Cat Scratches

Recently in Features Category

In Their Own Words: Junior Amy Roemmele

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Roemmele Journal Graphic.jpg
Throughout the fall, each UK gymnast will share her thoughts about the upcoming 2015 season, what it's like being a Division I student-athlete at Kentucky and what makes being a Wildcat so special. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

Next up is junior Amy Roemmele, a native of White Lake, Mich. Roemmele talks about the annual conditioning test to begin each season. One of three gymnasts to post a perfect score on the test this fall, Roemmele talks about the advantages of the conditioning test and how it has helped get the team prepared for fall practice.

A full archive of all the gymnast's "In Their Own Words" entries can be found here.

As Kayla mentioned in the last edition of "In Our Own Words," the start of the new school year is kicked off by the annual conditioning test. This test not only challenges our physical abilities, but also our mental toughness. It is a combination of total body strength exercises to determine who is physically fit enough to begin official training. The more physically fit you are, the more successful you will be when the season comes around. This year's conditioning test was different than last year's in both exercises and difficultly level.

At the end of the 2014 competitive season, Tim told us what this year's test would entail. Because it was so different than in the past, we took a pre-test over the span of two days to determine exactly where each of us stood. Based on those results, each gymnast knew exactly what she needed to work on for the next three months. It was also determined that everyone had to score a 60% or higher to pass the test when given at the beginning of this year.

It was very nice to have everyone on campus over the summer, including the four new freshmen. This was a great opportunity for everyone to train for the conditioning test the same way and together, as a team. We had voluntary gymnastics practice along with weights and cardio run by our strength and conditioning coach, Ryan DeVriant. Our weights program was designed specifically for exercises on the conditioning test. I believe this is the most important aspect in preparation for the new year. We get to know each other a little better and the freshman are able to get accustomed to the college lifestyle at a more relaxed pace. After the summer session of classes ended, we had about three weeks to prepare on our own.

Finally, the end of August rolled around and it was time to show exactly what we worked for. Again, the test was divided into two days. It was great to see how much each of us progressed from the pre-test in the spring, and even more rewarding to have a 100% pass rate and three perfect scores!

Personally, I think the conditioning test is a great way to kick off the year. It helps get everyone in the right mindset and also sets the tone in the gym for the upcoming season. It is very exciting to see how supportive everyone is of each other and how badly each person wants to be successful. Each year, the conditioning test brings out the best in us as teammates.

UK held its annual Media Day on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK held its annual Media Day on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For outsiders, intrigue surrounds the two-platoon system John Calipari plans to use this year.

Which players will play together? Will regular-season opponents be as overwhelmed by UK's depth as its Big Blue Bahamas opponents? Will the Wildcats be able to stay together through the inevitable clutter that the season will bring?

For those inside Kentucky basketball's circle, as Coach Cal calls it, the feeling isn't all that different.

"It's just going to be interesting," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "It's going to be interesting to see how Cal pieces everything together and how -- once games start flowing -- how our intensity level's going to be once we start platooning."

Nearly two weeks into practicing full time, the intensity is there.

"The practices should be what they are, which is they're competitive," Calipari said. "There are no easy baskets. You're not getting layups."

As for the Cal piecing it together thing, there's a longer way to go on the eve of Big Blue Madness.

In the Bahamas, the Cats used two five-man units for four-minute stretches and deviated only in the case of blowouts and a couple close-and-late scenarios. Absent, however, were junior Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, two of the more talented players on a roster full of them.

Cauley-Stein and Lyles, two months later, are back, giving Calipari two more options but also two more mouths to feed. The fact that they're both big men and they join an already crowded frontcourt featuring Karl-Anthony Towns, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress complicates matters even more.

Consequently, Coach Cal is doing some experimenting.

"I'm still not convinced of what the groups will look like," Calipari said. "Yesterday or two days ago I changed the group a little bit and I didn't like them. I went back. We may change some big guys and switch them on different teams to see what that looks like, because at the end of the day I'm coaching two teams."

UK's annual Media Day on Thursday was the first time Calipari put the job he's facing in those terms, but it makes sense.

Following the lead of his coaching mentors and the legendary John Wooden, Coach Cal has long espoused the notion that the best teams feature shorter rotations.

His track record backs that up.

On his three Final Four teams at UK, never have more than seven players averaged double-digit minutes. On the national title team, six players carried the load, with each playing at least 26.1 minutes per game.

Now set to try to achieve the same kind of success using a completely different style, Calipari is joking he needs another raise five months after signing a new contract.

"The best teams that I've coached, I've coached six guys, whether it's (UMass), Memphis or here," Calipari said. "Now that being said, I'm doing it twice now. In other words, I'm coaching these guys together, and I'm coaching two different teams I've asked to be paid twice. I'm not sure they'll do that, but if I've got to coach two teams, then I think it's fair -- a fair question anyway."

Calipari was struck by the idea for the platoon system when he learned Andrew and Aaron Harrison would both wait on the NBA Draft. Realizing he had a roster with 12 players who would likely start for almost any other team in the country, he had to devise a plan that would fit his players-first mantra.

Seeking to find a balance between playing so many guys and developing the kind of chemistry he believes is necessary to win at the highest level, he trotted out the platoons to great effect in the Bahamas. They worked, so they live on with less than a month before the Cats open the regular season against Grand Canyon on Nov. 14.

But as committed as he is to making a new system work, Calipari isn't chaining himself to his brainchild.

"This isn't communism, so if one group deserves to play a little bit more, they will," Calipari said. "It's not communism. If two guys separate themselves and need to get more minutes because you all look and say that kid is so good, he needs more minutes, it's not communism, they'll get more minutes."

To keep the socioeconomic analogy going, Calipari's players believe introducing some free-market concepts into the platoon system is a must.

"That's important because as a team we have to understand that if a guy's playing good he should be out there," Tyler Ulis said. "So if Andrew's in but it's my turn to rotate in, if he's playing good I should understand that he needs to be in the game at that point."

Calipari also opened the possibility of adjusting situationally.

"At the end of the game if they're fouling, it would probably be pretty smart to have five good foul shooters in," Calipari said. "And you won't believe this, I'll probably do that."

Short of those things, it's full steam ahead with the platoons. Calipari expects change as the season wears on, but for now the Cats are committed to doing whatever is asked of them.

"I think that everybody's ego is checked," Lyles said. "Everybody believes in each other and we're all happy for each other. Whatever Coach wants from us, I think that we're going to be able to do that."

Even more importantly, the players understand how the system can benefit them individually and the team as a whole.

"It won't be a problem because the outcome of the bigger picture of it," Cauley-Stein said. "The way that we can play with guys getting fewer minutes is going to make you look better, for one. And two, the intensity of the game is going to be crazy. When people watch us play and they see how fast everybody is and how quick we get the ball up the floor and how hard we play on defense, that sets the tone. People are going to look at that and just be amazed by that."

In spite of all that potential, Calipari is already hearing the "clutter" that will fly at his team all season on the recruiting trail. Over the noise, he also hears an opportunity calling him to prove the doubters wrong, have his watershed moment and do right by his players in an unprecedented way.

"Why would you go there?" Calipari said. "These guys aren't leaving. Here, oh, what if you only play 20 minutes? It's OK. It's less pressure. It's not on me. It's on us. I can be a great teammate. I can improve my skills, and they all got drafted and they all won, and then -- so it's an issue now if this works. I'm on a mission to make this work for each of these kids."

John Calipari at UK's annual Media Day on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari at UK's annual Media Day on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
All the talk last year was 40-0.

Could Kentucky win them all? Could the 2013-14 group become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated? What would be the biggest challenge in UK's pursuit of perfection?

Silly Cats -- they never stood a chance.

Kentucky, as we all know now, would fold in the first half of last season under such overwhelming expectations. Supremely talented but characteristically naïve for young guys, the freshman-dominated team lost early and unexpectedly often during spots of last season.

Technically speaking, the Cats never fully embraced the idea of going 40-0, but they sure as heck didn't downplay the talk either.
In hindsight, the older, wiser players admitted at Thursday's Media Day that they drank the Kool-Aid.

"We focused on we've got to win the national championship instead of taking it one game at a time," Andrew Harrison said. "We overlooked some teams. We didn't focus on every practice, every drill and every possession at practice. We paid for it."

They're hell-bent on making sure history doesn't repeat itself this season.

One year since the 40-0 talk hit a tipping point at last season's Media Day, there was no talk of historic achievements, no tiptoeing around the possibility of perfection, not even a whisper from the head coach who has admitted that he would one day like to go 40-0 - just because, he says, people say it can't be done.

With a team that probably has a better shot than last year's group did of going undefeated because of the increase in depth, experience and talent, not a single player talked about 40-0 on Thursday other than to downright squash the talk.

"We're not going to get caught up in the 40-0 talk again like we did last year," Dakari Johnson said.

Said fellow sophomore Dominique Hawkins: "We're definitely not saying 40-0 because of last year, what happened. We just feel like we need to compete and play our best. Like Coach Cal said, we're going to take it one game at a time."

Ah, the old "one game at a time" talk. But perhaps there's actually substance in the old sports cliché with these Wildcats.

See, last season, as Hawkins explained, they got caught up in the big picture of the expectations. They heard the talk of the 40-0 and they enjoyed it. They wanted to make history and certainly had the talent to do so.

"Coming in freshman year, we probably thought it was going to be easier than we thought," Hawkins said.

The problem was, in looking so far down the road, they forgot all the pit-stops along the way. Before they knew it, they weren't even halfway down the road with a couple of flat tires and a leaky transmission.

Fortunately for UK, the engine was still running at season's end.

"I'd never been through starting five freshmen," Calipari said Thursday. "I don't know of many people (who have). So there were things that we went through that it took time."

The Cats say youth had every bit to do with buying into the hype last year.

"It's hard transitioning from high school where no one's really saying much about you or you have a bad days and it's just like, it's just a bad day, it doesn't really matter," sophomore Marcus Lee said. "But in college, you have a bad day, it's blown up. You hear it for three days. And then you have that from that game to the next game to try to change your mindset. It's just something you learn by doing it."

Calipari calls it the process, something he swears by doing this year despite the allure of the final product.

"You cannot skip steps," he said Thursday.

Keep in mind, less than two hours earlier his team had just received the official stamp of preseason hype when it was voted the No. 1 team in the first USA Today Coaches' Poll of the year.

And yet Calipari was more interested in talking about losses this time around than how his team will avoid them.

"Is this going to be easy? No," he said. "How about this? Will there be bumps in the road? Oh yeah. We probably, in all likelihood, are going to lose a couple games. ... I have to be patient, too, and understand that's going to be part of the process."

The process stuff is nothing new from Calipari, but it fell on deaf (and freshman) ears last season.

"As players, we're young and we don't really understand sometimes the stuff that he's trying to tell us to get in our minds," Hawkins said. "When he said it over and over, that's what helped us realize that we needed to do that."

Only then, when the season was at its last stop, did the players fully understand what their head coach was talking about. Fortunately for them, it wasn't too late.

"Now we realize that since we played last year that every game is going to be someone's Super Bowl when they play against us," Hawkins said.

The difference this year is the Cats now know that from the outset.

"We've learned not to think about the season as a whole and just to think game by game and day by day, just to get better," Lee said. "We're more prepared because we're a year older, college wise, and we kind of know what to expect. We know how to get through tough times better. It's easier to deal with it ... when half the team already knows how to deal with it."

The only expectations this Kentucky group is concerned with are its own.

"The only expectations I have, again, making this work for all these kids," Calipari said. "If we do that, they'll drag this where it's supposed to go."

On Thursday, Mark Stoops spoke with the media for the final time before Kentucky's trip to LSU.

Following a light practice, Stoops sounded like a coach confident his team is prepared to turn in its best effort on Saturday.

"Good practice today, putting the finishing touches on a pretty good week of work so far," Stoops said. "Guys are excited. We'll have a run-through tomorrow, but so far so good. Been a good week. Guys have worked hard. Energy's high. So we expect to go down there and play well."

No matter how ready the Wildcats may be, beating the Tigers won't be easy. LSU is a young group, but Les Miles' team is talented.

"We'll be prepared," Stoops said. "It's still a challenge. It's obviously a very big challenge. They're not only physical, they're skilled and they know what they're doing. They put pressure on you."

The 100,000-plus in Tiger Stadium at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday will do the same. UK is two days away from facing its second road test of the season and handled the first at Florida well. Nonetheless, Stoops knows the Cats will need to respond when things go awry in Death Valley.

"(Noise) really didn't affect us much the last time we were at that type of environment," Stoops said. "Let's hope it's the same. I think it's certainly not uncommon to see some problems when you're in a hostile environment, so if we get a few, we've just got to be able to overcome them."

Patrick Towles threw for 369 yards at Florida, UK's lone road game so far in 2014. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Patrick Towles threw for 369 yards at Florida, UK's lone road game so far in 2014. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
They call it Death Valley for a reason.

Tiger Stadium, no matter who you ask, is among the most difficult places to play in college football. When LSU plays at night, winning becomes becomes an even tougher proposition for visitors.

On Saturday, Kentucky will face exactly that challenge.

But the sense of dread opponents are supposed to have ahead of a trip to Baton Rouge, La., it's not there for the Wildcats.

"I'm excited about getting down there and really just chalking it up and seeing where we're at," quarterback Patrick Towles. "They're a really good football team. I'm excited for the environment. I'm sure it's going to be packed."

It's not a lack of respect for Tiger Stadium or the crowd of 100,000-plus expected to pack it for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff on the SEC Network that's prompting that excitement. The Cats (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) don't see weakness in LSU (5-2, 1-2 SEC), a team coming off a win at Florida, either.

The attitude is all about viewing challenges as opportunities. That starts at the top.

"I love the atmosphere. I've been down there before," said head coach Mark Stoops, who lost 45-3 at LSU in 2006 as Arizona defensive coordinator. "They are passionate fans, and it's a hostile environment, and that's why we play. That's why we coach. We want to continue to win games to put ourselves in position to play in big games."

UK-LSU will have an unmistakably big-game feel.

The Cats, winners of three straight and two in a row in conference, are in the thick of the SEC East race. LSU, meanwhile, is a young team still setting its sights on winning the treacherous SEC West. The Tigers have lost twice, but to Mississippi State and Auburn, teams currently ranked No. 1 and No. 6 in the AP Top 25.

Les Miles' team is as athletic as ever, particularly on defense.

"They're inexperienced at certain positions, but very talented," Stoops said. "They're extremely talented in the secondary. You know, that's something that I noticed right away in watching them. Just have great appreciation for the way they cover people. They're big and long and athletic, and obviously very well coached with Coach (John) Chavis being around forever, doing a great job."

Of the 13 players listed on LSU's depth chart at cornerback and safety, only one is shorter than 6 feet. Sophomore corner Rashard Robinson is the tallest of the bunch at 6-3, but the whole group - which Neal Brown called the most talented UK has played - will present problems.

"We've got to be able to stick our releases and we must keep their hands off of us," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "And we've got to take into effect that they're a little bit longer than the average guy we're going against."

UK will have its hands full closer to the line of scrimmage as well. Brown likened 6-6 defensive end Danielle Hunter to Florida star Dante Fowler and called Kwon Alexander the best linebacker UK will have faced.

"Athletic, long and fast," Towles said of the LSU defense. "A lot like Florida and how they were. I mean, they're tough. I mean, they're good everywhere, so it's going to be a challenge for us."

It's a challenge the likes of which Towles has responded to before. The sophomore's high-school reputation for playing his best when it matters most has followed him to college, with Towles turning in a 369-yard effort through the air at Florida in UK's lone loss and showing few ill effects from the most hostile atmosphere he's faced to date.

"We always got to answer the bell when it calls," Towles said. "The Florida game it called. Whenever it does, you've got to answer. That's how really we've been all year. When somebody throws a shot at you, you've got to throw one back. That's kind of been the big difference between this year and years past. Yeah, I mean, if I'm going to have to make a play there's no doubt in my mind I'm going to make the play."

Towles' production this season has fluctuated based on what his team has needed. He had a big statistical day at Florida, making multiple downfield throws, but played it closer to the vest in wins over South Carolina and Ohio.

The dynamic has prompted the "game-manager" label to be thrown around this week. Towles didn't cringe when the phrase came up and Stoops actually called it a positive, but both head coach and quarterback know Towles going to have to come up big at LSU.

"I know he's going to have to throw the ball well for us to win some games," Stoops said. "And this week it's not going to be easy, and he has to be more than a manager in this game. His talent has to show and he's gotta play confident and he's gotta throw the ball and he's gotta play aggressive."

The same is true for UK's defense.

The Cats, after a rough start against ULM, bounced back and pitched a shutout over the final 45 minutes. UK allowed just 77 yards on 40 carries, shoring up a run defense that struggled against South Carolina and Florida. LSU gets it done differently than the Gamecocks and Gators, but no less effectively, especially with the emergence of true freshman Leonard Fournette.

"LSU is almost exclusively a pro-style offense," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Florida and South Carolina, they did a lot of different things and different looks, and LSU is a pro-style offense, so you mainly see pro-style runs. You see an I backfield. You see the quarterback under center. You see power. You see iso plays, where the fullback's (isolating) up on the linebackers."

At quarterback, LSU has rotated between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. Miles named Jennings the starter this week, but that hasn't affected UK's preparation a great deal.

"Both are very athletic," Eliot said. "You got to keep them contained. If they get out, they can get some yards. Strong arms. So there's not really much difference between the two."

Believe it or not, the atmosphere the Cats will walk into on Saturday hasn't affected their preparation much either. They feel like they're ready for it.

"The game plan we've got, it really carries and it works everywhere," Towles said. "For the really good teams, that loudness is not a distraction. Really, for me, I love playing on the road because it really helps me focus better. If I got a lot of people yelling, I know that, 'Hey, I gotta really focus right now.' So I like it. I hope they get as loud as they can."

UK piling up good practices in LSU prep

| No TrackBacks | 1 Comment

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown left the field on Tuesday praising Kentucky's preparation.

Based on what D.J. Eliot said on Wednesday, the Wildcats are piling up good practices ahead of a trip to LSU on Saturday.

"We had a very good practice today," Eliot said. "We had a lot of intensity. Guys were flying around, communicating, playing physical and making plays. That's what we needed to have on a Wednesday."

The good start to LSU week comes on the heels of a game on Saturday in which UK started slow and fell behind 14-3 early in the first quarter. Practicing well is one sign the slow start won't repeat itself at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

"We've had a very good practice this week," Eliot said. "Last week, couldn't necessarily tell at the moment, but obviously that was the case to start the game on Saturday. So I think that this week we've had good tempo and good practice, and guys are ready."

In spite of the way UK started against ULM, the Wildcats were improved in run defense after the Gamecocks gashed them a week earlier. UK allowed just 77 yards on 40 carries against the Warhawks.

"We were much better," Eliot said. "We played better against the run. Linebackers played better, which is good. Khalid Henderson had one of his best games. And it was good to see us make those strides."

Considering the way true freshman Leonard Fournette (140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida) has been running in LSU's pro-style attack, the Cats will need to be on their game again this weekend.

"He is a very, very, very good tailback," Eliot said. "He is extremely athletic but yet has size where he can run you over too. And he's become a better player every game. Being a freshman, he doesn't have any college experience and you can see the improvement in him every single game. And he sees the hole very well. He has great vision, change of direction and, like I said, power."

The 2014-15 Kentucky women's basketball team. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) The 2014-15 Kentucky women's basketball team. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Leading UK Hoops in its ascendance to among the best programs in women's college basketball, Matthew Mitchell has coached some truly elite players.

In recent seasons, Victoria Dunlap, A'dia Mathies and DeNesha Stallworth have been capable of carrying Kentucky to wins and they often have. Thanks in large part to them, Mitchell's teams have made four Sweet 16 trips in five seasons.

This year, UK's roster looks a little different.

"I think that we don't have a real definite superstar that's going to carry us," Mitchell said.

Based on that fact, Mitchell collaborated with his coaching and marketing staff to shape the theme for 2014-15. They settled on "Our Season," and the meaning behind it is simple.

UK might not have a superstar capable of taking over on any given night, but the Cats do have a collection of talent that can carry them to the same heights as in previous years. In fact, they believe they can sail even higher if they live out the mantra.

"We're really going to have to do it together," Mitchell said. "The players are going to have to take great ownership in their team and really become a group."

Mitchell and the Cats took a first step toward doing that by participating in an exercise of self-reflection.

"What can you really become?" Mitchell said. "What limitations does the team have? What limitations do I have as a coach? What can I do well as a coach? What can the team do well?"

Through that exercise, Mitchell, his staff and players identified three superlatives the Cats need to work toward.

First, Mitchell believes UK can be the most defensively disruptive team in the country. Based on his background coaching his "40 minutes of dread" style, his opinion has some weight.

Next, Mitchell sees potential for Kentucky to be the fastest team in the country. Considering UK returns all but one major contributor from a dynamic backcourt of a season ago - including point guards Janee Thompson, Jennifer O'Neill and Makayla Epps, a trio that can even play together - that seems a possibility.

Last, Mitchell wants his team to be the toughest group in the nation. With indefatigable senior guard Bria Goss leading the way, it would be unwise to discount the Cats on that front.

"I believe those are all reachable goals for us," Mitchell said. "Now, where does that land us? I don't know."

The destination might be unclear, but the path is not.

"I think that when you focus on those things, then your practice has to look like that every day," Mitchell said. "You've got to have tough practices, you've got to have fast-paced practices, you have to spend the time to be disruptive on defense."

Even though Big Blue Madness - historically the first practice of the season - isn't until Friday, the Cats have been at work since Oct. 5. What Mitchell is asking in demanding his team become the most disruptive, fastest and toughest in the game isn't easy, but the Cats are responding to the challenge so far.

"It's real, real difficult to be your best," Mitchell said. "It's real difficult. Most people are just kind of getting by, and most people are just sort of existing and doing enough to get whatever done and is required. So, we're trying to go above that. The thing that I continue to tell them is that we're not asking you to do anything you can't do. You're capable."

Fitting right in so far is UK's highly touted freshman class of guard Jaycee Coe and post players Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice. The same is true of gifted sophomores Epps, Linnae Harper and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, though Goodin-Rogers fits in more with that freshman group since she sat out last season while recovering from a pulmonary embolism.

"Last year's freshmen to the sophomores this year are miles ahead of where they were," Mitchell said. "The freshmen this year, from a work standpoint, are miles ahead of where the freshmen were last year. That young core that we have that we're depending on, there have been some real signs of optimism."

When the freshmen face inevitable lapses, Goss will be there. She has been a consistent positive presence in topping the 1,000-point mark through her first three seasons at UK, but her leadership figures to be even more valuable now that she's one of four seniors on the team.

"She's very vocal, very committed, great example of what we want our players to be from a character standpoint," Mitchell said. "She's really shooting the ball well, shooting the ball great right now. I think she'll be a big key to us."

As important as Goss may be, UK's success isn't all about her or any single coach or player. The Cats are calling 2014-15 "Our Season" for good reason.

"I just think that they have great, great promise and ability to be a great team," Mitchell said. "But they're going to have to do it together."

UK Hoops freshmen Jennings steps into big shoes

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Alexis Jennings (UK Athletics Photo) Alexis Jennings (UK Athletics Photo)
Alexis Jennings has big shoes to fill in more ways than one.

Yes, UK Hoops is looking to replace departed post plaers DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker -- two of the most productive players in program history.

But the 6-foot-2 true freshman forward has been following in hallowed footsteps her entire life.

Her mother, Tracy McCall, is a former professional basketball player and one of the best players in the history of the University of North Alabama.

Jennings hasn't shrunk from her strong basketball heritage. She's seemed to take on every challenge she's faced in the game in excelled so far in her career.

To date, she has lived up to, if not exceeded, the expectations one might have of a player from such a distinguished pedigree.

"My mom has always motivated me to be the best player I can be," Jennings said. "She's been there. She's in the Hall of Fame at UNA, where she did great things. I see myself as following on her path."

Jennings was rated the ninth best high-school post player in the nation and the No. 64 overall prospect class of 2014 by ESPN.

She was named 6A State Player of the Year and the 2013-14 Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year in Alabama after she led Sparkman High School to the state championship, averaging 22.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and 3.2 steals with an 81-percent free-throw shooting percentage.

So perhaps the challenge of stepping in and contributing at a perennially elite team right away isn't that daunting for Jennings.

"I want to come in right away and make an impact," Jennings said. "I will have a role to fill, and I want to do that to the best of my ability."

Jennings chose UK largely because the team's style of play seemed to fit her game.

"Alexis is an extremely versatile post player who possesses all of the characteristics we look for at Kentucky," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She is strong, athletic and skilled. Her ability to run the floor was attractive to us.

"Alexis has 3-point shooting range which will stretch the defense and she can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket to score. She is hard-nosed and tough on the defensive end and she will be very effective in full-court press situations. I am thrilled Alexis chose Kentucky. She will be a significant player here."

When asked to describe her style, Jennings seemed to agree with her coach.

She made it a point to mention her ability to run the floor, but asserted that her post game was her strongest asset.

"I'm a versatile player," Jennings said. "I like to run, and I think I'm more effective in the open floor. I think I'm very strong down low and I can step back and shoot the 3."

So Jennings' game seems to fit Mitchell's up-tempo, pressure defense-based playing style, but she chose for Kentucky for reasons bigger than just basketball.

"I came here because it's a family-oriented program," Jennings said. "And its been evident since we started practicing. Players like Jennifer O'Neill have taken me under their wing. 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."

So far things seem to have gone smoothly for Jennings, but bigger stages and bigger challenges await.

In terms of stage it won't get much bigger than Friday's Big Blue Madness.

By Connor Link, UK Athletics

It was an NFL Week 6 that saw UK's alumni post a combined record of 8-2-1. Garry Williams of the Carolina Panthers partook in the NFL's first tie of the season, which also happened to be the highest scoring stalemate in NFL history. Williams and the Panthers matched the Bengals 37-37 on the road in Cincinnati.

Sunday against the New York Jets, Danny Trevathan of the Denver Broncos reinjured the same knee that sidelined him for the Broncos' first three games of the season. The linebacker's MRI revealed a fracture in the bone just above his left knee.

Larry Warford, an offensive lineman who claims to have never touched a live ball during a single game of his entire football career (save for a recovered fumble while playing defense in seventh grade), almost made that dream a reality Sunday. Warford, at 6-foot-3 and 330 pounds, ran his first route as an eligible receiver Sunday in a win over the Minnesota Vikings. However, the trick play was flushed out early and Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions was sacked before he could find Warford downfield.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (4-2)
For the seventh time this season, Randall Cobb was able to find the end zone on the receiving end of an Aaron Rodgers pass. Cobb finished the day with five catches for 58 yards, and the Packers defeated the Miami Dolphins 27-24. Cobb's seven total touchdowns are good for No. 2 in the NFL.

Stevie Johnson | #13 WR | San Francisco 49ers (4-2)
Stevie Johnson matched Cobb's five-catch total, totaling 53 yards on Monday Night Football. Although Johnson failed to score a touchdown for the first time in three weeks, the 49ers defeated the St. Louis Rams 31-17.

Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-4)

Avery Williamson came up huge for the Titans in their second win of the season. With less than five minutes remaining and the Titans up 16-7, the Jacksonville Jaguars were rapidly approaching the Tennessee red zone. However, Jags wide out Cecil Shorts III fumbled the ball, allowing Williamson to make the recovery and race 41 yards downfield. The highlight play complemented a three-tackle performance, and the Titans won the game 16-14.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-4)
Alongside Williamson, Wesley Woodyard tallied six tackles of his own in the Titans victory. Woodyard was responsible for four solo tackles, while two more came as assists.

Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant.

As it turns out, it's pretty good for a football team too.

Under Mark Stoops, the UK program has established an open floor for communication. When there's a mistake, it's corrected. When a player makes a bad decision, he hears about it.

Stoops has a simple explanation for how that's been accomplished.

"Well, there's no place to hide," Stoops said at his weekly press conference on Monday.

Bad habits, with Stoops in charge, are exposed, and it's not just the coaches doing the correcting. Players -- from senior leaders to first-year freshmen -- have become empowered in policing themselves and the result is a culture of accountability that's been a driving force behind UK's 5-1 start entering a trip to LSU this weekend.

"The players gotta understand they can't be naive, and that's what helps with some of the things we're doing, whether it be peer evaluations and different things," Stoops said. "We don't want to create a culture where they can hide anywhere."

As much as Stanley "Boom" Williams may have wanted to climb into a hole and hide last week, that culture wouldn't let him. Along with three teammates, Williams was suspended for the South Carolina game following an on-campus incident. After the suspension was handed down, Williams had to face his teammates in a formal setting and own up to his actions.

"We did some things amongst the team that holds that accountability at a pretty high level where they had to address the team and talk to the team and not just, 'hey, I'm sorry,' or any of that," Stoops said. "They came into a team meeting and sat and addressed it with their teammates"

Williams returned to the field against ULM, setting up a field goal with a 75-yard return of the opening kickoff and rushing for 104 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He was happy about his performance and getting to play again, but Williams remained contrite nearly two weeks after the original incident.

"I learned a lot," Williams said on Saturday. "You just gotta be real careful with your decisions and the things that you do, knowing that you're a valuable player to your team. I just wanted to come out and play hard. I owed it to the team, the fans and the coaches, so I just wanted to come out and show those guys that I do want to be part of the team."

That accountability applies on the field as well.

As an example, Stoops said on Monday that an unnamed player will be suspended for the first half of the LSU game following what he called a "foolish penalty" against ULM. Stoops doesn't want to extinguish the fire that often leads to those kinds of in-game mistakes, but there's balancing to be done.

"We just need to constantly preach being unselfish, and you know, I want aggressiveness," Stoops said. "I want them enjoying it. We're always (toeing) that fine line of, you know, letting the guys be who they are."

Stoops, Peveto to reunite

This offseason, former UK special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto took the same position at LSU. It marked a return to Louisiana for Peveto, who spent the previous eight years in the state at LSU and Northwestern State.

Even though they no longer coach together, Stoops and Peveto have remained close.

"He always sends texts, and we communicate back and forth throughout the year," Stoops said, "Bradley Dale has been a close friend of mine for a long time, and we'll continue to be."

As luck would have it, Stoops and Peveto will reunite in their first year apart when UK travels to Baton Rouge, La., for a game at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Stoops says UK has a different set of signals this year, so Peveto being on the other sideline isn't a concern in preparation. However, he doesn't expect to do much communicating with his friend this week.

"I don't think we'll talk much this week," Stoops said. "Maybe he'll send me over some crawfish to the hotel or something."

UK-Mississippi State to air on CBS

For the first time since 2007, UK will host the Southeastern Conference's marquee television game.

On Monday, CBS selected Kentucky-Mississippi State for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Oct. 25.

"You know, that's great," Stoops said. "Obviously I'm not going to get ahead of myself. But every time you win in this league, you're going to put yourself in position for a bigger game."

The two teams are among the biggest surprises in college football this season, with MSU ascending to No. 1 after a third straight win over a top-10 team on Saturday over Auburn and UK sitting at 5-1. As exciting as the matchup between the two may be, Stoops won't spend much time thinking about it this week.

"So I think it's a compliment to our team what we've done to this point, and I know, you know, every game gets bigger and we have a huge one at LSU this week, and that's what's on our mind," Stoops said.

Stamps, Miller expected to be available at LSU

Safety A.J. Stamps and left tackle Darrian Miller each played sparingly in the second half against ULM, but Stoops said on Monday they were held out for precautionary reasons. Both are expected to play this weekend.

Recent Comments

  • 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
  • Ryan: This is intense, I've never seen a live blog like this, keep up the good work! read more
  • Ryan: Watching this guy is really inspiring. Makes me have faith that guys like him are running the show on the read more
  • Tom Roosa: I just have 1 question, do you think that this team has the chance to have a great year? They read more
  • steve crum: Glad to see Coach Stoops get rewarded for all the time and hard work he puts in to our read more