Most Recent Posts
- DeCourcy says Julius Randle is “so freaking quick” and powerful he will be special
- UK football coach Mark Stoops on wife: “She gets involved as much as she can in a supportive role”
- Swiss Cat – Vacation notes and photos from Larry from his trip to Switzerland.
- Kentucky softball team earns 40th win to tie school record for most wins in a season
- Calipari says Cats will press more, foul more, bump and grind, hip-check next season
- Caldwell County sophomore Elijah Sindelar special QB but also has big-time baseball options
- Stoops believes he has special understanding of high school coaches
- Video: UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown talks about working with head coach Mark Stoops
By LARRY VAUGHT
What do you think John Calipari learned over the course of last season? Here’s what he said:
“First of all, you have to have more than eight scholarship players. You may ask why I did that. Because I was trying to protect players in the program. What you learn is, you can’t protect players. You can’t protect them from competition. You bring in your group and the guys that understand competition brings out the best, they strive and they get better. They don’t have to play 30 minutes a game to reach their dreams. And so why I did it – if I had it to do over again, we would’ve had a couple more players. By not having a couple more players, guys were put in positions you have to play, and it’s hard to change guys when they’re in that mode.
“My wife and I talked about it, I don’t have any regrets where I gave guys more than one chance to make it and it hurt our team. Like, ‘Why did you leave this guy there? Why didn’t you just tell him, ‘Beat it. You’re not going to be good enough. We’re going to put you here.’ Because it’s about each individual player. And I can tell you that guys got the full season to prove themselves and do what they were gonna do, and you know what? I told my staff, ‘If I’m going to err, it’s going to be on the side of a player.’ Now, I know that’s, ‘Well, the program’s got to go and this kid’s got to go!’ That’s all good. But if it were your son, what would you want me to do? So if I’m going to err, it’ll be on the side of a player, which at times hurts the program. Now, it’s now how we’ve all been brought up to do this. It’s how I do it. And so, there were some things that went on that I should have changed this and this, but I was giving guys that opportunity. And Ellen and I said it: You can live without regrets. It may have hurt you for a season; what’s it doing to you? Nothing. But that young man had every chance to do what he was supposed to to change, to do it. If he didn’t, if he wasn’t willing or wasn’t able, now we know and we move on. But he got that full shot.
“So those were some things (I learned). But I’ll tell you again: Can you imagine if all four of the guys put their name in the draft (and) we would’ve have had four first-rounders? Do you know what that means? This is about the players. This is about them getting better. Can you imagine that? Now you can say why however you want to say why, but that’s a fact. The guys coming back should have come back. The guys that put their name in the draft, I’m going to do everything I can to help them. We’re not changing how we do that.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Count Florida junior forward Will Yeguete as one who expects big things from Kentucky sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein next season.
“I think he did a good job defensively this year. He was a factor. He was blocking shots, tipping the balls. I think he did a really good job overall,” said Yeguete. “The first time we played them, he didn’t really play that much and do anything to impact the game because (Nerlens) Noel was playing all the time. The next time he was starting and played more minutes and was a big factor in the game. I was impressed.
“He is really athletic. I think his timing is great. Blocking shots at the right time. He knows when to jump. He has size and when the guards are coming inside, he is really aggressive and defensively was just there. When you have a 7-footer in the lane, he will impact your shot and did a good job doing that every time I saw him play.”
Yeguete also appreciates Cauley-Stein’s demeanor on the court.
“I think he plays the game the right way. He had a little foul trouble against us, but when he came back in he was ready to go. He doesn’t say anything. He just plays the right way. I love the way he plays,” the Florida junior said. “He was only a freshman, so his offense is a work in process. He affects the game more defensively than offensively right now. They had a lot of scorers on their team and I think his coach would want him to be the defensive presence that they need without Noel and not worry about offense. I think he did a good job at that, but I know his offense will be a lot better by next year because you can tell he’s a hard worker.”
Yeguete had no idea Cauley-Stein was an all-state receiver in high school.
“That is funny. He must be really fast. That would be fun to watch him on the football field,” Yeguete said. “But he was good in basketball, too. Both he and Noel are good shot blockers. I don’t know if you can compare them. You saw Noel play more games, but they both change the game a lot and he (Cauley-Stein) could really be special next year.”
Kentucky teammate Alex Poythress tends to agree about that.
“Willie has done incredible from the day he got here. He has just got better every day,” Poythress said. “I ain’t never seen a 7-footer that moves like him, jumps like him. He is strong, He is just incredible out there. He has been great friend and great teammate. And you know next year, based on how he improved this year, that he could just be dominant.”
Practice competition was almost non-existent at Kentucky last season. That will change for John Calipari’s team next season thanks to eight new players.
Would the coach expect there could even be some practice skirmishes when tempers maybe flare?
“I’ve had that in teams. The thing is, when they walk off the court it’s got to end right there. I’ve had teams that laugh about it when practice is over, a hard screen and somebody comes up pushing and shoving and has to be broken up. Yeah, there is a competitive spirit,” Calipari said.
“What it does is, I think, it will drag us to where we’re trying to go. I’m going to tell you, two years ago we did not have a bad practice, not one. That led us to building a swagger and confidence level that we knew we could win every game we played, let’s just be at our best and if we weren’t and somebody got us, fine, next game.”
Here is what ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla and ESPN NBA Insider Chad Ford said Wednesday when asked about Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin and his NBA potential.
FRASCHILLA: Well, first of all, I can't wait to start talking to you about next season's Kentucky Wildcats, but we'll save that for another day. If Chad doesn't want to start, I'll start. I watched a lot of film of Archie Goodwin. I think that given this draft, he's a developmental player. If I'm not mistaken, he'll be one of the two youngest players in this draft. He does a lot of things well for a young player. He's athletic, terrific end to end quickness. Gets into the lane at will. There is one and he's actually a willing passer at 6'4", 6'5".
The problem with him right now, as you know and you saw this is he has a way below average jump shot, so that's going to scare a lot of people off. I think he's a kid that has really good value for a team that's looking for a developmental player, kind of like Lance Stephenson a couple years ago, not equating the off the court stuff at all. But this is a kid that's very much in the developmental stage of his career, but he has NBA athleticism. The jumpshot is the major red flag in this overall game, along with the fact that he's a very inexperienced young player.
FORD: I agree with Fran on that. I just add, he's having a rough go right now with NBA teams, partly because the expectations were so high for him out of high school, and that so many of the freshman have been successful and Calipari has had this ability to get the most out of these guys. I think that's been a huge feather in Calipari's cap. So when it didn't happen with Archie, I think a lot of NBA scouts put that back on the player and said if Calipari can't get the best out of you, and it didn't feel like he developed much as a player from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, how does that bode for your NBA future playing in the D League or playing on an NBA team?
And I think that is the big question mark, not athletically, but the questions about will he develop as a player when they just didn't really see it happen at Kentucky this year?
FRASCHILLA: I talked to more teams and we're seeing this too, Jeremy Lamb, who was a terrific college player spent much of the year in the D League. Archie Goodwin is one of those guys that I can almost guarantee you where and when he gets taken, is going to probably spend a lot of his time playing in the D League in the next year or two, just because a team can work with him, give him minutes.
Chad, I don't know about you, but it seems like the D League is becoming much more of an opportunity for the teams to utilize their young players and develop them.
FORD: Exactly, I agree, and I think that's where he'll go. His potential suggests still he should be a mid to late first round pick. I think the question mark is: Will he take that time; will he have the right attitude; will he be willing to be coached; and will he work on his weaknesses? No one knows the answer to those questions, and by the way, he's a young player, as Fran pointed out and players can mature and get a better work ethic or what have you, but there are those questions right now about him and his lack of development at Kentucky. If he can't develop there, will it make any difference whether he's in the D League or not?
By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though Kentucky coach John Calipari insisted Wednesday that he was “not hearing” the talk about his team being a lock to win next year’s national championship, he said he could “imagine” the talk is out there.
Apparently he’s the only one that doesn’t know for sure the talk is out there even if the Wildcats didn’t get Andrew Wiggins Tuesday.
“It’s probably because people are really rooting for us to do well. So that’s probably part of the reason. They want us to do so well, they’re putting that out there to help us build this team right,” joker Calipari.
Then, he turned serious to try and downplay those expectations for his team that will have eight new players join five returning players off last season’s NIT team.
“I don’t buy into any of that. I mean, if anybody thinks this is easy, we got a lot of coaches right now that have taken players that are the elite players and it hasn’t worked out,” Calipari said. “What we do here is hard. It’s not the normal thing that goes on. Do I like it? No. Do I wish kids would stay for two or three years? Absolutely.
“I’m still trying to do things to get that rule changed so that at least we encourage them to stay two years by doing things that make it possible for them to stay two years or three. If they stay two with the summer, they’re close to being graduated. They’ll be a little year (away from graduating).”
That led Calipari to tout his team’s 3.4 grade-average during the spring semester that had 12 players with a B average. He reminded everyone again that all 25 players who have gone through his program at UK have either graduated or gone to the NBA.
“We call it the success rate here. It’s a different situation. We’re not working on a 25-year-old model here. It’s different. It makes people mad when you talk about it. Oh, because, ‘You’re not about academics! You don’t care, you’re a basketball factory!’ We had a 3.4 GPA. We’ve had 10 players graduate. We’ve had two players come back. We have two more players coming back to finish up,” Calipari said. “You’re at Kentucky, you’re held to a different standard. Things that go on at other campuses can’t go on here. Just can’t.”
Calipari has hinted he would like to coach a team that goes 40-0 and wins the national title. If UK had landed Wiggins, that would have been the expectation for next season. Even without Wiggins, many wonder if this team could do it. Two years ago UK went 38-2 with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leading the way.
Calipari knows there will be stories about his team “chasing perfection, chasing greatness” next season.
“We’re chasing things that have never been done in the history of our game. What I like about that, people say, ‘Pressure!’ Man, pressure brings out the best,” he said. “‘You’re going to be fired if you don’t get this done! You’re not going to make it if you don’t get this done!’ Wakes you up earlier in the morning. I don’t mind a little pressure. I’ve had it my whole career. I’ve had the gun to my head for 20-something years. And you know what? I’m at my best when the gun is to my head versus, ‘OK, I’m good, I can kick back.’ I’m not as good. And you know what? Players are the same.
“Now, I’m not sitting there saying, ‘If we lose a game, it’s not a successful season.’ No. But you’re chasing greatness. What’s wrong with that? ‘Well, we want to talk moment to moment and we’re not putting that on the kids.’ Well, we are. Any pressure on these kids when they come here? It’s on us. Now it won’t be on us that’s the forefront thing we’re talking about, but there’ll be things out there that they’ll see.”
He remembers one year when he was coaching at Massachusetts and a player talked about going undefeated. The team’s first game that year was against Kentucky. The schedule also included Maryland, Florida, Wake Forest (with Tim Duncan), Syracuse, North Carolina State, Southern Cal and Louisville.
“They said it. ‘Let’s go undefeated.’ I didn’t say it. I looked at the guy: ‘What, do you need drug tested? What are you talking about? We play Kentucky the first game. They’re the No. 1 team in the country.’ Well, you want them in a mentality that they can win every game. It’s hard to. It’s never been done in the modern era,” Calipari said.
Never done, but whether he likes it or not, UK fans are going to be talking about his team doing just that even with Michigan State, North Carolina, Baylor, Louisville, Florida and others on next year’s schedule.
Vaught’s note: Josh Kays of Bardstown covers high school basketball recruiting for Wildcat Blue Nation, but wanted to share this perspective on Nerlens Noel.
By JOSH KAYS
Nerlens Noel’s legacy will be on and off the court
Nerlens Noel came into Kentucky this season as the most heralded recruit in the 2012 class, and was being compared to Anthony Davis on the defensive end. Everybody who knew the game of basketball knew Noel could be a great college shot blocker, knew he would give 100 percent every time he put on the Kentucky jersey, and knew he would be a high lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft. But nobody knew how much of an impact he would have off the court.
During the season Noel was always doing something within the community, and would do anything to put a smile on somebody’s face. It began with face time with Lane Goodwin — a young boy and UK fan that lost his life after battling cancer. Nerlens took time out of his busy schedule to make sure he put a smile on Lane’s face before it ended so sadly. Everybody started to see then just how special Noel is, but this past weekend took it to another level, and it showed everybody that this wasn’t an act that Noel was putting on. He is truly a big hearted guy.
Nerlens wasn’t in attendance for the Kentucky Oaks on Friday because he was visiting sick children at Kosair Children’s hospital. But he was in attendance at the Brown Stable Barn Party that night. Noel had his long time best friend and 2014 recruit Goodluck Okonoboh along with him for the night, but told KSTV that he was going to have a guest from the hospital as his guest for the Derby on Saturday.
If you are a part of the Big Blue Nation you have heard of “Kickin it for Kelly.” It’s a foundation for 7-year-old Kelly Melton, who is battling Leukemia. Kelly is a huge Kentucky football, and basketball fan that comes to games/practices when he can. Nerlens knew about Kelly before this weekend, but it just so happened that Kelly was doing his treatments at Kosair the same day Noel came to visit. Kelly is a very uplifting and inspiring kid that doesn’t let this sickness get him down, kind of the same mentality Noel had after a season ending knee injury.
Kelly got to join Nerlens on Derby day as his guest, and was styling just like his idol was. Noel and his friend Okonoboh took very good care of Kelly during the day, and he even got to walk down the red carpet with Nerlens and company. I can’t imagine the feeling that Kelly had on that special day, but I know for me that was one of the happiest moments in my lifetime of being a Kentucky fan.
Nerlens was a great player on the court, and will be remembered for his hustle and shot blocking ability he presented for Kentucky every game until the injury. But I think Noel’s legacy will be what he has done off the court while being in Lexington.
Noel will go down as one of my favorite players to ever put on a Kentucky jersey, and I am glad he spent his year in college at the University of Kentucky. Thank you for everything Nerlens. You will always be a Cat!
By LARRY VAUGHT
The more the speculation continues, the more it seems that former Wildcat Archie Goodwin could indeed land in the first round of the NBA draft.
Now DraftExpress.com projects the Boston Celtics willl select Goodwin with the 16th pick in the first round.
Here’s what Jay King of MassLive.com wrote about Goodwin:
“Despite an uneven year during which he averaged 14.1 points per game on 44 percent shooting (including 26 percent from beyond the 3-point arc), Goodwin possesses enough athleticism to make scouts drool. With a 6-10 wingspan that puts him in an elite class of length for guards, Goodwin is viewed as a project of sorts; still, his defensive potential should endear him to (Boston GM Danny) Ainge, whose Celtics can always use an infusion of perimeter stoppers.
“NBADraft.net, which lists Terrence Williams and Tyreke Evans as Goodwin’s two NBA comparisons, does not predict the guard will be selected in the first round. But it’s entirely possible some team will fall in love with Goodwin’s potential. While Ainge has at times shaded toward players who produced effectively in college (think Glen Davis and Jared Sullinger), he’s also not against taking a less-developed talent with upside (think Avery Bradley or Fab Melo).”
By LARRY VAUGHT
I loved the way Jason Nahra, UK signee Dakari Johnson’s middle school coach at Sayre, answered this question about the future Wildcat.
Question: What do you think UK fans will like best about him on and off the court?
Nahra: “Dakari is unique in that he is unlike most big men coming through college right now. Since he has been tall most of his basketball life, he has developed great feet and hands for the game, and has sound post moves, and can score in a variety of ways. He will be a supportive teammate, and will have no problem fitting in to play his role to help achieve common team goals. Off the court, I hope he gets the opportunity to show people his personality, and his enthusiasm for the game. He doesn’t desire the spotlight, but he isn’t afraid to step into it if need be.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky signee Dakari Johnson — a McDonald’s All-American — played middle school basketball in Lexington at Sayre and coach Jason Nahra was impressed even then bymore than just his court skills.
“It would seem obvious to say that having a player with Dakari’s size and skill made a coach’s job easy, but what impressed me about Dakari was something less obvious,” said Nahra. “Dakari worked on his game every day, and his effort rubbed of on the players surrounding him, and they quickly realized that they had to work extra hard to make up what they lacked in matching his physical size. He had always been a leader because he drew a lot of attention based on his size, but he quickly became aware of how to lead by example.”
Nahra has remained friends with the family and even went to Chicago last month to watch Johnson play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. He shared these insights on the 7-foot, 250-pound Johnson — the top-ranked center in the 2013 recruiting class who played at Montverde Academy in Florida.
Question: Was it obvious then that he would be a future star?
Nahra: “Nothing is guaranteed of course, and Dakari realized this, even in Middle School. It quickly became apparent that his physical tools could be the foundation of a bright future, but those needed to be combined with several other traits. I recall the very first day of practice with Dakari as a 6th grader. I told him he had to make one post move to make a game winning shot, and I asked him what would he do. He posted up, and I threw him the ball, and without hesitation, he did a baseline drop step, up and under, and scored. From that moment, I was cautiously optimistic that he was headed for something big.”
Question: What do you remember most about him?
Nahra: “Dakari draws attention wherever he goes, and initially it’s because of his height, but once you talk to him, you realize that its everything else that keeps you engaged. His personality is fun-loving, and a smile is always present. He genuinely takes an interest in whoever he is talking with, and you can tell that he’s listening to you, not just hearing what you’re saying. When he visited Sayre recently, he demonstrated that he could seamlessly transition between a conversation with a teacher, and the next moment, a second grader. I’m proud of Dakari the basketball player, but even more proud of the person he is.”
Question: What kind of relationship did you have with his family and much have you followed his career since he left Lexington?
Nahra: “I have watched from a distance as Dakari has gone through his high school career. I have remained in contact with his family, occasionally shooting Dakari a text wishing him good luck, or to let him know that I’m proud of him. Like anyone I coach, I am confident knowing that Dakari realizes I will be a fan of his as a person even when the basketball stops bouncing.”
Question: Did it surprise you that he picked Kentucky?
Nahra: “I had no indication of which school Dakari would pick, since he kept that type of thing quiet, as he should. Kentucky seemed to be a place with the perfect combination of things for him on and off the court, and I believe that the appeal of returning to a town with which he was familiar was a big plus. Having a group of friends he made in his days at Sayre was a big draw as well. Nervousness comes from a lack of experience, so if his transition to college was going to be made easier because he was familiar with Lexington and the people here, I was all for it.”
Question: How will he fit into the Kentucky mystique?
Nahra: “Having lived in Lexington, Dakari is well aware of many things that come with Kentucky basketball. I’m not sure anyone can properly prepare for all that comes with it, but he is arriving on campus with a deeper knowledge base than most. I know he will embrace all that comes with being a Kentucky Wildcat, rather than running away from it. And at 7 feet tall, it would be particularly tough to hide from the spotlight anyway!”
Question: How would you describe his mother and how big a role has she had shaping his academic/athletic career?
Nahra: “Dakari stands 7 feet above the ground, but he is as well grounded as they come, and in my opinion, this can be directly attributed to his family. I am always impressed by his relationship with his Mom, and his little brother, and their family is a close knit one. His mom has her values perfectly aligned, and her boys know that they are expected to be well-rounded young men in all they do. The boys have learned accountability, and this applies to each aspect of their lives.”
Question: What made you decide to go to the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago to watch him play?
Nahra: “I have attended 8 McDonald’s All-American games, my first in 1986 (Rex Chapman’s year), but this one had a much more personal feel. With Dakari playing in the game, I watched like an anxious parent, but I tried to soak up the entire experience, just as I had encouraged Dakari to do. It was exciting to get a glimpse of the future of Kentucky basketball, and it was truly special to know that Dakari is going to be a part of it.”
Question: What is one thing UK fans might not know about Johnson that you think would be interesting for them to know?
Nahra: “Rumor has it, Dakari is a solid ping-pong player, although he has yet to challenge me! I would imagine he has no problem covering all of the table, and I bet that any weakness he has in his ping-pong game would be tough to exploit. I’m sure he will be often found at the ping-pong table in the Wildcat Lodge.”