Most Recent Posts
- WR Blake Bone says he has the “size” to play immediately, but knows he will be playing “against men, not boys” at Kentucky
- Single-session seats still available for Kentucky NCAA tourney games in Memorial Coliseum
- James Young says Kentucky has to be more physical on defense
- UK signee Blake Bone on middle school football, dunking a basketball, academics, work and more
- Greater Atlanta UK Alumni Club hosting pep rally at Hawk Walk Friday
- Kentucky players mum on mysterious John Calipari tweak except Cauley-Stein says it is ‘mentality’
- John Calipari “disappointed in me for not doing it earlier” after unknown tweak to UK offense
- WR Blake Bone can be flamboyant, different but he says “my only mission is to catch the ball”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Dick Vitale will be in Rupp Arena Saturday for the ESPN GameDay battle between No. 3 Florida and No. 14 Kentucky. While he knows how successful Kentucky has been under coach John Calipari in Rupp Arena, he warns that beating Florida anywhere is no easy task.
“They have so much winning experience from the last three years,” said Vitale. “Three consecutive Elite Eights. That’s impressive and gives a team so much experience and confidence. They could definitely win the national championship. On a given night, they can be really, really special. They have size inside, play great defense and have guys that can hit the 3. And they know how to always play together.”
Vitale thinks Casey Prather’s improvement is a big reason the Gators are unbeaten in SEC play and have five league road wins.
“Prather is a good ballhandler and has gotten a lot more comfortable on the perimeter,” Vitale said. “He can be magical with the ball in transition. And he’s a good defensive player as well. He fits perfectly in their system.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
If Kentucky guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison play well, veteran ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale says Kentucky is a “tough team to beat” and as good as any team in the country.
He believes the improved “pyche” the Cats got from beating Louisville Dec. 28 helps and the recent break from games to practice let UK “get back to the gym and work with more positives” going into Southeastern Conference play.
“It starts with perimeter play. Your inside can only take you so far,” Vitale said.
He says the Harrisons need to reduce turnovers, get better shots for teammates and become the key to initiating defensive pressure on the ball.
“Michigan State’s guards are as good any guards in the country. That’s how you win,” Vitale said. “Great guard play the key for Kentucky. Their guard play has to be consistent and do it on a regular basis to be a really good team.”
Vitale says Kentucky’s recruiting class came in with a “lot of ability, lot of fan fare.” He admits many, including him, thought it could be the best recruiting class since 1979.
“But you still have got to play together as a unit, not individuals,” Vitale said. “Wisconsin is so good because they are so unified offensively and defensively. They know how to do the little things — spread the floor, get away from traps, how to use the diagonal pass.
“They are searching for that (at Kentucky). They (the Harrisons) are playing based on skill and ability. They have not been able to develop, but they have things you cannot teach. They can handle, shoot. They have got size, toughness and a little swag. They will be fine. It has just taken a little longer than people expected.”
Vitale says Andrew Harrison, the point guard, needs to improve defensively, understand what is a good shot and how to take advantage of other people on the floor. He noted how seldom UK got the ball inside to Julius Randle in its loss at North Carolina in December.
“They are not selfish. They are good kids. It’s just understanding,” Vitale said. “Point guard, and guard play, is essential on any level. If you are not strong on the perimeter, you are going to struggle against quality teams. They (Kentucky) will overpower a lot of teams that cannot match their size and athleticism.”
Vitale then rattled off a list of teams that included Michigan State, Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona and Syracuse where Kentucky, or any team, would have to “execute well, protect the basketball and get good shots” to win.
Sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are “veteran players with great size” that Vitale says could impact the way UK finishes the season, too.
“They are a factor. I think personally, Willie has got to be much more aggressive offensively. There’s no doubt his shot blocking is an incredible plus. If you are playing Kentucky, you better shoot over the top and make 3’s because inside he is going to reject big-time numbers,” Vitale said. “I think he has to be a little bit more of a force in the low post with his size and ability.
“Poythress was big against Louisville. He was aggressive, active and wanted to rebound. He gives them toughness and experience that they need.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale says Kentucky might even be missing Kyle Wiltjer, who transferred to Gonzaga. He likely would have been UK’s best 3-point shooter.
“He would be spreading the defense and would have been a plus off the bench. I didn’t think they would miss him, either, when he left, but now I do think they miss him and he would have been a major factor in a lot of games,” Vitale said. “(James) Young is their best 3-point shooter, and even he’s streaky.
“But Kentucky is going to be fine. The Harrison are going to be good. They just have to get in a rhythm and flow. They seem out of sync now. The team’s offensive efficiency is not good. But don’t panic. Kentucky is too talented to stay down. They just need that one big win and if they beat Louisville, watch out. Just tell UK fans to stay patient because the good times are coming back.”
* * *
So what do you think? Could Wiltjer be helping this team?
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky fans should not panic. Or at least that’s the advice ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale has in spite of UK’s weekend loss at North Carolina that dropped the Cats to 19th in this week’s Associated Press poll.
Vitale thinks Kentucky, which has also lost to Michigan State and Baylor, will find its way back into the top 10 in the near future.
“Number one, there is just too much talent for them to get back up high,” said Vitale Monday. “Ultimately, their talent will prevail. They played really hard against North Carolina. Really hard. They made some key mistakes, especially on missed free throws, but they will eventually get it together. They just need to get that one big win. Playing at home against Louisville, that could be the key to getting them rolling if they win that game. The win over Louisville could be just the medicine they need.”
Vitale doesn’t think losing to three teams ranked in the top 14 is a long-term detriment for Kentucky.
“You don’t lose anything by losing early. It’s not like football,” Vitale said. “People hear so much great recruiting news about these players, but they have to learn, too. They were all the top options on their high school teams. The ball was always coming to them. They were the guys to always make the plays. Defensively, they could relax and not have to play with the intensity they do now.
“It’s hard learning to be like the third or fourth option and not be the first option like you have always been. It just takes time to blend and better understand team strengths and weaknesses. Playing those good teams helps you do that.”
Vitale says not every player progresses as fast as former UK stars John Wall, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did.
“You expect everybody to do that, but this group just need a little longer to adjust,” Vitale said.
He noted that twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison “have talent” but still need to get “more in sync and cohesive” with teammates.
“There was no cohesiveness at North Carolina between the inside and outside games,” Vitale said. “(Julius) Randle never got in the flow of the game, and Kentucky can’t have that. But the cream always rises to the top, and they’ve got talent. Don’t doubt that and panic over Kentucky.
“That 2012 team with Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist was so unique and all about winning. A lot of these kids are thinking about too much. Look at the body language. It does not demonstrate joy. They are playing so hard and want to please the coaches, fans, family, everybody. They just are not playing in a relaxed, flowing motion like you would want. When they get that, watch out. And it will happen with one major win that they need badly.”
Vitale says early-season upsets are good for college basketball, but fans should “not get carried away” with giving up on a team that loses games early, especially to ranked teams. He says messages he’s got on Twitter from some UK fans questioning coach John Calipari’s ability, blaming officials and belittling players “ruins Kentucky basketball for the 90 percent of the fans” who use logic.
“Right now everybody is just too carried away. People there in Kentucky are not patient, but they need to be with this team,” Vitale said. “Some fans there don’t understand other teams get players and have good coaches, too. It’s not automatic that you just go out and win.
“Hey, they better not take Belmont lightly. It’s a bit deceiving that they beat Carolina because Carolina missed 26 of 48 free throws that game and was actually probably 15 points better. But they are well coached and get the most out of their talent. That game is no gimme for Kentucky, either, and they can’t afford to lose one like that now.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Once a year Howard Garfinkel likes to gather some of the best instructors he can for the Clinic To End All Clinics in New York. He’ll have his seventh clinic Sept. 28 and for the second time, Kentucky coach John Calipari will be there. So will college basketball analysts Seth Greenberg (ESPN), Pete Gillen (CBS) and Mike Fratello (NBA) at Fordham Prep.
Garfinkel started the legendary 5-Star Camp in 1966, a camp Calipari attended as a player and then worked as a coach. Louisville’s Rick Pitino worked there. So did Dick Vitale, Roy Williams, Hubie Brown, Bobby Knight, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Larry Brown and many, many others. Players such as Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Isiah Thomas, Moses Malone, Kevin Durant, Grant Hill and John Wall played there.
Garfinkel, 83, says he has “four superstars” coming to his clinic this year. He helps them pick their topics and Calipari will speak on coaching, teaching and organizing today’s player.
“I don’t think there’s anybody better to do that than him, either,” said Garfinkel. “I want to have something they are comfortable with, but also something different. This is easy for John.
“He has done this before. He was at my second clinic and did a great job just like I am sure he will this year. We go way back together. I started my camp in 1966 and he was a camper for three years. He won the best playmaker award as a camper. He was a decent high school player and okay as a college player.”
Garfinkel thought Calipari would be a “good coach,” but never envisioned him become the master recruiter that he has.
“He has always been very gracious to me and always been a great competitor,” Garfinkel said. “He was a super coach in our camp. The first year he coached in what we called the developmental league, an invited league for the best rising sophomores in the country. He won the league and he refused to let me move him up to coach all the great superstars in future years. He just wanted to coach the developmental league and teach kids.
“I thought he would be a good recruiter due to his diligence and personality, but not to the extent he has done it. It has been a shock. It’s really a huge surprise anybody could do what he has done, and do it legitimately and without any scandal. It’s been an amazing recruiting job.”
That includes bringing six McDonald’s All-Americans to Kentucky this year, the most any school has ever signed in one season. But Garfinkel doesn’t believe this team can be as good as UK’s 2012 national championship team led by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
“That team may not be surpassed,” Garfinkel said. “I said then, age for age, that was the greatest team in college basketball history. They started three freshmen, two sophomores. I don’t want to put the whammy on John and say this team can be better. When they roll the balls out, we’ll see. But that team two years ago was really special.”
Garfinkel jokes that he calls “Calipari a lot, he calls me back a little bit” before adding that when it is “urgent” he can always reach the Kentucky coach.
“Did you know who his best friends are today? His high school camp and college buddies. He has not changed,” Garfinkel said. “Those are still his best friends. He has stayed the same guy. It is a fact. No one writes about that. It’s amazing he hasn’t changed.”
Garfinkel hopes to have at least 80 coaches — he had 68 in 2012 and 110 in 2011 — for his clinic. If he doesn’t get 80, then this might be his last one.
“Clinics are getting old-fashioned or something,” he said. “This year might be my last. I wanted to do eight because eight is my lucky number. Hopefully having Calipari here helps attendance.”
He will see Kentucky play Providence in Brooklyn. He also plans to be in Chicago for the UK-Michigan State and Duke-Kansas games. He also annually makes a trip to Kentucky to see UK and Louisville — he’s remained friends with Pitino, too — play a game.
“I try to see Calipari as often as I can without killing myself because even after all these years, it’s still fun to spend time with him and he treats me great,” Garfinkel said.
Vaught’s note: I thought you might enjoy this summer update I got from my buddy, Dick Vitale. Whether you like him or not, I don’t think you can ever question his passion for the game or his work to raise money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Dickie V Center Court Newsletter
By LARRY VAUGHT
Dick Vitale thinks there will be “lots of jubilation” for both Kentucky and Louisville fans next basketball season, but the colorful ESPN analyst gives the edge to John Calipari’s team. Here is part of what he wrote in a recent post:
“The Wildcats have great depth thanks to an outstanding recruiting class. I honestly believe that Kentucky’s second team would be good enough to be ranked in the top 20 by themselves! I know there were plenty of detractors looking at last year’s squad.
“Remember, the Cats did win 21 games and they beat Florida and Missouri. Guys like Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer will be that much better with the added year of experience. They can serve in a role similar to Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller on the national title team, mentoring the younger players. Those guys have now seen quality minutes on the road and in challenging situations. They will help the young guys blend in and get a feel for the competition.
“Kentucky will be a much better team, especially on the perimeter with the addition of the Harrison Twins. That will take care of the dilemma that hurt them big-time last season. There was inconsistency from Archie Goodwin (who left for the pros) and Ryan Harrow (transferred out). They were not up to the standards Calipari was used to on the perimeter. That will change.
“Louisville has unbelievable talent returning with Russ Smith passing on the NBA. Luke Hancock is more confident after earning the Most Outstanding Player honor at the Final Four. He will have a greater role. Chane Behanan showed what he is capable of on the glass in crunch time in Atlanta. Wayne Blackshear is also back, and Kevin Ware should be healthy too following that gruesome injury in the NCAA tournament. Pitino has recruited well too.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Dick Vitale admits he was “crushed” when he watched Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel get injured during UK’s loss at Florida Tuesday night on ESPN.
He was even more despondent Wednesday when he learned that Noel, the nation’s top shot blocker (106) and UK’s leading rebounder (9.5 per game), had torn a ligament in his left knee and would not play again this season.
“Something like this just crushes you,” said Vitale. “I liked him. Really liked him. I went to his high school game. I talked to him before the game last night. He is a good kid. He plays hard and busts his butt out there.
“He was so good defensively to make up for offensive shortcomings. He has not even touched his potential yet. That’s why you hate to see this.”
Noel, who averaged 10.5 points per game, had eight points, six rebounds, three blocks and one steal in 23 minutes at Florida before hurting his knee trying to block a shot after a UK turnover.
“Obviously it is a major loss for Kentucky because he was such an impact player on defense,” Vitale said. “Losing a quality guy like that has to hurt you. Others now have to step up and take their play to another level. Willie Cauley-Stein is going to have to really respond with him out.
“They could still be a good team, but not an elite team. Their guard play is too up and down for that, maybe even with Noel from what we had seen. They could not get any rhythm at Florida because of their inconsistent guard play.
“The results don’t lie. Notre Dame, Baylor, Louisville. The big games they have lost have not been from a lack of effort or talent. They just don’t have enough veteran players or consistent guard play, and now this.”
Kentucky dropped to 17-7 overall and 8-3 in Southeastern Conference play with Tuesday’s loss. Kentucky plays at Tennessee Saturday and still has games at Arkansas and Georgia left along with home games against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Missouri and Florida.
“I think they will still be in the NCAA Tournament. They have talent and there are games they can win if their kids are up to the challenge, and I think they will,” Vitale said.
The ESPN analyst is just as optimistic that Noel’s future won’t be permanently altered by this injur.
“Many players come back from this type of injury. It will take a lot of hard work, but he can still have a long career,” Vitale said. “The bottom line is a NBA team at the top (of the draft) will talk with UK folks and those who do the surgery. If all goes well, I still think he will be a top three pick (in the June NBA draft) if that’s the way he wants to go.”
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