Most Recent Posts
- Young Kentucky fan (@nosidam__) shares her passion for Kentucky sports
- Stoops: UK-Louisville future games “up to our administration” but “not interested” in 9 SEC games
- UK football coach Mark Stoops understands obstacles, challenges at UK but “we’re going to play to win”
- Former UK great Jeff Sheppard excited about recruiting class, but says fans should remember players are young
- Kentucky fans even took time to throw up the “3 goggles” in the Alps
- Signee Marcus Lee says Kentucky “will refuse to lose next year”
- 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
By LARRY VAUGHT
This is part of a series with Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops based on a recent interview with him that I hope will offer insights into his personality and philosophies that you have not read about before.
Question: Did you know immediately that you wanted Vince Marrow on your staff and did you expect him to have such a huge impact in recruiting this quick?
Stoops: “I did. I did. There were several guys, as you know, the hard part about the head coaching job sometimes is some of the people that you can’t hire because there are a lot of very qualified people out there. As I was putting it all together, right away Vince rang a bell with me and we talked. A lot of the advice I received, both from my brother, people like Kevin Sumlin, my brother Bob, brother Mike, just people in the business that I really trust and are going to give me good information, told me to be very patient in that process. I saw that. I’ve been through it with Mike before. Things happen. Just like if Neal would have fell through, then you go on to the next guy and then all of a sudden the panic button hits sometimes with people. I really tried to be very thorough and very patient through that hiring process. But Vince, in hindsight, yeah, Vince was a home run.”
Did you think he would have such a huge impact on Ohio recruiting this quickly?
Stoops: “He’s surprising me a little bit, yeah. He really is. He’s really done a great job.”
Question: Why is Marrow having so much success in Ohio?
Stoops: “It’s his personality. He has a big, bodacious personality and he kind of has a great way about him where he can connect with the recruits, the parents and the coaches. He just has a great demeanor and a great way about him.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
His football coach is not really sure what is his best sport or even what he does best on the football field. All Caldwell County football coach Davis Barnes knows is that sophomore Elijah Sindelar is special whether it’s football or baseball.
“I really don’t know what his best sport is,” said Barnes of the 6-4, 210-pound Sindelar. “This year he did not play basketball, but he’s good there, too. He’s just a gifted athlete. He excels in all three sports. In baseball, he pitches and plays either third base or first base.”
On the football field, Sindelar — who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds — plays quarterback. He threw for 2,961 yards and 32 scores by completing 203 of 327 passes last year and ran for 447 yards and seven scores on 65 carries. In the Class AA state title game loss to Newport Central Catholic, he was 21 of 29 passing for 258 yards and two scores and rushed 14 times for 54 yards and a touchdown.
“He improved so much as a sophomore just by being able to see the field better and understanding coverages,” Barnes said. “He developed a knack for picking up and reading defenses. He ran the ball a little bit more this past year, but his pocket awareness was better. He had a good year as a freshman, but just having a year in this offense helped him tremendously.”
He’s been getting what Barnes calls “quite a bit of attention” from college recruiters, including those at Kentucky and Louisville. Murray and Austin Peay have expressed serious interest, too. Of course, he might get even more attention in baseball. Several pro baseball scouts says there is no reason to doubt his draft potential
“I think he’s going to get a lot of looks in football. He had a really good state championship game and a lot of coaches saw him play in that game,” Barnes said. “I think next year, he’ll get quite a few offers. I have really not talked to him about the baseball part. I have sat down with his parents and talked about the football part. They just want what is best for Elijah. They are very open about his future. I think his junior year in baseball will be big.”
Some think his junior football season could be just as big. As good as Patrick Towles of Highlands and Drew Barker of Conner have been in recent years, some veteran high school football analysts believe Sindelar could be the top quarterback the state has produced in 20 years or more.
“There are a lot of good quarterbacks who throw the ball around,” Barnes said. “A lot of people are talking about him. He does throw a nice deep ball with good touch. He’s special, but we’ll see how special.”
Barnes also says he is a “great kid” with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
“He’s a student leader with a great and supportive family,” Barnes said. “He’s a young man who knows right from wrong and does things the right way. He’s very coachable, but still has that certain attitude the great athletes have. He can do things on the field you can’t coach. I have a weightlifting class at 6:30 (a.m.), and he’s in that class. He gets his lifting in each morning and that helps him tremendously. But that’s the kind of kid he is.”
Barnes isn’t sure of Sindelar’s summer plans because he plays on a traveling baseball team. He thinks he might opt to attend several one-day junior camps.
“I know probably UK will be one and Louisville probably will be one of them. After that, I don’t know. But he has a lot of options,” Barnes said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
What impact will it have on Kentucky that Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, has announced he will not play for the Wildcats? Instead, the Huntington (W.Va.) Prep star announced today that he was going to play for Kansas and not UK, North Carolina or Florida State.
“I think not getting him takes away another weapon that Kentucky could have fielded, but Kentucky still will be overwhelming physically,” said Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy. “I think it forces (UK signee) James Young to accelerate faster. I have seen and like him, but I am not sure I love him. He is the kind of player that can grow into making people love him, but he needs time.”
Kentucky will return Alex Poythress at small forward and now he’ll also have a much bigger role with Wiggins not UK bound.
“Alex was never a natural fit at the 3, but a year of experience should let him know what works for him and what doesn’t and what works and doesn’t work for Kentucky. He can still be a great small forward. But that is the most difficult position in basketball to transition to. If you are an extraordinary talent like Carmelo Anthony, you can excel,” DeCourcy said.
“But if you are out of your comfort zone, there will be moments you might not excel. Alex still has ability because he’s a shooter and a great body. He has to work and know that. Kentucky has every other position covered at a very high level. Without Wiggins, they have maybe a little less playmaking. If they had Wiggins, there would be a little less pressure on (point guard) Andrew Harrison to be extraordinary. With Wiggins, you would have a creator at point guard and small forward. Now you don’t have that 3 man that can be a creator. You have to count on Harrison to be the creator, feed the post, run the break. It puts ore pressure on him, but (John) Calipari has done extraordinary work with extraordinary point guards.”
DeCourcy said from a Kentucky standpoint, having Wiggins pick Florida State and not Kansas would have been a better thing.
“I don’t think anybody looks at Florida State as a roster that can win a national championship even with Wiggins,” DeCourcy said. “They have young talent, but don’t have a great point guard or great inside depth. They will be a NCAA team and with Wiggins would have been capable of beating anybody they play. But I just couldn’t see them winning six games (in the NCAA) even with him.
“Put him on North Carolina and it becomes sort of like 2012. Pick your flavor. Like the young talent at Kentucky or the more experience but physically talented team North Carolina would have. The second best option for a Kentucky fan was having him go to Florida State.”
And what will he do for Kansas?
“Kansas still has a young roster, but Bill Self is a championship coach. Bill has done it and will have a lot of very good, young players. He’s bringing in an excellent class and Wiggins will make Kansas a national championship threat,” DeCourcy said.
Could UK’s team chemistry be better without Wiggins since Calipari could still go nine to 10 deep easily any game?
“With Wiggins, he would have had a lot of guys to keep happy. I think James Young would have been the odd one out,” DeCourcy said. “You have to use the experience Alex brings and Dakari Johnson under any scenario is probably a 15- to 18-minute (per game) player. The one who struggles to get minutes if Wiggins had been there would have been Young. But even for Wiggins it will be a struggle to make the transition to small forward. He is good enough, but that’s the toughest spot in college basketball to transition to because of the defensive assignments being so different from game to game.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
He came into his sophomore season with seven Division I scholarship offers and now Madison Southern running back Damien Harris says the number is around 15 or more.
That’s how impressive the 5-11, 205-pound Harris, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, has been. He ran for 742 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 76 carries in 2011 as a freshman and came back last season to gain 1,911 yards on 160 carries and score 37 times. He also caught five passes for 176 yards and three more scores.
He got more physical last season when he found more time to get in the weight room — he had always played three sports before — and hopes to be even more aggressive this season after learning last year that teams often celebrated just for tackling him.
“A lot of times it can be like that. It gets frustrating. Every time you get tackled, they celebrate like they won a state championship, but it only makes me better,” said Harris. “It makes me not want to get tackled that much more so I can keep them from having that pleasure of tackling me. It is what it is. I have kind of accepted it through the years, so it is not that big a deal any more.”
He proved his speed is a “big deal” at the Class AA regional track meet at Boyle County Saturday. He won the 100-meter dash in and also helped Madison Southern win the 4×100 relay even though he’s still not at full speed. “It has been kind of hard for me conditioning wise. This was my first meet in almost two months where I had surgery on my elbow. That’s why I didn’t run the 200 (meter dash). I had a slight strain in my quad, too,” he said.
He’s not sure what caused his elbow injury.
“I just got to the point that I couldn’t straight in out and was in pain. I didn’t really have a significant injury to cause that,” Harris said. “I went to the doctor and they told me that I had extra bone growing off my elbow and it was causing extra scar tissue and arthritis. Whenever they did surgery, they shaved it down so I could get full extension in it. I will be 100 percent for football now.”
Harris prides himself on being prepared. He says he enjoys watching film and understands the value of blocking assignments and schemes. He also understands he needs a plan for what he wants to do this summer.
“I am going to try to make it up to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama and maybe even Florida for the Friday Night Lights where you get to play in the Swamp under the lights at night,” Harris said. “I will make a few of those type trips. I am also actually going with one of my linemen to support him at one of his combines up in Chicago. I will be pretty busy seeing what places are about.”
He plans to make a trip to Kentucky “every now and then” this summer. However, he says he is already “pretty close” to UK head coach Mark Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown and running backs coach Chad Scott.
“They are all great guys. I will definitely stay in touch with them and make some of their practices and stuff. I was at the spring game. I will definitely stay in touch with those guys,” Harris said.
He tries not to let his abundance of scholarship offers impact his daily routine.
“I try not to think about it. I want to stay grounded, stay humble. I know that I am not there yet. There are still a lot of things I have to work on,” he said. “It is hard at times to be humble. I am not going to deny it is hard. But I was raised by a good mother and she definitely keeps me grounded.
“My coaches tell me to just try to be thankful for everything I have because it is a blessing to do everything I do. I try to stay humble and thank God for all he’s blessed me with. Focus more on my grades and then what I need to do on the field versus how many offers I have.”
He won’t set individual goals for this season.
“Every year my No. 1 goal is get better and win a state championship. I don’t want to get individual accolades because there are 11 men on the field, not just one,” Harris said. “I definitely try to make team goals instead of me goals. In the end, a state championship with my team is much better than state player of the year. I don’t really have that many goals for myself other than definitely win a state championship. That’s the one goal I want.”
That’s part of why he runs track. He likes to stay in shape, but says he also “loves winning” and pushing himself to win.
“If there is something to do because I think I can win, I do it because I love to be a winner,” he said.
He’s not sure if he can win the 100-meter dash at the Class AA state meet in Louisville Friday.
“It is a tough question. I have been off for a while. but I don’t ever consider myself an underdog. I always consider myself to be not the best but to have the best chance,” Harris said. “You have to go in with that mindset that you are going to win under any circumstance. Not in an arrogant or cocky way. I feel like I still have a good chance to come in first. If I do, it will be great. If I don’t, it will just give motivation to work even harder for next year.”
He has paid attention to how hard the Kentucky coach staff has been working in recruiting and noted how Conner quarterback Drew Barker, a four-star recruit, picked UK over South Carolina last week.
“I am not going to want to go somewhere where I am the only recruit … where other people commit takes into play where I want to go,” Harris said. “If a good quarterback commits to a school, I will look into that. A good quarterback and a good running back duo, that’s always a plus.
“As far as other players at my position, I don’t like to go somewhere another top running back will go. I don’t want to really share with somebody else. I would like to be that guy that gets the carries, that gets the tough yards and stuff like that. I take it into consideration”
He knows Brown’s high tempo offense at Kentucky could create a lot of opportunities for playmakers to touch the ball, something he says appeals to him..
“More carries gives me a better opportunity to show people what I can do. But 30 or 40 carries a game is hard work. Not saying I wouldn’t be up to the work, but it makes things harder versus 15 to 20 carries like coach Brown seems to like for a back,” Harris said. “But that is kind of how our offense is. We like to run 80 or 90 plays a game and if I were to go there, it would be an easy fit for me because I would be used to running so many plays already and I like that offense.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Kentucky quarterback Freddie Maggard says it’s not hard to understand why the verbal commitment Friday from four-star Conner quarterback Drew Barker is so important to Kentucky’s program.
“The significance of the commitment is yet another national recruit that coach Mark Stoops and his staff have been able to keep in Kentucky — first two being (Jason) Hatcher and (Ryan) Timmons (in the 2013 recruiting class,” said Maggard.
Barker had basically been ignored by previous UK coach Joker Phillips and his staff — they didn’t even know he attended a summer camp — yet Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown convinced him during the last five months to pick UK over South Carolina and Tennessee. Both had coaches that had been recruiting Barker much longer than Stoops and Brown.
“From the looks of his recruitment, he seems he wants to play in the SEC, which makes sense. Second is his family were UK fans going into the recruiting process. Coach Stoops was given more of a chance to catch up based on original loyalty. Either way, like Hatcher and Timmons, this staff comes in and closes,” Maggard said.
The former UK quarterback thinks Conner’s addition is huge for what it can do for the 2014 recruiting class, which now has verbal commitments from Barker and five Ohio players.
“A successful class usually has a vocal leader within its ranks,” Maggard said. “A nationally known recruit such as Barker can help sell the UK program to his peers. Today, they all talk to each other. Having an influential leader that is totally committed is like having another coach on the road recruiting.”
However, Maggard says fans should be realistic and he worries about the hype that Barker is Kentucky’s best high school quarterback since Tim Couch, a former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick.
“Those are huge shoes to fill. I do think with this coaching staff, he’ll develop into the best Drew Barker he can be. That should be good enough,” Maggard said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Kentucky hit a gigantic Big Blue double and land Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top basketball recruit, and Drew Barker, a four-star quarterback, in the next week or so?
Barker will choose either UK, South Carolina or Tennessee during a ceremony at Conner High School in northern Kentucky Friday at 3:30 p.m. Wiggins has not set a timetable for his announcement but most are expecting the Huntington (W.Va.) Prep standout to do so in the next week to 10 days.
One can debate which player is most likely to pick Kentucky. John Calipari has already signed six McDonald’s All-Americans and has what is considered the all-time best recruiting class. Wiggins picking UK instead of Kansas, North Carolina or Florida State would only add to that legacy — and make UK the odds-on favorite to win the 2014 national title. Most have considered UK the leader for him at some point, but he’s never really indicated where he might go.
Barker was not recruited by former coach Joker Phillips at Kentucky. New coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown quickly changed that when they arrived and made him a priority and UK’s top quarterback prospect in the 2014 recruiting class. He can stay “home and be a hero” as Brown challenges in-state recruits to do and maybe become a star in Brown’s high-octane offense. Or he could go to South Carolina — a team that wins annually and could compete for a national title sooner — and play for Steve Spurrier.
Which player does Kentucky need the most? That’s another good question.
My instinct says Barker because landing him would continue the momentum Stoops has built since he arrived. He had a stellar recruiting class and enticed four-star in-state players Ryan Timmons of Franklin County and Jason Hatcher of Trinity to join the Wildcats at the last minute. He had a successful spring practice capped by over 50,000 fans — an all-time record — watching the spring game. He’s already got five 2014 commitments from Ohio and could be on the verge of more. Adding Barker just keeps the Big Blue ball rolling at a record pace for Stoops as the countdown continues to his first game on Aug. 31 against Western Kentucky.
Wiggins is a once-in-a-generation player and would have everyone talking about UK going 40-0 next season. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has already said Wiggins should be the preseason national player of the year no matter which school he attends. Wiggins is that special that no one laughed about Parish’s suggestion.
Wiggins is a sure one-and-done player. But even without him, UK likely will go into next season ranked No. 1. That’s why it seems that Stoops’ program needs Barker much more than Calipari’s program needs Wiggins.
However, with no real sources and going strictly on instincts, I truly like UK’s chances to land both players. Wiggins spent a lot of time with other UK signees in April during the postseason all-star games. Huntington has a lot of UK fans. Calipari has shown he can take big-time talent and guide players to where they hit the NBA jackpot after one year. And if Wiggins is going to college for only one year, why not go where he has the best chance to win a national title.
Some say he doesn’t like the spotlight. True, but the spotlight has been on him so long now that he copes and does fun. It’s not like there won’t be media at North Carolina, Kansas or Florida State. I just don’t buy the theory that the spotlight will scare Wiggins away from UK.
Barker? He likes Brown. He’s bonded with Ohio recruits who have committed to UK. It would be easy for family and friends to watch him play at Kentucky. And he grew up a UK fan.
That’s why when all the drama ends, my vote goes for Kentucky hitting the Big Blue double and getting both Wiggins and Barker.
By LARRY VAUGHT
I loved the way Jason Nahra, UK signee Dakari Johnson’s middle school coach at Sayre, answered this question about the future Wildcat.
Question: What do you think UK fans will like best about him on and off the court?
Nahra: “Dakari is unique in that he is unlike most big men coming through college right now. Since he has been tall most of his basketball life, he has developed great feet and hands for the game, and has sound post moves, and can score in a variety of ways. He will be a supportive teammate, and will have no problem fitting in to play his role to help achieve common team goals. Off the court, I hope he gets the opportunity to show people his personality, and his enthusiasm for the game. He doesn’t desire the spotlight, but he isn’t afraid to step into it if need be.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky signee Dakari Johnson — a McDonald’s All-American — played middle school basketball in Lexington at Sayre and coach Jason Nahra was impressed even then bymore than just his court skills.
“It would seem obvious to say that having a player with Dakari’s size and skill made a coach’s job easy, but what impressed me about Dakari was something less obvious,” said Nahra. “Dakari worked on his game every day, and his effort rubbed of on the players surrounding him, and they quickly realized that they had to work extra hard to make up what they lacked in matching his physical size. He had always been a leader because he drew a lot of attention based on his size, but he quickly became aware of how to lead by example.”
Nahra has remained friends with the family and even went to Chicago last month to watch Johnson play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. He shared these insights on the 7-foot, 250-pound Johnson — the top-ranked center in the 2013 recruiting class who played at Montverde Academy in Florida.
Question: Was it obvious then that he would be a future star?
Nahra: “Nothing is guaranteed of course, and Dakari realized this, even in Middle School. It quickly became apparent that his physical tools could be the foundation of a bright future, but those needed to be combined with several other traits. I recall the very first day of practice with Dakari as a 6th grader. I told him he had to make one post move to make a game winning shot, and I asked him what would he do. He posted up, and I threw him the ball, and without hesitation, he did a baseline drop step, up and under, and scored. From that moment, I was cautiously optimistic that he was headed for something big.”
Question: What do you remember most about him?
Nahra: “Dakari draws attention wherever he goes, and initially it’s because of his height, but once you talk to him, you realize that its everything else that keeps you engaged. His personality is fun-loving, and a smile is always present. He genuinely takes an interest in whoever he is talking with, and you can tell that he’s listening to you, not just hearing what you’re saying. When he visited Sayre recently, he demonstrated that he could seamlessly transition between a conversation with a teacher, and the next moment, a second grader. I’m proud of Dakari the basketball player, but even more proud of the person he is.”
Question: What kind of relationship did you have with his family and much have you followed his career since he left Lexington?
Nahra: “I have watched from a distance as Dakari has gone through his high school career. I have remained in contact with his family, occasionally shooting Dakari a text wishing him good luck, or to let him know that I’m proud of him. Like anyone I coach, I am confident knowing that Dakari realizes I will be a fan of his as a person even when the basketball stops bouncing.”
Question: Did it surprise you that he picked Kentucky?
Nahra: “I had no indication of which school Dakari would pick, since he kept that type of thing quiet, as he should. Kentucky seemed to be a place with the perfect combination of things for him on and off the court, and I believe that the appeal of returning to a town with which he was familiar was a big plus. Having a group of friends he made in his days at Sayre was a big draw as well. Nervousness comes from a lack of experience, so if his transition to college was going to be made easier because he was familiar with Lexington and the people here, I was all for it.”
Question: How will he fit into the Kentucky mystique?
Nahra: “Having lived in Lexington, Dakari is well aware of many things that come with Kentucky basketball. I’m not sure anyone can properly prepare for all that comes with it, but he is arriving on campus with a deeper knowledge base than most. I know he will embrace all that comes with being a Kentucky Wildcat, rather than running away from it. And at 7 feet tall, it would be particularly tough to hide from the spotlight anyway!”
Question: How would you describe his mother and how big a role has she had shaping his academic/athletic career?
Nahra: “Dakari stands 7 feet above the ground, but he is as well grounded as they come, and in my opinion, this can be directly attributed to his family. I am always impressed by his relationship with his Mom, and his little brother, and their family is a close knit one. His mom has her values perfectly aligned, and her boys know that they are expected to be well-rounded young men in all they do. The boys have learned accountability, and this applies to each aspect of their lives.”
Question: What made you decide to go to the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago to watch him play?
Nahra: “I have attended 8 McDonald’s All-American games, my first in 1986 (Rex Chapman’s year), but this one had a much more personal feel. With Dakari playing in the game, I watched like an anxious parent, but I tried to soak up the entire experience, just as I had encouraged Dakari to do. It was exciting to get a glimpse of the future of Kentucky basketball, and it was truly special to know that Dakari is going to be a part of it.”
Question: What is one thing UK fans might not know about Johnson that you think would be interesting for them to know?
Nahra: “Rumor has it, Dakari is a solid ping-pong player, although he has yet to challenge me! I would imagine he has no problem covering all of the table, and I bet that any weakness he has in his ping-pong game would be tough to exploit. I’m sure he will be often found at the ping-pong table in the Wildcat Lodge.”