Most Recent Posts
- Even UK football coach Mark Stoops did not expect this much fan support at Kentucky
- Video: UK softball coach Rachel Lawson previews the Super Regional clash against Arizona State
- ESPN.com’s Jason King seems to have logical rankings going into next season
- Mark Stoops on John Calipari: “I love being around him”
- UK football coach Mark Stoops understands that hiring Vince Marrow was a home run for Kentucky
- Video: Larry hears cowbells, makes a chocolate cow and soaks up the culture in Switzerland
- Video: UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown talks about recruiting the home state of Kentucky
- What role did Drew Barker’s mother play in his athletic development?
By LARRY VAUGHT
Even without Andrew Wiggins there still should not be any doubt that Kentucky has assembled the nation’s all-time best recruiting class.
Kentucky coach John Calipari still has a record six McDonald’s All-Americans — Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee — in this recruiting class. And don’t forget that junior Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore Alex Poythress were both McDonald’s All-Americans.
So there’s no shortage of talent for next year. Remember, sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein is also being mentioned as a possible NBA draft lottery pick and freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis have unique talents of their own. Plus, with no Wiggins, it should clear the way for both Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood to stay on scholarship one more year.
“The immediate impact of Kentucky getting Wiggins is that this is without doubt the greatest recruiting class of all time,” said Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy. “There’s no more room for argument about that.”
“Kentucky has got the No. 1 player (in the recruiting class) at every position on the floor except for Wiggins in a highly talented class,” Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy said. “There are certain years you could get the No. 1 guys and still not have an extraordinary year like the 2008-09 group. But this is a very highly talented group. You could take Andrew Wiggins out of this class and put Jabari Parker or Julius Randle No. 1 and it would still be very strong. Kentucky will still have overwhelming strength and athleticism at every position. ”
And as I suggested about a month ago, Kentucky’s chemistry could be better without Wiggins. Not because Wiggins is a problem, but because even Calipari can only work so much magic with a loaded roster. He has guys that expect to play, and should play.
The Harrison twins and Randle are all dynamic, forceful leaders. Johnson, Lee and Young all seem to be team-oriented, not me-oriented, players.
Cauley-Stein will be a leader in a less intense way than the Harrisons or Randle. Poythress may not be a vocal leader, but he’ll be a better player. And Wiltjer’s experience on and off the court could be invaluable to the freshmen.
Wiggins would have been a terrific addition. But let Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook editor Chris Dortch put this in perspective for UK fans. Here’s what he said when I asked him what impact not getting Wiggins would have on UK: “Zero. It’s still the best class of all time.”
And still likely more than enough to have UK ranked No. 1 going into next season — even without Wiggins.
Leaving his mark is important for Cincinnati’s Jaleel Hytchye. That’s why he’s “grinding” his way through track season now in hopes of winning a state championship before he heads to Kentucky to try and help rejuvenate the football program under new coach Mark Stoops.
“I am focusing on track, but I am lifting (weights) to get stronger and hopefully I’ll make a run at a state championship and leave a legacy as far as that goes,” Hytchye, a cornerback, said. “I am working out with my trainer.”
Track season has had “ups and downs” for him because he keeps aggravating a hamstring injury.
“It has been nagging me every time I step on the track,” Hytchye said.
Still, he has Ohio’s best time in the 100-meter dash and second best in the 200-meter dash — and he’s not run the 200 since the first meet of the track season.
“I have an opportunity to win state. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and fresh (for the state meet June 7-8),” Hytchye said.
That state meet will keep Hytchye from reporting to UK quite as early in June as some Stoops’ recruits, but he plans to be on campus by June 20.
“I came down for the spring game. I am actually part of the reason that (running back) Mikel Horton committed. I took him and (Conner quarterback) Drew Barker out to meet fans,” Hytchye said. “I got to meet a lot of folks. I knew that big crowd was coming. I have seen how great the Kentucky fans are. Once they get even more reason to believe, I know how passionate they are. It’s just a matter of giving them hope and Stoops gave them hope. I knew they would have a big turnout at the spring game. I am ready to rock and roll right now.”
What about UK’s chances with Barker, who will make his commitment public Friday?
“We’ve got to get him on the team,” Hytchye said.
Same goes for Hytchye’s teammate, receiver Derek Keif. He’s a 6-5 receiver who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and averaged 90 yards per game for LaSalle High School as a junior. He’s got offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame and Alabama.
“He’s interested in Kentucky. I think it is between them, Alabama and Ohio State,” Hytchye said. “I basically leave him alone, but I do try to influence him a bit. I don’t want him to think he should go to UK just because I did. But I have told him with the type player he is, he would thrive at Kentucky. It’s the perfect opportunity for him. He loves it, too. It’s just a matter that he wants to take his time. As he gets closer to a decision, I will talk to him more.”
Hytchye said practicing against Keif and other Division I receivers LaSalle has produced “is what got me better” the last few years. “I go agains the best every day. Not every high school player gets to do that,” Hytchye said. “Derek catches the ball so well. He has real good body control and is great at catching the ball. He’ll be great in college.”
That’s why Hytchye has worked so hard to get Keif and others to Kentucky. He was the first player to verbally commit to UK after Stoops was hired. Hytchye — his father is Cuban and that’s where his name come froms — became a fan favorite on Twitter (his screen name is @TheRealLeel_9). He’s ranked as one of the nation’s top 50 cornerbacks by some recruiting services and has run the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. He had scholarship offers from Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Purdue, and Vanderbilt as well others.
“I feel even better about Kentucky now than I did then,” Hytchye said. “It felt right for me and I wanted to be the first high school commit and be the one to get it rolling for the rest of the class. I know I have a shot to play and make early contributions. I have a lot of goals set in the SEC to make a name for myself on campus. I don’t think I could have made a better decision.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Rather than feel miffed over not getting an immediate scholarship offer from Kentucky, Bowling Green receiver Nacarius Fant is more than willing to come to UK’s camp on June 8 and show what he can do. Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown recently watched Fant practice and told him he liked his “footwork” and other things.
“He wants me to come to camp June 8 and compete against SEC type cornerbacks in the 2014 (recruiting) class,” said Fant. “Once he sees that — and he has to make sure I am the type receiver he’s looking for — and I prove I can play one on one versus elite players, then the offer will come.
“I don’t want to be bragging or sounding cocky. But I am a confident person and very competitive person. I am really looking forward to June 8 and showing what I can do.”
Bowling Green coach Kevin Wallace believes the 5-9 1/2, 175-pound Fant, a three-star recruit, says Fant “is gifted with great ball skills” and a special player.
“He has an unusual talent of having the awareness of how to put his body in position to get to the football. He is attentive to detail, is very coachable and makes good use of video to aid his improvement,” Wallace said. “Nacarius has a good blend of confidence and desire to improve, a necessary combination to play at an elite level.
He’s not a big player, but Wallace says that does not deter him on the field.
“He understands how to get open, catches the football and has great ability to make players miss in the open field,” the Bowling Green coach said. “As he gets stronger, I thinks his speed will improve. Both of those ingredients will help him as his career continues.”
Fant has scholarship offers from Western Kentucky and Illinois. He’s heard from Louisville, Indiana, Cincinnati and Purdue. He expects more teams to make contact soon.
“I’m going to the Louisville camp the week after the Kentucky camp and I am trying to get into the Tennessee camp, too,” Fant said. “The camps are a great chance to show what I can do. I’ve been invited to several, so I just have to decide which ones are best for me.”
Fant, who grew up a fan of former Florida great Percy Harvin, list footwork, good hands and how to fend off defenders as his strengths.
“People are surprised with how I can go up and get the ball for my size,” Fant said. “I love to go get the ball.”
He’s had ankle issues and recently ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds at a combine.
“I am not a combine guy and not really a 40-yard dash guy,” Fant said. “I am not as fast as some, but I use other weapons to get away from defenders. I think I play way faster than my 40 time shows. I like people to see me in person on the field and see the way I play rather than judge me based on a time.
“Me and coach Brown talked about my speed. The only thing that worries him is me going against SEC players. We don’t have Division I players playing cornerback here. That’s why he wants to see how I do at camp. But that’s fine because any receiver would want to play in that Air Raid offense.”
Ohio receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass had several big-name football programs that wanted him to make campus visits. Instead, he ended his recruitment by announcing Friday he would sign with Kentucky in February.
“You could almost predict it because that was the place he visited the most and kept coming back for more,” said Springfield High School coach Eric Gillespie. “He liked the school, the staff, the players. I try to give my kids a perspective of how important a life decision this is and all the factors that should go into it. Some kids love all the attention that goes with this today, some don’t.
“I try to tell my kids this is not just a football decision. You have to fit on the campus, have to be able to get the major you want. How far is it to the school. I presented all those questions to him so he could make a well-informed decision because everywhere he was looking at had great facilities, good coaches. But he told me, ‘I’ve seen enough.’ That’s when I knew Kentucky was it for him.”
The 6-1 Snodgrass, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, is ranked among the nation’s top 200 prospects and is the highest ranked receiver ever to commit to UK. He had narrowed his choices to South Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Kentucky before picking the Cats.
“Kids in general are not real history buffs and don’t romanticize about football like I did as a kid. So I don’t know if he’s even aware he’s the highest rated receiver to ever commit there,” Gillespie said. “I think he just liked everybody and feels this is the right spot for him.
“I also think the distance to Lexington is good for him. We are in the heart of Big Ten country, but we are two hours away from a SEC school. That is a rarity and made a difference with him. He’s away from home playing in the SEC, but he can also get in his car and get home for a weekend if he has a break.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s offense also helped sway Snodgrass, who did attend the Blue-White Game Saturday after making his verbal commitment a day earlier.
“He did mention how much he likes the offense,” Gillespie said.
The coach says Snodgrass’ commitment to Kentucky was well received by Springfield fans.
“Kentucky resonates here. Kids from here think Kentucky is big-time,” Gillespie said. “They really have a (recruiting) platform to build on here and I think coach (Mark) Stoops understands that. If UK walks in, it means a lot more than if Indiana or Illinois (out of the Big Ten) does. Kentucky creates a buzz here.”
Since Snodgrass cannot sign with the Wildcats until February, other schools likely will continue to recruit him and hope to change his mind. Recently Alabama linebacker Denzel Ware withdrew his verbal commitment to UK. However, Gillespie thinks Snodgrass “is done” and does not expect him to attend camps or combines this summer.
“I told him to be sure when he made his choice. Now as long as nothing changes on Kentucky’s end, nothing should change on his end,” the coach said. “He needs to be true to his word and will. It’s not legally binding, but you should stand by your commitment. If Kentucky goes to the Wishbone or a position coach leaves, then that’s different. But if nothing changes at Kentucky, he will stay committed.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
What is Andrew Wiggins going to do? Is the Huntington (W.Va.) Prep standout going to pick Kentucky, Florida State, North Carolina or Kansas?
Wiggins has set no timetable for when he might pick a school, and a source close to him says that decision might not come quite as quickly as some are expecting from the nation’s top-ranked prep player.
“I can make arguments for why he might pick any of his four final choices. At the end of the day I think that Andrew will choose based on his comfort level with the school and the coaches,” the source said. “I have no idea how he’s leaning. No one knows but Andrew and he may not know yet. I think it will still be some time before he’s ready to announce a decision. He has some big games coming up and I think he will be focused on those for the next few weeks.”
Wiggins will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago Wednesday. He has the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit to follow later in April.
However, don’t doubt that UK fans in the Huntington area could help influence Wiggins’ decision.
“The BBN is alive and well in Huntington and the Tri-state area. I think even non-Kentucky fans would enjoy seeing Andrew at Kentucky because it will make it easy to follow him in college. Canada is his home but I think he has enjoyed his time in Huntington. I hope being close to his second home will be a plus in the Kentucky column,” the source said.
“Andrew is well deserving of all the accolades he has received. He’s a phenomenally skilled athlete and player. He makes big plays look easy. I’ve seen him play now for two years and am still amazed by what he does. It’s fun to bring someone to a game who has never seen him and see their reactions. We will be watching Andrew Wiggins highlights for years to come. Off the court he’s a sweetheart. Can’t help but want to see him succeed.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Five-star recruit Julius Randle of Texas made it official today that he will play his college basketball at Kentucky.
Randle had narrowed his choices to six schools but the consensus for several weeks was that he would either pick Kentucky or Kansas.
Randle’s coach, Chris Mayberry, knows he’s biased but he thinks the 6-9 Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian standout is even better than he’s being given credit for.
“I think he can play anything from one (point guard) to five (center),” said Mayberry. “I really mean that he’s not just the best player in the country, but he’s going to be the best for a long time. There are a lot of talented players out there, but I’ve seen him up close for a few years now and he is that good. He’s just extra special.”
Kentucky was his first visit back in September while Kansas got a visit in mid-February.
Randle is the No. 2 ranked prospect in the 2013 recruiting class by 247Sports.
Kentucky and Kansas already have the top two recruiting classes in the country and both are also still recruiting Huntington Prep star Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 ranked player, and UK is in the hunt for California combo forward Aaron Gordon, a top five player also.
Gordon has indicated he will make his college choice at the McDonald’s All-American game on April 3 in Chicago. He’s down to Arizona, Washington, Kentucky and Oregon. Most recruiting analysts believe that Gordon will opt to play for one of the Pac-12 schools.
Wiggins has not set an announcement date.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Normally John Calipari holds his press conferences before practice on the day before Kentucky plays. Today he changed that — but he had a good reason.
Calipari was in Rupp Arena to watch Madison Central beat Wayne County in the opening game of the state tournament because he wanted to watch Central star Dominique Hawkins play.
Hawkins scored 25 points in an 81-56 win. The 6-1 senior hit 11 of 17 from the floor on mostly layups.
Hawkins’ cousin is former Central and UK standout Marquis Estill, who is now a UK graduate assistant. Hawkins remembers going to watch Estill play in high school
“He has put a bug in their (UK coaches) ear about me. That’s one reason they are calling,” Hawkins said after the game.
He said the UK staff had talked to his coach about scholarship possibilities.
“They have one left, so hopefully they might give it to me,” Hawkins said.
He said he didn’t know how decisions by top five players Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins, who have UK in their final lists of schools, could impact his chances of joining the Wildcats.
He has four offers, including Western Kentucky and Morehead. He’s visited Western, the first school that offered him a scholarship.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Chris Dortch, the editor of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, isn’t sure how recruits Julius Randle or Andrew Wiggins will be impacted by Dakari Johnson’s decision to join Kentucky’s elite recruiting class.
“But it has to be intriguing to either one of them to consider joining that great class. Should that happen, and I’m no recruiting analyst, wouldn’t that have to be the best class of all time?” Dortch said.
And how good could Kentucky be next year even if Wiggins and/or Randle aren’t Wildcats?
“I’ll reserve judgment to see how many freshman stay around. But even if they don’t, this class is shaping up to be epic, and Kentucky will have a chance to do great things despite being so young,” Dortch said. “It’s an overlooked fact that Kentucky doesn’t just recruit five-star players. It recruits five-star players that, for the most part, want to work, want to be coached and want to get better.”
Dortch says if freshmen Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin are projected as NBA draft lottery picks, it would be “hard to turn that down” to stay at Kentucky another year.
“Having said that, maybe one of them may be intrigued about the possibility of returning to a team that will be so loaded,” he said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s big enough to play cornerback and match up with speedy receivers, but he also could put on weight and play safety. That versatility is why so many colleges, including Kentucky and Louisville, are recruiting Lima, Ohio, standout Darius West.
“He has 10 or 11 offers, but I think the thing that has happened with Darius is that he has garnered a lot of Big Ten interest and now is trying to get some SEC interest,” said coach Jerry Cooper.
Cooper says West has offers from Big Ten schools Illinois, Purdue and Penny State along with interest from Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. He has an offer from Louisville as well as ones from Cincinnati, West Virginia, Central Florida, Bowling Green, Toledo and Missouri. Oregon, Tennessee, Baylor, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Arkansas have all shown interest in West.
“He stopped by Kentucky because he is real interested in trying to find SEC teams willing to offer,” Cooper said. “He is trying to get SEC interest so his stock will rise a little bit in the eyes of big-time Big Ten programs.”
Cooper said he’s just a fraction under 6-1 and weighs 190 pounds.
“His strength is really good. He is bench pressing about 275 (pounds) now. Couple that size with strength and phenomenal speed — he ran a 4.4 (40-yard dash) at a combine a year ago and you have somebody with size and speed to be a potential corner. Those guys have to be fast enough to cover and also big enough to face those big wideouts. If he can’t play corner, put weight on him and move him inside,” Cooper said. “Schools see him as a dual position guy and that has really helped his stock rise. Most Big Ten schools started on him as a corner, but now that seems to have transferred more to a safety.”
West, a four-star recruit, wants for his parents to be able to see him play in college, which could be a plus for Kentucky.
“He drew a circle around Lima and went out about five or six hours to places where his dad would be able to drive after working on Friday or getting up on Saturday and see him play,” Cooper said.
Kentucky also has the benefit of coach Mark Stoops’ name being so prominent in Ohio.
“Those Stoops brothers are all well known here. Their dad was a long-time coach at Youngstown. Those guys all have Ohio roots,” Cooper said. “There is an abundance of talent in Ohio. Stoops is going to come in here and see if he can get a kid or two, especially with Kentucky being so close. It’s not that far to Lexington to be able to play in the SEC and get to go against LSU, Florida, Alabama. I think that is an intriguing possibility to Darius.
“Schools are now realizing how thick and strong and explosive he is, and his stock is going up. I just hope he continues to play well and impresses people, but I know he liked what he saw at Kentucky.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Coach Craig Brownson assumed based on the way twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison have played for Travis High School in Texas that they would be in line for postseason honors. However, even the coach has been impressed by the all-star invitations the two Kentucky signees have received.
They will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago, Jordan Brand Classic in Brooklyn and Nike Hoop Summit in Portland.
“I just always assumed they would be McDonald’s All-Americans, but I never knew for sure,” said Brownson, who plans to be in Chicago with his wife for the April 3 game. “I knew they were on the nominee list. Actually, I think having twin brothers playing probably helps sell the games even more. It’s a no-brainer for media coverage, but they were also both very deserving for their fantastic seasons and careers. Hopefully, this is just the start of fantastic things for them.”
At the Nike Hoop Summit, they will play against a team of world all-star players.
“That was a heck of an honor. I didn’t know that much about the game, but once I found out I knew what a big deal that was,” Brownson said. “They did some summer stuff with Team USA last year and this is a huge honor for them and hopefully a step toward representing our country down the road in the Olympics.”
They will obviously be teammates the Nike Hoop Summit and will play on the same team in the McDonald’s All-American Game. However, they will be on opposite teams in the Jordan Brand Classic.
“I don’t know why they would put two players from the same house on different teams, but they did,” Brownson said. “They have played against each other in some camps, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
Brownson actually coached against his players in an all-star game held in conjunction with the 2012 Final Four and he found it odd the two didn’t play often together in that game. “They know each other so well, you want them playing together,” Brownson said.
Andrew Harrison’s play has been limited this season by a hamstring he pulled a few weeks after playing in the Marshall County Hoop Fest in Benton Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
“He missed a couple of games, came back, hurt it again. It has been a nagging injury,” Brownson said. “Aaron has had a great yar. He’s averaging bout 24 points a game. Andrew is finally as close to as healthy as he has been but it has been a hard year for him. Speed and power are so much of his game and it was tough for him not playing. He is such a competitor.
“And once he went down, defenses just loaded up on Aaron. It’s been a challenging year for both of them, but hopefully they have learned through adversity and this year will turn out to be a blessing for them at Kentucky because of what they have learned.”