Before Kentucky played Louisville, John Calipari stressed that the
important thing for his team to gain from the game was improvement.
Noting that Louisville had edges in location and experience, Calipari
said he could live with a loss if he saw the competitive fight and sense
of urgency that he had been pushing for since the start of the season.
if you think Coach Cal is satisfied with any loss, you don't know him
very well. But it's also true that his words as well as his body
language told a story of a coach who liked a lot of what he saw that
day. And Tim Brando, who called the game for CBS, says the most
significant development for Kentucky may be the maturation of sophomore
point guard Ryan Harrow.
"Ryan Harrow just grew up by leaps and
bounds in the Louisville game, playing at a higher level than I had seen
and I had seen (him) at N.C. State," said Brando, who was working on
the ACC network for several of those Wolfpack games two years ago. "He
had not been a very confident point (guard) and I think understanding
what John needs at the point is going to be essential for that growth."
sat out last season at UK after transferring from State but after a
subpar outing in the opener against Maryland, followed by a lengthy
absence stemming from a mysterious illness, there were major question
marks about the Cats' on-court quarterback.
"I think this is a
classic case of Calipari coming up with a conception, a belief that this
can work and then seeing it through to make it work. John is one of
those guys as a coach that he'll be leaning in a certain direction but
as he's leaning, he'll decide, 'Yeah, I'm right about this.' And he may
not be right immediately, but he's going to make sure his point becomes
accurate by the end of it," Brando said on "The Leach Report" radio show
At NC State, Brando said "the book" on Harrow was that he did not play with confidence.
a coaching standpoint, instilling that confidence and toughness is
right in his (Calipari's) wheelhouse," Brando said, noting that he is
seeing a different Harrow than he saw at N.C. State.
Kentucky fans are going to look up in March and they're going to be
looking back at the season and say, 'Early in the second half (of the
Louisville game) when the game was going south, and a timeout was called
and Kentucky was down 17, something happened there, an epiphany took
place and Ryan Harrow became a really good player. And from that point
forward, they really did improve and look where they are now,' " Brando
predicted. "If there's one key element to this team, that can be a
difference-maker, that might in fact be it. Ryan was a talented player
but was really never confident at running the point. He could always
score but (running the team) was never his forte."
seems to be oozing confidence and his team is feeding off that positive
vibe. And that can only enhance the chemistry of a team that looks good
to Brando already.
"It does as though these guys like each other
on the floor. They share the ball well and it's not about me, it's about
we," Brando observed. "And I like that seeing in this team and I think
John does, too."
Before there was Anthony Davis, there was Sam Bowie. A tall, slender, multi-skilled player capable of dominating a game, particularly on the defensive end of the court.
Had Bowie been born 30 years later, it's easy to imagine his rookie season unfolding in a manner similar to Davis' last year. And it's nice that ESPN chose to focus on Bowie's ill-fated career for one of its installments of the "SEC Storied" series, giving fans who never saw Bowie at his best the chance to appreciate just how gifted "Big Boo" was.
"It's nice when you get a chance to reminisce," Bowie said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "They show a lot of footage that I was unaware that they were able to get and it kind of educated me because time goes so quickly throughout my athletic career you forget some of the places, some of the games you played and some of the people you met along the way and I think that this documentary not only educated the public, but it was a refreshing for myself to see my career on the big screen and I was elated by the way they put it together.
"The thing I like is it tells a story of my life. Basketball was just a small part of what I represent and what type of family I come from. I was elated that it told the true story of how I got started to where I am now as a 51-year old man in Lexington, Kentucky."
A good portion of the "Going Big" documentary focuses on Bowie being drafted second in 1984, behind Hakeem Olajuwon and ahead of Michael Jordan.
"I would be lying to you if I said I didn't hear the whispers and the conversations in regards to me being drafted before Mike but that is just the nature of the game. I don't think any of us realize or could have foreseen the future to say that Michael Jordan would become the greatest basketball player that has ever played the game and (Portland) already had two All-Star guards. Not only did they have Clyde Drexler at the two spot, but they also had (Jim) Paxson who had played in many All-Star games for the Portland Trailblazers, so the move for them was the center position and it is unfortunate that I had the setbacks that I had," Bowie noted. "The thing I like about the documentary, you will see Jack Ramsey say that if he had to do it over again, he would have went the same direction. As you mentioned, I think the career that Michael had, it would be hard for anyone to see that coming."
Bowie retired to Lexington after his playing days were over and he is not one to seek out the spotlight. That's why it took some time for the ESPN folks to convince him to participate in the documentary. But he ultimately decided it would be nice for his kids to see him in his prime.
"I was kind of ducking them and had no interest in doing it because I felt as though, my basketball days are way behind me and I have never been big on self-promotion and self-exposure. But, I finally broke down and gave them a call," he said, "and needless to say, I have been very, very impressed with the finished product."
A big part of why Bowie retired to central Kentucky is how he was treated by Big Blue Nation.
"I have had a lot of success through basketball - in high school, college, and professionally. The way you can compensate on the pro level, who wouldn't love that, but whenever I reflect on my career, it's always back at Rupp Arena and the support in the Commonwealth. There is a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations but the memories I have is the fan support and I know it becomes redundant when people say that, but in no place in the world, you would see a group of fans support and follow the program the way the University of Kentucky (fans) do," Bowie said.
In ESPN's All-Access feature on UK basketball, you see Bowie being part of the group that regularly discusses the Cats at breakfast gatherings at Wheeler's Pharmacy in Lexington. After a stint as the analyst on the UK radio network in the late 1990s, Bowie has been content to follow his alma mater as just a fan and he really enjoyed watching last season's team do its thing.
"It was a beautiful thing to see how they developed and how they were playing from the beginning of the year. Obviously, to put another banner up at the University of Kentucky and for those kids to be so young and under so much pressure and under such a big microscope, that is a season and, I hope I am wrong when I say this, but a lot of people when I go to the grocery store, the cleaners or whatever, they are always trying to compare this year's team from last year's team and I think what we need to realize is we saw something very, very special in regards to the team," he noted. "I was their biggest fan last year and I knew the type of pressure they were under because all those guys were highly recruited and it's almost like as good as the Commonwealth is at supporting our program, they are unrealistic type fans because they think that when you recruit like that, you automatically get a banner. And it doesn't work like that."
If Kentucky can extend its win streak in the rivalry with Louisville to five in a row, it will mark the biggest upset in series history for a Wildcat team.
For now, the only time Kentucky has won in a matchup in which the Wildcats were either ranked lower or an unranked team facing a top-25 Cardinal squad was in December 2005.
Kentucky, ranked 23rd, upset the fourth-rated Cards 73-61 at Rupp Arena in a game dominated by then-sophomore point guard Rajon Rondo. He scored 25 points and dished out seven assists and was virtually un-guardable. While many were questioning Rondo's NBA future because of his lack of a jump shot, U of L coach Rick Pitino said in his postgame comments that Rondo would be a great pro because nobody could stop him from getting where he wanted to go with the ball - something that rivals of the Boston Celtics would surely acknowledge today . If Kentucky wins tomorrow, I think it might take a similar kind of performance, in which a player with big-time skills picks that day to showcase what he can do at the next level. And to me, Alex Poythress would be the most likely Kentucky player to fill that role on Saturday.
Poythress doesn't have Rondo's point-guard game but the freshman big man could certainly assume the role of hardest-to-guard player on the UK roster, with his combination of inside-outside skill set. Coach Cal wants Cats to follow Bledsoe's lead
Last Saturday morning's top-10 plays countdown on ESPN featured two different plays by former Wildcat Eric Bledsoe, one being a block and the other a spectacular dunk. When I told John Calipari this before our pregame interview for the UK IMG Network, he said he's proud of how Bledsoe has learned the work ethic that it takes succeed at the next level. And he proceeded to tick off a list of other players who followed that same path.
Cal says the challenge for his current players is to embrace that mindset.
"This is going to be a process. This team has a chance - if they start changing. If they don't change, we're just a very average team. If they change, this team's upside is greater than any team in the country," Calipari told the radio audience. "But they gotta change. Are you gonna fight, are you gonna dive on the floor, are you going to show your emotion, that you're having a ball playing basketball?"
Cards a slight favorite in per-possession stats
Louisville is a solid favorite in this matchup but if you go by points-by-possession statistics, it's close.
UofL ranks third nationally in defensive points per possession at 0.794, while Kentucky ranks 24th at 0.878, both very strong numbers. Offensively, in that stat, Louisville ranks 22nd nationally at 1.120 points per possession and UK 32nd at 1.112.
If you're under 1.0 with your defense and over it with your offense, you're doing well.
Lofty ranking no historical guarantee for U of L vs. UK
Louisville brings a top-five national ranking into this matchup, but the Cards have not fared well from that standing. Since winning the "Dream Game" in 1983, the Cards have lost all five games against Kentucky when Louisville was a top-five team.
However, UK is also 0-3 in games against Louisville when the Cats were not ranked and the Cardinals were.
Kentucky's new offensive coordinator spent some time this week looking at tape of the players he'll inherit in his new job but he also wanted to be careful about developing any judgments on players before he sees them on the field this spring.
"A lot of times, a guy with a fresh start shows a whole new sign of being able to play at this level. Most of my time has been spent recruiting. We've got some kids here who are talented," Brown said Thursday on "The Leach Report" radio show.
"The three quarterbacks give us a starting point. You've got to have a (good) quarterback and we've got three that I think give us a chance to compete in this conference. The young O-linemen, I've been impressed with but we don't have a whole lot of depth there. At receiver, we're thin but I think the young guys that played last year have some ability and I think we can get those guys better. At running back, we've got good numbers. Probably need to sign a guy that can make people miss in space. We'll fit these guys into our system," Brown added.
Brown is a product of the coaching tree that traces back to Hal Mumme's tenure at Kentucky, when the "Air Raid" offense ranked among the most productive in the nation. Not all defensive coaches would embrace an offensive staff that wants to rely on a pass-first attack, but Mark Stoops and his brothers clearly don't think that way.
Stoops talked this week about his brother, Bob, reached out to then-UK offensive coordinator Mike Leach to run the Oklahoma offense when the elder Stoops took over the Sooners' program in 1999. Another Stoops brother, Mike, hired Sonny Dykes, a graduate assistant on Mumme's early staffs at UK, to run his offense at Arizona. And now Mark Stoops has hired another "Air Raid guy" in Brown, whose offenses at Texas Tech in recent years ranked among the nation's leaders in passing and total yards.
"He's 100 percent behind what we do," Brown said. "Athletics Director Mitch (Barnhart) gave him the opportunity to hire any type of offensive coordinator he wanted to. His brother, Bob, won a national championship with this same system and his brother, Mike, was one game away from a Rose Bowl with this system, so he (Mark Stoops) believes in it."
And a lot of Big Blue fans are wondering if we'll see a return to the Air Raid sirens that became associated with UK football in the late 90's.
"That's up to Coach Stoops and the marketing people," Brown said.
ESPN's Chris Low on Stoops as a recruiter
Some coaches develop a reputation for their recruiting prowess while others might not be as successful but win by virtue of their skill at evaluating prospects and finding those "diamonds in the rough." ESPN's SEC blogger, Chris Low, says Mark Stoops is viewed as one who scores well in both areas.
"He's a very good recruiter and a very good evaluator and he's also proven that he can develop guys. Some guys are really good recruiters and some guys are really good at developing them when they get on campus. You talk to folks around college football and (they think) he can do both," Low said of Stoops. "You've got to get some guys, sometimes, that are maybe under-sized or are late-bloomers but you've also got to go out and win some (recruiting) battles."
Cameron Mills recalls Wayne Turner's vocal evolution
Communication has been a hot topic for John Calipari as he pushes his young basketball to improve in terms of talking to each other on the court. Former Wildcat Cameron Mills says he can remember one of his former teammates who struggled early with that very thing.
"Wayne Turner is the perfect example," Mills said this week on "The Leach Report" show. "On the court, he just played - he didn't talk (as a freshman). By the time he was a junior or senior, he corner me and yell at me, which is what you want your point guard to me. I remember Travis Ford grabbing Rodney Dent by the jersey and pulling him down and just giving it to him because he missed a rotation on defense."
Mills notes Turner evolved into that kind of point guard over a multi-year career at UK. Mills says current Cat Ryan Harrow must embrace that mentality because it is crucial for the point guard to lead his team on the floor both verbally and with his play.
Joe B. Hall received some long overdue recognition last month with his induction in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame but his 1978 national championship team was not so fortunate. In conjunction with the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Final Four, the NCAA has come up with a list of the most memorable teams, players and moments and the '78 Cats were mostly ignored.
It's impossible to please everyone in an exercise like this so I can empathize with the criticism likely to come to the NCAA staffers who compiled these lists, with help from some media folks. Still, I'd love to hear some reasons why at particular Kentucky team got so little attention.
Jack Givens made the list of 75 players but his 41-point masterpiece against Duke in the title game didn't make the cut of 35 memorable moments. And he and his teammates were not among the 25 teams singled out as the all-time best (these lists can be viewed at NCAA.com and fans will get a chance to help pare them down for recognition at the 2013 Final Four).
Let's start with "The Goose." He made 18-of-27 field-goal attempts en route to the second-highest-scoring performance in championship game history. Givens bursts into the middle of the lane single-handidly ripped Duke's vaunted 2-3 zone to shreds.
To put someone on the list, it's only right to offer a suggestion or two for elimination. I'd offer up Rumeal Robinson's game-clinching free throws in the 1989 finale. Big shots, yes, but it hardly rivals what Givens did on the same stage. Or how about taking off Andre Turner's two buzzer-beaters in 1985? Clutch shots for sure and they propelled Memphis to the Final Four, where the Tigers lost to Villanova. I'd argue Givens' 41 points easily tops either.
Now, for the case for putting the '78 team on the list. Let's start with the 30-2 record and a national ranking that never slipped below third. And on the way to the title, each of the Wildcats' wins came against a top 20 team (No. 15 Florida State, No. 19 Miami, No. 4 Michigan State, No. 5 Arkansas and No. 7 Duke). And the Michigan State team that Kentucky defeated was led by Magic Johnson, who guided the Spartans to the championship the following season.
And let's talk numbers. The hyper-efficient Cats hit 54 percent of their field goal attempts and shot 76 percent at the free throw line.
Again, to put the '78 Kentucky team on the list of all-time greats, we need suggestions for which squads they could replace and I'll again offer two: 2004 UConn and 1993 North Carolina. Both lost more games and neither was anywhere near as dominant during their seasons or faced competition that was as stiff.
When CBS' Clark Kellogg worked the UK-Baylor game, he suggested Kyle Wiltjer might be trying to "aim" his shots instead of catching and shooting with confidence. I asked John Calipari what he thought about Wiltjer's shooting slump during a recent pregame radio interview.
"I just told him, 'Hold your follow through.' I think if he does that, he'll be fine. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about him rebounding the ball. I'm worried about him helping his teammates on defense, staying in a stance, defending better. If he does that, he doesn't have to make every shot," Calipari said. "But if you're not and you're going 1 for 11, it's hard to keep (him) on the floor." Finding a comparison for Poythress
Fans like to find former players to use as comparisons to their current favorites. When Mike Pratt joined us on "The Leach Report" radio show this week, a fan wanted to know if Alex Poythress was a current version of James Lee, the rock solid sixth man on the 1978 national champs.
"He could use some of the James Lee aggressiveness," Pratt responded. "(I think) he's more of the Master Blaster, a Richard Madison-type of guy. If he can turn some of that finesse game into power, I think you've got one terrific baksetball player. He just lacks the consistency at both ends of the floor. He'll fade in and fade out." Extra practice time alone doesn't assure improvement
The Cats are getting an abundance of practice time this month, with a one-game-per-week schedule from December 8 through 29. But Pratt says there's no guaranteed timetable for the UK players answering the calls for certain areas of improvement.
"It's about maturity, about mindset, about drive. The maturity that you have to play a full game, right from the start. And that comes from the drive to be as good as you want to be. When that happens for this team, they're going to be very good," he said. "A lot of young teams have this problem every year. As a coach, you just keep pushing and talking and encouraging." Shot-blocking pace
Kentucky led the nation in blocked shots last season but this year's Cats are not too far off that pace.
UK currently ranks fifth nationally at 7.8 blocks per game. Kansas, St. John's, Syracuse and Arizona State rank ahead of the Cats.
Noel chasing Rondo
Much has been made of Nerlens Noel's shot-blocking acumen, so who would have thought that he could be on pace to break another defensive kind of defensive record? steals.
Rajon Rondo has the single-season steals record with 87 in 2005 but with a current average of 2.5 steals steals per game, Noel could re-write that entry in the record book, provided he keeps up his current pace (and Coach Cal noted in his postgame radio show last Saturday that Noel is taking a few too many gambles for steals right now).
Jared Prickett had 66 steals within UK's full-court press in 1997 and that's the best mark thus far for a player on the frontline.
In 1975, the Kentucky football team won only two games. By 1977, the Cats were 10-1. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a member of that team - strong safety Dallas Owens - and he said the team began to transform when players were accountable to each other, that you didn't want to let down the guy beside you, and the coaches no longer had to manage that accountability component.
I recalled that story in the past couple of weeks as I listened to John Calipari talk about the challenge he was facing with his latest group of Wildcats.
"If I need to be all over them, I'm not doing that just to do it," Calipari said on the pregame radio interview before last Saturday's win over Portland. "Last year's team, I can't remember a bad practice. That's why we won 38 games. This team stops all the time but I've had teams in the past that do that. They cannot sustain any kind of effort because they've never had to.
"This team needs us hold them accountable. Why? Because they're not holding each other accountable - because they don't know. There's no veterans to hold the other guys accountable to what they're supposed to be doing," he continued. "Every player on this court is important to us but no one is indispensible."
Calipari is not the kind of coach who fits every group of players into his "system." Rather, his coaching style is one in which he lets his team tell him, with their actions, how they need to be coached. It means some teams can take longer to jell than others. But this staff's track record suggests it will happen, sooner or later.
Two years ago, it took until mid-February. After an overtime loss at Arkansas, it looked like that UK team was just never going to win a close game that season. But something finally clicked. After the game shootaround practice before the team's next game, a friend of Cal's told me it was that team's best such workout of the season. Next time out, ESPN's Jimmy Dykes made the same observation after the gameday practice. The Cats won both of those games and then followed it up with a come-from-behind victory at Tennessee to close out the regular season and suddenly that Kentucky team couldn't lose a close game. The changed mindset carried those Cats all the way to the Final Four.
For Calipari, the focus now is all about getting his team to compete at the level it takes to achieve their goals. Once that happens, then he'll spend more time on Xs and Os, game situations, etc.
"It's going to be a process, day-to-day," he noted. "I just want to see us fight. We want to win every game but truly, we want to see these guys compete. That's what we want to see. If you're competing your brains out, you're diving on the ball and you have a bad shooting night, that's going to happen. We're not happy but at least they're competing. What we've been seeing is no sense of urgency. The toughness - we just get bulldozed, giving up on plays, not attacking on offense, being tentative. All that stuff, none of us want to see."
When things aren't going well for an athlete, coaches know there's only way to get back on track: work longer and harder. When golfers are struggling, they spend extra time on the practice range. When hitters are in a slump, they take extra batting practice. And John Calipari wants his young team to come to grips with the notion that all the guys that came before and got where they wanted to be did it by putting in that time, by "falling in love with that gym," as Calipari tells them.
"Are we more committed to what we're doing? If we are, we'll be fine. If not, it'll be a prolonged pain," Calipari said on his pregame radio interview Tuesday night. "None of this fazes me because I've been doing this so long. I wish we were winning but I know who we are. Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to you is you get the shakeup - 'What do you want to do now, do you really want this?' "
Calipari got a great teaching tool earlier this week when an NBA general manager showed up almost an hour before a UK practice session. About 20 minutes into the practice, Calipari called the GM over to talk to the team about why he arrived so early.
"He told them 'I wanted to know who was on the court early,' " Calipari noted. "Every NBA team will come early to see who works on their game."
DeCourcy expects Wiltjer to bounce back
Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy is a big Kyle Wiltjer fan. And he has no doubt Wiltjer will rediscover his shooting eye. For now, DeCourcy says Wiltjer has to regain his confidence.
"When a player like Kyle struggles with his shot, there's only one reason and that's confidence. It's a different role for him to be a prominent player at this level. A year ago, it was, 'Come in and if you make a basket, great - UK wins by more - and if you don't, we'll probably sit you back down.' Now, they need him and he's got to embrace that. He's got to believe," DeCourcy observed. "There's no reason Kyle Wiltjer should not be making open shots with the stroke he has. It's all about believing. There's no reason he should not be confident in his stroke, other than it's different to be the man. But you came to Kentucky. You came to be the man - or one of the men."
Tony Barnhart likes Stoops hire
"Just a matter of time."
CBS college football reporter Tony Barnhart says that was the prevailing option of media members when it came to the topic of Mark Stoops as a head coaching candidate. Barnhart says it was clear Stoops was ready to make the move up.
"I think the Kentucky fans ought to be excited. It's all about recruiting and I look back at the good teams that coach Brooks had and there were some very good players on those teams. They've got to go back and get some of those players again," Barnhart said. "I would look down the interstate at Louisville and see what Charlie Strong has done in getting Florida kids to come to the state of Kentucky. I think kids just want to play and there are so many players in the state of Florida that you can convince someone like a Teddy Bridgewater to come to the SEC and play. But you've got to roll up your sleeves and put in a lot of work but it's absolutely doable."
Barnhart also believes Stoops is on the right track in looking for an offensive coordinator who thinks outside the proverbial box.
"There's no question that in this league, you really need to have some components of the spread because you're not going to out-Alabama Alabama. You're not going to recruit enough players to dominate the better teams in this league, so you better find a way for smaller, quicker people to beat big people," he said.
Tim Couch was at helm of some of the most productive offenses in Kentucky football history. But when Mitch Barnhart reached out to "The Deuce" for counsel on the search for the Cats' next football coach, the UK Athletics Director found an ally in the desire to find a coach who had expertise on the defensive side of the ball.
"When I was here, we put up a lot of points but we had a tough time stopping people. In this conference, you have to be able to stop people. If you look at the jobs that are open in the SEC, those are the four worst defenses in the conference," Couch noted on "The Leach Report" radio show yesterday.
Couch, however, is still an "Air Raid" proponent. And he remembers that Stoops' older brother Bob plucked offensive coordinator Mike Leach off the UK staff in 1998 when Stoops landed the head coaching job at Oklahoma. Another Stoops brother, Mike, followed that script when he landed the head coaching job at Arizona and he hired Sonny Dykes (another one-time Mumme assistant) to run his offense. Clearly, the Stoops brothers realized the need to marry their defensive acumen with an aggressive, attacking, high-scoring offense style and Mark Stoops plans to look for that kind of offensive coordinator.
"It's been proven that it's a good fit, that kind of offense with the defensive schemes that coach Stoops has and his brothers have," Couch said. "At Oklahoma, they're still running that type of offense that Coach Leach brought in there years ago and they've been successful with it for a long time. I think that would be a great combination for us at Kentucky. The thing I love about that offense is that it gives you a chance every week (to compete against more talented teams). They're running the same thing at Texas A&M right now, so it's been proven to succeed in this league."
Like other Kentucky football fans, Couch really liked the idea that Stoops made the first move on the UK job, calling Barnhart to express interest in the position before Barnhart had called him.
"That was huge for me," Couch acknowledged. "When I came into this thing, I thought we would have to sell a lot of coaches on this program. But it was the exact opposite. And it was certainly exciting to hear the passion and the vision for this program."
And Stoops came into his meetings with Barnhart, Couch and other UK officials with a clear outline of his plan for elevating the Wildcats' program.
"I think he has a nice recruiting plan, number one. His ties to Youngstown, Ohio; that (the state of Ohio) is an area we can hit harder. And his plan on defense, switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 and simplifying things (is good). He had a plan for everything - how they were going to train and eat, the discipline - just everything we had a question about, Mark had the perfect answer," explained Couch. "He's been preparing for this for a long time and he's ready."
Stoops inherits a UK program that won only two games this season but Couch doesn't discount the chance for a quick turnaround in the Cats' gridiron fortunes.
"We were the worst offense in the country in my freshmen year and Hal Mumme and Mike Leach came in, we switched schemes and we were the best offense in the country with the same players. I think it can be an improvement. I'm not saying we're going to win seven or eight games our first year but I think there will be improvement and I think in year two, year three and year four, we'll see steady improvement," Couch said. "I hope everyone is patient because this is a rebuilding process but I think there will be some improvement in year one."
John Calipari often talks about his team getting "empowered" to understand what needs to be done in a given situation rather than having to be coached through it. That comes with time but as has been the case with Cal's first three teams at UK, this one does not have any issues with chemistry.
"What stands out is once again they are all really hard workers and we are all really close off the court and that is key." Kyle Wiltjer said, "Last year, I thought we were so close, and this year, we are just as close and maybe closer at this point, so just continuing to move ahead and keep working hard. It's great because last summer we weren't able to practice and this summer we were so that is an advantage we had."
DeCourcy likes Oklahoma State freshman
Early returns on Coach Cal's latest class of freshmen at UK are overwhelming positive but Sporting News college basketball writer thinks the country's best rookie may be playing in Stillwater, Okla.
"They (Oklahoma State) have a guy who is challenging to be the best freshman in college basketball in Marcus Smart," DeCourcy said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "He is just tremendous. An all-around winner. He just has a quality, in the way that Anthony Davis was a pure winner. He's 6-4, 6-5, can run a team, can play on the wing, struggles a little with his three-point shot but he understands the game so well." Hall, Host make worthy Hall of Famers
Two Kentucky sports legends - Coach Joe B. Hall and Jim Host - were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City earlier this month and I can't think of two more deserving honorees.
Success in sports requires toughness and both men demonstrated this trait as their careers with UK sports intersected in the early 70s. Host started his company in 1972 and soon thereafter, he landed the University of Kentucky broadcast rights at a time when the program was in transition from coaching legend Adolph Rupp to Cats' first new coach in almost four decades - Hall.
And after Hall's first season opened with a win at Michigan State in December '72, the Cats proceeded to drop their next three games. (You can bet Hall is grateful the Internet and talk show-age had not arrived).
Come early February, the Cats were a mediocre 5-4 in SEC play, but Hall then rallied his troops to a nine-game winning streak, culminating with an 86-81 win over Tennessee that clinched the SEC title - at a time when only the league champion made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Men of weaker spirit might have wilted under the intense pressure of those times but Hall and Host are cut from a special cloth. Kudos to both on this latest honor.