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Nerlens Noel

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.”

Philadelphia 76ers newly acquired rookie Nerlens Noel poses for photographs at the team's NBA basketball training facility, Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia 76ers newly acquired rookie Nerlens Noel poses for photographs at the team’s NBA basketball training facility, Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel’s injured knee is progressing well and he expects to make his NBA debut in December.

The 6-foot-10 Noel is recovering from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, though that didn’t prevent the Philadelphia 76ers from acquiring the sixth overall pick by the New Orleans Pelicans in last month’s NBA draft.

“The knee feels great,” Noel said. “I’m just definitely staying after it, working hard, staying focused. As opposed to a timetable, I’m just (focused) on being careful, staying patient. I definitely want to come back a lot stronger than I was before.”

Another former Wildcat, Archie Goodwin, is looking to make a more immediate impact in the NBA. He had an impressive performance in his first action, helping the Phoenix Suns win the NBA Summer League title after the 29th overall selection’s pro potential was questioned before the draft.

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.

Noel doesn’t figure to be an active participant in Calipari’s weeklong camp. But judging from his slow but smooth walk around Memorial Coliseum with his left leg wrapped, his recovery appears to be on track.

He doesn’t feel rushed to return and prove he should have been drafted higher. Noel said he has been working out six hours daily and is prepared to follow doctors’ orders about his recovery and return, whenever that is.

Projected as a lottery pick before he arrived on Kentucky’s campus last year as the nation’s top high school recruit, the Everett, Mass., native, remained high on many draft boards despite the February knee injury and long recovery. He was considered a possible No. 1 pick, so it was somewhat surprising when he fell several spots on draft night before the Pelicans chose him and eventually traded him to Philadelphia along with a 2014 first round pick.

Already motivated to come back from the injury, Noel said his slide down the draft order has merely provided more incentive to return.

“It’s something to wake up (to) in the morning and just keep me going,” said Noel, who led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game and averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. “It definitely will put fluid to my fire and wanting to get back and show teams what I’m capable of when I get back.”

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