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Kentucky Basketball

By LARRY VAUGHT

Just how impressive was Kentucky’s NCAA play even though the Wildcats lost to Connecticut in the national championship game?

Well, SI.com’s Brian Hamilton ranked the 10 best tourney games and three of the top four involved —you guessed it — Kentucky. And who can argue.

Hamilton ranked UK’s 78-76 win over previously unbeaten Wichita State as “maybe the most momentous round of 32 game ever.” That’s strong. Not just best game of this tourney, but best round of 32 game ever.
Hamilton had Wisconsin’s 64-63 overtime win over Arizona No. 2, but he had the Wildcats’ 74-73 win over Wisconsin on Aaron Harrison’s  second game-winning 3-pointer as the third best game. Hamilton called it a “thrilling back-and-forth affair.”

Next he listed Kentucky’s 75-72 victory Michigan at No. 4 that included the “first of Aaron Harrison’s two bring-down-the-house three-pointers to win games.”

So what do you think?

And no, Hamilton didn’t have the win over Louisville in his top 10, and I’m not sure he should not have included that game as well.

Kentucky's Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky’s Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Freshman forward Marcus Lee will return to the Kentucky men’s basketball program for the 2014-15 season, it was announced Friday.

“I’ve really enjoyed my college experience and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop as an all-around player,” Lee said. “Playing in the Final Four was such an amazing feeling, but I want to come back and help win that final game this year.”

The 6-foot-9 forward was called upon in Kentucky’s Final Four run and he answered the call with a 10-point, eight-rebound, two-block performance in the Elite Eight against Michigan. He finished the tournament shooting 70 percent from the field and was named to the Midwest Regional All-Tournament team.

“I’m excited for Marcus and think he’s barely scratched the surface of what he’s capable of,” head coach John Calipari said.  “In addition to his athleticism and the energy level he brings, the experience he gained in the NCAA Tournament this year will be immeasurable for us next season.”

The Antioch, Calif., native tallied 17 points in UK’s season-opener against UNC Asheville and pulled down a then-career-high six rebounds against Northern Kentucky.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Want to know how hard it can be for logic to find no place in the NCAA? Let John Calipari explain:

“I presented this to the NCAA, my wife and I: We wanted to start a fund. We’ll fund it; we’ll put the money in. That every player that’s ever played for me, whether they be at Mass, Memphis or Kentucky, can request a grant for their children’s education,” said Calipari. “And that fund would peel off that money for that reason. And when I stop coaching 25 years later, the money that’s left in that fund would be split between Memphis, Massachusetts and Kentucky.

“What was the response? ‘It’s an extra benefit.’ My wife and I sat there and said, ‘We’ve been thinking about this for five years. This is what we want to do. So why can’t we put five or 10 million in an account that spills out money that all those players that have played for me?’ ‘Because you’ll use it in recruiting and you’ll have an advantage.’

“Well I won’t if 50 other coaches do the same thing. Now if 50 of us do it. We can afford — I’m not the only guy that’s done well and been blessed. Well 50 of us do it. ‘That’s bad.’

“That’s the kind of common-sense stuff. Like, they want to act like I don’t want — ‘Well how much does he make?’ Well how much have I leveraged this position to do for other people? You all know it. No one else knows it. Now you want to go a step farther and that’s what we fight.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Did Julius Randle upgrade his NBA draft stock with his play in the NCAA Tournament? That’s the question I posed to Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com.

“I don’t think Randle did anything to hurt his draft value, and I think actually showing what he did well all along this season just reinforced people’s thoughts about him,” said Isaacson. “I see a player who could make an impact rather quickly and he still has room to improve. At worst, he is going to be a very good rebounder and efficient scorer around the basket.”

What about James Young, who did declare for the draft Thursday (Randle has yet to declare but likely will soon)?

“He’s still the same player he has been all along. He’s a very good athlete, but an inconsistent shooter and a poor defender,” Isaacson said. “But there will be teams that will be interested in him, but I don’t see any real value for him until you get into the 20′s.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

John Calipari revealed two tidbits that surprised me about his interview with Bill O’Reilly that was supposed to be to promote his new book but turned more into Calipari trying to defend the values in college athletics.

One, the UK coach said he was “scared to death” of the TV personality. Calipari scared? Never imagined that.

Second, O’Reilly, who is not a college basketball fans, told Calipari he wants to attend a game in Rupp Arena. Think how newsworthy that will be and how it will help promote the Cats.

Here’s everything Calipari said Thursday about his interview with O’Reilly:

“Well, first of all I want to tell you: Most of the interviews, I walked in, I knew people, I was very comfortable. You could tell. With Mr. O’Reilly, I was scared to death, yes. When I sat down with him – because I’d watched him, and I love when he gets after people; I just don’t want him to get after me. So, you know, he came at me with some questions, you have to understand at the time I didn’t care. I was just trying to protect myself. And I didn’t know where the dialogue would go because I don’t know him that way; I’ve never interviewed with him. He asked a couple questions that, you know, I could see someone who reads outlying stories would believe that’s what college athletics are about.

“But let me give him his due this way: Before we sat down to talk, I said, ‘So were you rooting for Connecticut?’ He said, ‘I’m not a big college basketball fan, so no.’ Kind of leads you to understand that he’s not into all the nuances of college basketball. That’s my defense of the questioning. But I hope when I left he said, ‘Maybe I gotta step back and look at this a little different.’ And the second thing he said: ‘I want to come to a game.’ Yeah. So he wants to come down to Lexington to a game. So at some point, we’ll have Bill O’Reilly in the first row, having to have police around him, because he is a rock star.”

Calipari said he was not surprised that the image O’Reilly had of UK’s program being corrupt and out of control was still out there.

“No. No. And again, people have an image of this program or me that I know is off base. It’s not accurate. But they have it. How was that generated? By stories, by agendas,” Calipari said. “People write a story: ‘I’m going to make this program or this guy look this way and everything I write, I’m not changing, even if I look ridiculous and my own credibility is at stake, I’m still going to do it.’ Well, you’re going to lose your job, your credibility. ‘I don’t care.’ It’s what we all deal with.”

Note: This release was sent by UK Athletics.

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky freshman All-Southeastern Conference selection James Young will forego his sophomore season and enter his name in this year’s NBA Draft.

“My time at Kentucky has been special to me, something I’ll always treasure, but I feel that I’m ready to take the next step to the NBA,” Young said. “I’ve learned more this year, on and off the court, about life from Coach Cal and the staff and appreciate all of their guidance and support. I can’t say enough about my teammates; the journey helped us build a bond that we will always share for the rest of our lives.  I would like to thank the best fans in the country, the Big Blue Nation, and I hope you guys will continue to support me as I move on. I will always bleed blue. Succeed and Proceed!”

The Rochester Hills, Mich., native knocked down a squad-best 82 3-pointers, the seventh most in a single season inprogram history and second most by a UK freshman. He shot 42.6 percent from behind the arc and better than 85 percent from the free-throw line in the NCAA Tournament.Young averaged 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in the Final Four en route to Final Four All-Tournament Team honors.

“I’m excited for James and his family and the decision he’s come to,” head coach John Calipari said. “From day one, the NBA people who came to our practices in the preseasonraved about him. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him all season, investing himself in his brothers for the betterment of the team, and I think we all saw the end result in the tournament and Final Four. Whatever team drafts James is not only getting a superb athlete, they are getting the ultimate teammate.”

Young collected All-SEC Second-Team and All-SEC Freshman Team honors after logging 30 double-figure scoring efforts on the season. He received national player of the week honors after delivering a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists) against No. 6/4 Louisville in the regular season. He followed that performance with a 26-point, 10-rebound performance in UK’s SEC opener against Mississippi State. It was one of his team-high nine 20-point efforts on the season.

The NBA Draft lottery is scheduled for May 20, and the 2014 NBA Draft will take place June 26.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — When John Calipari had his postseason meeting with sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kentucky coach said he “never even talked to him about coming back” to UK for another season.

Calipari had been in touch with 19 NBA general managers gathering information on the draft stock for his players after their NCAA title game loss to Connecticut and the consensus was that Cauley-Stein, despite the ankle injury he suffered in the NCAA tourney that ended his season, would be a mid-first round draft pick and likely lottery choice.

That’s why Calipari admitted Thursday he was a bit surprised when Cauley-Stein told him he would return to UK for his junior season.

Calipari said he reminded Cauley-Stein that when he came to see him in high school that one time he had a tennis racquet, another time he was playing wiffle ball and a third time he was playing kickball.

“I saw him play two football games with a 7-foot wide receiver and defensive back,” Calipari said.

Yet Cauley-Stein had reasons Calipari understood for wanting to return to UK.

“When he came back he said, ‘Coach, I am in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I will be close to my degree (in another year). I still have to grow as a player and we left something (a national title) on the table.’ That is a good answer for me,” Calipari said. “There is a reason you do this and I want to make sure they are all thinking this through.”

Calipari’s press conference Thursday was to promote his new book, but it focused on what players might be back at Kentucky. Freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, the two players considered most likely to leave for the NBA, were not at the press conference and Calipari did not mention them or any player other than Cauley-Stein by name.

He said again he met with his players to ask them if they wanted him to explore their NBA options. He noted a “couple” said no but he received feedback on one from general managers that he might potentally be a first-round pick. That’s when Calipari told the player — presumed to be freshman center Dakari Johnson — that he needed to “get with his mother and needed to know what you are passing on if you come back” for another season.

“I have to live with myself. I think you need to come back, you I want you to know is out there,” Calipari said he told the player.

Calipari said he talked with NBA sources again Wednesday and his information he wants to go directly to parents.

“I don’t want any filter. This is it (accurate information),” the coach said. “I told all the kids when I met back on campus that whatever decision you make to leave or come back, this basketball program 50 years from now will be fine. Don’t make it for me, make it for you. Whatever is right for you.”

Calipari wants his players, and others, to understand it is not a sign of failure to come back for a second year — or a third year as Cauley-Stein has done. He noted how Patrick Patterson returned for his junior season in Calipari’s first year at UK and is now in line to sign a lucrative NBA contract because of his recent play.

“You have to convince each kid that everyone is different and we have your back. You have to trust the process. The bottom line is developing people and players. Some are mature physically. Some are mature emotionally,” Calipari said. “If you are emotionally ready (for the NBA) and not physically ready, you are out of your mind (to leave school). If you are both, you are the number one pick in the draft like we have had before (with John Wall and Anthony Davis).

“You have to look at each of these situations and I am even doing it in homes when I am recruiting. One thing I am saying is you are not a failure if you come back for two, three or four years. Do not plan on coming to Kentucky for year. But it can’t just be me doing it. It has to be everybody out there. Staying in school more than one year is not a failure.”

He says Cauley-Stein is not back because of any concerns about his ankle. He had surgery last week by “the best doctor in the world,” according to Calipari.

“Willie still has a couple of months to go (before he can be full speed), but he will be fine,” Calipari said.

With Cauley-Stein set to return and sophomore Alex Poythress also likely to return, that would give Calipari two veteran players with national championship game experience to build on next season. Freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee both played in the game and will be back as well. If Johnson and along with freshman guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison returned, it would give Calipari his most experienced — and deepest — team in six years at UK.

“Obviously it makes my job different (if those players return) than it has been the last four years,” Calipari said. “That means everyone of the kids needs me in a different way. It will be more of a challenge in having juniors, sophomores and freshmen that all need something different.

“Our young kids coming in want guys to come back. Some say someone should maybe leave because of who is coming in. You think it would be easier against NBA guys than high school guys. That’s nuts.

“What you have to do is accept their decisions. They have gotten the information. They know the downside because I have given it to them and when they make that decision you live with it.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari did nothing to totally rule out a rumor that Kentucky might take an exhibition basketball trip to Spain this summer when asked about it Thursday.

“We will probably do something this summer, but there is not a total decision on what that will be,” said Calipari, who took a team to Canada in 2010. “It will probably be something with the World Games. That means we might get beat up because there will be NBA players on those teams, but it will be a good experience.”

Calipari also said he had yet to formally interview about possible candidates to replace Orlando Antigua on his coaching staff after he accepted the head coaching job at South Florida.

The UK coach said he had “not slowed down” since the title game loss to Connecticut because of recruiting and various media outings to promote his new book.

“I have not slowed down or I would think about that last game and it being a one-point game for five possessions and they eventually make a shot and then I would want to jump off a bridge,” Calipari joked. “I am not looking back.”

He did say he would slow down May 2nd when he has hip replacement surgery that will require about a one-month recovery.  His surgery will be done in Lexington.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Sophomore Alex Poythress and freshman Dakari Johnson are two Kentucky players that didn’t seem likely to put their name into the NBA draft when the NCAA Tournament started. However, both played well during UK’s tourney run and now continue to evaluate thei draft stock.

Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com, who has a terrific analysis of the Portsmouth Invitational at his website now, offered these insights on both Wildcats and their draft potential.

Poythress: “Poythress had some impressive moments this year when he stuck to the limited role of an energy guy off the bench. I’m not sure if he will really be able to provide much more next year, thus I don’t know if coming back for another year really helps him. There is still some untapped potential to go with his athleticism, and I think teams would take him in the top half of the second round this year or next.”

Johnson: “Johnson had some good moments in the second half of the season, but he also had as many moments where he looked lost. NBA teams will like his size no matter when he decides to come out, though his skill level on both ends of the floor still needs a lot of work. If he was to come out this year, even if he went at the end of the first round, he won’t get the playing time and attention he needs to develop quicker than he would with another year at Kentucky where he will likely be a key player next year. I’m just not sure he has shown enough to guarantee he is in the first round of this draft.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

As Kentucky fans wait to see what twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison are going to decide about the NBA draft, speculation continues as to exactly what type of information that might be getting from NBA sources.

Some indicate the twins could both be late first-round picks. Some say neither will go in the first round. Some reports have the twins playing regular pick-up games at UK now, a sign they could be more focused on next year at Kentucky than the NBA draft.

I asked Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com, who has a terrific analysis of the Portsmouth Invitational at his website now, if the Harrisons helped their draft status with their NCAA Tournament play and how would he evaluate their status today. Here’s what he said:

“While Aaron Harrison provided some tremendous moments, he really was a non-factor for much of the tournament. Andrew did well when he stuck to the one thing he is very good at, driving to the basket and drawing fouls,” said Isaacson. “At points you could see the ‘tweak’ that was implemented to get him to pass more, but the results were too inconsistent to say it was a factor in the tournament run.

“If they were to come out, I don’t see them gaining any real value from the tournament run, and if they were to make a move up the draft, it would have to come in stellar showings during workouts. If they were to come out, I have a hard time thinking they drop out of the first round, but I would put Aaron’s value in the low 20′s and Andrew’s in the high 20′s to mid 30′s.

“There is still plenty of potential in both of them, but, as I’ve mentioned many times, changes need to start with their attitude on the court.”

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