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By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — Kentucky guards Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays and Archie Goodwin have frustrated UK fans with their inconsistency at times this season and befuddled even coach John Calipari at times.
However, Tennessee guard Skylar McBee says the trio may have had no chance to succeed this year considering who they had to follow.
McBee, a senior, played against John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, both first-round draft picks and current NBA stalwarts, three years ago. Two years ago he went against Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins, both draft picks and both on NBA roster. Last year UK had Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb, two more NBA draft picks, in the backcourt.
“I think their guards are very talented this year because they have talented guards every year,” said McBee after Tennessee beat Mississippi State Thursday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. “But I think these guards this year are a different style of guard. They are more slow down, run the offense than the guards I played against before.
“You had John Wall and Eric Bledsoe that liked to get it out and push in transition all the time. You have some guys this year that who really do a good job slowing down, running offense and fitting in that system. They are not the defensive players that Liggins or Teague were or the scorers that Knight and Lamb were. They are different, but that doesn’t mean they are not good.”
LSU junior Andre Stringer, who had 16 points and three assists in a win over Georgia Thursday, did not play against Wall and Bledsoe. But he competed against Knight, Liggins, Lamb and Teague.
“First off, they are still good players. I think all those guards have a lot of different games,” Stringer said. “The point guard (Harrow) this year, I think Teague was more of a run the team guy and Harrow is more of a scoring guard. I think Lamb was a shooter, and can’t leave him. He kind of reminds me of Mays some.
“I think they had five pros on the court at one time in the past few years. That is what is so different about the Kentucky team now. They don’t have that. They have guys that aren’t as talented as those other guys, so they have to work harder.”
McBee said he assumed Harrow and Goodwin knew the comparisons were coming this year.
“Those are big shoes to fill, and that’s part of it playing at a big school like Kentucky with the success it has had,” McBee said. “They have had a lot of talent come through the years and it is big shoes to fill. They are doing a good job and as long as they play well in the SEC Tournament, they should be fine going into the NCAA. We play in a strong league with a bunch of good teams. They are not bad players at all. I am not sure why people might think that. They are a very good set of guards. They just are not the guards they have had the last three years, but how many teams have had guards like they did those three years.”
Stringer thinks the past comparisons are unfair to UK’s guards, too.
“Those guys have hard shoes to fill because of guys that came before them and paved the way and made Kentucky what they are,” Stringer said. “Calipari is a great coach, but it is hard to come behind those guys. They were all pros.
“I don’t think it was pressure on them that they can’t handle. I think guys at the collegiate level know what to do. They have been playing ball since they were kids, so there is not any undue pressure to come in and star. They knew they had to come in and work and what was expected of them. But they are not bad players.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Is there a chance that this Kentucky basketball team simply is not tough enough overall to be a Final Four contender?
“It’s hard to say if a team is soft as a unit,” said FOX Sports college basketball analyst Larry Conley. “I think they have guys that play with skills. Their skills actually are pretty solid. Are they mean and nasty? No, as a team they are not but that does not mean they can not go out and win games. I’ve seen a lot of teams do that.
“It’s always nice to have one or two guys like that (mean and nasty) to whip a team into shape to make the team better. They just don’t have anybody like that. You can’t make people something they are not. They are what they are. They have ability. John (Calipari) and his staff knew what they were getting when they signed these players and they have gotten better from the first exhibition game until now. But they are not an overly physical team at this point.”
That amen you hear likely could be coming from Kentucky coach John Calipari. His teams normally are physically and mentally tough. He’s had players like Patrick Patterson, Demarcus Cousins, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Deandre Liggins at UK known for their physical toughness. He’s had others like Brandon Knight, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Anthony Davis that were mentally tough. But the coach has openly worried about this team.
“The tape doesn’t lie. You watch a little bit of this tape, and you’ll see,” Calipari said last week after UK beat Lipscomb. “Their big guy threw our big guys around. Then you talk about the guards at Mississippi. Wait till you see their big guys. The big guys at Tennessee, wait until you see their big guys. Their players are throwing us around is what happened.
“Just be more physical. You’ve got to bend over. You can’t stand straight up and down. You can’t accept that he’s going to beat you to the spot. All those things right now throughout their careers have been acceptable. It’s not anymore. Well, we’re trying to change habits that they’ve developed over a period of time.”
Conley said it’s also difficult to gauge UK’s toughness because they have played many “lambs for slaughter” this season.
“Maryland was okay, Duke is very good, Baylor is okay and Notre Dame is okay,” Conley said. “Now Louisville is really going to be a test (Dec. 29). I think Kentucky fans are frustrated with this team. Coming off a national championship year with a team that had tough guys and maybe better skill sets, it’s hard to be on this team.
“But look at the numbers. They are getting better. They defended much better the other night than they have all year. This is a not a team you are going to look at and say they do this really well, but they can do enough well to be a really good team. How good we won’t really know until the Louisville game and that’s when a lot of questions will get answered.”
What about Southeastern Conference play? Can Kentucky win a third SEC title in four years under Calipari?
“I had them and Florida at the top at the beginning of the year. Nothing has changed for me except that Missouri might be a little better than I thought,” Conley said “Tennessee getting (injured) Jeronne Maymon back could be the difference in winning or losing give games. If he is back, they will be hard to beat again. Those are the four best teams. Alabama has had a couple of key injuries. I am not sure if they can stay up there.
“The best darkhorse team is Ole Miss. (Marshall) Henderson out of junior college is averaging shooting 12 3’s a game. There are teams that don’t take that many. They are tough kids, too. They have about four kids that will take you to the woodshed. Texas A&M is good but not great. I am a little surprised at LSU but I know their talent and do not seeing them winning the league or Johnny Jones should get the best coaching job of the year.”
Since Kentucky has already lost three games and will be a decided underdog at Louisville, could there be a scenario where UK could find itself in danger of not making the NCAA Tournament?
“I could not see Kentucky not getting in the NCAA,” Conley said. “I still think they will win 22 to 26 games.
“The big thing right now is that they just don’t have that fire in their belly. It’s hard to put your finger on. I have seen Alex Poythress do things where you go, ‘Wow. Why doesn’t he do that every game?’ That lack of consistency is what frustrates John and all Kentucky fans. But they may get it one game and all of sudden they beat a really good team and say we are pretty good and just take off. I have seen it happen before and maybe it will happen to Kentucky this year.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
How good is Kentucky going to be this year? I’m not even sure Kentucky coach John Calipari can answer that question right now going into Saturday’s game with Lipscomb.
In fact, Calipari all but admitted as much last week following his team’s win over Portland.
“I’m just telling you we have a long way to go. My question to my team: There’s eight or 10 teams that are better than all the rest of the teams in the country. Do you want to be one of those eight or 10 teams? What are you willing to do to be one of those eight or 10 teams? Or you don’t want to be? Too hard. I don’t want to be one of those eight or 10,” Calipari said. “You tell me we have to go three a days to be top 50, hope we make the NCAA tournament. If we’re in the NIT, it’s a good run to New York. We can be that team, too. I mean, which team do you want to be?
“I’m looking at everybody in the country saying we’re probably 50 to 100 right now, but we could be top 10, top 8. Those eight are the only ones that truly have a chance to win the whole thing. Do you want to be those or not? That was my challenge to them. Are you fearful you’re not good enough right now? Are you like Derrick Rose, who when I had him: ‘I just don’t think I’m good enough, I have to work harder, spend more time.’ Or Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist), Brandon Knight, guys that understood, I’m not good enough, I’ve got to get better.
“I’m working on as much mental toughness and the mentality this team has. It’s not all their fault. We played Maryland and Duke to start off. We all think everything’s good because we only lost to Duke by three. It was a three point game, so we’re good. We weren’t right. I knew we weren’t right. That falls on me. I’m trying to correct the mistakes I made and make sure that we get these guys after it.”
Calipari encouraged his team to have a second team meeting to figure out what the players wanted.
Q. Did you give your guys a chance to answer when you asked them about where they wanted to be?
“Come back and tell me. If you don’t, don’t let me go nuts by myself. Just tell me: ‘We’re good, cool down, we’ll jog it up the court, help each other when we feel like it, have some big 3′s sometimes.’ Just let me know,” Calipari said.
“As I say this jokingly to you and sarcastically, I like my team and I like our players. What are they choosing to do? Did you see the fans gave Kyle Wiltjer a great ovation? Can you tell me what that was for? Tell me why they did it. He rebounded a couple balls. You know he didn’t have a rebound in the first half.
“Our fans will cheer him. He only had three rebounds. Acted like he had 12. But he got three in traffic that they haven’t seen in eight games. Well, that’s what we’ve been doing in practice. There were loose balls he didn’t get, he had to sit down, you’re not playing. Loose balls that Ryan (Harrow) didn’t get, you’re sitting down, you’re not playing. I’m holding them accountable.
“I grabbed a couple of them after. It’s hard, isn’t it? Hard trying to be special. Easy being mediocre. It is really hard to try to be special. I can help you or you can say, I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I don’t. I never prepared anybody. I don’t know. Or you can listen to what I’m saying and do it.
“I’m not afraid to tell the media what I’ve said. I like our fans to watch and say, he is exhausted, my gosh, look at him, so these guys understand. It’s hard playing here and it’s hard playing for me. You don’t come here unless you want to be special. Don’t do it. Don’t torture you or me.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari knows last year will help Ryan Harrow as he follows a line of talented Calipari point guards — Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Teague — all of whom have been first-round draft picks.
“He got beat up. He played against a pit bull (Teague) every day who was letting him know,” Calipari said. “I want Ryan to be best lay-p shooter in the SEC. I don’t need any cuteness. Get to the basket and shoot layups. If they absolutely back off like they tried to play Marquis, he shoots better. But I want him to shoot layups, which means you play through bumps and keep going. That’s what we want.
“The good news is that you have Archie (Goodwin) who can play the position, too. We have flexibility. We can do things with Archie and Julius (Mays). You could do three guards and two bigs.”
Harrow knows exactly what message Calipari is sending to him about shooting layups — and he’s taken it to heart.
“I think he is saying getting into the paint and take the bumps and still finish the layup or make the layup. He knows that I can score and that I can shoot pretty well. But me going into there and taking the bump and still getting a shot off is what he wants the most,” Harrow said. “I know a big part of this team is going to play around me. It is not because it is me, but it is because I am the point guard. That’s a big responsibility for coach Calipari’s team, because he feels how far the point guard goes is how far the team goes. I think I am up to the challenge. I have been working hard and been waiting long enough for it as well. I am just ready to get out and play.”
Still, following the legacy of the last five Calipari point guards can be a daunting task.
“It is definitely cool. I am not scared at all, because I feel like I definitely have the skills to be that next point guard in the line coach Cal has had,” Harrow said. “I don’t think I should think of it like Derek, Tyreke, John, Brandon and Marquis. That will put too much pressure on me, and I don’t want to have that because it will only make me not do well. I am happy to be out there playing and being that point guard.”
Even though he has yet to play a game at Kentucky, Harrow is now one of the team’s veterans. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer is the Wildcats’ most experienced player returning from last season, but he played sparingly. Julius Mayes has played more college games than anyone, but he did that at North Carolina State and Wright State before transferring to UK for this season. Junior Jon Hood has played some, but missed all of last season with a knee injury.
“I guess you could say that I am one of the old guys now,” Harrow laughed and said. “I guess I am kind of old, but I am so goofy you would think I was one of the freshmen the way I look and how I talk. You would think I was a regular freshman just watching how I act.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
She had so many stories and so much information to consider, Tonya Knight thought there was only one approach to take to her book about her son, Brandon Knight, and his journey from a basketball beginner to a NBA first-round draft pick following his freshman year at Kentucky.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just went with my gut instinct. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to take potshots at anybody,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Knight. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am very happy with the book. It will give people a little glimpse into our lives. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s even a surprise picture that Brandon knows nothing about. He is going to die when he sees it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And what is that picture?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He has his mouth wide open and is sound asleep on a plane. I dread the day he finds out I did that,Ã¢â‚¬Â she laughed and said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was the day after the Final Four and we were going back to Florida to relax. He has this thing with motion. If a motor is humming, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to sleep. We had not left the runway, and he was asleep.Ã¢â‚¬Ë†I just couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t resist.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a lot more in her book, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Diary of a Basketball Mom,Ã¢â‚¬Â that should be especially interesting for UK basketball fans. Some of the best tidbits will be about recruiting.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†take a glimpse into some of the ridiculous things that coaches said to us,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is a secret very few people know about BrandonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision on college. You get some inside information on Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) from Duke. He did something kind of crazy. There is a little on (Connecticut) coach (Jim) Calhoun, and some on (Kansas coach) Bill Self. The best one might be on (former Tennessee coach) Bruce Pearl.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Her story on Pearl Ã¢â‚¬â€ I wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give it away Ã¢â‚¬â€ is one that I think Kentucky fans are really going to like and believe.
Knight has many of her opinions in the book, including her thoughts on her son not getting a chance to be named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year because UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†officials flipped a coin and nominated Terrence Jones, not Brandon Knight. Jones easily won the award.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I get fired up about that even now,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I know one day I will get over it, but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see it coming anytime soon. I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let that one slide.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But there is a whole lot more about the freshman season at Kentucky. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†met great people in Kentucky. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†mean that. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†met so many wonderful people. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†put that in there. The whole freshman year, I cover it. Games, people, everything. And I do appreciate that coach (John) Calipari did what he said and prepared my son for the next phase of his career.Ã¢â‚¬Â
What she didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do was let her son have any input on the book. It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter if it was about her telling the coach of his team when he was 8 years old to not use him to run up the score, a fight in AAU play or details about the draft. She went with her instincts with no input fro him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I would never let him see it. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want him to tell me, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe you put that in there. Take that out.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll have to buy a book if he wants to read it. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am telling the truth. I witnessed everything in the book,Ã¢â‚¬Â Knight, who says writing this book was more fun than previous fiction books she wrote, said.
With the NBA lockout, Brandon Knight has not been able to report to the Detroit Pistons to start his professional carer. However, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not hurting financially because of deals with Adidas and trading card companies.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Brandon is pretty frugal. If the lockout is about money, he is going to get every dime out of everything he can. If this player dispute is about the players getting what they are due, he will support it 100 percent,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tonya Knight said.
SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proud that he has no regrets about his decision to leave UK after his Final Four freshman season even with the lockout continuing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He said you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have regrets. You make a decision and stick with it. We are proud of him for that,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tonya Knight said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He knew he had to be very careful when he made his decision. We told him to think of the pros and cons and make sure you can deal with the cons. He went into this with his eyes open.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But to be honest, now he has a chance to get his body where he wants prior to entering the NBA. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s working out and has a chance to get better prepared for the next level. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s taking a few classes online and if the lockout continues, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll take a full load (of classes) next semester. I would love to see him playing, but it will all work out. To be honest, it is kind of difficult to even watch UK games. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even know if IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am going to any games because he is not playing. On the other hand, Brandon is fine with not playing. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s handling it all fine.Ã¢â‚¬Â
So you know
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Diary of a Basketball MomÃ¢â‚¬Â by T. Rhythm Knight can be purchased at www.lulu.com for $14.99. You can also preview the first few pages of the book at the site. Tonya Knight also plans three book signings at Rupp Arena in conjunction with Kentucky games during December. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Brandon will be at one of them signing the book also. So for $14.99, you can get a book and his autograph, too,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tonya Knight said. She will also have a book signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington.