Cat Scratches

Recently in Features Category


Seeking to fill a football head-coaching vacancy nearly two years ago, Mitch Barnhart did his due diligence.

He met with candidates and evaluated many more. He called references and solicited the help of Tim Couch, the quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick who was there for some of Kentucky's best years. For more than three weeks, Barnhart worked behind the scenes to find the right man for the job.

Through it all there was one coach who stuck out, and it was his plan that differentiated Mark Stoops.

Then the defensive coordinator at Florida State, Stoops met with Barnhart and presented his blueprint for success at UK at a meeting in Atlanta. It covered everything from recruiting to an innovative High Performance program and the detail was incredible, such that it almost seemed too good to be true.

Twenty-three months later, it's become clear that Stoops' plan was no fairytale.

"He has followed that to a t," Barnhart said. "Everything he said he was going to do, he has done, and it's on schedule and on task."

For executing his ambitious plan, Stoops was rewarded on Friday with a contract extension that will keep him at Kentucky through the end of the 2019 season, adding another year to a deal that was first extended in May.


The new contract bumps Stoops' average base salary to $3.575 million. The deal also includes a $250,000 incentive for each win beginning with the seventh win each season, as well as incentives for postseason appearances, winning the Southeastern Conference or national championship and team academic performance. New deals for UK's assistant coaches are also forthcoming.

"Mark is guiding our program in the direction we all want it to go and we are proud to reward that," Barnhart said in a release announcing the news. "I was confident Mark was right for this job when I hired him, but he has exceeded my expectations. From leading a group of young men, to recruiting, to fundraising, to becoming an important part of the Lexington community, Mark has embraced and excelled in all facets of being Kentucky football head coach."

In doing so, Stoops led a renaissance of the UK program. Immediately, Stoops made waves on the recruiting trail and awoke a fan base hungry for football success. The wins didn't come as quickly, as the Wildcats managed just a 2-10 season in his first year.

This season, however, has been another story. UK is 5-3 entering a trip to Missouri for a game at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, exceeding its win total from the previous two years combined. The Cats also have a pair of SEC wins after going nearly three years without one.

"I am excited about the progress our team has shown on the field, but this is as much about the next five years as it is the last one and a half," Barnhart said.  "As I've said before, I believe we can compete at the highest level in the toughest conference. Mark is the coach to take us there."

Stoops' work at UK has already caused some national pundits and fans to connect his name to jobs that aren't even open yet. The contract extension curtailed some of that talk, but this was always about something deeper than that.

"This is about our relationship, and I don't ever want it -- I think people, when you start worrying about other folks, that's when you get distracted," Barnhart said. "And Mark is really good about not worrying about other people, and I want to make sure we don't get all hung up on worrying about other people."

It was Barnhart who initiated the talks and Stoops was receptive, mostly because he is "not interested in going anywhere."

"I want to show my commitment," Stoops said. "If you know anything about myself, about my family, past history -- whether it be with my brothers and different people -- loyalty's a pretty big thing with us."

Loyalty, when it comes to Stoops and UK, is a two-way street.

Since that initial meeting in Atlanta, Stoops and Barnhart have built a strong working relationship that's the foundation for that loyalty.

"Fairness is what I think Mark is really all about, and I love that," Barnhart said. "And I love the fact that I feel like he wants to for a good job for the University of Kentucky for all the right reasons. He's a solid, obviously, really solid, great football coach. I really love what he's doing with our football program, but more than that, he's just a great person."

"I just felt like it was always very easy conversations with myself and with Mitch, and I think we're both the type of people (that) what we say is what we mean," Stoops said. "I just felt very comfortable, and that's part of having any kind of success is just having good instincts on people and what you believe."

Relying on that shared relationship, Stoops and Barnhart have gone to work.

Beyond the results on the field and on the recruiting trail, UK's football facilities are being addressed in a big way. Stoops has helped pave the way for a $120 million stadium renovation that will be completed before next season and a new $45 million practice facility project that will break ground in January.

"Mark has energized our fan base, exhibited by the crowds we've been having at Commonwealth Stadium and the response we're getting in the seat reallocation process as we build into our new stadium for next year," Barnhart said. "That's exciting for us. He's been extremely helpful to our program in the fundraising area as we build our new football training center. We break ground on that in January. He's done a tremendous job in the fund-raising area as well and I'm appreciative of that."

As exciting as the future of Kentucky football is with the facility upgrades and his new contract, Stoops was a bit ill-at-ease standing at the podium on Friday. With a bus waiting outside to take him and the team to the airport for a flight to Columbia, Mo., as soon as his time with gathered media was done, it's understandable that his mind may have been elsewhere.

"Looking forward to getting on this plane and going to Missouri and trying to get this win," Stoops said.

Arin Gilliland and her fellow seniors won their home regular-season finale against Alabama on Thursday, 2-1. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Arin Gilliland and her fellow seniors won their home regular-season finale against Alabama on Thursday, 2-1. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Arin Gilliland has battled through indescribable adversity in her four years as a Wildcat to cement herself as the best player in the history of the Kentucky women's soccer program.

With all that in mind, Gilliland deserved a winning sendoff.

But 13 minutes into a Senior Night match against Alabama, UK yielded a tying goal.

"We gave up the goal on my mistake," Gilliland said.

As disappointed as she was in herself, allowing the goal only served to turn her final regular-season home match into more of a fairytale finish. In the 86th minute, Cara Ledman's corner kick found Kaitlin Miller, who headed the ball for a goal and a 2-1 victory for No. 24/18 UK (13-5, 8-3 Southeastern Conference).

"My team backed me up and they picked the team up and they got another one," said Gilliland, whose run toward goal forced the corner kick. "They found a way. Those are the kind of games that I live for, when my team finds a way to win in a tough situation. That's why this win is so special to me."

Making it even more special is the fact that UK almost certainly would have lost this game had it been played six weeks ago.

"It wasn't an aesthetically pleasing game, but sometimes you gotta find a way to grind it out," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "These are the exact wins earlier in the year that were losses. We just didn't grind out the difficult ones and I think that's part of our big change."

Before the "big change," UK had lost four times in six matches. The Cats entered the season with high hopes, but were all of a sudden perilously perched on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Since then, UK has won six matches in a row to secure the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament and make a strong case for a national seed in the big dance.

For that reason, Senior Night was hardly a farewell for this class of Gilliland, Stuart Pope, Emma Brown and Maddie Lockridge.

"It feels great, but I'm not sending them off," Lipsitz said. "We've got a lot more to do."

That starts in next week's conference tournament at 3:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday against an opponent to be determined.

As decorated the winningest class in school history is, these seniors have never won a game in the SEC Tournament. Gilliland is going to do everything in her power to change that.

"I never give for-sures, but I'm going to give everything I have and I know my team is going to do the same because they have a completely different attitude this year," Gilliland said. "They have this aggression about them. They have this really tough mentality and they want to win."

Lipsitz credits Gilliland and her fellow seniors for creating that toughness.

"What I right now love about this group is when things were hard we buckled down and we found a way," Lipsitz said. "That's what our program's about and that's the legacy these four are leaving us."

UK 'sharp' in Thursday Missouri prep

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment

The Kentucky football team took advantage of a beautiful fall day in Lexington, working outside on the Tim Couch Practice Fields on Thursday. The Wildcats are putting the finishing touches on preparations for a trip to Missouri.

"It's been a good week of practice so far," Mark Stoops said. "We had a good Thursday today. Guys are excited and look sharp in practice, so anxious to get on that plane tomorrow."

UK is in search of its first road win since the 2010 season opener against Louisville, and Stoops said getting the next one will be a "milestone" for his program. For that reason, the plane ride to and from Columbia, Mo., has been a subject in his messages to the team.

"Let's get on the plane to go there with a strong mindset and let's be joyous on that return," Stoops said. "We talk about it over and over: Nobody's going to give you anything. You got to go earn it. You got to prepare. And you got to go play well. So that's our mindset and hopefully we'll be able to do that."

Kentucky has lost road games this season, playing well in a loss at Florida and getting blown out at LSU. Stoops won't alter UK's travel plans in an effort to reverse the trend, but the Cats did switch up their early-week routine.

"I just thought, again, to break the monotony, we came in Sunday and knocked out the film," Stoops said. "I gave them Monday off. Just to have that day off Monday, they were good Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, so hopefully that'll carry."

Missouri is 6-2 (3-1 Southeastern Conference) on the season and presents yet another stiff test for Kentucky. The Tigers, however, have lost at home to Indiana and Georgia and both times the opponent committed no turnovers and allowed no big plays on special teams. UK will look to follow a similar roadmap.

"We have talked about it -- you've heard me talk about that -- that we haven't played a complete game yet," Stoops said. "And we need to do that to go win on the road against a quality opponent. So I think turnovers are always a big part of that, and special teams is always a big part of that. So hopefully we'll be solid in those areas. We worked really hard on special teams."

The Cats' special teams will get a boost this week with the expected return of Stanley "Boom" Williams. The running back is UK's most dangerous kick returner, but missed last week with a concussion.

"He's looked good," Stoops said. "Should be pretty fresh. Any time you get some time off and then come back, could help that way."


In search of a sixth win, Kentucky hit the practice field on Wednesday in preparation for a trip to face Missouri this weekend.

On another productive day, the focus was clear for the Wildcats.

"We're really harping on fundamentals," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "We're pushing the kids to the limit and they're responding well to that, getting ready for Missouri."

Fundamentals, for Eliot's defense, start in the running game. Last weekend, UK allowed 326 rushing yards to top-ranked Mississippi State, many coming after initial contact.

"Give them credit," Eliot said. "They have some very good runners: quarterback, tailbacks, wide receivers. They're all big. But I think that we could have played a lot better fundamentally. Tackling being the biggest thing. The players saw that too so we've really harped on that this week."

That began in the film room, where a long run with numerous broken tackles by running back Josh Robinson was a featured attraction after making the rounds online over the weekend.

"It was embarrassing just to watch how people were missing tackles," senior Bud Dupree said. "People had him wrapped up. There's no excuse for missing that many tackles."

Embarrassing as it may have been, Eliot called the play and others like it "a good learning opportunity" in the coaches' continuing quest to hammer home the importance of fundamentals. It's a message the Cats have heard all season long and even before.

"They say fundamentals every day," Dupree said. "All the meetings, just showing us fundamental things that we could do better. Showing you if your shoestrings aren't tied the right way, you need to tie them the fundamental way."

Tying shoelaces, however, hasn't been the primary emphasis in practice so much as not going for the forced fumble on first contact and flocking to the football.

"You gotta get a good swarm, swarm of guys to the ball," Eliot said. "When the first guy hits him and wraps him up, if he doesn't bring him down there's somebody else to bring him down."

Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and nine rebounds at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and nine rebounds at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Nick Jones, UK Athletics

In his opening statement following Monday night's Blue-White Scrimmage, UK head coach John Calipari said he would have liked to see a few guys play with a little more confidence.

But for freshman power forward Karl-Anthony Towns, confidence has never been an issue.

The 6-foot-11 forward from Piscataway, N.J., brings a rare skill set to a team with more McDonald's All-Americans than many current NBA rosters. On the offensive end Towns sees the floor exceptionally well for a player of his size, he can space the floor by shooting the ball consistently out to 24 feet, and he has developed more post moves than the average 18-year-old hoops star.

Developing these traits on the basketball court comes with the utmost level of confidence and swagger, which is obvious - even to the average fan of the game - as soon as he laces up his size-20 sneakers and takes the court. But Towns, along with a few of his teammates, failed to come out with the type of competitiveness and tenacity the coaching staff was hoping for.

"He fumbled balls today," Calipari said.  "There were some one-handed catches, some rebounds he didn't bring in. Plays like that, you know, those are plays that are easily made. Go make those."

Calipari watched the majority of the action as a spectator seated at the end of the scorer's table with his wife, and newly appointed special assistant Tony Barbee. As he grew noticeably more distressed throughout the first half, Cal could not help but intervene during the under-eight media timeout.

He marched over to the blue team's bench, only to have a one-way discussion with his prized freshman big man. When the horn sounded, Towns came out of the timeout with an entirely different mindset.

"When the game started out, it was different," Towns said. "You're playing for the first time this year in front of all these people, and it's very competitive. So we've got to change the gears. You could see when people started to get a little touchy, and some people started getting scored on, it became competitive because we were trying to win. So once that mindset kicked in, we really turned it up a notch."

Towns finished the scrimmage with totals of 20 points and 13 rebounds while knocking down all six of his free-throw attempts.

The Big Blue Nation was spoiled on Monday night in Rupp Arena with the absurd matchups on display, but it was the only real glimpse fans will see this season of the one-on-one battle between Towns and sophomore center Dakari Johnson that takes place each day behind the closed doors of the Joe Craft training facility.  

Johnson is every bit of 7-feet tall and 255 pounds. With his bruising style around the basket, Towns awarded Johnson with a nickname of his own: "The bear," he joked after taking numerous blows from Johnson throughout the scrimmage.

"He's a lovable bear, but not on the court," Towns said. "He's competitive and he comes hard every day. So he makes you have to bring your A-game every day too, but I enjoy it because it makes me a better player. It allows me to use my body more."

Even with the undeniable star power Towns brings to this 2014-15 Kentucky team, it's hard to look past the glow on his face when he starts to rave about his teammates. And with a team that is capable of going 12 deep into the rotation if necessary, there is plenty of praise to go around, especially with the depth on the interior.

"You've got three 7-footers. You've got Marcus Lee. You've got everybody around the rim," Towns said. "You really have to challenge yourself to even have the courage to go inside against all of us. But we make that a focal point as the big men that we protect the rim at all cost. And we make sure that the guards know that we have their back."

With such a loaded roster, especially in the frontcourt, it is typical for an incoming freshman to take a back seat to some of the veteran guys, but not Towns. His confidence in his own ability has him taking a much different approach to his first season as a Wildcat. He is focused on using this year as the ultimate learning experience.

"For us to have this opportunity to play at the University of Kentucky with so many great big guys, you're talking about the best in the whole nation in one gym all the time," Towns said. "Being able to learn from Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Trey Lyles, you're talking about a lot of different styles that you get to look at every day and try to utilize and implement their skills into your game too."

For those who know Towns, they will tell you he only wants to be great. When he committed to the Wildcats in December 2012, Towns announced his goal of becoming one of the all-time greats in the history of Kentucky's program. Obviously that is no easy task, but it is clear that the freshman big man is primed and ready for the spotlight.

Towns will begin to carve out his legacy on Sunday, Nov. 2, as the Cats take on Pikeville in their first exhibition at 7 p.m. ET in Rupp Arena.

Johnson embodying UK's competitive spirit

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Dakari Johnson had 13 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Dakari Johnson had 13 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Connor Link, UK Athletics

For most teams, competitive is the last word one might use to describe a preseason intrasquad scrimmage.

But, as the record nine McDonald's All-Americans and 10 projected NBA Draft picks indicate, most teams aren't Kentucky.

"You know we have a lot of competitive guys on this team," said sophomore Dakari Johnson. "When you put us out on the court, we are going to compete against each other."

Instead of first- and second-string rotations, Kentucky features two "platoons" of talented lineups. Instead of six or seven players earning the lion's share of playing time, the Wildcats boast 12 athletes with a chance to see the floor this season. For reasons like these, the annual Blue-White Scrimmage was no different than the countless high-intensity practices that took place prior: competitive.

"It's just the beginning of the season," said Johnson. "We still have a lot of things to work on and get better at. We started off as a bunch of competitive guys, and that's a good start."

In a talent pool laden with NBA potential, Johnson was able to stand out among his peers Monday night. The 7-foot Brooklyn native finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks while logging minutes for both the Blue and White squads. Ironically enough, his teammates are some of the steepest competition Johnson is expected to face all season.

"Just knowing that you're going to come out with four other guys that have the same competitive spirit, know how to play, and are talented as you," Johnson said, "it's just going to be great."

Johnson spent most of his time battling on the low block with freshman big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

"(Guarding Johnson is) very difficult," Towns said. "He's a bear down there. He's a bruiser."

After declining the opportunity for a possible first-round selection in last June's NBA Draft, Johnson spent the summer improving his conditioning and basketball skill set in order to help the Wildcats reach the pinnacle this year of which they fell just short last season.

"I feel much lighter," Johnson said. "That's the main focus. The bigs have to run the floor, because when you play with point guards like Tyler (Ulis) and Andrew (Harrison), they'll get you the baskets if you run the floor."

Throughout the scrimmage, Johnson wowed fans with plays that he simply was not able to make a season ago.

"I feel like I'm moving way better than last year," Johnson said. "Just getting the weight off me helped me a lot. Not getting tired so fast has really helped me, too."

Head coach John Calipari echoed the 19-year-old's sentiment.

"He's playing with great energy," said Calipari. "I mean, he's going after every ball. He has a fight and a fire in him."

Though the Blue team defeated the White by an official score of 94-66, the scoreboard was reset to 0-0 with 11:36 remaining in the second half. It was during this time that Johnson left the White team and traded places with Towns, who was originally on the Blue. Johnson's new ensemble won the second contest, 29-22. 

Even while encouraging spirited competition every day in practice, Calipari has instilled in his players that the ultimate team goal is for each student-athlete to improve as an individual.

"I enjoy (facing Johnson) every day because it makes me a better player," Towns said. "Playing against Dakari, (I) get to utilize some things and implement some things that he does so well on the post into my game. It can definitely change my game."

Johnson, who averaged 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds and started 18 games for last season's national runner-up team, looks to make the most of Calipari's in-and-out two-platoon system every time he's on the floor.

"Every time I step on the court, I just want to play my hardest and just compete out there," Johnson said. "That's what (Monday) was."

"We've got to challenge each other every day to be the best human beings we can be, and the best basketball players we can be," Towns said. "Having Dakari around makes the job very challenging, but it makes it very deserving, very loving, and just very fun. (We're) fortunate to have him around and on the team."

KGR_cw.jpeg Kyvin Goodin-Rogers heard the doctors saying how serious her condition was.

But lying in a hospital bed with her mother and Matthew Mitchell nearby, it had not quite sunk in. She was still thinking she'd be at practice the next day.

"Coach, he was there beside me, and I was like, 'Coach, I'll be there tomorrow,' and the doctor was like, 'No, you're not going to be playing,' " Goodin-Rogers said.

Last October, Goodin-Rogers, a 6-foot-1 forward, was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and would need to go on blood-thinning medicine for the next several months to ensure her long-term health. Though that was the only reasonable decision, it meant her first season as a Kentucky player had ended before it began.  

"Our doctors and the family decided to put her on blood thinners, which was the protocol that would try to guarantee her recovery and make sure that she didn't have any more problems or another one didn't occur, and so the moment she went on the blood thinners, her season was done," Mitchell said. "That was a tough day certainly for her."

It didn't stop being trying either, and Goodin-Rogers wasn't the only one affected.

Her new UK teammates had gotten to know her as a person and player over the summer and in fall practices and all of a sudden she was relegated to watching from the sideline. For Makayla Epps, who played with Goodin-Rogers at Marion County High School, it was particularly difficult.

"It put both of us down really bad," Epps said. "That's like my best friend. I've been with her for seven years and when I found that out it was real heartfelt for me. Like, I almost got real emotional about it. But we tried to keep her positive about it and all of that."

With the support of her teammates and coaches, Goodin-Rogers made the best of a bad situation.

"It was an eye-opening thing. Over the year I actually got more mentally tough about it. I took it more in a positive way than a negative way because everything happens for a reason."

It would have been easy for Goodin-Rogers to get down, especially when she learned a blood clot is a career-threatening condition for some high-level athletes, but she refused to think in those terms.

"No, never," Goodin-Rogers said, asked on UK Hoops media day whether she ever thought she'd played for the last time. "I knew I would play no matter what."

A year later, she's proven herself right.

Goodin-Rogers, a sophomore who will be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt, is poised to contribute when the Wildcats open the regular season on Nov. 14 against Appalachian State.

"Kyvin Goodin-Rogers has just bounced back from a very difficult freshman year with her health problems, and she looks really good right now and looks like a player we're going to be able to count on," Mitchell said.

Goodin-Rogers began building that confidence when she was officially cleared on April 28 after a battery of tests. Hours later, she was on the floor with her teammates playing in the most gratifying scrimmage of her life.

"It meant a lot because once you start going a few trips, I was like, 'Yeah, I still have this. I haven't lost anything,' " Goodin-Rogers said.

If you ask Epps, Goodin-Rogers has actually gained something. In a preseason scrimmage last weekend, Epps saw a player even better than the one rated a four-star prospect in high school.

"The kid hasn't played in a year and I was on the court with her and I love seeing her out there with me," Epps said. "And then when I was on the bench watching her, she was just going like she played last year. I was like, 'That's crazy. Like, you're amazing.' But she's back and I think she's better than she's ever been. Sitting out a year, that's just crazy. I can't wait to be out there with her for real."

After the scrimmage, there was one final hurdle for Goodin-Rogers to clear this week. She had to get through practice on the one-year anniversary of the day she reported chest pains to senior athletic trainer Courtney Jones.

"Yesterday, I was like, 'If I get past this day, I'm good. I'm going to play this season no matter what,' " Goodin-Rogers said.

That day behind her, Goodin-Rogers has moved her focus solely to preparing for the season. She's a potentially important piece for a UK frontcourt that lost stars DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker to graduation, laying the burden on the shoulders of seniors Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney, freshmen Alexis Rice and Alyssa Rice and Goodin-Rogers.

"We just need to keep working hard because we know how to play the game," Goodin-Rogers said. "It's just another game, another practice. We just gotta be mentally tough and prepared and know our positions."

Goodin-Rogers is a contender to start, but she's not overly concerned with that.

"I just want to be there for the team, do my part, do what I have to do, do my role to win games and do better," Goodin-Rogers said.

That's the perspective of a player who knows how much of a gift playing basketball is.

"I take every position more seriously than I ever have in my life," Goodin-Rogers said. "I'm just grateful to be back on the court and show what I have and (can) do, what I can for my teammates."

UK in the NFL: Cobb continues torrid TD pace

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
By Connor Link, UK Athletics

With only three former Cats picking up wins in the NFL's Week 8, seven UK alumni went home with losses. Nevertheless, a familiar face was able to extend his league-leading touchdown total, while one young player achieved a career milestone.

Another former Wildcat--Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay--saw no action on the field in his team's historic thrashing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Neither team recorded a single punt, marking the Packers' second such performance in four weeks, and only the third of its kind in NFL history.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (5-3)
Despite his team's 44-23 loss in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Randall Cobb came away with five catches for 126 yards and a 70-yard touchdown grab. Cobb's ninth touchdown of the season moved him into a tie for first place among all NFL receivers.

Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-6)
Juxtaposing his team's bumbling two-win 2014 campaign, Avery Williamson has continued to put together a sensational rookie season in terms of personal performance. The 6-foot-1 Tennessee native recorded a career-high 10 tackles and his first professional sack in the Titans' 30-16 loss to the Houston Texans.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-6)
Playing alongside Williamson on the Titans defense, Woodyard assisted in two tackles and logged four more of his own. Woodyard has combined for 49 total tackles on the season.

Jennifer O'Neill (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Jennifer O'Neill (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
As a college basketball player, Jennifer O'Neill has just about done it all.

Three Sweet 16s. Two Elite-Eights. A Southeastern Conference title. A 43 points on national TV in a football stadium. The list goes on and on.

But for the UK guard, plenty remains to be done. And she's put in a lot of time and effort to reach new heights in her last season at UK.

A player of O'Neill's stature -- having among other stellar credentials wowed a national audience with that school-record scoring performance in AT&T Stadium last season -- could be forgiven for lacking motivation. Yet given the work the senior has been putting in building up to the 2014-15 season, inspiration doesn't seem to be in short supply.

The fire that burns inside O'Neill is unique to her.

"So much motivates me," O'Neill said. "Definitely my mom, who set the bar high. My family, I want to be an example to my younger siblings and cousins. I read a quote that said, 'Work hard in silence and let your success speak for itself.'

"That's my mindset. I'm not worried about what people have to say about me, what people think about me. If I know what I'm doing, and I know I'm doing the right thing then I have nothing to worry about."

For her part O'Neill has always put in plenty of time in pursuit of improvement, but four years into her journey as a college basketball player, she has a more effective and efficient practice routine.

"When I first got here I was really out of shape, so I worked on my fitness and nutrition," O'Neill said. "I started taking it seriously and understanding when I was able to eat certain things at what time. Not counting calories, but really watching what I ate, when I ate it, at the time I ate it and stuff like that.

"Now I really work on my mechanics. Little things I could do to get better. As far as footwork, making sure how my follow-through goes so my wrist isn't twisted to the side. I'm constantly working with the coaches as much as possible. I get as many shots up as I can. Really that's it, just my mechanics and technique is what I'm working on right now."

As a player O'Neill can always work on her game, but as a senior expected to play substantial minutes, she could also be called on to assume a leadership role.

The role of veteran leader is a bit novel to O'Neill, but it's one she has already started growing into.

"I talk a lot more now," O'Neill said. "Sometimes I get quiet and I don't even realize it until Matthew (Mitchell) says things or my teammates say something. I'm definitely talking a lot more than I ever have since I've been here.

"I'm trying to lead by example by really showing my teammates what they need to do in order to get better. It's something I didn't do my freshman year."

While O'Neill may not have initially been comfortable showing the way to her teammates, some of the UK Hoops newcomers have taken notice of O'Neill's influence early this year.

"Players like Jennifer O'Neill have taken me under their wing," freshman Alexis Jennings said. "She's made me feel like I'm sisters with everyone on the team already. She's been here a while, and I can count on her to give it to me straight. Every practice she encourages me."

Indeed O'Neill's embrace of a role as a mentor was likely outside her comfort zone, but it's indicative of the attitude she's taken on since arriving at UK.

"I've grown up a lot; I've learned a lot," O'Neill said. "I've been exposed to a lot of knowledge from coaches. They have just passed their knowledge down to me and just showed me what I needed to do. How I need to improve."


Cal's platoon challenge clear, but so is upside

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns battle for a loose ball at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns battle for a loose ball at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari moved to the opposite of the court for most of Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage, taking a seat next to his wife and leaving his assistants to do the work on the bench.

He couldn't help but interject on occasion, but he spent most of his time watching his two platoons go head to head.

It was in those moments as an observer that he realized just how unique a coaching challenge he's created for himself. The thing is, he's created the same challenge for his peers.

"The issues I'm going to have, the other coach is going to have, too," Calipari said.

Given the opportunity, any opposing coaches who happened to tune in to UK's annual preseason scrimmage surely would trade places with Coach Cal.

Kentucky's unmatched depth was on display, with seven players scoring in double figures. Devin Booker led the way with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Andrew Harrison had 19 for the Blue team, which came away with a 94-66 victory.

Though the final score wasn't close, this edition of the Blue-White Scrimmage was a departure from years past.

"I think we all could see that we were all really competing hard at each other and acting like it was a Louisville-Kentucky game, but it was against each other," said Karl-Anthony Towns, who impressed with 18 points and nine rebounds. "We really went hard at each other, but we had a lot of fun. I definitely had fun. I really enjoyed today and I just can't wait to play with the other team on our team."

"The other team on our team." That serves to illustrate what the Cats will try to do when they're all wearing the same color uniform.

For the better part of three months now, Coach Cal has been preparing his team to play the two-platoon system. Nonetheless, he can't be sure from games on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour, practices or the scrimmage exactly what it's going to be like to coach the system when he doesn't have free rein to reset the score with 11:30 remaining as he did on Monday.

"I don't know," Calipari said. "We're going to find out. We haven't done it yet. Today we just played a bunch of guys."

Slightly more thought went into it than that.

The Blue team -- before Cal switched up the squads -- was comprised of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein and Towns. White's starters were Tyler Ulis, Booker, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson. Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins split time between the two teams.

"You want to have a point guard on each group," Calipari said. "You want to have some size on each group. And how do they fit together?"

Experience is also a consideration.

"I'll probably try some different combos," Calipari said. "I kind of like two freshmen on a team, three vets on a team. It gives it some balance."

With all the thought Calipari is putting into the composition of the two platoons, the players are steering clear of concerning themselves with who belongs on which team. They're just playing.

"The combinations we don't worry about," Towns said. "We just worry about going out there and doing everything we need to do to get a W. That's not our job. Our job is to go out there and execute the plan Coach Calipari gives us."

The plan is clear, though the particulars are still a work in progress. There's no manual for what UK is about to try.

"We're just going to see what happens," Calipari said. "I mean, I'm committed to it. It's the best thing for these players. Now we got to make it the best thing for our team."

Recent Comments

  • Philip Cormier: Thanks Coach Calipari! read more
  • Stephen brown: Kayla, great words. Nicely written. Chris Stevenson, your PA for meets is a friend of mine. He got permission from read more
  • Anthony Spurlock: I'm 56 and have waited a very long time to see a uk football team with football player. So proud read more
  • John: wildcats doing awesome this year read more
  • Guy Ramsey: He mentioned coaching numerous times in his postgame press conference, including his opening statement: "OK. You know, there's not a read more
  • Brian: Funny that Stoops said they got outplayed but forgot to mention that he and his staff were also out coached... read more
  • William Bagshaw: The Kentucky Madness was a failure for the fans that was not on court. This was useless to put on read more
  • justin: Poythress is a straight beast. read more
  • John Lee: On the article, it says "early in the fourth quarter," but it should be 'first' instead..because we only trailed early read more
  • Hugh Jones: We'll be in Memorial and Rupp for all your games. Love you gals! Go Cats! read more