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Trey Lyles photo courtesy Chris Howell/Bloomington Herald-Times.

Trey Lyles photo courtesy Chris Howell/Bloomington Herald-Times.

By LARRY VAUGHT

First came the DraftExpress.com speculation that Kentucky signee Karl Towns Jr. could possibly develop into the top pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Now this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated lists what it considers the top five recruits for the next college basketball season. Towns is not one the list, but Indiana Mr. Basketball Trey Lyles — another UK signee — is along with Jahlil Okafor of Duke, Cliff Alexander of Kansas, Stanley Johnson of Arizona and Myles Turner, who has not picked a school (and remember that UK was actively involved in the recruiting of all five).

Here’s what Sports Illustrated had to say about Lyles: “Combines a diverse repertoire in the post (6-10, 245 pounds) with an advanced perimeter game. His strong ballhandling makes him an intriguing point-forward prospect.”

I got to watch Lyles play in three different events, including the Indiana state championship game, last season and came away more and more impressed. He will rebound. He will handle the ball. He will pass. He will make free throws. He can make 3-point shots. He will play defense.

And he understands the team concept because his father as well as his high school coach always emphasized that to him.

So while he’s not been as highly touted by some as say Anthony Davis or Julius Randle were, Lyles continues to impress more and more who see him and the idea of a point-forward in indeed intriguing.

Julius Randle photo by Victoria Graff.

Julius Randle photo by Victoria Graff.

By LINDA SINCLAIR

We passed through one of the most wearisome and frustrating seasons we have ever had with Coach Cal. Don’t compare it to psycho coach or slow ball, please. A lot of us lost faith; some wanted Cal’s head on a platter, others could not learn to love the players, and then many were desperate — and if you were like me you were going crazy.

As noted in many post and stories we went from the #1 recruiting class ever assembled to falling out of the rankings altogether and then we end up at the Senior Prom competing for Prom King. We ended up in second place and could not wear the crown home but we can be proud of the way the young men finally learned to play together and be brothers.

I did not think it would happen especially so late in the season. Who would have thought such a thing could have taken place? WOW! I admit I was frustrated and upset but I was still bleeding blue even if it was a trickle instead of a full flow.

We have our Willie back and Marcus Lee is coming back, smart move … one game does not make an NBA player. Now we must sit back and patiently twiddle our thumbs and keep our eyes and ears open in hopes that more of our young men return.
If they don’t, so be it, it is their life not ours. We cannot judge them; we do not know what it is like to play in their shoes. We have never had their dreams or talent. No matter how many more come back for next year, we will be fine. I believe in Cal and wear my UK Blue proudly.
Born a Wildcat Fan, Still a Wildcat Fan, Always a Wildcat Fan.

Kentucky coach John Calipari will make several stops across the state to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” in the next few weeks.

The first book signing will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington Green Thursday at 6 p.m. On Friday he will be at Barnes & Noble in Louisville (4100 Summit Plaza Dr.) at 6 p.m. Saturday he’ll sign at Sam’s Club in Nicholasville at 2 p.m. and on Monday he’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Crestview (2785 Dixie Highway) at 6 p.m.

Calipari will make an appearance in Bowling Green Tuesday at 6 p.m. CST at Barnes & Noble (1680 Campbell Lane) and will be at Barnes & Noble in Lexington (1932 Pavilion Way) April 29 at 6 p.m.

There will also be an appearance at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville (2117 Payne St.) at 7 p.m. April 24 that is a ticketed event. Tickets are $30 and gains admission for a discussion with Calipari about the book and a designated spot in the book-signing line.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari is doing his best to promote his new book but one has to wonder if he wishes he had never gone on The O’Reilly Factor  Monday night on Fox News after being asked about “rap stuff, hip-hop stuff and hustlers” by Bill O’Reilly.

Bill O’Reilly obviously did  no homework on Calipari or the Kentucky basketball program, but the UK coach managed to make his points and not let O’Reilly paint the picture the host obviously wanted to paint.

Here’s some of what the conversation was like:

O’Reilly: Do they (players) act differently toward you? Do these use four letter words towards you?

Calipari: No, no.

O’Reilly: None of that?

Calipari: No.

O’Reilly: So you impose strict discipline on that.

Calipari: Yes. Here is what I would tell you. These kids come from good homes. People will say well he doesn’t have a father. Some of the best kids I coach were raised by a grandmother who was so firm that they understood.

O’Reilly: So you evaluate their character before you give them the scholarships.

Calipari: If I walk in a home and a young man disrespects his mother or grandfather, grandmother in front of me, I’m out. Because if that’s the case, he respects no one. He is not going to respect me.

O’Reilly: Okay. How do you keep them away from temptation with the hustlers everywhere?

Calipari: Who?

O’Reilly: So they go out with a girl and the girl said hey you raped me. There is drugs everywhere. They are giving the kids drugs for free. How do you keep them away from that?

Calipari: One of the things I tell them coming to Kentucky as you know, if you want to smoke, drink, chase, do all that stuff, they will do a (ESPN) 30/30 on you. They will be on the ticker, every news show. You can’t do that here. You are coming here to be developed as a person and a player.

O’Reilly: How many do that?

Calipari: They all do.

O’Reilly: Temptation is strong.

Calipari: We’ll deal with issues as they come up. They all look at the results. You and I know it’s one thing to walk in and say we’re going to do, this we’re going to do that it’s another thing to say here’s what we have done. Here is how they have been developed. We have had 17 players drafted. We have had 10 players get their college degrees. Our apr is as high as anybody in the country. Four years of a 30-0. They understand they are there to be educated. People will say well, they don’t want to go to school. That’s a bunch of crap. They do want to go to school. But their genius is basketball.

O’Reilly: Now, do you have guys on them all the time? Curfews? Coaches watching them drug testing it do you drug test.

Calipari: We do all of that we have housing with no women that can go in there. Thirty beds. People get honest about it. Why would you have separate them from the college? Because of what you said.

O’Reilly: Yeah.

Calipari: They have to be. We also, I’m embarrassed to say take NBA security with us on the road. You would say, what? Well, where do you get to these guys? You are not getting to them on my campus. You are getting to them when we gone 00 road. We bring NBA security with us to protect them. At the end of the day, how they were raised, what we looked at the when we recruited them, how we are now the standards that’s being set. They are going to be in situations where you are offered this, that, and the other. Do you take it or do you protect yourself to protect your brand? We used to call it our name. Now it’s your brand.

Karl Towns photo courtesy MSG

Karl Towns photo courtesy MSG

By LARRY VAUGHT

While looking back through some information on the Nike Hoop Summit, I came across this evaluation of the game’s most undervalued players by Jamie Cooper of dimemag.com.

Kentucky signee Karl Towns Jr., the 7-foot player from New Jersey who played on the World team for the second straight year, was one of the players mentioned. Here’s what Cooper wrote before the game:

“ESPN has him ranked ninth, while DraftExpress  has him at number six, but the growing perception seems to be that Towns could potentially end up as a top-three lottery pick next summer. In fact, by the second practice session this week, one scout was already half-joking that the top two prospects were actually on the World Select Team (Towns and UK signee Trey Lyles) and not, in fact, hailing from the Windy City. I’m not completely sold on Lyles just yet, partially because I just haven’t seen enough of him, but Towns, on the other hand, is already showing signs of the type of physical maturity that will ultimately set him apart from someone like Okafor, who has a much less impressive physique.

“Beyond that, Towns is arguably the most versatile player of the bunch. He has solid footwork and a soft touch around the rim (with plenty of room for improvement), unlimited range on his jump shot, and great rebounding and shotblocking instincts. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as the No. 1 pick (in the NBA draft) next summer (2015).”

Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) saves the ball from going out as Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky (44) defends during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) saves the ball from going out as Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky (44) defends during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Antoine Poythress thought it was “crazy” that coach John Calipari and his staff had to start talking about NBA draft possibilities with players hours after Kentucky lost to Connecticut in the national title game, but he also knew the time frame for making future decisions made that a necessity.

“You have zero time and it’s hard to evaluate all this so quickly,” said Poythress, the father of UK sophomore Alex Poythress. “I have been trying to get some feedback of my own. Trying to go through this so quickly is a nightmare. It’s just difficult with such a short period of time.

“For Alex, it’s even worse because it is not very clear. Last year (making a decision about the draft) looked like a cake walk compared to this year. It is so muddy and convoluted this year.”

Poythress averaged 5.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 18.4 minutes per game this year. He shot 49.7 percent from the field (88 of 177), but was just 8-for-33 (24.2) percent from 3-point range. He also had only 17 assists and 12 steals in 40 games.

“You can file with the NCAA to give you something back (feedback-wise), but they are so conservative it is not very realistic if you are not in the top five or six guys,” Poythress said. “I guess they don’t want to steer you wrong, so they are conservative to a fault. They just basically give you the worst case scenario and throw everybody in to the mid to late second round.

“You can’t talk to any teams directly as a parent. You can’t sign with an agent to get information if you want to keep the option of staying in school open. So you are just getting information from whoever volunteers to help and some guys might give you nothing but BS. You have got to have a friend or someone who can help and even then they can all tell you is hypotheticals. The school can talk to them (NBA personnel) more than I can or Alex can. So we have to work through the school to get feedback.”

Poythress had some of his best moments in NCAA play. He scored six points in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the comeback win over Louisville. He had eight points in the Elite Eight win over Michigan. He had six points against previously unbeaten Wichita State. More importantly, he showcased the athleticism and talent that made many project him as a high NBA lottery pick before he played his first game at Kentucky.

One NBA scout offered this on Poythress (NBA scouts cannot be quoted on the record about specific players who are draft eligible): “As good as Alex looked at times during the tournament, I just don’t see how he could sneak into the first round in such a deep draft,” the scout said.

Poythress has until April 27th to decide if he wants to declare for the draft or return to Kentucky for his junior season.

“We will let Alex make the decision. Technically, his decision might not be my decision, but he has to live it and go through it all,” Poythress adi. “From my perspective, I don’t have to dribble and go through all this. I just give him my recommendation. He has to make a decision on what he needs to do. I just try to help and gather information the best I can. It’s never my decision. It is always his decision to make.

“I couldn’t imagine him being able to get the same set of information that I can get with him just being a college kid. People will tell him anything to influence him, especially with the evaluation being tougher than last year.”

Alex Poythress would be close to finishing his degree if he decides to stay at UK for another year. His father said his son changed his major to accounting and has several accounting courses he would have to take in the next year to finish his degree.

“If he doesn’t get it done, he would be close. He has been in summer school both years and takes a very good class load,” Antoine Poythress said.

While finishing his degree will have “some impact” on the UK sophomore’s decision, where he would likely fall in the draft will naturally have the biggest impact.

“Where he is projected and the risk associated with it is what Alex has to weigh,” his father said. “The second round is risky. There’s no guaranteed money, no guarantee of anything in the second round. It’s really taking a big risk. A lot will tell you if you have to go as a second round pick, why bother doing. Other factors could lead to your stock going down as the draft approached. It is not an exact science.

“Kids that go early in the second round are probably okay, but if you go 40th or later, you just taking a risk that you will even make a team. You get not guaranteed contract and a team is really not vested in you.”

He noted that a team like the Philadelphia 76ers “has a ton of second round picks” and isn’t likely to keep all those draft choices on the roster. He also said the Developmental League “is not a very good life” for young players who fail to land on a NBA roster.

“That would not be an option to leave school early to end up there,” Poythress said about his son. “He played great the last few weeks and  great in the tournament. He was relaxed and played great down the stretch. He made big plays at the right time when they really needed them. He played big, played good defense down the stretch in about every game and played well against different styles coming at him.

“Then again, his stat line not very good. He averaged less than six points per game. Field goal attempts and all were down (from last year) and points per minute were down cause he did not shoot as much.

“He just has a tough decision to make. He’s got to weigh a lot of things. He enjoys school. He enjoys the environment and being at Kentucky. It’s just a mater of getting minutes to show all he can do in longer stretches. That would be ideal for him. He just has to sit down and think and decide (about what to do) before he runs out of time.”

Antoine Poythress said the good thing is that his son is not being forced to make a bad decision because he can return to UK and be the most veteran player — and likely team leader — on another talented team.

“You don’t want to make a bad decision. That’s the most important thing,” Antoine Poythress said. “He can always come back. He’s not out there on a ledge with no options. He just has a decision to make versus having a decision made for him.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

All during the NCAA Tournament, including after he injured his ankle and could not play again, Willie Cauley-Stein kept insisting that he was in no hurry to leave Kentucky even if he was projected as a mid-first round draft pick.

“You meet a lot of people and college ball is fun. It’s not a big thing on my mind to leave, you know what I am saying. If the opportunity presents itself, then why wouldn’t you go. But if not, I am cool with staying a year or two here,” said the 7-foot Kentucky sophomore.

“I don’t really even know what I enjoy the most. You just have like security. Like if you leave, you are on  your own. Know what I am  saying? In college, you have a whole coaching staff that is kind of like your dad and they are family just like your family. You don’t feel alone like you would if you left and you started to having to pay for  yourself. It’s not like you have a meal plan. You have to start paying  bills and stuff. That’s a lot to think about when you 20 years old. So  why not stay in school?”

And that’s what he is going to do. Cauley-Stein sai Monday he will return to Kentucky for the 2014-15 season.

“I want to come back and have a chance to win a national championship, while also getting closer to earning my degree,” Cauley-Stein said in a statement released by UK. “Being at the Final Four this year was special, but not being able to help my teammates on the floor was tough. I look forward to helping us get back there next year, while playing in front of the best fans in the nation.”

Cauley-Stein did not play against Michigan, Wisconsin and Connecticut. He played only briefly against Louisville when he heard something “pop” in his ankle and later in the tourney he revealed the X-ray then showed he had a “cracked bone/stress fracture” that he has had surgery to repair. However, Cauley-Stein also said that he thought he might have actually injured his ankle in  UK’s opening NCAA tourney win over Kansas State.

Cauley-Stein actually announced he was returning to UK on Twitter. However, Kentucky Sports Radio’s Ryan Lemond learned Sunday that he would return and had posted that on Twitter. He was the only media member with that information that became official about 24 hours later.

“I was as convinced as everyone that Willie was going pro, but when I got the news he was 100 percent coming back I was as shocked as anybody,” Lemond said. “Reporters have sources that you know you can believe 100 percent and this was one. That’s why I was not afraid to say he was going to have good news for Kentucky fans.”

Cauley-Stein has 166 blocks in his career, which ranks sixth all-time in program history. He averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this year and will give Calipari and UK the rim protector it missed after he was hurt this season. It will also give Calipari at least one veteran leader — and perhaps send a message to sophomore Alex Poythress, who is not projected to go nearly as high in the draft as Cauley-Stein was, to also return.

“I don’t want to think how we will be remembered,” Cauley-Stein said after UK’s national championship game loss to Connecticut in Arlington. “I want to hear about it. I want to read about it or see somebody in Wal-Mart that tells me how we will be remembered instead of me thinking about it.

“Our guys last year we were all separated. Maybe three of us hung out with each other. This year everybody so close and you could feel like you had known then all for years when you had only known them for six months.
“You want to leave on joy. It’s so much better if you leave on a stage swinging shirts, wearing hats backwards and taking goofy pictures (after winning the national title). That’s the way I always thought of going out.”

Cauley-Stein was named to the all-Southeastern Conference defensive team when he had 106 blocks, second all-time on the UK season list behind only the 186 Anthony Davis had in 2011-12.

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein dunks against Mississippi in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein dunks against Mississippi in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein will return to the Kentucky men’s basketball program for the 2014-15 season, it was announced Monday.

“I want to come back and have a chance to win a national championship, while also getting closer to earning my degree,” Cauley-Stein said. “Being at the Final Four this year was special, but not being able to help my teammates on the floor was tough. I look forward to helping us get back there next year, while playing in front of the best fans in the nation.”

Cauley-Stein earned All-Southeastern Conference Defensive Team accolades during the 2013-14 season, the sixth UK player in the last five seasons to earn the distinction. With four rejections against Kansas State in Kentucky’s opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Cauley-Stein moved into a tie for second place in the single-season standings for blocks with 106 on the year. Only Anthony Davis (186) had more in a single year. That total also ranked in the top 10 nationally for the year.

“I’m happy for Willie and also proud of him for making the best decision for him and his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “Being in school for at least three years will get him closer to having a degree and will help him prepare for the next level and life afterwards.”

The 7-foot sophomore has totaled 166 blocks in his career, which ranks sixth all-time in program history.

The Olathe, Kan., native had perhaps the most stunning defensive performance in Kentucky’s regular-season win over Georgia. He posted six blocks and six steals in the same contest to become the first player in school history to achieve that feat.

Additional announcements regarding remaining players will be made at a later date.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari says his postseason “tweak” to the Wildcats’ game plan was a simple matter of convincing freshman point guard Andrew Harrison to pass first instead of shoot.

The adjustment made Harrison more of a distributor in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments. He helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA championship — and during the run his twin brother Aaron made back-to-back clutch 3-pointers off feeds from Andrew.

During an television appearance Monday, Calipari said, “What I tried to do was make the game easier for Andrew.”

Connecticut beat Kentucky 60-54 in the championship, but the Wildcats’ performance may have helped the Harrisons’ NBA draft stock.

The twins are among several Kentucky freshmen projected as NBA prospects if they leave school early.

uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

With all the attention focused on what Kentucky players might leave early for the NBA, it’s been easy to forget that coach John Calipari needs to add someone to replace Orlando Antigua.

Not only was Antigua a top-notch recruiter, but he was also a man that players could trust. He was someone who always had a smile and positive outlook. He could tell a player why Calipari was busting their butt with a smile on his face and make them feel better about it.

One name that seems to be surfacing a lot if Barry Rohrssen, an assistant coach at Pittsburgh and a proven recruiter, especially in the New York area. He was an assistant at Pitt fro 1999-2006 and head coach at Manhattan fro 2006-2011. He spent the next year working with the Portland Trailblazers before going back to Pitt last season as an assistant.

His personality would seem to be one that would mesh with Calipari nicely and his recruiting contacts certainly would seem to be a plus as well.

Calipari has given no indication when he may fill the vacancy on his staff, or if he will replace Rod Strickland, a personal assistant, who is also apparently leaving to join Antigua at South Florida.

 

 

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