The Next Big Game!

  • UK FB Blue-White Game:
    in 1 day, 9 hours, 37 minutes

Larry on Twitter

Nerlens Noel

Vaught’s note: Steve Vance is a long time UK basketball fan who occasionally provides commentary on UK basketball. Today he shares his thoughts on the one-and-done — and assumes that Julius Randle will declare for the NBA in a few hours at his press conference — and even has a humorous reference to Hayden “Sidd” Finch. Enjoy.

By STEVE VANCE

Coach John Calipari has said it numerous times since becoming head men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, “It’s not my rule. It’s the NBA’s rule. If it was up to me, I’d have a player stay two years.” Of course, Coach Cal is talking about the National Basketball Association’s initial player eligibility rule, more commonly known to NCAA college basketball fans and sports reporters alike as the “one and done” rule. That being said, no college basketball coach has more successfully utilized the NBA’s eligibility rule to recruit and develop a top performing college basketball team than John Calipari himself has done at the University of Kentucky. Three Final Fours, a National Title, and a runner-up during his brief five year leadership of the Wildcats, all speak to the talent level Calipari has been able to bring to Lexington by embracing the minimum of one year of college eligibility required by the NBA.

In his tenure at UK, a total of 12 John Calipari recruited athletes have shined as UK freshmen and, by virtue of the one year eligibility rule, then taken their tremendous basketball talents directly to the NBA the following year. DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Brandon Knight, Marcus Teague, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, and most recently, James Young and Julius Randle have all succeeded at UK then proceeded to the professional ranks after one season at the University of Kentucky. Imagining an NBA rule change that would require a player of comparable talents to remain at UK for a second year of play makes the Big Blue Nation almost giddy with excitement and inspires dreams of NCAA Championships to come.

And yet, for all the talk about the NBA taking action to change its player eligibility ruling to either require two years of college or be at least 20 years of age (effectively eliminating the so called “one and done” rule), The reality is that the NCAA has always had the power to negate the NBA eligibility ruling, revolutionize college basketball, and bring more parity to the college landscape as a whole; they’ve just been too contrary to do it.

It all has to do with how the NCAA defines eligibility as it relates to the NBA draft.

The NCAA Division 1 Manual, the guide for intercollegiate athletics states in Section 12.1.12 “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a particular sport if the individual: (f ) After initial full-time collegiate enrollment, enters into a professional draft .” Very simply put, if a player declares for the NBA draft – they’re done – kaput – finished – no more college eligibility. Their college playing days are over – regardless of the drafts outcome, regardless if it proved a wise decision or not. In the NCAA’s mind, this restrictive rule serves to create a climate of fear that somehow will compel a college athlete to remain in school for a longer period of time, rather than risk a premature jump to the NBA.

The question is “why”?

Why is it necessary for a player to lose his remaining college eligibility to play additional years simply by allowing his name to be placed into the NBA draft? Why not allow every college player to place his name into the NBA draft as often as he wants to, and then simply decide after the draft whether he wants to remain in college or take the money and jump to the professional ranks? If the NBA draft is simply viewed as a potential job offer, why not allow a college player to participate in the draft, determine the quality of the job offer, and then either accept it or reject it and then return to college?

The reason “why not” has a lot to do with the control of power and wealth. The NCAA leadership views itself as the righteous defender of amateur athleticism while wielding an iron-fisted monopoly of self-serving rules that would make any tyrant proud. If Coach Cal advocates a “players first” approach, the NCAA advocates a “players last” approach in its rule making. Yet, a simple change to eligibility as it relates to the draft could change it all – for the better of the players, the Universities, the fans, and the NCAA.

Think about the case of fictional NCAA player Hayden Finch. The lanky 7’2” center, starts for the Northwest Southeastern State University Tadpoles and has set a new NCAA Division 1 shot blocking record. However, he struggles offensively, and weighs only 175 pounds. Under the proposed NCAA rule change, Finch could place his name into the NBA draft and wait and see the draft results before deciding to forego his college eligibility and become a professional. On draft night, Finch might go as a lottery pick, for which he thanks his missionary parents, a Tibetan monk, and his college coach, while becoming a guaranteed contract multi-millionaire. On the other hand, Finch is picked late in the second round by the Sioux City Scooters, who follow-up with a non-guaranteed contract of $120,000, and a big qualifier of “IF Finch makes the team”. In this latter scenario, Hayden could simply say “no thanks” to the NBA offer and return to school to work on his game and help the Tadpoles continue their journey towards an NCAA title run. Finch is happy, the University is happy, the fans are happy, and even the NCAA might crack a smile with the prospect of a talented player returning to college without their threat of lost eligibility as coercion.

To be certain, there would need to be a few companion NCAA rule changes to make the new draft eligibility rule work effectively. First, following the draft, a player would need to make his intentions known to return for additional college eligibility within a 30 day or so period of the draft’s conclusion – roughly by August 1st of each year. Second, NCAA National Letters of Intent would have a non-binding status until that same exact post draft decision date; giving recruited players the option to look at other schools should they suddenly find their position crowded by a returning draftee. Incidentally, it’s this second point that would create more parity in the college game. Let’s revisit our fictional player to see how.

With Hayden Finch returning for another year of college play, the NWSE State Tadpoles suddenly find that they have one too few scholarships. Their planned replacement recruit for Sid, foreign youth athletic club player, Tahl Projecht, cannot sign a binding intent letter with NWSE State because the school does not have an available scholarship due to Finch’s decision to return to school based on his low draft position and poor man’s employment offer. As a result, Tahl Projecht signs with another NCAA school, in effect spreading the incoming talent wealth around the college game and creating more parity as more kids sticking around at a top school, means more available players for other schools. It slows the play and leave process down, resulting in more talented players remaining in college over all.

For top high school players, having to wait to finalize a commitment to a school until after the NBA draft would create some tension but probably no more so than when a current player who is expected to go to the draft now, such as Willie Cauley-Stein, elects to stay in school. Thus, top High School prospects might choose to simply make verbal commitments pending the draft results and which college players are choosing to return to school. While it could result in a few last minute scrambles, all of the top players have been recruited by multiple schools and know their options well. It really shouldn’t be an issue, and the option of being able to explore the draft at any time is a great benefit to an incoming player. Plus, it would spread the wealth of talent over more college programs, rather than the handful of elites, something all the NCAA member schools would like to see happen.

The NBA would also likely respond to this action by the NCAA. While the top college talents, regardless of class, would expect to retain a high first round draft position, an NBA team would not want to risk a low first round draft pick on a player who might opt to return to college. They would likely pass over the marginal prospect or not yet fully NBA ready talent for the more certain signing of a proven upperclassman. This also lowers the financial risk of the NBA teams, reducing their investment in marginal players who never develop NBA skills. It would also likely improve the quality of the NBA game as more immediately ready skilled players join the league.

Even if the NBA does revise their eligibility rules to require two years of college eligibility, the NCAA would still benefit by eliminating the “draft ineligibility rule” and giving the players the freedom to return to school after the draft. Quite frankly, with all the negative publicity the NCAA has received over the perceived financial inequities between the players and the institution, a player-first initiative like this proposed rule change would go a long way in helping their case in the court of public opinion.

For the University of Kentucky, this proposed rule change would likely slow down the progression of new players coming in, as more current players return for another year of improvement in the hope of improving their NBA stock, however, this would allow the current Wildcat team to develop more effectively with some talented upper classmen to support the uber-talented freshmen – much like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb did with the 2012 Championship team. That’s a thought every UK fan salivates about, even while they agonize over the thought that Coach Cal might not have enough scholarships to sign every top high school recruit should this proposed change be adopted by the NCAA.

If the NCAA would eliminate the archaic penalty of ineligibility as a result of entering the draft, far more good college players, but not yet NBA ready players, would remain in college to hone their skills, get their degree, and to the NCAA’s benefit – raise the overall quality of college play as less underclassmen would be likely to feel pressured by an “all or nothing” NBA draft decision as they currently face. In all, it’s time for the NCAA to stop treating players with fear and intimidation and partner with these young athletes to help them succeed and then proceed with a career well suited to their skills; treating them with the equality that every other scholarship student is treated.

Mike DeCourcy

Mike DeCourcy

By LARRY VAUGHT

With Kentucky now 15-5 — remember all the preseason speculation about the team maybe going 40-0 with perhaps the all-time best recruiting class — is it time to admit the Wildcats were overrated going into the season? Or is it time to acknowledge that the team has just underachieved going into Saturday’s game at Missouri?

Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy, who knows UK coach John Calipari well, thinks it might be a combination of both factors that have led to unexpected defeats and sometimes uninspired play.

“I did think Kentucky would be a lot better, and John (Calipari) did, too,” DeCourcy said. “Defensively, they are not playing with great energy or passion. Offensively, they don’t have a lot of cohesion. They do not always play with each other. There has been a little progress from when I saw them against Louisville.

“James Young has gotten better, but I would just like one time to see him pass up an okay shot to see if a great shot was available. I have never seen him pass up an open shot ever. If he has a shot, he shoots it. If he was Pistol Pete Maravich and there were not a lot of guys to throw the ball to, that’s one thing. But he’s often playing with four future NBA players.”

He’s not picking on Young, either, because he acknowledges that guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both projected as the top players at their positions in the 2013 recruiting class, have struggled. Andrew, the point guard, was ranked as the third best overall player in the 2013 class. But in the last five games, he has 19 assists, including just one in Tuesday’s loss at LSU, and 13 turnovers while shooting just over 30 percent from the field.

“Andrew is 6-5 but he is not a commanding point guard presence like you would think the second or third best overall player in a recruiting class would be,” DeCourcy said. “This year Emmanuel Mudiay (who picked SMU over Kentucky) is a phenomenal athlete but I am not sure about him being the next great point guard.

“Andrew and Aaron are both fine players, just maybe not the players they were promoted to be. They were ranked in the same neighborhood as (Andrew Wiggins), (Julius) Randle and (Jabari) Parker and you’ve got to be extraordinary to be in there with those guys. But they are still future NBA players. Don’t get me wrong. They are still excellent players.

Randle, once considered a potential No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft, has had his stock, too. He’s scored 20 or more points in just one of the last five games — with 16 turnovers — and had just six points and five rebounds at LSU while being outplayed by freshman Jordan Mickey.

“Julius’ problem is somewhat that he doesn’t get access to the ball as regularly as he would like or should be,” DeCourcy said. “Then when he gets the ball, he tries to do more than he should. When LSU played that zone, he tried to go through it instead of around it. If you try to take on a zone and go through it, you are going to lose every time. Even a bad zone beats you if you try to go through it. If you go around it, you have a chance.

“Julius tried to go straight through the heart of the zone and struggled as a result. That’s been his problem. When teams play man and rotate help on him, he can fight through that. He has momentum to beat his man and the other guy is coming late, so he’s just beating on man and making plays before the other arrives. In the zone, he’s trying to do the same thing facing two or three guys who are where they want to be and that doesn’t work.”

Perhaps the most puzzling player, though, has been Willie Cauley-Stein. Once on pace to challenge the blocked shots exploits of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Cauley-Stein has become a non-factor in recent games. He was manhandled by LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant much like he was by Tennessee’s inside player. He has blocked one shot or none in four of the last five game and played less than 20 minutes in all four games — and without him UK has not had a rim protector.

“I don’t know why he is not competing. I don’t understand why he has become less competitive,” DeCourcy said. “When you see something like that, there is usually a reason behind it. Maybe he has a pain he’s hiding and playing through. It could be something personal. It just doesn’t make sense and is not typical for someone who has been competitive like he has.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein has 31 blocks in eight games to rank seventh nationally in blocks per game at 3.88. However, he has 17 in the last two games, including nine against Providence — or one more than Anthony Davis ever had in a game during his Player of the Year season at UK.

Kentucky also had a dominant shot blocker last season in Nerlens Noel, who has the single-game UK record with 12.

So how does coach John Calipari feel Cauley-Stein is doing filling the shot blocker role for UK this season?

“Well, he’s in good enough shape he can continue to play. There have been times before, he’d just stand there and just let the guy drive in and like hold onto his guy and say, ‘Well, I was – I was holding my guy.’ Now he knows he can go get it,” Calipari said.

“And then the second thing is, we’re doing a better job if he does leave to block out, cracking down and taking his man. But to have nine blocks in a game like this? Big-time. Big-time. And then to play the way he did and to run like a gazelle. Did you see him run the court? Oh, my gosh. We’re able to run – and you’re big guy runs and just throw it at the rim. But I’m proud of him. He’s come a long way.”

By RENE CORNETTE

Reese Kemp is a 16 year old on a mission. A mission to help others and raise awareness for cystic fibrosis, a disease that he knows all to well. He was diagnosed with the life threatening, respiratory disease when he was only 2. Reese hasn’t let that slow him down though, in many ways it has only increased the way in which he lives.

Reese started his own foundation, “Reese’s Resources” which he uses to raise awareness about cystic fibrosis and help others in need. He may only be 16 but his goodwill and kindness is immeasurable. While most kids his age are only concerned about the latest video game, he’s worried about how he can help others, instead. Just last year, he started giving away Big Blue Madness tickets after being inspired by his friend, Nerlens Noel’s gesture of kindness to Lane Goodwin’s family.

“I knew how much the players had changed my life,” Reese said, “and I wanted to change somebody else’s.”

Reese went on to give two tickets to a teenage boy who also had cystic fibrosis and just recently passed away. He gave two more to a young woman who had major heart surgery. That young woman died in late,October of last year, only two short weeks after attending Big Blue Madness.

“I guess I kind of made her last wish,” Reese said. “Knowing I helped her a little bit is what matters.”

Reese is giving away tickets to Big Blue Madness again this year. If you think you are deserving send him an email at reese.kemp@yahoo.com or tweet him at @ReeseKemp2 explaining why you should be picked to attend Big Blue Madness. Reese will pick a winner on October 16, 2013. Send your email or tweet now and let Reese make your wish come true.

 

photo by Clay Jackson, all rights reserved.

photo by Clay Jackson, all rights reserved.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Question: How much more physical do you expect this year’s team to be?
Calipari: “Oh, man. I keep hearing they are going to call fouls this year. I just watched a whole season where people beat the living crap out of each other all the way through to the finals. So we are going to play like we are on the verge of fouling every possession. I have enough guys. So that is what I think others are teaching. Just play so you are on the verge of fouling, and I will complain about too many fouls called. We can play that way because I have more numbers.

“Then physically, you have to want to play that way and have the physique to play that way. And I think we do. We have that. Hopefully they start calling it. We can always back up. But it appears as though get body to body, hip check people, push them in the back. Just play, bang, do it. That was not one team. That was 50 teams last year played that way. That was how the game ended up being, and now they are all mad. The guys who were doing it are saying, ‘Yeah, we have to call more fouls.’ Are you out of your mind? You are the reason we are playing this way. You see how it is played. We can play that way.

“I want to press more with this team. I don’t know if we will press with a big on the ball. But you can with both Marcus (Lee) and Willie (Cauley-Stein). Dakari (Johnson) would have to go back and play a normal press. We played with Willie on the ball at times last year, and I kind of liked it. We have more players now. We have more toughness. That kind of stuff. More athleticism. We may press from 25 feet and down. In other words, in the quarter-court.

“How do you do that? Well, you are trapping certain passes, you are trapping areas on the court and scramble. So we may do that because of this team. At the end of the day, this team, like my teams … last year’s team with Nerlens (Noel) was one of the best defensive teams. With who we had, with Nerlens we were still one of the best defensive teams. After Nerlens left (with his injury), we were not the same.

“But this team should be like my teams where we should be one of the best defensive, rebounding teams in the country. Stopping drives, being physical, making it tough on people to score. Length. I think a lot of teams will play zone against this team if we really get going the way we like to play. I think teams will say, ‘Screw it. Play zone. Make them shoot.’ The difference is this team can shoot. So now all of a sudden you have four or five guys that can make shots. It’s a different …

“I like size against zone because you can just look over it. When you’ve got smaller or weaker guys, they’re just trying to throw it to a guy next to them. When you’ve got bigger guys, they’re looking at a zone and saying, ‘Wait a minute, that guy over there is open.’ My best teams against zones have been longer teams. This team should be pretty long.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

With all the hype about John Calipari’s team, I asked Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy what it thought was the most underrated part of the team going into the season.

“I think it is the veteran core. I have heard a lot of people try to make the case that when Kyle Wiltjer decided to transfer to Gonzaga that this team now lacked leadership. I like Kyle and like his talent, but he wasn’t going to be a leader on this team,” DeCourcy said.  “I think having Jarrod Polson, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein back is big.

“I like Jon Hood as a presence. He is a good kid. You are talking about him being a leader even though he is not playing, and that’s what role Kyle would have had. Jon can do that. He has been on every one of Cal’s teams at Kentucky. He knows what to tell the freshmen to do on and off the court. How much will they listen to him? No more or less than they would have Kyle. Kyle would not have been a big factor with this team.

“I think the real leadership has to come from Willie and Alex if he has mastered his position, and I think he will. I think Alex in terms of on court direction and do what I am doing, he can do that from a leadership standpoint. Kentucky is bringing back more people than they are being given credit for this year because of the failure of last year. Willie and Alex are both (NBA draft) first-round talent. The idea that because Kentucky failed last year they don’t have talent is ludicrous. Last year they just did not have a point guard, had chemistry issues and then had a major injury (to Nerlens Noel).”

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

Nerlens, Archie, Twany and Julius are some of Cal’s former players who are on campus this week to help with the Pro Camp.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky fans should like what former Wildcat Archie Goodwin had to say about freshman Julius Randle, the nation’s top-rated power forward recruit, Monday

“He’s a competitive guy just like I was. In the gym every night just like I was,” Goodwin said.

And what about the overall team John Calipari will have this year?

“I feel like with the team that they have this year, just the talent alone is going to win a championship. It’s just a matter of them meshing together. Their competitive spirit is going to be there because it’s just too many guys on this team that hate to lose. I feel like they’re going to do some special things,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin’s former UK teammate, Nerlens Noel, had some advice for UK’s talented team.

“Establish team chemistry early on in the year and make sure a leader steps up because a young team like that, they’re especially going to need a leader that’s always going to keep them like a rock-solid team and always keep those guys composed,” Noel said. “At times, you’re under a lot of pressure, but I have to say they’re in a good position right now.”

Phoenix Suns NBA basketball draft pick Archie Goodwin, left, speaks while general manager Ryan McDonough listens during a news conference Friday, June 28, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher)

Phoenix Suns NBA basketball draft pick Archie Goodwin, left, speaks while general manager Ryan McDonough listens during a news conference Friday, June 28, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher)

By GARY GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

LEXINGTON — Archie Goodwin is looking to build off a surprising effort in the summer league in which he played like somebody with something to prove.

There were doubts about Goodwin after he joined Kentucky teammate Nerlens Noel in the draft pool following an inconsistent freshman season with the Wildcats. The Oklahoma City Thunder nonetheless took him late in the first round before trading him to the Golden State Warriors, who then shipped him to the Phoenix Suns that night.
Goodwin went on to lead the Suns to the NBA summer league title in competition against fellow rookies and second-year players. In seven games he averaged 13.1 points and shot 50 percent from the field but impressed many with his explosiveness and willingness to draw contact.

Noel, Goodwin and fellow former Wildcats Julius Mays and Twany Beckham were back on campus Monday assisting Kentucky coach John Calipari’s pro camp for youth players.

Other parts of his game remain a work in progress for Goodwin, but the 6-foot-5, Little Rock, Ark., native believes his performance suggests what he’s capable of providing for the rebuilding Suns.

“I knew that people would have negative things to say just because of the way our season went,” said Goodwin, Kentucky’s leading scorer last season at 14.1 points per game. “But at the end of the day I knew what I was capable of, I knew what I was going to do. I control my own fate and just continue to work hard and block out what people are saying.”

Goodwin added that Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has indicated that he will be part of Phoenix’s offense.

“He’s telling me that I’m going to play right away. He wanted to make that clear,” he said. “They were excited to get me as I was excited to be there. They said from the get-go that I was going to be a special player and be one of the better players out of this draft. I felt the same, and with my work ethic and the way I compete, I’m going to make that happen.”

Mays went undrafted after transferring to Kentucky and playing last season as a fifth-year senior. But he has worked out for several NBA teams and is exploring possibilities overseas.

He said he’s “got a lot of great opportunities to choose from.”

catalist

For IPhones/IPads, and new for Android devices, the Catalist app by Larry Vaught is the best way to keep up with UK basketball. It's free!

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.