The Next Big Game!

  • UK FB Blue-White Game:
    in 3 days, 5 hours, 42 minutes

Larry on Twitter

BBN

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

Julius Randle surprised no one today when he announced he was leaving Kentucky to put his name into the NBA draft where he’s expected to be among the top five picks in the June draft. Teammate James Young made the same decision last week.

“I have been blessed and fortunate to be in position to have decisions and big decision whether to declare for the draft or not. Talking with my family and a lot of prayer, I have decided to declare for the draft,” Randle said.

Randle averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds — both team highs — for Kentucky and had 24 double-doubles, tops in the nation. He was remarkably consistent in NCAA play — 10 points, six rebounds, four assists versus Connecticut; 16 points, five rebounds against Wisconsin; 16 points, 11 rebounds against Michigan; 15 points, 12 rebounds against Louisville; 13 points, 10 rebounds, six assists against Wichita State; and 19 points and 15 rebounds against Kansas State.

He was named the SEC Freshman of the Year as well as an overall first-team all-SEC pick. He also made several all-American teams.

Here is how NBAdraft.net evaluates Randle’s strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths: Very strong upper body and a reliable left hand … He shows a strong motor, and finishes well around the rim with contact … He is very skilled with his face up game and has shown some creative finishing ability … Though he lacks elite explosiveness, he is able to use his strong frame to protect the ball and avoid blocks … On the offensive boards he is an absolute beast, relentless in seeking out rebounds … The same thing is true on the defensive end where he has natural instincts for rebounds … He uses his strong body to not allow taller opponents to get close to the rim … He doesn’t have the quickest feet in the world, but definitely really good for a big, very balanced … Randle is a mix of power, skills and balance that makes him a very interesting prospect … Despite being just a freshman he could have an immediate impact in the NBA due to his strength and offensive skills.

Weaknesses: Despite all the good things mentioned about his game there are a lot of concerns about Randle … It’s been noted that Randle is undersized for the PF position, lacking ideal length with a sub 7 foot wingspan … He may struggle to create looks against stronger, more athletic and taller opponents in the post … Offensively his numbers on synergy indicate how difficult it has been for him to score on post moves with very low percentages on each low post block and over either shoulder … It also doesn’t help matters that he is not able to utilize his right hand … Very few, even highly talented, players are able to play at high level without being able to finish and make moves with both hands, as the book becomes well known and everyone overplays their strength. … His shooting isn’t consistent and despite good mechanics, his percentages are low and 3-poin range is non-existent … He will have to develop a consistent solid jumpshot to replicate the success of Zach Randolph and Michael Beasley when facing the basket … Overall his game right now is based almost entirely on overpowering weaker opponents … He is very skilled but it will be hard to find the same success overpowering post players in the league. Also it is worth considering that most of Randle’s game is below the rim … His future will likely hinge more heavily than most prospects on landing in the right system, where a team has a vision of how to utilize him and makes sure he stays focused and works hard on the right skill development.

 

Vaught’s note: Kentucky fan Kelly Harper was among those at coach John Calipari’s book signing in northern Kentucky and shared these insights on what the night was like. Enjoy.

By KELLY HARPER

Who could bring over 500 people to a book signing in Northern Kentucky on a Monday night? Only Coach John Calipari. The Big Blue Nation was abuzz at Joseph Beth Booksellers waiting for the arrival of Coach Cal for a book signing of his new book Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out.

Northern Kentucky showed Cal that its just as crazy about the Cats as other parts of the Commonwealth. Fans from all ages packed the bookstore and caused traffic jams outside for the chance to hear our coach speak about the program, the players and his new book. Even his delay from a recruiting trip to Chicago didn’t dampen the mood.

As Coach Cal entered, he was greeted by a local high school band’s rendition of the UK Fight Song, he greets toe crowd with his immortal phase “You people are crazy.” Northern Kentucky fans couldn’t have been happier in the acknowledgement or our love and devotion to a university over an hour away.

Coach Calipari spent about 10 to 15 minutes talking and answering questions from the audience. He overviewed the foundation of his new book focusing on servant leadership. He talked about working with talented “young stars” that you are trying to focus on others rather than themselves. One of the best stories of the night was that of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s unselfish attitude before the Vandy game in 2012 asking Coach Cal to put in Darius Miller over himself. He saw Darius struggling and thought giving him the chance could help him overcome. Cal then went on to say, “Would you tell your boss to let you step back and put someone else in your place because that person was struggling?”

Coach Cal also addressed the recent years and the paradigm shift that the Big Blue Nation has had to face with the “One and done” era. He reminded us that his words from the beginning focused on players; “I coach for the names on the backs of the jerseys — not just the front.”

His role is for Kentucky’s program to have an impact on families helping many out of generational poverty. In the end, these players will have an impact on the overall program. In 50 years, the University of Kentucky will still be here and many won’t remember the decision that these students made for not only themselves but also their futures. Kentucky’s program is creating more millionaires than many Wall Street firms.

A few notes closer to home and on the minds of the BBN focused on questions from the audience.

— Cal feels the class of 2014 is complete.

— His son Brad is doing well from his injury and has about three more months of recovery. Father and son were on the court practicing last night.

— Cal will have hip replacement surgery on May 2.

—He met on Monday with Dakari and Alex and will meet Tuesday with the Twins. He didn’t share anything on those discussions. But if I had to guess, Cal told them “do what’s right for your family.”

— In the end the best question of the night came from a little boy in the audience. He asked Cal the question we all want to know “Do you like pasta?” Cal answered, “Can’t you tell.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said today that the Cats are dangerously thin at wide receiver going into Saturday’s Blue-White Spring Game.

“I like where we’re going, just getting some guys nicked up and that’s starting to bother me, nothing major, I don’t think anything major, just guys that are going to be nicked up and maybe this last part of this spring practice. (Receiver) Jeff Badet twisted an ankle pretty good today. Guys like that, we’re starting to get pretty banged up at wide receiver. Other than that, we’re in pretty good shape and getting better,” said Stoops Monday.

Receiver Ryan Timmons said he would play Saturday, but he’s not 100 percent either.

“Timmons is coming along very well. He’s done a very good job this spring. He’s a little banged up as well, so he got a shoulder. He got hit the other day and got a little setback. Nothing that’s going to require any surgery or anything like that, so we’ve just got to get him back, get him healthy. I’ve got to see where he’s at for the spring game. He’s had a good spring,” Stoops said.

He says both receivers Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams have both had solid springs.

“T.V. had some big catches and some big runs at times and Thaddeus, we’re just seeing consistent improvement with him. He’s a guy that needs all the reps he can. He’s a little tweaked up as well with a little muscle pull, nothing major. Hopefully he can get out here the rest of the week,” Stoops said.

Stoops said receiver Joey Herrick has ” been banged up as well” this spring.

“He’s a good guy, a quality guy that can get you in and out of some practices and at times possibly work his way into the lineup here in the future,” Stoops said.

Again, he emphasize none of the injuries at receiver were major, just injuries that had impacted spring practice.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said because of the lack of numbers at receivers, injuries this spring have become an even bigger deal.

“We need more scholarship wideouts. We need more walk-on wideouts. I think we’re probably a year away from getting this thing, from a numbers standpoint, where it needs to be,” Brown said. “We were grossly thin getting here, and then we’ve had some injuries this spring that definitely haven’t helped. So hopefully we can get some of those guys back. Jeff Badet got rolled up today, so we’ll have to see what the extent of that is. Hopefully we can get some of these guys back healthy so we can put on a good show on Saturday.”

 

 

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

It’s no surprise that Tyler Ulis was thrilled to hear that Willie Cauley-Stein would be returning to Kentucky and would be his teammate next season.

“That gives us another 7-footer. He’s great blocking shots, he’s good around the rim, rebounding the ball, running the floor and I think that’s great for me because when I see bigs running the floor I’m going to feed them, throw it up court to them,” Ulis said.

Devin Booker, who played with Ulis in the Jordan Brand Classic Friday, is also delighted.

“We’ve got a rim protector. There’s only one Willie Cauley-Stein. He’s a special player. He sets good screens, rebounds and blocks shots. That’s just someone that you want around, a rim protector and also we’re going to have experience coming back,” Booker said. “It’s huge for our team to have him back.

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

Freshman running back Mikel Horton has a chance to help the Kentucky offense next season. However, he also says he’s learned that the veteran talent at Kentucky is better than he thought — and much better than he believed when he was talking and hyping the 2014 recruiting class.

“I had no clue. Literally, I was just talking for the hype when I was a recruit,” said Horton. “But it opened my eyes when I got here. There is so much talent here it is ridiculous. There is so much physicality here it is ridiculous.”

What might seem ridiculous then is that UK has gone 2-10 consecutive seasons? That’s why this remark by Horton, a mild-mannered, well-spoken player, caught my attention and showed either the problems coach Mark Stoops faced or the confidence his players have in him — or both.

“So many good players that just needed the right players and right guidance to be great and the coaches here now are doing it,” Horton said. “They are focusing on every detail. They are very disciplined and they didn’t have that when (former coach) Joker (Phillips) was here.

“Joker was a great coach, I will have to give him that, but they just didn’t have the discipline part of it then like we do now and that’s going to make a big difference.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Don’t expect a decision quickly from guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison about the NBA draft. The Kentucky freshmen have until Sunday to declare for the draft or stay at UK and based on what their father told Houston’s Fox 26, it looks like a decision is several days away.

Aaron Harrison Sr. said the family is “probably midway” through the evaluation process and is still waiting official word from the NBA on the guards’ evaluations. Some mock drafts have both players projected as late first-round picks, some mock drafts have both going in the second round where there are no guaranteed contracts.

“I talked to a gentleman at the NBA and he said he would get it (the paperwork on the evaluations) to me as fast as possible and then we’ll go from there,” said Aaron Harrison Sr. “It’s important. You’re trying to find out what the prospects are for them and where they’ll be drafted and all those things.”

Sporting News’ mock draft has Andrew Harrison No. 21 pick and Aaron Harrison No. 25. Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com also said he would put both in the first round.

Aaron Harrison Sr. told Fox 26 that his sons are not leaning either way. The twins told the station that they are thinking about “all the angles” and that the decision was tough on them and their family.

If both Andrew and Aaron Harrison return, the Wildcats will be a legitimate national title contender again — and perhaps the No. 1 team going into next season. Kentucky would have the Harrisons, Wilie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis definitely returning along with incoming freshmen Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. With Alex Poythress also likely returning and possibly Dakari Johnson as well, that’s another talented roster for coach John Calipari with depth and experience.

On top of that you add talented freshmen in pure point guard Tyler Ulis, skilled low-post scorer Karl Towns Jr., big-time jump-shooter Devin Booker and versatile power forward Trey Lyles. You’ve got a deep, talented and mature roster that actually has what it’s been missing in a locker room voice.

If the Harrisons continue to play the way they did in the postseason and can improve with a push from Ulis and Booker daily, UK could be a much better team next year than this season’s team that make the national title game.

If the Harrisons don’t return, the Hawkin-Ulis combination will be solid at point guard because Ulis has great court sense and is special at the game’s intangibles. Booker is also a knockdown shooter, much like former Cat Doron Lamb.

entucky head coach John Calipari works from the sideline against Wichita State during the first half of a third-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

entucky head coach John Calipari works from the sideline against Wichita State during the first half of a third-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

By LARRY VAUGHT

One thing Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne constantly tells John Calipari is that NBA teams, just like teams at any level, want players who win.

“Kenny Payne says this all the time: You guys don’t understand, people want winning players. So winning matters. It does. If our team had gotten in the NCAA Tournament last year and we had advanced, it would’ve been different for some of those guys,” Calipari said last week. “Just how it is. Winning matters, and that’s why you gotta keep convincing them, ‘You gotta do this together. You gotta give up some of your game.’

“Let me tell you last night, I go to watch that Bobcat game and Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) started and played nine minutes, then they played Chris Douglas and some other guys, and then in the second half he started and played his nine minutes and whatever. And I’m telling you the biggest cheerleader on the Bobcats was Michael Kidd. And I can’t tell you how proud that makes me. He is the greatest teammate, and there is a value – there is a skill to that. We all know how hard he works. We all know what a great defender he is. We know all that. There is a skill to that. So to see that means that he learned it, he understands it, and I believe he learned it here.”

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!

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.