No one will envy whoever follows John Calipari as the coach at Kentucky - a day the Big Blue Nation hopes will be far in the future - but Ryan Harrow faces a task almost as unpleasant. He's the latest in a line of Calipari-coached first-round draft picks at the point guard position and fair or not, he'll be compared to the standards they set.
"I don't feel the pressure because I feel you put pressure on yourself, that is when you start to worry about it too much and not doing as well," Harrow said. "I know that there have been great point guards coming before me and I feel that I am capable enough to be the next one in line to keep the tradition going."
Playing point guard for Calipari is rewarding - both financially and from the standpoint of becoming a better player. But it's not easy. Calipari empowers his point guards but he's demanding, too.
"He says it's really mental for me. He is not really worried about the basketball stuff. It's just me being out there being a leader and making sure everyone else is uplifted and not getting down on themselves and just being more of a leader-type, that is what he is looking at me for the most," Harrow explained, adding that he's ready to embrace that challenge. "I try to hang out with the team as much as I can and build a relationship with all of the guys. We are all different in some way but we still gotta hang out with each other and build relationships."
Harrow says Calipari is pushing him to speak up more as an on-court leader and the sophomore transfer from North Carolina State acknowledges that part of his personality is a work-in-progress.
"I have been a leader by play and actions, not the vocal-type leader because I am not really the vocal type. But I think if that is what is going to be best for me to get everybody up and playing better then, that is what I have to do. He wants us to speak up and I have been working on that and that will be the biggest thing," Harrow noted.
Harrow is the first point guard since 2007 who is not in his first year playing for Calipari. Harrow spent his transfer year practicing with the Cats but now that he's in the spotlight, he knows Calipari is pushing him harder and Harrow has to remember that any criticism from his coach is just a means to make him better.
"I think the biggest adjustment is stepping up and taking his criticism. He could be a little loud and it could come off mean but he is trying to make you the best player, so you can't get down on yourself when he gets mean or starts yelling at you," Harrow explained. "He doesn't back down from anybody. He always says if he didn't back down from DeMarcus Cousins, he is not going to be scared of any of us and he makes a point to tell us all that."
What is Harrow's game like?
"Just somebody that is trying to win. A lot of people say my game is flashy and I know my game is a little different than what most people see, but it just happens like that. I am just trying to win and do whatever coach needs me to do to get the win," he said.
What does "flashy" mean?
"With the way I dribble the ball," Harrow said. "I have always been able to dribble the ball really well and it has progressed as I have gotten older, so I may take it a little overboard sometimes, but Coach Cal has gotten me to the point where I just make one move and then get to the basket."
Each of Calipari's point guard has brought his own unique skill set to the court. Harrow is regarded as a better outside shooter than his predecessor, Marquis Teague, but he's not as strong as Teague was. Harrow says he enjoys setting up his teammates but he's always been a scoring point guard too.
"I modeled my game a little after Allen Iverson," Harrow said, "because I feel he did whatever he could to win and that is who I looked after."
By all accounts, the chemistry on John Calipari's fourth Kentucky basketball team is outstanding. And yet, there was a hint of good-natured disagreement at yesterday's Media Day - over the subject of dancing.
John Wall created a sensation with his dance that was first introduced at Big Blue Madness in 2009. And Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin both say they have some special moves planned for Big Blue Nation tonight. But Harrow says he cannot understand how Goodwin can claim to be the team's best dancer.
"I don't understand that. I taught him how to dance. I'm the best dancer and then him," a smiling Harrow told reporters.
"Best dancer? Probably me or Archie," Harrow responded. "Worst dancer? Alex Poythress or Kyle Wiltjer."
So what is Harrow's plan for tonight?
"I'm dancing My sister says I have to dance. We throw parties at our home and me and her are always dancing. I may get a little interactive with the fans," said Harrow.
"I'm going to do a little something special. It's a dance from back home," Goodwin replied.
Who will judged as the best dancer?
"We'll see tomorrow," said Goodwin. "Y'all be the judge."
Ultimately, both of them could be trumped by the dance moves of UK women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell.
Goodwin can do more than dance
Spectacular dunks are always a part of Big Blue Madness, so we asked Goodwin to tell us "who is the best dunker on this team?"
"Me," Goodwin quickly proclaimed. "Alex is the most powerful dunker - no question about that - but if we're talking about tricks and being able to elevate higher, I'm the best dunker."
Goodwin supporting football team against Arkansas
Goodwin is a proud product of Little Rock, Ark., but there's no doubt about his loyalty for the football matchup tomorrow night in Fayetteville.
"Kentucky, of course. I'm a Kentucky fan. I can't root for Arkansas. I can't do it," he said.
A look at the Razorbacks
Stats would suggest turnovers will play a key role in the Kentucky-Arkansas game. The Cats rank 12th in the league at minus-4 for the season but the Hogs are minus-10 through six games.
Could this be the breakout game for UK in terms of big plays? Arkansas' opponents are averaging a league-high 338 yards per game in passing yards and a league-high 8.4 yards-per-attempt. And the Hogs have surrendered an SEC-worst 15 touchdown passes.
Kentucky is 2-0 against the Hogs in Fayetteville but the Cats lost on their first trip to Arkansas - a 27-20 setback in 1998 in a game played in Little Rock. And I'm not sure I've ever a louder road stadium that night than War Memorial, even though its capacity is only 55,000.
UK's quarterback that night was Tim Couch - and he'll be working the telecast Saturday night for Fox TV.
"This has been one of my lifelong dreams and it's been really great and I have been incredibly blessed to end up in the right situation and the best situation for me, with the coaches and to have them work with me and believe in me. They gave me an opportunity and I think I did some good things and I am incredibly happy with the way things turned out."
Life has been good of late for Corey Peters, a third-year defensive tackle for one of the NFL's two remaining unbeaten teams, the Atlanta Falcons. Peters, who became a starter during his rookie year, has been sidelined thus far this season with an injury that landed him on the league's physically-unable-to-perform list. But that status should change soon.
"It was a little foot issue. It was a stress fracture and I got it taken care of and we are moving forward and been rehabbing and hopefully, if everything continues to progress well, we'll be ready to play here after the six-week mark," Peters told The Leach Report radio show this week.
Those of us who watched Peters make big play after big play in the toughest league in America are not surprised to see the Louisville Central High School product succeed in the NFL. But he was far from a can't-miss prospect in scouts' eyes when he was preparing for the draft.
Peters eventually did hear his name called in the third round, but there were plenty of anxious moments. That time is captured in a new documentary called "Late Rounders," and it also features the stories of a couple of other ex-Cats in John Conner and Alfonso Smith. You see the hard work that preceded the NFL Scouting Combine, where pro football futures are often determined by 40-yard dash times, weightlifting sessions and one-on-one interviews. And you see the personal stories of these players and the tremendous stress they are under at that time in their young lives.
"I think it turned out pretty good," Peters said of the documentary. "I was pretty nervous with the cameras following us around everywhere including when we were down at the combine but it turned out really well and I am happy with it."
Of course, reliving that combine experience is not exactly fun.
"It's incredible because when you are playing football you have the whole season to prepare for, but with the combine and pro days (when scouts come to a campus), you are training for one day, four hours of work. None of us were really highly touted guys that expected to be first round picks or anything like that, so these combines are really important for us and we can't afford to not have a good showing or not be able to perform at all.
"I have been playing football my entire life and so I still felt butterflies before my first college game and my first pro game here but I have been used to playing football. I have never been trained to come out and run your best 40 time, you only have two shots at it and it's almost like a track meet. I have never really been a track guy so, it was definitely unique for me and it was a difficult experience but one that I think I did okay at," Peters added.
"It was different than anything I had ever been through in my entire life. It was a difficult time because you are nervous about your future and you really want to do well," he continued, "but it is also a great time because it was the first time in my life where the only thing I had to do was train for football. All through high school and college, you go to class and all that good stuff. It was the first time right when you wake up, you go to practice and that was all you had to worry about."
The NFL dream came true for all of the Kentucky guys, as Conner was drafted by the New York Jets and Smith signed a free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals. But "Late Rounders" also tells the little-known back story of Smith's girlfriend and her battle with a serious illness at the same he was pursuing his NFL dream.
"That was one of the more incredible storylines," Peters noted "That would have been incredibly difficult for me to deal with something like that in that point in time but I think he handled it well and I know it worked out for him ultimately. But everybody in the documentary has an amazing story and I think that the best thing about the documentary is that is truly shows what guys go through. We didn't know what to expect. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We were going into it blind, like everybody else and even if you are not a UK fan or a Corey Peters fan, it's incredible that you get to see the process."
What was the biggest adjustment for Peters in going from UK to the Falcons?
"Everything is faster in the NFL but I think I was as prepared as a player can be coming out of college. No matter how prepared you are, you are going to be a little behind in things because the speed of the game is different. I also think the speed, it may not be that those guys are faster, because truth be told, a 21, 22-year old kid coming out of college is probably just as strong and fast as a 32-year old that has been in the league a while, but you have to do things faster and have to recognize things faster and that is the difference in the speed of the game," explained Peters. "It is not necessarily guys are moving faster, but guys get smarter and are moving more technical and in the trenches, offensive linemen are a lot better with their hands, so it's a huge step just to work on your craft and get better each and every day."
And what does he miss most about his time at UK?
"I think that those are definitely the best days of my life. That college experience is unmatched by anything. I am a Kentucky guy," he said, "and I will be a Kentucky fan for the rest of my life but in the NFL, you can play for two or three teams so, the loyalty and that sort of thing is different and that is probably why the fans are much more electric and that whole atmosphere is crazy (in college)."
Could Nerlens Noel really be a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis? Various recruiting analysts have suggested it was possible but it's hard to believe, given that Davis ranks fifth on UK's career record for blocks in one season at UK.
Junior forward Jon Hood doubted it, too, but now he's a believer.
"Nerlens is not Anthony but he blocks shots better than Anthony. I didn't believe it either but you play one pickup game with him and you are like 'Oh yeah, he does,' " Hood declared. "Nerlens doesn't tip anything away. Nerlens goes to put it in the third row. He helps me a lot because when I have to guard Alex, there are times when Kyle doesn't guard Alex and I have to and he just takes off down the lane and I'll stand him up and he'll spin and he will shoot one over the top of me and Nerlens will come across the lane and send it into the wall way over there.
"He blocks shots as hard as Dwight Howard blocks shots. He is not nearly that big, but he has room to put on weight, especially up in his shoulders. He will get there."
We also asked Hood for a capsule review of the other three freshmen coming into the UK program.
On Willie Cauley-Stein: "He is an athlete. Best athlete 7-footer I have ever seen. Anthony was not a seven-footer and Willie is. I want to throw that out there, Anthony was not a seven-footer. Willie can run, he can jump, he can do all those things and he knows what he does well," Hood said, "and he doesn't try to do the things he does bad but he tries to improve on the things that he doesn't do as well."
On Alex Poythress: "He is a freak. He is built just like Terrence Jones," Hood noted. "Jumps a little bit higher, doesn't play like Terrence, he tries to get to the rim as much as he can which we mess with him when we play pick up and try to get him to shoot it but he is developing his jump shot and is getting better."
On Archie Goodwin: "Scorer. Archie gets on those rolls in pickup games where he just doesn't miss for six or seven trips and then when he does you are just like 'Oh, I guess I should try to rebound that'," Hood observed. "He is very athletic. Good defender. He likes to compete."
And advice does Hood have for those newcomers?
"That everybody is going to come at you. There will always be somebody out there that will try to bring you down. On and off the court, there will be guys to try to catch you doing something you are not supposed to be doing when in reality, you are doing what you are supposed to be doing," he said. "They are going to try to make it seem like you are doing something bad when you are not."
Hood says his recovery from knee surgery is going well although the rehab process is "slow, tiring, exhausting." He says he was often alone doing his recovery work alone but he persevered and having to watch his teammates chase and capture a national championship while was out of uniform was among the hardest things he's ever had to do.
"It was real bad. We get to the Final Four for the second year in a row, that is just unheard of, and then we get to the championship game. Well, (first), we get to the Final Four and to be playing Louisville and have them talking so much trash before we play the game after we had whipped them at home was - I wanted to play them a lot - and then of course having to watch the title game, that is an almost once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Hood says he's fully recovered from the knee injury and he's eager to get started on the new season.
"There has not been a role defined. (Calipari) won't define our roles until awhile longer," said Hood. "He is one of those guys that wants you to get everything better. He doesn't want you to focus on just one part of your game, just your shooting, no, you have to do everything right, everything better."
There's nothing fun about rehashing a dismal day at The Swamp last Saturday, so this week, we'll take a break from the current season and relive some memorable Southeastern Conference upsets by the Wildcats, given that the next opponent was the victim of one of those upsets the last time South Carolina visited Lexington.
These memorable moments are listed not in terms of the opponent's ranking but in terms of how unlikely the outcome seemed before kickoff. 2009: Kentucky 34, Georgia 27
It wasn't a shock that Kentucky would knock off Georgia that season. The Cats had already won at Auburn and had only lost by four to Georgia the year before. But what made this outcome so surprising was the location - Georgia' Sanford Stadium. The Wildcats' previous win "between the hedges" had been back in 1977.
The turning point in this comeback win was a fumble that Moncell Allen forced on the opening kickoff of the second half. That led to points and ignited Kentucky's rally from a 20-6 halftime deficit.
Quarterback Morgan Newton threw touchdown passes to Derrick Locke and La'Rod King as Kentucky outscored Georgia 28-7 in that second half. UGA appeared poised to get a tying score in the final minutes but fumbled at the one-yard line. And after a UK punt, linebacker Sam Maxwell provided one of his many big plays of that season with a game-clinching interception in the final minute.
2010: Kentucky 31, South Carolina 28
South Carolina came into this game off an upset of top-ranked Alabama, but when you have Randall Cobb on your team, getting an upset win is not all that shocking.
And how he could get so wide open for the winning touchdown pass was quite amazing. Underrated quarterback Mike Hartline had to stand in and know he was going to take the hit from an oncoming rusher in order to hit Cobb and his payoff was getting to celebrate while lying on his back.
An injury that sidelined star runner Marcus Lattimore certainly compromised USC's chances but the Gamecocks led 31-10 at that point. Coach Steve Spurrier correctly stated after the game that the Wildcats just flat outplayed his team.
Current Cat and South Carolina native Cartier Rice played a key role in securing the win. With USC throwing into the end zone for the win on the game's final play, Rice deflected a pass into the hands of Anthony Mosley and the party erupted at Commonwealth Stadium, as the Cats had their first-ever win over Spurrier.
2006: Kentucky 24, Georgia 20
Yes, Kentucky had just eked out a road win over Mississippi State but this matchup with Georgia came just three weeks after a 49-0 thrashing at LSU. I can tell you that Rich Brooks and his coaches were growing increasingly optimistic as this game approached, because of how the team's confidence had grown after that win at State.
Keenan Burton caught two of Andre' Woodson's touchdown passes but Matthew Stafford kept the Dogs on top until the final two minutes, when UK drove down the field and Tony Dixon punched in a short-yardage score.
But UK fans were uneasy about the time left for Stafford to launch one of those rallies they had seen all too often. Brooks often talked about working to change that mindset of dread in the final minutes of a close game and this game provided the opportunity to re-emphasize the new way he wanted his players to think. Somebody needed to make a play to clinch the game and cornerback Trevard Lindley stepped up with an interception to seal the deal.
2011: Kentucky 10, Tennessee 7
I will always believe the fact that it was Thanksgiving week was crucial to this streak-busting victory. In a normal week, UK's plan to use wide out Matt Roark at quarterback might have leaked out. Instead, when Roark was taking snaps on UK's opening drive, Tennessee's coaches were confused and that enabled the Cats to get one of their two long drives of the day. This one resulted in a field goal and that turned out to be the margin of victory.
Roark earned legendary status with a performance that featured a 100-plus-yard rushing performance and the leadership to inspire confidence in his teammates that they could pull this off. Unlike last week's game, the coaches knew that Maxwell Smith was out from Sunday so they developed a plan tailored to Roark's skill set and he executed it to perfection, engineering a win that set off an unlikely rush-the-field moment at Commonwealth. 2007: Kentucky 37, #1 LSU 31 (3OT)
Sure, Kentucky featured some future NFL talent but we're talking about the No. 1-ranked team and an LSU squad that would eventually win the national championship that season.
The common theme to all of these wins is that the Cats trailed at some point in the game and with UK behind the fourth quarter, it was Lindley - again - who provided a key play at a crucial moment. His interception led to a tying field goal.
In the third overtime, Woodson had a moment similar to the one Hartline faced against South Carolina in 2010 - delivering a possible game-winning touchdown pass while knocking you're about to get drilled by a rushing defender. Woodson deftly lofted a pass to Stevie Johnson and the Cats then needed only to keep LSU out of the end zone to get the improbable win.
Braxton Kelley's fourth-down tackle on Charles Scott stopped him short of the first down stick and Commonwealth Stadium erupted.
In a league like this one, the Cats are going to be provided with regular opportunities to produce memorable moments - like this Saturday, against a top 10-ranked South Carolina team.
The likes of Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen and Andre' Woodson have rewritten most of the entries in the passing record book at Kentucky but there is one mark that former UK quarterback Bill Ransdell still holds--the record for single-game passing accuracy.
Ransdell once completed 20-of-23 passes. It came on a gray, rainy November day at Commonwealth Stadium in 1986 - against the Florida Gators. Ransdell led his team to a 10-3 win that day and it marks the last time the Cats defeated the Gators.
By the way, the last UK quarterback to get a win at The Swamp was Juan Portela in 1979.
From worst to first. That's the story of UK's third-down conversion stats from last year to this.
The Wildcats converted only 29 percent of their third-down plays last season, 12th in the SEC, but now they rank first in the league at 51 percent. Burton and his Wildcat role
Florida excelled in red-zone offense in its win over Kentucky the last time the Cats visited The Swamp. That's because of the damage Trey Burton did from the Wildcat formation, scoring a record six touchdowns.
Burton was back in that role last week, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the win at Tennessee, one of them in the red zone. That was a noteworthy change, given that the Gators have settled for a field goal on half of their trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Gators to test Cats with ground game
Kentucky has struggled to stop the run in the first three games and now the Cats face perhaps their biggest challenge yet in that department.
Under first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who came from Boise State, the Gators have improved their per-game rushing total by 90 yards per game, to 233 yards per game. That total ranks third in the SEC at this juncture of the season.
Florida offense's second half improvement
In wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee the past two Saturdays, Florida has dominated the second half. But Pease, who was the offensive coordinator at UK in 2001-02, says it's not because of some amazing halftime adjustments.
Here's what he said to GatorCountry.com this week:
"There's not a lot of adjustments," Pease said. "There's some minor things, and really when you take the game plan, you kind of eliminate some things that haven't worked and 'let's get away from this, here's what they're stopping us on.' We've got to make our adjustments to how we're going to attack them."
Last week, the Big Blue Nation celebrated the Wildcats' storied basketball tradition during the Alumni Charity Game, an event John Calipari hopes is on its way to becoming an annual affair. Now, the focus will shift toward the present-day Cats.
It's not long before Coach Cal will be showing off his new team at Big Blue Madness, but thanks to Twitter, UK fans get plenty of regular updates. And one consistent theme in recent months has been Calipari's positive vibes about freshman 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, the least-hyped member of UK's latest top-ranked recruiting class.
One person who is not surprised about the promise Cauley-Stein has flashed is his high school coach, Mike Grove.
"The sky is the limit for Willie Cauley. Great hands, great feet, great length. He really has upside that is off the charts," said Grove, who coached Cauley-Stein at Olathe Northwest (Kan.) High School. "He buys into Coach Calipari's system, buys into working hard and training the proper way. You got a big athletic specimen there who can really explode.
"I only had him for two years. He has an uncanny passing ability. He is very, very unselfish. He can lead the break and he can put the ball on the floor. He has some uncanny abilities that you would see in a 6'3 or 6'4 guy but he is a seven-footer."
Grove said he saw a great improvement in Cauley-Stein's work ethic during the two years that Grove coached him and he sees nothing but continued growth.
"His best attributes are his strength and his athleticism," Grove said earlier this summer on "The Leach Report" radio show. "He is a big-time shot blocker. Not only does he have the size and the length but he has uncanny timing. His hands are really, really special."
Calipari has raved about Cauley-Stein's ability to run the floor and Grove says athleticism is why he thinks "the sky is the limit" for his former pupil.
"You get a guy that is 6-foot-11, 7-foot that has those kinds of attributes and there are only a few amount of guys that can do that and I think his athleticism and his upside is what Kentucky fans should be excited about and hopefully watching and seeing what happens for him over the next year or so. I think he still has a learning curve but I think as he continues to learn and drive himself - wow, he can be a special, special player there," Grove predicted.
One of the most amazing facts about Cauley-Stein is that he played football as a wide receiver through his prep career.
"He is a well-rounded kid who, in his early years, was playing three or four sports. He played baseball, basketball and football and I think that is one of the things that really helped him - his eye-hand coordination and his feet - those things are not broken and when he gets to Kentucky, those things are already there. They won't really have to fix those things and as long as he continues to buy into what they are preaching and working hard," noted Grove. "He is going to be very, very good. It didn't surprise me in football because he is that athletic. He is that unbelievably athletic."
Grove says Cauley-Stein did not do much weightlifting in high school but having embraced the contact on the gridiron should help the big man handle the physical demands that come with a transition to college basketball.
At Olathe Northwest, Grove says Cauley-Stein was mostly a face-up big man and the coach thinks Calipari's system and the versatile skill sets big guys can display in it was appealing to Cauley-Stein.
"I think the dribble drive motion, where they play the post players away from the basket a little bit, appealed to him because he wasn't a straight back-to-the-back post player and never really wanted that. I think the other thing that appealed is the high success rate for Coach Cal and his staff and how they have prepared players and produced players for the NBA and the whole mystique of Kentucky basketball and that big blue fan base down there," Grove said. "I think that just all appealed to him. He wants to be the best basketball player he can become and I think he felt that Kentucky was the right place for him."
Last season, Kentucky ranked near the bottom nationally in plays of 20 or more yards. Through two games, the Cats have moved up to 58th in the nation but if you move the "big play" defining line from 20 yards to 15, the stats look even better. Through two games, Maxwell Smith has completed 14 passes for a gain of at least 15 yards. That's only two short of UK's total for ALL of last season in that category.
Western Kentucky, by the way, is in the top 25 this season in plays going for 20 or more yards Power running game still a WKU staple
WKU coach Willie Taggart comes from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree and that means a commitment to a power running game. Last season, the Toppers ranked 35th in the nation in rushing offense at just over 181 yards per game. That running game will provide a stern test to a UK linebacker corps still very light on experience.
Against Alabama, Western managed only 46 net yards on 28 attempts after piling up 244 yards on the ground in the opener against Austin Peay. In a loss to LSU last fall, WKU ran it 45 times for 129 yards. Against Kentucky, WKU ran for 141 yards last season.
Comparing new no-huddle attack to Air Raid offense
Think UK's up-tempo, pass-oriented attack is akin to the Air Raid offense of the late 1990s here. Not so fast my friend, as ESPN's Lee Corso would say.
On "The Leach Report" radio show this week, former UK signal-caller Dusty Bonner said this scheme is "quite different" than the one he directed to a Music City Bowl bid in 1999.
Bonner says this is "more of a pro-style offense" and that there's "not as much of a learning curve to the NFL as our offense was." One difference Bonner noted was that the tight end always lined up on the right side of the formation in Hal Mumme's system but that in this offense, you see the tight end on either side. He says UK is probably looking for a 60-40 pass-to-run balance while the Air Raid was "probably 85-15."
Joker Phillips has said it was important to him to keep the elements of multiple tight end and fullback formations in the playbook when UK made this switch. That enables the Cats to be less of a finesse team in short yardage and red-zone situations. Recalling Abney on day of Hall of Fame induction
UK's latest Hall of Fame class includes one of the all-time great kickoff and punt returners in college football history in Derek Abney.
He tied a national record during his senior season in 2003 with his eighth career return of a kick for a touchdown.
Abney is alone atop the UK record book for career punt return touchdowns with six and he had four of them in one season, 2002. Can you name the only other former Wildcats to have more than one punt return for touchdown in a single season?
Larry Carter (1978), Dicky Lyons, Sr., (1966) and Calvin Bird (1959) each had two.
Don't be surprised if Demarco Robinson gets his first one sometime this season.
Homecoming weekend for the University of Kentucky doesn't show up until later on the football schedule. But for Tommy Cook, it happens this Saturday.
Cook returns to his alma mater as the first-year Director of Football Operations for Kent State University's football program.
"It's pretty much everything on and off the lines of football, from team travel to being the liaison for academics and compliance, to running the budget for the football program, keeping up donor relations and things of that nature," Cook said of the job description. "It's pretty much everything that goes unseen, that gets to the game and gets the team there. You work hand-in-hand with the head coach, to make sure everything is running as smoothly as he wants it run.
"I am very thankful to everyone at Kentucky, everyone from Mitch (Barnhart) down on through John Cropp, Joker Phillips, Marc Hill. They were great to me and continue to be great to me any time I need to pick their brains or have questions," he added. "I am very thankful for that."
Cook spent his first few years after college in the private sector but his passion for football was too strong. Rather than coaching, Cook sees himself on the track to one day becoming an athletics director. He was working as UK's assistant director of football ops when Kent State's coach called Joker Phillips for permission to interview Cook, who says Phillips was supportive and encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity.
"It was a tough decision because Kentucky holds a soft spot in my heart and it is tough a place you love so much but I think it was time for me to leave and see what it was like somewhere else," Cook explained. "Hopefully, one day I can come back to Kentucky."
And Cook is grateful for his two-year stint at UK and what he learned.
"What stuck out to me most is Coach Phillips and Coach Brooks and the programs they put in place to put football where it is now and recruiting-wise and moving forward with the amount of talent they are bringing in now. I think that recruiting is always the big issue and Coach Phillips and his staff do a great job recruiting," Cook observed. "What I took from (my time there) is how hard and how much they went out and recruited across the state and across the country to bring players there. On top of that, once the players get there, how much they care for the kids and the student athletes there. It's incredible how Joker does that."
Kent State opened its season last week with a 41-21 win over Towson State, but as a Mid-American Conference program playing an SEC team on the road, Cook says the Golden Flashes know they are playing the underdog role
"Our expectations are high here but we also realize who we are going up to play. Any given Saturday, anything can happen. There is a lot of buzz and excitement around Kent State football right now, we are doing some exciting things and we have some talented players and we look to shake it up and do some good things in our conference - the MAC - and do well in nonconference games," Cook said. "It's exciting to come back to my alma mater and play and I still know all those boys over there, so it will be an exciting time for me and an exciting time for Kent State to come up and try to compete with the SEC for one weekend."
Kent State football made national headlines last week when Andre Parker ran the wrong way after picking up a muffed punt. The play generated some laughs but more than a few cheap shots, too.
"You know what, as a team and a staff, we watch the special teams tape together and we chuckled it off but what a lot of people don't realize is the pace of games, and if you never have played the game before, the pace of games can get you turned around a bit sometimes," noted Cook. "That is where he caught the most heat because people looked him up on Twitter and Facebook and started to bombard him with good texts, bad texts and on Twitter and Facebook. That was the biggest concern was getting to him and make sure he handles things accordingly and we made sure of that because it was one of those things, it happened and now it is time to move on. Next time when you recover that fumble, you can't advance it so, stay put and don't go the wrong way."
Cook certainly knows about rolling with the punches. In his stint at UK, he played under three different head coaches and had five different position coaches.
Dale Brown coached one of the SEC's legendary big men in Shaquille O'Neal. And at yesterday's Rupp Award ceremony, Brown drew a comparison to "Shaq" and this year's Rupp Award winner--UK's Anthony Davis.
"They have similarities, Shaquille and him. (Shaquille) looks like King Kong but he's really Bambi. He's a real bright kid with no ego. I've been in coaching 40 years and I don't know what he can't do," Brown told reporters after the event. "He's got it all."
Brown is also impressed with the way Davis carries and conducts himself on the court.
"There's only one word to describe it--'class'. My mentor, John Wooden, said 'when you can get a great player that puts the team above himself, you've got a winner' and they've got a winner (in Davis)," said Brown.
Raftery calls Davis 'Russell-like'
CBS' Bill Raftery turns the clock back even further to find a player to whom he compares Davis.
"His impact on the game is (Bill) Russell-like," Raftery told "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this week. "Having seen Russell force Tommy Heinsohn in the 50's to shoot a hook shot from the foul area because he couldn't get a jump shot reminds me of this guy playing anybody. He gets his own guy's blocks, he gets secondary blocks, he gets out on floaters and 3s. Good teammate, good leadership--a really high quality kid.
"To think what he's done, knowing how to play. The structure he must have had, both home and teaching (from his coach) has just been incredible. This kid just understands what it takes to win," Raftery continued. "He uses the glass great (to help him keep the ball inbounds after blocks). Statistically, I guess it's impossible but I would love to know how many 'alters' or 'hurries' (there are). He's very impressive."
Focusing on fun no easy task
"Go have fun."
That's the message that was written on the dry erase board John Calipari prepared for his players before last week's games in Atlanta.
But CBS analyst and former Arizona star Steve Kerr says that's easier said than done.
"I probably wanted it too much. I wanted so desperately to win a national championship that I missed my first few shots. Instead of just relaxing and playing, I tightened up and had a horrible game," Kerr recalled in an interview on "The Leach Report" Wednesday. "There's just enormous pressure, probably more so now than ever before, with the constant media. That's the challenge for the coaches and players. Get in the right mindset, relax and have fun."
Mashburn sees Cats chasing title, not win over U of L
Former UK star Jamal Mashburn thinks the rivalry aspect to this Final Four matchup for UK and Louisville is overblown, because for the players, their objective is winning two games in New Orleans--not just one.
"From a player standpoint, when you're chasing a championship, it's not as much as the rivalry. I don't think it's come into their psyche. I think they're just going to go out there and play," said Mashburn, who admitted to having mixed feelings about this game.
"For me, I have a connection with coach Pitino and with the Wniversity (of Kentucky), so I'm a little bit torn," noted Mashburn, who led the 1993 Kentucky team to the Final Four in New Orleans. The Wildcats lost in overtime to Michigan's Fab Five squad.
Mashburn thinks Kentucky will win the game, and the title. He got to see his alma mater up close while working SEC Tournament games for Westwood One radio earlier this month and "Mash" believes the Cats benefitted from losing to Vanderbilt in the final.
"I think that loss was probably a good loss for them. It renewed a certain energy," he said.