The Next Big Game!

  • UK FB Blue-White Game:
    in 9 days, 21 hours, 45 minutes

Larry on Twitter

BBN

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Jalen Whitlow made the best decision for himself to transfer to another school so he could continue to play quarterback, but he probably also did Kentucky a favor with his choice after being asked to move to receiver.

Whether it was his fault or not — and former coach Joker Phillips and current coach Mark Stoops have said repeatedly that it was  not — Kentucky was just not very good offensively when Whitlow played. The Cats were a combined 4-20 the last two seasons and while many noted how well Whitlow could throw and run in practice, he normally had trouble completing passes in games.

In Neal Brown’s offense, efficiency is the key word. Fans want big plays; Brown wants first downs and accurate throws.

Whitlow was not even a full-time quarterback in high school, but from the day he got to UK he was determined that he would play quarterback, and only quarterback. I still remember at the 2012 media day if he could envision himself being the next Randall Cobb, a high school quarterback who made the move to receiver at UK and is now in the NFL, and he quickly and politely told me he was a quarterback.

But he was not the quarterback to run Brown’s offense — and UK fans were never going to buy into him leading an “Air Raid” offense when in-state favorites Drew Barker and Patrick Towles, both prolific high school passers, and redshirt freshman Reese Phiillips, a much more accurate passer, were potential starting quarterbacks.

“We’re narrowing it down. So we’re making progress. We like where we’re at. We’re improving. We’re getting it narrowed down. It’s just like Jalen, last night, we made that decision with Jalen. I talked to him yesterday. He made that decision last night. I told you today. The other guys, we’re working our way through it. It’s not a big secret, we’re just working through it,” coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday when asked if Whitlow’s transfer meant Brown had picked a starter.

Stoops said it best when he noted that both he and Brown felt “Jalen’s best skill set” for Kentucky was at receiver. That obviously means the two coaches have seen enough of Barker, a true freshmen, along with Phillips and Towles to believe at least one, if not more, would be ahead of Whitlow at quarterback when the season starts.

“As far as the other three quarterbacks that are competing right now, we’re working through that situation. It’s fluid,” Brown said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve told you, and it’s going to be the same stance. You all can ask questions about it, but basically is we’re working through it. We want to make a quicker decision than we did last year, but all three guys, we’re mixing up the reps. They’re doing some good things, they’re doing some things that aren’t so good. As soon as we make a decision, just like today, you all will get notified.”

Brown admitted Saturday’s scrimmage, which was not open to the public, played a role in the decision to ask Whitlow, a versatile athlete, to switch positions.

“There’s more weight that goes into the scrimmages, but this decision wasn’t based just on Saturday. It was a year’s worth of work and I think Saturday was eight practices (into spring ball). So Saturday, the other guys probably did some better things, but it wasn’t just based off one afternoon,” Brown said.

Remember, Brown and Stoops had last spring and all last season to watch Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, who is out this spring rehabbing from shoulder surgery, to play quarterback. Most Kentucky fans were convinced neither could be a winning SEC quarterback. That’s why going into spring drills that Barker, Towles or Phillips figured to have a terrific chance to become the starter — and now one will be.

“You have a past performance. And I will say this as well: Jalen made strides. He was better this spring than he was in the fall, but the other three guys who are competing are better, too. And maybe they made bigger strides, OK? But this wasn’t premeditated, this was something as we went through the nine practices, we made a decision on, it was clear,” Brown said.

What about Whitlow being the most mobile?

You always try to tailor your offense and your plays to the skill set of your players. With him (Whitlow) in there, obviously there’s a few more options. But ultimately we want to throw the football,” Stoops said

Throw the football? That’s not Whitlow’s strength and that’s why he was not the right for UK or Brown.

“We’re always going to fit around our personnel. I don’t think the offense that we ran last year is ideally what we want to do, but I thought it gave us the best chance to win,” Brown said. “We can fit around his skill set. It came down to consistently making throws. That’s what it came down to.  He made really good throws, but not on a consistent as a basis as he needed to.

“This is not a negative on Jalen, OK? The other three guys are performing well. I feel good about where we’re at the quarterback position, now we’ve got to go do it with the lights on, but Saturday in the scrimmage or game atmosphere, that was the best that any quarterbacks have looked since I’ve been here for a calendar year.”

Which is why Whitlow is now headed for another school and UK is guaranteed to have a new starting quarterback next season.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow's transfer.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow’s transfer.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Rather than move to wide receiver as he was asked to do by coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown, quarterback Jalen Whitlow has decided to transfer.

He started seven games as a true freshman n 2012 and started eight games last year in Stoops’ first season when UK went 2-10, the same record in had in 2012. He rushed for 663 yards and nine scores in two seasons and threw for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“I’m never surprised. I know Jalen was disappointed. I was hopeful that he would give it a try, but I understand where he’s coming from,” said Brown after Wednesday’s practice.  “He’s played quarterback most of his life. He feels like he is (one), so I understand and I’ll support him.”

Whitlow will finish the semester before transferring and having two years of eligibility remaining. Stoops said it would be between him and Whitlow what transfer restrictions, if any, are placed on the player.

“I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me,” Whitlow said in a statement released by UK since he was not available to the media. “I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here.  I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck.”

Stoops talked to Whitlow twice Tuesday about where UK was with the quarterback battle that includes sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker.

“He’s worked very hard for a long time, through high school and through college here, to help this university and be the best quarterback he can be. So I wish him the best of luck,” Stoops said. “We were in a situation where, once we told him where we’re working it out with quarterback, and asked him to play another position (and) if he’d be open to that, he decided that it’d be in his best interest to go somewhere else and play QB. That’s where his heart is. That’s what he wants to do. I understand that.”

Stoops said he had not asked Whitlow to change positions before discussing a possible move to receiver with him Tuesday.

“We’ve given him every opportunity to win the starting job. He deserved that right. He was in there. As you know, he played some good football for us at times last year,” Stoops said. “I’ve said this over and over again, it’s not all about the quarterback position. We needed to get better across the board. If Jalen was coming back here next year and being the quarterback and playing for us, we’d be a whole lot better than we were last year, just because the whole team should look better. It’s not just on him.”

Brown said he was “disappointed” Whitlow was leaving and called him a “great kid” on the team.

“Love the kid, appreciate everything he’s done for the program. I want to make sure that we understand that our lack of success last year, he only played a minor role in that,” Brown said. “We didn’t do enough as coaches and at other positions groups — I want to put that out there too, I want to make sure we’re clear on that.

“Respect his decision, understand, but again, disappointed. We had a couple different conversations yesterday. We made the suggestion about moving positions, and he wants to be a quarterback, which we definitely understand.”

Stoops said he knew moving to receiver would be a hard change for Whitlow.

“When you’re bundled up at the quarterback position, it’s a different position. Again, I don’t look at it like he’s throwing in the towel on us. I wish he was here,” Stoops said. “I wanted him to stay here and play for Kentucky in some position. But he wants to play quarterback, so we understand that.

“It’s hard, as you know. It’s hard to get four and five guys reps. Listen: I want to move on. I want there to be a clear-cut winner or a starter, or at least one and two, so we can start narrowing down reps. But one thing that I can be sure (of) is that I feel very fair that I gave Jalen a great shot to win that job.”

Both Stoops and Brown said the talk with Whitlow was not easy on anyone.

“It was tough. I have a lot of respect for Jalen. He’s a good kid. Worked extremely hard. He’s talented, and he does have the skill set to run the football, and throw it at times,” Stoops said. “He’s maybe not as consistent as we’d like to be in the pass game. But he’s a very good quarterback, and it is tough to have that conversation. I appreciate the work that he did.”

Brown said coaches know they have to make hard decisions as part of their job, but that doesn’t make it easier.

“It’s never fun. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s really one of the worst aspects. What I try to do … and what I did with Jalen … I told him I care about him, which I do. I want him to do what he thinks is best for him in regard to our team. But I also wanted to be up front and honest with him and I knew there would be a decision he had to make,” Brown said.

“I was hoping he’d make the decision to stay, but I do understand. And I appreciate his contributions. I really do. Last year was a tough year. It wouldn’t have mattered who played quarterback; it was going to be a difficult, difficult season. He weathered some things, some adversity, so I’m proud of him for that. But it is: it’s a difficult thing, for sure.”

Willie Cauley-Stein celebrates a big play for the Cats. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Willie Cauley-Stein celebrates a big play for the Cats. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

By LARRY VAUGHT

If you want to see why Karl Towns such be a good fit for Kentucky next year and likely a player fans are going to embrace from day one, just look at his reaction to news that Willie Cauley-Stein will be back at UK — a move that likely will cost Towns playing time but make the Cats a better team.

“A little surprised but happy he will be coming back to help us do something special,” Towns told SNY.tv. “It will be a blast playing with him.”

Guessing here that Cauley-Stein will feel the same way about Towns.

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.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky’s defense had just two interceptions last season, a number that defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot knows must improve in 2014 for UK to become more competitive.

“We’ve got to make the plays, and we’ve got to put them in position to make the plays,” said Eliot after Monday’s practice. “It’s something that we’ve been emphasizing. We track it every day in practice. We’ve had some that we had a bunch, and we’ve had some that we haven’t had very many.

“A lot of it just comes down to finishing plays. Sometimes you get them in the right spot then it’s a dropped ball or it’s a tipped ball that we don’t bring down. We do practice it. We practice the fundamentals of that on a regular basis, but we are emphasizing that quite a bit.”

Eliot is counting on junior college cornerback A.J. Stamps, who arrived on campus in January, to help create interceptions.

“A.J. has a lot of ability, and he’s got great ball skills. I hope that transitions,” Eliot said of Stamps, who has gained 10 pounds since arriving at UK. “If you’re bigger, stronger, faster then you’re a better athlete. As long as they continue to keep their speed and they put that size on, it’s good for them.”

Here’ more insights Eliot offered about the defense.

Question: How has middle linebacker Khalid Henderson looked?

Eliot: “Khalid is better. Khalid is a better player. All those reps have helped him last year during the season. You can tell going into spring he’s much further along than he was last year. He’s keying things faster. He’s assignment sound. He’s an improved player.”

Question: What has he learned in the first half of spring practice?

Eliot: “Some of the obvious things are that (end) Bud Dupree has got some great, great skills, and not only that, he’s got some great leadership. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he progresses and plays in the fall. Along with (end) Za’Darius Smith. Some guys like (tackle) Mike Douglas have stepped up, and I’m hoping to see some great things from him in the fall as well. But, we’ve just got to take it one day at a time. You can’t rush anything. You’ve got to make sure that you’re doing little things. The old saying ‘You can’t put the cart before the horse,’ we’ve got to make sure we’re continuing to do that.”

Question: Has he noticed any difference in defensive back Blake McClain since they’ve limited him to two primary positions compared to last season when he played more spots?

Eliot: “Blake McClain, last year was a true freshman. We saw the ability and didn’t know where to play him. That’s why he played in training camp at a bunch of different spots: because we saw the ability and had to get him on the field. I think as much as growing from a freshman to a sophomore, I’ve also seen him become more specialized in his position and what he’s doing. He’s continuing to get better.”

Question: Does Dupree write “savage” on his wrist every day before practice because that’s how he wants to play and is that how the staff wants him to play?

Eliot: “That’s something that he’s come up on his own. I think that’s a self-motivation thing for him. We want Bud to lead by example, a lot like Avery (Williamson) did (last year). That means you have to play that way on the field. Right now, he’s doing that.”

Question: Can he tell cornerback J.D. Harmon is trying to take advantage of the second chance after being academically ineligible last year?

Eliot: “Yes. I’ve seen J.D. getting better. I’ve seen J.D. doing some good things, playing hard and trying to be fundamentally sound. We’ve just got to stay on him. He’s got to continue to put that effort in to do it.”

Question: Was there a time last year when Harmon was making plays on the scout team that he wished he could have played him?

Eliot: “I just concentrated on the ones I had on my practice field, I guess. So those thoughts never went through my mind, but I am glad to have him now. He did some good things. I just worried about the ones I had. But he did do some good jobs over there, did do a good job over there with the scout team.”

Question: How much has Harmon has bolstered the cornerback position?

Eliot: “He’s helped us. We need depth at every position and he’s got a chance to come in and play and so it’s definitely helped us.”

Question: Is Josh Forrest cross-training between linebacker spots?

Eliot: “Basically our mike and our will are kind of mirrored. So we move him around and try him at different spots, but he’s played both of them. He’s played Mike and Will and, you know, last year he played some Sam as well. But this spring he’s been a Mike and a Will. I think it’s important to do that at a lot of positions. Sometimes to get depth it means you gotta dual-train people in order to establish that depth. I think that’s important not only at linebacker but all our positions.”

Question: How are the tackles who did not play last year doing this spring?

Eliot: “Melvin Lewis, I’ve been pleased with. He’s got that girth inside for a good nose guard and he’s moved around well. And Regie (Meant), Regie’s put on a lot of weight. Regie came in at 260. I think he weighs around 300 now and he’s getting better every day. He’s a freshman so he’s still learning how to play and play at this level. But both those guys, I’ve been pleased with their progress.”

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).”

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.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari started a national media tour Monday to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” and admitted he had no idea how many players would leave UK early for the NBA draft and denied reports that he had any interest in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know right now,” said Calipari on the Dan Patrick Show when asked how many players might leave UK. “We had great conversations. They all have the information. I am not going to meet with them nine times. This is it. Tell me what you want to do so I can help you.”

He later when on Kentucky Sports Radio and said he called 10 NBA general managers the day after UK lost to Connecticut in the national championship game to gauge where his players might land in the draft. He said he even had one player on the way to the airport in Dallas after the title game he told him he didn’t want to leave UK.

“As I was doing all of the other research, they were throwing his name in, and a couple of them told me he could be a first round pick. So, I had to call him back in and say, ‘I know what you said to me, but you and your mom need to sit down and talk about this because here’s some of the information I’m getting,’” Calipari said.

“If you’re in the first round, you’ve got to go do this, if you’re in the lottery, you’ve got to go do this.” In fact, if a player wants to come back, he has them sit down and explain why, like Patrick Patterson did back in 2009,” Calipari said.

Calipari said he doesn’t see any way all eight players that might consider leaving early would do that. He noted they have until April 27 to make a decision to put their names into the draft and that they are “not hurting” him or UK by waiting to make a decision.

“You obviously know that there’s a couple, they’re going to go, and then there’s three or four that are like ‘what will you guys do?’ At this point? I don’t know. I don’t think all eight will leave. How about that? We finally will have some guys come back. I don’t think eight will go, but five, six, four, I don’t know,” he said.

He also addressed the rumor former Kentucky star Rex Chapman put out a few hours before the national championship game that he had been told it was a “done deal” that Calipari was going to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously it is not true,” Calipari told Patrick.

He said he was “surprised” that Chapman put that message on Twitter.

“You know, every year I have coached I am going somewhere. That is all part of being the coach at Kentucky but that disappointed me in that unless the Lakers told him, which I know wasn’t done … They had a coach. We had a coach. Getting ready for the championship game. I am not mad at Rex. We are moving on,” Calipari said.

Calipari said the rumor was not a distraction for him or the team because they didn’t know about it until after the game.

Patrick asked if Calipari would one day like to be offered the Lakers job?

“No, I am good We need to get this thing to two years (before a player can leave college for the NBA),” he said.

He said on Kentucky Sports Radio that he had a “great job” where he could impact the lives of players and their families and wanted to keep doing that. However, he told Patrick if players are still able to leave school after one year that it would “be hard” for him to still be coaching in three to five years.

“The option is to recruit players that are not good enough (to leave UK for the NBA after one year) or convince kids that should leave that they should stay,” Calipari told Patrick. “I am not comfortable with that and BBN is not comfortable with the first one (recruiting players not as good). Let’s get to two years because that is good for everyone.”

Calipari said even if he didn’t get the top-ranked players, the 50th rated recruit would still think he could be a one-and-done player.

“If I try to talk them into staying, people are going to say I am doing it for me,” he told Patrick. “I give information to families and they make the decisions. I can’t go at this any other way.”

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 football coach Mark Stoops addresses the media during Wednesday's Football Signing Day. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Mark Stoops photo by Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown both liked what they saw from freshman receivers T.V. Williams and Thaddeus Snodgrass, both January enrollees, during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Stoops: “The young guys did some good things. Thaddeus (Snodgrass) had a chance to make a real big play, didn’t come down with it. T.V. (Williams) made a nice play where he caught the ball, bounced off some people, made a big play for the offense, which was good.”

Brown: “T.V. (Williams) had some highs and some lows. He had a drop that would’ve been a big play, and then he had a long touchdown reception. So he showed some signs. I think Thaddeus Snodgrass is starting to come along. It’s a lot on a receiver initially. It really is. He’s getting a lot of reps because we’ve got some guys that are banged up. Mikel Horton (running back), he did some good things. I think he got tired probably. It’s a big difference (from high school).”

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.