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Vaught’s note: Steve Vance is a long time UK basketball fan who occasionally provides commentary on UK basketball. Today he shares his thoughts on the one-and-done — and assumes that Julius Randle will declare for the NBA in a few hours at his press conference — and even has a humorous reference to Hayden “Sidd” Finch. Enjoy.

By STEVE VANCE

Coach John Calipari has said it numerous times since becoming head men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, “It’s not my rule. It’s the NBA’s rule. If it was up to me, I’d have a player stay two years.” Of course, Coach Cal is talking about the National Basketball Association’s initial player eligibility rule, more commonly known to NCAA college basketball fans and sports reporters alike as the “one and done” rule. That being said, no college basketball coach has more successfully utilized the NBA’s eligibility rule to recruit and develop a top performing college basketball team than John Calipari himself has done at the University of Kentucky. Three Final Fours, a National Title, and a runner-up during his brief five year leadership of the Wildcats, all speak to the talent level Calipari has been able to bring to Lexington by embracing the minimum of one year of college eligibility required by the NBA.

In his tenure at UK, a total of 12 John Calipari recruited athletes have shined as UK freshmen and, by virtue of the one year eligibility rule, then taken their tremendous basketball talents directly to the NBA the following year. DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Brandon Knight, Marcus Teague, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, and most recently, James Young and Julius Randle have all succeeded at UK then proceeded to the professional ranks after one season at the University of Kentucky. Imagining an NBA rule change that would require a player of comparable talents to remain at UK for a second year of play makes the Big Blue Nation almost giddy with excitement and inspires dreams of NCAA Championships to come.

And yet, for all the talk about the NBA taking action to change its player eligibility ruling to either require two years of college or be at least 21 years of age (effectively eliminating the so called “one and done” rule), The reality is that the NCAA has always had the power to negate the NBA eligibility ruling, revolutionize college basketball, and bring more parity to the college landscape as a whole; they’ve just been too contrary to do it.

It all has to do with how the NCAA defines eligibility as it relates to the NBA draft.

The NCAA Division 1 Manual, the guide for intercollegiate athletics states in Section 12.1.12 “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a particular sport if the individual: (f ) After initial full-time collegiate enrollment, enters into a professional draft .” Very simply put, if a player declares for the NBA draft – they’re done – kaput – finished – no more college eligibility. Their college playing days are over – regardless of the drafts outcome, regardless if it proved a wise decision or not. In the NCAA’s mind, this restrictive rule serves to create a climate of fear that somehow will compel a college athlete to remain in school for a longer period of time, rather than risk a premature jump to the NBA.

The question is “why”?

Why is it necessary for a player to lose his remaining college eligibility to play additional years simply by allowing his name to be placed into the NBA draft? Why not allow every college player to place his name into the NBA draft as often as he wants to, and then simply decide after the draft whether he wants to remain in college or take the money and jump to the professional ranks? If the NBA draft is simply viewed as a potential job offer, why not allow a college player to participate in the draft, determine the quality of the job offer, and then either accept it or reject it and then return to college?

The reason “why not” has a lot to do with the control of power and wealth. The NCAA leadership views itself as the righteous defender of amateur athleticism while wielding an iron-fisted monopoly of self-serving rules that would make any tyrant proud. If Coach Cal advocates a “players first” approach, the NCAA advocates a “players last” approach in its rule making. Yet, a simple change to eligibility as it relates to the draft could change it all – for the better of the players, the Universities, the fans, and the NCAA.

Think about the case of fictional NCAA player Hayden Finch. The lanky 7’2” center, starts for the Northwest Southeastern State University Tadpoles and has set a new NCAA Division 1 shot blocking record. However, he struggles offensively, and weighs only 175 pounds. Under the proposed NCAA rule change, Finch could place his name into the NBA draft and wait and see the draft results before deciding to forego his college eligibility and become a professional. On draft night, Finch might go as a lottery pick, for which he thanks his missionary parents, a Tibetan monk, and his college coach, while becoming a guaranteed contract multi-millionaire. On the other hand, Finch is picked late in the second round by the Sioux City Scooters, who follow-up with a non-guaranteed contract of $120,000, and a big qualifier of “IF Finch makes the team”. In this latter scenario, Hayden could simply say “no thanks” to the NBA offer and return to school to work on his game and help the Tadpoles continue their journey towards an NCAA title run. Finch is happy, the University is happy, the fans are happy, and even the NCAA might crack a smile with the prospect of a talented player returning to college without their threat of lost eligibility as coercion.

To be certain, there would need to be a few companion NCAA rule changes to make the new draft eligibility rule work effectively. First, following the draft, a player would need to make his intentions known to return for additional college eligibility within a 30 day or so period of the draft’s conclusion – roughly by August 1st of each year. Second, NCAA National Letters of Intent would have a non-binding status until that same exact post draft decision date; giving recruited players the option to look at other schools should they suddenly find their position crowded by a returning draftee. Incidentally, it’s this second point that would create more parity in the college game. Let’s revisit our fictional player to see how.

With Hayden Finch returning for another year of college play, the NWSE State Tadpoles suddenly find that they have one too few scholarships. Their planned replacement recruit for Sid, foreign youth athletic club player, Tahl Projecht, cannot sign a binding intent letter with NWSE State because the school does not have an available scholarship due to Finch’s decision to return to school based on his low draft position and poor man’s employment offer. As a result, Tahl Projecht signs with another NCAA school, in effect spreading the incoming talent wealth around the college game and creating more parity as more kids sticking around at a top school, means more available players for other schools. It slows the play and leave process down, resulting in more talented players remaining in college over all.

For top high school players, having to wait to finalize a commitment to a school until after the NBA draft would create some tension but probably no more so than when a current player who is expected to go to the draft now, such as Willie Cauley-Stein, elects to stay in school. Thus, top High School prospects might choose to simply make verbal commitments pending the draft results and which college players are choosing to return to school. While it could result in a few last minute scrambles, all of the top players have been recruited by multiple schools and know their options well. It really shouldn’t be an issue, and the option of being able to explore the draft at any time is a great benefit to an incoming player. Plus, it would spread the wealth of talent over more college programs, rather than the handful of elites, something all the NCAA member schools would like to see happen.

The NBA would also likely respond to this action by the NCAA. While the top college talents, regardless of class, would expect to retain a high first round draft position, an NBA team would not want to risk a low first round draft pick on a player who might opt to return to college. They would likely pass over the marginal prospect or not yet fully NBA ready talent for the more certain signing of a proven upperclassman. This also lowers the financial risk of the NBA teams, reducing their investment in marginal players who never develop NBA skills. It would also likely improve the quality of the NBA game as more immediately ready skilled players join the league.

Even if the NBA does revise their eligibility rules to require two years of college eligibility, the NCAA would still benefit by eliminating the “draft ineligibility rule” and giving the players the freedom to return to school after the draft. Quite frankly, with all the negative publicity the NCAA has received over the perceived financial inequities between the players and the institution, a player-first initiative like this proposed rule change would go a long way in helping their case in the court of public opinion.

For the University of Kentucky, this proposed rule change would likely slow down the progression of new players coming in, as more current players return for another year of improvement in the hope of improving their NBA stock, however, this would allow the current Wildcat team to develop more effectively with some talented upper classmen to support the uber-talented freshmen – much like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb did with the 2012 Championship team. That’s a thought every UK fan salivates about, even while they agonize over the thought that Coach Cal might not have enough scholarships to sign every top high school recruit should this proposed change be adopted by the NCAA.

If the NCAA would eliminate the archaic penalty of ineligibility as a result of entering the draft, far more good college players, but not yet NBA ready players, would remain in college to hone their skills, get their degree, and to the NCAA’s benefit – raise the overall quality of college play as less underclassmen would be likely to feel pressured by an “all or nothing” NBA draft decision as they currently face. In all, it’s time for the NCAA to stop treating players with fear and intimidation and partner with these young athletes to help them succeed and then proceed with a career well suited to their skills; treating them with the equality that every other scholarship student is treated.

From top left, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight and John Wall have been four of UK coach John Calipari's recent one-and-done successes. (All photos courtesy Associated Press)

From top left, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight and John Wall have been four of UK coach John Calipari’s recent one-and-done successes. (All photos courtesy Associated Press)

DALLAS (AP) — Everyone has an opinion of John Calipari.  He’s a pariah to some, successful only because of his ability to attract one-and-done stars destined for the NBA. They point to him as a scourge of college basketball, arguing that he’s complicit — responsible, even — in stripping “student” from student-athletes.

Then there are those who see him as an elite coach, the architect of successful programs at UMass, Memphis and now Kentucky. He’s churned out players who are making millions in the pros, and it is hard to argue that he’s let any of them down.

“He does get the best guys, but he challenges them and pushes them to be who they are,” said New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans, who played one season for Calipari at Memphis.
“That’s the thing about playing for him,” Evans said. “You’ve got to be willing to take on the challenge, and take on him getting on you every day in practice. Some guys can handle it, some guys can’t. Before you get there, he’ll tell you that.”

Those who accept the challenge are usually rewarded.  His group at Memphis headlined by Derrick Rose reached the national title game in 2008, though the trip was later vacated. Another troupe of young stars led by Anthony Davis beat Kansas to win Kentucky’s eighth national championship in 2012.

And the latest group of fabulous freshmen has the Wildcats back in the Final Four, knocking off three of the top four seeds in the Midwest Region along the way. They’ll start five first-year players Saturday against Wisconsin, headlined by twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison and power forward Julius Randle, a potential lottery pick in the June draft.

“He’s tough on us,” said Randle, when asked to describe what it’s like to play for Calipari. “You may not like it some days, but at the end of the day, it’s what’s best for us.”

Calipari is hardly unique. Ohio State’s Thad Matta has churned out five one-and-dones since 2006, and Rick Barnes of Texas has produced four. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has lost a couple, and could lose standout Jabari Parker makes his stay-or-go decision.

It’s just that Calipari is the biggest offender — or opportunist. Since 2006, he’s sent 13 one-and-done players to the NBA. They’ve combined to make more than $181 million in salary alone. And if all of them play through their current contracts, that total would surpass $460 million — nearly equaling the gross domestic product of the island nation of Tonga — even with several of them playing out relatively paltry rookie contracts.

That figure doesn’t include endorsement deals, either. Throw in the millions they’re paid for hawking sneakers, apparel and everything else, and the total closes in on a billion.

“He put a lot of responsibility on us at a young age,” said Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, who played for Calipari at Kentucky. “That basically prepared us for the next level.”

It’s important to note that Calipari doesn’t agree with the current NBA rules, which require that players be a year removed from high school before entering the draft. If it were up to him, he said last week, it would be a two-year waiting period.

“But it’s between the NBA and the players’ association. Has nothing to do with me or the NCAA,” Calipari said. “So I just think we’re all playing the hand we’re dealt. Kids are going on to the league from us and performing. And I’m proud of that. Would I like to have had them for four years? Yes. But I also like what’s happened for them and their families.”

Many rival coaches have a similar viewpoint.

“I think when student-athletes pick a school and go to college, they go to have the best chance to have the best life,” offered Kansas coach Bill Self, who had Andrew Wiggins become his third one-and-done player when the freshman declared for the draft this week.

Of course, there are still plenty of detractors. Final Four counterpart Bo Ryan appeared to take a veiled jab at Calipari this week when he said: “What I like about the Wisconsin fans is they understand these are student-athletes who actually are here for the purpose of an education first and playing ball second. That’s what I believe makes them really endearing.”

It’s not the first time that Calipari has heard that argument.

“We’ve had a 3.0 grade-point average for the last four seasons,” he said, “and they go to class. It’s not Internet, correspondence. They go to class, for four seasons. Brandon Knight was a straight-A student. Alex Poythress is a straight-A student. They all go to school.”

Besides, if college is truly about preparing kids for a career, what happens on the hardwood at Kentucky amounts to graduate-level work in basketball. Calipari is simply the professor.

“There were guys who went there before me who thought they were going to be ready for the NBA,” Evans explained, “but he’d tell them, ‘You’re not ready.’”

And if they are ready? Well, the NBA’s former rookie of the year remembers his conversation with Calipari after the final game of his freshman season.

“He said, ‘Hey, you’re a good player. I enjoyed having you. Good luck on the next level,’” Evans said. “That was pretty much it.”

Charles Matthews photo courtesy Gary De

Charles Matthews photo courtesy Gary DeCesare.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Chicago junior guard Charles Matthews said playing in a high level league in Chicago has enabled him to “face a variety of teams and styles” during his career. He also thinks playing for coach Gary DeCesare, a former college coach, gives him an edge.

“He’s helped me a lot. I am used to coaches getting into me. We watch hours of film, go through walk-throughs, pick up tendencies. I am prepared already for doing all that in college,” Matthews said.

That’s why Matthews, who has verbally committed to UK, had no problem with John Calipari’s technicals and ejections in a game at South Carolina this year.

“That just showed me he gets fired up and wants to win and see his team do well. As a player, you like that,” Matthews said.

Matthews plays for the same AAU program that former UK star Anthony Davis did.

“I saw how well he played at Kentucky and won a championship and then was the first pick (in the NBA draft). All that impressed me,” Matthews said. “I also like how all the Calipari guys stay connected. It’s a good family atmosphere.”

He’s heard that from Chicago senior point guard Tyler Ulis, who signed with UK in November.

“We speak every week. I think he will be real good at Kentucky. He is a good defender, gets teammates to play for him and he plays for his team,” Matthews said. “It will be a tremendous chance for me to play with him at Kentucky, but it will also be very competitive. But we work well together. He can get in gaps and I am good with dribble penetration. He’s great at throwing lobs. We can both create plays for each other. Playmakers can always play with other playmakers. That works out well.”

He could see himself fitting well, too, with Mississippi guard Malik Newman, the top recruit in the 2015 class.

“We could play well together. He is a combo guard, too. He hit me up once I committed. So did a few other guys,” Matthews said.

Matthews admits he would like to be a one-and-done player in college, but he knows that’s not easy to do.

“Everybody’s goal and dream is to make the NBA, and Calipari has accomplished that with many players and hopefully I can be another one,” Matthews said. “But I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. I would be okay staying two years or getting it done in three years. But of course my goal is to be one-and-done just like it is for most players.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky got its 2015 basketball recruiting off to a big start today when Chicago combo guard Charles Matthews announced he would play for the Wildcats.

He is rated as the No. 12 overall prospect in the 2015 class — and No. 1 shooting guard — by 247Sports Composite. He picked Kentucky over Illinois, Kansas,  Marquette and Michigan State just three days after receiving a visit from UK coach John Calipari Sunday.

The 6-5 junior guard, who thanked his family and coaches for “keeping me updating on reality,” took an unofficial visit to Kentucky for its alumni charity game in September, but attended Michigan State’s preseason madness event. He thanked every coach who took time to watch him play and recruited him.

Matthews had ties to UK as he plays for the Meanstreets AAU travel team. That’s the same team former Calipari players Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis played for and 2014 UK signee Tyler Ulis — who is friends with Matthews — plays for the team, too.

Chicago recruiting analyst Daniel Poneman, who first touted Davis as a big-time player and also has consistently praised the talent of Ulis, was a “bit surprised” that Matthews committed to Kentucky so early even though he’s been a UK target since getting his scholarship offer last June.

“I think Charles Matthews has a chance to be a big-time player and one day play in the NBA,” said Poneman. “But I think maybe he is a year behind developmentally compared to other prospects at this age. If he was a sophomore right now, I would say he is top 10 in the country. But being a junior, you would expect him to be more dominant in Chicago and tearing through other guys in state and he’s not done that. But that’s not to say he’s not a fantastic prospect.”

Poneman noted that Matthews’ brother, Dominique, made the all-state team and Charles Matthews didn’t. Dominique Hawkins also was St. Rita’s leading scorer two years in a row and Poneman once watched him score “39 or 40” in a game compared to Charles that he has “not seen put up more than 16-20 points per game.”

However, Poneman says not to think he doubts Charles Matthews’ ability.

“Charles is a phenomenal prospect who could be the prototypical NBA combo-guard,” Poneman said. “He can do it all on offense and defense, but he has a ways to go before he can contribute as a freshman. But he could be similar to Tyler Ulis and be there two or three years and give you a high character kid, a glue kid who does not need a lot of shots. Maybe somebody like a DeAndre Liggins/Darius Miller type of player.

“He is no James Young offensively. But he can play the one or two. He could fill in wherever he’s needed and not complain about doing it. I don’t think his commitment will scare away any top five players if coach Cal is coming after them, but he’s a really, really good player. Don’t doubt that.”

Scout.com lists his strengths as “ability create, ballhandling and mid-range game” while citing “defense, explosiveness and strength” as areas for improvement

Here’s what the Scout.com recruiting breakdown says about Matthews: “His game starts with his jump shot. Matthews has a very smooth release and an excellent follow through, and he doesn’t need much space to get a clean look. He loves to dribble into his shot and is very comfortable both from behind the 3-point line and medium-range. Matthews is a fine dribbler who drives to the bucket on occasion as well, but he isn’t truly an explosive athlete. That said, additional strength should help.”

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 2014 NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans, will have a blue feel to it, as four former Wildcats have been selected to participate in various All-Star festivities.

On Friday, Feb. 14, Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones will participate in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, which will feature two teams drafted by TNT analysts Chris Webber and Grant Hill who will serve as the opposing general managers.

Jones is on Team Hill, while Davis, who was the top overall pick in the BBVA Rising Stars Draft, was selected to play on Team Webber.

The game will air on TNT beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

On Saturday, Feb. 15, at 3:00 p.m. ET, DeAndre Liggins, who was one of twenty of the NBA Development League’s top prospects, will play in the eighth annual NBA D-League All-Star Game. The game will air on NBA TV.

Saturday night, NBA All-Star Saturday Night presented by State Farm will showcase John Wall, who will participate in the Sprite Slam Dunk competition. Wall will attempt to become the first Wildcat to win the Slam Dunk contest since Kenny “Sky” Walker in the 1989 competition. All-Star Saturday Night is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. on TNT.

The 2014 NBA All-Star game will be played Sunday, Feb. 16 and will feature former National Player of the Year winners Anthony Davis and John Wall. The selection to the All-Star game is a first for both players and the first Calipari coached All-Stars from UK. The game will air live at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.

Kentucky is one of only two schools (Texas) to be represented by two players in the All-Star game.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Many Kentucky fans will get their first chance to see 5-foot-9 point guard Tyler Ulis, who signed with Kentucky in November, play when Chicago Marian Catholic plays in the McCracken County Festival of Hoops on Saturday night.

Cortez Hale, Anthony Davis’ former high school coach in Chicago, thinks UK fans will like what they see.
“He is the leader of his team. He takes control of his team, which is the best trait a point guard can have,” Hale said. “He never seems to get rattled. I saw one game where his team was down at half, but he was always cool and collected. He brought his team back because he doesn’t get rattled.

“I think he’s going to be fine at Kentucky. He will more than make up for his size. I don’t see him going inside and banging with the big boys and trying to rebound. But he’ll use his quickness, he can outsmart people and he can shoot floaters. His 3-point shot is good. I saw him make some deep 3s. A lot of times even when he was double teamed he hit a 3.”

Hale said one plus for Ulis is that he plays against good competition regularly.

“There’s good competition in the Catholic league. It’s a different level than the public league here. The play is tougher, more gritty in that league. He’s in a very good league and that will help him a lot at Kentucky.”

Ulis recently scored 14 of his 28 points during a four-plus minute span in the first half to lead Marian Catholic to a 75-58 victory over Thornton and was named the tournament’s most valuable player for the second year in a row. During a 13-possession span, he had 14 points, four assists and turned a four-point deficit into a 30-21. He made three 3-pointers and also created plays with his defense.

Hale was surprised that Ulis did not receive more big-time recruiting attention earlier than he did.

“I was asking friends why they thought he was not being recruited by more high major schools earlier because I knew this dude could play,” Hale said. “Once I found out Kentucky was watching him play AAU, I knew he would be good for (John) Calipari.

“His court vision is so good. Sometimes he’ll throw passes that teammates are not expecting and that causes them not to see them. He can make unbelievable passes to teammates that not a lot of point guards can make or even try to make. There not forced, either. They are all good decisions. Since he’s double-teamed a lot, he had to become a good passer and that’s really going to make UK fans like him.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

During his press conference Thursday, Lexington Herald-Leader beat writer Jerry Tipton asked John Calipari about his message about “we can control the ending” had a Winston Churchill feel and where he got his source of inspiration.

Calipari had a long, and entertaining, answer:

“Tere’s things that pop in my mind. Most of the stuff is not stolen from anybody. I just wake up and am in the shower and Churchill comes to mind and … but you know, at any point, I’m trying to – look, we have meetings, I talk to them prior to practice and post-practice. Why? I gotta fill their minds more than the other stuff they’re reading or hearing, the phone calls they get or make. They make the call where the person is going to tell them what they want to hear. ‘You should be playing more! He shouldn’t sub you! The other guy needs to be subbed! And you gotta keep …’ Well, I gotta overwhelm all those things,” Calipari said.

“So I’m trying every day to give them a message to get them to think, and that’ll be today’s message, and talk about, ‘What do you want this to become and then what are you willing to do?’ Each guy. And that includes the bench. I had a friend of mine call me today and he says, ‘You know, your benches are usually really into it, jumping up and down and checking guys and all this. Your bench seems dead.’ So we’ve been working on that. But for my friend to call me and say that, obviously he watches and he knows my team. This team will make it when we do great defensive stops and you see them on a great defensive play coming together and chest bumping and hugging each other and going nuts and clapping. Until they get to that point, again their emotion is all tied on how they’re playing, not how we’re playing, how they’re playing. And that’s part of what we do as coaches.

“You know, teams I’ve had – and again, some guys are not playing as well as they will at the end of the year. Well, neither did Anthony Davis. Anthony Davis wasn’t an impact offensively unless we threw him a lob or he blocked a shot, and he defended a little bit if the guy wasn’t real physical. But the offense came later, and that was like February, if you remember. We all have this vision of him when it was the end of the year, and he’s shooting right and left jump hooks. At the beginning of the year we didn’t throw him the ball. Had no strength, had no base, had no game in there. So, we just got to go, and we’re coaching them. And, you know, we’re going to have time here over the next three weeks — give them some time off for Christmas, but other than that.

“And again, let me tell you, Belmont they dropped a couple because a kid, a couple kids got hurt. Beat North Carolina, were up 10 or 11 at halftime. Rick Byrd is one of the great coaches in our country. He’s one of the great ones you don’t know about. What he’s done at Belmont to take that program from where it is, it’s never been done. And then to have success everywhere he’s taken the program, never been done before. And he’s been through the wards. He’s played all the great teams. He’s not coming in here, and his team won’t come in here thinking anything less than ‘Let’s try to beat these guys.’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It’s been a tough week for former Kentucky stars and top 2012 NBA draft picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

The Bobcats announced Wednesday that Kidd-Gilchrist will be sidelined four to six weeks with a broken left hand, an eerily similar injury to what Davis suffered earlier this week. Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft, suffered a non-displaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his left hand during Tuesday night’s game at Dallas.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s former college teammate and friend Davis, who was selected No. 1 last year, suffered a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal in his left hand in the Pelicans game Sunday night against the New York Knicks. Davis is also expected to be out four to six weeks.

Both starters could miss as many as 20 games.

As freshmen they helped Kentucky win a national title in 2012 before turning pro. Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 26.7 minutes per game and shooting 50 percent from the field. Davis, the Pelican’s power forward, is averaging 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game. He said earlier this week he’s confident in coach Monty Williams’ system and his teammates’ ability to “still pull out wins, no matter who’s on the floor.”

Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were two of six Kentucky players drafted in 2012, four of which went in the first round after the Wildcats defeated Kansas 67-59 in the national championship.

 

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein has 31 blocks in eight games to rank seventh nationally in blocks per game at 3.88. However, he has 17 in the last two games, including nine against Providence — or one more than Anthony Davis ever had in a game during his Player of the Year season at UK.

Kentucky also had a dominant shot blocker last season in Nerlens Noel, who has the single-game UK record with 12.

So how does coach John Calipari feel Cauley-Stein is doing filling the shot blocker role for UK this season?

“Well, he’s in good enough shape he can continue to play. There have been times before, he’d just stand there and just let the guy drive in and like hold onto his guy and say, ‘Well, I was – I was holding my guy.’ Now he knows he can go get it,” Calipari said.

“And then the second thing is, we’re doing a better job if he does leave to block out, cracking down and taking his man. But to have nine blocks in a game like this? Big-time. Big-time. And then to play the way he did and to run like a gazelle. Did you see him run the court? Oh, my gosh. We’re able to run – and you’re big guy runs and just throw it at the rim. But I’m proud of him. He’s come a long way.”

By LINDA SINCLAIR

I find it quite interesting that some people are on the Calipari 40-0 bandwagon. It would be a great thing to do but realistically can it be done? I say no.

Why am I not a believer? Easy enough … eight freshman. No matter how good these young boys are, they are still freshman. How many times have we seen extremely good players make freshman mistakes?

Cal is up on this team, he feels good, oh so good and he knew he would…da da da da da…But no matter the talent, no matter the coaching, things happen. Don’t forget refs, don’t forget other players trying to take ours out like they did Anthony Davis all year in 2011-12. Missed passes, stupid fouls, stepping on the line, etc, you know the scenarios it can be very ugly. Kentucky, Cal and the players always have a bulls-eye on their backs. We are Kentucky; remember that and what it means.

They have been playing against each other, they have not faced another team yet that has a different mindset, physicality and experience. They are freshmen; they have not set foot on a basketball court yet where we expect them to win. Can you imagine how nervous they will be the first time they face a ranked team, a good team? No amount of preparation from Cal can prepare them for that first game.

Willie and Alex are experienced players now; they know what it will take to win. They are more motivated and focused. They saw what was wrong last year and maybe, just maybe they can make sure there is no I in team this year.

We have Jarrod, our boy, he knows too. He might not get a lot of playing time but he is there, he is a role model and he has played against some of the best during his time at UK. Maybe, just maybe he will be the soul of this team this year, like last year and have some fatherly talks with the boys when Cal is not around.

We have Jon Hood back this year. He can shoot but how much time will he get. He is confident and healthy. He’s one of the old men on the team like Jarrod.

I want to see a Team, I want to see this team sharing not just on the basketball court, but sharing good times outside of the court. I want the ‘brotherhood’ back. That was a tremendous feeling to see those young men such great friends. We use to see post of the team going to dinner, doing things together but we didn’t see that last year. We heard about a few visiting the sick and elderly, going out of their way to be extremely kind to fans and small children, but nothing like in years past since Cal has been at Kentucky.

It is a huge burden for any player, but freshman are still wet behind the ears. We don’t know what is going on in their lives; we don’t know what kind of pressure they have before a game or during a game. Did they have words with a girlfriend or teammate? We don’t know if something is bothering them about their family. Classes, tutoring, practice, not enough sleep, not enough to eat, lack of funds to do what they want to do on the precious free time can all affect how they play. They are not robots.

It has been said this is the best recruiting class ever assembled for college basketball, but will the basketball gods look with favor on this team, will the stars be aligned for them? No one knows until the season is over in Atlanta.

I don’t care about 40-0, I care a little about #9, but what I care most about is a winning season, a good effort and no rumors or dissension like last year.

catalist

For IPhones/IPads, and new for Android devices, the Catalist app by Larry Vaught is the best way to keep up with UK basketball. It's free!

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