"I thought it was a great place to play and I even tell some of my buddies that it was one of my favorite places to play to shoot in."
So says one of UK's all-time best sharpshooters of Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium, Jim Master.
"It is a great shooting gym with the way it is lit," Master said. "Of course the benches are a little different but that didn't faze us much. It is a really, really good shooting gym for most players.
"I think it is the lighting," Master continued. "It feels to me to be more confined as opposed to Rupp Arena which is a big space if you will. The way its lit and way it is formed, it is more like a high school gym the way you are shooting the basketball. Some people may say that Coach Hall or Coach Calipari are on the other side of court so you can't hear them screaming at you. But it is really a comfortable gymnasium to shoot the basketball in. I think you can even look at how Vanderbilt shoots the ball not only at home but how they have shot their free throws over the years. They have always been a really, really good free-throw shooting team."
This figures to be the most hostile crowd Kentucky will have faced since its trip to Bloomington, Ind., back in December but Master says players usually feed off that energy and passion directed against them.
"I think you have to go out and play. I enjoyed playing on the road as a player and having a feeling like it is us against the world," Master said. "Also, we had some good players during my four years at Kentucky. But again, I think you put it out of your mind. Coach Hall always talked about it and I think Coach Calipari does certainly talk about where the benches are and that it is a little different. But when you are playing hard, it is still basketball and I enjoyed the lighting of it and the atmosphere of it. And Vanderbilt has improved over the years. They have had some good players and Coach Stallings does a heck of a job. So, they make it an even tougher place to play."
Bilas praises Cats
With a win at Vanderbilt, Kentucky may well become the media's definitive favorite to win the national title. Already, ESPN's Jay Bilas has them in elite company.
"I would put them on the top shelf along with Syracuse, Ohio State and perhaps North Carolina," Bilas said on ESPN radio's "Scott Van Pelt Show." "They've got something that nobody has in Anthony Davis. He's the best big guy to come along in a period of years. He absolutely covers the basket up. He's an extraordinary talent and he's just scratching the surface of how good he's going to be. And they've got in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the single hardest-playing player out there. They're well-coached and they guard you every possession and they're going to be really hard to beat," Bilas added.
Van Pelt raised the issue of trust for a team as young as Kentucky, wondering if the inexperienced Wildcats can be counted on in March to string together the kinds of performances it takes to win a title.
"I don't trust even older teams," Bilas said. "This is the third year in a row that we don't have any historically great teams. The last great team we've had was North Carolina in '09 and I don't think anybody can hold a candle to them. I think college basketball has taken a step down from last year (in overall quality). I think they're all vulnerable to getting beat on the second weekend (of the tournament)."
Bilas will see the Cats play in person, as part of ESPN's College GameDay show tomorrow at Vandy's Memorial Gymnasium.
Bill Ransdell, Pookie Jones, Tim Couch, Dusty Bonner, Andre' Woodson, Randall Cobb and Mike Hartline have all quarterbacked Kentucky to winning seasons and/or bowl games in the last 30 years but none of them started in their very first game as a Wildcat. But Jared Lorenzen did - as a redshirt freshman at Louisville in 2000.
Patrick Towles would like to top that feat by doing it as a true freshman. He talked about his plan to prepare himself for the starting job last week at his national signing day news conference. It includes coming to UK during spring break to watch some practice sessions.
It also will include working with Lorenzen, who was his quarterback coach at Fort Thomas Highlands High School.
"I think he can compete," Lorenzen said last week on "The Leach Report" radio show. "I'm going to do everything I can to have him as ready as he possibly can be. If I had my perfect world, he would redshirt and learn for a year, just because that's the easiest and best way to do it. But I want to make sure he's 100 percent ready (to compete) when he steps on campus."
Lorenzen redshirted and got to watch Dusty Bonner lead the Wildcats to a surprising Music City Bowl bid in 1999. He knows his job would have been much harder than it was the next year without that experience.
"I can't imagine (how hard it would have been)," he said. "Kentucky high school football has come a long way but it's not where it needs to be compared to Georgia, Florida, all of those places. The speed of the game is so much faster. There's not a bigger jump you'll ever make than high school to college. I'll have him ready but if I had my way, he'd sit out and learn the system and learn the game."
Lorenzen says they will work on "everything it takes to be a quarterback, so that when you set foot on campus, you're ready to go" and that will include plenty of tutelage on taking snaps from under center, something Towles did not have to do in the Highlands' system.
"We're going to find ourselves a center and we'll take 200 or 300 snaps a day if that's what it takes," Lorenzen said. "We've got to work on explosiveness and getting away from the line of scrimmage, but he's smart and he'll pick it up. You tell him once and that's it. He proved that this year, throwing just one interception."
Towles is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and like Lorenzen, possesses a cannon for an arm. Is it stronger than Lorenzen's?
"It's right there," Lorenzen said. "I don't know if he has velocity coming off ( his hand) but he can throw it as far (as I did) if he wants to."
Joker Phillips called Towles "the face" of this latest recruiting class and noted to reporters that Towles' letter-of-intent was the first one to arrive on signing day.
"That's Pat," said Lorenzen. "That's what it takes to be a quarterback."
He says leadership comes naturally to Towles.
"That may be because he was thrown into it as a sophomore," Lorenzen said. "The more you're in that situation, the easier it becomes. To Pat, it's just there. He's one of those guys that all of the guys in the locker room just gravitate to."
On the road trip to Georgia last month, John Calipari took advantage of a bonding opportunity for his young team. Since the game didn't tip until 9pm on Tuesday night, Calipari kept his guys up later than usual the night before by taking them to see a movie--"Red Tails," the story of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.
"First of all, to let them understand what has been done before them to give them the opportunities that they now have as a team," Calipari said of the movie choice in his pregame radio interview.
The film tells the tale of the all-black corps that was finally given its chance (and they succeeded brilliantly) after being denied that opportunity because of bigotry.
"I always say, if there is injustice for one, then at any point there could be discrimination for any of us. And the other thing was how they were together," Calipari said. "That, that was a family. They were a team. They had to look after each other. They had to take bullets for each other. They had to have each other's backs. They weren't expected (to succeed). They weren't in environments where people thought they could make it and they did. It was a good movie. I thought it would be good for them to see and it was."
Freshman Kyle Wiltjer had five rebounds against Tennessee, his best SEC performance in that category, and his improved defense has allowed him to stay on the court for longer stretches in the past couple of weeks. Coach Calipari is pleased with how Wiltjer is coming along and ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep salutes Wiltjer for challenging himself by coming to play at UK.
"You never want to make a ridiculous decision if you are the fifth power forward where they only play three in the program," Telep said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "But I think Wiltjer stepped out of his comfort zone just enough where he feels he will be a better basketball player for playing against Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis and going up against guys like that. He knew he wouldn't be a one year guy and I think he is putting himself in a position to succeed long term."
ESPN's Andy Katz likes UK's road performances
Kentucky goes back out on the road to start the second half of the league schedule, at South Carolina Saturday night. ESPN national college basketball reporter Andy Katz was quite impressed with what the Cats showed in their last road win, at LSU.
"I think more than anything, it was their fight," Katz told "The Leach Repot" show earlier this week. "They haven't gone to three toughest places yet but the previous road games, they'd been closer than anyone projected. They really control at LSU. Anthony Davis got knocked around and yet these guys just showed a little more toughness than we'd seen and they continue to grow and develop.
"As far as Terrence Jones, it's almost like sometimes you forgot he has that potential and then when it arrives, you realize he's one of the best players in the country when he's on like that."
Katz says UK, Ohio State, Syracuse and North Carolina are the four best teams right now and he'd been stunned if this season played out like last year and none of the top-rated teams make it to the Final Four. He also noted that all three of Calipari's teams at Kentucky have been different while still succeeding at a high level.
"This team has different advantages that the other teams didn't," Katz said. "They didn't have a shot-blocker like Anthony Davis. They have more scoring options. They don't have as much as strength as they had two years ago. They don't maybe have the same level of point guard play, but this is a year where there aren't a ton of elite point guards, so you can maybe get away with that and win the national championship."
That was the stat line from a game earlier this season for future Wildcat Alex Poythress, so if Anthony Davis doesn't get the elusive triple-double (there's only been one in Kentucky basketball history), maybe Poythress will someday.
Big Blue fans recently got to see Poythress play in a high school event in Lexington in which he poured in 42 points. Of course, those kinds of numbers don't come as any surprise to Norman Parker, who was Poythress' AAU coach last summer.
"I have been doing this for 25 years and had a great group of athletes that have come through our program, but there hasn't been one more athletic than Alex Poythress," Parker said recently on "The Leach Report" radio show. "Alex is more of a perimeter player. Being 6-(foot)-8, most of them play with their back to the basket in the paint but he is a perimeter guy who can shoot the three and take the ball to the basket will ease. What is impressive about Alex, being 6-8, is the way he handles the ball. He comes off the dribble as quick as I've seen and I've seen him beat smaller guys that are quicker than him, but his first dribble and first step is incredible in getting to the basket."
Sounds like a perfect fit for John Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion attack.
"I don't want to compare him to (Terrence) Jones because Jones is a special athlete and good player but Alex I think will fit in very nice there," Parker said. "I am not saying that that is where Coach Cal is going to play him but he is a similar type player - shoots the ball well from outside the perimeter and takes the ball to the hole with quickness. He is a big, strong athlete and what makes him special, too, is his character. He is a mild-mannered young man that has good character is a 'yes sir' and 'no sir' young man and Coach Calipari will enjoy coaching him."
According to Parker, Poythress is more comfortable on the perimeter but playing inside, if needed, would not be an issue.
"It's something he would do," Parker said. "We had the big guys like (Tony) Parker that dominated the inside so I didn't need him there and when I recruited him, we recruited him as a perimeter player. I think he is more comfortable facing the basket than having his back to the basket, but the times we put him on the blocks, he played very well. It's something he can do and anything Coach Cal asked him to do he would be glad to do it."
Parker says Calipari's ability to help players realize their full potential was a key factor for Poythress deciding on UK. And Parker says coach Cal is getting a highly skilled player, as well as one who fits easily into a team concept.
"When you have players like Tony Parker, who is one of the top five big guys in the country, I think they are two McDonald's All-American players," the coach added. "They have played together being both in the top 20 in the country so he knows how to share the basketball with talent. We had nine high major players this year, so he knows how to distribute the ball and play as a team player and that is Alex Poythress, that is his strength. He knows to distribute the ball to players around him."
"He's a heckuva a player. He's mature, he's cool, he's strong, he can shoot under pressure, he doesn't turn the ball over and he's so mature. This guy is a player. "
That's what former LSU coach Dale Brown had to say about reigning Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey of Christian County, a freshman on the LSU basketball team that the Wildcats face tomorrow in Baton Rouge.
Brown, speaking on today's "Leach Report" radio show, said he's been impressed by the job coach Trent Johnson has done in rebuilding the Tigers.
"They're a very good defensive team. And he has good depth. He has about five players (on that bench) and they're extremely good backups," he said. "They don't have the talent Kentucky does."
Brown had some talent-laden teams at LSU, with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Jackson, Kenny Higgs, Rudy Macklin, etc. And he knows the fallacy of doubters who say any coach can win with big-time talent like Kentucky gets.
"I think a lot of people underestimate John's ability to coach. I think he's really outstanding. And if you can't like John Calipari, you can't like anybody," Brown said. "Kentucky's got a great one there--one they'll never forget."
UK IMG radio network analyst Mike Pratt says LSU is a "big-time threat" in this matchup. Pratt said wins like the one LSU had over nationally-ranked Marquette give the Tigers. "They know they can play with top teams," he said, adding that Kentucky "better bring it mentally and they better bring it defensively."
Who does Anthony Davis remind you of--not just in terms of former Cats but all former SEC stars? We put that question to longtime SEC TV voice Tom Hammond on the radio show.
"Nobody," Hammond replied. " I don't know that I've seen a package (of skills) quite like that. He has exquisite timing. That's what I like about him. He can block the ball at the height of its release and often keep it in play. And he has such a great demeanor. He's always on an even keel. I don't know that we can compare him to anyone.
"Shaq blocked a lot of shots but I don't think he had the timing that Davis has. It's tough for me to go back and think of somebody has those particular skills--and is so young. And he's only going to get better," added Hammond.
Before he went to national stardom with NBC, Hammond covered UK sports for many years for WLEX-TV in Lexington, giving him a basis for comparing coach Calipari's style to all of the UK coaches back through Adolph Rupp.
"To me he handles the media the way coach Rupp used to," said Hammond. "He sort of tells everybody what they should be thinking. He guides the media and fans and that reminds me (of coach Rupp)."
In two of his last three games, freshman point guard Marquis Teague has produced two of his best single-game assist totals. And one of the best-ever UK point guards, Kyle Macy, says that's exactly the right course for Teague to follow this season.
"If your point guard is taking the second-most attempts, he better be a pretty good shooter--ala a Brandon Knight. With this team, (he) doesn't need to really put points on the board, unless it's late in the shot clock. Then, they can't really back off of him and he can use his speed and quickness and get to the rim. The main thing is get everybody else involved and get the offense running right," Macy told "The Leach Report" audience.
"Scoring from the point guard position--with this team--that should be one of the last things the point guard is thinking about. There are just so many options," Macy continued. "It's amazing to me that Anthony Davis, as well as he's playing, is last on the team in field goal attempts. If I'm a point guard, I'm getting him the ball every chance I get. I want my big guys (who do what he does on defense) to be real happy."
That was the first post on the Facebook fan page for my radio show about how fans felt about Kentucky moving into the number one spot in the polls. Believe it or not, "love it" was not the answer that got the most votes in our unscientific poll--it was "like it but uneasy."
That uneasiness is understandable, given how difficult it is to stay in the number one slot for a long stretch of time, but with the size of the target on the backs of Kentucky players game in and game out, can it really be that much bigger when you're at the top?
"I think the younger players don't feel the pressure as much," observed veteran sportscaster Tom Hammond on "The Leach Report" radio show on Monday. Hammond was working in Lexington television in 1978 when Kentucky was ranked number one for most of the season on the way to winning the program's first national title in 20 years.
"There were so many expectations on Kentucky to win it. When you're a freshman, you don't know what you don't know and I think that helps relieve the pressure somewhat. You don't feel the pressure of expectations the way that '78 team did," Hammond said.
One major positive factor going in Kentucky's favor is the talent on this roster.
"This is a seriously talented team and the beauty of it is that they don't rely on just one player," noted Hammond. "When you have such balance, it's tough to stop. The only thing I would think is if the minutes start to tell--freshmen sometimes hit a wall--but I really don't think it will. The most talented teams don't always win but they're fun to watch and that's some serious talent out there."
Kentucky has a chance to finish with six players averaging in double figures for the first time. The Courier-Journal's UK beat writer, Kyle Tucker, posted some interesting numbers this week on his blog about how the Cats' scoring averages would look if these players were attempting the number of shots the nation's top scorers are taking--about 15 per game. He notes that Lamb is attempting a team-high of only nine shots per game on average and that is significantly fewer than the 13.5 shots per game averaged by last year's leading scorer, Brandon Knight.
Lamb is coming off the bench for now, a role embraced earlier by senior Darius Miller. ESPN's Jay Bilas says accepting roles to make the team better than its individual parts is what gets remembered most.
"Everybody has to accept a roll even the star. You can accept a roll as a star and may think everyone wants that but not everybody does. Not everybody wants to be the guy that has to be consistent and do things every single night," Bilas said in an interview earlier this season. "Sometimes as a sixth man you could be more famous as being the sixth man than being the fifth starter.
"The key for every player is to understand that you are judged by winning and actually for a lot of years--you don't hear this any more because its getting more remote in time and now these kids are so young-- but there was a time where coaches would take the stat sheet, the end of the year cumulative stat sheet to the 1996 Kentucky national championship sheet and use it with their teams and say okay, 'Kentucky was the best at that time and maybe be the best team since then' and people would ask 'how many minutes did Ron Mercer average or how many points (did someone else average)' and the truth is no one could tell you," Bilas said.
"I, for one, can't tell you how many points Antoine Walker scored or how many points Tony Delk scored or things like that. You just knew they were an integral part of a championship team that could steam roll you. It was used to make a point that no one is going to remember all the little things that players moan and complain about. When you are in there play your tail off and do what you are supposed to do, we will all be remembered as winners and hopefully that is the attitude that a lot of teams are taking in because ultimately I am not going to remember that much longer how many points a guy scored," he continued, "but I am going to remember that those guys all played their tails off, played as a team and won. I will remember names. I won't remember what they did but I will remember that they were a part of that."
Here's the best example of that irony. Jodie Meeks had much the same skill set as a player like Lamb--some might even argue a better one--and he was a mid-second round pick after Kentucky's subpar 2009 season. But it's not to imagine Lamb playing himself into the first round if the Cats win a national title. For guys like Lamb and Terrence Jones, the message to grasp is that this is a team with so much talent that individual glory is going to be hard to come by but team glory can lift the NBA draft stock of anybody playing a key role in that success.
Who is Kentucky's leading candidate for national player of the year--Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy put MKG on his first-team All-America squad at midseason, saying Kidd-Gilchrist has made the biggest impact on winning for the Wildcats. DeCourcy said Davis' lack of big-time offensive production was a knock for now but the 27-point showing against Arkansas may signal that is changing.
CBS Sports this week came out with its weekly rankings for the nation's top player and Davis was third, behind Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Creighton's Doug McDermott, with Kidd-Gilchrist rated sixth.
Stats guru Ken Pomeroy is working on a numerical ranking of the player-of-the-year candidates at his kenpom.com site and he has Davis ranked fourth.
"Anthony Davis ranks fourth (behind Robinson, Jared Sullinger and Draymon Green), well ahead of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This (formula) factors in both sides of the ball, which when factoring (talk about) player-of-the-year, people don't do," Pomeroy said on "The Leach Report" radio show this week. "First, his shot-blocking. Everybody knows about. But the interesting thing about (him) is that he's also a very good defensive rebounder. And you just don't see that combination very often. When guys are blocking shots, they are out of position in terms of getting rebounds. He does that and it puts his defensive metrics off the chart."
As for Kentucky as a team, we asked Pomeroy how this UK team stacks up v. last year's Final Four squad.
"This year, they are a pretty good offensive rebounding team. They're a good outside shooting team but the thing that gets under-reported in the media is they don't take many three-pointers. They're 301st in the country in the number of three-pointers that they take," said Pomeroy. "Defensively, it's a pretty typical Calipari team. Where they excel is their two-point percentage defense--right now, they're third in the country. They give up 38 percent on their two-point (attempts), which is outstanding but one note of caution with that is in SEC play, that's risen to about 48 percent. That explains why the last two games have been tighter than Cat fans may have expected going in. It was particuarly stunning with Auburn because I have their offense rated worst in the conference. But maybe that's a flukish thing going on there."
Anthony Davis is making an all-out assault on the blocked shot pages of the Wildcat record book. And if Kentucky reaches a Final Four, Davis is on pace to finish with enough blocks to rank fifth on the CAREER list at UK. How's that for a staggering statistic?
Looking down the road, what tournament records could Davis re-write? Well, for Kentucky, the record for blocked shots in an NCAA Tournament game is six, shared by Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire (they each got six vs. UCLA in a '98 regional semifinal win). The SEC Tourney standard is nine, by Andre Riddick vs. LSU in 1993. By the way, Riddick had 15 points and 10 rebounds in that game, meaning he's come the closest in UK history to recording the school's second-ever triple double.
Nationally, Shaquille O'Neal holds the NCAA Tourney record for blocked shots in a game, getting 11 vs. BYU in '92. For a tournament, Florida's Joakim Noah is number one, with 29 blocks over six games in the Gators' 2006 title run. At Kentucky, Magloire's 18 blocks in 1998 is the record for NCAA Tournament blocks in one season.
Marquis Teague had arguably his best game in the win over Arkansas, with a season-best nine assists. And the pass-first mindset he displayed was in tune with what legendary UK point guard Kyle Macy said recently was needed at that spot.
"If your point guard is taking the second-most attempts, he better be a pretty good shooter--ala a Brandon Knight. With this team, (he) doesn't need to really put points on the board, unless it's late in the shot clock. Then, they can't really back off of him and he can use his speed and quickness and get to the rim. The main thing is get everybody else involved and get the offense running right," Macy observed. "Scoring from the point guard position--with this team--that should be one of the last things the point guard is thinking about. There are just so many options.
"It's amazing to me that Anthony Davis, as well as he's playing, is last on the team in field goal attempts," Macy continued. "If I'm a point guard, I'm getting him the ball every chance I get. I want my big guys (who do what he does on defense) to be real happy."
When it comes to the success of the Kentucky men's basketball team, what is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's most important attribute?
Defense. Rebounding. Leadership. Scoring. It's hard to know what the right answer is, which means the right answer is most likely that there is no answer--because it's not any ONE thing that makes MKG such an important cog in John Calipari's Big Blue machine. The sum is greater than any individual piece, in the case of Kidd-Gilchrist.
And it makes for an interesting discussion when it comes to things like All-America teams, Player of the Year awards and the like. Do you vote first for Kidd-Gilchrist or do you vote for fellow UK freshman Anthony Davis?
"I think (he) has had the biggest effect on winning," replied veteran college basketball scribe Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News, when ask why he opted for Kidd-Gilchrist on his midseason All-American first team. "He's been a very impressive player in every respect. I think Anthony is a terrific player and don't forget, we had Anthony on our preseason first team. And I think it's quite possible Anthony could wind up on the first team by the end of the year."
Kidd-Gilchrist has played some of his basketball in the Cats' biggest games. 12 points, nine rebounds against Kansas. His first career double-double (17 points, 11 boards) in the one-point win over North Carolina. Against Indiana, he went for 18 and nine while also guarding the Hooisers' best perimeter player. And in the win over Louisville, Kidd-Gilchrist had 24 points and 19 rebounds (the highest total at UK in six years).
CBS' Clark Kellogg was courtside for Kidd-Gilchrist's tour de force against UofL.
"I think you start with his attitude and his tenacity. He plays with tremendous heart and focus and purpose. When you do that, you have a chance to impact winning," Kellogg said.
There's that phrase again--"impact winning." And MKG does it in a variety of ways.
"He enjoys playing defense, he's a tremendous rebounder. He plays with an enthusiasm that is contagious. 24 (points) and 19 (rebounds) for a guy who is not an interior player is just off the charts," Kellogg said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "This kid is more than just a producitve player. He wants to lead other players to their best level of play.
"That was as strong a performance as I've seen in a long time, especially for a freshman," Kellogg added.
So what does Kidd-Gilchrist think about all of this praise?
"It doesn't drive me at all," he said. "It's good to know. My family and friends drive me the most. I just feed off them."
Tennessee lost at home to Austin Peay earlier this season but the Volunteer team we've seen in SEC play in the past week is clearly a different squad. UT upset Florida and then played Mississippi Stat to a four-point game on the road last night.
"I think the biggest change has been they're playing more complete games," UT radio voice Bob Kessling said on today's "Leach Report" radio show. "Used to be, they'd play one half well. I think the change in the starting lineup (inserted Josh Richardson and Renaldo Woolridge) has helped. Both are more concerned with defense and it's helped Tennessee set a good tone."
In those two league games, opponents are hitting just 40 percent of their field attempts against the Vols and only 32 percent of their three's.
"I think the last two or three games, the players have really bought into it. If they don't play defense," Kessling said, "they don't' play."
One player who has blossomed under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin is power forward Jeronne Maymon. The transfer from Marquette played only sparingly last season in Bruce Pearl's system but Maymon is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per game this season. And he's become a strong defensive presence as well.
"He's like a defensive end in there. Strongest guy on the team, benches 300 pounds. He's not flashy. Gets around the basket, goes and gets rebounds. As long as he stays out of foul trouble, he's got a chance to be pretty productive," noted Kessling.
"He's more like a quarterback for us defensively," Martin said on a recent SEC coaches teleconference.
"This is not for everybody, coming to Kentucky."
That statement from John Calipari is not new but he's had a chance to re-emphasize in the wake of Terrence Jones' post-Indiana struggles, which are hopefully behind now.
"Whether you're the coach or the player, there is so much passion around this program that your good stuff is overdone and so is your bad stuff," Calipari said on a recent pregame interview on the UK IMG radio network. "I'll give you an example. Terrence Jones. He has a bad couple of weeks. Doesn't mean he's a bad player, he just had a bad couple of weeks--and had his finger pop out of its socket," said Calipari. "Marquis Teague. He's playing 30 minutes a game for the second-ranked team in the country. He's averaging four-and-a-half assists to three turnovers. He needs to pass it a little more but he's 16 games into a college career, playing on this stage. He's used to shooting it more. We're trying to say 'a few more passes means a few more assists which means six assists to three turnovers'. Two-to-one is good in anybody's book. I'm just telling the guys to just worry about getting better. This isn't football where one loss knocks you out of the national championship.
"By the end of the year, what we did in New Jersey was like winning the national title. Those were three of the best five teams in the country and winning that shows what you can do when you come together," he added.
It may have been hard for Kentucky fans--or any of Florida's other SEC foes--to root for Tim Tebow when he was a Gator. Now, it's a different story and I'm guessing a lot of you are like me and really enjoying watching Tebow lead the Denver Broncos into the second round of the NFL playoffs.
Tebow was anything but an underdog at Florida but he's in that role now, with so many doubters out there. I'm not sure he's the long term answer to Denver's QB situation but it's clear that Tebow is a good leader and a winner.
Former UK and NFL star Jeff Van Note is a fan, too.
"His ability to lead his team and makes plays and inspire is fun to watch," Van Note said on "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this week. "He has the intangibles that people who have played football recognize."
You grow up dreaming of playing in the National Football League but once you get there, is the reality as good as the dream?
"Definitely," says Randall Cobb, "a lot of fun. The guys in that locker room are some of the most athletic and talented guys--it's just a blessing to be out there with them doing something I love."
Cobb missed the Green Bay Packers' final regular season game with a pulled groin muscle but during an appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show last Friday, Cobb assured the Big Blue Nation that he'll be on the field when the Packers begin their postseason run this weekend.
Cobb is arguably the most popular Kentucky football player ever and it didn't take him long to be embraced by the Packer faithful, especially after he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in the season opener--a play that made it onto ESPN's list of the top 10 NFL plays of the year.
Cobb was asked how the passion of Packer fans compares to what he saw in Kentucky.
"We have a lot of fans everywhere. It kind of puts you in the mind of Kentucky basketball, how many fans they have everywhere they go. Our fans are very loyal. Whenever we're on the road, it feels like a home game," Cobb said.
Cobb made his mark as a rookie with his ability to return kickoffs and punts, a weapon the Packers have lacked since former Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard left more than a decade ago. But Cobb also caught 25 passes for 375 yards and a touchdown (which also came in that opening game). And even though he played in the country's toughest league, there has still been an adjustment period.
"You hear a lot of people talk about the speed but also, it's the detail work, just how precise you have to be. Especially as a receiver in your route-running and understanding coverages," Cobb told the audience. "Everybody out here is a pro. In college, you might two or three guys on the field that have the potential to play in the NFL. Just having to go non-stop on every play. You have to push yourself."
Cobb says the Packers are "staying focused and making sure we take it a week a time" when it comes to the playoffs and defending the Super Bowl championship. He says the hype surrounding the chance for an undefeated regular season was not a distraction because the players were able to keep their attention focused only on the next opponent.
Because the Packers played on Thanksgiving day, Cobb was at home in Alcoa, Tenn. with his family watching on TV when Kentucky finally ended the 26-game losing streak to Tennessee.
"That was big for us. It was exciting to see them get that win. And hats off to Matt (Roark). There's been some great quarterbacks that haven't been able to do what he did. That says a lot for him as a player," Cobb said, noting that he talked with Roark shortly after that memorable performance. "I congratulated him and told him I was proud of him. He was one of my roommates in college. Me and Matt have been close since we came in together so I was happy for him."
And what does Cobb miss most about his time at Kentucky.
"Just my friends and being able to hang out," replied Cobb. "It's a business now. I miss all my friends back in Lexington."