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By LARRY VAUGHT
Over the weekend John Calipari talked about how his roster was set for next season and he was more than content to have 12 scholarship players rather than the full 13.
Now comes the news that another prep standout, Xavier Henry, apparently is still having second thoughts about going to Kansas and could come to Kentucky.
Carl Henry, the father of Xavier and C.J. Henry, who was a walk-on player at Memphis under Calipari last year, told a Kansas City radio station Monday that the family would meet tonight to discuss where Xavier and C.J. would play next year after what Carl Henry felt was an unflattering story about him and his family in The Kansas City Star Sunday.
It has Kansas coach Bill Self and top assistant Danny Manning worried enough that they were apparently going to Oklahoma City to see the Henry family.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a confusing mess.
Xavier Henry signed with Memphis before Calipari left. When Calipari came to Kentucky, HenryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother said she did not want to move to Kentucky and would prefer that he play at Kansas where his brother C.J. intended to play.
Now it seems the mom doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care where Xavier plays, and he still wants to come to Kentucky.
Or thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the theory since he has not gone to Kansas this summer and has had little interaction with the returning Kansas players. However, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also not in Lexington with the Kentucky newcomers who have been on campus almost a month now.
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t buy totally into all the talk, too, about some UK freshmen doing all they can to persuade Henry to join the Wildcats. With the talent UK already has Ã¢â‚¬â€ and competition for playing time Ã¢â‚¬â€ I am just not sure I buy into that.
Henry certainly would give Kentucky another talented player Ã¢â‚¬â€ and another guy that hopes to be in the NBA a year fromÃ‚Â now. Maybe it would pay off in a big way if Kentucky gets him.
However, Calipari stressed earlier this week how well his recruits were getting along and how much he liked their overall attitudes. Is that worth potentially disrupting to add Henry?
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t look for this saga to end anytime soon. There are too many variables to think there will be a quick decision unless Self decides heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had enough of the turmoil and says adios to Xavier Henry.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know why anyone should be surprised that John Calipari put together the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 1 ranked recruiting class at Kentucky or should be questioning how he might do leading the Wildcats.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“John has had success every place he has been. I think to think he would not have success at Kentucky would be foolish,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the Vanderbilt coach Monday during the Southeastern Conference coaches summer teleconference.
Stallings knows Kentucky, which did not make the NCAA Tournament last year, is still considered the SECÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s marquee team by many and that a stronger UK does help the leagueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s perception.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think the perception of our league has suffered at times when Kentucky has been down.From that standpoint, I think the higher ups would tell you it is good for Kentucky to be good, but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t particularly want Kentucky to be good,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have enough good teams.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No, they will be good, and always have been. They were good with Tubby (Smith). They were good with Bill (Gillispie). They were good withÃ‚Â Rick (Pitino) and before that. They will be good with John. That place has always been good, and they will continue to be good.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, a Kentucky native, was a bit amused that media members asked so many coaches about Calipari and UK.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very obvious already the impact heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had,Ã¢â‚¬Â Stansbury said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“All through that state, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all everybodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s talking about.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Another Kentucky native, South Carolina coach Darrin Horn, also sees the benefit of having Calipari in the league.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think it is great to have coach Cal in the league. You add somebody who brings experience and a proven track record and it is a positive for everyone. It was a terrific hire for them and helps their program and the league,Ã¢â‚¬Â Horn, who beat UK twice last season in his first year at South Carolina after leaving Western Kentucky.
LSU coach Trent Johnson was not sure KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s status meant that much to the SECÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s perception. Instead, he thinks the league is judged by its overall play.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you win your share of games, whether Kentucky or Ole Miss, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to benefit your league,Ã¢â‚¬Â Johnson said.
Still, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl admitted the league needs to improve this year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Last year whatever the perception was, it was fair,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pearl said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was accurate. The league was young.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Only three SEC teams made it to the 2009 NCAA Tournament. However, many of the leagueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top underclassmen Ã¢â‚¬â€ KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Patrick Patterson, TennesseeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Tyler Smith, LSUÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Tasmin Mitchell, Mississippi StateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jarvis Varnado and South CarolinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Devan Downey Ã¢â‚¬â€ all stayed in college rather than go to the NBA.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Obviously our league is due a cycle up,Ã¢â‚¬Â Pearl said.
Stallings says the SEC was down a Ã¢â‚¬Å“little bit moreÃ¢â‚¬Â than he anticipated last year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But if you go back and check we have had six teams in the NCAA eight of last 10 years. It is not going to stay like that. It was just a year where a lot of people were caught in major transition with us being one of them,Ã¢â‚¬Â the Vanderbilt coach said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ A lot of our programs were just very, very young. I think you will see the exact opposite of that this year. We have experienced teams that will raise the quality of our league and it will show at tournament time.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari continues to have a far different vision for KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s future basketball schedules than previous coaches have.
During the Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday he noted how he had talked to Indiana coach Tom Crean about returning the UK-Indiana series to neutral sites in Louisville and Indianapolis.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am really big on neutral games,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have talked to Kansas about playing in St. Louis in the big stadium. I think we would have 20,000 fans and them the same. I have talked to Memphis about playing in Nashville.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He has also talked to Ohio State about playing in Louisville the year when UK is playing Indiana in Indianapolis and playing in Cincinnati the year UK plays the Hoosiers in Louisville.
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also had talks about neutral site games in New York and Atlanta.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Those are marquee, TV games,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Since he also plans to continue series with Louisville and North Carolina, he knows it might be possible to have a year where seven or eight top 25 teams could end up on UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s schedule.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We better have good players because I will not coach them up to that type of schedule,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari admitted.
He waited to see if Jodie Meeks would stay in the NBA draft before finalizing his first UK schedule.
Kentucky will only face one team next season that ranked in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“250 rangeÃ¢â‚¬Â last season and Calipari says that team should be vastly improved this year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am very conscious about strength of schedule,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Calipari says his first 90 days at Kentucky have been Ã¢â‚¬Å“vitalÃ¢â‚¬Â to UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s future success. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been doing everything from learning about the campus and SEC to evaluating facilities to looking at the schedule, staff and office setup.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You are touching as many people as you can. I mean physically touching,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That means from speaking to dinner.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You have to set the tone for the program and staff of what is acceptable in all things you do. These 90 days have been hectic and exciting. I have had a lot of fun, but it has been an absolute whirlwind.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He says UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fan support has been overwhelming.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have found out the fans are raving fans in a good way. Our Twitter that we started seven weeks ago has over 300,000 followers. By mid-July we will have a half-million and we will have a million by the time the season starts,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Calipari had UK president Lee Todd as his Ã¢â‚¬Å“guest twitterÃ¢â‚¬Â last week.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think he was the first college president twittering. He had a lot of fun. Those are things we are doing beyond watching tape and figuring things out there.Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“People look at me and say slow down. This is how we do things. I went into Louisville and made my rounds and met some incredible people. We did not ask for anything. I just would say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI want you under our tent.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ But no, we wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t slow down.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By LARRY VAUGHT
KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incoming freshmen have brought an attitude to the Wildcats that has coach John Calipari excited.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I love what they all come with. They come with the attitude that, Ã¢â‚¬ËœLetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s try to win all the games.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ At Memphis we brought in one crew like that said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœLetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s win them all,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ and they convinced our returning players,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Calipari Monday during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference.
Calipari said guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, swingman Jon Hood and forward DeMarcus Cousins have been like Ã¢â‚¬Å“brothersÃ¢â‚¬Â since arriving at UK. Earlier another incoming freshman, Daniel Orton, spent four weeks at UK before leaving to train in California for two months.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Eric and John (Wall) do it all together. Guys on the team love Jon (Hood). DeMarcus is a big teddy bear,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“These guys all like each other.Ã¢â‚¬Â
HeÃ‚Â noted how Wall, the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top-ranked recruit by many recruiting analysts, got excited recently when he made an Ã¢â‚¬Å“AÃ¢â‚¬Â on a summer school math test.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They all have a lot of growing up to do, but he got all excited over that,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
With Jodie Meeks gone to the NBA, Calipari admitted the odds were much greater that Wall and Bledsoe, both point guards, would be playing together next season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think John and Eric playing together now is a distinct possibility,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Calipari. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The best thing I like is they like each other. They are together 24/7.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari has 12 scholarship players with the recent decision not to renew scholarships for Matt Pilgrim and Kevin Galloway and MeeksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ defection to the NBA. However, that number seems more than adequate to him
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The roster stuff is still playing out. One year we had 13 players. At times at UMass we had 10 on scholarship,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Last year we had 13 (at Memphis).
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have 12 scholarship players right now. I think most of them have cleared academically through the (NCAA) clearinghouse. Jon HoodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final transcript still has to come through and one other (freshman) has some late paperwork.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is about kids and who plays and where you see them fitting in and trying your best to do the right thing for the kids.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By LARRY VAUGHT
New Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes playing on the USA Under 19 National Team does one thing for sophomore Darius Miller..
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I hope he become a much more confident player,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Calipari Monday during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Before he left (for the tryouts), he was going through two-a-day (workouts). I would be in the office at 11 (p.m.) and he would turn the lights on (in the Joe Kraft Center) and be out there shooting and going hard. I think it has lit a fire under him.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Miller is preparing for the championships in New Zealand with the team. Calipari hopes the experience will only enhance the skills he saw from Miller during the six workouts he was allowed to conduct when he got the job following Billy GillispieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dismissal.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was as excited about him as anybody on the team. The way we play with the dribble-drive and wide open style, he has a knack for getting the ball in the basket,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good athlete. Not great, but good. He can shoot runners, score from the perimeter. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢sÃ‚Â good enough with the ball. He has a feel for playing fast.Ã¢â‚¬Â
All Calipari felt Miller needed was more confidence and he anticipates just making the elite team had to help the Mason County product in that area.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He had to work for the tryout. Early on when you are playing one style and you go into that environment and it is a lot like pick-up ball, he struggled at times. But then he kicked it in at the end,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
A more confident Miller could help ease the loss to Jodie Meeks, the SECÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leading scorer and top 3-point shooter, to the NBA. Meeks was picked in the second round with the 41st overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks after deciding not to return to UK for his senior season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It gives Darius, Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins and Jon Hood a chance for playing time where there was not going to be as much time (if Meeks was back),Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
Calipari says Meeks and his family anticipated him going a bit earlier in the draft as they told him they expected him to be picked no later than 37th. However, Calipari noted that Chris Douglas-Roberts, one of his players at Memphis, was picked 40th in the 2008 draft and started the final 10 games for New Jersey last season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think Jodie can do the same and I truly wish him well,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hold these kids back. If they go in (to the draft) and know they may go in the second round or not get picked, it is still their choice. At the end of the day, it will still a good choice for Jodie.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t imagine that we will be better. He is such a terrific player.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though he has to pay his own to Kentucky this year and sit out the season as a transfer, tight end Ryan Wallace is excited to be joining the Wildcats.
The former Bowling Green standout originally committed to Louisville before changing his mind and signing with Colorado. He redshirted last season and was No. 5 on the depth chart after spring practice but three players ahead of him were seniors.
Still, he missed Kentucky and decided Kentucky, which will have three senior tight ends this season, was the best spot for him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Obviously, I wanted back closer to my family. Lexington is far enough away that I can be myself and still get home to see my family if need be,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Wallace. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I should have a chance to play after I sit out this year and it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get any better than playing in the SEC.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Wallace will be one of 105 players reporting Aug. 6 when UK starts preseason workouts. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll become a scholarship player in 2010 and have three years of eligibility remaining.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I know that sitting out another year will be difficult, but he seems very happy with his decision,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Kevin Wallace, RyanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father and coach at Bowling Green. Ã¢â‚¬Å“While it is not in my inner fiber to accept quitting at anything, I have realized over the past month that for Ryan to get the most out of his college experience, it is essential for him to have a level of happiness that will at least make him comfortable in his surroundings.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ryan Wallace played with UK offensive guard Stuart Hines at Bowling Green and has known him since elementary school. He also has friends from the Kentucky all-star team he was on.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They have great guys and great coaches. I am reallyÃ‚Â looking forward to it,Ã¢â‚¬Â Wallace said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My dad was not very happy with the transfer at first, but once I settle in at Kentucky he was glad he would get to see me play.
Wallace had 47 catches for 669 yards Ã¢â‚¬â€ an average of 13.9 yards per reception Ã¢â‚¬â€ and seven touchdowns in 2007. He caught 22 passes for 325 yards in 2006.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sitting out a year will be tough, but it will give me an opportunity to learn the offense and the overall system,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was on the scout team last year at Colorado and it still took me time in the spring to get the system down. It will also give me another year to get bigger, stronger and faster.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He already did that at Colorado where he increased his weight to 245 while lowering his 40-yard dash time to 4.8 seconds Ã¢â‚¬â€ the second fastest among the Colorado tight ends.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Overall I got more athletic. In high school I did not do a lot of lower body stuff. They were geared to core stuff and working on your lower body. It made my athleticism better,Ã¢â‚¬Â Wallace said.
He says he enjoyed the players and coaches at Colorado.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was just so far from home,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I missed my family. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tough to live in the same city all your life and the move 1,200 miles away. Kentucky is just better for me. I just had to learn that by being away a year.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By LARRY VAUGHT
Tonight’s NBA draft may not be kind to Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks.
The pre-draft speculation has Meeks going no higher than the middle of the second round – and that is the most optimistic outlook. Some draft analysts have Meeks, the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer and top 3-point shooter during his junior season at UK, going undrafted.
However, college basketball analyst Larry Conley thinks Meeks will have a productive NBA career for the team that drafts him.
“I think he will be very good for one simple reason – he can shoot. That’s something a lot of guys in the NBA lack,” Conley said. “He has other aspects he needs to work on like defense and ballhandling. But I think overall he will be fine.”
That doesn’t mean Conley totally agrees with Meeks’ decision to bypass his senior season at Kentucky – in the Wildcats’ first year under new coach John Calipari – to play in the NBA.
“I thought he would enjoy playing for John and fit well into the way he plays. He would have got a lot of open shots. But he made his choice and moved on. I think it would have been better for him and the team if he had come back, but I also wish him well,” Conley said.
“Individuals have to decide when they are ready. I do think he will be a good pro player. He will shoot the ball well. The name of the game is to put the ball in the basket, and he can do that.
“He has quickness. He can get open on his own and doesn’t always have to have a screen. He can get his shot, which is important in the NBA. Sometimes the offense will break down and you’ve got to create a shot. I know some think Jodie can’t do that, but I believe he can.”
Conley understands why Meeks could have felt now was the best time for him to leave Kentucky.
“Jodie would have been playing for his third coach if he had stayed at Kentucky. Maybe that plays on him,” Conley said. “There were only two things I was concerned about when I played at Kentucky. You played and got your education.
“That has all changed. There are other considerations now, particularly if you are a high-caliber player. I never had to worry about playing pro basketball like Jodie is.
“You think about that a lot today. If your overriding factor for being in college is to get to the NBA, then you should leave school because you are not going to help the team if that is what is really on your mind.”
Conley says losing Meeks has to hurt Kentucky, even though the Cats have the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and potential NBA players such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton joining the team.
“He had a chance to be player of the year in the SEC. You don’t lose a guy like that and not miss him,” Calipari said. “John is bringing in talented players to fill the void, but they will miss Meeks a lot.”
Conley wishes the NBA would change its draft system to one similar to baseball in which a player either gets drafted coming out of high school or has to stay in college three years.
“But the NBA will never do that because they can’t take the same number of players that baseball drafts and sends to the minor leagues,” Conley said. “However, the NBA draft needs some tweaking.”
Those are the kind of opinions Conley has shared for years on the SEC telecasts he did with partner Tom Hammond. However, he’s not sure he’ll be calling any games this season since the SEC now has a TV deal with ESPN.
“I have put out word to everybody in a position to hire that I am interested in doing SEC games again,” Conley said. “If I was 30 years old, I would be out banging on doors and sending tapes out. But as old as I am, I am not sure I need to do that. My body of work is out there for anybody to see. It’s just a matter of finding someone to hire me.”
Sounds like what Meeks has gone through with the NBA, doesn’t it?
“When you mention it, yes, it does. Let’s just hope it works out the way we both want it to,” Conley said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
He knows his opinion won’t be popular in Kentucky because the frenzy new coach John Calipari has created for UK basketball again with his top-ranked recruiting class. Yet college basketball analyst Larry Conley thinks losing guard Jodie Meeks to the NBA will impact the Wildcats more next year than others believe.
“Don’t get me wrong. I think they will be pretty good. The talent is good and John’s ability to coach is a given. I think they will have a very good year,” said Conley, a former UK player. “But with Meeks leaving, I think UK fans may want to temper their enthusiasm a little bit about being preseason top 10 in the country. I certainly think they are top 25. But with Meeks gone, I can’t see them being top five, top 10.
“What they are going to lack is experience, especially in the backcourt. Just ask (Tennessee coach) Bruce Pearl. He lost good, experienced players going into last year and his team never totally recovered.”
Still, others don’t see any reason to worry nearly that much about Meeks’ departure even though he was the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer last year.
Jeff Goodman of Fox.com has Kansas No. 1` in his preseason forecast, but Kentucky is No. 2 and here’s why: “Despite the fact that Jodie Meeks decided to leave early for the NBA, the Widcats will still be loaded. Patrick Patterson opted to return to school, the nation’s top freshman, point guard John Wall, committed to UK and the Wildcats also added a bunch of talented new faces with DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton up front and Eric Bledsoe and Jon Hood in the backcourt. This team is deep enough that Orton, a fringe McDonald’s All-American, may not see the floor for any meaningful minutes.”
Goodman has Michigan State, Texas, North Carolina, Villanova, Washington, Purdue, Tennesse and Connecticut completing his preseason top 10.
ESPN.com’s Andy Katz has Kansas on top also followed by Michigan State, Texas, Villanova< North Carolina and Purdue. He has Kentucky No. 7. He wrote: “Is this too low? Possibly. But John Calipari would agree with me that the Wildcats still haven’t earned anything yet. Look, they have to learn a new system, and outside of Patrick Patterson, the key players on this squad are all new: John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Darnell Dodson, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton. I just want to see UK mature a bit before it’s anointed.”
That’s partially how Conley feels. He believes if Wall, Cousins and the other newcomes match their hype, UK could be as good as many are hoping by March.
“I think Kentucky probably should still be the SEC favorite,” Conley said. “I probably would have taken Florida if Nick Calathes had stayed (instead of going to the NBA). Kentucky certainly in the SEC Eastern Division favorite now.
“The SEC West has a lot of turmoil, but it is not nearly as good as the East. Auburn will be good after getting it turned around last year. Mississippi State could turn out to be really good.”
But so could Kentucky, couldn’t it?
“Absolutely. Sometimes you never know talent and team chemistry will go together,” Conley said. “John has been great at getting talented players to play in his system. But he has so many new guys to teach and nobody coming back that knows the system.
“Kentucky is going to be good. I just don’t know that it is fair or realstic to really think a team with so many young players can be top 10, top five. That’s why I think UK fans might want to just scale those preseason expectations down a bit until we see how this team plays out.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Darius Miller thinks he played well during tryouts for the USA Under-19 National Team. However, he admits he wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the only one who did that.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Things went well for me, but there is a lot of competition. I think I have done well, but everybody has. The talent here is unbelievable,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Miller Thursday after the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final practice in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon must today pared the roster from 17 players to 12 who made the team that will play in the World Championships in New Zealand next month and Miller is one of the 12.
“It is an incredible feeling. I never really dreamed about being able to represent the country, and it’s a great honor to be part of it. It’s a great feeling, really,” Miller said.
“I just tried to playÃ‚Â my game. I tried to play an all-around game and play defense, rebound and do what the coaches wanted me to do.
Even before he knew he made the team, Miller said it was a worthwhile experience for him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No matter what happens, it has been a great experience for me,Ã¢â‚¬Â Miller, who will be a sophomore at Kentucky, said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just happy to be here because this is an opportunity that not a lot of people get. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really an honor to be invited to maybe play for your country. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why no matter how it turns out, it has been a great experience for me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Miller says playing with players like Seth Curry of Duke, Drew Gordon of UCLA, Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas, Terrico White of Mississippi, Shelvin Mack of Butler and others can only enhance his play next season at UK under new coach John Calipari.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It will help me a lot. I have had a chance to play with a lot of great players and learn from them. I have learned a lot from the coaches because they let us have freedom to show what we can do, but they also push us and teach us. I try to listen to everything they tell me,Ã¢â‚¬Â Miller said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think being here also shows me that all the hard work I have done since last season ended is paying off and the work I am doing here will pay off for me next season.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Miller admits he never anticipated being invited to try out for the team even though he had a solid freshman season at Kentucky when he averaged 5.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I never thought about this happening. I never even let myself dream about playing on any Team USA,Ã¢â‚¬Â Miller said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When I got out here, it was kind of overwhelming really. I never thought I would get a chance to be part of something like this or experience anything like this. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just great.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By LARRY VAUGHT
Jodie Meeks’ shot-making ability will land him a spot in the NBA next year.
Or at least that’s what one NBA scout, who asked to remain anonymous because his team has an interest in drafting Meeks, believed when asked to assess Meeks’ decision to keep his name in the NBA draft rather than return to Kentucky for his senior season.
“I think he will be instant offense off the bench. He can roll out of bed and make shots like J.R. Smith of Denver can do,” said the scout. “Guys like that are valuable. Any team will take as many of those guys as they can get.
“In this league, you’ve got to be able to score points. It’s great to have all the guys with character you want or all the guys that can rebound and play defense, but you want guys that can score and Jodie Meeks can score.”
Yes he can. He put in 54 points at Tennessee last season and also had games with 46 and 45 points. He averaged 23.7 points per game to lead the Southeastern Conference and made 117 3-point shots while hitting 40.6 percent behind the 3-point line. He also shot 90.2 percent at the foul line – and showed he could go inside and either finish or get fouled.
But can Meeks create his own shot? That’s the question many seem to have.
“There are not a ton of guys in the league that can really create their own shots with the defense that is played night in, night out. I know people think it is a bunch of baloney, but there is great defense played in the NBA. Those guys defend every night and make it hard for anybody to get a shot on his own,” the scout said.
“So if he goes back to UK, will he be able to create his own shot a year from now better than he can right now? I don’t think so. He’s a shooter, He can take the ball to the rim and finish. And he’s a great defender. He’ll be playing somewhere next year and if that’s what he wanted, then he made the right decision.”
The scout admitted that if Meeks believes he’ll be a first-round pick on June 25th when the two-round draft is held, he’s likely mistaken unless a team has disguised its evaluation of him well. However, that doesn’t mean the scout thinks Meeks made a mistake leaving his name in the draft.
“If he just wants to be paid for playing, then it is a good decision,” the scout said. “If he’s rolling the dice and hoping to be a first-round pick, then it is a bad decision.”
The scout thinks even if Meeks is a second-round pick as most analysts think he will be, he’ll still be on a NBA roster next season.
“I think he will make a team. I will be stunned if he is not on a team next year. If we don’t draft him and he’s let go by another team, we will pick him up in a heartbeat,” the scout said. “He’s better than a lot of the shooting guards in the league right now.
“The vast majority of second-round guys don’t make it, but there are some who make it every year and stay in the league for a long time.”
Ask Chuck Hayes. He was undrafted after a brilliant career at UK but now has found a home with the Houston Rockets. One reason he has endeared himself to the team is his work ethic. The scout says Meeks looks like he has the same quality about him.
“He will be one of those guys that comes early and stays late,” the scout said. “There are no questions about his work ethic. Some coaching staff will really like that about him quickly.
“If you are not a main guy in this league, you are pretty interchangeable with a lot of guys. But if you can play and also come early, stay late and don’t create trouble, then coaches love you. Jodie will be that guy and then you throw in the way he shoots and there’s no way he won’t be on a roster next year.”
What do you think?
What do you think of Jodie MeeksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ decision to keep his name in the NBA draft and leave Kentucky? Send your name, hometown and comments about MeeksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ decision to sports editor Larry Vaught at email@example.com.