It had been nearly two months since the end of the 2012-13 season, so there wasn't a lot to talk about on that front. Kentucky's underclassmen made their NBA Draft decisions well over a month ago, so those stories were a bit stale. As for Coach Cal's latest top-rated recruiting class, they all signed nearly four weeks ago and won't arrive on campus for another two or three.
Nonetheless, dozens of reporters packed the Memorial Coliseum media room to hear what Coach Cal had to say on a mid-May morning in a scene that would likely only happen in the Bluegrass.
"I don't even know what this is," said an amazed and unsurprised Calipari.
In effect, it was a mini-media day. Calipari was previewing a season of sorts similar to what he'll do during the real thing in about five months, but there weren't any games or even Big Blue Madness to discuss just yet. Instead, the summer - during which the Wildcats will lay the foundation for the team they'll become - was a primary topic of conversation.
The first step will be for Calipari to determine exactly how he will handle the Cats when they return to/arrive in Lexington in June. With that in mind, Coach Cal is taking the entire basketball staff on a retreat beginning next Monday.
"We're going to have a two-day retreat and what we're primarily going to be doing is (figuring out), 'What do each of these kids need from us?' " Calipari said. "Because every one of these kids we're bringing in need to be coached and they need something from us."
Molding his coaching strategy to each of his players will be a particular challenge this season, if only due to simple arithmetic. With eight newcomers and five returnees on scholarship, Calipari will have the deepest team of his UK tenure. That means the message of unselfishness he delivers every year will be even more important.
"More than any team I've had, shared sacrifice is going to matter in this group," Calipari said. "And they knew that coming here. I told every one of them, 'If you want to shoot 30 balls a game, you don't come here. If you want to be the only guy that's playing - the one guy that everybody's talking about - you wouldn't come here.' "
As well as every Cat might understand that in theory, putting into practice is another matter entirely.
"To bring that many together, really going to be a challenge," Calipari said. "The galvanizing part of this will start this summer."
That's why Coach Cal is so committed to pursuing every means to that end, even if he has to do things differently than he's used to.
"We have some other things that we're going to do as a team that I have not done in the past that I think will help this team come together," Calipari said. "Some of it is we will watch some movies together of some teams coming together, of what they had to do to sacrifice for each other."
Movies aside, he didn't reveal many details about his plans just yet, but you can rest assured they are informed in part by this past year. Calipari made sure to point out there were elements of UK's NIT season he is proud of, including one thing he believes could pay dividends in 2013-14.
"It's not just 'Did they get better?' It's 'Did they learn about themselves?' " Calipari said. "Because sometimes you learn about yourself in a season - Are you ready? Marquis Teague - and you change it in the season. Sometimes you can't. You're just too young.
"They learn about themselves in a season, know that this isn't going to work, they change and they get better. So part of last season was the beginnings of success for the coming year."
Calipari also did his share of learning during a trying year. He's not about to abandon his players-first philosophy, but Coach Cal has also come to understand shielding players too much can do harm.
"What you learn is you can't protect the players," Calipari said. "You can't protect them from competition. You bring in your group, and the guys that understand competition, that brings out the best. They strive and they get better."
He didn't say the exact phrase as he so often does, but it's clear Coach Cal "likes his team" once more. That begins with the personality he expects it to have.
He was asked on Wednesday about UK's signees saying at the McDonald's All-American Game - where six future Wildcats played - there would be fights at practices next season and Calipari said he likes that mentality, so long as those fights are forgotten outside the Joe Craft Center gym.
"It will drag us to where we're trying to go," Calipari said. "I'm going to tell you: Two years ago we did not have a bad practice. Not one. So that led us to building a swagger and a confidence level that we knew we could win every game we play, we just, let's be at our best and if we weren't and someone got us, fine, next game."
The first reason Calipari cited for his national title team's consistent practice habits was the presence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Now, Coach Cal believes he has at least a couple players - Julius Randle, to name one - who will bring similar effort and a willingness to demand it out of their teammates.
"When you don't have that alpha male at all, you have to do things to try to lead yourself as a coach, and your team can never have the type of success you want," Calipari said. "You try to figure out who that could be or who could step up. A lot of times they are who they are in that regard - those guys who will step up and hold and push the group and not be afraid. That's what you're looking for when you have a good team."
Because he sees that potential, Calipari isn't exactly running away and hiding from the 40-0 buzz surrounding his team. He won't be talking about an undefeated record directly to his team, but the fact that the notion and is out there doesn't scare him even though UK's first loss won't destroy all hope of a successful season.
"Pressure brings out the best," Calipari said. " 'You're going to be fired if you don't get this done. You're not going to make it if you don't get this.' It wakes you up earlier in the morning. I don't mind a little pressure. I've had it my whole career. I've had a gun to my head for 20-something years, and you know what? I'm at my best when the gun is to my head versus where I can kick back and I'm not as good. And you know what? Players are the same."
Those expectations, though lofty and perhaps unrealistic, are yet to be realized, and the transition from links-style golf in Europe to the American game has taken longer than expected.
While Stow hoped to hit the ground running after being able to train with his teammates in the fall season, he believed his game would translate in the U.S. with a little bit of tweaking. What he found was that he was perhaps a bit overzealous in his outlook.
"It has been a little difficult because you have to hit the ball so much higher over here and chipping on the different grass you have over here is very different," said Stow. "Certainly the first three or four tournaments I played I wasn't ready for the change."
Stow says that the physical conditions of the courses have been the hardest to get used to. The differences in grass have forced him to adjust his game and change his overall approach. In England, there are harder fairways that allow low, line-drive tee shots to roll. In the rough, "meadow" grass allows for easier chipping situations around the green.
Each of those factors has played a role in keeping Stow from being the player he's used to being.
The physical game of golf hasn't been the only hindrance to Stow's success, however.
After spending a great deal of his career with swing coach Gordon Brand, Jr., Stow separated himself from his greatest golf influence. Not only that, but Brand took time off and was completely off the grid for Stow as he experienced his struggles in America.
Stow had to take this challenge on by himself.
"I was one of the best players in Europe," said Stow. "But when I came over here, I kept finishing 20th and 15th and stuff, it kind of made me step back and think, 'What am I doing differently and what do I need to improve on?' I think that process took me longer than it would have if I was at home because of the fact that I didn't have instant correspondence with my coach.
"Overall, I think it's been a really good learning experience for me because every golfer goes through a period when they're struggling and it really shows your character on how you come out on the other side of it."
After experiencing so much success as an individual on the European circuit, Stow was in for a brand-new experience at Kentucky playing golf as a member of a team for the first time in his life.
Having always focused on himself, playing for others and not having the sole attention of the coaches has been as big of a challenge as any he's faced during his time in the States. Add to that the additional amount of pressure he felt to produce and be make the instant impact his coaches and teammates were hoping for, it's no wonder why things haven't gone as planned for the English native.
"I've never played team golf like they do in the States, so that was very different," said Stow. "The fact that the coach structures everything around the team rather than the individual and everything is set up for the team. Kind of at the end of the day, you look at how the team did and not how you did. It was different.
"I did feel a little pressure to help the team along because I played very well in qualifying when I first got here and I've got pretty good world rankings, so I expected to play well."
While there were outside expectations, Stow's confidence and internal expectations were just as high when, in reality, producing under such conditions wouldn't be easy.
"For the first couple of months I was here, I thought I was going to go out and shoot 65 every time I went out, when realistically no one does that in the world," said Stow. "I'm not going to say it's been easy because it's been tough. Who likes playing bad? But I'm glad I've been through it and I definitely feel like I'm out the other side of it now because even when I'm playing badly I'm making pretty good scores."
With an NCAA Regional ahead, Stow believes he's finally ready to be the contributor this team needs him to be. He's learned from his mistakes and still managed to earn several top-20 finishes along the way. He has altered his game and is starting to understand American-style golf more than at any point during his time in the country.
Though he and his teammates have not delivered on the hopes and expectations they set for themselves at the beginning on the spring, there is still one last opportunity to make their mark when they head to Fayetteville, Ark., for regional play beginning Thursday.
"We always thought that we'd get it going and start playing better, but we never really did," said Stow. "I think since postseason, some guys have shot really well. Some of the guys have put some really good rounds together. We've spent a lot of time together, which kind of brought the team to easing up a bit. I think the morale of the team is definitely up since the end of the regular season, but I think there's still room to work on that."
Some strong early results out of the gate tomorrow could go a long way in helping the Wildcats reach their goal of Nationals with a strong finish at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville. With morale trending upward and Stow finally feeling ready to be the player he knows he can be, the NCAA Regional serves as the last chance for Stow and Co. to realize their preseason expectations when they tee off Thursday at 9 a.m. ET.
"I would just say to them, 'Guys, we need to do the easy stuff well. We need to do the simple stuff well,' " said Stow. "We have got the ability to play great golf on this UK golf team. We've got the ability, we just need to go out there and believe in ourselves and do the simple things well. At the end of the week, add them up, and I'm sure we'll be at the top of the leader board."
After leading throughout in its home finale, UK surrendered two runs in the top of the inning as No. 15 Indiana took a 3-2 lead. But before the Cats could even ask themselves the question of whether they would respond, Micheal Thomas led off the home half by putting a charge into an 0-1 pitch.
"Micheal came up and ran that ball out of the yard and got everybody excited," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Now you're tied, you've got the right part of the lineup coming up."
Thomas drove Luke Harrison's pitch over the wall in left field, changing the dynamic all over again. Matt Reida singled next and Zach Storm bunted him to second. Leadoff man Kyle Barrett followed with a walk before Zac Zellers flew out, setting up A.J. Reed - who had already homered on the evening - for a two-out at-bat with a pair of runners on.
Reed delivered a single and the go-ahead run. An inning later, Reida added an insurance run with a single that scored Austin Cousino, giving the Cats a 5-3 lead that would be more than enough for their star closer. Trevor Gott struck out two of the three batters he faced en route to his 12th save and UK (29-22) picked up an important win with just three regular-season games remaining.
"This was definitely a huge game for us for our regional purposes," Reed said. "Them being 15th in the country, that win on paper looks really good for us. So I think this really increases our chances of getting into a regional and we gotta go take care of business in Missouri."
Reed opined that UK needs two wins in Columbia, Mo., to ensure its place in the NCAA Tournament while some experts say a sweep is needed, but the Cats aren't spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about all that.
"Our coaches try not to talk about it a lot because they want us to just go out there and relax," Reed said. "But we know what we need to do so we just do our best to go out here and take care of business."
A victory over a team leading the Big Ten is certainly a plus for a team looking to solidify its tourney resume, but the confidence built through earning it could be even more important.
Indiana came in ranked seventh nationally in earned-run average, but the Cats pounded out 10 hits and those two home runs. The performance comes on the heels of a weekend during which UK didn't pick up a win, but did pound out a pair of double-digit hit games.
"We started off really well at the beginning of the year and then when conference started we kind started dropping off a little bit and then we faced the two best pitching staffs in the country two weeks in a row with Arkansas and Vandy," Reed said. "We outhit the expectations of those two pitching staffs. So we're putting really good at-bats together, I think our hitters are starting to get confidence and it should be a really good weekend for us in Missouri."
The confidence is translating into a better approach at the plate.
"It's aggressive," Henderson said. "You guys see it. The body language is different. The presence is different."
That goes for the pitcher who started for UK on Tuesday as well.
For the second Tuesday in a row, Jerad Grundy excelled as UK's midweek starter. The win escaped him, but he allowed just one run over six innings and Henderson said the senior lefthander was in "complete control" outside of a Dustin DeMuth home run.
"It was huge for my confidence tonight to come out and have success again the second week in a row," Grundy said.
In all likelihood, Grundy will be an observer only this weekend in anticipation of next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament. But if his teammates can replicate the approach they all took on Tuesday, it will serve them well against Missouri.
"The only thing I told them is they need to go down there with the expectation that they need to take the wins," Henderson said. "You can't go down hoping. I don't know that we've done a lot of hoping this year. We certainly haven't played up to our expectations at times, but we need to go down with the right attitude."
This year, we are proud of our efforts. We are on pace for the best Directors' Cup finish in school history - we rank 20th after the conclusion of the winter sports season - and our student-athletes have excelled in the classroom and the community as well.
But at the annual CATSPY Awards in April, Mitch Barnhart challenged everyone involved with UK Athletics to do more. He challenged student-athletes, coaches and staff to become the nation's best overall athletic department.
It is with that in mind that the K Fund introduces the "Big Blue Initiative."
From May 1 through June 30, the program - which is entirely philanthropic - will offer the opportunity to impact the lives of our student-athletes and Invest In Blue once more. Each dollar will go into our annual fund, which ensures the success of the student-athletes, providing everything from scholarships to athletic equipment to books to meals. We will be sending more information about the Big Blue Initiative to current donors in the coming days and weeks.
To join, donors need only increase their annual giving by 15 percent. If you gave $100 in 2012-13, we are asking that you give an additional $15 before June 30. If you gave $1,000 in 2012-13, that means an additional $150.
Beyond helping UK push toward our athletics director's bold vision, participants will receive the added benefit of a tax deduction and five bonus K Fund points on top of the regular three points per $100 donation.
To become the country's top athletic department, it will take tireless effort and determination on the part of our coaches, but it won't be possible at all without your support. Please consider taking this important step with us.
If you have any questions about the Big Blue Initiative, feel free to contact the K Fund at 859-257-6300 or visit KFundonline.com.
With competition in NCAA-sanctioned winter sports in the books, UK Athletics is on pace for the best Directors' Cup finish in school history. UK ranks 20th in the latest standings, one of the key metrics used by Mitch Barnhart to evaluate the program's progress in competition.
With spring sports still in action on the field, a historic 2012-13 is already secure for UK Athletics in the classroom.
UK's competing scholarship student-athletes combined for a cumulative grade-point average of 3.14 this spring, the highest for a single semester during Barnhart's tenure. The record academic semester comes on the heels of a fall semester during which competing scholarship student-athletes combined for a 3.030 GPA.
"When I established the goal of a 3.0 overall GPA for our department, I knew I was setting the bar high," Barnhart said. "To reach it for an entire athletic year for the first time is an accomplishment our student-athletes should be very proud of. I commend and thank them for their hard work."
***See below for complete grade information for each sport***
Sixteen of UK's 20 teams had GPAs of 3.0 or better, led by women's tennis at 3.69. Four teams joined women's tennis in posting GPAs higher than 3.5: women's soccer (3.62), women's swimming and diving (3.60), women's cross country (3.59) and women's golf (3.53). Leading the way for the Wildcat men's teams was men's basketball at 3.39.
"I am continually impressed by the way our student-athletes, coaches and staff embrace academics as an important part of our mission," Barnhart said. "We are identified first by what we do in competition, but we are out to prove an athletic department can excel in all facets."
The collective achievement this spring has been matched by numerous individual accomplishments as well, as 47 scholarship student-athletes earned a 4.0 this spring semester. In addition, 39 percent of scholarship athletes had GPAs of 3.5 or better and 70 percent were at 3.0 or better. UK also led all Southeastern Conference schools with 57 student-athletes on the league's Winter Sports Academic Honor Roll.
Not included in that group because her sport is not played in the winter is Chelsea Oswald (women's cross country/track), but she was named the SEC's H. Boyd McWhorter Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year in April. Megan Moir (women's golf) also was named the Brad Davis SEC Female Community Service Leader of the Year, marking the first time since 1999 UK student-athletes have won both prestigious conference awards.
Note: All GPAs listed above are for competing scholarship student-athletes only. GPAs including non-scholarship athletes are listed in the chart below.
|Sport||Competing Scholarship||Competing Scholarship
|Men's Cross Country||2.79||2.85|
|Women's Cross Country||3.59||3.59|
|Men's Swimming and Diving||3.12||3.12|
|Women's Swimming and Diving||3.60||3.60|
- For the fifth consecutive season the University of Kentucky softball team has received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament with the selection committee naming Kentucky as the No. 12 national seed and one of 16 regional host locations for the first time in program history.
- This is the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history for Kentucky, who made its first showing in the tournament in 2009. The Wildcats hosted a NCAA Super Regional in 2011, dropping a best-of-three set to highly ranked Cal. All-time, UK is 8-8 in the NCAA Tournament. All tournament appearances have come under head coach Rachel Lawson. UK is one of 23 schools nationally to advance to five straight NCAA Tournaments.
- Kentucky has earned 38 wins this season - the
second most in school history - against some of the best teams in the nation, posting a 13-11 record in SEC action. Before falling in the first round of the SEC Tournament last week, Lawson and Co., had a historic weekend in Tuscaloosa, Ala., taking two of three games from top-10 ranked and defending national champion Alabama. The wins in Tuscaloosa were the first in school history for UK and its first-ever series win against the Tide.
- Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season, a program first. UK collected wins over Western Michigan (4-0) and No. 41 Virginia Tech (4-1) to book its spot in Champaign, Ill.
- Kentucky won the doubles point for the third straight match as the newly-formed tandem of Juan Pablo Murra and Anthony Rossi went 2-0 on the weekend with an 8-1 win on Friday and an 8-3 victory on Saturday afternoon.
- Kentucky will take on the Duke Blue Devils, ranked No. 9 in the country, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, May 16 at 8:00 p.m. ET. The match against the Blue Devils will be the Wildcats unprecedented 11th contest this season against teams that currently comprise the ITA top 10.
Track and field
- Both the UK men's and women's teams finished seventh overall with 46 points each at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
- The women's team earned its highest finish and point total since 2009 (sixth and 56th).
- The Wildcat men's team had its highest finish and point total since 2011 (seventh and 54th).
- Kentucky finished the 2013 SEC Championships with eight medals, two gold, three silver and three bronze.
- Chelsea Oswald became the first ever Wildcat to win at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the same SEC Championships.
- Andrew Evans, Raymond Dykstra and Matt Hillenbrand all earned silver medals in the discus, javelin and 1,500 meters respectively.
- The Kentucky baseball team completed a grueling stretch of 14 of 16 games against ranked foes with a three-game series sweep at the hands of No. 1 Vanderbilt. The Wildcats picked up a midweek win over Wright State, before falling in the three-game set at the hands of the record-breaking Dores.
- The Wildcats picked up a 4-1 midweek win over Wright State on Tuesday behind a strong start from senior Jerad Grundy, in his midweek debut, and a three-hit game from freshman Kyle Barrett.
- UK has been led at the plate by Barrett, who owns a .351 mark with four doubles, one triple, 14 RBI and four steals.
- On the mound, UK has used the weekend rotation of Reed (2-7, 3.81 ERA), freshman righthander Kyle Cody (3-3, 4.82 ERA) and Littrell (5-5, 3.92 ERA) for two consecutive weeks. Grundy (6-5, 5.02 ERA) has also made 12 starts with 71.2 innings and 58 strikeouts.
- The women's golf team wrapped up its season at the NCAA East Regional last week at the Auburn University Club, May 9-11. UK finished in 12th place in the 24-team regional, shooting 33-over-par for the tournament.
- With the top-eight teams from the regional advancing to the NCAA Championships, the Wildcats' 12th place finish concluded their season but was their highest finish at the regionals in head coach Golda Borst's three-year tenure. Cylia Damerau, Sarah Harris and Betsie Johnson all tied for 60th at 9-over-par.
- Kentucky broke the single-season record with a team stroke average of 301.1, shattering the previous school-record of 304.73 set last season.
- Senior Ashleigh Albrecht wrapped up her career as one of the most decorative women's golfers in UK history. Her season stroke average of 75.07 was the lowest all-time at Kentucky, surpassing Mallory Blackwelder's mark of 75.34 set during the 2007-08 campaign. She also tied her own record with eight par or better rounds in 2012-13 and finished her career with the most par or better rounds in school history with 26.
Tuesday, May 14
Baseball hosts Indiana - 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 16
Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Men's tennis vs. Duke - 8:00 p.m. (Champaign, Ill.)
Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Friday, May 17
Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Softball hosts Marshall - 7:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Men's tennis vs. UCLA/Vanderbilt (Champaign, Ill.)
Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Saturday, May 18
Softball hosts Notre Dame/Michigan - 1:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Baseball at Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Softball if necessary game - 3:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Softball if necessary game - 6:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Men's golf at NCAA Regionals (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Men's tennis at NCAA Tournament (Champaign, Ill.)
Sunday, May 19
Softball championship series - 1:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Softball if necessary game - 3:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Men's tennis at NCAA Tournament (Champaign, Ill.)
As each regional was being revealed, eyes throughout the restaurant were glued to the big-screen televisions. With anticipation rising, the Wildcats popped on the screen as the No. 12 overall seed and the host of the Lexington Regional.
The selection marks the first time UK has been awarded a host site in school history and is another example of how far the program has come under sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson.
"It's great to see in such a short time how Kentucky has improved in softball," Lawson said. "To be able to be one of the 16 teams to host a regional is really an honor."
The moment was extra special for senior Alice O'Brien, who has another chance to play at home in front of the Big Blue Nation.
"I don't think I have ever been more excited," O'Brien said. "This is awesome. We have worked really hard for this and we are really excited to play at home and in front of our fans."
The regional will begin on Friday at John Cropp Stadium with No. 2 seeded Notre Dame (43-13) taking on No. 3 seeded Virginia Tech (35-19) at 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, with the nightcap featuring the No. 1 seeded Wildcats (38-18) vs. No. 4 seeded Marshall (35-20) at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN3.com will televise all games played at the regional.
Marshall is a familiar foe for UK with the Wildcats having played the Thundering Herd back on April 9. The game was a tight one as the Cats used a walk-off hit from junior Ginny Carroll in comeback fashion in Lexington, 4-3. Notre Dame and Virginia Tech will be new opponents for UK to prepare for this season but offer strong competition for what is regarded as a tough overall regional.
"I think we have a good regional and I think the teams in it are excellent," Lawson said. "We played Marshall before and it was a good game and both Virginia Tech and Notre Dame have had good seasons. It's going to be a tough region and I think it's going to be a really exciting time in Lexington."
Kentucky played one of the most strenuous schedules in the entire country this year and a large part of that has to do with the conference in which the Wildcats compete. The SEC had an incredible 11 of its 13 teams selected into the NCAA Tournament last night, including seven as regional hosts.
The season has been a grind for the Cats and it will be a breath of fresh air to see a few new teams and face some different pitchers.
"Anytime you are out of SEC play its fun for a short amount of time because they know you so well and they have played you so many times," Lawson said. "With that said, I think all the teams I the region are outstanding so we are going to have to play as well against them as we would against any top-notch SEC team."
Last weekend UK hosted its first ever SEC Tournament. The event set an attendance record with more than 12,000 fans making their way to John Cropp Stadium over the weekend. The Wildcats are hoping for more of that same love from the Big Blue Nation this weekend. With the Cats losing to South Carolina in the first round of the conference tournament last Wednesday, they are glad they get to experience the true atmosphere of what they missed out on last week.
"I hope they come out like they did at the SEC Tournament," O'Brien said. "I'm sure they will and we are looking forward to playing in front of our fans. We didn't really get the chance to last weekend so we are really excited about it."