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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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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.


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  • Berdj J. Rassam: 2013 was a tough year for UK football, 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, so 2014 can't be much read more
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