting to go out there and see how much."

For the first time since 2007, a home crowd will be able to see UK's offseason improvement firsthand in the season opener. The Wildcats will face UT Martin at noon ET on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.

"I know our fans are ready to go," Stoops said. "We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans."

Opening at home for the first time in seven years and following that with another game in Commonwealth in week two, the Cats have a chance to build some early-season momentum. It's an opportunity Stoops says they can't squander.

"I think it's real important, I do," Stoops said. "I think we need to start fast. We need to go out and play well."

In evaluating that, Stoops will be looking for an accumulation of routine plays, not highlights readymade for SportsCenter.

"We've got to go play well and be consistent," Stoops said. "We're not good enough to make simple mistakes and shoot ourselves in the foot, turn the ball over, things like that obviously."

That's a challenge given how much UK will rely on a number of players who have never been on the field at this level. Seventeen players listed on Kentucky's two-deep depth chart are first-year junior-college transfers or freshmen, including eight true freshmen.

All of them, to this point, have prepared as much as possible in practice and through UK's High Performance program, but there's only so much that can be done.

"Certainly with young guys, some guys are going to go out there for the first time and they're going to exceed our expectations, then some guys will probably have some rough spots here and there, have some mental mistakes, physical mistakes, things like that," Stoops said. "That's why you have to get out there and play. There's no substitution for experience."

As young as this Kentucky team may be, the Wildcats are still in a better spot than they were a year ago. That's why UK won't rely on newcomers quite as much as in 2013.

"We're getting better," Stoops said. "As we get better, it gets harder to beat out some guys for playing time. That's what you want in our program."

Dupree, Smith still drawing raves from Stoops

Stoops isn't normally one to think too far into the future, but he made an exception on Monday.

Asked where he expects senior defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree to go in next spring's NFL Draft, the second-year UK coach didn't hesitate.

"I'd be very shocked if Bud was not a first-round draft pick," Stoops said.

Stoops went on to say that he can envision Dupree going early in the first round if he has the kind of season expected of him. Given Stoops' experience coaching NFL-level talent at Florida State, his opinion has some weight.

"Bud is special," Stoops said. "He has that ability to play standing up. Put his hand in the dirt. He's a pass rusher. He's got instincts. With everybody going to a lot of the 3-4 things, outside backers, versatility, he's a very good player."

Dupree is listed as a strong-side linebacker on the depth chart, but the versatility Stoops appreciates so much will allow him to play plenty at end as well. When he does, he'll line up opposite Za'Darius Smith, who has a professional future of his own.

He and Dupree bypassed the NFL Draft to return for their senior season. Stoops believes they'll improve their draft stock with their decisions, but he knows UK has already benefited from their presence.

"As I said a lot through the offseason, leadership is the first thing that jumps out at you," Stoops said. "But also confidence. Our players see those guys out there, they make plays, are consistent, they're always there. They're great to have."

UT Martin linebacker Bell has UK's attention

With an offseason for UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson to make changes, Stoops knows to expect the unexpected on Saturday.

"They might get out there and try to pressure the heck out of us, or drop," Stoops said. "They've shown both, where they've been conservative and drop eight guys into coverage a bunch, or they can blitz the house and come after you. I imagine we'll see a bit of everything. It will be good for us to see how we prepare and respond to that."

Whatever looks the Skyhawks show, Stoops knows to be on the lookout for Tony Bell. The senior linebacker returns to anchor the UT Martin defense after an All-American season in 2013 in which he tallied 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

"They have a great defensive player, No. 40, the linebacker, an exceptional player," Stoops said. "He's a really good football player. He can play anywhere in the country. Really like the way he plays."

Miller, Cunningham suspended for opener


UK announced on Monday that left tackle Darrian Miller and wide receiver Rashad Cunningham have been suspended for Saturday's season opener for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Both will return for week two.

In Miller's absence, regular right tackle Jordan Swindle will move to the left side and redshirt freshman Kyle Meadows will fill Swindle's spot.

Returning to the lineup after a two-game suspension to close 2013 will be Demarco Robinson. He is listed as a starter at one of four wide receiver spots along with Ryan Timmons, Javess Blue and Joey Herrick. Robinson will also share punt-returning duties with Timmons.

UK football depth chart -- Week 1

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Offense

Tight end
85 Steven Borden, 6-3, 246, Sr-1L
80 Ronnie Shields, 6-5, 254, Sr-3L

Left tackle

70 Jordan Swindle, 6-7, 306, Jr-2L
68 Nick Haynes, 6-5, 319, Fr-RS

Left guard
75 Zach West, 6-4, 318, Jr-2L
74 Cole Mosier, 6-6, 348, Fr-RS

Center
72 Jon Toth, 6-5, 301, So-1L
57 Zach Myers, 6-3, 287, So-Sq

Right guard
69 Ramsey Meyers, 6-5, 300, Fr-RS
64 Max Godby, 6-4, 298, Sr-1L

Right tackle
73 Kyle Meadows, 6-5, 294, Fr-RS
76 Teven Eatmon-Nared, 6-7, 339, Sr-3L

Wide receiver
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
6 Blake Bone, 6-5, 198, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L
82 T.V. Williams, 5-10, 160, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
8 Javess Blue, 6-0, 191, Sr-1L
2 Dorian Baker, 6-3, 197, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
87 Joey Herrick, 6-1, 197, Jr-1L
19 Garrett Johnson, 5-11, 176, Fr-HS

Quarterback
14 Patrick Towles, 6-5, 238, So-1L
12 Reese Phillips, 6-2, 218, Fr-RS or 7 Drew Barker, 6-3, 216, Fr-HS

Fullback

39 D.J. Warren, 6-0, 251, Sr-3L
10 Jeff Witthuhn, 6-3, 246, So-Sq

Running back
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr
3 Jojo Kemp, 5-10, 194, So-1L

Special teams

Long snapper
59 Kelly Mason, 6-3, 223, Jr-2L

Holder
13 Jared Leet, 6-3, 196, Jr-2L

Kicker
99 Austin McGinnis, 5-10, 168, Fr-RS

Punter
9 Landon Foster, 6-1, 198, Jr-2L

Kickoff returner

18 Stanley "Boom" Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr

Punt returner
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
or 1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L

Defense

Defensive end
6 Jason Hatcher, 6-3, 242, So-1L
47 Jabari Johnson, 6-1, 276, Jr-1L

Defensive tackle
90 Melvin Lewis, 6-4, 320, Jr-JC
69 Matt Elam, 6-7, 375, Fr-HS

Defensive tackle

50 Mike Douglas, 6-4, 288, Sr-3L
67 Cory "C.J." Johnson, 6-3, 299, Jr-JC or 96 Regie Meant, 6-4, 286, Fr-RS

Defensive end
94 Za'Darius Smith, 6-6, 263, Sr-1L
91 Farrington Huguenin, 6-4, 275, Jr-2L

Strong-side linebacker
2 Alvin "Bud" Dupree, 6-4, 264, Sr-3L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Middle linebacker
45 Josh Forrest, 6-3, 236, Jr-2L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Weak-side linebacker
33 Ryan Flannigan, 6-2, 225, Jr-JC or 22 Khalid Henderson, 6-1, 228, Jr-2L

Nickelback
24 Blake McClain, 5-11, 194, So-1L
29 Kendall Randolph, 6-0, 168, Fr-HS

Cornerback
3 Fred Tiller, 6-0, 170, Jr-2L
11 J.D. Harmon, 6-2, 201, So-1L

Safety
5 Ashely Lowery, 6-1, 220, Sr-3L
15 Marcus McWilson, 6-0, 210, So-1L

Safety
1 A.J. Stamps, 6-0, 199, Jr-JC
28 Eric Dixon, 5-11, 193, Sr-3L

Cornerback
16 Cody Quinn, 5-10, 172, Jr-2L
21 Nate Willis, 6-0, 168, Sr-1L

4 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Anni Thomasson

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THOMASSON_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is sophomore Anni Thomasson:

"Kentucky volleyball means that we get the opportunity to play in one of the most talented and competitive conferences in the country. We push ourselves and our teammates to reach our potential and compete for an SEC and national championship."

Sophomore Anni Thomasson had a season to remember in 2013. An All-SEC Freshman Team honoree, Thomasson also was named the SEC Player of the Week and the SEC Freshman of the Week during her freshman campaign. The outside hitter cemented herself in the UK record books with a 30-kill, 22-dig showing in a 3-2 win over LSU to become the first freshman in team history and just the second in UK history to reach the 30-kill, 20-dig plateau. In her first season, Thomasson was second on the team with 242 kills for a 2.24 kills per set rate and third on the team with 251 digs and 19 service aces. A Newark, Ohio, native, Thomasson notched 12 kills in the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament win over Duquesne.

Preseason Team Update: August 25, 2014
Four days before the season-opener, the team enters match week preparation today. Classes officially start Wednesday, the two-a-day practices are over and the focus now shifts to this weekend's opponents, Wichita State, Butler and Virginia Tech.

Yesterday, UK held its annual Blue/White Scrimmage in Memorial Coliseum. A great crowd was on hand to see the 2014 Wildcats in an informal scrimmage a week before the season begins.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


5 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Ashley Dusek

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DUSEK_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is freshman Ashley Dusek:

"Passion is what UK volleyball means to me. It doesn't matter whether it is on the court, in the classroom or being involved in the community. We set goals and have high standards for ourselves and each other. Coming from a small town in Texas to a team with a huge heart in Kentucky, I know we will do great things. We compete at the highest level against some of the best teams in the country and we have one goal in mind, winning an NCAA championship. Go Cats!"

A freshman from East Bernard, Texas, Ashley Dusek competed for East Bernard High School and was also a member of the Houston Skyline Juniors Volleyball Club before coming to Lexington. The defensive specialist was named a PrepVolleyball All-America selection, one of the site's Top 250 Senior Aces and one of just 13 liberos to rank among the top 150 players. Dusek was named her high school's Most Valuable Player three times in her four-year career and is a four-time Academic All-District Team honoree and a National Honor Society member.

Preseason Team Update: August 24, 2014
Today, the Wildcats host their annual Blue/White Scrimmage in Memorial Coliseum at 5 p.m. ET. Admission is free, and doors to the Coliseum will open at 4 p.m.

Yesterday, the team spent the evening volunteering with Special Olympics Kentucky at the "Big Brown Truck Pull." It was a great night, and the Wildcats got to meet and spend time with Team Kentucky, which represented the Commonwealth at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


6 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Morgan Bergren

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BERGREN_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is junior Morgan Bergren 

"Kentucky volleyball means being part of something bigger than yourself. It is about coming together as one unit to work towards achieving all of our goals. It is about holding each other accountable day in and day out so we are performing at a championship level each and every day."

Morgan Bergren was named to the Preseason All-SEC Team as she enters her junior season after starting all 31 matches as UK's setter in 2013. The Muncie, Ind., native led the Wildcats with 1,215 assists, was second on the team with 24 service aces and had 192 kills, 130 digs and 77 blocks last season. A two-time All-SEC Academic Team honoree, Bergren tallied 40 assists 13 times in 2013, highlighted by a career-high 66 assists to go along with 11 digs in Kentucky's five-set win over LSU.

Preseason Team Update: August 23, 2014
After a day off yesterday, the Wildcats are back in the gym today. UK will practice twice today, marking the final two-practice day of the 2014 season.

Tomorrow, Kentucky holds its annual Blue/White Scrimmage in Memorial Coliseum at 5 p.m. ET. Admission is free, and doors to the Coliseum will open at 4 p.m.

For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


UK moves to game prep with opener 8 days away

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The calendar read Friday, but the action on the field at the Nutter Training Facility said otherwise.

With fall camp nearing its conclusion and UK's season opener in barely a week, the Wildcats shifted their attention to preparing for UT Martin.

"We had a normal what would be a Tuesday of game week this week to get that ironed out, and it was good work," Mark Stoops said. "It was good to wrap it up. Players will be done for the rest of the day, get to relax a little bit and get their feet up underneath them."

A typical Tuesday practice includes some team work along with work for the offense and defense against the opposing scout team. According to UK's offensive coordinator, the Wildcats took well to the shift away from the grind they've become accustomed to this month.

"We had really our first day against the scout team look today and I thought we had really good energy for a hot, muggy day, which was encouraging," Neal Brown said. "I think guys are excited about getting into game prep. Had a kind of a little jog through yesterday, but our focus was good. Made some mistakes but overall thought it was a positive day."

Not only was the day positive, it was also full of news.

On the injury front, Stoops announced that Alex Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery) and Jeff Badet (eye) will miss UK's season opener. Badet is improving after injuring his eye in practice catching tennis balls, but will be out at least the first two weeks of the season. Outside of those two sophomore wide receivers, Stoops expects UK to be at full strength on Aug. 30.

Full strength for the Wildcats includes at least nine freshmen. Stoops said on Friday that defensive tackle Matt Elam, defensive back Kendall Randolph, wide receivers Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams and running backs Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton will all play week one.

Perhaps the biggest surprises in the group are the two running backs, as UK has veterans Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Josh Clemons at their position. Brown, however, in detailing why he expects the Wildcat offense to improve this season, made it clear there will be ample carries to go around.

"The biggest difference is right now on offense, running back is our deepest position," Brown said. "My job is to get the ball to our best players, and right now, several of our top playmakers are at that running back position."

The plan for the remaining freshmen is to redshirt them if circumstances permit. But aware of how quickly things can change, they will all prepare to play, including quarterback Drew Barker.

"I think that would be in his best interest and our best interest," Stoops said of redshirting Barker. "We'll see how that goes. He will prepare to play in a backup role, and if we can save him through the season that's what we'd like to do."


7 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Kaz Brown

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BROWN_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is freshman Kaz Brown 

"Kentucky volleyball is a dream come true for me. I'm surrounded by coaches who are pushing me to reach my full potential and teammates who are just as competitive as I am. Everyday we're working in the classroom, weight room and on the court towards SEC and NCAA championships."

Kaz Brown enters her first season with the Wildcats after a memorable high school career at Cedar Falls High School. The Waterloo, Iowa, native owns the school record for kills, kills per set, kill efficiency, blocks and blocks per set. Brown was a four-time All-Metro and All-Conference honoree and led Class 5A in blocks and blocks per set en route to earning a spot on Iowa's Senior All-Star Classic. A middle blocker, Brown helped her club team, the Six Pack Volleyball Club, to a USAC national title in 2012 and was named MVP of the All-Tournament team.

Preseason Team Update: August 22, 2014
A week before the 2014 season begins, the Wildcats have their last day off of the preseason today. The team will be back on the practice court Saturday before they host their annual Blue/White Scrimmage Sunday at 5 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.

On their day off, the Wildcats spent part of the afternoon helping their fellow University of Kentucky students move in to the dorms across campus.


Tonight, the 2014-15 UK Athletics season officially gets underway in Seattle, when the women's soccer team faces Washington. Good luck to head coach Jon Lipsitz and the Wildcats!


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


2014 UK football game-day changes live chat

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At 11 a.m. ET on Friday, we'll host a live chat to to conclude our 2014 game-day education series. UK Senior Associate Athletics Director for Operations Kevin Saal will join us to walk through changes for this season due to ongoing construction and answer any questions you may have. Join in below.

Live Blog 2014 Commonwealth Stadium Game-Day Changes Live Chat

8 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Darian Mack

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MACK_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is freshman Darian Mack: 

"Kentucky volleyball is the opportunity to establish lifelong bonds with my coaches and teammates. Being on a team means that somebody always has your back and you're able to rely on each other. With UK volleyball, you have the opportunity to become SEC champions and receive a quality education."

Freshman Darian Mack comes to Kentucky from Raleigh, N.C. The outside hitter was the captain of her high school team and led Wakefield High School to a North Carolina High School 4A State Championship while earning MVP honors. A two-time all-conference selection, she also competed for Triangle Volleyball Club, where she helped the team reach Nationals in 2012. Mack was also named to the AVB Honor Roll and the National Achievers Society and won the Triple A Award, recognizing athletics, academics and attitude.

Preseason Team Update: August 21, 2014
Yesterday, the feature film documenting UK's two-week trip to China was unveiled on UKathletics.com. The 20-minute film was produced by UK's Sports Video department, and takes fans on the cultural, educational and competitive journey with the team. The video can be found on UKathletics.com or below.

Yesterday after practice, the team celebrated the release of the feature film with a Chinese dinner. Stories were shared as the team looked back one last time to a memorable two weeks.

Additionally, the team's trip was featured on the SEC Network, which has been archived on SECsports.com.




For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


STOOPS

ELIOT


At this stage in preseason camp, it is typical for young players to begin to hit the wall with physical and mental fatigue.

After Kentucky had a practice that left room for improvement on Tuesday evening, the coaching staff was eager to see how the team would react for Wednesday's practice.

"We had a good practice," UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "It was competitive, enthusiastic -- one of our most enthusiastic practices of training camp, which is good. The guys were flying around, playing fast, and it was encouraging.

"It was in response to yesterday. And sometimes that's the way it goes, you know? Guys have got to bounce back and they got to play better and they got to practice better and they did today."

Stoops echoed Eliot's assessment of the effort level in Wednesday's practice.

"Not bad work," UK head coach Mark Stoops said after coming off the practice field on a steaming Wednesday afternoon.  "We're getting to the point where guys are getting very beat up and wore down like you'd expect through two and a half weeks of camp. But we got some good situation work today."

After Stoops tabbed sophomore Patrick Towles the starting quarterback on Monday after a four-way competition for the spot, the announcement dominated the storylines over the last two days.

With Stoops, Eliot and UK's defensive players available to the media on Wednesday, the conversation shifted to the development of Eliot's squad. While Stoops has been dialed into the progress of the secondary, he emphasized that the linebackers were also ready to take that next step in their development.

"We have some (linebackers) that have done some nice things," Stoops said. "We need to be on point there. We can't be hit-and-miss and missing some responsibilities here and there. That's where, like I said earlier in the year, there's always that fine line. As you get into year two, as you get better and better, there's a balance between doing more things or being simpler. The better you are, the less you really have to do, to be honest with you. So, we'll see. We're working our way through that, but I think we have some guys to work with at linebacker. Josh (Forrest) has done a nice job. Ryan Flannigan has been a nice surprise. We've got to continue to get him a lot of reps and get him ready to go."

Kentucky's defensive unit is, as a whole, a more experienced group that will greatly benefit from being in the second year of Stoops and Eliot's system.

"They definitely do," Stoops said about the unit's increased understanding of what the defense is trying to accomplish. "That just comes from experience. Some of those guys are in year two. There are not as many newcomers. They had an offseason to look at things, what we did and did not do well. They had spring practice, so obviously they understand things better."

Over his career as a defensive coordinator, Stoops' teams have had notable improvement in his second year, something he is eager to see translate to his second-edition of the Wildcats.

"Yeah," Stoops said about the defense making a jump in year two. "I think you've always got to increase your talent level. You've got to make the players you have better. And I think we've done that. I think you've got to be able to execute the nuances of the defense. As you always talk about doing more or less, whatever it is, when you do it you got to be able to execute it right. You got to be more on point with what you're doing, and you've just got to play at a higher level. I think we're getting to that point. We're getting better. I don't know how much. We'll see how much of a jump we made. I know we've improved. I know we'll play better. To what extent, we'll see. We got to go prove it."

Just 10 days from the 2014 season lidlifter vs. UT Martin at noon ET on Aug. 30 at Commonwealth Stadium, Stoops is starting to get the squad geared towards preparation for the Skyhawks.

"We've got to get some guys healthy," Stoops said. "There's nothing major. A lot of lingering issues, bumps and bruises like you'd expect. But we've got to get some guys healthy and get them back out here, start our prep here for our first game here soon."

Video: UK Volleyball Goes To China Feature Film

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9 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Sara Schwarzwalder

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SCHWARZWALDER_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is junior Sara Schwarzwalder: 

"To me, Kentucky volleyball means we are always evolving. In the gym, in the classroom and in the weight room our team puts in the effort and focus needed to get better each day on and off the court. We have an extremely talented team that can play multiple girls in each position and still have the confidence and opportunity to win."

Junior Sara Schwarzwalder is a two-time All-SEC Academic Team honoree and a member of the 2012 All-SEC Freshman Team. The North Royalton, Ohio, native played in 27 matches last season with 26 starts. Schwarzwalder was second on the team with 95 blocks and tallied 143 kills to hit .299 in 2013. The middle blocker registered a career-best nine blocks in UK's win at Arkansas and had a career-best 14 kills at Georgia. As a freshman, Schwarzwalder had eight blocks three times, with her eight in a win over Lipscomb marking the most by a freshman in one match since 2010.

Preseason Team Update: August 20, 2014
Today, the feature film documenting UK's two-week trip to China was unveiled on UKathletics.com. The 20-minute film was produced by UK's Sports Video department, and takes fans on the cultural, educational and competitive journey with the team:


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


6633366.jpeg After Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops tabbed sophomore Patrick Towles his new starting quarterback after a four-way competition throughout the spring and preseason camp, Towles had one person he needed to tell first - dad.

Towles father, Terry, had lost his father when he was 18 years old and was a huge football fan. Towles sent his dad a quick text, "Papa Tommy is partying in heaven." It didn't take Terry long to realize his son was named the starting QB for the Wildcats.

Following Tuesday's practice, Towles had his first opportunity to meet with the media as the new signal caller for Kentucky.

"Relief," Towles said about his reaction to being named starter. "I'm super excited. It's a great opportunity. It's something that I've wanted for my entire life. To have this kind of opportunity is awesome."

Now having two practices under his belt as the starting quarterback, Towles can now focus on his duties without the distraction of a QB competition.

"Good. I felt like I can play free," Towles said about how practice has been the last two days. "During the competition I would make a bad throw, and I'd constantly be like, 'Gosh.' Every throw had to be perfect, but now it's a relief that I can go out and just let it all hang out and play. I felt like I was a senior in high school and I was just able to play and just make plays. And that's a good feeling."

Now the key cog in offensive coordinator Neal Brown's high-tempo offensive attack, Towles must take on a leadership role and set the standard for his unit's performance.

"He's talented enough to run any offense, really," Brown detailed. "He's got a strong arm. He's big. He's 6-4-plus. I think he's 240 pounds-plus. He hit like 19.8 miles per hour yesterday in practice, so he runs well. So our offense, any offense, he's capable of doing well."   

The former Kentucky High School Mr. Football out of Highlands in Ft. Thomas, Ky., Towles played in five games as a true freshman in 2012. He dazzled Commonwealth Stadium with a sparkling debut, completing 5-of-5 passes for 71 yards and a 32-yard touchdown strike in his first career series in 2012 vs. Mississippi State. Later in the game, Towles suffered an injury that hampered his chance to get on the field as a freshman.

"It's a whole maturation process," Towles said about his first two years on campus. "It goes through ups and downs. Like I said, when I got here, I was an 18-year-old kid. Playing in front of 65,000 people was nuts. It was crazy. Now I've been here for going on my third year in school, and it definitely feel like everything is a lot quicker, sharper and it's easier to make decisions."

Towles then battled with Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow in a preseason competition in 2013, with Smith and Whitlow sharing the position during the season.

"I guess around this time (last year), the race was between me, Jalen (Whitlow) and Maxwell (Smith)," Towles detailed. "(Coach Stoops) brought me in there and was like, 'Hey, you're doing a good job but there's still some stuff you need to work on before you can really make a run at this thing.' I said, 'All right, got it.' So this entire time I went out and fixed everything that he had said."

And go to work he did, dedicating his redshirt season to revamping his fundamentals.

"Just with everything, everything fundamentally," Towles said about his goals for improvement during 2013. "You have to be fundamentally almost perfect to play well in this league, consistently play well, especially against the people that we play against. My feet had to get better. My release had to change. I had to get my head on straight and really go after this thing. That's what I did."

Now the starting quarterback at his home-state school, it would be easy for Towles to bask in the glow of his accomplishment. That is not in his plans.

"This is just the beginning," Towles said. "Right now I'm focused on Tennessee Martin and next Saturday."
BROWN

TOWLES

TOTH

10 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Shelby Workman

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WORKMAN_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is junior Shelby Workman: 

"UK volleyball means determination and pride. We are determined each day to become a better team and to perform like a champion on and off the court. We take pride in representing the University of Kentucky and the Big Blue Nation!"

Junior Shelby Workman played in all 31 matches last season with 10 starts. The opposite hitter from Overland Park, Kan., tallied 109 kills and 89 digs with five service aces in 2013. Workman had a career-high 13 kills against Long Beach State and a career-best 11 digs against Illinois last season as a sophomore. In a five-set win over LSU, Workman notched 11 kills, seven of them coming in the final two sets.

Preseason Team Update: August 19, 2014
As UK's preseason practice nears the halfway point, it's a light day for news. If you missed it yesterday, the annual Blue/White Scrimmage will take place this Sunday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. Additional information can be found here.

Additionally, single match tickets for the 2014 season are now on sale. Reserved tickets are $5 each, while general admission single match tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (65+) and youth (6-18). Children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge in general admission seating.

Single match and season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 800-928-CATS, while more information about season tickets is available here.

The film documenting UK's two-week trip to China will premiere tomorrow on UKathletics.com. The 20-minute film was produced by UK's Sports Video department, andfans can get a glimpse of UK's journey with this trailer ahead of tomorrow's unveiling:


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


11 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Emily Franklin

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FRANKLIN_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is redshirt freshman Emily Franklin: 

"UK volleyball is the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm surrounded by teammates who will always have my back no matter what and an amazing coaching staff. Being from Arizona, I'm 2,000 miles away from home, so having people that are always there for you is something you won't find every day. Kentucky Volleyball is my second family!"

Emily Franklin is a redshirt freshman from Mesa, Ariz. The middle blocker did not see game action in her first season as a Wildcat in 2013 after an impressive high school career. Tabbed as the No. 47-rated player in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com, Franklin was a two-time All-State honoree and earned the best blocker award in 2010. She was an honor roll student and a member of the National Honor Society while attending Red Mountain High School and also competing for Spiral Club.

Preseason Team Update: August 18, 2014
After back-to-back days with two practices each day, the Wildcats had one practice Monday afternoon. The team also filmed the intro video and other video elements for the video board this season in Memorial Coliseum.

Also Monday, it was announced that the annual Blue/White Scrimmage will take place this Sunday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. Additional information can be found here. The announcement also included information about single match tickets, which went on sale today. Tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 800-928-CATS, while information about season tickets is available here.

Finally, earlier this summer, the team took a two-week trip to China. The cultural, educational and competitive trip was an experience of a lifetime for the team, which has been documented into a 20-minute film by UK's Sports Video department. The film's world premiere will be Wednesday, but fans can get a glimpse of UK's journey with this trailer:



For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Football Practice Report: Towles named starting QB

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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has named sophomore Patrick Towles UK's starting quarterback. (Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has named sophomore Patrick Towles UK's starting quarterback. (Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Throughout the offseason, one narrative dominated talk about Kentucky football. Who would be the starting quarterback for the season lidlifter on Aug. 30 vs. UT Martin?

On Monday morning, Kentucky second-year head coach Mark Stoops put the question to bed, announcing on his twitter account that sophomore Patrick Towles had won the starting gig over freshmen Drew Barker and Reese Phillips, and junior Maxwell Smith.

"Patrick's done a very good job," Stoops said. "I have a lot of confidence in Patrick. He's worked extremely hard. I said it before that I was proud of his work ethic."

A 6-foot-5, 238-pound native of Ft. Thomas, Ky., Towles is coming off a well-utilized redshirt season in 2013, after seeing action in five games as a true freshman in 2012.

The former Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year out of Highlands High School, Towles played as a true freshman in 2012 after injuries plagued the position. His first drive as a collegiate quarterback dazzled the fan base, going 5-for-5 for 71 yards against Mississippi State, capped by a 32-yard TD pass.

Later in the game vs. the Bulldogs, Towles suffered an injury, hampering what could have been a promising freshman season. He finished 2012 completing 19 of 40 passes for 232 yards, including his TD strike vs. MSU.

Following his freshman season, Towles saw Smith and Jalen Whitlow share the quarterback position in 2013 as UK learned a new, exciting offensive system under Stoops. Towles dedicated himself in the weight room, improving his fundamentals and to the mental side of the game, putting himself in position to compete for the 2014 starting job.

"A lot of people, a year ago when he was told that he was not going to be in the mix, could have put their head down," Stoops detailed on Towles mindset during his redshirt season. "They could have quit, they could have transferred. Or they face it and get improvement. And he worked. And I'm proud of that. I like the fact that he just went to work to get better. That sends a good message to the rest of the team."

"What he did is he really grew up, he matured, became more serious about football, started doing things right off the field," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "And what I mean by that is -- he was always a good kid, I don't mean that -- he made football one of the top priorities in his life. After the givens, he made football a top priority. He went out and got a lot of drill work. We focused on fundamentals, which was really important to him. He went out and got some extra work, and he was productive."

Towles brings a dynamic skill set to the position in Brown's high-tempo offensive attack. As Mr. Football in Kentucky in 2011, Towles led his club to three consecutive state championships, compiling a three-year record of 44-1, including a 38-1 mark as the starting QB. As a senior, Towles completed 171 passes for 3,820 yards with 32 TDs and just one interception.

"Patrick has a big arm," Stoops said. "He's sneaky fast, too, as well. He's maybe not as fleet of foot as some other guys, but in the open field he's really got some pretty good speed. He's a big guy. He's strong. And he can make all the throws. He's improved on his release. He's much quicker getting rid of the ball, and that improves his decision making. That's the biggest area of improvement for him over a year."

After Stoops and the staff broke the news to Towles and the UK quarterbacks on Monday, they were pleased with the reaction of the four QBs in the ensuing practice.

"He was excited," Brown said. "He's worked hard for this. What I told him though: this is just the start. You've got the opportunity, let's see what you do with the opportunity."

"The truth is that he won the job," Stoops said. "He won the job. It was very close, but he ended up being the winner."
Tyler Ulis led UK with 12 points in a 63-62 loss to the Dominican Republic on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Tyler Ulis led UK with 12 points in a 63-62 loss to the Dominican Republic on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It was a stretch the likes of which Kentucky will never face again.

Six games. Eight days. Three opponents with rosters comprised of established professionals.

Playing the final leg of their Big Blue Bahamas Tour, the Wildcats finally showed the effects of what ESPN analyst Jay Bilas equated to playing two Southeastern Conference Tournaments back to back.

"We kind of died," Calipari said. "We didn't have it physically."

Through 31 minutes, UK successfully battled through that fatigue. But over the final 8:48, the Cats watched a 59-46 lead disappear little by little. Shots they made over their first five games in the Kendal Isaacs G.L. National Gymnasium in Nassau, Bahamas didn't fall. Loose balls they grabbed before went to the Dominican Republic national team. In the end, the Dominicans avenged a Friday defeat and UK fell 63-62 after shooting 39.7 percent from the field and being outrebounded 38-34.

Jack Michael Martinez made the game-winning basket on a fall-away jumper with 2.6 seconds left. There was still time for last-second heroics like what Aaron Harrison delivered in the NCAA Tournament five months ago, but the Cats couldn't overcome their tired legs with the kind of execution they needed as Karl-Anthony Town's pass to Harrison was deflected away.

"You saw when we had to execute, we weren't able to," Calipari said. "When we had to get ball movement, we don't have enough in. When we needed out-of-bounds plays to score, we don't have anything in."

In other words, UK executed like a team that's only been together for a handful of August practices.

In the final minutes, John Robic -- filling in for Calipari, who watched from the stands for the fifth straight games -- scrapped the two-platoon system in favor of a lineup of Tyler Ulis, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and Karl Towns. Absent was Alex Poythress, who was on the bench for most of the second half and played only 12 minutes total.

"He was exhausted," Calipari said. "I told him before the game, with the way he played yesterday, play five minutes today. Play 10 minutes today. Don't go out there and not play. Don't hurt your team. Just don't play. We've got other guys that want to play. So he was tired. He just pulled himself, which was fine."

Poythress, showcasing what Robic called a "rebuilt engine" yet again, expended the last of his energy in scoring all six of his points in the first half. He accounted for all but two points as the starting five were outscored 16-8 by the Dominicans in the first half.

Ulis, Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis, Lee and Towns, however, provided a spark off the bench. After the Dominicans used a 14-3 run to claim a 24-17 lead, the Cats' so-called second unit turned UK's largest deficit of the week into a 36-29 halftime lead when Ulis buried a buzzer-beating runner.

Ulis scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half in leading the second group to a 28-13 margin in its first half minutes, playing the kind of pesky defense and sound offense that has Coach Cal thinking he has two very capable point guards.

"He was good," Calipari said. "He was good. You want him to make every play, but Andrew was terrific. Andrew's game yesterday was unbelievable. I mean, what he did yesterday - so you've got two guys."

And that's just at one position.

The Cats have tantalized their fans with depth on the Big Blue Bahamas Tour, sending waves of talented, athletic players at opponents. Sunday's result shed some additional light on what that depth means as players compete for roles and playing time.

"The lesson I told them that you walk away from (is) there's no birthright to be on that court," Calipari said. "You've got to play with energy and you've got to compete. If you don't, you're not playing. Either your group won't play as much or you won't play as much. It's just how it is.

"So there's no like, 'Well, today I'm not going to play and I'm still getting 20 minutes.' No. 'Well, I'm still getting--' No. You may get five minutes. And then you've got to bring it. This was the first game where we had guys with no competitive spirit, but it's easy to say (that with) six games in eight days. It was a tough run."

A tough run, but an undisputedly good one, even after it ended in defeat.

In planning the trip, Calipari had a different set of goals than most coaches who take teams on foreign tours. Television forced him to compress the schedule and placed some added stress on his team, but Calipari still got what he wanted.

"Most teams are using this for 10 days of practice," Calipari said. "Don't care who they play, don't care if they (win). Well, they don't care if they win or lose until they lose. Then it matters. But we needed it for more. I needed professional-level teams. I needed men. I needed experienced, physical guys that knew how to play."

Those grown men revealed plenty to Calipari about his team. He learned he has a well-conditioned group. He saw his highly touted freshman class is as advertised. But more than anything else, he found out his team is unselfish.

"I think they share the ball," Calipari said. "They've figured out how to share the ball more than any team I've had this early. Where most guys, you got ball stoppers trying to do their thing, trying to figure out who they are, versus move it, get it and make plays for each other. When we do that, we're real good. When we don't do that, we're like everybody else. So this team has picked it up pretty good."

UK got plenty done off the floor too.

Through three dominant performances, the Cats heard the hype and they began to grasp what it would mean. They listened as Bilas warned them against succumbing to the pressure pundits will place on them in picking apart roles and rotations. Most importantly, they were simply around each other.

"Well they got closer together," Calipari said. "There was great time that we could spend talking about different things that we're going to encounter this year, and we had the time to do it. There were some lessons and some different things. But they spent a lot of time together, so it was both spending time, vacation, but we played six games in eight days -- and against grown men, which was a great challenge for us."

With that experience in hand, the Cats have a much more solid grasp on the task facing them when they reconvene for practice this fall with a healthy Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles.

"This was a great run of games and experiences for these young people," Calipari said.

12 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Lauren O'Conner

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OCONNER_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is senior and Kentucky native Lauren O'Conner: 

"To me, Kentucky Volleyball means commitment. Commitment to the program, the university and to each other. Committed to making each other better in order to reach our goals, which are to win the SEC and the national championship."

Senior Lauren O'Conner, one of two players from Kentucky, is a three-time All-SEC Academic Team honoree and was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2011. The outside hitter played in 30 matches last season with 13 starts and amassed 220 kills, the fourth-highest total on the team to go along with 51 blocks and eight service aces. From Taylor Mills, Ky., O'Conner's 2013 highlights included a career-high-tying 18 kills on .389 hitting in UK's upset win over No. 4 Minnesota in addition to a career-best six blocks, a season-high five digs and 11 kills in Kentucky's win at Alabama.

Preseason Team Update: August 17, 2014
The Wildcats welcomed some of their season ticket-holders to an open practice and picnic this afternoon. After the two-hour practice, the team hosted a question-and-answer session and invited the fans to their post-practice team dinner.

It was a great opportunity for the student-athletes and staff to connect with some of the most loyal members of the Big Blue Nation and thank them for their support. The fans had fun too, getting an inside look at how the team is training for the upcoming season and getting to know the team off the court.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Cats get the test they need and pass it

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Tyler Ulis had 12 points, including the game-clinching layup off of a steal, in UK's win on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Tyler Ulis had 12 points, including the game-clinching layup off of a steal, in UK's win on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASSAU, Bahamas - The Big Blue Bahamas beatdowns ended in Kentucky's second game against Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket, but as far as UK is concerned, everyone went home a winner Saturday.

The fans got a close contest in the Bahamas for the first time in five games, UK got its victory, and on a trip that's supposed to be about learning, John Calipari found out in a 75-71 nail-biting win that his team still has the same heart and the same late-game toughness that defined the Cats during their magical 2014 postseason run.

"We actually needed a test," said assistant coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen. "This was good for us. We're learning a lot about our team. And maybe as important, they're learning a lot about themselves. This was a game that we needed."

Entrenched in a back-and-forth battle, freshman point guard Tyler Ulis sealed the Cats' fifth victory in five tries with a steal and layup with 1:08 left on the clock.

The diminutive point guard, who gave up at least a few inches and several pounds to Lionel Chalmers, hounded the Champagne point guard as he brought the ball with just over a minute left and Kentucky clinging to a 75-72 lead.

Chalmers appeared to get visibly frustrated when he crossed half court and no foul was called, but Ulis never backed off. Instead of relaxing and resetting, Ulis, like a defensive pest, got on Chalmers' backside, made him dribble to his right, and out went Chalmers' legs.

By the time Chalmers looked up from the court he had just slipped on, Ulis was halfway to the other basket, racing by himself to an easy layup and another UK victory. The play earned a standing ovation from Calipari in the bleachers.

"That's what he does," Rohrssen said. "He wears you down. He's got quick feet and a big heart."

Ulis finished the game with 12 points, three assists and two steals. The quickly emerging fan favorite -- who wasn't available after the game for an interview -- ensured the Cats will finish their study abroad trip in the Bahamas with an opportunity to go undefeated.

"He's going up against somebody that has a lot more games under his belt, but Tyler has a big heart and he made a big play," Rohrssen said.

Rohrssen, who made his head-coaching debut for UK as Calipari continued to watch and evaluate from the stands, made the decision to keep Ulis in the game when he went away from the two-platoon system with only a few minutes left and the Cats leading by just a few points. Ulis stayed in with Marcus Lee when the Harrison twins and Dakari Johnson re-entered the game

The gut move by Rohrssen turned out to be the right one.

"I actually didn't want to get voted off the island tonight, you know?" said Rohrssen, who left Pittsburgh for Kentucky in May. "But we thought maybe we'll just go with some experience and some people that have been in some situations like that before. Again, we're finding out about ourselves. We thought that the substitutions that we did make gave us the right lineup and put us in the best position at the end of a close game."

UK found itself in a close game for the first time during its exhibition tour in Nassau, Bahamas. After winning its four previous games by an average of 23.8 points, including a 23-rout of this same Champagne team on Tuesday, the Cats could never pull away in this one.

They led by as many as nine points in the first half and by eight in the second, but the first-division professional team from France was up for the challenge on Saturday and appeared bent on getting a little retribution.

Champagne, which featured a monster game from former Syracuse star Daryl Watkins (20 points) and a solid supporting performance from former LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell (11 points, seven rebounds), actually led 44-43 at halftime. It was the first time UK had trailed at half during the exhibition tour and, quite frankly, the only time during the trip the Cats had fell behind outside the first few minutes of the game.

"When you play somebody again so quickly and the result that we had in the first game, you don't want their pride to beat any arrogance we may have. We needed to guard against that," Rohrssen said. "The team we played today, even though they had the same roster, was actually a different team. Everybody in the building saw that. They've had some more practices, they had a lot more offensive actions and sets than they ran the other day, and they came out with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, which you would expect men - grown men - to do."

Some of it, too, could be attributed to playing five games in seven days. The Cats were slow to get started, turning the ball over four times in the first four minutes. They also allowed Champagne to shoot 73.1 percent in the first half because of eight turnovers and shaky transition defense.

"That is a lot of games in a very short period of time for us, but there's a reason why this trip is set up the way it is," Rohrssen said. "We knew before we got on that plane that we had six games to play, so there aren't going to be any excuses on our part. Excuses are just bricks that build a road to failure. ... We're not laying those bricks down right now."

UK appeared to be taking control of the game when it went on a 9-0 run midway through the first half, but Champagne clawed within two and never let Kentucky get any more than six points ahead the rest of the way as the two teams traded shot for shot.

Ultimately, Kentucky held on thanks to Ulis' big play.

"He stayed yard for yard, foot for foot, inch for inch and disrupted their offense and turned it into a turnover for them and an easy basket for him and a score that we needed at the end," Rohrssen said.

UK got big contributions down the stretch from Aaron Harrison (team-high 15 points), Andrew Harrison (11 points, seven assists) and Devin Booker (10 points). Booker, who entered the game just 6 for 23 from the floor on the trip, hit two of his three 3-point shots Saturday.

"Almost like (riding) a bicycle," Rohrssen said. "You get knocked off the bike and you just got to get back on that bike and start pedaling again. It was good to see him have some more success today, as we go forward and prepare for our final game of this trip tomorrow."

Cauley-Stein, Lyles close to returning

UK big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, who have sat out the entire Bahamas trip while they recover from offseason procedures, are close to getting back on the court.

Cauley-Stein told reporters after Saturday's game that he's one CT scan away from rejoining competition.

"They say I'm cleared now, but they want to check the CT scan to see if everything healed up correctly and everything else," Cauley-Stein said. "But probably in the next week."

Lyles said he's about two weeks behind Cauley-Stein.

"Me as a competitor, it's very hard (not to play)," Lyles said. "But I'm just doing everything in my capability to get back out there as soon as possible. And it's just fun to see everybody coming together as a squad and just thinking that in a couple weeks I'll be out there with them and battle with them."

It doesn't take a medical expert or a physical trainer to figure out they're close to 100 percent.

Both players have been arriving at Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium before their teammates to get some workouts in with some of the coaching staff. Lyles was working on his jumper before Saturday's game and looked to have good lift, while Cauley-Stein has been throwing down dunks during his work with assistant coach Kenny Payne.

"They're probably chomping at the bit to get out there, and not just to be a part of this, but just to - as their career continues and grows -- they want to be out there," Rohrssen said. "And I'm sure there's some anxiousness there. But again, you have to do what's best for the athletes, and right now it's best for them to sit this dance out."

With how well the rest of the team has played so far, the one lingering question that will come from this week in the Bahamas is where Cauley-Stein and Lyles fit in to the two-platoon system.

"All I can do is play as hard as I can and do what I do best and take care of what I can control, and the outcome of that - Coach decides who gets minutes and who doesn't and who comes off the bench and who starts," Cauley-Stein said.

Cauley-Stein thinks the two-platoon system can continue to work with he and Lyles in the mix.

"It's pretty genius to have, especially when you have three starting lineups you could put in," he said. "It doesn't matter who starts in it, because at the end of the day you're going to get the same amount of minutes and you're going to get the same amount of touches as everybody else. ... If we're going to have energy like that during the season, then you might as well keep it."


Days after the UK offense had one of its best days of Mark Stoops' time in Lexington on Wednesday, the Wildcats returned to Commonwealth Stadium for the second scrimmage of fall camp.

Calling passes on the majority of plays on Saturday, the goal was clear: gauging the progress of UK's air attack.

"I wanted to see where we are with the quarterbacks," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I wanted to see where we are as far as the receivers getting open. We did some good things. We got some growth to make in that area for sure and I think that's going to be a big part of us improving on third downs: being able to protect, throw and catch."

The results, before film review, were mostly positive.

"I thought we improved in predictable pass situations," Stoops said. "That's the best we've looked as far as drop-back passing. So I thought we made some improvement there."

Tight ends Steven Borden and Ronnie Shields each caught touchdowns, according to Brown, while Ryan Timmons, Rashad Cunningham and Dorian Baker impressed in the downfield passing game.  Timmons, however, knows consistency is more important than big plays to the offense's development.

"That's what the offense needs to do to make drives and put a lot of continuous plays together to score more points," Timmons said. "I think the offense, we're working a lot to try to make more consistent plays."

UK's contenders to start at quarterback split time as they have throughout fall camp.  

"Again, they all did some good things and did some bad things," Stoops said. "So, we'll get in there today and evaluate this film and evaluate the past couple weeks and see where we're at."

Brown, who has been quiet about the quarterbacks since Media Day last week, gave some insight into what he and Stoops will look for in evaluating that film.

"I want to see who manages our tempo," Brown said. "There's a lot of things that go into that as far as getting the signal, getting us going. ... Different quarterbacks operate our offense different as far as how quick they get the signal, communicate it with the O-line and those type of things. I want to see who makes the best decision, especially on crucial downs, third downs. And I want to see who's most accurate."

After Wednesday's scrimmage, Stoops said a decision on a starter would come "in the next week." On Saturday, Stoops said nothing to suggest that timetable has changed, but he also reasserted that he won't make a choice prematurely.

"If we're ready, if we feel like we have a decision after that, then we'll make an announcement," Stoops said. "If we don't, then we'll wait. I'm not going to feel rushed by that. We've got to get it right. I think each quarterback has really shown that they're capable of leading this offense."

The quarterback battle has drawn the spotlight in fall camp, but UK's defense -- the "Bad Boys," as the group has taken to calling itself -- shouldn't be forgotten either. The backups have work to do, but the defensive first team -- led by defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith -- was stout on Saturday.

"I think they just play faster," D.J. Eliot said. "They communicate better. They execute more. And sometimes on the twos, it may be just one person that doesn't execute, but that messes the whole deal up. So if you can get 11 guys doing it right, then you got a chance to be successful."

With two weeks to go before UK's season opener, Stoops feels better about his team's chances at success than he has in 20 months on the job.

"We're much further along," Stoops said. "They've been really good about going about their work and just trying to take care of business each day and get better and be fundamentally better. X's and O's, schematically we're doing a lot of things better. We still have a ways to go, but I like where we're at. I really do. I think we have a good group."

As good as the group is, the Cats could use a break from the grind of fall camp.

"Guys need to get away a little bit," Brown said. "I told them, I said, 'Hey, don't even think about football until I see you tomorrow afternoon.' "

Video: Rohrssen on UK's close win over CCRB

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13 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Kayla Tronick

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TRONICK_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is junior Kayla Tronick: 

"Kentucky  Volleyball is family, since I'm from Minnesota and don't get to see my family very often. I have relied on my teammates and the coaching staff the past couple years, they are a sense of security. Everyone that is part of UK volleyball is always looking out for each other.  Another thing I would have to say about Kentucky Volleyball is the determination to win.  When we lift, run and practice there is no doubt in our minds that we can win."

Kayla Tronick played in 14 matches in 2013 with five starts as a sophomore. The outside hitter/middle blocker notched 19 blocks for a 0.54 blocks per set rate that ranked fifth on the team to go along with 41 kills last season. In UK's NCAA Tournament win vs. Duquesne, the Hutchinson, Minn., native hit a season-best .500 with five kills, one dig and one block. In her first start of the season, in a win over South Carolina, Tronick tallied a season-high nine kills on 3.53 hitting with three blocks.

Preseason Team Update: August 16, 2014
After a day off yesterday, the Wildcats are back at it today with two practices. Saturday's two practices mark the beginning of the second week of preseason practice, and 13 days until the season-opener in Memorial Coliseum.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Dakari Johnson had 10 points and 12 rebounds in UK's win over the Dominican Republic on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Dakari Johnson had 10 points and 12 rebounds in UK's win over the Dominican Republic on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASSAU, Bahamas - This was supposed to the best competition Kentucky would face in the Bahamas, a step up in talent and the stiffest test yet for the loaded Wildcats. After all, it was the Dominican Republic national team, ranked No. 26 in the FIBA world rankings (though those rankings are with NBA veteran Al Horford and current Wildcat Karl-Anthony Towns).

But just like the first two opponents UK played in its previous three games on the Big Blue Bahamas tour, Kentucky took the Dominicans' best shot early in the first half Friday and then ran away with things in the second half.

Platoon after platoon, player after player, wave after wave, the Cats just wore out the professionals and broke them down.

When it was all said and done, despite an entertaining and back-and-forth first 15 minutes and a late comeback attempt, UK wiped another opponent off the floor Friday at the Kendal Isaacs G.L. National Gymnasium in Nassau, Bahamas.  

Former UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua, who was on the other end of Friday's 83-71 Kentucky win as the Dominican Republic national team head coach, was impressed at how far along his former team is.

"They've kept it going from how we ended (last) year," Antigua said. "Obviously the chemistry, the knowing one another, knowing the expectation from the coaches, all those things early on in a season ... they already have. They're on step five instead of step one or two, which is what we had to (start with) the past few years."

For the fourth game in the Bahamas, UK combated professional experience with an overwhelming amount of talent, depth, dunks and Alex Poythress.

The junior forward continued his best string as a college player with arguably his best game yet. In just 20 minutes of action, he posted a game-high-tying 20 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.

On a team that's shined from top to bottom, he's shined the brightest.

"That is the reason I came back: I want to prove I'm still one of the best," Poythress said. "I'm just trying to show the world."

Poythress wasted little time in making an impact Friday, scoring six points in the opening five minutes as the Cats took a 14-9 lead. His bucket at the 8:50 mark ignited a 7-0 UK run, but the Dominicans, as expected with a talent-loaded roster that features a much-improved Eloy Vargas, NBA veteran Francisco Garcia, Edgar Sosa and Jack Michael Martinez, hung around early.

When Sosa cut UK's lead to 34-30 on a steal and a layup with 6:20 left in the first half, it appeared everyone was in for the first close game of the week. But Poythress stepped up again.

The catalyst of a 13-6 run at the end of the half, Poythress threw down a dunk and followed it with a 3-pointer to give the Cats a little halftime separation.

"What's different is just his whole mindset," teammate Dakari Johnson said of Poythress. "He's more in attack mode. Whenever he gets it he's looking to attack more and also he's just playing to his strength. He's just increasing on that."

Dakari Johnson was in attack mode as well on Friday.

The Dominicans elected not to double team the 255-pound big man to start the game, and they paid for it dearly. Though he's leaner this season, Johnson still threw his weight around Friday, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds by the first media timeout.

"I felt like Dakari set the tone," said assistant coach Kenny Payne, who served as UK's head coach for the second time in three games as John Calipari evaluated from the stands. "I thought he did a good job in the post. I thought he played well down there. He's tough to deal with, and if you're not going to trap him, I mean, he's really hard to deal with."

Johnson slowed down as the game wore on, but he still ended up with 10 points and 12 rebounds, his first double-double of the trip. He looks slimmer, more athletic and poised to have a big sophomore campaign.

"It's just been great," Johnson said of the trip so far. "Just the balance and the overall team, everybody contributing and everybody doing their job and playing their roles, it's been really fun for all of us."

Johnson said he's been motivated to step his game up by the superb play of freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. With those two, Marcus Lee and the eventual additions of Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, UK looks to have the most formidable front line in college basketball.

"We've got so many different, legitimate players that it's very difficult to find out, who are you going to take away?" Payne said.

It was Lee's turn to contribute to start the second half.

The dunking specialist started the half with two straight slams, one of which he caught on a lob, cocked back with his right hand and then flushed in the basket with authority. He finished the game with eight points, all on dunks, and his last 10 field goals over the last two games have all been slams.

"His energy is what is important for us," Payne said. "We need his energy. He's an energetic player. That's his personality and that's what he brings to the table."

Lee's back-to-back dunks sparked a 9-0 run to start the second half, all but putting the game out of reach for the Dominicans.

"The first five minutes of the second half, which they've done in every one of their other games, they get that separation," Antigua said. "Then you're swimming upstream after that."

The Dominicans fought upstream in the second half and nearly made a game out of it with an 8-0 run. They got as close as 12 several times with time remaining and then 10 in the final few seconds, but they could never get it back to single digits.

"We did not dictate the pace of the game defensively and they outrebounded us," Payne said. "They only had two bigs, so that says a lot right there. We've been outrebounding teams by 20-plus. ... Some of this could have been attributed to the two days off. They were maybe a bit rusty, but at the end of the day we got the W. They played OK, not great."

And yet, UK won by double digits, beating another professional team - its best competition yet - by double digits. That has to say something.

"I think it says a lot when you're playing grown men opposed to other college kids," Payne said. "The fact that that team was full of NBA players and European players says a lot."

Assistant coach Kenny Payne


Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress



Brown

When Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown came off the field to meet with the media following Friday's practice, there was little hiding his frustration with his unit's performance when faced with adversity.

"Broke my sunglasses; you can tell it probably wasn't that good of a day," Brown said.

Broken sunglasses were a minor issue for Brown, who has been neck deep in constructing the Kentucky offense in his second season under coach Mark Stoops.

"It was an okay practice," Brown said. "We had some give-and-take. We did pretty well in the scrimmage on Wednesday. Defense got after us a little bit in the team portion of it today. We worked some situations. You know, we're reaching that point in camp where guys are getting tired. We've got a lot of young guys. They've got to get mentally stronger. (I'm) happy where we're at. We're still excited; we just got to handle adversity better."

Among the challenges facing Brown in preseason camp is identifying skill players who could make an immediate impact at Commonwealth Stadium, starting with the season lidlifter on Aug. 30 vs. UT Martin at 12 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Among those skill-position priorities is identifying a starting quarterback amongst the four QBs competing for the job, freshmen Drew Barker and Reese Phillips, sophomore Patrick Towles and junior Maxwell Smith.

While that storyline has dominated much of the chatter during preseason camp, Brown is also focused squarely on finding reliable targets for his future starting quarterback.

While several receivers have stood out at this stage of camp, Brown singled out true freshmen Dorian Baker, Blake Bone and Charles Walker as newcomers that could develop into potential immediate impact weapons.

"When we were initially recruiting (Blake Bone), I thought he was going to be a redshirt guy, but he came here and put on like 20 pounds in the summer and he's made a bunch of plays in live situation," Brown said. "So he's really showed he's capable of playing. And Charles Walker; I knew when he made the decision that he was going to come here that he was going to be a good player. He was not going to be a typical walk-on. I knew he was going to be a really good player, but I think he's going to be a guy who's going to play for us this year."

While identifying some skill players to move the chains and change the scoreboard is a priority, another focus of Brown's at this stage of camp is improving the tempo of his unit.

"Early in the week when the practices were open we had some officials, so we had three really good days -- Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -- of really working with what the actual tempo is going to be in a game," Brown said. "Wednesday was the best we've had since I've been here. We fell back a little bit today, didn't probably try to push it as much. But Wednesday was the best tempo in a game or a scrimmage atmosphere that we've had since I've been here."

Part of the tempo that Brown wants can be aided by vocal leadership and true accountability from his standouts on offense.

"It's getting better," Brown said. "Defense has got a little more leadership than we do just because they're a little bit older group. You know, Jordan Swindle fills that void. Braylon Heard does that in a different, different way, different type of correction, but he does that."

ANDERS_TWITTER-FACEBOOK2.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is second-year assistant coach Anders Nelson: 

"Kentucky Volleyball to me is a program that provides endless support and encouragement while constantly challenging you to be your best.  We're a family.  Those involved are expected to reach their potential as a complete individual.  I'm thankful every day for the opportunity to work with these people and coach these athletes."
 
Anders Nelson begins his second season as an assistant coach at Kentucky. Last season, Nelsen helped guide the Wildcats' defense to an SEC-best 2.88 blocks per set in league competition. Three players ranked in the top 15 in the SEC for individual blocking, with two in the top five. A Saint Croix, Falls, Wis., native, Nelson also served as a volunteer assistant with the Wildcats during the 2011 season. He is a 2011 graduate of Ball State University and helped lead the Munciana Volleyball Club for two seasons, including to the 2011 AAU 18 Open National Championship with a 66-2 record.

Preseason Team Update: August 15, 2014
Yesterday was a busy day for the Wildcats, with an appearance on the SEC Network's inaugural show, photo day and a big announcement from the SEC Network. Be sure to check out Thursday's team update and feature on senior Jackie Napper here.

Today, two weeks until the season-opener, the Wildcats have their first day off since the preseason began on Saturday. They'll return to the court tomorrow for two practices. Across campus, move-in is this weekend for all students living in the dorms. The team helped the freshmen move in this morning before volunteering at Cardinal Hill this afternoon.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Video: UK's Bahamas boat trip

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Video: UK football move-in day

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Notebook: Towns embracing 'inside-out' mentality

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Karl-Anthony Towns is second on the team in points and rebounds through three games of UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns is second on the team in points and rebounds through three games of UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASSAU, Bahamas - Karl-Anthony Towns' credentials entering the Big Blue Bahamas trip were pretty good.

He was arguably the gem of the 2014 recruiting class, a top-10 prospect and the newly minted Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year. Most NBA analysts have him listed as a top-five pick for the 2015 draft.

That's not to say anyone expected Towns to play like he has thus far in the Bahamas.

The 6-foot-11, 250-pound forward has looked dominant at times against older, professional competition. Highlighted by an 19-point, 10-rebound performance in game two of the exhibition tour against Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket, a first-division professional team from France, Towns is averaging 13.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in three games in the Bahamas.

Assistant coach John Robic admitted surprise in how far along Towns is at this stage in his career.

"I really didn't know how gifted of a scorer he is," Robic said. "He has to get stronger, but his skill level is really, really high for a young, young man. And he really hasn't shot the ball well, and that's one thing that he can do. But he can score in a variety of ways and he's just going to be a big piece for us."

Coming to Kentucky, Towns was billed as a skilled big man who could shoot, but he hadn't necessarily earned a reputation as a back-to-the-basket, put-a-shoulder-into-the-defender post player.

Analysts can now officially tear up those scouting reports.

Against physical professionals, Towns has mixed it up with the biggest players UK's two opponents have had to offer, even getting into a dust-up with Matt Lopez in Tuesday's game against the Puerto Rico national team reserves.

That was after, in a team film session after the first game, John Calipari criticized Towns for looking for his outside too much. In that first game, though Towns only took two 3-point shots, missing both, he roamed the perimeter too much. Calipari got on him for taking too many treys during warm-ups instead of going inside and working on his strongest part of game.

"He has a tendency to want to be a perimeter big, but in order for him to be the best player in the country, ... in order for him to be a professional, in order for him to dominate college basketball, it has to start from the inside-out," assistant coach Kenny Payne said.

Towns got the message and has worked almost exclusively inside the last two games. He's 15 for 21 from 2-point range so far, including three dunks on Tuesday.

"What he brings to this team is super because we need big, long, energetic, skilled guys that can dictate what we're trying to do," Payne said.

Having said all that, Towns said not to sleep on his outside shooting.

"I think that my size sometimes deceives people," Towns said. "I think people don't give me as much credit for the perimeter, but that's just our little advantage that we have."

Poythress not letting up


As his head coach sat alongside ESPNU's Kevin Connors and Jay Bilas during a segment of UK's second-half rout of Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Alex Poythress continued what he had been doing all week and threw down a dunk.

"Who is that kid?" Calipari exclaimed on air.

It's a good question, Coach. It certainly isn't the same inconsistent player fans have watched play during his first two seasons at Kentucky.

Poythress has always shown signs of brilliance during his two seasons at Kentucky. He's been a highlight machine at times, but the flashes always seemed to burn out just as quickly as they flared up.

Three games definitely isn't big enough of a sample size to draw conclusions about Poythress' consistency issues, but there is something to be said about being the most consistent and most dominant player on a team that has shown few weaknesses from top to bottom so far.

Poythress, who has drawn rave reviews from different members of the coaching staff after each game, drew another shower of compliments from his head coach while he was on ESPNU on Tuesday.

"The best thing he's doing right now, obviously offensive rebounding," said Calipari, who added that he still wants to try Poythress more at the three position. "But defensively he's never played this way. He's never been able to that active, stay in front of his man, block shots, doing the things he's doing right now."

Poythress is leading the team in points (13.7) and rebounds (8.0) in the Bahamas, but his motor, which Robic compared to a rebuilt engine, has been the most impressive.

"He just does things athletically that you cannot teach and you don't see very often, and he's trying to do them more, really without us saying nothing about them," Robic said. "He's playing above the rim by himself a lot of times, and we've been telling him that for three years."

No cracks yet

If there's a reason above all others for all the Big Blue Nation pandemonium over this team's play in the Bahamas, it's that it's shown relatively few signs of weaknesses. There aren't a lot of cracks.

But, as Bilas said during a talk with the team Wednesday night, fissures will eventually appear. As Bilas told the Cats, cracks will show with every basketball team, and those cracks will be magnified more so at Kentucky than at any other school because of the spotlight on the program.

It will be up to the players to internally filter that noise, or clutter, as Calipari calls it, out.

"What can you stop you from accomplishing what your goals are?" Bilas asked the team. "It's a lack of togetherness. I think you really have to be tough-minded and mentally tough to stay together throughout the course of a difficult season. You have, truthfully, more obstacles that most teams have because of the spotlight that's on you and every camera is on you. Throughout the course of the year, with the coverage now, you're going to be talked about as much, if not more than any team in the country and arguably in team in the last 20 years.

"As your season goes along, there are going to be people like me, in my job ... we're going to talk about how good it can be. Then we're going to talk about how good you are. Then, people are going to get bored with that and we're going to start talking about, how can you beat Kentucky? Then they're going to start talking about, what are their weaknesses? And they're going to start hammering. And instead of what you're really good at it, we will start hammering little things."

Bilas said that consistent hammering will inevitably result in cracks that may exist and even some that may not.

"We're going to be armchair quarterbacks and start talking about your team when the truth is we don't know," Bilas told the players. "We think, and that's fine; we all have opinions. But we don't know. The people who know are in here. Keeping that at the forefront of your mind is a big deal."

Coach Cal, who said on air with ESPNU that he's been pleasantly surprised with the ball movement and admitted that this team could be as deep as he's ever had, echoed Bilas' warning and gave the UK fan base similar advice.

"This could be special," Calipari said on the UK/IMG radio broadcast. "But you know what? They've got to be mentally tough enough to not be sabotaged. And the sabotaging will not come from within; it's going to come from outside. And for our fans, don't buy into it. Don't you buy into it. Don't you buy. Don't talk about it. Understand what they're trying to do. It ain't going to crack me because you people know I'm like - you ain't moving me at all. But don't let it move anybody else."
Playing Ulis and Andrew Harrison together

Part of that sabotaging Calipari has alluded to is a storyline the UK coach feels like is already being manufactured in the media: How do two point guards like Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, both of whom have been highly productive in the Bahamas, play together and co-exist?

Calipari answered that question with another question: Why can't they play together?

"Andrew is so much better than he was a year ago," Calipari said on the radio. "Now, you'll have some people trying to break down the team saying, 'Well, Tyler Ulis, he should ...' That's just because you have an agenda. Andrew Harrison has been playing his butt off. Tyler, think about it, we're always going to have a point guard in like that? And, what if I want to play them together some? It's late in the game and we need another handler and another free throw. Now they're both in there together."

Both point guards have put up similar stats thus far - Harrison is averaging 6.0 points and 5.0 assists in the Bahamas; Ulis 5.0 points and 4.0 assists - but they have different styles.

Harrison is a big guard at 6-6 who can, as Calipari described, "bully" opponents, while Ulis is a jitterbug with a penchant for putting his teammates in the right spot to score the ball.

"He's going to give it to you in a place you can score," Coach Cal said. "You know what your team does? Everybody runs like crazy because you think you're going to get the ball. Andrew is doing the same now."

Next up: the Dominicans

After winning three games in three days by an average of 28.0 points, the Cats are expected to face their stiffest test yet when they play the Dominican Republic national team on Friday at 1 p.m. on the SEC Network.

The Dominicans lost to Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket in an exhibition on Wednesday, but Calipari says the Cats will have their hands full.

"That team is a little different," Calipari said on the radio. "They're really good. It's going to be interesting."

The Dominican Republic matchup features a number of storylines for Kentucky. For one, Calipari coached the team for two seasons. Two, former assistant Orlando Antigua is now the head coach. And then there will be familiar faces on both sides of the ball. Former Wildcat Eloy Vargas plays for the Dominicans, as do former Cardinals Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa. Towns is also usually a Dominican team member.

With a step up in competition, Calipari is expected to return to the sideline Friday and resume his head-coaching duties.

"I'm going to take the next one on the chin for the staff."

15 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Jackie Napper

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NAPPER_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is senior Jackie Napper: 

"It's a home away from home, my second family. I know my teammates, coaches and staff will always have my back. We all have different personalities, but together we make up a team that has one goal in mind, to win a championship. We like to have fun and get our laughs in, but most importantly we love to compete and WIN!"

A senior, Napper started at libero in all 31 matches for the Wildcats in 2013. The Louisville, Ky., native earned All-SEC Academic team honors and led the team with 443 digs for a 3.99 digs per set rate to go along with 111 assists, the second highest total on the team during her junior season. Napper tallied a career-best 24 digs in UK's upset win over No. 4 Minnesota and had a career-high nine assists vs. VCU, both last season.

Preseason Team Update: August 14, 2014
From a morning yoga session to picture day and an appearance on the SEC Network's inaugural show, Thursday was a busy day for the Wildcats.

Picture day is another sign that the season is just around the corner. UK's staff photographer, Brittney Howard took a team photo in addition to headshots and select other group photos. Kentucky Wildcats TV was there to document all the action:


Also Thursday, with the SEC Network's launch just hours away, it was announced that 27 of UK's 31 matches will appear on the SEC Network +, the digital platform of the SEC Network. All of Kentucky's home matches and every home and road SEC match will air nationwide on SECNetwork.com and WatchESPN, which is available to all SEC Network subscribers. More information and a full schedule, which includes eight matches already announced to be broadcast on the SEC Network and ESPNU, can be found here.

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Finally, after practice and a team dinner, the Wildcats participated in the launch of the SEC Network. In the three-hour kickoff show, the team was involved in a live look-in as they watched the show from the team room.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and practice reports, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


GRAY_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is assistant coach Lindsey Gray-Walton: 

"Kentucky volleyball is an opportunity of a lifetime. To be a part of the Big Blue Nation is something special that not everyone gets to be a part of. It's an exciting time to see our dreams and goals come true."

Lindsey Gray-Walton begins her fifth season as an assistant coach with the Wildcats after being hired in January of 2010. A native of Olathe, Kan., Gray-Walton serves as the Wildcats' recruiting coordinator. Each of her four signing classes have ranked among the top-25 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com The 2012 squad was tabbed as the 15th best in the nation. Gray-Walton is a 2008 graduate of Georgia Tech, where she was a member of three 20-plus win teams and earned All-SEC Second Team honors in 2006.

Preseason Team Update: August 13, 2014

For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and practice reports, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.



Through more than a week of fall camp, Mark Stoops has talked consistently about how his team has improved in facets.

He's praised the offense for playing at a pace closer to what Neal Brown's offense calls for and the defense for executing more cleanly.

On Wednesday, with UK's first full scrimmage, it was time to put it all to the test at Commonwealth Stadium.

"We really need to just put the ball down and move it," Stoops said. "Obviously there's a fine line there with all the tackling that goes on, but this was a full, live scrimmage over there today. I think we stayed relatively healthy and we got a lot of good work in, and we really needed to do that."

The offense stepped up and had one of its best days Stoops can recall since the new coaching staff's arrival.

"It was nice for them to put it together," Stoops said. "I thought they really did some good things. And that's why we need to do that -- just put it down and go -- so they can put all their play-actions together and their runs and their passes and all those good things. So it was good to see."

Asked which players performed well, Stoops didn't name names before watching tape. That, however, is a positive. It means UK is operating as a team.

"I thought they did a nice job of -- you've heard me say it time and time again -- making the routine plays," Stoops said. "So when we have our play passes or the situations where we have a slant that's open, we catch it and make a first down rather than be second and 10. That's a huge difference."

UK's quarterbacks once again shared time with the first team as they compete for the starting job, a race that is progressing but still very much up in the air. Stoops expects a decision to come "in the next week," but reiterated that he won't name a starter just to name one.

"One of the reasons why we're trying to be very critical of ourselves in making this decision is because it's so important, and when we give that person the reins, we want them to go," Stoops said. "You've heard me say that for a year now. Every time a year ago when we thought we were giving somebody the reins to the quarterback situation, something happened. Maybe they got hurt or maybe they didn't play very good. So we want to make sure we're very precise in our decision-making, and once we give them the keys to the car, we want them to drive it."

As for the defense, the group didn't have its best day of fall camp, but UK still had reason to be encouraged on that side of the ball. Competition is good for everyone.

"In practice, it's not good if you win because they screw up," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "You didn't do anything, right? So a good practice is one where they execute, you execute and then a player makes a play."

Besides, Wednesday will be far from the last time their offense gives a defense fits if Stoops and Brown have their way.

"We're much further along than we were all year last year, but that's the good thing, that's what I told the offense, that's what they can do when they go put that kind of pressure on you," Stoops said. "That's what helps them put some pressure on defenses. You all watch college football and you see some great defenses struggle with tempo because it neutralizes you a little bit because of what you can call and what you can execute."



Neal Brown knows incoming freshmen face a challenge they don't fully understand in adjusting to college football.

That's why he has a saying he repeats often as they make the transition from high school.

"This is what I always tell them, to kind of make it real for you, is I tell them to pick out the best player they played against in their high school career," Brown said. "The very best player. Think about it. Now, that player -- you're going against somebody as good or better every single day in practice. It's just a totally different world for them."

It's a different world that those talented newcomers are beginning to understand.

With UK opening practice to fans and media for the third time in four days, the Wildcat offense struggled through a seven-on-seven period before impressing in red-zone and team drills. Patrick Towles, with it being his day in UK's quarterback rotation, was leading the way most often, but the up-and-down performance had a lot to do with a receiving corps relying heavily on a number of freshmen.

"We're young at wideout," Brown said. "You can see it. There's some times where we make some really good plays. Like Thaddeus Snodgrass and Blake Bone made some really good plays. And there's some times when we're struggling getting off man, and a lot of that has to do with just pad level and understanding it's a little bit different than high school."

With Bone, Snodgrass and Dorian Baker getting plenty of first-team reps with Javess Blue, Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery out or limited as they recover from injury, Brown has taken advantage of size the freshmen add in his play-calling. That was clear on the fade pass Towles threw to the 6-foot-5 Bone.

"That's something we didn't have at any point last year," Brown said. "That's something we made a living on at (Texas) Tech. We were long on the outside."

UK's freshmen have also provided a new dimension at running back with the speedy Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton, a 230 pounder. The Wildcats are deep at the position, with Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Josh Clemons looking strong during camp, but this staff won't be shy about playing youngsters if they deserve.

"We're going to play the best ones," Brown said. "We're going to play the best kids. Stanley is really starting to come on. He's making some -- he made a couple really good runs today. What I told him, what I tried to explain to him, he broke one to the outside, that was against the twos. If it was against the ones, he would have got ran down. So just trying to explain to him, you're not going to outrun everybody. It's better to get a two-yard gain than a five-yard loss. That's something that you just need some experience.

"Mikel Horton did a really good job in our short yardage segment there. He gives us that added dimension."

Smiles abound in dunkfest win over Puerto Rico

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Marcus Lee had 14 points and seven rebounds in UK's win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Marcus Lee had 14 points and seven rebounds in UK's win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASSAU, Bahamas - At some point during this Bahamas trip, the Kentucky Wildcats have to come back down to earth, right?

That was the expectation Tuesday as the Cats headed into their third game in three days in the sweltering Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium in Nassau, Bahamas. Against a collection of Puerto Rico national team reserves thirsty for a little redemption after getting embarrassed by 25 points on Sunday, some letdown was anticipated from UK.

That script looked like it might come to fruition early in Tuesday's game when Kentucky stumbled to a lethargic start, but the deep and athletic Cats - who are doing nothing to temper the mushrooming preseason hype - quickly tore it up.

They just kept skyrocketing to the rim.

It started when Alex Poythress came alive. Then Derek Willis and Marcus Lee started dunking everything. And before anyone could catch their breath, Karl-Anthony Towns was dominating 30-year-old professionals again.

By the time Aaron Harrison drained two 3-pointers from the left wing - one that had a familiar 2014 NCAA Tournament look to it - the Kentucky highlight show was well into production, as was the third consecutive blowout.

"We're having a blast out there," Lee said. "If you see every player while they're out there, sitting on the bench, you'll see them smiling and laughing the whole time. We're just loving our time out here."

How could they not? They've destroyed two teams of professionals over the course of three games in three days by an average margin of 28 points. The latest was Tuesday's 93-57 romp over Puerto Rico, an outcome that was never in doubt after the Cats went on a 16-2 first-half run to take firm control of the game.

"We knew we had a talented bunch and we knew that we had a lot of returning players from last year," said assistant coach John Robic, who filled in as head coach as John Calipari watched and evaluated from the stands for a second straight day. "I think the freshmen have fit in very, very well, especially for the first couple of games ... in a Kentucky uniform. I think our size shows. That's a really big team and that's without Willie (Cauley-Stein) and Trey (Lyles). So I think we have different weapons. And the returning guys have gotten better. And that's big."

Now granted the two teams UK has played in its first three days in the Bahamas haven't been together all that long this summer and were a bit overwhelmed by a UK team that is in better shape and has had more time to jell in recent weeks. But to beat up on two teams made up of professionals - teams Coach Cal thought UK could lose to - on national TV has been a pretty booming statement that has likely shaken the rest of college basketball.

The real test will come Friday, after two off days, when the Cats play the Dominican Republic national team, which features a talent-loaded roster made up of Francisco Garcia, Edgar Sosa and Jack Michael Martinez.

"The nice thing is I think we're getting a little bit better every game," Robic said. "Our plan, or Cal's plan of everybody playing equal minutes has stayed true to form, so everybody has played 60 minutes, and it's only off by about 20 seconds here or there. So that's been really good. They've only played a game and a half in three days, so now we have a couple of days off before we do the same thing all over again."

Until then, the Cats will get two days off to enjoy their stay at the Atlantis and reflect on an afternoon of slams that would have made the dunk-happy 2012 national championship Wildcats -- one of whom (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) was in the stands Tuesday - proud.

En route to shooting 62 percent from the field, UK players flushed home 15 of their 38 field goals on Tuesday, several of the jaw-dropping variety. Among the best dunks: a double-clutch slam by Poythress, a one-handed windmill by the 6-11 Towns and any of Lee's gravity-defying alley-oops.

All told, Lee had six dunks, and Poythress, Willis and Towns jammed three apiece.

"It was just one of those things," said Willis, who threw down an alley-oop dunk on pass from Tyler Ulis during the game-defining 16-2 run in the first half and then another one from Dominique Hawkins moments later during a 13-0 run. "Coach Slice (Barry Rohrssen), he's been talking to us about going to the basket, hitting the boards, because they leave us out there, so that's just a thing. When you go to the boards, we're long and big enough to just dunk the ball."

Robic said the dunks tend to be contagious, as was the case Tuesday. They may only count as two points, but the energy a player creates when he rattles the rim spreads to this teammates.

"You see their reaction," Robic said. "It's an exciting play. It's a game-changing play when you get a run of them consecutively by different players, yeah. The neatest thing for us as coaches is to see the players' reaction on the bench when big plays like that are made."

If there was any hope of a Puerto Rico charge in the second half, Lee quickly crushed it when he picked off a pass and dribbled the length of the floor for his easiest flush of the night. Seconds later Ulis found him hanging above the rim again, paving the way for another dominant UK second half.

"It's just confidence," with Lee, Robic said, "and he's been working at it. He's strong. He's probably put on 10 to 15 pounds, 10 to 12 pounds. I think it was just a direct carryover of the NCAA Tournament."

Lee, who celebrated in the postgame press conference over the fact he's finally reached 220 pounds, finished Tuesday's rout with 14 points and seven rebounds after a quiet game Monday.

"I feel bigger," Lee said. "I feel more confident throwing my weight around and guarding bigger player."

Poythress continued to throw his weight around in Tuesday's romp, making 7-of-9 shots from the floor for 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The junior forward, who has drawn rave reviews from three different members of the coaching staff after each game, is averaging 13.7 points and 8.0 rebounds during the Big Blue Bahamas tour. Robic, the latest coach to praise Poythress, likened his improved motor to a "rebuilt engine."

"His confidence has to be through the roof," Robic said of Poythress, who has grabbed 15 offensive rebounds in three games. "He just does things athletically that you cannot teach and you don't see very often. And he's trying to do them more, really without us saying nothing about them. He's playing above the rim by himself a lot of times, and we've been telling him that for three years. It's great to see him smile."

Poythress is far from the only Wildcat grinning from ear to ear on this trip.

The toughest test yet - a date with the Dominicans on Friday that could be that coming-back-to-earth moment that erases those smiles - is still yet to come, but if the purpose of this trip was to learn about this team and see if this amount of depth could work, the Big Blue Bahamas tour has to be considered a raging success so far.

"I honestly didn't know what to expect," Willis admitted. "I didn't know if it was going to be a thing where there's just too many good players and it just falls apart, but we're all really good guys and no one's really selfish. I don't get that vibe from anyone."

Said Robic: "It's a great group of kids that really like each other and were cheering each other on, and that's part of this trip."

Assistant coach John Robic


Marcus Lee and Derek Willis


17 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Alyssa Gergins

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GERGINS_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpg
Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Yesterday, Kelsey Wolf got it started. Next up is senior Alyssa Gergins: 

"To me, Kentucky Volleyball means family. We're always pushing towards the same goal together and working hard as a team. The next thing I would say is hard work and love of the game."

A native of Murrieta, Calif., Gergins earned All-SEC Academic team honors in 2013.  A transfer from Master's College, the junior saw action in two matches in her first season in the Blue and White and averaged 1.00 assists per set and 0.50 digs per frame Gergins made her first career appearance in UK's win over Ole Miss and logged one assist. She also recorded a dig and an assist against South Carolina.

Preseason Team Update: August 12, 2014
Today, the SEC announced its preseason awards and preseason coaches' poll. The league's coaches voted the Wildcats to place second in the conference, while junior setter Morgan Bergren was named to the Preseason All-SEC Team.

A setter from Muncie, Ind., Bergren started all 31 matches for the Wildcats in 2013 and led the team with 1,215 assists. She was second on the team with 24 service aces to go along with 192 digs, 130 kills and 77 blocks.

UKVB Preseason SEC
For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points and 10 rebounds in UK's win on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points and 10 rebounds in UK's win on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASSAU, Bahamas - Hoping to evaluate instead of coach, John Calipari walked from the Kentucky bench, across the court and to the top row at Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gymnasium to watch Monday's exhibition game in the Bahamas.

He had to have liked what he saw.

Kentucky got pushed around early by a veteran team of professionals, fell behind by eight points, and then answered the bell with an impressive 12-0 first-half run from its unit of "backups" and a dominant second-half performance that ultimately led to an 81-58 rout of Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket on Monday.

The Cats, after leading by five at halftime, quickly built their lead to double digits and never looked back. At one point UK led a team that features four players with NBA experience by 29 points.

Not bad for a group that played without its head coach, who sat in the stands Monday to watch and take notes and at one point in the second half operated ESPNU's center-court camera for its national broadcast.

"At the end of the day these kids did it and it had nothing to do with coaching," said assistant Kenny Payne, who served as UK's head coach for the game on Monday. "We have a whole bunch of very talented young men who play great together and love each other and they're learning about each other. It makes our job a lot easier."

Their job, from the standpoint of managing expectations, is about to get a whole lot harder if the early performances in the Bahamas keep up.

Kentucky routed a French professional team that was big, athletic and supposedly superior to the Puerto Rican national team reserves UK thwarted by 25 on Sunday. But after failing to match Champagne's physicality in the opening minutes of the game, UK's second unit ripped off 12 straight points midway through the second half and dominated the rest of the way.

The first-half run was highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers from Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins, two reserves last season who are perceived to be at the end of UK's two-platoon rotation.

"That's a big part of what everybody's role is on this team, one through 12, 13 ... is that when you step on that floor, there is no garbage time," Payne said. "So when you're on that floor, you have to play with confidence and you are to play well. If you make mistakes, you're making them with confidence. That's the key."

If UK's supposed end-of-the-rotation guys are keying runs that knock out professional teams, just how good is this group? On a trip that was billed as a study abroad trip - a tour of games that is supposed to help the Cats learn about themselves and learn how to compete - everyone else is quickly learning that this team might be worth the hype.

At the very least, it appears to be much further along at this time of the year than last season's team, which started the year with 40-0 expectations, disappointed in the regular season, but then made the national championship game.

"They're a really big team," said Champagne forward Da'Sean Butler, who was a star on the 2010 West Virginia team that got a firsthand look at one of Calipari's most talented teams at UK and knocked it out of the NCAA Tournament. "I heard (Jay) Bilas had them picked to win (the national title). I might have to jump on the bandwagon. They're a really good team, man."

Butler was impressed with the younger team's ability to respond to an early eight-point deficit, step on a much older team's throat and not let it off the mat.

"They just kept punching," Butler said. "...  If they can keep us down like that, I'm pretty sure they can keep some good teams down too."

Payne thought the Cats needed to get punch in the mouth so they and the coaching staff could see how they would respond to adversity. It is, after all, a trip to learn.

"The telling thing was that after they hit us, we made adjustments," Payne said. "We played more physical. We dictated the pace of the game. And we're not just dictating the pace with grown men; you're dictating the pace with grown men that play this game for money. That's a great sign. That should build confidence in them and in each other and individually because that's what it's going to take to win."

Aaron Harrison started the adjustments.

Trailing 20-12, Harrison came up with a steal, got in transition and posterized a challenging defender with a one-hand slam. That dunk paved the way for the second platoon's game-changing run.

"I thought (that play) was pivotal," Payne said. "I thought the biggest part of that was the transition into what are we. Are we going to be a soft defensive team or are we going to be a in-your-face, aggressive, dictate-the-pace, get-in-the-passing-lanes (type team)? We don't care who you are; we're getting after it. And he made that play, which ignited everything for us."

Karl-Anthony Towns took Kentucky's five-point halftime lead and built on it with a dominant second half. The 6-foot-11 freshman forward, drawing on some of his experience with the Dominican Republic national team, went head to head with grown men, some a decade older than him, and recorded a double-double (19 points and 10 rebounds).

Towns experienced mixed results after a good but not great game Sunday in which he roamed the perimeter a bit too much. Towns said he got off to a rough start again Monday, but he got his game on track when he went inside and went to a power game.

"I think that my size sometimes deceives people, but at the end of the day, I have to do what's best for the team, and today, for me, the best thing I could do for the team was give them an inside presence," Towns said.

Payne called Towns' performance on the glass "unbelievable," but he said the coaching staff is not satisfied because of Towns' tendency to want to be a perimeter big man.

"In order for him to be the best player in the country, in order for him to be a professional, in order for him to dominate college basketball, it has to start from the inside-out," Payne said.

Towns could take a page out of Alex Poythress' book, who strung together his second straight solid performance with 16 points and eight rebounds.

"He came back to school to prove to the world I'm one of the best forwards in the country," Payne said of Poythress. "You see his athleticism. (He) is one of the most athletic forwards in the country. Now mentally he has to put together the fight, the determination to go out and prove to people how good he is because some people still question because they see the inconsistencies. Me personally, I think he's going to have a phenomenal year. That's why he's here. That's why he came back."

Kentucky employed a two-platoon system again and wore the French team down in the second half.

"(They're) deep, man," Butler said. "You see us today. You sub out five and your next five is just as strong as your first five, it's good things coming your way. Very good things."

When Calipari returns to the bench and adds Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles to the mix, it will be up to him to figure out if the two rotations are feasible.

"That's why you pay John Calipari a whole bunch of money," Payne said. "He'll figure it out."


18 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Kelsey Wolf

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Leading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. First up is redshirt sophomore Kelsey Wolf: 

"Kentucky Volleyball to me means passion and community. We always have each other's backs on and off the court. Everything from matches and training to the classroom, we do with passion."

Wolf, from Cincinnati, Ohio, earned All-SEC Academic Team honors and played in 16 of UK's 31 matches with 12 starts last season. The defensive specialist had 83 digs for a 1.60 digs per set rate, the fifth-best total on the team as a redshirt freshman in 2013. In a win over Texas A&M, Wolf logged a career-best 12 digs and one service ace, while she tallied nine digs in UK's NCAA Tournament Second Round match vs. Michigan State.

Preseason Team Update: August 11, 2014
The AVCA Preseason Poll was announced today, and for a program-record third consecutive year, Kentucky will begin the season ranked in the preseason top-25 after the Wildcats earned a No. 19 ranking.

UK's spot in the top 25 poll marks the fifth time in six years the Wildcats have earned a place in the preseason poll, all under 10th-year head coach Craig Skinner. Before 2009, Kentucky's first time in the preseason top-25 under Skinner, UK had been ranked in the preseason poll just three times dating back to 1982. The poll also features five teams UK will face in 2014, four of them at home.

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For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Kenny Payne


Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns


Stoops excited to open up fast-tempo practices

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STOOPS

ELIOT

At this time last year, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops wasn't ready to open up a full practice to the fans and media.

After hosting an estimated 4,000 fans on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium for its annual preseason Fan Day, which included the first open practice of fall camp, Stoops elected to also open practice on Monday morning at its regular practice venue at the Nutter Training Facility.

Following the practice, Stoops met with the media, getting a question about the communication and tempo of the session.

"A lot going on out there, huh?" Stoops replied with a smile.

Kentucky's practices are a quick paced, organized operation that rarely includes down time in an effort to maximize efficiency. Stoops was excited to begin to share those practices with the UK fan base.

"Last year, we probably weren't at a point where we could open it up where you could totally see," Stoops said. "That was just a normal practice for us for the most part right there. Last year you probably saw some abbreviated ones, and only parts of it. The communication, the confidence of them talking comes with experience."

UK's practices, as to be expected this early in fall camp, have been a mixture of good and bad. Stoops and the coaching staff understand that dealing with negative plays and failure is a huge part of progressing with a youthful roster.

"The way we respond," Stoops said about the progress his squad is making in accountability. "Maybe the offense is not doing some good things, they come back and make a few plays and bounce back. Defensively the same thing. Just to stay on the grind. Just keep on pushing and never accept being average. Our guys are pushing to be better. We are not there. It is frustrating at times to be so young in certain spots again but it is what it is and it is our job to get them better."

Kentucky's next open practice will be on Tuesday at the Tim Couch Practice Fields, slated from 3:30-5 p.m. ET.

"Hope you guys enjoyed the practice. I was glad to open it up again, it was good to have you out there and open it up to the public," Stoops said. "We will do that a few more times."

19 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Day Two of Practice

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Kentucky had its second day of practice Sunday, 19 days before Aug. 29th's season-opener. After two high-energy practices to open the season Saturday, it was more of the same for the Wildcats on Sunday. The day was capped by a dinner and team activities at the UK men's basketball team's Coal Lodge.


Tomorrow as the countdown continues to Aug. 29, we'll begin a daily feature with each member of the UK volleyball team. Each day, the student-athletes and coaches will share what Kentucky Volleyball means to them. First up Monday will be sophomore Kelsey Wolf.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Two veterans star in two-platoon attack

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Aaron Harrison and Alex Poythress combined for 25 points as UK opened its Big Blue Bahamas tour with a win on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison and Alex Poythress combined for 25 points as UK opened its Big Blue Bahamas tour with a win on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASSAU, Bahamas -- As promised, John Calipari served as a mad scientist in Kentucky's exhibition opener in the Bahamas, rolling out a two-platoon system to mix and match lineups and experiment with a talent-loaded roster.

The different looks certainly whetted the appetite of Big Blue Nation, and some of UK's newest pieces definitely wowed. But when it came down to it Sunday, it was two Wildcat veterans who put on the best shows in Kentucky's 74-49 victory over the Puerto Rico national team reserves, the first of six games in the Bahamas over the next eight days.

Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison, who provided the heroics during last season's dramatic national championship game run, took on a steadier, more balanced role Sunday with a team-high 15 points, while junior forward Alex Poythress put on a stunning display of athleticism and toughness.

"One of the things he wants to do," Calipari said of Harrison," ... was his comments to me, 'I don't ever want to evaporate on the court. I want to have a presence on the court whether I'm scoring or not.' Which defensively means, you saw him pressuring the ball today, going up and playing. You saw him in pick and rolls. You saw him rebounding the ball. You saw him fighting in there. That's when you have a presence."

Poythress had the biggest presence in Sunday's game though.

Officially, he finished with 10 points, six rebounds and a block, but a few reporters/UK staff members had him for several more rebounds, a couple of them of the sky-high variety. Unofficially, it looked like a big step forward for Poythress heading into an important junior season.

"He was terrific," Calipari said after the game. "That's as good as he's played. And again, you have to understand those are older professional players (he went against)."

Poythress not only showed those professionals the power of youth with his superior athleticism, he quieted some doubters who have questioned his position and wondered where he fits on this deep and talented team. He did so with a couple of strong offensive rebounds in the first half, an impressive block against a 6-foot-10, at least 250-pound Puerto Rican center, and a nearly jaw-dropping alley-oop dunk that Harrison threw about a foot too high.

"He just does things the normal players can't do," Coach Cal said. "To be honest, the stuff he does, I can't teach. I wish I could, but I can't."

That's high praise from a coach who has sent 24 players to the NBA Draft over the last seven years. What separates Poythress from some of his peers is not only his athleticism, Calipari said, it's his toughness.

"Not many people are athletic like I am," Poythress said. "I just try to use my God-given abilities."

Where those God-given abilities are best utilized has been a topic of debate for the past season or so, especially in this preseason.

Should Poythress stay at power forward where he's clearly more athletic than most fours but a bit undersized? Or should he move to the three where he can dominate opponents with his strength but needs to develop better ball handling and a more consistent shot?

"Both of them feel natural to me," Poythress said. "I can play any position. It just was the lineups we had today, I had to play the four. Coach said he's going to switch up the lineups, so I'll probably get to play the three some more games later."

Calipari cautioned anyone from assuming that Poythress' time at the four Sunday meant that's what he is going forward. He said he used Poythress at power forward to evenly split up his two rotations.

"Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist) was exactly the same thing (as Poythress)," Calipari said. "Consistent shooting, we've got to work on that. But I tell you, he was aggressive, came up with balls out of nowhere. ... It's all this process that he's going through. But where he is physically right now, where he is mentally right now, the toughness he's shown, you're starting to see it now in games."

Calipari - at least for the first game - kept his word on what he's calling a two-platoon system. He started the Harrison twins with Devin Booker, Poythress and Dakari Johnson, but the first five split time with the second rotation of Tyler Ulis, Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis, Marcus Lee and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Other than a first-half substitution for Towns when he picked up three quick fouls and some last-minute action for EJ Floreal and Tod Lanter, the two rotations stayed intact throughout the afternoon and played nearly the exact same minutes.

Outside a shaky start for the second five and a slight lull for the starters in the second half, both groups impressed.

"Everybody touched the ball and had opportunities to do things," Coach Cal said. "Loved our ball pressure. Loved the fact that we're passing the ball to each other and making extra passes. Aggressive. Our ball pressure was great and we were pushing the ball and attacking. The things that we worked on we did. Transition defense, we're still not - but, you know, it's Aug. (10) for God's sakes."

The second five went on a 10-0 run midway through the first half after a Booker 3 and steal, a layup from Harrison, three straight points from Lee, and a layup by Hawkins. Puerto Rico briefly regained the lead, but the starters closed the half strong with a 10-2 run, which featured a slick crossover dribble and pass from Andrew Harrison (four points, four rebounds and four assists) to Poythress for a dunk.

The players liked the two-platoon system.

"It was real good because you can go as hard as you can, burn out, play hard, get steals, press, and then you got another five coming in for you in a couple minutes, so you know you can go all out," Poythress said.

Whether or not playing two units is even realistic when injured big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles join the rotation remains to be seen.

"We can do it," Aaron Harrison said. "Not many teams, college or pro, can say you have 10 guys that can actually be on the floor and compete. So we're just a special team. I mean, if Coach decides to do it, I think it wouldn't be a bad thing."

The second half opened the same way the first ended as the Cats took control of the game. The coaching staff drew up an alley-oop dunk from Towns to Willis to open the half, and then Lee scored back-to-back baskets to take firm control.

By the time 5-9 point guard Ulis settled in and started to wow the crowd with zippy passes and pestering defense, the Cats had blown the game open.

"He really pushed the ball and found his teammates, but he also - it wasn't so much his command of the offense -- he put great pressure on the ball," Calipari said of Ulis, who finished with a team-high five assists. "And in the second half, the guy, it's like he's a gnat; all the sudden you just kind of let him steal one. He had a couple plays like that. So it's really - it changes the dynamic of our team right now, because we didn't have that (last year)."

Booker and Lee scored nine points apiece, Towns had 10, and Johnson finished with six points and six rebounds to round out the action for the Cats, who return to Kendal G.L Isaacs National Gymnasium at 1 p.m. ET on Monday to play Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket, a professional team from France.

"I didn't think anybody gave us a bad effort," Calipari said. "I didn't think anybody did, and that's amazing Aug. (10) and 10 practices (in)."

John Calipari


Alex Poythress and Andrew Harrison


In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Bria Goss writes about the group's final hours in Ethiopia and looks back how a memorable trip changed her forever.


Today is the last day in Ethiopia and I feel like I just got here. I feel like I need to stay longer because there was still more to be done. I knew I had to make the best of the last day!

After breakfast we went to visit kids while they were learning at school. There were so many kids learning their ABCs and learning to count. We completely distracted a class by our entrance. We were so energetic and ready to play with the kids. Some were shy, but most were pretty open. They were first and second graders and for their age, they spoke pretty clear English. I noticed how well they got along with each other. They were very polite and generous to each other and really tried to show the same generosity and politeness to me even though we just met.

They were so eager to show me what they know. I was blown away by their willingness to learn. This was considered to be optional and the kids did not have to be there, but the class was full. There were no seats left open. The kids told me it was because everyone there cherishes school and wants to have a good education. I was in shock. Kids see the school as a way out. They are passionate because it can provide for their families.

There was one little girl that really stuck out to me. Her sassy attitude and outgoing personality is going to lead her to a bright future. She stole the show by showing us her dance moves and spirit. She swung her hips and put her hands in the air as we sang our tune. The girl had skills! I could see her as the next winner on Got Talent!

After the fun time with the kids it was time to go. We went to a market to get some food supplies for the next city we were going to. The market was very busy and muddy. It smelled terrible and people were shoving things in your face to get you to buy their product. There were flies everywhere, which gave me goose bumps! After we got the food we left to the market to go to drop off the food to the widows. They were so thankful for the blessings we brought them. They repeatedly said "May God bless you" and "Thank you, God bless"! This put a smile on my face. I fell in love with serving others! I want to help people with nothing in return. I get the utmost joy when I put smiles on other people's faces.


After passing out the food it was time to pack up and leave. We had about an hour to shower and get our things together and get something to eat. We gathered downstairs to eat and after we all finished, we gave Girma money to get his driver's license. He was thrilled and surprised. We wanted to do this for him because to get his license was very expensive and he had just about given up on his dream of one day being able to drive. Now, he will be able to take his test and get his license. We were happy to help him and be a part of something so special.

We then left for the airport and said our final goodbyes! It was so hard saying goodbye to our new friends. They were a big help and made the trip so much easier. I love how well this team came together and became friends. We weren't ready to leave. We got to the airport around 7 and we board at 9:30. This plane ride was a little different than the first. We were all close now so this made the flight more enjoyable.

Eighteen hours later, we were back in the U.S. The trip was life-changing. I know more than I ever thought I would about Ethiopia and had the chance to experience it firsthand. This trip will stay with me forever. The thing that really sticks to me is that life is not about what you do or don't have. It's about the relationships you build. It's about the friendships you cherish. It's about the people you reach out to. I learned how to give willingly and what that feels like. I learned to put others before myself to lift them up. I am not perfect, but living for God you don't have to be.


Video: Football Fan Day 2014

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Due to renovations at Commonwealth Stadium, UK football held its annual Fan Day -- normally an evening event complete with fireworks -- in the morning on Saturday.

Combine that with rain in the forecast and Mark Stoops wasn't sure what to expect.

For far from the first time since his arrival in Lexington, Stoops was pleasantly surprised by Kentucky fans when he saw a line wrapping around the outside of the Nutter Fieldhouse.

"I was shocked, because I thought in the morning there would be less people," Stoops said. "But we couldn't come in here at night and didn't want to risk with the rain. So with the weather and being a little cooler going inside, I thought there would be less people. But I was amazed, as usual, and greatly appreciate the support and the kind words."

Stoops, his coaching staff and players signed autographs for more than an hour before making the short walk to Commonwealth Stadium for their first of two practices on Saturday. An estimated 4,000 fans were in attendance for the autograph session. UK will hold three more open practices during fall camp.

"That's the thing, ever since Coach Stoops got hired and I came back here the fans have been great," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Very, very supportive, standing room. Lots of young kids, which I think is important. ... It was really good for our kids, them to understand what they represent. When they put Kentucky across their chest, what they represent, the people."

The crowd saw plenty of big plays on both sides of the ball, including a number by members of a talented freshman class, in what was close to a full practice. Wide receivers Dorian Baker and T.V. Williams and defensive back Kendall Randolph were among the headliners, while Stanley Williams drew some cheers of "Boom" -- his high school nickname -- from the crowd after a run for a long gain.

"You've got to earn 'Boom' around here," Brown said, smiling. "Stanley, he can play at a different speed. He shows signs. He's still learning. I think we've got to be careful. We don't want to anoint him too early. We're pretty talented at that position. He's got a long way to go as far as learning what to do, but he plays at a different gear."

In spite of those big plays, Stoops said UK had been cleaner in its execution earlier in the week, especially in the passing game, but having a crowd in the building added exactly the kind of dynamic Stoops was hoping for.

"I think we need that," Stoops said. "They need to feel that pressure or whatever you want to say to get out here and perform in this stadium and do well."

Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Timmons agrees.

"It gives the team a lot more energy," Timmons said. "The fans are out here watching so everybody wants to make a name for themselves so everybody goes a lot harder. We like the excitement. Can't wait for three weeks."

Those three weeks before UK takes on UT Martin, however, are important.

"Believe me, this team wants to deliver for this fan base," Stoops said. "They've been so loyal, and just can't thank them enough for their support. I promise you, this was not a finished product here today. We're gonna work hard and get better."




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The Wildcats held their first practice of the 2014 season Saturday morning. The two-hour session was filled with plenty of energy as Kentucky prepares for the 31-match regular season and the opener on Aug. 29 in Memorial Coliseum. While the team had their first team meetings yesterday, today it was time to get to work.

After a 22-win season in 2013, UK will look to notch a 20-win season for the seventh time in the past eight years and earn their 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. While the big goals are clear for the 2014 Wildcats, today the focus was on taking a good first step as a team. Twenty days remain until Kentucky takes on Wichita State in the season's opening match, and Craig Skinner and the Wildcats know that every moment of the preseason matters.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.







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Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics) Haley Mills with a new friend in Ethiopia. (UK Athletics)
In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Haley Mills writes about some inspiring children the student-athletes met on their last full day in Ethiopia.

We started our day like every other morning on our trip which included an early awaking followed by a delicious breakfast. We loaded up in our Toyota Coaster and dodged through the crazy traffic of Addis Ababa.

We first arrived at a little shop to buy a few souvenirs for loved ones back home. We then ventured on to a boys' home called Hope. The owner used to live on the streets of Addis and he was in and out of jail 32 times. After he turned his life around, he started a home for street boys to try and make a difference and change their lives. We introduced ourselves to all the boys and we were overwhelmed the most with their kindness and love, amidst the adversity.

A few of the boys shared their story and I was inspired as I related it back to my life. They had lost their parents and were left with nothing. They were destined to live sad lives as street children, yet these boys did not give up. They were doing everything they could, going to school, making enough money to live, learning English, all the while wrapped in God's will.

One boy told me his dream was to attend the University of Virginia and study psychology. He then went on to explain that he realized it was an impossible goal to reach. This broke my heart because here I am living his dream at UK. We take so much for granted and the events from today will make me think twice when complaining about something in my life. After we played soccer and football with the kids, we had pizza brought to the home for all of us to share. I was shocked when I saw almost half of the boys raise their hands when asked if this was their first time to ever eat pizza. These children have nothing and the joy in their eyes from a simple slice of pizza is truly inspiring.

Later that day we went to dinner at a place called Cupcake Delight. At first everyone thought we were having cupcakes for dinner and there was confusion on all of their faces. I did not think twice about it but the others were thinking about their "performance athlete diet". The restaurant ended up having a full menu and we all enjoyed a fantastic meal together. This was our last full day in Ethiopia and all of us were getting a little sad. We did not want to leave, especially to get on a 17-hour flight. Altogether it was a great day in Addis Ababa and it is one that I will never forget. Today's events left a huge impact on each and every one of us. The boys from Hope were such an inspiration and made me rethink the way I live.

A rendering of the southwest corner of UK football's planned training facility. A rendering of the southwest corner of UK football's planned training facility.
Kicking off Kentucky football's annual Media Day, Mitch Barnhart joked he was the warmup act for Mark Stoops, his staff and players.

Fortunately for UK's athletics director, he had some pretty good material of his own.

Barnhart brought with him draft renderings of the new training facility that will house the entire UK football operation.

"We think we'll finish up schematic design later on this fall, and we'll be able to begin the process and get into the construction process," Barnhart said. "So real excited about that and be able to move forward with that."

When completed in 2016, the new facility will cover between 95,000 and 100,000 square feet off the back side of the Nutter Fieldhouse. It will feature three practice fields, a weight room, offices, meeting rooms, a locker room and much more.

"That will give us an opportunity to do some really, really cool, unique things, tying this whole facility and one stop shop, our players in an area where they can get everything they need for the University of Kentucky football in one area," Barnhart said.

Work will begin on the training center while renovations on Commonwealth Stadium are still ongoing. The designs will complement the look and feel of the renovated stadium, complete with Kentucky limestone.

Barnhart and Russ Pear, UK's senior associate athletics director for facilities and operations, have worked closely with Stoops and his staff on the project since plans were approved in late January by the Board of Trustees. Friday was the first time any renderings were shown publicly.

It will still be a couple years before the team moves into its new facility, but the unveiling adds to the momentum built in the 20 months since Stoops arrived in Lexington.

"That makes us excited as a coaching staff, as a football team," Stoops said. "Our players, our recruits, everybody feels the excitement that's going on right now. There's been a great buy-in from the whole state and certainly from our administration."
One of the practice fields at UK football's planned training facility. One of the practice fields at UK football's planned training facility.

A rendering of an interior corridor. A rendering of an interior corridor.

Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball: 21 Days

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Kentucky has 21 All-Americans, including Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan, who were honored last season. Billings, who was named to the second team in 2013 in 2012 and the honorable mention team in 2011, is UK's first-ever three-time All-America honoree. Morgan captured an honorable mention nod to become the ninth different player in head coach Craig Skinner's nine seasons at UK to be named All-American. Fifteen of UK's 21 All-America accolades have come under Skinner, with at least one in each of the past seven seasons.

Today, the Wildcats had their first official team meeting of the year, and tomorrow, UK will hold its first practice of the 2014 season. When the first whistle is blown tomorrow, that's when it starts to get real. August 29th's season-opener is almost here, when Kentucky and Wichita State square off to open the season as part of the Commonwealth Classic in Memorial Coliseum.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Offensive coordinator Neal Brown with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Drew Barker, Reese Phillips and Patrick Towles. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Offensive coordinator Neal Brown with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Drew Barker, Reese Phillips and Patrick Towles. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops and Neal Brown didn't miss a chance in spring practice to say that UK would be improved at quarterback this season.

Even so, Brown left the four contenders to start at the position with a simple directive during the summer months: improve even more.

"I really wanted to see from the end of April from the spring game until when we started on Monday, was how much (more) they improved fundamentally because I gave them a lot of different things to work on," Brown said.

A week into fall camp, no decision has been made at quarterback. What is clear, however, is that Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith completed their offseason assignment.

"The guys have really done a nice job," Stoops said at Media Day. "They're better rounded, and I expect them to go out and play well. I think we have good competition there. They're all doing some good things. They're not perfect, but they're much improved."

Towles, to start with, has continued to speed his release, according to Brown. A combination of mental and fundamental work has been the driving force behind that.

"With making decisions, that comes from just understanding the offense," Towles said. "You know the offense better, you know when people are going to come open, you know where people are at. So then it's easier to get the ball out. And then fundamentally, last year my release was too long, so even if I made a quick decision it still might have taken a little bit for the ball to get there. Now my release is quicker and I have a better understanding of the offense to where I'm on time all the time."

Phillips, praised repeatedly as the most consistent quarterback of the bunch, has upped his arm strength. Like Towles, that's due in large part to a team-wide focus on fundamentals.

"My drops have become a lot faster," Phillips said. "With that, I can use my legs more. I don't have to rely on just using my arm."

Along those same lines, Barker has cut down on the mistakes that plagued him in the spring, when he arrived a semester early after graduating high school in December. Even though Barker reported he led the quarterbacks in touchdown passes during spring practice, he also threw the most interceptions.

"In the spring, I was learning something in the meeting room 15, 20 minutes before practice and then I would go out and have to do it against a live SEC defense," Barker said. "Sometimes, to be honest, I wouldn't know what I was doing. This summer, I really sat down and studied the playbook; tried to learn more about defense, coverages, blitzes, stuff like that; and just make better reads and be more confident in my decisions."

Smith, practicing fully every other day, has been more effective throwing the ball over the middle of the field.

"My mindset is just to come out every single day, work as hard as I can, do everything the coaches ask, help the guys around me, not just these quarterbacks, but everybody else, making sure they know what they're doing and make our team as good as we can be," Smith said.

Though Smith -- the veteran of the group -- is committed to helping his team, don't mistake that for a concession. He's out to win this ongoing battle.

"If I didn't have my eyes on the job, I might as well just call it quits now, in my opinion," Smith said. "Of course I've got my eyes on the job. I'm not the kind of person that's just going to lay down and just hand it over, like 'you guys can take it now.' That's not me. That's not who I am."

Smith is wise not to give in because Stoops says the competition remains "wide open," though that figures to change quickly.

Over the first days of practice, coaches avoided turning the intensity in practice up to the highest level due to a study by High Performance coach Erik Korem that revealed more injuries occurring during finals week. With summer classes now over, that will change with a practice on Friday afternoon and two more on Saturday.

"Now we're going to pick up starting this afternoon and do a lot of good on goods, throw our quarterbacks in a lot of different situations," Brown said. "I hope within the next five or seven days, one of those guys (is) going to stand out."

Each of the four quarterbacks hopes to be the one, but they know getting caught up in that will do them no good.

"Every week is a big week," Towles said. "The spring was the biggest spring of my life. Each practice, the next practice is the most important practice. Each play, the next play is the most important play. So I really can't think about two days from now. I gotta think about today. We've got practice at 3. I'm just worried about that."

Brown has done everything in his power to give the quarterbacks plenty to worry about in practice.

"In the spring, I took this approach," Brown said. "We're going to have fun. We're going to enjoy this. Focus on getting better, you individually getting better. ... Now I'm telling them, hey, we're looking for a guy to win the job. Go win the job. Everything that you do during the course of a practice is getting judged. Yeah, you'd better have fun with it, but understand we are keeping score."

With more third-down work, lots of talk and harder coaching, Brown is trying to simulate the pressure whoever wins the job will face on game day.

"I think it's just the intensity from Coach Brown is a lot higher now than it has ever been," Phillips said. "He's an intense person, but at the same time he kind of knows how to keep us relaxed. Now he's not doing that. He's trying to get in our heads. When we do blitz or team, he tries to put in situations to where it's going to be hard and we have to overcome stuff."

Clearly, Brown has no intention of making it to the season opener on Aug. 30 with no quarterback taking hold of the starting position like last season. Stoops, however, won't make a decision until it's appropriate, regardless what happened a year ago.

"Right now it's just too even," Stoops said. "I've said it before, it would be too reckless just to make a decision because I want to make a decision and not answer those questions. I'm not going to do that. It's not fair to the players. It's not fair to our team. It's not fair to the future of our program."

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, John Sutton writes about lessons learned on a Sunday in Ethiopia.

By John Sutton

The day started with another delicious breakfast meal from the Addis Guesthouse, a common theme throughout this trip. The hospitality from those around us has not only left us feeling comfortable but also has transformed this foreign land into another home. Being Sunday, some of us decided to head to a local church with some of our Ethiopian brothers, Girma and Wario. However, being with some of the most talented college athletes in the country, we soon decided that an early morning trip to the gym was first in store. So without further ado, we headed out in the brisk Ethiopian morning air for a jog to our local gym - Bole Rock.

Traditional Ethiopian attire requires pants to be worn past the knees. With this in mind, it is no wonder that we got some odd looks in our blue and white gym attire as we jogged through the muddy streets of Addis Ababa. Upon reaching the gym, we each went our separate ways, some hitting the bikes, others hitting the treadmills and others hitting the weights. Despite being scattered at the beginning of our workout, we all ended in the same place - the floor. Being eight times the altitude of Lexington, Addis managed to give us a great opportunity to train in altitude. On our jog back to the guesthouse, street vendors clapped and cheered words of encouragement, or at least we thought they did. After a quick shower, we headed to our next destination - an optional church service at the Beza International Church.

I've been to many church services in the United States. However, I am forced to think hard to remember a church service that was as genuine as the one at Beza. The moment we arrived, we were greeted by the most joyful people. Despite our obvious foreign appearance, I felt the love and compassion from those in the congregation. Yet again the people of Ethiopia treated us like their own.

As we took our seats we immediately began worshipping with our fellow attendees. When I say "we began worshipping" I am referring to the hour and a half spent singing and dancing. The pure energy and passion that we saw initially shocked us. How is it that a country that is so financially broke can be so spiritually rich? How can those that have so little to eat on a consistent basis find so much energy to praise God? The music was done and we were eagerly greeted by a preacher who couldn't wait to share the Word with us.

After one of the most incredible sermons I've heard, I looked at my watch for the time to find that it was already 2 p.m.! We were blessed with three incredible hours of praise and worship. I found today humbling due to the fact that those who have so little can give so much thanks for the lives they have and the role that God plays in them. Definitely a lesson we could use back home! Seeing the physical manifestations of thanks and praise in such a poor country has made me feel like our lives of luxury have blinded us to the relationships that surround us.

Once church was over I talked to my good friend Girma about some of the differences between America and Ethiopia. I told him that I wish I could bring America to Ethiopia. However, I quickly realized that while we may have paved roads, video games and phones, the greater benefit would be to bring Ethiopia to America. Fortunately, our Ethiopian brothers have shown us the importance of relationships and love and now we, as a body of student-athletes, can return home not only with photos to show others, but with full hearts to pour into our community.

After lunch we headed to a lion zoo to see some of the local wildlife. Ethiopia is the only place in the world home to lions with black manes. While these beasts are truly beautiful, I was glad they were on the other side of the bars!

Upon leaving the zoo, we headed to a giant parking lot where locals play soccer. Having a large crew, we split into three different teams and set off between the buses and cars to try our hand at the sport. The first two teams took to the pitch and had a quick goal. Seeing all of the different athletes from their respective backgrounds converge to play soccer proved to be enough entertainment in and of itself.

Towards the end of the first game it started to rain. Hard. While all the locals ran for cover, we stayed and continued our quest for another goal. After we were thoroughly drenched, we decided we better head back to our bus. Yet again, while doing a mundane activity such as walking through a parking lot, we learned another hard lesson. Sitting in the middle of this giant parking lot was a small girl. She sat on the ground and tears ran down her face. Quietly crying to herself, we quickly realized how blessed we were. While we were soaked to the bone, we all had dry clothes back at the guesthouse, a warm meal awaiting us, and we all had friends and family to call when things got tough.

In America, we do a great job of hiding. We hide our pain, we hide our hurt. We hide the sick and the homeless, the bruised and the broken. In Ethiopia there was no hiding. Although there wasn't a lot we could do for this girl, it just showed us the need that this country has and yet again, showed us how blessed we are. It hurt leaving a crying child sitting in the rain and it still hurts thinking about it today. However, like a bad shot, a slow race, a missed goal or a short putt, we have the opportunity to either walk away and forget or learn from the pain. What I've learned is that there is need. All around us. In our homes, in our communities, on our teams, and in the world. You can travel 17 hours in a plane or you can walk down the hallway. It's up to us to make a difference.

Despite the so called "rest day", we still learned some heavy lessons. The joy that these people have is truly inspiring especially when compared to their circumstances. If people who have so little can be so joyful, surely we can too. And while we are so blessed, we must make an honest effort to help those less fortunate around us.

Video: Brown, Eliot preview season at media day

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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot


Video: Stoops' media day press conference

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Video: Barnhart's media day press conference

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Video: UK football media day press conference

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John Calipari will lead UK in six exhibition games in the Bahamas next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari will lead UK in six exhibition games in the Bahamas next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With school set to go back in session in a matter of weeks, students throughout the country are taking advantage of their final chances to get away for summer vacation.

It's no different for the Kentucky basketball team, as the Wildcats leave Saturday for a trip to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

Needless to say, players are excited.
    
"I've never been out of the country before so it should be a different experience," junior Alex Poythress said.

As fun as the week and a half will be, the Cats have serious business to tend to while they're on their Big Blue Bahamas tour.

UK will play two games each against the Dominican Republic national team, the Puerto Rico national team reserves and French first-division club team Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket. The first three games on Aug. 10-12 will air at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU and the second three on Aug. 15-17 at 1 p.m. on the new SEC Network.

Fans, undoubtedly, are excited to get an early glimpse of the most experienced John Calipari-coached UK team. Calipari, however, has a warning for them, and it has everything to do with the level of competition the Cats will be facing.

"We get down there, we're going six games in eight days against professional players, which means we probably shouldn't win any of the games," Calipari said.

Official rosters for UK's opponents have not yet been released, but the Cats figure to face the likes of Jack Michael Martinez and Francisco Garcia of the Orlando Antigua-led Dominican Republic and Da'Sean Butler and Tasmin Mitchell of Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket. Playing against talented veterans will pose a stiff challenge for a UK team that will be without big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, both of whom will be held out of competition for precautionary reasons as they recover from injury.

As Calipari has mentioned in practice on a number of occasions this week, UK's competition consists of 30-year-olds who are going to play physical and won't care how talented the Cats are.

"It is going to be tough, but we have been preparing for them and practicing for a long time," Poythress said. "Just going to get there and take care of business, play the game right and try to do what we can down there."

Before the 2010-11 season, the Cats traveled to Canada and faced overmatched opponents. As when most college teams take these international trips, it was as much about the 10 practices allowed by the NCAA ahead of the trip as the trip itself.

Four years later, Calipari has adjusted his priorities to fit his personnel.

"I think this team needed something a little different, and that's why we're doing this," Calipari said. "Not sure anybody's done what we're doing before. ... I don't think anybody's done this where they're flying in a bunch of professional teams to play this and come after us."

That's why Coach Cal won't judge success in these games based on the final score.

"I don't want it to be about winning and losing right now," Calipari said. "I want it to be about development. Are we getting better? Are we learning how to play off of one another? When adversity hits, how do we deal with it? We're just trying to learn."

To that end, Calipari is considering allowing his assistants to coach in his place for "some of the games" in the Bahamas. Players, specifically UK's latest crop of highly touted freshmen, have been exposed to Coach Cal's trademark intensity enough in practices ahead of the trip that it makes sense for the head coach to let go of the reins a bit next week.

"Right now, I'm coaching through the whole practice," Calipari said. "I got 10 days with them and I'm trying to get them - I need the freshmen to know what I'm like to a degree. Like, I said, right now everybody's happy go lucky. Well, when we get ready to play some games it'll be a little different. But at least they get the idea of what they're going to be held accountable for."

The experimenting won't end there.

Even with Cauley-Stein and Lyles sidelined, UK can still go 11 deep. With all that talent and skillsets ranging from bruising center Dakari Johnson to high-flying forward Alex Poythress to water bug point guard Tyler Ulis, figuring out how all the pieces best fit together will take time.

The Bahamas could give Calipari a head start. New special assistant to the head coach Tony Barbee has been pitching a zone defense, while Coach Cal is always searching for ways to use more press. He could even turn to a "bomb squad" like Dean Smith used at North Carolina and play a seven-man rotation and another five-man group for occasional five-minute stretches.

In other words, Calipari is taking nothing off the table.

"At the end of the day you want to win, yet early on in the season it's more important that you learn," Calipari said. "What exactly are these guys? This isn't normal, and I come back to, 'This isn't Cal ball. This is how we're going to play every year.' We don't know how we're going to play every year. Why is that? I got different players every year, and different strengths and different weaknesses. If I try to play a certain way and it's detrimental to the players, but it's for me, my way? I mean, we don't know.

Given the circumstances - minimal practice time, high-level opponents, experimental styles of play - short-term failure is inevitable. That's fine with Coach Cal, though, because long-term success is the goal.

"What happens to these guys, whether we win or lose they're hungry after the game," Calipari said. "Let them take an L on national television and see how hungry they are then. I'm trying to teach them."

 

Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball: 22 Days

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On November 10, 2014, freshman Anni Thomasson exploded for 30 kills and 22 digs in UK's five-set victory over LSU. She became what is believed to be the first freshman in program history and just the second in UK history to tally 30 or more kills and 20 or more digs in a single match. Thomasson is the first Wildcat to notch 30 kills since Sarah Spinner's 36 in 2004 and the 30-kill, 20-dig feat hadn't been accomplished by an SEC player since 2010. For her efforts, the Newark, Ohio, native earned SEC Player of the Week honors.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Katrina Keirns and Kirsten Lewis write about a day spent in Debre Zeyit.


Katrina Keirns

Today we took a trip outside of Addis Ababa to go visit Mark's dear friend Sammy, who strives to take care of those in prison, widows and the poor. We began our day by eating our favorite breakfast, French toast and eggs, and then began our hour and a half journey to the city of Debre Zeyit.

After arriving in Debre Zeyit, we immediately drove to pick up the supplies we needed for the day, and then immediately headed to Sammy's house. When we pulled up in his drive way, he came out to greet us and welcomed us into his beautiful home. He told us that our tasks for the day would require us to divide into two different groups. Half of our team would go to deliver food supplies to prisoners, while the other half would help to build houses in another part of town.  Before both groups parted our separate ways, we formed an assembly line to make multiple bags of food and laundry to give to the prisoners we would be visiting. These bags consisted of a loaf of French bread, a couple bananas, detergent and body soap. After packing up the bags, we each grabbed a handful of them and loaded up the bus.

The first two prisons we visited were only a few minutes from Sammy's house. When we parked outside of it, I was confused as to where we were because it's so different from the prisons we have in the U.S. The prison was mainly outdoors and only had a few cells that held people. We then were able to chat and deliver the food bags and other donations to the prisoners, which we were very happy to do. The prisoners were very happy and appreciative of the supplies because the only items they receive from the jail are a few pieces of bread and water daily.

After delivering food to the two different prisons, we then began to make our journey around to visit all of the widows in need of food supplies. If widows do not have sons, they unfortunately struggle with getting food and other supplies because they do not have anyone to care for them as they get older. We had the pleasure of delivering food to six different widows' homes, who were all more than appreciative. When we arrived at each individual home, they all welcomed us with open arms and tears in there eyes. They then would hug and kiss each of us three times and tell us how much of a blessing we were just for coming to visit them. These women are honestly the nicest women I have ever met and constantly amazed me with their grace and how the smallest things make them the happiest.

UK Athletics UK Athletics
Following the widow visits, we began our journey back to Sammy's house. Sammy and his family invited us to stay for lunch so that he could make us a traditional Indian meal. After he was done preparing the meal, we gathered around outside in a circle and prayed over the delicious meal we were about to eat. The lamb curry, rice and naan (bread) that Sammy prepared was one of the best meals I've ever had, and I'm so thankful that he took time out of his day to host us. After we finished eating, Sammy told us that we would be visiting a few other families that were trying to start their own businesses in order to have a steady income.

The first family we visited consisted of a beautiful family of five (mother, father and three sons), that wanted to begin somewhat of a baking business so that they could sell their goods at the market. When we delivered the supplies to this family, the father told us how grateful he was that we were supporting him in his new business and was so thankful that we made the trip to see him and his wonderful family. The second family we visited needed a generator to power the arc welder. When we delivered the generator to the father, he was so grateful and happy that we brought the supplies he needed to help him begin the process of making the arc welder possible. The genuine smile and joy that portrayed made me so happy that our group could help him start something great.

Overall, this day was very impactful. All of these people have such big hearts and are thankful for every little bit that comes their way. Although they were the ones thanking us, I wanted to thank them in return for giving us the opportunity to visit them and hear their amazing stories. I will never forget their genuine, kind hearts and love that they showed us when they welcomed us into their homes.

Kirsten Lewis

We started off the day with a breakfast at 7:30 consisting of French toast and eggs! After our stomachs were full for the day ahead, we were ready to leave our guesthouse to go visit the city of Debre Zeyit, which was about an hour and a half drive out to the countryside. Only a few people in the bus got some shut-eye and the majority of us were either engaged in conversation or had our heads glued to the windows taking in all of the beautiful sights. The trip seemed to fly by so fast, and we were in Debre Zeyit in no time!

We immediately met up with Sammy, the man we were going to be assisting the whole day with his job and ministry in Debre Zeyit. After meeting up with him, his crew and his two adorable little girls, we sorted the supplies that he had already provided into several plastic bags that we would be distributing to the widows and the prisoners for the rest of the day. They guys opted to help out with a local building project, while the girls opted to go visit the two prisons and deliver some food to couples and widows in the area.

At the first prison that we visited, we were only able to drop off the food and supplies and nothing else. Mark said that it usually depends on who is in charge of working the prison that day as to how much interaction we could have with the inmates when different groups come in to visit them. Originally, we had expected to have the opportunity to talk to some of the prisoners, hear their stories and offer encouragement to them. A minor deviation from our previous plan, but we were happy that we were at least allowed to give them the food and items that we brought to make their stay at the prison a bit more comfortable. At the second prison, there were not as many prisoners being held so we distributed the food quickly and gave what we had left over to the guards and staff.

The next task on the agenda was delivering food to the families and widows in the area! We spent the rest of the time until lunch stopping at each house that needed food. We got to ride around most of the city of Debre Zeyit while we were making these deliveries, and I was at awe at the difference from the cities here in America! In the streets in Debre Zeyit, there are cars, mingled with people riding in carts hooked up to horses and dogs freely roaming the streets.


This city was a bit more rural than Addis Ababa and you could see valleys, mountain tops, trees, cattle roaming and gardens full of flowers as we drove around. It was absolutely beautiful and a nice change of pace from the street and in Addis Ababa. After we finished delivering all of the bags, we headed back to Sammy's house, where we met up with the boys and ate a delicious lunch that Sammy had prepared consisting of lamb curry, rice and naan. We sat around in a big circle as we ate and shared so many laughs with one another. It was a great physical and mental break from a very work-heavy morning!

The next order of business was delivering some heavy-duty machinery to a man who is in the process of starting his own business. We delivered to his home a generator and an arc welder which will help his new business out tremendously.

While we were there, we met a group of about 10 little boys who all were learning how to practice taekwondo. They were demonstrating to us their moves by having play fights with one another. At one point, Jared jumped in and started making up his own moves while the little boys began to watch him closely and begin to imitate the different poses that Jared was making. These little guys soaked up all of the attention that they were getting from us as we watched them go through all of their moves that they were currently learning. Their smiles and attitudes were infectious! They did not speak very much English, so at first it was difficult to learn very much about these boys besides their names and age. After one of our translators came over and joined us, we were able to learn about where each of the boys were from, how they had gotten into practicing taekwondo, what year they were in school and their favorite subjects.

After saying our goodbyes and taking a few pictures with these little guys, we all piled back into the bus and delivered some food to two more houses. John and I went together to deliver food to a young woman who had a little baby. We were able to take some pictures with her and her sweet little baby, who we found out was just two months old.

As we left the village, we stopped at the community center that the boys had started to build earlier. At this point, a bunch of little kids had begun to follow our bus around, and once we got out at the church, we were swarmed by kids of all ages and sizes. Some were shy and kept their distance while others came right up for high fives and were just speaking their language to us as if we could all understand them. The thing that struck me the most about these little kids were their willingness to accept us into their village as we were and just laugh and play and exist as if we were all the exact same for a day. This experience was humbling because how often do we accept and meet others right exactly where they are and come together for the sake of building relationships with another.

As we drove away from the village, one of the neatest moments was turning around and looking out of the back window of the bus and watching all of the little kids run after the bus for as long as they could. I do not think that I will ever be able to erase that amazing moment out of my mind. We left that day with our hearts overflowing with the love that everyone had showed us and every possible emotion running through our heads. Now, time to fill our empty stomachs with some food and get some sleep and do it all over again tomorrow!


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Since the Southeastern Conference and ESPN jointly announced the launch of the SEC Network 15 months ago, hundreds of people have been hard at work.

That year-plus of labor will come to a head in barely week when the SEC Network launches on Aug. 14.

The nerves, of course, are there. Given the pressure that comes with covering the nation's best conference and serving its insatiable fans 24/7, that's natural.

That feeling, however, is outweighed by excitement to finally go on the air.

"Hey, let's go," Dari Nowkhah said. "We keep rehearsing. When you guys are going around asking football players, 'What will it be like to go hit somebody else?' Well, that's exactly what this is."

Nowkhah's comments came at an open house hosted at the SEC Network's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. Media members were invited to tour the facility, which has long been home to ESPNU. The tour included stops in the studios where cornerstone SEC Network shows will be filmed, as well as access to the personalities that will be the face of the network.

"Our on-camera talent, I think, rivals any network anywhere," said Stephanie Druley, ESPN's vice president of college networks.

That begins on the set of SEC Now, the SEC Network's SportsCenter equivalent hosted by Nowkhah, Peter Burns and Maria Taylor. It extends to the Paul Finebaum Show and SEC Nation.

Perhaps nothing better demonstrates what the SEC Network will be about than SEC Nation, which will make stops at all 14 conference campuses this season. Florida star Tim Tebow and LSU national champion Marcus Spears will serve as analysts alongside host Joe Tessitore and reporter Kaylee Hartung for the SEC Network's answer to College GameDay.


"For us, we want to be that same thing for the SEC, but more in a way of we want to give the viewer an opportunity to experience what's it like to be in a tailgate, what's it's like to be a fan, what it's like to be a player," Tebow said.

The show will have a distinctly SEC flavor, with all talent having deep ties to the conference they'll cover.

"When I think about the SEC Network and especially our show, the one thing that comes to mind is that we're of the people," Spears said. "That's the difference, more than anything, is that we're dedicated to one conference."

It's a conference that deserves that kind of dedication, as well as the unprecedented distribution it will receive at launch. With Wednesday's announcement that Charter Communications has signed on, the SEC Network will be in more than 90 million American households on Aug. 14.

Oh yeah, and the International Space Station.

"A lot of people asked, 'What do you do next?' " ESPN Senior Vice President of College Networks Justin Connolly said just after announcing the Charter deal. "And I thought the Tennessean beat us to the punch on that. We're going to outer space."

Rabid SEC fan Barry Wilmore, an astronaut set to depart for his next mission on Sept. 25, lobbied successfully for NASA to provide the SEC Network in the space station. He'll enjoy the more than 450 live games that will air on the network, not to mention the hundreds more that will be shown on the SEC Network's digital platform.

Wilmore won't be in space in time for the Kentucky basketball games in the Bahamas that will be shown on the SEC Network Aug. 15-17, but most of the Big Blue Nation will surely be watching.

Three years ago when UK played preseason exhibitions in Canada, games were shown only locally on the UK IMG Network. This international trip will be on national television.

"I actually think it crystallizes how this network can create opportunities that haven't existed in the past," Connolly said. "Ordinarily I don't think those games get televised. We made a decision: The ability to have Kentucky on and show players that fans haven't seen before, show the Harrisons back and be able to do that over the Bahamas tour, we just jumped at it."

Millions of fans throughout the country figure to jump at the chance to watch as well.


Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball: 23 Days

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Aaron and Andrew Harrison. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron and Andrew Harrison. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
What a difference a year can make.

This time last year, the Harrison twins were still in Texas finishing up some academic work. They arrived on campus just before the fall semester began, well after most of their teammates.

They missed out on the offseason strength and conditioning workouts. They didn't get the usual offseason crash course that freshmen need in a John Calipari offense. They were, as Coach Cal said, two and a half months behind because it took him half the season to figure out how they were going to play.

All because the Harrison twins weren't here in the summer.

"By not being here in the summer, they got behind the 8-ball conditioning wise," Calipari said Wednesday. "So it took us half a year to get them in condition so we could really see, 'Alright, what exactly can they do?' "

The twins have been in Lexington this summer for offseason workouts and the pre-Bahamas practices, as have the rest of the 2014-15 Wildcats. Coming from someone who's been around the program for more than two years now and knows what goes into the season, junior Alex Poythress said it's made a world of difference in team chemistry.

"It's real advanced," Poythress said. "People know the plays already. People know where to be at. Coming in as freshmen, a couple of us new, we didn't have too many veterans. Last year we had me and Willie (Cauley-Stein), but this year we have six or seven guys that know what to do that's been there and done that and know where to be at."

With more experience and fewer newcomers to break in, it's allowed Coach Cal to accelerate this team's growth.

"I've got guys that understand so I can do it the way I used to coach, which is, 'Get to the back and watch what they're doing,' " Calipari said. "I talk them through. 'You're not at the front. You're at the back and watch what they're doing.' And many of the things they're talking each other through. Dakari (Johnson) is talking, the twins are talking, Alex is talking, Marcus (Lee) is talking. They're able to talk to each other because they know what to say.

But perhaps no two have benefitted more from experience and a sense of understanding than the catalysts of the offense, the Harrison twins.

At this point now, compared to where they were a year ago, they're stronger, they're leaner, they're faster and they're more confident. Watching practice for the last couple of weeks as the Cats prepare for their exhibition tour in the Bahamas, it's obvious they look and feel more at ease running the offense, particularly Andrew Harrison.

"I'm a lot more comfortable," Andrew Harrison said. "I feel like I take on a leadership role and I'm having fun with a lot of guys asking me questions and stuff, and I try to help them as much as I can."

It was difficult for them to lead last year because they didn't know what they were doing. They didn't know what they were doing because Calipari didn't know how he wanted them to play. And Calipari didn't know how he wanted them to play because they arrived on campus late, a factor that Coach Cal downplayed as the Cats struggled in the regular season but fully admits now.

"I just think that they needed me to give them better direction," Calipari said. "They needed me to basically better define their roles. But why do you think I had to wait so long? Why did it take me so long? Why didn't I walk in the first day and say, 'This is how you're going to play'? ... I wasn't sure. Now, I could make it about me and say, 'You're going to play this way,' or I could watch them play and say, 'The best thing now that I've been with you for two months, the best way for you to play and us to play is this.' And it took me two and a half months."

As everyone saw in March, when they got some experience underneath their belts, they took off.

If preseason practices are any indication, they've done nothing but take last year's postseason momentum and run with it.

"They already know what we're trying to do," Calipari said. "There's no anxiety. They're comfortable out on the court where last year they were trying to figure themselves out, and that's why you had that body language stuff. You don't see any of that this year, and the only time they do anything like that is toward each other, like where they're saying something to each other. Short of that it's been pretty good."

Their late-season success last year made them think long and hard about returning for their sophomore seasons, but both decided to come back to try to capture that national championship they came so close to winning in April.

When the Harrisons contemplated coming back, Calipari told them they would have to answer questions in their sophomore year that NBA scouts and general managers had of their game. He gave them those questions and they answered them on the spot, "one, two, three."

"(The questions were), were we athletic enough or were we quick enough to guard our positions, and I think we worked hard this summer to prove that," Aaron Harrison said.

For one, both lost weight this season to get quicker, to jump higher and to guard better. Officially, Aaron Harrison is down to 212 pounds from 218 a season ago, and Andrew Harrison is down to 210 from 215, though Andrew said it was more like 222 last year.

A change in their diets was the biggest factor in their change.

"I feel a lot faster, a lot quicker, jump a little higher now," Andrew Harrison said. "I feel like I'm the best player I can be right now."

Their commitment this offseason has helped them gain more trust from Calipari. Where last year's practices reflected more of a teacher-student relationship - Coach Cal was doing a lot of instructing while the twins were doing a lot of listening - this year's early-season practices feature more of a partnership. There is a little more constructive back and forth between Calipari and the Harrisons, there is less bad body language, and there is a lot more leading from what look like the two team captains.

"He saw how hard I worked over the summer and how committed I am to this," Andrew Harrison said. "I know how committed he is and we just have an understanding."

Said Calipari: "They had habits they had to understand weren't going to work. Let me tell you something: If you're doing something your whole career and it gets you a scholarship to Kentucky, the most coveted scholarship in the country ... and you did certain things to get you that offer ... your first thought is, 'This got me here, I'm going to go with it.' But what got you here, a lot of times, isn't going to get you there, to that next level."

It took the Harrisons nearly a full season to grasp that. And as crazy as it seems to comparatively call a pair of 19-year-olds wiser and more mature, they are.

"You just got to mentally be ready for practice when you go in every day and go in to get better," Aaron Harrison said. "That comes with getting older and being mature and just taking it more serious."

An extra summer - one they didn't have a season ago - has just been icing on the cake for their ongoing development.

"I think it was just us realizing how much work it actually takes to be great," Andrew Harrison said. "Just realizing or just getting that confidence you had back in high school, just feeling like you're the best player. That's what it really was."

Video: Poythress, Harrisons on Bahamas trip

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In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Montana Whittle, Danielle Fitzgerald and Charlie Reymann each write about an unforgettable day spent in the poorest area of Addis Ababa.


Montana Whittle

Where to start?

I find myself at a loss of words, because this experience cannot be described. There are no words or pictures that do this place justice. I wish I could let you see my memories and feel what I have felt. I will do my best to help you understand this place and its people, but I would highly encourage you to explore this world yourself and challenge you to keep an open mind.  

Today started with an amazing plate of French toast and a cup of coffee, and finished with me questioning my entire existence.  After breakfast we were given a brief explanation of what the day would bring. At this time I thought I was going to change lives, but the truth is that my life would be changed, forever. We were told that we were going to visit the poorest part of Addis Ababa. It is about one square mile, maybe a little bigger, and is home to over 100,000 people. These people are the poorest of the poor, most of them have been shunned due to disabilities and illnesses, such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS.  

We pull up in our van to Mark's office and children swarm us. From the minute we walked outside to the time we left, those children held our hands. They were so excited to meet us and tell us about themselves. All they wanted was for us to remember them, pray for them, love them. These children had such a huge impact on me. They were the happiest kids I had ever met, and yet they had nothing. Most of them had shoes that were falling apart and clothes that were worn thin. The two boys who held my hand had asked me for things, such as clothes, shoes or food. It broke my heart that we were not allowed to give them anything, because it would be unfair to those who did not get something. All I wanted to do was give these kids everything they needed; I wanted to tell them that everything was going be OK. But, the truth is, I had no idea. The memory of these children chasing after our van when we left will stay with me forever.

Our mission today was to deliver food and supplies (coffee beans, macaroni, salt, matches and soap) to widows and families in need. At the office we met the women and children who were going to be receiving these supplies. These women were inspirational. Faithful. They were so grateful, even though some of them could not even walk. Two women in particular really impacted me because one was in a wheelchair and the other had a daughter who could not walk, so she carried her on her back. When we delivered their food to their homes, the walk was not short. These mothers did not complain. In fact they were overjoyed just to meet us and have us see their homes.

I have never seen such poor living conditions, where their walls were sod, their roofs were tin and their floors were mud. A large house would be the size of our bathrooms in America. Yet, we were invited in without a moment's hesitation. They were so proud and had no shame; they wanted us to see everything in their homes and even offered us coffee. The first thing they did was thank us and tell us that they would be praying for us every day. I could not help but get emotional; I was not the one who needed prayers. I have never seen God work through people so much. They had so much going against them -- missing limbs, leprosy, unable to walk, crooked feet -- and yet they still were so patient with us, still so loving, still so faithful, still so happy.  


My experience today and every day this week was unreal and unforgettable. Now that I am home, all I can think about are those beautiful people that I met and my plan to return in the future. This experience has caused me to question everything that I know and everything that I want. Everything that was so important to me in the past is not important anymore. I know this experience has changed me for the better and I hope I never forget the faces and hearts of the people of Ethiopia.

Danielle Fitzgerald

Today was spent in one of the world's poorest places, which is built around the city dump. We started the morning with our standard "UK breakfast special" consisting of French toast and eggs but nothing we saw after was familiar. We were aware of the immense state of poverty but familiarity stopped there.

As we rolled up to the office that works to provide sponsorships to the people of the area, we were instantly greeted by big grins and precious little hands that wanted to be held. The instant joy the kids felt from simply having somebody touch them was quite overwhelming.

Mark took us into the office where we formed an assembly line to package macaroni, salt, body soap and other items for people who had been put on the sponsorship wait list. The recipients were sitting outside of the office and even though most were suffering from starvation, HIV/AIDS or leprosy, the pure joy they expressed seemed to be most contagious. We each carried a bag full of necessities to different houses, kids still in tow throughout the day. Although their houses' sizes were more comparable to a standard American bathroom than an American house, everyone was so proud to show us their homes and invite us to stay.

Each member of our team had about three kids latched onto them throughout the day and close to 100 followed us both when we were walking from house to house and running closely behind when our van took us to other parts of the town. There are few words to describe the emotions felt when a swarm of kids chases your van for miles and the two or three kids you've grown very close to come find you again, happy as can be to have done so. The simplest things brought them the most joy: thumb wars, hand games and skipping through the streets. Not even a language barrier could hinder that. Many of the kids would push their way through the line of hands to get closer to us but they did not realize they were the real celebrities, their endless love and eagerness to get to know us more admirable than our presence.


One of the hardest parts of the day was leaving the kids we had established relationships with. Eyes teared up when our new friends asked for pens to write their names on our arms in hopes that we would remember them forever and keep them in our prayers. Nothing can prepare you for the moment that two little girls ask you to take them home with you because life would be better that way.

It is so easy for us to get caught up in how busy our own lives are and forget about what is really important. These people don't have money to spend, cars to drive or cell phones to obsess over. They do have each other. And without worldly relationships, they still have a strong faith in God. I have never been so overwhelmed by such a concentrated sentiment of love. Relationships were valued so much more when there was not an emphasis on material possessions. Every person we came in contact with was significantly happier with their lives than I have ever seen before and I believe there is something to be said for that. Material poverty and spiritual wealth may not look glamorous from the outside looking in, but a completely different story was told once we were able to see from these beautiful people's perspective, even if only for a small fraction of time.

Charlie Reymann


Today was our second day in Ethiopia and it was full of eye-opening experiences. We started off with breakfast and then traveled to an area considered one of the poorest places in Ethiopia. The city began when all the people with leprosy were sent away and as time went on more and more outcasts were sent here. It surrounds a trash dump, and sometimes the people will search in the dump for food or supplies for their houses. We knew going into this day that this will be something we will never forget.

It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like this. As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted.

Once we arrived, we teamed up with a community center to provide some of the people in the community with a month's worth of supplies. The community center we worked with sponsors women and men from the city. The people that we helped today were men and women in line for the next sponsor. Some of the supplies we gave to them were macaroni, coffee beans, sugar and soap. We split up into little teams to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Since we are all athletes we all know how to work in a team, so we got to work.

Once we were done we all got the privilege to hand these men and women their supplies, which was a wonderful sight. Seeing their faces as we gave them the supplies was remarkable. They all said "God bless you" in English when we gave them their bag. After we gave them their supplies, some of us followed them to their houses to help carry them. These women came a long way to get their supplies, if I had to guess the farthest was two miles. And the lady who traveled the two miles was in a wheel chair!

As we walked with these women, questions came into my head. How does a place get like this? How does any human live in this city? Is there any solution to this problem? We may never know the answers to those questions but seeing the children filled us all with joy. Children came from everywhere to walk with us like we were rock stars. Each of us had at least three children holding our hands. Their smiles and joy were contagious to all of us. A place where it is hard to find anything to be happy about, these children could not stop smiling.

As I walked with these kids, I realized they were just happy to be alive. Video games and computers did not matter to them unlike kids in America. Materialistic goods are what most Americans really care about: their phones, their cars and their jewelry. These people have nothing and they all act like they have everything they need and more. It made us realize that we do not need all the "things" we own to be happy. They just enjoyed being with their friends and walking around with Americans for the day. And making new friends! We were their idols. They were thankful for a new friend, and that someone will be thinking about them. We get so caught up in our little world that we are not thankful for small things in life because we take them for granted.

We all went back to the community center to regroup and get ready for lunch. We went to a restaurant and almost everybody ordered a pizza. My pizza was delicious! We travel with three Ethiopian kids our age to help us learn the culture, translate, and most of all become our friends. Their names are Wario, Girma, and Khalib. They all made us try this green hot sauce that was like fire in your mouth. According to them everyone is used to hot spices in Ethiopia so when Americans come, they are not used to how hot the food is. Besides the green sauce that we tried everything was great and we headed back to explore the city a little more.

After lunch, we walked right up to the dump. We went inside a small village that was right next to it and the craziest thing happened. The little kids who were with us all morning found us and walked with us again!

I could not understand how some of these families can live this close to the dump and be so happy with their lives. No one would ever live as close to a trash dump as these homes were in the United States. We all went into the village and Mark called us around this small boy. He then told us that the kid he was holding up had a tumor above his eye not too long ago. One of the families who sponsored his family paid for this child to have his tumor removed. The kid could not have been more than four years old. This story touched all of our hearts. God used the sponsor to save that little boy's life. A remarkable story that we will never forget.

In Ethiopia everything is about relationships, and I experienced that right when I got off the bus. A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball. Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was.

All the kids were so happy! They were happy because they know that they mean something to someone who lives outside their village. That means so much to them. Honuk and some of the other kids wanted us to remember their names so bad that they wrote them on our arms. He borrowed a pen from a street vendor and pressed as hard as he could to spell out his name. The moment that will never leave my mind is when we were all getting on the bus to leave my new friend Honuk ran up to the bus and waved for me to open the window. With a smiling face and love in his eyes he said, "Charlie, I will miss you. I will pray for you." Those were the types of moments we all experienced today and I think we all agreed that we will never forget this day.

Walking through the city we saw more little kids laughing, playing, and loving each other than anywhere in the U.S. We saw mothers more proud of their homes than most mothers in America. They might not have as much money or opportunity but they have more joy and spirit. This day was an incredible day that we will always cherish in our hearts.  

Video: Coach Cal's pre-Bahamas press conference

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Before head coach Mark Stoops even stepped up to the podium to recap Wednesday's practice, one could conclude the early-morning session wasn't up to the second-year head coach's standards.

"Average practice today. Not good enough. Just didn't feel like we had the mentality that we needed. I don't know. Too early in camp for guys to be feeling sorry about themselves getting up early," Stoops said.

The Wildcats practiced for the third - and final - time this fall in the early-morning sunlight due to an overlap between fall camp and summer classes. Stoops, however, wasn't willing to point to that as an excuse.

"You know I'm not giving them any place to hide," Stoops said. "Not good enough. Just not tough enough, not enough energy, weren't clean enough in our execution on either side of the ball. So, just wasn't good enough."

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot echoed Stoops' words, adding with the team putting on shoulder pads for the first time he was expecting an energetic session.

"First day of pads and we didn't play physical, that is disappointing," Eliot said. "I was (surprised) because they haven't put pads on in a long time. So I thought they would be excited and flying around and that we would have to slow them down not speed them up."

But out of the haze of a disappointing practice, Stoops and Eliot hope leaders emerge. Both coaches said they will lean on the team's leaders to get the team to regroup for meetings and walk-throughs Wednesday afternoon and Thursday with no full practice scheduled for Thursday.

"Leaders have to do what is right, not what is popular," Eliot said. "We need guys to stand up and point out what guys are doing wrong and not care what other people think, those will be your leaders."

When asked if Stoops and Eliot feel they have those type of leaders on the team this season, both said yes without hesitation. 

"They know it wasn't good enough," Stoops said. "I told them it wasn't good enough. We'll correct them in meetings. We'll get out here and have walk-throughs. We'll push them and we'll do what we need to do, but we absolutely need leadership in our program to take charge."

On the injury front, Stoops announced after practice that true freshman safety Darius West will miss the rest of the season due to injury. West, from Central Catholic High School in Lima, Ohio, was a four-star recruit by nearly every recruiting database.

"He got hurt yesterday," Stoops said. "So, it's a real shame. He's a good player. He's everything we thought he was going to be. He's a really talented football player. He came in with an injury and we thought it was healed up. But it didn't work out, so he'll be out for the year."

Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball: 24 Days

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Today, we want to hear from you, the fans. What do you love about matchday at Memorial Coliseum? Big Blue Nation, you can share your thoughts in the comments section of this post, on Twitter at @KentuckyVB or comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/KentuckyVolleyball.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.



After UK's first practice of fall camp on Monday, Mark Stoops pointed out there were some areas to "clean up" on offense on an otherwise encouraging day.

In another early-morning practice on Tuesday, the Wildcats took a step in the right direction.

Settling in on the second day of fall camp, UK executed much more cleanly, particularly in the passing game, while sustaining the energy displayed the day before.

"I thought we were nervous day one, especially the new guys, the freshmen, and it showed," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We dropped some passes. But we caught the ball really well today. I don't anticipate that being an issue at all, like it was at times last year. During team period, we may have had one drop. I don't anticipate that being a problem going forward."

Five members of UK's highly touted incoming class are wide receivers, giving UK much-needed depth at a position that severely lacked it a season ago. So far, Brown has been encouraged by the group.

"Really, really excited about some of the young freshmen wideouts," Brown said. "They're catching on quicker. The new rules in the summer obviously helped us."

Asked for detail on which of the five impressed him, Brown named Dorian Baker and Blake Bone, "the two big kids."

"We need those guys," Brown said. "We need length. I talked about it in detail last year: we need some guys with some size. I've been impressed with those guys. Dorian probably had a better day one than day two, but excited about both those."

Big receivers like Baker and Bone, 6-foot-3 and 6-5, respectively, can be safety blankets for a quarterback. Considering UK will play with a first-time full-time starter at quarterback whether Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker or Maxwell Smith wins the job, that's a plus.

Speaking of those signal callers, there's still no word of any separation in the battle between them. Brown, however, did give some insight into how he's applying the added pressure on the quarterbacks he said he would.

"The defenses kind of installs how they're going to install, so we're seeing the pressure packages at kind of a normal rate, but really I'm keeping track of every throw they make," Brown said. "I'm talking about it, talking about situational football a lot, probably coaching them harder and being more intense with them early in camp than I normally am."

Those quarterbacks are working in a slightly simplified system this fall, with most calls featuring one word and one syllable. That, along with a full year of experience in Brown's offense and a summer of film study, is helping ramp up the pace in practice.

"When you're trying to play fast -- and we weren't capable of playing as fast as we would like last year, because guys were thinking," Brown said. "They'd have to think about alignments and assignments. Now it's more natural. They're used to getting signals. They're used to getting lined up fast, used to operating fast."

Even playing at that pace, Brown has liked what he's seen from the offensive linemen who redshirted a season ago as well as freshman running backs Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams. But on Wednesday, they'll be subjected to another kind of test. That's when the pads go on.

"So overall, two productive days, but we are playing flag football," Brown said. "Tomorrow the truth will be shown."

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Today, Jared Philips writes about the group's arrival in Ethiopia.


By Jared Phillips

Today's the day. We are traveling to Ethiopia! Our team got up early and headed to the airport where waiting in lines, flight delays and confiscation of necessary items at security awaited us. However, we were all incredibly excited for this trip, so these events were merely slight bumps in the road.

We boarded our nearly 13-hour flight to Addis Ababa shortly after noon in Washington, D.C., and finally touched down on a cloudy, cool morning at Bole International Airport at roughly 9:30 a.m. local time.  Our team's exhaustion quickly turned into exhilaration after landing in what was a novel experience for all of us but Jason (Schlafer, the senior associate athletic director accompanying student-athletes): Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Surprisingly quickly, we made it through customs, picked up our baggage, and walked out of the terminal. I got a taste of how kind the Ethiopian people are when a lady stopped me as our team was leaving the terminal and personally welcomed me to Addis Ababa; it was rather touching to see someone as welcoming as she was. As soon as we were outside, we were in awe what was before us: a mixture of nature and urban life stretching for miles and miles. The weather was nice and cool compared to Lexington, and the mass of cars in the airport parking lot awaited us. We met up with Mark, who would be leading us around to the various places on the trip, and Nikki, our photographer for the week and departed for our guesthouse.

Immediately, our group got to witness the poverty and crowdedness that characterize the cities of third-world countries. People were everywhere: walking in the streets, begging and trying to sell numerous goods, and crammed into blue and white vans that served as taxis for the city. Upscale buildings stood next to tiny tin shacks, and rudimentary slabs of concrete under construction littered the landscape before us. The traffic was organized chaos, as cars, trucks, and vans would come and go with not a stop sign or traffic light in sight. We arrived at the Addis Guesthouse, across from a field where tents of cloth, towels, and mud sprung up from the ground. We met two of the local guys that would be assisting us this week, Girma and Wario, who dropped our luggage off in our rooms, and we soon departed for our first visit.

As our driver navigated through the Addis traffic, Mark explained to us that the neighborhood we would visit is mainly occupied by widows and their children, and that we would be giving them bags of coffee and sugar and mattresses, complete with sheets and a blanket. We arrived outside a community center and made our way in through a metal gate with barbed wire, a common scene in Addis. What happened next absolutely floored me.  As soon as the widows and children saw us, they welcomed us with such warmth and love, peppering us with hugs and kisses. The joy evident on their faces was contagious. After a few hugs, I could not help but beam with joy simply being in their presence.

We hastily made our way into the community center where everyone sat in a circle and each member of our team was introduced to much applause. The women sang worship songs with clapping and rejoicing, and even though none of our group could understand what was being sung, it was a pretty neat experience. Several women then proceeded to share their testimony of how their sponsorship through the program that Mark is in charge of has completely changed their lives by giving them food to eat and providing for their children's healthcare and education. In everything these women thanked God for what they had, and it struck a chord with me: I complain about my phone being slow sometimes, yet these women are so thankful for the very little they have. Such incredible conviction.

Afterward, we handed out bags of coffee and sugar to these women, who thanked us profusely for them. We also managed to give out mattresses and sheets to the women who needed replacements.  We then got to spend time with one another, meeting each other and playing with the kids. One woman, Tonga, pulled me aside and continued to thank the group and me for coming to visit them and eagerly introduced me to her daughter. She kept telling me how we were such a blessing to them and how grateful she was for the things we handed out. Although it felt good to provide for these people's physical needs, I was humbled by her gratitude and thankful to her for how loving and gracious the hearts of the widows are. I got the joy of hanging out with some of these kids and seeing their faces light up when Montana handed out some chocolate.  

Two of these children I will remember forever: Biniyam, a 13-year-old boy, and Doriba, his 10-year-old sister. We bonded immediately and Haley and I got to carry their mattress back to their house. It was fantastic seeing these children who had nearly nothing, yet were so joyful and free of burdens. Walking through the neighborhood, we saw some houses that were pretty decent for their standards, but as we got closer we saw things for what they were. In the garages and backyards of these people, we saw widows and children in makeshift homes. Once we reached Biniyam's home, he invited us inside and showed us around. The house was no bigger than my bedroom at the guesthouse, yet they kept saying how big it was and were so proud of their belongings. These people are so thankful for the very little they have, and I was yet again floored at their attitude; we may have comfort in America, but the joy that these people have is a treasure very much worth looking for and guarding with your life.

We returned to the community center from Biniyam's house for a lunch of fried egg sandwiches and sodas, then left to go deliver laptops to some of Mark's friends and pick up supplies for his children. The area we were in, as Wario noted, is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Addis, yet it was not exactly middle-class America. Even something as subtle as being in a nice area of Addis rocked me. It was continued evidence that comfort and possessions do not equal joy, and possibly the absence of comfort and possessions (or the absence of finding your value in these things) contributes to the joy that people have.

Once we dropped off the laptops, we left to go exchange our American dollars for Ethiopian birr and we stopped by the "Starbucks of Ethiopia:" Kaldi's Coffee. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my coffee and I'm a big fan of the local coffee shops we have in Lexington, but nothing has come close to what I had today. The coffee is so rich that it doesn't need any creamer, sugar or anything fancy. These Ethiopians know their coffee! After the coffee shop, we returned to the guesthouse to eat dinner and retire for the night, exhausted after a long yet rewarding day in Addis Ababa.


Video from day one of fall camp

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Stoops gets it started


Quarterbacks get in work


UK to sport new look for Bahamas trip

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A week from now, the Kentucky men's basketball team will be in the Bahamas for a series of exhibition games. On Monday, UK's equipment staff tweeted a photo of the special uniforms UK will wear for the six games.


New arrival Flannigan learning on the fly

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Ryan Flannigan. (Photo via Blinn College) Ryan Flannigan. (Photo via Blinn College)
Even compared to his fellow newcomers in UK's record-setting 2014 recruiting class, junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan is facing lofty expectations.

Playing linebacker -- one of the thinnest positions on the roster -- Flannigan is projected by many as an immediate contributor.

Flannigan isn't shying away from his potential importance -- he came to Kentucky in part because of the prospect of early playing time -- but he also knows he has a long way to go.

"I figured I was pretty important," Flannigan said on the first day of fall camp, "but I'm not important if I don't know what I'm doing."

On that front, Flannigan is playing catchup.

Twenty-six of his 27 fellow newcomers were on campus over the summer, but Flannigan only arrived this past weekend. He missed out on the time his teammates spent in the film room and Mark Stoops confirmed Flannigan is behind.

"I'm just trying to learn each positon at the linebacker position, take it day by day," the former Blinn College standout said. "I felt like today I did pretty good learning the new stuff. So, first day, it was great, I'd say."

Had it not been for all the work Flannigan logged this summer, he might have been singing a different tune. Flannigan, aware of what he was missing in UK's High Performance strength and conditioning program, put himself through a rigorous running routine.

"I didn't want to be out of breath and not conditioned well and stuff like that," Flannigan said. "I just really wanted to stay in shape because I knew there's a lot of running in the SEC and I knew I had to get my running right. So I just ran a lot. A lot a lot. And I lifted weights too."

When he wasn't training at his high school in Missouri City, Texas, you likely would have found Flannigan either eating or studying film defensive coordinator and linebackers coach D.J. Eliot sent him. Based on that independent film study, Eliot would then ask Flannigan questions over the phone.

"He quizzed me," Flannigan said. "I passed a couple of tests. But yeah, he quizzed me. Coach Eliot's been great. I'm happy to have him as a coach. He stuck with me all through the summer. He didn't just leave me out to dry. He made sure I knew everything I needed to know and he just said I need to execute my job."

On day one, Flannigan lined up at weakside linebacker. Early returns were positive.

"Did a good job," Eliot said. "He's very athletic, caught on quick. It's what he needed to do, so I was impressed with him on the first day."

Still, Flannigan has lots of work ahead. To get it done, he plans to call on the help of anyone who will answer.

"I'm asking linebackers, defensive line," Flannigan said. "I mean, (anything) I'm confused with I'm asking everybody I can, everybody I can get my hands on I'm asking questions because I know that's the only way to get better. They know the defense and I don't and I have to stick with somebody that knows it."

Though he'll use every resource available to him, Flannigan knows Eliot is his best bet.

"It's not going to be easy, but we will get it done," Flannigan said. "I will stay in Coach's pocket, I'll stay in his hip and we're going to get it done."

Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball: 25 Days

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Twenty-five days remain until the Kentucky volleyball season kicks off with the four-team Bluegrass Battle on August 25 at Memorial Coliseum. Today, we recognize the SEC champion 1983 Wildcats, who won a school-record 25 home matches. The team went 44-7 and claimed the program's third league title in five seasons and what would be the third of five in a nine-season span. In the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky downed North Carolina at home before beating Texas in Austin, Texas in the regional. In the regional final, UK lost to perennial power Hawaii and placed fifth nationally.

UK played 51 matches in 1983, won 44 of them, and went 25-6 at home. Given the fact UK hasn't played 40 matches in a season since, much less 50, it's a feat that may never be topped. Last season, Kentucky played 31 matches, 16 at home, while this year the Wildcats will also play 31 matches and 18 in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum.

Follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball here, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


In late July, nine student-athletes - Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) - participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

To start off, Bria Goss writes about the group's first day of travel and time in Washington, D.C.


By Bria Goss

This is the day we have all been waiting for. As excitement rises, so does nervousness. There are so many questions running through my mind as I make my final preparations for the trip. I am unsure what to expect when I get to Ethiopia, even though I have a pretty clear image.

The plan was to meet in the K Fund office to get lots of snacks from Coach Rock (Oliver) and double-check our bags to make sure we had everything. Today is Haley Mills' birthday so Katrina very generously gave her homemade brownies. Katrina and Haley had only met once or twice before that and Katrina already showed an act of kindness by giving her brownies. From that point on, I knew I had to make friends with Katrina to get some sweets on my birthday!!!

As 10:30 a.m. rolled around, it was time to load the bus and head to Cincinnati where we will depart for Washington, D.C.  I slept the whole ride to catch up on some much-needed rest. We arrived at the airport and check our bags. Everyone was so nice helping us along and pointing us to our next destination. We had a wonderful lunch in the airport and continued on our way. As we boarded the plane was when I first realized I was traveling to Ethiopia.


The plane ride was smooth and I slept the whole hour and a half. When we got to the Washington, D.C. Airport, we quickly grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel. After we dropped everything off in the rooms, we met in the lobby for our tour. Our tour guide, Zuma, was awesome. Not only did he make the tour interesting, he taught me a lot about D.C. Zuma took us everywhere: the Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Capitol, the White House and much more. He made the tour special and enjoyable.

After the tour was done, we went to dinner. This is where I really got the chance to talk with the other student-athletes. As the day went on, we became closer. After a great meal, we surprised Haley by telling the waiter it was her birthday. The staff of the restaurant came out singing happy birthday with a lot of energy. Haley was shocked! The look on her face was priceless.

After a night of many laughs, we loaded back up in our bus and headed for the hotel. We had a long day the next day so we wanted to get some rest. I am so excited to see what this trip has to offer. I am still so thankful for this amazing opportunity.



UK gets head start on first day of fall camp

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Alarms sounded early for the Kentucky football team - 5 a.m. ET in Bud Dupree's case - as UK opened fall camp with a 6 a.m. practice

While most other teams were still sleeping, the Wildcats were working without pads on the fields at the Nutter Training Facility.

"It was good to get out here," Mark Stoop said. "Good first day. I really liked the energy for an early morning practice. I thought we did a good job defensively, great communication, good competitive plays. Need to continue to clean up offensively like you'd suspect, a little rusty, but overall good first day."

A later end to summer classes is the reason behind the morning practices Monday through Thursday, but the Cats didn't let the early wakeup call affect them. In fact, they hardly remembered practice started well before sunrise by the time it ended.

"We did pretty good for it being so early," Bud Dupree said. "The hardest part was waking up and once we got up it felt like a real day. It feels late right now to me. ... Every guy was excited to be here and that's always great."

Not only were they excited, they were also prepared. With more than a year and a half of instruction from Stoops and his staff under their belts, the Cats have come a long way since last fall in terms of knowing schemes and assignments.

"It's way easier," Dupree said. "I know what they expect. I know what to do. I know the playbook inside and out. So my biggest key is staying healthy on the field and just better at the small things each day. I'm just trying to progress each day and be great for my team."

Two springs and a full season of practices obviously make a difference, but Stoops says the work his team did this summer can't be forgotten either.

"I think obviously year two helps a great amount just because (players) are just familiar with how we practice, and then also the work that we did through the summer, that the players did, and the film study that we did with them," Stoops said. "You could tell that we're further along."

The same is true from a physical perspective. Add the highest-rated recruiting class in school history to a group that has transformed in UK's High Performance program and you have a team beginning to resemble what Stoops envisioned when he took over.

"You know with the addition of the freshmen even -- you know how it is in the spring, you're always a little bit thin in the spring -- so seeing the whole crew here and the depth that we have, we're getting there," Stoops said. "Obviously, it's tough as you know, to count on too many young guys, but definitely they'll be here to give us some depth and help out."

Stoops mentioned defensive tackle Matt Elam as a potential early contributor. Dupree can see why.

"Just by looking at him, he will be a great bulldozer," Dupree said. "Anytime he's in, I think people will have to account for him. He's just gotta keep progressing each day and he'll be pretty good."

Elam was one of 26 newcomers on campus over the summer, using the time to work his way into shape. Junior college linebacker Ryan Flannigan - who arrived over the weekend - didn't have that luxury, but he wasted no time jumping in with his new teammates.

"Fun," Flannigan said, describing his first practice at UK. "I was happy to be back playing football, honestly. It was a great day for me, great day for the team, great practice. We got better today. Even though it was my first day, I feel like we got better today because we ran fast, we went to the ball. Everybody was running. The sideline was hyped when the first(-team) defense was out there."

UK's linebacking corps is thin, meaning Flannigan will be a boost if he's ready to play immediately, but it's still too early for Stoops to say which newcomers will play.

"Certainly after day one it's too hard to make that decision," Stoops said. "They're a good-looking group. They are, for the most part, very mature and handled themselves the right way. They've been doing a good job this summer. We'll see where it goes. It's hard to tell. I think there's certain positions where we need to use them."

Stoops on quarterbacks


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot



Video: Change The Game

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The UK football team watched this video when the Wildcats reported for fall camp on Sunday. It features a voice-over by actor and UK fan Josh Hopkins and music from Lexington's own Sundy Best.

Mark Stoops speaks at UK's annual Kickoff Luncheon. (Brent Ingram, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops speaks at UK's annual Kickoff Luncheon. (Brent Ingram, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops knew this offseason was an important one.

Through his debut season at Kentucky, he coached a group that was almost always competitive, but clearly had a long road ahead to become the team he was brought to Lexington to build.

"That first year, there's so much to change in the culture, creating that culture that you want," Stoops said at Friday's annual Kickoff Luncheon. "You learn from that first year and you go back in the offseason and say, 'Where do we need to improve?' There's a lot of areas we needed to improve. We know that."

Stoops had little trouble identifying a priority.

"We started with leadership and we started with accountability," Stoops said. "That's where we've made drastic improvements. This team has a better attitude. They have a tougher mentality. It starts there and then it goes into physical."

Perhaps no two players better exemplify that leadership development than Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. Standout performers on the field a year ago, the two defensive ends have become much more as they prepare for their senior year.

"Bud and Za'Darius are not only great players but they're great leaders," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "They're veteran players now. Both of them, first year in the system, were learning what to do and developing themselves, and now they've taken that role on where they can develop others."

Dupree and Smith have always been blessed with exceptional physical gifts, but their growth both on and off the field is exactly what Stoops means by the words that have become one of his signature phrases.

"You hear me talk about it all the time: Recruit, recruit, recruit - and develop," Stoops said. "We can't just bring talented players into our program and stop there. We have to develop them in all areas of their life."

Over the eight months since UK's last game, Stoops has only been on the field with his team for 15 spring practices. Nonetheless, the way the Wildcats have "taken care of business off the field" - including in posting one of their best academic semesters in recent years - tells him all he needs to know.

"We're excited to get going," Stoops said. "Players report Sunday, first practice on Monday and just excited to get this season rolling."

With the start of fall camp finally at hand, Stoops will be asking one simple thing of his players.

"The big thing is: submit," Stoops said. "Submit to the process. Come in, leave everything behind. ... The bottom line is when we report, it's about submitting to what's going on. We have a saying in our program, we talk about 'All In' and that can encompass a lot of things, but just turn everything off, all the distractions, let's get in here, let's lock ourselves in this building and let's get some work done."

There will be plenty more to come next week with the first practices of the fall and media day on Friday, but here are a few other stray notes from Friday's Kickoff Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency.

  • It seems UK's incoming recruiting class was the highest rated in school history for a reason. It's too early to tell how much the newcomers will play this season, but Stoops has been impressed so far. "They've done extremely well this summer both in the classroom and on the field," Stoops said. "Let me tell you this: They look the part. We're going to make those strength and conditioning coaches look a lot better."
  • On the subject of those newcomers, Stoops reported that 26 of the 28 signees were on campus all summer. The 27th will arrive Saturday and Stoops said "we're working on the 28th."
  • Offensive coordinator Neal Brown's priority early in camp will be to figure out which players will play. Of course the quarterback battle will receive the most attention, but he mentioned identifying a third tackle behind Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle and sorting out the running back rotation as other areas of interest.
  • Speaking of the quarterbacks, there was no news on the battle. Brown, however, did spell out what he's looking for at the position. "As far as the actual game, we're looking for a guy that's going to make good decisions, quickly, that takes care of the football and is accurate. And what I mean by accuracy is throwing the football where our guys can make plays after the catch."
  • For those quarterbacks to improve as Brown and Stoops expect them to, they'll need help from their wide receivers. UK's inexperience at the position was plain to see a season ago, especially early, but the group now has a year under its belt. Stoops mentioned Ryan Timmons and Javess Blue as UK's top playmakers outside of running backs Jojo Kemp, Braylon Heard and Josh Clemons and they are expected to lead UK's receiving corps. Depth, however, is essential in Brown's system. Jeff Badet was hampered in the spring by an ankle injury and Alex Montgomery will miss the start of fall camp due to a setback in his rehab from a torn ACL, but UK should be ready to go at wideout. 
  • Friday's Kickoff Luncheon closed with an advanced screening of a "Change the Game" video featuring Josh Hopkins and Sundy Best that players will see when they report on Sunday. It will be posted soon after on the Kentucky Wildcats TV YouTube page.

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