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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.”
Artist Jason Robichau of Phoenix says he’s a huge college basketball fan who cannot watch enough of March Madness each year. That led him to start three years ago to putting together a painting of the national championship team.
His newest print is, “The Pursuit of Gr8ness,” in honor of Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team.
“I just want to try and commemorat the national champion each year,” said Robichau. “I decided to do a painting of the team’s run to the national title and for Kentucky it just seemed right to pick the eight primary players who played significant time and put them around (John) Calipari to go with the eight national titles.”
Kentucky players Darius Miller, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, Kyle Wiltjer, Doron Lamb and Eloy Vargas are shown with Calipari as he holds up the national championship trophy.
“I compiled various images to use in the background, too,” Robichau. “I tried to get every player on the team in the background, too. They are all there.”
The background includes Davis blocking Cody Zeller’s shot, Kidd-Gilchrist scoring against Baylor and the team’s visit to the White House.
“It takes so long to do these because I want them to be something fans want to keep around. But I plan to keep doing this every year,” he said. “It is kind of hard to get the word out, especially when you don’t live in the area where the team is from. However, once word gets out a lot of fans buy it and that’s why I try to make sure every player on the team is included.
Go to http://www.jasonrobichau.com/pursuit-of-gr8ness-lithograph for more information or contact Robichau at email@example.com. The limited edition lithograph prints are normally $50 but can be purchased now for $25.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Before the season started, Kentucky had three freshmen — Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin — already projected as lottery picks in the 2013 June NBA draft.
Not long after the season started, freshman Willie Cauley-Stein did enough on the court to put himself into the same type of lofty draft status even though he didn’t make his first start until Saturday after Noel was lost for the season due to a knee injury.
The expectations were nothing new for UK freshmen. Back in 2010, Kentucky had four freshmen — John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe — all picked in the first round. Last year the Cats had three freshmen — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague — all go in round one. Back in 2011, freshman Brandon Knight was a first-round pick and so was Enes Kanter even though he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and never played a game all year.
But this season has not quite gone the way many expected. Noel was leading the nation in blocked shots when he was hurt and still seems a lock to be a top five pick at worse. However, the other three freshmen have been consistently inconsistent in UK’s 17-8 season. Kentucky has gone from a preseason top five team considered a Final Four contender to a team desperately looking for a way to just keep a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Against Tennessee Saturday, Poythress was 2-for-4 from the field and had four points, two rebounds and one turnover in 20 minutes before fouling out. Goodwin was 2-for-9 from the field and had seen points, four assists, four turnovers and two rebounds in 34 minutes. Cauley-Stein was 1-for-4 from the field and had two points, two rebounds, two blocks and four turnovers in 23 minutes. That means the trio had 13 points, six rebounds and nine turnovers in 77 minutes.
Yet go to nbadraft.net and its mock draft has Noel going fourth, Cauley-Stein 10th, Poythress 19th and Goodwin 20th in the June draft.
What gives? How do those numbers justify top 20 picks?
That’s what I asked a NBA scout who has seen UK play. He can’t comment publicly on draftable players, but he basically said not to believe all mock drafts because where teams project players can be far different. He noted that Goodwin has a “bad release on his shots” and that Poythress has a “lot of wasted motion” in his game. He questioned Cauley-Stein’s “focus and game speed” in key situations. He also didn’t think Noel’s injury would scare many teams or dramatically alter his draft status.
But I remember former UK all-American Kyle Macy telling me once that players should enter the draft when their stock is the highest. Teague did that last year. So did Doron Lamb. So did Bledsoe and even Orton two three years ago. DeAndre Liggins did the same two years ago. What if Goodwin, Poythress and Cauley-Stein sense their draft stock has dropped? Would coming back make it higher considering the recruiting class Calipari already has — and may add to — could likely dictate less playing time for all three next year?
“Some guys just don’t mature as the same rate as others,” the NBA scout said. “It happens all the time across the country. It’s just not been the norm with the one-and-done guys at Kentucky. But everybody is not one-and-done.”
It’s still hard to try to put into words just how bad Kentucky was in Saturday’s 88-58 loss at Tennessee — and the game really wasn’t as close as the 30-point margin might indicate. So to try and explain what happen to the Cats in their first game without injured Nerlens Noel, I went back through my postgame notes looking for quotes to shed light on this epic collapse by the Cats.
— Kentucky coach John Calipari: “We have a couple of guys who are not real coachable. You tell them over and over and over again what you want to do, and they do their own thing. When they realize that if we don’t do this all together, that we are going to have more of these (losses) it will change.”
Calipari did not name the players who are not “coachable” but he didn’t start sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow or freshman forward Alex Poythress and then he told freshman Archie Goodwin during the game that he “could not coach him.” So you draw your own conclusions on who Calipari meant.
But this is the first time in four seasons at UK that Calipari has not been able to get through to players. He has had some — Daniel Orton, Demarcus Cousins, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson, Terrence Jones — he did not always see eye-to-eye with but they all eventually listened and improved. That was not happening with this team even before Noel went down.
— Tennessee guard Trae Golden: “I don’t think I saw them quit.”
That was his attempt to be tactful when asked if he thought Kentucky quit after the game got out of hand. Or maybe he couldn’t tell since most of the Wildcats never seemed all that enthused from the start. Tennessee beat UK to loose balls, drove inside at will and dominated the boards 39-21.
“We were all saying if we could just blow them out, and you know it happened that way,” Golden said.
Calipari didn’t use the quit when talking about his team, but he sure let his thoughts on his players’ effort be known. “I have to do my thing on what we are going to do offensively and defensively, but we (the coaches) can’t go out there and play for them,” Calipari said.
We can’t go out there and battle for them. We can’t want it more than they do.”
— Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes: “They are not a soft team. I feel like they have to get adjusted to playing without Nerlens is part of it.”
The Vols were obviously more physical but Stokes, who almost came to UK but there was no scholarship for him midway of last season, didn’t want to be too hard on Kentucky after admitting “I am friends with a lot of those guys still.”
Calipari was a bit more blunt. “They were stronger with the ball. We just had passive guys who did not want to make plays,” Calipari said.
— Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin: “I thought he did a great job running the team and being Trae Golden. Attacking the rim, making plays, and when that happens everything else falls in line.”
Tennessee’s point guard had 24 points, eight assists and got to the foul line 12 times. Harrow, UK’s starter most of the season, had no points, rebounds or assists. Polson had 11 points and four rebounds, but even his best effort wasn’t nearly enough to keep Golden out of the lane or creating for teammates.
Kentucky has been used to that type of point guard play from John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague. Harrow has shown flashes of brilliance, but nothing consistent like those three and in the biggest games he’s not been able to deliver like what Golden did.
“Your shooters are ready to shoot the ball, dribble, penetrate, and they have to identify five guys as apposed to two or three guys. We got better with our offense, the floor really opened up and I think that all starts with Trae Golden. When he plays the way we expect him to play, everything falls in line and it becomes a fun game,” Martin said.
— Calipari: “This team hadn’t beaten us in awhile, kind of like Florida. Now, this was their chance to get that wounded animal. They rode the car over us a couple of times—over and back, over and back.”
And do you think Tennessee is the only Southeastern Conference team that would like to put a beatdown on a wounded Wildcat? Next comes Vanderbilt, a team UK was lucky to beat in Nashville with Noel. After that the ESPN GameDay crew rolls into Lexington for Missouri’s first game in Rupp Arena. Those teams have to be wishing the games were today and will come in with absolutely no fear of No-Noel UK.
“We didn’t really mention Noel being out that much, but Coach told us to get to the rim. Without Noel, it worked,” Stokes said. “Noel is probably the best shot blocker in college basketball and not having him made a huge difference. But we also shot the ball great, so that also made a difference.”
It did. But it is a lot easier to shoot with no pressure and that’s what the UK defense gave the Vols — no pressure and many easy looks.
“We had two or three guys in this game who couldn’t play—they just couldn’t get open and play,” Calipari said.
— Stokes: “I think Kentucky is a very good team. I love coach Calipari. I think he is a great coach. They will be fine.”
Fine? Probably defends on the definition of fine. UK has six games left and now probably has to win four to be back in NCAA Tournament contention — and it’s hard to imagine any scenario where UK will win four of the next six games. Calipari has been working four months without getting his team to listen or play tougher, so why think that will change in the next three weeks.
“We’ll get back. I’ve done this 20-something years and I’ve had this happen. The question is: Will they respond coming back. The only way that you can respond is to change. We have to realize that the things that we are doing aren’t right.”
Maybe his players know that after being embarrassed Saturday, but previous losses and Noel’s injury certainly did nothing to inspire a greater effort out of most of the Cats at Tennessee.
By LARRY VAUGHT
The numbers looked impressive for Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow — 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting, four assists and one turnover. However, Kentucky coach John Calipari was not overly pleased with his sophomore point guard after Tuesday’s 77-55 win over South Carolina. Calipari emphasized that he wanted to see more “touching” out Harrow to encourage teammates.
“I mean, physically, you touch them all the time. You’re always near them. You’re touching them. You’re talking to them. We’re trying to get them in that mode. It’s just not natural for him,” said Calipari. “He’s more of a, I want to be laid back when I play, and you all know you can’t play that way.
“We’re just trying to convince them that when he does play the right way, I believe he’s as good as any point guard in the country. The other guy is not really that good. The one that plays aggressive and is low to the ground, talking to his teammates, he’s as good as any point guard in the country. The other guy shouldn’t be on the court as much, so we’re just trying to convince him of what he’s got to be. He’s got to buy into that, surrender to it, and just go do it.
“Think about what I’m saying. I’m not saying make more shots. I’m not saying be better with the ball. I’m saying play with more intensity, play lower, play rougher, talk to your teammates more, be more into the game. He can do it. That’s all we’ve been driving him for.”
Here is what Harrow had to say about his play, his coach’s comments and more after Tuesday’s win.
Question: Does Calipari ever tell you that you can be as good as any point guard in the country?
Harrow: “He says that but I just have to keep working and try to pick my energy up as much as I can and do whatever I can to help the team on the defensive end and running the team on the offensive end.”
Question: Do you notice anything similar to last year’s team as far as energy and finishing off games?
Harrow: “I think this was one of the first times we actually played the whole game through keeping the lead and playing good defense and helping each other. Last year’s team, they did that a lot. We just have to keep on working and it starts in practice.”
Question: What did it mean to have Willie Cauley-Stein (13 points, six rebounds) back playing?
Harrow: “He helped us out a lot with his energy when we really needed it. He is going to run the floor and play defense hard. When he has his offensive game going, it makes it a lot easier for all of us.”
Question: Did you know Florida lost at Arkansas?
Harrow: “Coach told us they lost to Arkansas. That was big. He said we were one game away from being number one (in the SEC). We have to keep working and be ready to play.”
Question: Will you ever be tough enough for Calipari?
Harrow: “No. I think he is always going to want me to be tougher even when I try to be tough because he wants the best out of me. He just wants me to be the best point guard in the nation and he sees that in me. He is going to be hard on me at all times.”
Question: What does he want you to do to show him how tough you can be?
Harrow: “Just playing through bumps. Playing good defense. Not stopping on screens. Stuff like that.”
Question: Does he ever mean it more mentally than physically?
Harrow: “He talks about my mental, too. Just staying upbeat and telling guys to … and keep cheering them on and stuff like that.”
Question: Is that just part of being a point guard for Calipari and did you see that with Marquis Teague last year?
Harrow: “Yes. Just what he wants his point guard to do. He wants his point guard to run the team. He just wants to sit back and have his point guard do it, but he has to help us out.”
Question: Do you see a point this year where he could just sit back and let you run the team?
Harrow: “I hope so but I still have some work to do.”
Question: Why did you spend more time on the bench the second half? Any message to you?
Harrow: “Just energy and I had got three fouls, so they had to sit me down.”
Question: Have you ever had a coach tell you to ‘touch’ your teammates more?
Harrow: “No. That’s Steve Nash (of the Los Angeles Lakers). He watched him and just how he just goes up to players and touches them. One game he touched them over 100 times. I don’t know. Just like, ‘Good job.’”
Question: With your personality will that be hard for you to do?
Harrow: “No, it’s just you don’t think about going up and just by a little touch meaning something. If Steve Nash can do it, I can do it.”
Question: Do you know what Calipari meant last week when he said all the players had to love being around men more?
Harrow: “I have no clue. I didn’t even know he said that. I don’t know what that means.”
Question: Do you consider guard Jarrod Polson a tough guy?
Harrow: “Yes. He goes in there and plays hard and plays with energy and gets tough rebounds. That’s what Coach likes. He is always telling me to watch what Jarrod does and try to implement that into my game. Coach tells him to be tough against me in practice because that is what everybody in the conference will try to do to me and play me physical.”
Question: Did you notice that South Carolina coach Frank Martin just sat down the last 10 minutes because he said when his team quits playing, he quits coaching?
Harrow: “I watched the whole game. I have seen him go off on people and I noticed that he was real chill. I don’t know what was going on. He is just sitting down. I was like, ‘He has really calmed down from when I saw him before.’ I thought the guys were trying to play hard. We just had a really good night tonight.”
Question: Do you ever envision a scenario where Calipari would sit down for 10 minutes in any game?
Harrow: “No. Even if we don’t do anything wrong, if a bad call or something happens he is going to jump right out of that seat and let somebody hear it.”
Question: Has he told the team he is going to quit coaching intensity and effort?
Harrow: “Yeah. He tells us that all the time. But I think it is just in him to let people know when they don’t give enough energy.”
Question: What about facing Auburn for a second time Saturday?
Harrow: “We just have to do the same thing we did the first game. We are going to prepare Thursday and Friday for them and just come out and be ready to play because we know they are going to try and get revenge on us.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari had a long list of potential problems facing his Kentucky Wildcats early in the season — difficult opening games with Maryland and Duke, lack of experienced players, huge expectations coming off a national championship season.
Yet it wasn’t hard for him to explain Thursday during UK’s Media Day what he likes about his freshman-dominated team.
“I like what they’ll look like in March in my mind. Right now, that’s the only thing I can live with,” said Calipari. “I have a vision of what they’re going to be in March, and that’s what I try to drive them to. I know it’s there and we’re right here.
“I’m going to try to be as patient — I’m not the most patient guy, but I’m going to try to be as patient as I can to drag them along. We were patient last year with (point guard) Marquis Teague, and it paid off, didn’t it? We had people say you can’t play him at point guard. Let somebody else play the point guard, and we let it go. We just said we’re sticking to this, and we’re going to be patient with him. We were, and by the end of the year he was the best point guard in my opinion.”
Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer is the only returning Wildcat with any real game experience. Senior transfer Julius Mays has played three years at North Carolina State and Wright State, though, and understands why Calipari is warning his team that an 0-2 start is possible despite UK being ranked in the top five of preseason polls after losing its top seven players from last year.
“We are a young team. We might not start the season playing as well as you want, but I think he is trying to humble us,” Mays said of Calipari. “I think it is trying to keep our minds off what last year’s team did and just know that nothing is going to be handed to us coming into the season.
“Since the team did win last year, we are going to be everybody’s national championship game and we are going to get everybody’s best game.”
Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein knows this team that will also feature freshmen Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein, will be compared to the national championship team that had star freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague.
“It puts a target on your back. They were beating everyone so badly last year and we have a target on our back to see if we are going to be as good as them or if we are going to fall,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s the biggest challenge we have. We can’t compare ourselves to them. We just need to keep going out there and playing and doing whatever coach Cal tells us to do and being effective about it.”
Calipari hinted that veterans like Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow and Jon Hood might tell the UK freshmen that they soon will be hearing a lot more that they will be expected to do.
“The guys that came back will tell the young guys you have not seen him yet. He’s all friendly and happy go lucky. Wait till we start practicing and it gets close to a game and the pressure is on,” Calipari said. “You’re going to see a different animal. They’ve already told those guys. Right now, yeah, he’s all happy and hugging you. Wait until we start playing. You’re going to see this other guy that you don’t recognize right now. That’s what they tell them.
“Whenever whatever I ask our guys to do, they’ll do it. I just have to make sure whatever I ask them is the right thing. You talk about playing zone. If I choose to do that, I just hope it’s the right thing, or what kind of zone. We’re going to change some different offenses. Well, let’s hope it’s right. Because whatever I tell them to do, they’ll do. We’ve got a great group that understood coming here, hard deal. Tell us what you want us to do, and we’re going to do it.”
Calipari admitted he is “trying to figure out” what to do once full practice starts Saturday after Friday night’s Big Blue Madness.
“Because until I get on the court I’m not — we’ll do some things, and whatever works, we run with,” Calipari said.
But the UK coach wasn’t complaining about once again having a basically new roster, something he’s experienced every season at UK.
“If I had my choice between experience and talent, I’m going to take talent. This is a talented group. I don’t know how talented until we start playing, but we’ve got good size. We’ve got length. We’ve got some slashers, got a couple shooters,” Calipari said. “We were worried about our toughness a year ago, and I would tell you, I’m a little worried about the toughness of this team based on the fact that you have a couple of guys, but you just don’t have a — we were worried about it last year. I’m probably more worried this year.”
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
Here are insights from Kentucky senior Julius Mays, a transfer from Wright State:
Did you ever envision how things have changed for you in the last year?
Mays: “Not at all. I was playing Wright State last year and I was thinking I was going to graduate and play another year and just do whatever. It is amazing how things happen and I am blessed to be in the position I am in.”
Question: What were your impressions of Kentucky basketball and UK fans before you came here and has that changed?
Mays: “Even when they were losing, their fan base was crazy and showed out. These fans are loyal. Being an Indiana guy, I knew about the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry and knew those two had the most loyal fans even when they were bad. Hearing about and living it is nothing like when you live it.”
Question: Did you watch the Kentucky-Indiana game last season that Indiana won on a last-second shot?
Mays: “I did. I watched on the big screen. It was intense. I was yelling at the big screen like I was a player out there. It was very intense and a very good game. Me knowing Marquis, I was pulling for him and wanted to see him do well and since I had a relationship with his family, I wanted to see him succeed. For those guys to be so young and do the things they did was amazing. I just don’t see how anybody couldn’t appreciate what they did last year.”
Question: Tell me about your friendship with point guard Marquis Teague and what if anything he told you that might have influenced your decision to come to UK?
Mays: “It started out young. I think I was in seventh grade or eighth grade — I am from Marion but I went to Indianapolis and played where his dad had an AAU team so he was my coach. He used to practice up with us and that’s how our relationship started. Obviously not being too far from each other and how big he was in high school basketball, we knew about each other. I have always had a good relation with his father.
“I didn’t talk to them when I transferred. I also had a relationship with Ryan (Harrow). I talked to Ryan before I did it and that made things a lot better for me as well.
“But I love the Teagues. Marquis’ dad was intense. Very intense in practice and games, but he is a great guy. I love him. He is a real great guy and took my game to another level when I was a young guy and I appreciated that.”
Question: How would you describe your play/game?
Mays: “One person might call me a point guard, the next person might call me a shooting guard. I love to shoot the ball, but I have always defined myself as just a true combo guard. I am not a point guard, not a shooting guard. I am just a guard. I can shoot the ball and score, but I can also pass. I don’t define myself as just a shooter. Everybody says I am coming here as a shooter because I shot a high percentage, but I do more than just shoot the ball.”
Question: If you are the first player off the bench, could you play both guard spots or even small forward if needed?
Mays: “Offensively probably, but defensively guarding a small forward in this league would be tough because they would probably be bigger than me, but I am willing to do it. I am willing to play any position for us to do well. Nothing is guaranteed, but coach Calipari told me I would be walking into a great situation with all those guys leaving and I had an opportunity to come here and do a lot of great things. He told me I would have to compete for everything, but that’s what I wanted for my last year. I didn’t want anything handed to me. I wanted to have to work for everything.”
Question: Do you feel like an old man on this young team and how much can your experience help these players?
Mays: “I have the most experience on the team, but also being a new guy I know that when the going gets tough and it will get point at some time for everybody, me just being there and being an outlet for guys knowing I have had a lot of experience will be vital to this team. I know I have played games against Florida and teams like that. I have played Duke and Maryland. Hopefully that helps. I have been in crazy, loud arenas when people are chanting things that you don’t expect to hear like talking about your mom. I am used to that. From N.C. State to Wright State to now has been a great deal of experience and a great learning experience I feel has helped me to where I am right now.”
Question: Did you ever think it would work out for you and Ryan Harrow to be teammates after you transferred to Wright State when he was arriving at North Carolina State as a freshman?
Mays: “It’s crazy. It was just meant for us to play with each other. A lot of people thought I left N.C. State because of him and he was highly touted but that’s not the reason. I don’t back down from any challenge. Obviously I came here and he’s here again. So if that was the case, I would not be here. I am excited for the opportunity to play in the backcourt with him. I feel like we will do some great things. He is very good. He is real crafty with the ball and off the dribble I have not seen anybody that can stay in front of him and he can really pass.”
Question: Is it true you want to go into sports management?
Mays: “As a kid growing up, I had the dream that I wanted to be a cop, wanted to be a fireman. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, construction worker. But as you get older and mature, you never know what is going to change or how things are going to play out. Me being around sports all my life, I felt like basically I want to be a coach or be a sports administrator like an AD or assistant AD along those lines.
“I am not all about money, but everybody likes money. I want to be able to live comfortably and take care of my family, but I also want to be around something I love. I don’t want to go to a job where I am making a lot of money but I hate it. I want to be happy in life and feel like working in sports is what makes me happiest. I am not saying I won’t go to a job I hate and make a lot of money. In the best word possible, I want to work in something I love.”
By RICHARD CHEEKS
In what has become the standard operating procedure for Coach Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, his 2012-13 version will be a substantially new team for the 4th season in a row. Coach Calipari will build the 2012-13 edition around nine (9) scholarship players and perhaps as many as three (3) walk on players if all three members of last year’s team return for another round of practice and game mop up duties.
For those who like to look back at the way Calipari’s previous teams shaped up, in 2011-12, there were 10 scholarships and 3 walk on players. In addition, UK had two players sitting out as red shirts due to transfer rules or injury recovery. The 2010-11 team, that ended the long UK drought of final four appearances started the season with nine (9) scholarships and one (1) walk on, but before they tipped off the first game, one scholarship player decided to leave the program, reducing that team’s total numbers to nine able bodies. Calipari’s first UK team had thirteen scholarship players, due primarily to the seven (7) returners from Billy Gillispie’s last team.
The 2012-13 Cats will be starting the fall semester with similar numbers in their ranks as the 2010-11 team, but as we have also learned from Coach Calipari’s tenure, it is not the number of players that determine the quality of the team, but the quality of the players who log the game minutes. This year’s team, by that steady measure, looks to be a factor in March, when the games matter most.
Prior to the 2010-11 season, many observers, including this one, conceded that the short roster had as much to do with Coach wanting to keep critical scholarships available for a bumper crop of recruits for the 2011-12 season. Some are making similar remarks about the 2012-13 roster when looking ahead to next August when another bumper crop of high school recruits will be stepping onto college campuses. However, that 2010-11 team redeemed itself quite capably with a trip to the final four, despite doing without the services of Enes Kanter for the entire season, and the 2011-12 roster was not fully subscribed despite that bumper crop that produced UK’s 8th championship.
Therefore, there is only one conclusion about the roster that seems supportable today. Coach Calipari has nine (9) scholarship players on this upcoming UK team because that is the number of players he believes he needs to produce another contender. Yes, that will leave Calipari with plenty of room to maneuver for the best that the 2013 recruiting class has to offer, but it is doubtful that Coach Calipari extends that recruiting season beyond the nine to eleven scholarship players that have dominated his strategy these last three seasons.
Of course, in college basketball, each year provides a new and unique mix of players. Gone from the 2012 National Championship team are Seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas. Also gone are Jones, Kidd-Gilchrist, Lamb, Teague, and the 2013 player of the year Anthony Davis. NBA teams selected six of these seven departing players in June’s NBA draft, and four of those secured first round selections. The returning players from the 2011-12 team are Senior Twany Beckham, Redshirt Junior Jon Hood, and Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. Sophomore Ryan Harrow was a member of the 2011-12 Championship team as a transfer redshirt player, and will compete this year in what will be his sophomore year of eligibility. Coach Calipari has added to those four “veterans” a senior transfer, Mays, and four freshmen: Nerlens Noel (#1 Ranked Freshman), Alex Poythress (#8 Ranked Freshman), Archie Goodwin (#12 Ranked Freshman), and Willie Cauley (#37 Ranked Freshman). All five of the newcomers should play heavily into Coach Calipari’s plans for the 2012-13 team and season.
So, let the comparisons begin:
1. How will this team compare to last year’s team?
2. How will this team compare to the field next season?
I am sure that folks will frame the 2012 vs. 2013 comparisons in many ways. Here is mine.
PG: Teague v Harrow
The John Calipari history with point guards has become mythical, if not fully legendary, going back to his last two years at Memphis and his first 3 UK teams. The common thinking is that Harrow will not measure up to this line of first round draft picks occupying the point guard position. However, Harrow brings one element to the team this season that none of the past 3 point guards could boast. Harrow has spend one full season doing nothing but playing head to head on a daily basis against Marcus Teague while learning the Calipari point guard system. Harrow figures to hit the ground running with respect to his point guard responsibilities.
Three years ago, John Wall set the standard by earning a #1 NBA draft selection, and the fans said Brandon Knight could not follow that act. However, Brandon Knight followed the act by leading his Cats to their first Final Four in more years than UK fans cared to count, and his own first round draft pick. Then, the fans said Marquis Teague could not follow that act. However, Teague followed the act by leading his Cats to a National Championship and his own first round draft selection. Today, the fans say Harrow cannot follow that act.
I do not doubt that Wall is one of the best PGs ever to wear the UK uniform, but as Knight and Teague have proven, the point guard contributes to the team’s success in many different ways, and the ultimate team success is not dependent upon having the best point guard in school history. Now the mantle of floor generalship falls on the capable shoulders of Sophomore Transfer Ryan Harrow. He will bring a set of seasoned skills to the floor. At the least, a PUSH with 2012, and potentially ADVANTAGE 2013.
C: Davis v Noel
How can any team possibly replace a departing National Player of the Year, and the 2012 NBA #1 draft selection? Most say that no team can possibly replace such an integral component from a National Championship team. However, Coach Calipari has come about as close to doing the impossible as can be done with the addition of the #1 high school player to fill that position, Nerlens Noel. Advantage 2012, but not by as great a margin as many will presume prior to playing against Nerlens Noel.
SG: Lamb v Goodwin
Lamb as a sophomore was a force for the 2012 team. His perimeter shooting was superb, but that was expected by all. He also added moves toward the basket that were effective for himself and his teammates lurking around the basket and the perimeter. Finally, his ability to provide a stabilizing factor at the point, when Marquis Teague needed help, gave Coach Calipari the ability to let Marquis Teague develop his game at the pace Marquis needed to succeed down the stretch. Goodwin comes to the party with tremendous press clippings, but until any freshman demonstrates an ability to step onto a collegiate court and compete, he remains an unknown. For that reason alone, Advantage 2012.
SF: Kidd-Gilchrist v Wiltjer
A year ago, when I prepared the 2011-2012 comparison, I treated Darius Miller as the likely #3 position starter, but it did not take long for everyone to realize that Kidd-Gilchrist had the tools and the maturity to step onto the court as a Freshman and play the game as well as anyone. Darius yielded the starting role for the benefit of the team. Kidd-Gilchrist’s position on the upcoming team will probably be filled by Kyle Wiltner. Kyle Wiltjer was one of the best perimeter shooters the Kentucky program has ever seen as a freshman, but his foot speed limited his defensive ability, which limited his playing time as a freshman. The biggest unknown for the 2012-13 team in my opinion will be how much Kyle Wiltjer can improve his strength, his rebounding, and his defensive abilities to compliment his already proven offensive skill set. ClearAdvantage 2012.
PF: Jones v Poythress
Jones as a sophomore became a man among children, especially after his disappearing act in early December that was instrumental to the team’s only regular season loss at Indiana. However, after he returned from his hiatus over a subsequent finger injury, he was one of the key ingredients to the national title run. Jones was so much more a factor as a sophomore than a freshman. He will be replaced by another true freshman, Alex Poythress. All of the advance information about Poythress indicates that he too will have the tools necessary to play immediately as a Freshman, just as did Kidd-Gilchrist. However, until Poythress proves it, there will remain a slight Advantage 2012..
Miller, Sr. v Hood, RS Jr: Advantage 2012
Wiltjer, Fr v Mays, RS Sr: Advantage 2013
Vargas, Sr v Cauley, Fr: Advantage 2013
Beckham, Jr. v Beckham, Sr: Advantage 2013
Polson, So. v Polson, Jr: Advantage 2013
Malone, Fr. v Malone, So: Advantage 2013
Long, Fr. v Long, So: Advantage 2013
2013 will not be as strong in its starting five across the board as 2012 proved to be. In my opinion, 2012 was stronger at every position except perhaps point guard, where I see a PUSH between Freshman Teague and Redshirt Sophomore Harrow. However, the Kentucky bench in 2013 will be deeper and stronger across the board, with the exception of replacing transformed starter Darius Miller as the best 6th man in the game in 2012.
I believe that the 2012-13 Kentucky team will begin the season as a top 5 team, with Indiana, Louisville, Kansas, and UCLA providing the balance of the season’s pre-season Final Four contenders. This team will be young, as has become the trademark for the Calipari era at UK, more closely aligned, experience wise, to the 2010-11 squad than either the 2010 or 2012 editions. However, the 2013 Cats will begin with more experience at the point guard position than any UK team since Calipari’s arrival, and for that reason, I expect the 2012-13 version of the Wildcats will mature and grow up faster even last year’s team.
In last year’s edition of this analysis, I fearlessly forecast that last year’s team had a legitimate opportunity to traverse its regular season without a defeat, which it did but for its only stumble at Assembly Hall by 1 point, to a very solid Indiana team. I do not foresee the same opportunity for an undefeated regular season campaign in 2012-13, but when this team does stumble, it will be a rare occurrence and the entire basketball world will rise up and take notice.
There are two games in the non-conference schedule that are not clearly in the probable win category, road games at Notre Dame and Louisville. However, these Cats should be favored to beat the Fighting Irish, and could well be favored over the Cards by late December. In the expanded SEC, with 18 regular season games, I believe there are three road games for which the outcomes cannot be predicted as probable Kentucky wins prior to the season, at Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Florida. Of these, I believe UK will be the underdog only in Gainesville. Based on this pre-season analysis, these Cats could lose as many as three games [1 non-conference and 2 SEC] going into the post season (28-3 or better), and this team will be one of the legitimate contenders to compete in the Final Four for their third consecutive season. Therefore, by early March, most observers will regard Calipari’s fourth UK team as a legitimate contender to win the National Championship on the first Monday of April 2012.
Thank you Coach Calipari for bringing us #8, and keeping this program in the hunt for #9.