Collin Cowgill has been waiting a long time for his first full-time opportunity in the big leagues.
The former Kentucky All-American spent his first four professional seasons with Arizona, earning a spot on the Diamondbacks' postseason roster after a dominant season in Triple-A. The next year, he appeared poised to start after being traded to Oakland, but was squeezed out of a starting role by other offseason acquisitions.
Before 2013, he was acquired by the New York Mets, who named him their starter in center field early this spring. Leading off for the Mets on opening day, he did not disappoint.
In an 11-2 win, Cowgill had a pair of hits in five at-bats. The first was a fourth-inning double (he later scored) and the second was a grand slam to left that turned the Mets' game against the San Diego Padres into a laugher. Here's video of his third-career major-league home run.
More Cowgill!!! WOW!!!!!!! @ccowgill12 first career grand slam and second by a Met on Opening Day. Todd Hundley in '95 was the other.
Among former Kentucky student-athletes, there are many Wildcats with better known names than Scott Downs. However, there are far fewer better at what they do than the 11-year MLB veteran.
Downs, 36, has cemented himself among the best left-handed relievers in baseball, posting an ERA of 3.09 or better in each of the past five seasons. In 2011, he had the best year of his career, winning six games with a miniscule 1.34 ERA out of the bullpen for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Downs, an All-SEC performer at UK in 1997, has once again been impressive in 2012, allowing just five hits and zero runs in his first nine appearances. Downs contended with an ankle injury earlier this month, but is now healthy and for the first time in his career, has been named the closer for the Angels in place of Jordan Walden.
In his first opportunity after winning the job, Downs tossed a scoreless ninth inning to salt away a 2-1 victory against Cleveland. Here's video of the final pitch:
It has quickly become a rarity to turn on an NBA game and not find a former Kentucky Wildcat on the floor.
Sixteen former Kentucky Wildcats finished the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season on NBA rosters, which ties UK with Duke for the most of any school. Nearly half of the league's teams - 13 to be exact - feature a player who used to don the Blue and White and exactly half of the 16 teams to make the playoffs will field at least one former Wildcat.
With six more talented Cats looking to be drafted this June, that number will climb yet again, but before then, let's reflect on another season in the books for UK players in the NBA:
Even with the infusion of talent since the beginning of the John Calipari era, Rondo remains the face of UK in the NBA. Rondo has evolved from a bit player on a championship team to an All Star who perennially leads the Celtics to the playoffs, and that's exactly what he did this season. He led the NBA in assists per game, averaging double-digit dimes for the second straight season.
He has been the subject of trade rumors for much of the past two seasons - like pretty much all of the Celtics' nucleus - but has only solidified his spot as arguably the best combination of passing, rebounding and defense that the NBA has to offer at the point guard position. In spite of sitting out three of Boston's final four games, he ended the season on a ridiculous streak of 24 consecutive games with 10 or more assists, most since John Stockton had 29 in a row for the Utah Jazz in 1992.
Rondo was also the only player in the NBA to post more than one triple-double this season, leading the league with six such performances. Among those triple-doubles was an insane 18-point, 20-assist, 17-rebound game in a win over New York, continuing his habit of posting some of the most unique lines in the NBA.
Rondo and the fourth-seeded Celtics will open the playoffs against the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks on Sunday at 7 p.m. on TNT.
John Wall (Washington Wizards) Season averages - 16.3 points, 8.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks
In his second season out of UK, Wall toiled once again on a struggling Washington team. The Wizards finished with the NBA's second-worst record, but they flashed some promise down the stretch, winning six straight and raising their win total from 14 to 20 in the process. Wall was spectacular, dishing double-digit assists in five of the six wins.
Wall's averages were about the same as during his rookie campaign, but he improved both his field-goal and free-throw shooting percentages. Perhaps most encouragingly, Wall started all 66 of his team's games after missing 13 due to injury a season ago.
Wall and the Wizards will look to take another step forward next season, and they will look to begin that improvement in this June's draft. They stand the second-best chance of winning the Anthony Davis sweepstakes in the draft lottery.
Cousins showed improvement pretty much across the board in his second season. He posted career bests in nearly every statistical category and is even in the conversation for Most Improved Player honors. He ranked among the NBA's top rebounders and finished the season on a tear, scoring 29, 32 and 23 points over his final three games. Like the Wizards, the Kings will look to get an impact player in this year's draft after finishing the year 22-44.
Knight showed why the Pistons picked him high in last year's NBA Draft, ranking among rookie leaders in scoring, assists and minutes played. He saw the floor in 65 of 66 games this season, starting 59. He showed himself to be a capable scorer and passer at times this season and is expected to be a cornerstone of Detroit's rebuilding process alongside big man Greg Monroe.
Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) Season averages - 12.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists
Now 32, Prince turned in another solid season after resigning with the Pistons this offseason. Patrick Patterson (Houston Rockets) Season averages - 7.7 points, 4.5 rebounds
Patterson, coming off an injury in the offseason, took a little while to get going for the Rockets, but settled in and turned in an encouraging season. He took on an enhanced role in his second season, playing nearly seven more minutes per game and attempting nearly three more field goals a game. While rebuilding, Houston has opted to hold on to Patterson even while being active on the trade market. He will push for a starting role this summer.
For the second season in a row, Meeks was Philadelphia's primary starter at shooting guard, draining 97 3-pointers as the Sixers' shooting specialist. He closed the season out strong, averaging 21 points over his final two games, including a 27-point outing against his former team, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Meeks and the 76ers will top-seeded Chicago in the first game of the playoffs on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Kanter stepped into a deep Jazz frontcourt as a rookie having not played a competitive game in over a year-and-a-half, but still dug out a rotation spot on a playoff-bound team. He played over 15 minutes per game, showing the strength around the basket and rebounding ability that made UK fans so eager to get him on the floor in Rupp Arena. Impressively, he finished his first season shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and had his first career double-double in the final game of the regular season.
The eighth-seeded Jazz will take on No. 1 San Antonio beginning on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Chuck Hayes (Sacramento Kings) Season averages - 3.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Hayes parlayed a career season in 2010-11 into a contract with the Kings, who were looking for him to provide a steady veteran presence on an otherwise young team. After starting most of the last two seasons with the Rockets, he stepped into a reserve role, helping to mentor Cousins in his breakout season. He served as a captain in his first season with the team.
Eric Bledsoe (Los Angeles Clippers) Season averages - 3.3 points, 1.7 assists, 1.6 rebounds
Injury kept Bledsoe out of the lineup for essentially the first two months of the season, as he played double-digit minutes just once before March. He played more often in that month, but it wasn't until April that he emerged as an effective backup for Chris Paul. He averaged over 16 minutes a game in April along with 5.6 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds.
He figures to play a significant role in the Clippers postseason run, which begins against the Memphis Grizzlies at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Josh Harrellson (New York Knicks) Season averages - 4.0 points, 3.8 rebounds
In January, Harrellson had carved out a role for himself on the Knicks, but then sustained a wrist injury that kept him out for six weeks. He returned to a slightly diminished role, but to a team that was playing much better basketball. He played double-digit minutes just twice in April before the final game of the season, but that's when he scored a career-high 18 points.
His Knicks will open the playoffs as a seven seed in one of the most anticipated series of the first round, taking on the Miami Heat beginning on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Nazr Mohammed (Oklahoma City Thunder) Season averages - 2.7 points, 2.7 rebounds
Mohammed has a well-defined role as a big man for the Thunder who provides between 10 and 12 minutes per night. He doesn't carry a heavy scoring load and is called on to defend and rebound when he is on the floor.
He'll be asked to do the same as Oklahoma City takes on the Dallas Mavericks - the team that knocked out the Thunder a season ago - in the first round of the playoffs. Game one is at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. Daniel Orton (Orlando Magic) Season averages - 2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds
Orton played the first minutes of his NBA career early this season, but it wasn't until All Star Dwight Howard went out with a back injury that he saw major playing time. He played at least 10 minutes in all but two of the Magic's final 10 games and had a career game against the Cavaliers on April 15 when he had 11 points, five steals, four rebounds and three blocks.
Orton figures to see plenty of action as Orlando takes on Indiana in the first round of the playoffs beginning on Saturday at 7 p.m. DeAndre Liggins (Orlando Magic) Season averages - 1.9 points, 0.9 rebounds
Liggins played in 17 games this season, all after February 20. He had career highs of 26 minutes, seven points and four rebounds in the final game of the regular season.
Magloire appeared in 33 games this season, making one start. Kelenna Azubuike (Dallas Mavericks) Season averages - 2.3 points
Azubuike fought his way back into the NBA after injury, signing with the playoff-bound Mavericks in March. He didn't appear in a game until the final week of the season, but scored seven points in the final one against the Hawks.
The Mavericks begin the postseason against the Thunder on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.
It didn't really sink in for me until this morning, but the end of the 2011-12 athletics year is not far off. I guess I probably should have realized it at the CATSPYs on Monday or with finals just around the corner, but for me it took seeing that this weekend is our first without a home event since Christmas.
Anyway, that's all to explain why it's been somewhat of a quiet week around here. Of course, baseball, men's tennis, softball and track and field all have their postseasons ahead, but things are starting to slow down a bit.
This morning is not without news though, so here are a few notes for your Thursday:
After the best regular season in school history and an undefeated run through Southeastern Conference play, it's perfectly appropriate that the men's tennis team should dominate the conference awards announced on Thursday. Eric Quigley, the senior who is the top player in school history, was named Player of the Year, while Dennis Emery won Coach of the Year. Quigley was also named First Team All-SEC and was joined by teammates Anthony Rossi, Alex Musialek and Panav Jha. Tom Jomby was a second-team selection. Congratulations to all the Wildcats on these honors. Now, we look ahead to May 1, when UK will learn its path in the NCAA Tournament.
Another Wildcat got some excellent news yesterday, as baseball's freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino was named to the USA National Team. He is the first UK player to earn a spot on the team since 1999 when Chad Green did it.
Learfield Sports released updated standings in the annual Directors' Cup, which recognizes the top-performing athletic departments in the nation. On the strength of great performances by men's basketball, rifle, women's basketball and swimming and diving, UK ranks 23rd in the final winter standings, just eight shy of the top-15 goal set forth by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.
John Wall (21 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds, seven steals) and Jodie Meeks (27 points) each helped lead their teams to victory last night as the NBA regular season approaches. All 16 playoff spots have been locked up, so we now know the following former UK players will be playing in the postseason: Kelenna Azubuike (Dallas Mavericks), Eric Bledsoe (Los Angeles Clippers), Josh Harrellson (New York Knicks), Enes Kanter (Utah Jazz), DeAndre Liggins (Orlando Magic), Meeks (Philadelphia 76ers), Nazr Mohammed (Oklahoma City Thunder), Daniel Orton (Magic), Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics). Good luck to all nine Wildcats!
Stevie Johnson had 73 catches for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns in his two-year UK career, including this game-winning catch against No. 1 LSU. (UK Athletics)
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one each time and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Today is former UK wide receiver Stevie Johnson.
The skinny Stevie Johnson, a former All-SEC wide receiver and fan favorite at UK, is a fourth-year player for the NFL's Buffalo Bills.
UK background A San Francisco native, Johnson came to Kentucky as a transfer from Chabot College in California. With two years of eligibility remaining, big things were expected of in 2006. As is the case with many junior college transfers, he took some time to adjust to Division I football and to Andre' Woodson, his new quarterback. He had just nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in the regular season, but had a breakout game in UK's Music City Bowl victory. He caught three passes for 67 yards, cause for optimism entering his senior year. In 2007, he and the Wildcats put together a banner season, winning the Music City Bowl for the second season in a row. Johnson was a key cog in UK's high-octane attack, catching 61 passes for 1,052 yards and 13 touchdowns. Three of his touchdowns that season were game winners, including an overtime touchdown to send UK past No. 1 LSU and a long fourth quarter touchdown against Louisville that spawned the phrase "Stevie got loose." Earning All-SEC honors from College Football News, Johnson went on to be drafted by the Bills in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Professional update Being picked in the seventh round is no guarantee of a roster spot and Johnson has worked tirelessly to establish himself as an NFL receiver. His first season the league, Johnson worked his way into the Bills' receiving corps late in the season, totaling 10 catches for 102 yards. He scored his first two professional touchdowns in weeks 15 and 16 of 2008 against the New York Jets and Denver Broncos. The following season was a trying one for Johnson, as he was plagued by a severe rib injury that limited him to just two catches for 10 yards all season.
He responded with hard work, earning a starting role to begin 2010. He briefly lost the job early in the season, but regaining it in week three when he began a stretch of five consecutive games with a receiving touchdown. The streak was highlighted by a breakout performance against the Baltimore Ravens when he caught eight passes for 158 yards. Two weeks later, he would outdo himself with an 11-catch, 145-yard game against the Chicago Bears. Another two weeks later, he captured everyone's attention with three touchdowns and 137 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. For the season, Johnson had 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Before the 2011 season, the Bills trade away No. 1 wide receiver Lee Evans, meaning that Johnson would carry even more responsibilities. Contending with a groin injury, Johnson has not disappointed through the first two weeks of the season. With quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick often looking to Johnson, the Bills have raced out to an improbable 2-0 start. Johnson has caught a touchdown in each of the games and had eight catches for 96 yards in a week two win over the Oakland Raiders.
After starring at UK, Tim Masthay went to win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2010-11. (UK Athletics)
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. This week, we take a look at Super Bowl champion Tim Masthay.
The skinny Tim Masthay, a former All-American UK punter, enters his second season as the starting punter for the NFL's Green Bay Packers. UK background Masthay came to UK from Murray, Ky., in 2005 as a basketball, football and baseball star. He earned a role as the starting punter immediately, handling every punt for the Wildcats during his freshman season and averaging 36.4 yards on 54 punts. He returned in 2006 much-improved. He upped his yards per punt average to 39.2 and UK used his athleticism on a handful of trick plays. He ran for 17 yards on a fake punt against South Carolina and threw a 10-yard pass for a first down during a Music City Bowl victory. He also handled kickoff duties and had 12 touchbacks in 59 kickoffs. During his junior year, he earned UK Special Teams Player of the Year honors, increasing his punting average to 39.8 yards. As a senior, he took things to another level. He averaged 45.2 yards per punt and led the SEC with 23 touchbacks.
Professional update Masthay's stellar senior season earned him a spot in training camp with the Indianapolis Colts. He competed for a roster spot with former West Virginia punter Pat McAfee, eventually losing out. Knowing how rare it is for punters to catch on with an NFL team right out of college, Masthay rededicated himself to his craft. When he arrived to training camp with the Green Bay Packers in 2010, he was a different player and took over as the starter. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing when the regular season started. His early season struggles were punctuated by a disastrous game against the rival Chicago Bears in week three. He averaged 50.0 yards per punt, but all three were returned by Devin Hester, including a crucial touchdown in the fourth quarter that propelled the Bears to a 20-17 victory.
Masthay, though, bounced back. He played a crucial role as the Packers earned a wild card berth in the NFC, including the final game of the regular season against the Bears. He punted in eight times in wintry conditions, four of which landed inside the 20-yard line. In the playoffs, his season came full circle as the Packers faced Hester and the Bears for a third time. In a tight 21-14 win that sent Green Bay to the Super Bowl, Masthay again punted eight times. This time, five of his efforts ended up inside the 20-yard line. The Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Alfonso Smith rushed for 975 yards and eight touchdowns for his UK career (UK Athletics)
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Today is former UK running back Alfonso Smith. The skinny Alfonso Smith, a running back for UK football from 2005-2010, is on the preseason roster for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. UK background Smith was never a full-time starter as a Wildcat, but was a four-year contributor in the backfield and on special teams. As a redshirt freshman in 2006, the Louisville, Ky. native gained 250 yards on 60 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns. In back-to-back games against Mississippi State and Georgia, he gained a total of 168 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown. As a sophomore, Smith rushed for 149 yards on 7.1 yards per carry. As a junior, Smith played in all 13 games, rushing for 313 yards and two touchdowns. He also emerged as a threat in the passing game, catching 16 passes for 204 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown reception in a 21-20 home win over Arkansas. As a senior, Smith backed up Derrick Locke and was third on the team in rushing with 262 yards. He also returned kicks, totaling 155 return yards for the season.
For his career, he rushed for 974 yards and eight touchdowns on 215 carries. He also tallied 30 catches for 322 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He made just nine starts in his collegiate career, but his speed and potential earned him NFL potential. Professional update The Arizona Cardinals scooped up Smith before the 2010 season. He did not make the regular season roster, but spent the entire year on the Cardinals practice team. When the team drafted running back Ryan Williams out of Virginia Tech in the second round of the April draft, Smith looked destined to play on the practice squad again. However, Williams sustained a season-ending injury in Friday night's preseason game against Green Bay. The Cardinals are considering options for filling the backup running back role behind Chris "Beanie" Wells with Smith figuring in their plans.
Smith leads the team in rushing through the first two preseason games with 69 yards and has impressed his coaching staff. In his last game, Smith had 39 yards and a bruising one yard touchdown run. Wells is known for being a bruising runner, so with his speed Smith could complement Wells as a change of pace. Smith figures to see plenty of chances in the Cardinals' final two preseason outings and has a solid chance of making an NFL roster. What they're saying about Smith Williams' injury creates opportunity for Smith (Craig Morgan, FSArizona) Smith's UK bio
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Today we will be talking about Scott Downs. The skinny Scott Downs, a left-handed starter for UK baseball from 1995-97, is a key cog in the bulllpen for the second-place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
UK background Downs is a native of Louisville, Ky., where he attended Pleasure Ridge Park High School and earned Mr. Baseball honors as a senior. He was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 12th round of the MLB Draft in 1994 but decided to attend UK rather than sign a professional contract. He was a starter from day one in Lexington and led the Wildcats in both ERA (3.30) and strikeouts (102) as a freshman in 1995. In 1996, UK featured its best team during Downs' tenure. Downs helped lead the Wildcats to a 35-24 record and a berth in the SEC Tournament, where UK lost to eventual champion Alabama. Downs again led the team in strikeouts with 92. The Wildcats struggled in the 1997 season, but Downs was a consistent performer, leading the team with seven wins, 105.2 innings pitched, 99 strikeouts and seven complete games and winning SEC Pitcher of the Week honors twice.
After a junior season during which he earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors and was nominated for the Golden Spikes Award, Downs was selected in the third round of the MLB draft (94th overall) by the Chicago Cubs. The southpaw finished his UK career with a record of 17-15, an ERA of 4.12 and 293 strikeouts (most in school history). Professional update Downs spent his college career and most of his professional career as a starter and played parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Cubs and Montreal Expos. In 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays, his career shifted. He became a full-time reliever that year and allowed just one run in his final 14.1 innings over the final month and half of the year. Since then, he has become one of the best left-handed relievers in all of baseball. From 2007-10 with Toronto, he had an ERA of less than 3.10 each year, including 2007 when had an ERA of 2.17 in a league-leading 81 appearances.
He parlayed that success into a three-year deal with the Angels worth approximately $15 million and has proved to be well worth the investment in his first season out west. In 41 appearances and 37.1 innings, he has a 5-2 record and an ERA of 1.45, eighth best among all major leaguers who have pitched at least 30 innings this season. He has allowed just six runs on 23 hits and eight walks all year and is particularly tough on lefties, holding them to just nine hits in 58 at-bats (.155 BA) and just one extra-base hit. Before allowing a solo home run on July 28, he had not allowed a single run since June 22, a streak that spanned 11.2 innings.
The Angels will rely heavily on Downs and his signature sinker and curve ball in a hotly contested race in the American League West. Downs' squad currently has a record of 63-52, just 1.5 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers.
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one a week and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Even though we've already profiled him in the "Where are they now?" series, first up is Collin Cowgill.
The skinny Collin Cowgill, a former UK baseball first-team All-America outfielder, was recently called up to the playoff-contending Arizona Diamondbacks and made his big-league debut last week.
UK background A native of Lexington, Ky., and the 2004 Kentucky High School Mr. Baseball out of Henry Clay High School. Cowgill played four years at Kentucky, helping the program to its first Southeastern Conference championship as a sophomore in 2006, when he hit .298 with 16 home runs and 61 RBI. After missing 2007 due to a hand injury, Cowgill returned for an All-America campaign in 2008, joining fellow All-America selection Sawyer Carroll in the outfield. A first-team Academic All-America selection, Cowgill batted .361 in 2008 with 15 doubles, two triples and 19 home runs, adding 60 RBI, stealing 23-of-27 bases in 2008. Following the 2008 season, Cowgill earned first-team All-America honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and second-team honors from Rivals.com and Baseball America. During his UK career, Cowgill batted .306 (171-for-558) in 165 games, totaling 166 runs, 35 doubles, 37 homers, 140 RBI and 32 stolen bags.
Professional update After a brief struggle in his first week in the big leagues, Cowgill collected his first hit over the weekend, a line drive to center field off Scott Elbert of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since going 0 for his first 11, Cowgill has collected two hits in his last four at-bats. Overall, he is 2 for 14 with an RBI, three walks and two stolen bases. Prior to his promotion, Cowgill was on a tear in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .354 with 24 doubles, eight triples, 13 homers, 70 RBI and 30 stolen bases. In 353 career minor-league games after signing as a fifth-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2008, Cowgill has totaled 46 homers and 225 RBI, stealing 70-of-86 stolen bases with a .299 career average.