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The “Big Blue Weekend,” featuring the Blue/White Spring Football Game, three baseball games and three softball games, is set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the University of Kentucky.

The Blue/White Game is Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.  The Blue/White Game will conclude spring practice and is the fans’ first look at the 2014 Wildcats.  Tickets are free and are available at the tents located outside Gates 4 and 12 of the stadium. Parking is also free and is first-come, first-served.  For complete fan information, go to www.ukathletics.com/fbgameday.

The baseball series features a pair of top-20 teams as No. 19-ranked Kentucky will play host to No. 12 Ole Miss in a three-game series at Cliff Hagan Stadium.  Friday’s game is set for 6:30 p.m., followed by 1 p.m. contests on Saturday and Sunday.

The softball series will be a matchup of teams ranked in the nation’s top 10 when No. 9 Kentucky, takes on No. 8-ranked Tennessee.  The teams will tangle at 6 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday at John Cropp Stadium, followed by a 2 p.m. Sunday finale.

Single-game tickets for baseball and softball cost $5 for adults and $2 for age 6-18.  UK students and persons age 5 and under are free.  Fans with a Blue/White Game ticket will be admitted free to the baseball and softball games on Saturday.

Here is the composite schedule of games for the weekend:

Friday, April 25

Softball vs. Tennessee, 6 p.m.

Baseball vs. Ole Miss, 6:30 p.m.

 

Saturday, April 26

Baseball vs. Ole Miss, 1 p.m.

Blue/White Spring Football Game, 3:30 p.m.

Softball vs. Tennessee, 5 p.m.

 

Sunday, April 27

Baseball vs. Ole Miss, 1 p.m.

Softball vs. Tennessee, 2 p.m.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Once you have a chance to get to know Dakari Johnson, it’s impossible not to like him and his infectious smile and personality.

That’s why some of the things he said in his statement about his decision to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season rather than test the NBA draft came as no surprise.

“This year has been for me a year of transition, growth and so much fun! I’ve learned a lot about myself personally through adversity and triumph which I know made me a stronger individual,” said Johnson in his statement. “I would like to thank my brothers (teammates) for pulling together and stepping up and taking the road that many don’t travel.

“What memories! I would like to thank Coach Cal and the staff for trusting and providing me the opportunity to grow and build on my skills. I’d like to wish Julius Randle and James Young all the best and personally let them know that they have a group of brothers who will always support them.”

He talked about how returning to UK would allow him to “build on my leadership skills, improve my individual basketball strength and conditioning skills, and have another opportunity to accomplish one of my individual goals: winning an NCAA national championship in college.”He won a high school national title and has said since he committed to UK that he wanted to do the same in college. He’s not a player that does not value winning and team success.Plus, the final part of his statement shows his strong foundation.

“In addition, it will give me the opportunity to continue my studies because the ball will stop bouncing one day — shout out to (academic advisor) Mike Stone. Big Blue Nation, I can’t thank you enough for your support, and I look forward to representing UK next year,” Johnson said.

Vaught’s note: Kentucky fan Troy Belcher has some ideas about how to solve the one-and-done issue.

By TROY BELCHER

Seems to me there is a really simple solution to the “one-and-done” issue.  I say simple, but concessions would have to be made by both the NBA and NCAA.

Any kid wanting to test the waters of the NBA (directly from highschool or college), let them play in the D-League under a protected amateur status IF AN NBA TEAM IS WILLING TO SPONSOR THEM WITH NECESSARY EXPENSES ONLY!!  Such was the case of Enes Kanter except he supposedly received more than necessary expenses.

When/if the NBA is unwilling to sponsor them, they can go back to college and use their skills to get an education.

I know there are a lot of details that would have to be ironed out, but each party gets precisely what they want.

1. NBA gets a look at amateurs prior to going pro.
2. NCAA has collegiate athletes focused on education.
3. Players have a choice.

 

Here is the statement from Makini Campbell, Dakari Johnson’s mother, about his decision to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season rather than putting his name into the NBA draft:

“I just wanted to take some time to reflect, share, and thank the Big Blue Nation and the coaching staff for a great year of basketball through the ups and downs. Hands down we had a blast! I am so proud of Dakari and the University of Kentucky basketball program on their achievements this year. I had the opportunity to see my son grow as an individual and become the leader that I knew him to be.

“I appreciate the space, patience and respect shown to my family during this important time. What a blessing to have an opportunity to choose. When making a decision (we have made many) we try to look at the whole picture (advantages and disadvantages). I must truly admit when going through the process we saw both sides of the coin as a win-win.

“I must say that in making his decision, Dakari wasn’t worried about any other player coming back/or in. I think what he learned this year — regardless of a loaded talented team – is that each player brings something unique to the group that attributed to the March run.

“I’ve always been aware of his goal to win a national championship in high school, college, and the NBA. For him to confidently state what he did after his national high school championship game and make it to the finals in his freshman year of college was prosperous within itself. All of this while successfully working on his degree and enjoying college life whenever he could.

“I respect each of the young men having to make this decision. Congrats to Julius Randle and James Young for making their dream reality; I wish them all the best. I’m excited about the upcoming season and what lies ahead for this group.”

#StriveforNine

 

 

Dakari Johnson photo by  Victoria Graff.

Dakari Johnson photo by Victoria Graff.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Freshman center Dakari Johnson will return to the Kentucky men’s basketball program for the 2014-15 season, he announced Wednesday.

“After looking at the information provided to me by Coach Cal and the NBA committee, my family and I made the decision for me to return to UK for my sophomore year,” Johnson said. “Returning to school allows me to build on my leadership skills, improve my individual basketball strength and conditioning skills, and have another opportunity to accomplish one of my individual goals: winning an NCAA national championship in college.”

The 7-foot center started 18 of Kentucky’s last 20 games, averaging 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during that stretch. Johnson tallied nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds in UK’s postseason-opening win over LSU in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

“I’m happy to have Dakari back with us for next season,” head coach John Calipari said. “Despite being the youngest player on the team this season, he continued to improve every day on the court and it showed. We look forward to seeing his improvement over the summer and throughout next year.”

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native grabbed six or more rebounds four times during UK’s postseason run, while shooting better than 62 percent from the field during the NCAA Tournament.

Sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress and fellow freshman Marcus Lee have already announced their intentions to return for the 2014-15 season.

Florida center Patric Young (4) goes to the basket but is blocked by Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 8, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Florida center Patric Young (4) goes to the basket but is blocked by Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 8, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Sophomore forward Alex Poythress will return to the Kentucky men’s basketball program for the 2014-15 season, he announced Wednesday.

“Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine, but I want to make sure that I’m NBA-ready before I make that jump,” Poythress said. “By coming back, I’ll be so much closer to earning my degree in business and it will give me another year to prepare my game and my body for the next level.”

The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in helping lead the Wildcats to the NCAA title game. He shot better than 68 percent from the field in the NCAA Tournament, including an eight-point, seven-rebound performance in the Final Four against Wisconsin.

“I’m excited for Alex and the decision he’s arrived at,” head coach John Calipari said. “I’m proud of the work he committed to this past season, on and off the floor, and think he’s ready to take that next step and lead this team next season.”

The Clarksville, Tenn., native tallied a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds) in UK’s season-opener against UNC Asheville and pulled down 12 rebounds two games later against second-ranked Michigan State.

Fellow sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Marcus Lee announced their intentions to return for the 2014-15 season last week.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Julius Randle said in the preseason he wanted to work on his perimeter game and coach John Calipari vowed he would have him do that because it wasn’t just about winning for the team. However, as the season progressed, Randle was used almost exclusively in the low post — a move he said he understood and accepted.

“Coach Cal used me different ways but posting up was one of my strengths. Everybody had to sacrifice. Once we bought in and believed in our roles, that is why we made the postseason run,” Randle said Tuesday after announcing he was leaving UK for the NBA.

He said UK played the way it should have in the postseason when the “less is more” motto Calipari preached sunk in team-wide.

“I didn’t have to worry about doing anything crazy or scoring a lot of points. We had so much talent. That’s the way it should have been. The reason I came here was because I trusted his advice,” Randle said of Calipari’s tweaks late in the season.

He has yet to pick an agent and said “we will continue to pray about it” before deciding which agent is right.

“I am blessed to be in position to have a chance to get drafted,” Randle said. “I am pretty sure when I start the combine and workouts for individual teams, I will have better idea where I will go but I was confident enough now to enter the draft.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

As Kentucky freshman Dakari Johnson continues to contemplate whether he should return to UK for his sophomore season or put his name into the NBA draft in hopes of being a first-round pick in June, remember that no player probably enjoyed the Wildcats’ season more than him.

Johnson knew plenty about Kentucky basketball. He lived in Lexington and played middle school basketball at Sayre and his former high school teammate was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the stars on UK’s 2012 national championship team.

He patiently worked his way into Kentucky’s starting lineup and his personality/enthusiam often helped the Wildcats at the most opportune time. While the pressure of playing at UK seemed to burden some teammates, Johnson embraced the limelight and his smile was infectious — and a favorite for UK fans.

That’s why it was no surprise that he had a message for Kentucky fans earlier this month after UK lost 60-54 to Connecticut in the national championship game.

“We proved a lot of people wrong. We had a great season other than this last game. We just had a tremendous season and shouldn’t feel down,” said Johnson. “I just want to say thanks to the fans for sticking with us even when we were not playing the way we should have been playing. They stuck with us and I thank them for that. I know I’ll never forget that.”

It was right after that when Johnson said he didn’t even want to think about next year or what he might do, which was exactly what he should have been saying minutes after the national championship game ended. But when he had an opportunity to say he did plan to be back, Johnson also said he was not ready to make that claim, either.

As I looked back over some of Johnson’s other comments, it was clear that he cherished what UK had done — but it might also have sounded like a player who knew it might be in his best interests to leave.

“It hurts. We made it this far. It hurts. That’s all I can say. You don’t get chances like this all the time,” Johnson said. “I will probably always rememer the run we made. We proved a lot of people wrong. We had a tremendous season. This month was fun. We had fun but it is tough right now to get over this loss.

“We have a team that fights, so I knew we could come back (against Connecticut). Losing hurts but it doesn’t take away from the season. Cal (John Calipari) told us there was no reason to be down and we have to believe him and move on. We’ll always be able to talk about the great run we had no matter what we all decide to do.”

But what will Johnson do? If he returns, he’ll compete with Willie Cauley-Stein again for playing time. An improved Marcus Lee will be in the mix for playing time, too. Then there is incoming 7-footer Karl Towns. If he goes to the NBA, he’ll have to improve his defense dramatically since he’s not a high riser and rim protector like Cauley-Stein and Lee.

Those are the issues Johnson is facing and Sunday’s deadline looms for players to either opt for the NBA or stay in school — and if Johnson does return, the memories of he has of the postseason run along with the good feelings generated by UK fans could be the reasons that help persuade him to stay at UK.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Teammate James Young has opted to leave UK just as Julius Randle announced he would on Tuesday. Two other teammates, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee, have announced they will return. Randle said he had no idea what twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison would do about returning for their sophomore seasons or going into the draft.

“I can’t really speak for them. I have not given them any advice or anything,” Randle said Tuesday. “We are just talking about normal teenage things. I am pretty sure they will make the best decision for them. But whether they will go or declare, I can’t speak on that.”

However, he did says he expects UK to have an “amazing team” next year.

“We have so much talent,” Randle said. “Willie coming back, Marcus was huge in the (NCAA) tournament. So much talent coming in next year. They will definitely make another run. Coach Cal will do a great job of developing players.”

Calipari eventually did that last season even though UK finished 29-11, not exactly what was expected when the Cats started the year ranked No. 1 and openly talked of going 40-0. Regular-season losses created mounting criticism for the players and coach before UK caught fire in postseason play.

Randle said he dealt with the criticism because he never “fed to, read anything or believed anything” about the preseason hype. Instead, he stayed in his “own little circle” and stayed focused on improving.

“It was an experience I will never forget. All the adversity we went through all year and to finally have the opportunity to play for a national championship and see how we came together during the postseason run I will never forget. I will grow old one da yand tell my children or grandchildren what I did when I was 19 years old. It will always be a memory for me,” Randle said.

Randle said “some was fair, some was not fair” about the criticism during the year.

“But at the end of the day it never shook us up. We stayed together and showed how tough minded we are,” Randle said. “Lot of day I would go into practice or a game not feeling well, but I would look at those guys and know what they been through and that just gives you motivation.”

He said the daily challenges made him a better player and person.

“Each day you have to take things one day at a time. You are definitely going to face adversity in life whether it is basketball or not. Facing all that doubt and criticism taught me how to deal with things and I can apply it to life as well,” he said.

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Since he was 3 or 4 years old and started playing basketball, Julius Randle had dreamed of playing in the NBA.

Now he’s going to have that chance after announcing Tuesday he would leave Kentucky after one season to make himself eligible for the June NBA draft where he is projected as a top five pick.

Randle said he felt “blessed and excited” with his decision after he posted 24 double-doubles to lead the nation last season and led UK in scoring (15.0 points) and rebounds (10.4) per game. However, he admitted he did consider returning to UK for another season.

“This season, this year, the more I think about it, it just went by fast,” said Randle. “I am definitely going to miss it and Kentucky will have a special place in my heart. Growing up as a kid, my dream was always to play in the NBA and there’s no better chance to achieve that goal.

“I came here to win a national championship. I came here to grow and mature on and off the court. I did that. We came up one game short of winning a national championship, but everything I went through this year I will never forget. That alone kept me at peace to leave.”

He said his decision was “about me personally” and that every player’s goal was to win a national championship that UK just missed when it lost to Connecticut in the national title game earlier this month.

“We came up one game short, but this decision was about what was best for me to grow on and off the court,” Randle said. “My one year here was fantastic.”

He said coach John Calipari came into his home to recruit him and told him playing at UK would be the “hardest thing you have ever done” and he didn’t fully understand that.

“Once you are in the fire, that’s really true,” Randle said. “I learned to deal with things that I can apply to life as well.”

He knows the next level will be a challenge and he’ll have to show more than the powerful low post game he did at UK that overpowered opponents when he was not double or triple teamed.

He said he got a lot of “positive feedback” from NBA evaluations.

“Enough positive feedback for me to decide I wanted to enter the NBA draft,” Randle said.

As he always has when he feels a player will be a high draft choice, Calipari told Randle he was ready to leave after the coach consulted with his NBA contacts.

“He gave me all the information. What NBA teams are saying and what feedback he’s gotten. He told me he felt like I was ready. He was my biggest supporter. He was a big supporter for me through the whole process. He put me in position to be able to declare and I am happy for that opportunity,” Randle said.

“This wasn’t about … it was about each player personally and what was best for his future. Any decision any player made we were going to have their back 100 percent. We became brothers during the year. Time to leave or stay, we have their back because know they are doing the best thing for them.”

 

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