Cat Scratches

Recently in Features Category

Wildcats bring energy as South Carolina looms

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment

Mark Stoops said following an "OK" practice on Tuesday that UK would have to step it up in its preparations for South Carolina.

That's exactly what the Wildcats did on Wednesday.

"We had a good Wednesday practice," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys were flying around and communicating. It was what to be expected, so we're making progress and continuing to get better and looking forward to tomorrow's practice as well."

Practice time is precious as UK readies for a matchup with the Gamecocks. That's especially true for defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, who will match wits with legendary South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

"Coach Spurrier has had a lot of success and he has a lot of experience and he's an excellent coach and will get you," Eliot said. "So you've gotta be on your Ps and Qs and you gotta have your guys ready to play because he knows how to get you and he's an excellent football coach and we're going to have our (work) cut out for us this weekend."

Spurrier uses first-year starter Dylan Thompson at quarterback after Connor Shaw's graduation. Thompson is a different player than his predecessor, but has thrown for 1,359 yards and 12 touchdowns through five games.

"Shaw's more of a runner," Eliot said. "Shaw will tuck it down and get some yards on you. He had some loose plays. He was a scramble player. Thompson's a great pocket quarterback, has a strong arm, makes good throws, makes good decisions, but Shaw was more of a runner."

The change works out fine because running back Mike Davis gets it done on the ground for the Gamecocks.

"Mike Davis is an excellent player," Eliot said. "He's big. He's fast. He makes great reads. He can change directions. He'll run you over. He's one of the top backs in the SEC and we're going to have our (work) cut out for us this week."


Cauley-Stein in no rush to end college experience

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Willie Cauley-Stein jokes with fans on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein jokes with fans on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Physically, Willie Cauley-Stein was on the bench watching his teammates during their run to the national championship game. Mentally, emotionally, psychologically, he was nowhere in the building after injuring his left ankle against Louisville in the Sweet 16.

"The hardest thing was just staying with everybody, staying with my teammates, making sure that I'm still there, because honestly I didn't feel like I was there," Cauley-Stein said in preseason interview last month. "The best thing is like the stories after the game. Like, oh yeah, we did this and this. When you're not on the floor, you don't really experience that. You get to watch it. Everybody else watches it. But to be there and (not be able to play), that was the hardest part."

His teammates did everything they could to make him feel a part of the team. They included him in all the normal team activities and vowed to win a championship for him.

Cauley-Stein did everything he could to stay connected as well. He was at every practice, every team meeting and every meal as his teammates got closer and closer to the ultimate prize. He asked UK's sports video team to give him a camera so he could shoot footage from the sidelines. His footage from the bench with a Go Pro camera during the Michigan and Wisconsin games made for some of the most memorable moments of the run.

The sophomore forward even went as far as to make himself available for the extended media interviews during the postseason when he very well could have declined because of the injury. Cauley-Stein just wanted to feel like he was still a part of the team -- which he was.

But in so many ways, he felt like his bad break on the court had broken him away from the team.

"(My teammates) would come into the room or I would hobble into their room and mess around and stuff, but it was hard," Cauley-Stein said. "They were the most important games. It was hard to, like, feel - I would feel the same way if I was them. You got business to take care of; I wouldn't want to entertain me neither."

When his teammates fell one win short of a magical national championship, Cauley-Stein took the loss as hard as anyone. He felt like he could have made a difference in the outcome.

"We all forgot that we would've won (if he didn't get hurt)," John Calipari said. "The thing that we forgot (is), what would we have done with Willie playing? I mean, it would have been different. Even the endings of games wouldn't have been where they were. I mean, Willie was a dominant (force). Willie was a shot blocker, a guy that could change the game on both ends."

Willie Cauley-Stein. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
To be there and not be able to help, especially after what he went through in his first season at Kentucky when the Cats lost in the first round of the NIT, made the whole experience especially difficult.

"I think the circumstances were the reason why it was hard," Cauley-Stein said. "We were in the Final Four. ... That's what you play for. That's what you come to college for besides getting your degree. ... To have that taken away from you is really humbling."

After a long and frustrating summer that kept Cauley-Stein on the sidelines, he was finally cleared to resume full basketball activities in mid-September.

"It's been a long 20 weeks," Cauley-Stein said. "I hate waiting around. That's the worst part is just being patient about it. There's days where you feel like you can go out there and dunk and do windmills and stuff like that, and then there's days where like right after you feel like and you didn't even do anything and you step out of bed and be like, 'Why, what's different today than yesterday? I felt so good yesterday.' I'm really eager."

His eagerness was on display when Coach Cal watched him play a few weeks ago. Cauley-Stein, who has always shown signs of being a future lottery pick, reminded his head coach of his potential after missing the entire Bahamas trip.

"Willie's playing like he's a 3," Calipari said of the 7-footer. "Like, we throw it ahead, he's in the open court, crossing, throwing balls out, and I'm like, 'Holy jeez.' "

Undoubtedly, the injury in March played a part in Cauley-Stein's return for his junior season.

When Calipari called individual meetings with all of his players after the championship game to congratulate each of them on their year and discuss their future, the last thing he expected Cauley-Stein to tell him was that he was coming back.

"I want to tell you I'm proud of you," Calipari told Cauley-Stein in the meeting. "I remember going to your high school the first time. Remember what I saw you doing? 'You saw me playing kickball.' And the second time I saw you? 'I don't know.' You were playing tennis. So I didn't even know if you liked basketball. Now you're this."

As far as Coach Cal knew, it was time to get Cauley-Stein healed and ready for the NBA Draft. The next day Cauley-Stein came back and asked to meet with Calipari.

"I said sure," Calipari said. "He said, 'I want to come back.' I went, 'What? Why do you want to come back?' He told me and I said OK."

The reason was twofold.

For one, Cauley-Stein's injury and subsequent surgery was going to prevent him from working out for NBA teams before the draft. Cauley-Stein was unsure of how that would affect his draft stock.

"That's one reason why I came back is just the unknown," he said. "I feel like I'm way better than what I was going to get drafted."

Part of it was Cauley-Stein just isn't ready to grow up yet. He seems to genuinely enjoy being a kid and being in college.

"Especially now, being a junior, you're older, everybody knows who you are," Cauley-Stein said. "When I came in, nobody knew who I was, so it's cool like that. I love the fans around here. They're so fun. I enjoy messing around with them."

While some of his peers are quick to sign lucrative contracts and fast forward to the rest of their lives, Cauley-Stein would prefer to put time on hold to sit back and enjoy what he's got. Perhaps what was taken away from him during the tournament run gave him a different perspective on what it is he has.

"I just enjoy it," Cauley-Stein said. "You don't get them back. You don't get these years back. You've got to enjoy them while you've got them."

Ironically, given his reasoning to stay, he sounds so grown up.

When Cauley-Stein arrived on campus two years ago, he didn't know who he was or where he was going. A bit of a free spirit, Cauley-Stein tried to involve himself in anything and everything he could. His wide range of interests and style immediately made him a darling with the media, but some of those eclectic tastes, like his love for tattoos, his distinctive clothing and his ever-changing hairstyle, have also drawn the scrutiny of a faction of the fan base.

Fair or unfair, it has led some to wonder whether he is fully committed to basketball. That notion used to poke at Cauley-Stein, but as he's grown up, he's learned to deal with it and ignore it.

"I'm just more comfortable with being who I am ... and what it is to be here," Cauley-Stein said. "That's really all it is is being comfortable in your skin. That's how you try to get the best results of what you're trying to do."

During his freshman season, when UK struggled to meet expectations and a minority of fans lashed out at Cauley-Stein on social media, he got frustrated and temporarily deleted his Twitter account. Now Cauley-Stein either brushes it off or has fun with it.

"You don't really know how crazy your fan base is until you have a bad season here," Cauley-Stein said. "You have a bad season here, it's rough. You've still got thousands of people behind you, but there's the 100 that's killing you. Like, yo, why are fans killing you like this? But then they're not the real fans. They're just dudes that's mad that you're losing. And then you got 2,000 people on Twitter that's really hyping you up, that are really behind you no matter what you do.

"That's what's fascinating about the fans here. They're literally behind you 100 percent whether you're dying your hair blonde or you've got hundreds of tattoos or anything. Anything you do they're on your side and they're on your campaign, and that's what I love about them."

Calipari, who, remember, recruited Cauley-Stein when he was playing just about every sport other than basketball, would never discourage the junior forward to narrow his interests, but Cauley-Stein said that outside of a new hobby of his - designing, painting and customizing sneakers - he's dialed back some of his extracurricular activities to focus more on basketball.

Coach Cal is fine with whatever Cauley-Stein does so long as he stays "in the circle."

"You can never lead the circle from outside the circle," Calipari said. "You got to be in this and they all got to know that you're in here with us. If you try to separate yourself as a player from the pack, you can never serve them, you can never lead them. They don't want to hear it. They think you're about yourself. So being a free spirit and how he is, he's a good kid. He's just got to make sure he's inside this circle of what we're doing because if we're to be really special ... someone has got to be to that player."

Calipari believes that could be Cauley-Stein.

Dakari Johnson averaged 7.2 points and 7.3 rebounds on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Dakari Johnson averaged 7.2 points and 7.3 rebounds on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Toying with potential lineups is a favorite offseason hobby of Kentucky fans.

Among the most popular combinations is always the big lineup, with UK's tallest players manning a hypothetical frontcourt that overwhelms opponents with length and strength.

It's almost always a better idea on paper than in practice, but depth at the forward and center positions dictates John Calipari won't have much of a choice whether to go to big looks on occasion this season.

At least two of UK's players standing 6-foot-11 or taller - Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns - will have to play together at times. They're too good not to.

For Cauley-Stein and Towns, this appears to be no problem. Cauley-Stein, after all, was a star wide receiver in high school and capable of guarding all five positions, while Towns has a diverse skillset suited for both inside the paint and out.

So, what about Johnson? Will the sophomore best known for his size and bruising play close to the basket be able do what he needs to in order to play in a twin-tower lineup?

Towns has your answer.

"Have you seen Dakari recently?" Towns said. "The man's running down the floor like a gazelle. I mean, he's done such a great job of losing weight and becoming a faster and more agile player."

That's the result of a lot of hard work.

When Johnson returned to campus for summer classes in June, one of his first meetings was with Rock Oliver, coordinator for men's basketball performance, and Monica Fowler, the team's registered dietician. Together, the three devised a plan that would allow Johnson to build on a promising freshman season that saw him average 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds.

For the first few weeks, Oliver and Fowler sat with Johnson at meals and helped him identify healthy options. A quick study, Johnson didn't take long catching on, though he admits it wasn't always easy.

"In the beginning it's hard," Johnson said. "(Oliver) really stays on me. He stayed on me in the beginning of the summer until I got it and I got what I needed to do and what I needed to eat and what I needed to do right. Then he kind of laid off and I just kept on doing it after that."

Of course, Johnson's decision to bypass the NBA Draft had a lot to do with wanting to win the national championship he so narrowly missed out on in April. In returning, however, he also committed to taking his game to the next level. That's what kept him going through those inevitable tough moments.

"Just knowing if I did make the transformation what different type of player I would be," Johnson said. "I would be able to move up and down the court faster, get off my feet lighter. As I saw the results and as I saw the results in my play, I really liked it."

According to the official team roster, the 7-footer is down 10 pounds from a season ago, now coming in at 255. Calipari said the weight loss is more like 20 pounds. Either way, it didn't take watching him for more than one four-minute segment on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour to realize the difference can't be measured in pounds.

Playing a little more than 20 minutes per game on the six-game tour, Johnson averaged 7.2 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds. Turn those numbers into per-34 minute averages - a measure Calipari plans to use all season in his two-platoon system - and Johnson posted 11.9 points and 12.2 rebounds.

Due in part to his improved conditioning, he was a terror on the offensive glass, grabbing 16 rebounds there. He also showed few signs of wear during the grueling tour, posting his best rebounding performances in UK's final three games. A starter in all six games, Johnson was able to keep up as the Wildcats played at a faster pace in the platoon system.

"I'm pretty well fit for that situation because I can run up and down the court faster," Johnson said. "For the bigs, it's our job to run up and down the court. Then when you have guards that are so unselfish, as a big you want to run the court."

For all the talk about his offseason work, Johnson's transformation began well before June.

Through the first two months of his UK career, Johnson's playing time was inconsistent. Struggling to adjust to the college game, Johnson played double-digit minutes just once from the start of December through the middle of January.

Accustomed to success after an outstanding prep career that culminated in a national championship, Johnson responded to failure.

"In the beginning, my confidence was pretty low," Johnson said. "As the season went on, I just started doing some individual work and working a little bit harder and my confidence kept on growing as the season progressed."

The results speak for themselves.

Johnson asserted himself as a key contributor in Southeastern Conference play and into the postseason, splitting time with Cauley-Stein at the five position. When Cauley-Stein went down in the NCAA Tournament, Johnson stepped up. Without his 15 points and six rebounds against Louisville, UK's magical run likely would have ended in the Sweet 16.

Before the injury, Cauley-Stein and Johnson gave a sneak preview of the damage the twin-tower lineup can do, most notably in the SEC Tournament championship against No. 1 Florida. With 9:35 left and his team trailing 54-43, Coach Cal inserted Johnson for Julius Randle to play alongside Cauley-Stein. Over the next 3:51, they combined for three points, three rebounds, an assist and a block during a 10-3 spurt.

Imagine the possibilities with the new and improved Johnson, a healthy Cauley-Stein and Towns.

"We complement each other well," Johnson said. "We all bring different things to the table. That can be hard for the opposition because they can't just prepare for one type of big guy. They gotta prepare for how many we bring at them."

Over the next three days, we'll post a transcript of John Calipari's preseason media roundtable in three parts. To start with, Coach Cal talks about handling hype, the Harrison twins and more.

Cal you mentioned some things about, statistically, and I wonder, what's your relationship with analytics? Are you looking at any more of it? Are you looking at numbers more than you used to?
"Look, there's the guy that's never played, coached or done anything but look at numbers and tell you what your team should look like. Beat it. Then there's the guy, the old-school guy, that never looked at a number, doesn't know how to open a computer, doesn't know how to Twitter, Facebook - which would be me -- and he doesn't want to look at numbers. You got to--it's both. The numbers that are good for us are for the players to see what they're accomplishing, in my mind. And it's good for everyone else to see what those numbers say. That's good for them to see what those numbers say, but the reality of it is we could all watch a game and if you have any feel for the game at all you could say he played a great game even if the numbers said he played OK. Yeah, but here's what those numbers don't take into account. I mean we've got things that we'll do that are nonnegotiable that there's no analytic that can do it. They don't have one invented, so there's numbers of things we take. But, if I'm going to two platoon, the numbers will matter and the efficiency numbers, numbers translated into 34 minutes - now, why do you think I'd say 34 minutes and not 40? (Reporter: Nobody plays 40.) Yeah, and if I did 40, everybody in the country could say, 'Yeah, but if I made my guy do 40 minutes.' So most teams, if you're going to play between 32 and 34 minutes - the best players in the country (play those minutes) so every one of our guys gets rated to 34 minutes - what do those numbers mean?"

Why'd you have Jay Bilas talk to your team and what did you think?
"I wanted him to talk to the team because, the initial thing was what it meant to be tough. That it's not swinging, it's not, you know, there's a mental toughness, there's a physical toughness. And that was some of it and he kind of morphed it into a talk that was geared towards our team and what we'd be facing. And it was really good, really good."

It is Kentucky so this happens every year, but he mentioned in that talk that he thought this could be the most followed team in 20 years, probably referencing the Duke team in the early '90s. Do you think that's possible and does that worry you at all?
"Doesn't worry me. Is it possible? It's Kentucky. Anything's possible here. I mean, this basketball program, you know at the end of this year we'll have 14 kids graduated. Six years. I'll be stunned if we don't have two semesters more of a 3.0 grade-point average. That means we could five players in the NBA with college degrees. And the number of draft picks could be a big number. I mean, somebody hit me with that in the last - I think it's well, 10 years or so, so you know some guys will do this and say over the last 30 years, stuff has changed man. It's different. But the last 10 years, the numbers, when you add up these guaranteed contracts, are $720 million. $720 million? And you're talking my Memphis guys, and $720 million. And that doesn't mean John Wall and Derrick Rose's shoe contracts, which put it at 950. Not a thousand - million. You're talking about a billion dollars. That's like Rhode Island. And then, let's do that another seven or eight years. Let's be at $2 billion. It's crazy and you could say, 'Oh you're just worried about the NBA.' Even if I did, we're winning more games than any other program. We've been to more Final Fours in the last five years. We've been to the final game twice. No one else has done that, I don't believe - am I losing my mind? No one is near us in draft picks or numbers or (first) and (second draft picks). 'Well that's all you care about.' OK, well, maybe it is. Is it? But it's not. 'You don't care about your staff.' They're doing OK.

"So, you know, the continuing to focus on them, now everything I'm doing is in a, can you run businesses like we run this basketball program and worry about your employees first? Can you run a business this way? So I'm with a friend of mine who has a bank, and he says, 'You can. We pay our people more. Every employee after one year can request a $5,000 loan, interest free, and if they stay five more years that loan goes away.' How would you like to work for that company? And what would you do if you were in there? They said Costco pays 30 percent more than the going rate. There average base salary is $20 an hour for their hourly workers. And everything they do is based on them. The economy went south and everybody was hurting. They gave their guys pay raises because they knew they needed it, because everything is struggling. Can you run a business the way we run this, which is based on everything is on - I don't care what we play and how we play, or what you think, or I can coach or I can't; it's all them. And how can we stay focused on their development? And then what you find out when you do it is they really start caring about one another because they can. There's a circle around them. Am I going to throw somebody - you followed me - would I throw somebody under the bus, now that you've watched me? Do you think I'd just try to say it's this kid? You know I wouldn't do it. When I interviewed, or whatever you want to call what I did with Dr. Todd and the people that met with me, I said, 'I will never throw a player under the bus and if that's the kind of guy you want that throws a kid under the bus to make me or you look good you're, don't, not me. I'm not the guy you bring in here. Because these will do stupid things and I'm not throwing them under the bus.' Can you keep that circle around them that they know you got them and things go wrong, who am I blaming? Can you do that in a business sense? Can you run a business that way and what would it mean? Or do you have to do it the old way?

"How did GE run their business? How did -- and he's a UMass graduate - for years and years? Tom (Leach), they were the gold standard of businesses. Matt (Jones), you're a genius. How'd they run their business? Jack Welch was his name. How'd they run their business? (Jones: You're asking the wrong guy.) OK. He took their company and the bottom 10 percent in any of their companies, you got fired. So if you were the bottom 10 percent in generating for the company, you were out. And the top 20 percent you got bonuses, you got pay raises, you got - and he just fostered that growth. And it did grow. It didn't grow like Costco. It's just, can you run, can you do what I'm doing and do that in a business sense? So, and I'm, you know, I've always made it about family and I've always made - this stuff is just, it's on hyper. And it all happened because those five guys went to the NBA, went to the first round in my first year when I said, 'Wait a minute, this is different.' Can we - and I didn't know. I didn't know. Everybody says the same thing: 'How do you do this?' Anywhere I go people that I don't know, people come up to (me), 'I'm a Louisville fan but I've got to ask you, how in the world do you get a new team to buy in and do (this)?' They trust. They trust. And they trust because there's that circle around them when you're here that it's about you. It's not about anything else. It's about your growth. I'm not afraid to coach them. It doesn't mean I'm--they run the program. It's just that we make decisions based on them."

Is there a sense, and obviously it's different with John Wall at that kind of level and maybe Julius Randle, etc., but is there a sense that you've seen a benefit maybe for some of these guys who are a little overwhelmed at first in the second year not just as a player but as a group, as a person, etc.? I mean, I can see a difference in the Harrison twins.
"They all could use more time. Every one of the kids could have stayed and benefited. I would have benefited more than they benefited, but they would have benefited. Some of them needed to stick around and learn how to work - basically be professional at your sport. But they, the guys that stayed now, it's greatly benefited them. Could they have gone? Yeah. Would Willie have gotten drafted? Yeah. Would the twins have been drafted? Yes. Would Alex have been drafted? They all would've been drafted. Dakari would've been drafted. Now would they have been drafted all in the lottery or down in the high teens? No. A few of them would've been in the second round. But they'd all have been drafted. So they're staying. What my only recommendation to guys is, if you put your name in the draft, I'll do everything I can to get you in the first round. If you stay, don't come back thinking this is going to be easy. This will be harder than it was ever for you here because what were the reasons, what are they questioning? Each of the kids would tell me this is what they questioned about me. That will be answered if you come back. And you know what, to answer that it's going to be really hard. So don't come back here if you think this is the easiest thing you can do. Don't do it. You go in the draft and I help you in the first round."

What's the biggest change that you've seen in the Harrison? Is more on the court or is more off the court?
"They're in better shape. They're better equipped to deal with stuff. They're still growing right now. You still have to coach them and guide them. They, you know, they still have some habits that they flow back to when it gets crazy and nutty. But I'm just - they're great kids. They're both great kids. They're both, you know, in the best shape right now they've been in, but I'm telling them it's not good enough. They've got to get to another level. And then it's, we have guys that can really compete with them, which is even making them better. Yesterday, Alex was guarding Andrew and doing OK so, you know. then you've got the little kid (Tyler Ulis) picking up. You've got Andrew now, or Aaron, like, 'Hey, man, you know, you've got to go.' So that competition has been great."

Have you ever seen a single postseason do so much for two guys as far as for the twins? Just in terms of turning around, one, I think turning around the perception of what they were hearing from the outside, they talked about getting bombarded by the negativity and now they're sort of heroes.
"It's well, not really. They still, you know, what happens with some of you guys is you have an opinion and then you've got to prove that opinion right, so you'll never change. 'Here's my opinion.' Well, are you not watching? Hmm. 'That's my opinion. I'm not watching. I'm not. Then let me tell you why it's right.' So those two have been hit with that some. Like, what are you watching? How can you say that? 'Well, 'cause it's what I said six months ago and I'm sticking with it. That's my story.' But the good news for them is hopefully they're comfortable and they know we have your back. Your job is to get better. Your job is to care about your teammates and to lead and understand how to do that. And Ithink they're all doing it. The stuff we did down there, to see them cheer for each other. You know, you can say what you want, platooning takes it off them even more. How about that? I'm going to go out there and play so hard for 20 minutes. Really? For 20 minutes you just play and if doesn't work I'm saying it's me anyway. So now you can really go, and it's not totally 00 it's just I'm going to do my best, I'm going to play for my team. So it would make it easier if you buy in. Now the clutter is going to say, ' Ah, you can't prove yourself in 20.' Well, some guys need 35 minutes to play 20. It is true. They need 35 minutes to play 20. Well, then that means in 20 minutes you're going to look like you've played eight. So you're right, but it doesn't matter, I can't help you. Nothing I can do."

Does that help a guy like Alex even more than anyone to just say, 'Go play 4 minutes as hard as you can,' and maybe question whether he can go?
"He may be a guy that needs more minutes just to get more comfortable playing because, you know, that's the biggest thing with him is the comfort level in his game. But, you know, he is, he's still, there are things he has to be able to do to be special. Because he has, you know, he's just getting so much better. I mean, I look out and I can't even believe he's the same player. I can't believe Willie. When I watch Willie, Willie was so good the other day, I'm like, oh my gosh. And then we all forgot that we would've won (if he didn't get hurt). The thing that we forgot, what would we have done with Willie playing? I mean, it would have been different. Even the endings of games wouldn't have been where they were. I mean, Willie was a dominant - Willie was a shot blocker, a guy that could change the game on both ends. And so now you see him and you're like, whoa. But the bottom line is somebody has gotta to be able to dominate the game for spurts."

How many big guys could you play together at one time?
"Well, the way I saw Willie play the other day--just, you have to figure out some offense, but Willie's playing like he's a 3. Like, we throw it ahead, he's in the open court, crossing, throwing balls out and I'm like, 'Holy jeez.' And so, now, is he going to pull up and shoot 3s? No. But I told him and Marcus Lee, 'Understand' - Dakari - 'if you can't make free throws you can't be in the game at the end. If you guys can't make 15-footers, it's harder for me to play you.' And the reason is you basically aren't being guarded and that means you gotta get closer to the goal. I can't have three of you there. But you can play Willie and then could have Alex staying at 4 or Trey Lyles staying at 4. With a big, you could have Willie there with Karl, who can shoot it better, and Marcus Lee. How about that team? Now all of a sudden it's nutty. Until we start playing, you know--what kind of zone team would it be with Willie, Marcus Lee and Dakari in the middle?"

Tyler Ulis and then the two Kentucky kids, Dominique and Derek, how did you think they did and, obviously Tyler's going to play, but how do you think those other two guys fit in with what you want to do this year?
"I think they'll (Willie and Hawkins) be fine. Yesterday, Derek Willis made every shot. Now, I know down in the Bahamas he missed every shot. But he made every shot yesterday. Yesterday I had them do a backboard touch for just me. You step and--so you had Willie, where did Willie touch? Above the square. Where did Marcus Lee touch? Above the square. Where did Derek Willis touch? Above the square. Where did Marcus Lee? Above the square. Dakari, right at the square, which was surprising. Alex, square. The twins were both about that far (holds fingers a couple inches apart) from the top of the square. So was Devin Booker. I'm trying to think, who am I--Dominique was at the square. And then Tyler was at the bottom (laughter) and everybody laughed. But it just shows you that, you know, we can talk how they jump. It's basically, what's your length? As much as your jumping, it's are you a quick jumper? And then where can you go? I think Derek and Dominique are going to have their opportunities. Dominique knows, and he said to me, 'They gotta guard me. If they're not guarding me it's hard, Coach, I know.' So he's really working on being able to make open shots. If he gets to seven feet, he'll make it. The question is, if they're playing him at seven feet and he's at 17 and not being guarded, now what happens? Well, he doesn't have to make them all. He just can't miss them all."

Calipari willing, determined to use two-platoon system

| No TrackBacks | 3 Comments
John Calipari plans to use a two-platoon system when UK opens the season in November. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari plans to use a two-platoon system when UK opens the season in November. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When the Wizard of Westwood talked, you listened. When John Wooden, arguably the king of college basketball coaches and the architect of one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports, offered advice, you took it.

John Calipari did so in 2010 after his first season at Kentucky when he called the late UCLA coach to ask him about his team. Wooden told Coach Cal that that he played too many guys. He advised Calipari to play six, seven or eight guys - at most - in his rotation. 

And so for the next few years at UK, Coach Cal heeded Wooden's advice and played a small rotation.

In the 2010-11 season, Calipari's first team after that phone call, just six guys averaged double-figure minutes. The next year - Kentucky's national championship season - only six guys played more than 12 minutes a game.

The rotation has slightly expanded over the last two seasons with seven or eight guys getting significant minutes, but Coach Cal, at least during his time at UK, has never been one to unload his bench. Yanking five guys at one time when a he saw something he didn't like just wasn't Calipari's style.

"All kinds of ways of doing this," Coach Cal said last season.

It's just a big rotation wasn't one of them.

But if you've watched Calipari enough during his time at UK and studied his on-court philosophies, the one thing you may have noticed is that he has no set-in-stone philosophy. Sure, from a recruiting standpoint, he's labeled as the coach who perfected the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, but how many times in Calipari's five seasons in Lexington have you actually seen his teams run the Dribble Drive?

Instead of sticking to one style, Calipari has adjusted his style to fit the needs of his teams. He likes to play to his players' strengths.

In 2010, with a team that Coach Cal has said wasn't a great executing group, he did a lot of posting up with bigs like DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton. The following year, with Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson starring in the offense, the strength of the team was hand-offs. The title team was a strong pick-and-roll group.

The point is, the best description of Calipari's coaching style is that he has no coaching style. If one had to label his method, it's his adaptability. He changes to fit what best suits his team.

That brings us back to that conversation with Wooden.

When Calipari had that conversation with the legendary coach four years ago, he adapted the notion because it worked for those particular teams. With so much roster turnover due to the NBA Draft every year, Coach Cal's teams, while supremely talented, weren't overly deep.

And then this last offseason happened and the model was blown up.

A perfect storm that featured a disappointing regular season, a magical run to the national championship game and continued success on the recruiting trail has created an unlikely scenario for the 2014-15 season. When players who undoubtedly could have gone in the NBA Draft announced they were coming back to join another heralded recruiting class, it created unparalleled depth.

Coach Cal not only had a starting lineup of McDonald's All-Americans, he essentially had two rotations of Burger Boys at his disposal.

So, as he rhetorically asked himself in a post on CoachCal.com in the middle of September, how does everybody eat when so many want to sit at the dinner table? How does he keep 12 guys who are all capable of playing and making an impact happy?

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
The trip to the Bahamas may have provided the answer.

Going against everything he's ever done as the coach at Kentucky, Calipari and his assistants employed a two-platoon system comprised mainly of 10 players (remember, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles were unavailable because of offseason procedures).

"The players are bought into it," Coach Cal said in a preseason roundtable interview with local reporters last month. "They liked it. They all thought it was terrific."

How could they not?

With the exception of a couple late-game situations where a player or two stayed on the floor, the coaching staff stuck with the same two teams and split the minutes almost dead even. Whenever a TV timeout would roll around - every four minutes - no matter how well the unit on the floor was playing, it was out with one platoon and in with the next.

Perhaps more surprising than Calipari's persistence to stick with the two-platoon look throughout the trip was just how well the system actually worked.

The Wildcats overwhelmed their three professional opponents with talent, depth and a constant motor. Aware they would play just four minutes at a time, the players seemed to play at a high level at all times, making it harder for the thinner rosters and older players to keep up.

"It just showed how much talent we have," Andrew Harrison said. "From the first group to the second group, it showed different people are better at different things and stuff like that. It was a great concept. I liked it."

UK won its first five games by an average of 20.2 points. The Cats' only loss was in the final game against the Dominican Republic national team when legs were tired and minds were set on returning home. And oh, by the way, that Dominican team, which beat Kentucky on a buzzer beater, went on to the round of 16 just a few weeks later at the FIBA World Cup.

The success of the two-platoon system in the Bahamas turned what looked to be nothing more than preseason experiment into the regular-season model for 2014-15. As Calipari outlined in that post on this website a few weeks ago and confirmed on Monday at a tip-off luncheon in Louisville, he's now dead set on using it and making this a "watershed" year at Kentucky.

In his sixth year at UK, Coach Cal is out to prove that this many talented guys can play together, sacrifice their minutes for one other, win, and still benefit personally. If it works, Calipari wrote, "There will be no going back. No player will ever worry about who else is in the program or who may stay."

"It's never been done before where the players have benefited," Coach Cal said last month. "It's been done where the program's benefited and the coaches benefited, but it's never been done before where players benefited. That's the challenge that we'll have. I think that if you can get two groups that are balanced yet good enough, we can do it."

Legendary coach coach Dean Smith ran a version of the platoon system at North Carolina, though his method was slightly different. Smith stuck with a seven- or eight-man rotation, but he would bring in what he called his "blue team" for occasional five-minute stretches.

What Calipari is trying to do, even he hasn't done it before, so he pleaded for patience with the fan base on Monday.

"Listen, folks, I have never coached this way," Coach Cal said. "I haven't. But I'm going to. And I'm studying and I'm doing everything I can to make this work so every one of these kids eats. And it's not going to be easy."

Calipari has fallen in love with the two-platoon system because of its versatility and its ability to include guys who have all earned the right to play.

"I'd love to play that way because it includes 10 guys, and really it includes all 12 because even the two that are left, you're in the rotation of injury, somebody getting hurt," he said. "If a guard's not playing well, you're in. If a big's not playing well, you're in. So everybody is into the rotation."

The issue going forward becomes how the players will handle what Calipari has called the "clutter of the ego."

How will players who started and played 30 minutes a game last season handle 20 minutes a game this year? How will five-star freshmen react to coming off the bench and playing 17 or 18 minutes instead of the 25 to 30 they may have gotten at another school? What happens when a player who is capable of scoring 25 in any given night is only getting five or six shots a game? What about when people outside the team circle start chirping about how someone should be getting more of this and more of that?

Inevitably, those things are going to come up during the season.

Calipari and the Cats will likely have to deal with at least some of those issues as the season wears on.  It's how they deal with them that could determine the outcome of the year and pave the way for that watershed moment Coach Cal is hoping for.

"You have to sit back and say there are two things: I want to win a championship and I want to be drafted in the highest position I can be. Can that all happen two platooning? Yes, it can, but it'll be a challenge," Calipari said. "No one has ever done it."

One thing Coach Cal and his staff will stress with the team to get it to buy into the two-platoon concept is the efficiency of it.

"Does Michael Jordan in a 40-minute game really have to be out there 32 minutes to show you he can play? Or LeBron (James) or (Carmelo) Anthony?" Calipari said. "You're watching this USA team (at the FIBA World Cup), guys are getting 21, 20 minutes, and you know who can play, who the better players are."

To get his guys to understand that you don't need to play a full game to show NBA scouts what you are capable of, the coaching staff will provide the players with stats that show what their averages would be if they played 34 minutes a game.

Why not 40? Because, as Coach Cal explained, even the best players in the country only play between 32 and 34 minutes.

"For 20 minutes you just play and if doesn't work I'm saying it's (my fault) anyway," Calipari said.

When the Bahamas statistics are translated to a 34-minute outing, the numbers are pretty staggering.

Player

Points

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Alex Poythress

21.4

10.2

1.2

1.8

1.2

Karl-Anthony Towns

19.0

11.2

3.2

0.9

1.4

Aaron Harrison

16.7

1.9

0.8

2.2

0.3

Tyler Ulis

13.0

3.1

6.8

2.2

0.0

Dakari Johnson

11.9

12.2

1.2

1.2

0.3

Marcus Lee

11.4

7.3

1.6

0.8

0.0

Derek Willis

11.4

6.7

2.5

1.3

0.3

Andrew Harrison

10.5

3.0

8.4

0.8

0.0

Devin Booker

9.0

1.5

1.7

2.3

0.0

Dominique Hawkins

8.8

0.3

3.3

2.1

0.3


To this point, the players have bought in. Each individual player met with Coach Cal after the Bahamas trip and said he liked the system.

"This is a team that each guy is comfortable in their own skin, which means they don't have to be jealous, they don't have to be resentful," Calipari said. "They just, I'm happy with how I'm playing and happy with how he's playing."

If anything, Calipari said, playing 20 minutes a game as opposed to 35 boosts the numbers because some guys can't play at that high of a level for that long. At 20, they can.

"The clutter is going to say, 'Ah, you can't prove yourself in 20.' Well, some guys need 35 minutes to play 20," Calipari said.

What UK didn't reveal in the Bahamas - with the exception of a couple of late-game situations - is how the two-platoon system could mix and match different players. By and large, the two platoons in the Bahamas stayed the same through all six games, but Calipari said that might not be the case in the regular season.

"You've got to have a team that, say someone's really hurting us in a zone and we say, 'OK, we're putting our best shooting team in,' so we're mixing it up," Calipari said. "Well, you practice that way. It's not like you just did it in that game. What about a team, we get down, we're just playing bad and we just want a catch-up team in there? What would that catch-up team be? Because you've got to both defend and score. What would a team look like if you just wanted it to be a great defensive team? Would it be Willie, Marcus Lee and another big and two guards who are all guarding? What would that team be? What if you needed another pressing team? Who would your best pressing team be? And that may be your catch-up team. So all that stuff will be decided as we practice. I don't even know what the groupings would be."

Adding Cauley-Stein and Lyles into the two-platoon mix makes it seem like the possibilities are endless.

"You can play Willie and then could have Alex staying at four or Trey Lyles staying at four," Calipari said. "With a big, you could have Willie there with Karl, who can shoot it better, and Marcus Lee. How about that team? Now all of a sudden it's nutty."

Nutty and groundbreaking.

Over the next three days, we'll post a transcript of John Calipari's preseason media roundtable in three parts. To start with, Coach Cal talks preseason expectations, the platoon system and the Bahamas trip.

Are the two injured guys, are they back doing everything that you want them to do now?
"Willie's back. He played the other day and looked really good. A couple of the guys said to me, 'We forgot how good he was.' And Trey, I watched him go through a workout, and it's just, he probably needs more time. So he's not playing and not fully engaged yet, but he is going through what I would say is, without being able to play up and down as hard as he can go, that's what he's doing."

With so many guys back this year, do you feel like you're better prepared to deal with the hype and the expectations than maybe they were last year when all the 40-0 talk started?
"Well, more prepared for a lot of stuff. You saw it in the Bahamas. Like, how did they--you've never seen one of my teams look that far advanced. Why? Because I've had a new team every year. So now all of a sudden you have the majority of your guys coming back. Now you could say, 'This kid looked good, that kid--' but we looked like a team, and that's a big part of those guys coming back, handling all that, knowing the anxiety of knowing why they're training the way they are. It's made it all easier. And then the freshmen can kind of get in line and follow, which is what's happening."

How much does it help individually having guys come back that are on a mission to finish unfinished business and does that help to keep the motivated?
"Yeah, and they want to win. They know they need each other because they went through it last year where you start and you're more into your own stuff and then all of a sudden you look and it's not going real good and then you start worrying about everyone else and your stuff gets better."

What do you see are the pros and cons of platooning and would you consider that during the season?

"Yeah. I mean, it's never been done before where the players have benefited. It's been done where the program's benefited and the coaches benefited, but it's never been done before where players benefited. That's the challenge that we'll have. I think that if you can get two groups that are balanced yet good enough, we can do it. We have some time. We have to see. I'd love to play that way because it includes 10 guys, and really it includes all 12 because even the two that are left, you're in the rotation of injury, somebody getting hurt. If a guard's not playing well, you're in. If a big's not playing well, you're in. So everybody is into the rotation. The players are bought into it. They liked it. They all thought it was terrific. The biggest thing will be the clutter that will circle, which (is) the clutter of the ego and all the other things. But we have a couple things I'm going to do to try to make it clearer, you know, how they're playing. One thing I would say is, does Michael Jordan in a 40-minute game really have to be out there 32 minutes to show you he can play? Or LeBron or Anthony? You're watching this USA team, guys are getting 21, 20 minutes, and you know who can play, who the better players are. And the question is the clutter of the ego. And then you have to sit back and say there are two things: I want to win a championship and I want to be drafted in the highest position I can be. Can that all happen two platooning? Yes, it can, but it'll be a challenge. No one has ever done it. I'm going to say it again. People have done it, but not where the players benefited."

How much of that is your responsibility to manage and how much responsibility do they have on themselves to deal with it?
"The one thing I said to them - and there was no reason to say it because they were all (into it) - we came back and I kind of had the staff break down what they saw and then I met individually with each guy about their own, what they thought about what they learned about themselves and what they saw with our team, how did they like two platooning, that kind of stuff. My point is, I can have a seven- or eight-man rotation and some of you may really like it unless you're not in the seven- or eight-man rotation. And then you would hope we're two platooning. And who the heck knows who would be in that seven-, eight-man rotation with the guys we have. So the best thing they can do is keep challenging each other and let us figure out all that stuff. But they've been good with that. This is a team that each guy is comfortable in their own skin, which means they don't have to be jealous, they don't have to be resentful. They just--I'm happy with how I'm playing and happy with how he's playing. I'm happy for him; he's playing good."

You've said many times that people like John Wooden told you that you're playing too many guys. Does the platoon system fly in the face of that?
"It does, but again, somebody said that, 'Well, Dean Smith played the platoons.' He did, but he did it different. What he did was he played seven guys and then he brought five of the whatever you want to call them - I can't remember what he called them (reporter: the blue team) - they came in. So he played 12 that way to make sure he got everybody minutes. And again, he was so far ahead of his time when you think about some of the stuff he did. He was the first guy to say, 'When it's the season it's about us, when the season is over it's about each individual.' He's the first guy to tell the old guys they need to leave early. He was ahead of his time in all the stuff he did."

In the Bahamas it seemed like this group is really close in terms of the entire group hanging out. Do you think that stuff really matters?
"Oh yeah, absolutely does. The best NBA teams, that's what happens. They go on the road and that's what they'll do. They'll go to a movie, they go out to dinner and they'll go in mass - the best NBA teams. The bad teams, everybody breaks up and goes their own way and gets on the road and you don't see the guy until the game starts. The good ones don't. They know we got to just be together and be about each other and this what we're doing. So yeah, no, that will help. These guys play pickup five, six nights a week. That's important. And you go like, 'What's important with that?' We're not doing it. They're doing it themselves and they all like to compete and play, which is a big deal. I've been on teams here that we had to call to get them to play pickup and you had some guys that were, you know. But it's tough for those guys as they leave us to really do well at that next level. This, if you're not really into this, it's hard. So that's a big thing. The thing they've got to learn as they're playing pick-up is, we've put in a couple rules so that we can establish some things that will be habits when they're playing, which is get the ball across the half court in three to four seconds. Have a manager there, it's a turnover on a miss or make if the ball doesn't cross half court in three or four seconds. Alright, well you play that way, everyone's got to cross the court in five seconds. If the wing isn't looking at you, throw the ball off the back of his head so he'll start looking at you. And then, after you get it up there, I don't really care what you do; it's pickup. I just want you to get it up there. Trying to create that habit, on a miss or make, the ball goes. Now, we talked as a staff and I talked to the guys a few nights ago, we didn't do anything defensively and won't until October. So before the Bahamas, other than playing against ourselves, we told them pick up and play full court. Well, what did we teach them? Pick up and play your man. If somebody leaves, then try to rotate a bit, figure it out on the run. We told them to force down pick-and-rolls. We did not teach them how to do it. We didn't teach. We just said if a guy tries pick-and-roll, forces them down the side. So by doing none of that, we ended up 40 percent, holding those teams 28 (percent) from the 3, plus-whatever rebounding. We were not a bad defensive team and we taught nothing. So again, playing against each other they'll get better defensively if I can get them to create habits of getting the ball up the court quickly. And then let them, maybe in another week or so, 'OK, the point guard, if he hits, just make sure you go through every time,' something we didn't do in the Bahamas that I think we'll do some."

Watching those guys, it seems like each of those five-man units had become super comfortable with each other. There was a chemistry there and obviously that helps in one regard. But when you get to a crunch-time situation and you pull a couple off one team and put in a few from another team, do you worry about the chemistry?
"No. You have to practice that way. You've got to have - and we've talked about it as a group - I said you've got to have a team that, say someone's really hurting us in a zone and we say, 'OK, we're putting our best shooting team in.' So we're mixing it up. Well, you practice that way. it's not like you just did it in that game. What about a team, we get down, we're just playing bad and we just want a catch-up team in there? What would that catch-up team be? Because you've got to both defend and score. What would a team look like if you just wanted it to be a great defensive team? Would it be Willie, Marcus Lee and another big and two guards who are all guarding? What would that team be? What if you needed another pressing team? Who would your best pressing team be? And that may be your catch-up team. So all that stuff will be decided as we practice. I don't even know what the groupings would be. Aaron and Andrew, yesterday in the pickup games, they were on opposite teams. So I told those two, 'Don't always play with each other. Play opposite.' You don't want to be labeled that you have to be on the same team. You've had guys like that before. It hurts them. It's not helping you; it hurts you.' So they're playing opposite of each other. Like I said, until we start practicing, I liked what I saw, I liked that you could just swamp people, just keep coming. I liked the fact that the numbers were really good for 20 minutes. And then we'll do some things so that people will know what their numbers relate to if they played 34 minutes. You have a team full of guys playing 20, what would that relate to if they're playing 34 minutes? Basically it's all about efficiency. Have that stat sheet."

Is it crazy to you that, two years removed from Brian Long guarding Nerlens Noel in practice, you're talking about catch-up teams and my shooting teams and zone teams?
"Yeah, but did I ever plan on six guys leaving in one year? No. So I had to deal with it. Did we plan on five guys leaving after our first year? No. So all of a sudden it changed the whole direction of the program. Now all of a sudden we had guys come back that I thought would never come back. Well, now we've got to make it work. So that's part of how this is--it's not easy on anybody, but at the end of the day I don't think it's a bad problem. It's probably a good problem."

How are this year's freshmen different from last year's freshmen?
"I don't know if they do. I would say on a whole they're probably in better condition, but I could say that because of the Bahamas trip. They're probably more advanced of how we're going to play. They're probably able to play looser because they know it's not going to be on them. It's pretty good to know that--how about five freshmen, anybody returning had a great experience in the NIT at Robert Morris? Now all of a sudden you've got a team full of guys that played in the championship game and now you're coming back and watching and learning. If you can compete with them, you start building your own confidence. This guy, I can compete with this guy. It's a good thing."

Cal you mentioned some things about, statistically, and I wonder, what's your relationship with analytics? Are you looking at any more of it? Are you looking at numbers more than you used to?
"Look, there's the guy that's never played, coached or done anything but look at numbers and tell you what your team should look like. Beat it. Then there's the guy, the old-school guy, that never looked at a number, doesn't know how to open a computer, doesn't know how to Twitter, Facebook - which would be me -- and he doesn't want to look at numbers. You got to--it's both. The numbers that are good for us are for the players to see what they're accomplishing, in my mind. And it's good for everyone else to see what those numbers say. That's good for them to see what those numbers say, but the reality of it is we could all watch a game and if you have any feel for the game at all you could say he played a great game even if the numbers said he played OK. Yeah, but here's what those numbers don't take into account. I mean we've got things that we'll do that are nonnegotiable that there's no analytic that can do it. They don't have one invented, so there's numbers of things we take. But, if I'm going to two platoon, the numbers will matter and the efficiency numbers, numbers translated into 34 minutes - now, why do you think I'd say 34 minutes and not 40? (Reporter: Nobody plays 40.) Yeah, and if I did 40, everybody in the country could say, 'Yeah, but if I made my guy do 40 minutes.' So most teams, if you're going to play between 32 and 34 minutes - the best players in the country (play those minutes) so every one of our guys gets rated to 34 minutes - what do those numbers mean?"


Kentucky's weekly media schedule didn't call for Mark Stoops to speak after practice until Thursday, but the UK head coach made an exception on Tuesday.
 
Stoops commented on the suspension of Dorian Baker, Drew Barker, Tymere Dubose and Stanley Williams stemming from an on-campus incident on Sunday night. He made it clear their actions were unacceptable, but was sure they were a departure from the character of the four true freshmen.
 
"We have some good kids that used poor judgment, that made a mistake," Stoops said. "They know they made a mistake and they're being held accountable for it. We tried to address it quickly and decisive. They were wrong. And, like I said, they were remorseful. They realize it now."
 
Stoops first learned the players were involved in the incident minutes before his weekly press conference on Monday. After gathering facts, the decision to suspend them was announced just hours later.
 
"We do like we try to do whether it's a win, a loss or a mistake or anything good or bad," Stoops said. "We hit it right on, right in the face. We tell them what's going on and what they're accountability's going to be both publicly and to their team."
 
Beyond the public suspension, the matter was addressed internally within the team, according to Stoops. He said Wildcats now had some "closure" on the issue.
 
"We have expectations," Stoops said. "We have core values within our program. We try to live them each and every day. We understand that we're not perfect, just like somebody within our family. We made a mistake. They're going to be held accountable and we'll move on."
 
For UK, moving on means preparing for a stiff test against South Carolina on Saturday evening. The suspensions caused a minor distraction on Monday, but nothing to derail their game-week work.
 
"We're fine," Stoops said. "We're good. We had a great day Sunday of coaches prepping and we had a good day all day Monday."
 
Tuesday wasn't quite as good, as Stoops described the late-afternoon practice as just "OK." UK will have to improve with the Gamecocks (3-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) waiting.
 
South Carolina has played arguably the toughest schedule in the country to this point, scoring wins over Georgia, East Carolina and Vanderbilt and losing to Texas A&M and Missouri. The Gamecocks led 20-7 in the fourth quarter last weekend against Missouri, but gave up 14 unanswered in the final seven minutes to lose 21-20.
 
The Gamecocks' performance, however, was still impressive to the offensive coordinator tasked with preparing for them.
 
"Got a good football team rolling in here on Saturday night; they'll be a hungry football team," Neal Brown said. "I'm impressed, really impressed with what they did on Saturday night. I watched the TV, watched it live and then watching it on coaches' film. They held a very good Missouri offense to ballpark 280 yards, 150 pass and 130 rushing. Very impressive. They've gotten better."

UK in the NFL: Cobb shines in week 4

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment

'Cats in the NFL.jpgBy Connor Link, UK Athletics

It was an NFL week 4 that saw four wins, five losses, and two bye weeks between the sport's 11 UK alumni. Two Wildcat receivers found their way into the end zone, ensuring victories for their teams under must-win circumstances. Let's see how they and a few other headliners did.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers
Former First-Team All-American Randall Cobb had a Sunday to remember. In a 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears, Cobb caught seven passes for a team-high 113 yards. He also secured two touchdown receptions, bringing Cobb's total to five on the season. Fellow Kentucky alumnus and Packers teammate Tim Masthay failed to see the field in only the second game without a punt in NFL history.

Stevie Johnson | #13 WR | San Francisco 49ers
Stevie Johnson's lone Week 4 reception was an acrobatic 12-yard touchdown catch midway through the third quarter to bring his team within one point. The grab was Johnson's first-ever TD as a 49er, aiding his team in a 26-21 victory over the previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles.

Avery Williamson | #54 LB | Tennessee Titans
Tennessee rookie linebacker Avery Williamson recorded seven combined tackles -- the most of his young career -- as well as a career-high six solo tackles Sunday. However, the Titans were blown out by the Indianapolis Colts, 17-41.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 LB | Tennessee Titans
Despite his team losing by at least 24 points for the second consecutive week, Wesley Woodyard was able to shine defensively on the road in Indianapolis. The seven-year NFL veteran's afternoon was highlighted by the sixth interception of his professional career. Woodyard also tallied nine combined tackles and six solo tackles in the Titans' loss.


Excitement contagious at Tipoff Luncheon

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
A lack of energy has never been a problem for John Calipari.

Even coping with the unique demands of coaching at Kentucky, Calipari is always ready and raring to go for the next practice, the next recruiting visit, the next event. But with the start of the 2014-15 season approaching, something has Coach Cal even more fired up than usual.

This two-platoon thing you've heard so much about? It's really happening.

"I'm doing things I've never done as a coach," Calipari said. "And I'll be honest with you, can you tell I'm excited about it? Like, this has got me stirred."

Calipari's excitement was plain to see and hear on Monday as he spoke at the annual Wildcat Tipoff Luncheon hosted by the Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club, where he was joined by UK President Eli Capilouto, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell.

Coach Cal didn't speak at length about how the two-platoon system will work - there will be plenty of time for that when games begin - but he did reveal his reasoning for it. In short, it's the next step in the evolution of his players-first philosophy.

"If it's not about those guys, we're playing eight of these guys and those other two or three, you're out," Calipari said. "But if we're about them and all of them, this is the only way you can do it. Well, it's never been done before. Well, it's going to be done now."

Breaking new ground, however, will bring growing pains. Coach Cal is ready for them and he did his best to prepare the more than 1,000 in attendance on Monday.

"We have a chance of being really good, but we're doing it a different way," Calipari said. "What we do early may be at the expense of winning some games making sure we're figuring this out. And if that happens, I'm telling you, I'll be fine with it. You won't, but I will be fine with it."

Ultimately, the people who matter most to the success of the two-platoon system are the players, not the fans or even Calipari. Fortunately, Coach Cal has some recent past experience to call on in guiding them through the challenge, different as this one may be.

"How in the world do you get McDonald's All-Americans to sacrifice and play for each other?" Calipari said. "And how do you get them to do that as freshmen? Would you say you'd like to know? Because I'm asking it everywhere. They trust we have their back and their best interest so they will share and they will sacrifice for each other because we have their back, we have their best interest."

Calipari confirmed UK will start the season using the platoon system in the same way as on the Big Blue Bahamas tour, but he knows he'll need to be ready to change on the fly.

"What happens at the end of the season if it's not quite happening the way that we want?" Calipari said. "We can make adjustments. Doc Rivers told me, 'What if one of the guys needs a few more minutes a half? You're going to have to give it to them, Cal.' I said, 'I know that.' So if two guys are playing a little bit better, we'll give them a little bit more minutes."

Calipari spoke first on Monday, a departure from tradition in past years at the event. With a recruit in town, he had to get back to Lexington in short order, a fact Mitchell used to playfully jab his good friend.

"Cal stole one of my oldest tricks in the book, about recruiting," Mitchell said. "The recruiting trick. Gotta leave, gotta leave. Got a big recruit coming."

Once Mitchell moved on from making the sellout crowd laugh, he expressed similar optimism about his own team.

"This season, I think we have a great opportunity to have a good team," Mitchell said. "... I think we can land in a really, really great spot and I'm excited to see what comes of this team and this 2014-15 edition."

Stakes higher as UK begins South Carolina week

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment

Coming off its first Southeastern Conference win in three years, the Kentucky football team is beginning to generate an aura of excitement not seen around these parts in years. But with said recent success comes mounting challenges.

The stakes for the 3-1 (1-1 SEC) Wildcats only ratchet up from here, beginning with a visit from South Carolina on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network.

The Gamecocks (3-2, 2-2 SEC) have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, with a win over No. 13 Georgia in Week 3 as proof of the talent of Steve Spurrier's team.

Mark Stoops is fully embracing, but still wary of, the challenges that go along with trying to win two straight games in the nation's toughest conference.

As happy he was with his team -- especially his defense -- in delivering his first SEC win as a head coach over Vanderbilt last Saturday, he's looking to improve on multiple fronts.

"We're far from where we want to be, but we are drastically improved on fundamentally how to play football," Stoops said. "I think we need to continue to work on that."

Playing fundamental football was a major theme of Stoops' Monday lunchtime press conference, where he previewed Saturday's matchup with the Gamecocks.

"A big part of (Kentucky's defensive improvement this season) is just fundamentally playing better," Stoops said. "That's what I've always prided myself on is teaching the guys how to play. ... Our team is starting to get that at times, but it comes down to being a fundamental football team on both sides of the ball and on special teams.  

"We just need to continue to improve and worry about ourselves and get better at what we're trying to do."

One area the Wildcats will look to improve is on offense.

While UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown had plenty to be happy about -- namely a 13-play, 99-yard touchdown drive to open the game, a 66-yard scoring drive to end the half and 201 passing yards for quarterback Patrick Towles -- a game in which UK's defense allowed its fewest yards in a SEC game since 1996 was still closer than it may have needed to be.

The Wildcats put 17 points on the board in total, which it should be said was enough to win by double digits, but UK's head coach was eager to point out areas where his team can improve.

"We got behind the chains with certain things, you know," Stoops said. "Whether it be a fumble or a penalty and just silly things, just got behind the chains, and we missed some shots. We had our opportunities, and we just missed them slightly. ... So we've just got to be more precise and execute better."

Stoops would also like his team to play sharper in front of the home fans, who have been coming out in bigger numbers of late and will have a chance of seeing UK go 4-0 at Commonwealth Stadium for the first time since 2008 on Saturday. A season-high 56,940 members of Big Blue Nation watched last Saturday's win, and UK will look to repay the favor with a strong showing this week in the season's first night game, and a blackout to boot.

"We're trying to play as best we can every week, no matter where it is," Stoops said. "You heard me talk about it a couple weeks ago. Sometimes we're playing some of our better football on the road at times. We've got to get back to playing the best we can here."

Recent Comments

  • dave and linda: we are looking forward to another exciting season of wildcat b-ball.This lineup of talent is second to none, and ANY read more
  • grady jobe: the 2 team lineup will work if the players get the act.also I feel sorry for the orther teams.lord merry, read more
  • Paul in KY: Will believe it when I see him do it in a competitive SEC game. Coach Cal has never played a read more
  • Tom: No highlight video from Florida game? I was looking forward to watching some of the big plays again sync'd with read more
  • new fan : Hey KY ya'll played one heck of a game!!!!! I'm a GATOR FAN but everyone on your team can hold read more
  • gary tanner: What are they (you) going to do about finishing the game. This past game after the 2nd q. we seem read more
  • Steve in Dayton UKFBFAN: With UK it has always been about depth. Stay healthy and develop these other guys. read more
  • Greg Williams: I have two enhancement requests for the men's basketball schedule online. 1) Please list the days of the week with read more
  • Bill Coad: Having known Charlie since birth I might be bias in my opinion but this young man has what most of read more
  • 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