The Next Big Game!

  • UK FB Blue-White Game:
    in 5 days, 19 hours, 45 minutes

Larry on Twitter

UK recruiting

Kentucky bound center, Karl Towns Jr., has been named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year for the 2013-14 season. He will be playing in Nike Hoop Summit Saturday night.

Tyler Ulis photo submitted.

Tyler Ulis photo submitted.

By LARRY VAUGHT

For trainer Eric Nawracaj, working with future Kentucky basketball player Tyler Ulis has been easy because of the “drive and determination” the Chicago point guard has.

“I am pushing him to the next level because that is what it will take to be successful player at Kentucky. I work hard with him. He has a huge passion for basketball. Kentucky is going to love this kid when he comes down there and he will be a bonafide superstar,” said Nawracaj.

The two worked out daily during the summer when Ulis was not traveling to games and then worked out often during the basketball season.

“I got a little banged up during the summer and didn’t work out then. But other than that, we worked out every day. I would go out every night and lift weights, shoot and get lot of shots up. With the season, we couldn’t get in as often with my schedule, so we would work out most every morning at 5 before school. We were trying to get work in so I could last through the season before we backed off some near the end,” Ulis said.

“It’s not always fun. If I am late or something one day, he will be upset with me and make me doing extra. If I didn’t do something right in the game, he would punish me. But I love working out with him. He is here for me and trying to do his best for me. He is another guy who doesn’t pat me on the back. I had a 30 point, eight-assist game and he told me if I would have played a little better I could have won that game single-handily. He doesn’t pat me on the back. He tells me what I need to work on and gets me right.”

The 5-9 Ulis reached a life-long dream when he made the McDonald’s All-American Game that will be played Wednesday at the United Center in Chicago. That also validated that size is not an issue with Ulis.

“Ever since me and Tyler started working out about two years ago, we have tried to fight that size thing,” his trainer said. “I just tell him to keep working and keep being disciplined with what we are doing because you have weaknesses and it’s my job to change those weaknesses. That’s not a negative with him, but means to get to that next level you need to understand you have weaknesses.

“We are working on his body, working on his range to build it back. We have to make sure his vertical increases so he can go ahead and drive and attack that basket with a purpose and finish up in the air. So all that stuff is really coming together nicely. I couldn’t be more proud of Tyler. He has worked his tail off.”

Nawracaj says he is “mentally tough” and a “fierce competitor.”

“He hates to lose. Kentucky is getting one heck of a recruit and he’s going to be a dynamite player in the future,” Nawracaj said. “I tell people this all the time … I have seen, coached and trained a lot of players and he has great speed, is great at changing direction, has great vision and unbelievable passing skills. He is one of the most consistent shooters I have been with at such a young age.

“I give credit to James (Ulis’ father) and his family for getting him involved in shooting early. That’s a wonderful thing to teach kids. There are a lot of elite and high school kids that just don’t know and we have to work on their form and technique. Sometimes it is too late. He established himself early and now it is just a matter of how we make him super elite where he can live his dreams and get paid one day (for playing basketball).”

Nawracaj admits he has pushed Ulis probably harder than the Chicago guard ever expected.

“He is one of the most humble human beings around and the relationship we have established is great. I have told him I am not there to be your friend or pat you on the back. You have fans to do that,” the trainer said. “You come to a guy like me that can help you do things different and try to expand your game to make you more knowledgeable. There are always things you can learn, pick up about your own game.

“I was frustrated with fact we worked so hard and played on a college court and he explained his legs were gone (during the game). I explained we worked hard and got you in shape and then that six week period between that game and when we stopped working out, he lost his focus of really staying in shape. You get in basketball shape and basketball shape is not good enough any more if you want to be an elite player. That’s what we talked about. He knows what’s out there for him with the elite skills he has if he just keeps working like he has.”

Trey Lyles photo courtesy Chris Howell/Bloomington Herald-Times.

Trey Lyles photo courtesy Chris Howell/Bloomington Herald-Times.

By LARRY VAUGHT

The way Tom Lyles sees it, destiny brought Kentucky to Indianapolis to play in the NCAA Tournament the same weekend his son, Trey, will be playing for a state championship in downtown Indianapolis also.

“If you look at from day one to now, on day one everybody gave Kentucky a chance to win the national title and by day 45 nobody believed. With us, nobody believed on day one and day 45 everybody believes,” Tom Lyles said. “It was just meant for these two to align. You have got an 8 seed playing in the NCAA Sweet 16 and then you have Arsenal Tech going for a state championship, something that has not been done in 34 years right across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium. Not a car drive, but just a short walk. It was meant to line up that way. Now both programs have to get it done.”

Trey Lyles signed with Kentucky in November. The 6-10 Lyles is averaging 24 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.4 blocked shots per game going into Saturday night’s 4A title game at Bankers LIfe Fieldhouse against Lake Central, a team Tech beat by 19 points in  January. He’s made 209 of 353 shots, a 59 percent mark, and is 208 of 281, 74 percent, at the foul line. He’s even hit 22 3-pointers.

Central (22-3) has 6-7 Butler recruit Tyler Wideman (15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and 6-5 senior Tyler Ross (8.8 points, 5.5 rebounds). Senior Tye Wilburn (12.3 points, 4.5 assists) ranks as one of state’s best point guards and senior Matt Meneghetti is a 44 percent shooter from 3 for Lake Central.

“We know it is going to be a great game. We are doing our best to prepared. We have to be ready to show up and win, not just show up and play,” Tom Lyles said.

Tom Lyles, a Tech assistant coach, says playing in the same arena where the Indiana Pacers play — and beat Miami Wednesday — doesn’t matter as much to his son and his teammates as a chance to win a state title.

“In four years with the talent we’ve had, we’ve only been here once. They know the struggle to get here,” Tom Lyles said.

That’s why Trey Lyles won’t be at Friday’s UK-Louisville game — and remember he picked UK over Louisville.

“We would love to go, but we will be focused on what we have to do Saturday,” Tom Lyles sad. “I am not saying Kentucky winning is not important to us because it is, but we want that state championship. But we certainly will be watching the game.”

Tickets remain for Saturday’s state title game and Tom Lyles is counting on UK fans in Indianapolis this weekend to be at the game.

“It would be great for UK fans to see us and I will be disappointed in anything less,” Tom Lyles said. “This is one of their own who will be suiting up in a few months in the blue and white to represent them.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

First a win over a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney on Sunday, but now could UK coach John Calipari be ready to land a highly-touted target in the 2015 recruiting class?

Five-star junior guard Luke Kennard of Franklin, Ohio, will likely either pick Kentucky or Duke tonight at his high school during a celebration ceremony for him being named Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball.

“We just thought this would be a good time to do it while we are celebrating what he accomplished this year,” coach Brian Bales said.

The 6-5 Kennard averaged 41 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He grew up a Kentucky fan — Tayshaun Prince was his favorite player and he had a UK room in his house. But many wonder if making this announcement so soon after he took his first official visit to Duke when the Blue Devils beat North Carolina could be an indicator that he’s going to pick Duke.

Kennard narrowed his list to Duke, UK, Louisville, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan and North Carolina in January.

Kentucky has a 2015 commitment from five-star Chicago  guard Charles Matthews. He is ranked among the nation’s top 15 juniors by most recruiting analysts.

While no one connected directly to Kennard would speculate on his choice Sunday, sources indicated to me that they expected it to be Kentucky. That’s my guess as well even though many others are predicting Duke and one excellent UK source told me he expects him to pick Duke.

If Kennard picks UK, Big Blue fans will love him. He can handle, rebound and shoot. He’s a dead-eye free throw shooter. And he’s made for the Big Blue fan spotlight.

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis sophomore Jayson Tatum, one of Kentucky’s 2016 recruiting targets, is not sure if he’ll watch the Wildcats play Friday night against Kansas State or not.

Tatum’s season is over but he recently had his wisdom teeth taken out and Chaminade College Preparatory coach Frank Bennett wasn’t sure what his star would do about Friday’s game.

“He had a phenomenal year for us. He averaged 26-11 (points and rebounds). Shot 42 percent from the 3. He also had about two blocks a game, three-four steals, five-six assists. He stuffed the stat sheet and did it all for us.”

Tatum has had a bevvy of big-time scholarship offers and Bennett said it’s “hard to imagine what more intense recruiting would look like” for Tatum.

“It’s easy to forget he is a sophomore and I am so excited about future,” Bennett said. “Right now coaches are just continuing to let him know they are interested. It’s still a long time until signing day and I am sure things will change. I don’t talk much about recruiting with him unless a head coach is in town. I let him have those recruiting conversations with his dad, but I know Kentucky is definitely still high on his list.”

So high that Bennett plans to have his team play at least once in Kentucky again next season as it did this past season when it played a game at Lexington Catholic. He says his team likely will play in the Marshall County Hoop Fest the first weekend of December or maybe another special event in November.

“But we are coming back to Kentucky,” he said.

Click on the photo above to watch Blake Bone talk to Larry Vaught.

Click on the photo above to watch Blake Bone talk to Larry Vaught.

By LARRY VAUGHT

WOODRUFF, S.C. — Offensive coordinator Jonathan Rollins isn’t sure quite how fast Woodruff (S.C.) receiver Blake Bone is, but he knows he’s fast enough.

“He’s been in the 4.5 (second for the 40-yard dash) range,” said Rollins. “But one thing about him — he does not get run down a lot from behind. He doesn’t get caught.”

The 6-5 receiver signed with Kentucky in November and Rollins thinks he could have a big career with the Wildcats.

“He is going to fit into just about any group and I think that is what will make him a special player at Kentucky. Sometimes you get players that will come in and have been the guy and it’s hard for them to adjust when everybody is that guy. But Blake just has that personality that people are drawn to,” Rollins said.

“He is a humble kid, but he works hard. The one thing that I think really makes him good is that when the competition rises, his game comes up. That’s what made him special for us. The bigger the game and you had that defensive back on the other side that was a really good player, he played even better.

“His ball skills are incredible. Some of the catches he has made here, especially in the red zone, and able to get his feet in unreal. At all these 7-on-7 camps, he made catches we just shook our heads. He is just really good about getting his body in position to make a play, and I think it comes from playing basketball.”

Bone, who is still 17, was a 1,000-point scorer in his basketball career and played various positions.

“He was a good player and played hard,” Rollins said. “But I think another thing that will make him special at UK is that even though we have a good weight program here that will help him, once he gets to Kentucky and is able to eat good and workouts they have and not playing basketball, he will put on a little weight that will make him a phenomenal player. Right now he has good size and has good strength, but as that improves he will be really good player.”

Rollins says he knows how to make plays.

“When he runs curls, digs and things like that, he has that ability to find the open area and get there when the quarterback throws it to that area,” Rollins said. “He has a good knack for being on one page with the quarterback. He did a really good job for us of recognizing what the defense was in and communicating with quarterback to check into another pass play or route.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

If five-star Chicago guard Charles Thomas verbally commits to Kentucky Wednesday morning as expected, it will have no impact on what UK target Luke Kennard does about where he’ll play his college basketball.

The 6-6 Matthews has Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State and Marquette as his final five schools. He is a combo guard who is ranked the No. 12 junior and No. 1 shooting guard nationally by 247Sports.com in the 2015 recruiting class.

Kennard is a 6-5 junior combo guard from Franklin, Ohio, who plans to make his college choice sometime late this spring. Kentucky, Duke, Louisville and Ohio State are some of the schools he’s still considering.

“Matthews’ decision will not impact Luke at all,” said Kennard’s father, Mark. “He wants to play with great players in college. He wants to play with great teammates. He will not be impacted by what any particular player does.

“Matthews is a shooting guard, but he can play more than one spot. Luke can play more than one spot. You want to win and get better in college, so you want great players with you.”

Franklin won its first postseason game 66-68 over Dayton Alter Monday when Kennard had 26 points against a box-and-one defense that allowed his teammates to get and hit open shots. Franklin plays again Saturday at 6 p.m. in Dayton against Thurgood Marshall.

“We beat a good team in the tournament and Luke was able to pass and rebound and let some teammates step up,” Mark Kennard said. “It was a great win for our community.

“Right now he is just trying to get wins for our team. He’s had a fun year and a great time with his teammates. We’re just continuing to look at improving and not really worrying about recruiting right here at tournament time.”

uk football helmetBy LARRY VAUGHT

Five-star running back Damien Harris of Madison Southern, a recent Michigan de-commit and considered the nation’s top junior running back, highlights recruits scheduled to be at Kentucky Saturday.

Current UK commit Montrell Custis of Georgia will be there as will four-star linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, a priority in-state target for UK.

Once again, Ohio players dominate the recruits visiting. Those scheduled to attend include four-star offensive lineman Georg Brown; four-star linebacker Nick Conner; three-star offensive linemen George Asafo-Adjei, Noah Listerman and Rob Dowdy; three-star linebackers C.J. Stalker, Anthony McKee and David Long; three-star cornerback Kei Beckha; and three star defensive tackle Elijah Taylor.

Others known to be planning on attending — providing weather doesn’t change that — are four-star cornerback Marcus Lewis and three-star receiver Jabari Greenwood of Washington, D.C., four-star defensive lineman Darius Fullwood of Maryland (a teammate of 2014 signee Kobie Walker), and three-star receivers Tavin Richardson of South Carolina and Dexter Neal of Georgia.

Two quarterbacks — junior Reese Ryan of Lexington Catholic and sophomore Messiah deWeaver of Ohio — are scheduled to visit along with these in-state players: tackle Mason Wolfe of Henderson, linebacker Ramone Kelly of Louisville, receiver Marcus Floyd of Lexington and running back Michael Nero of Louisville.

Click on the photo to view a video of Luke talking about his family and friends.

Click on the photo to view a video of Luke talking about his family and friends.

By LARRY VAUGHT

With the seven schools that Luke Kennard has left on his college list, there’s really no way for him to make a bad decision. So how will the 6-5 Franklin, Ohio, guard decide whether to pick Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State or another school?

“I will take a couple of official visits. I will narrow my list to five. I might not take all five visits,” said Kennard. “I think will click to me when I know that this is where I am going. I have been praying about it a lot and I am blessed to have the opportunity.

“I think some factors would be the coaching staff and how well that relationship is with that coach, and possibly playing time. You want to go somewhere that you are going to be able to play and how you fit into the system they have. Academics has to be there, but schools I am looking at now are all great academically.”

Kennard is ranked as one of the top 20 players in the 2015 recruiting class, so “he would like to think” he can play anywhere he goes.

He has plenty of connections to Kentucky. He grew up a Kentucky fan. His grandfather, Frank, was a long-time UK season ticket holder and still attends games regularly with friends from Franklin.
Kennard’s family is good friends with Linda and Joe Heagen, two long-time UK fans with season tickets.

“He goes with them to games to watch a lot,” Kennard said. “He sits down low to watch players early. He just enjoys it so much. He has been a Kentucky fan and grew up a Kentucky fan. He doesn’t really talk that much recruiting with me. He will support me no matter what happens, but he will wear his UK gear sometimes and talk about it.”

He says there are also “tons” of UK fans in the Franklin area and he will “see some at games wearing Kentucky stuff” almost every game.

His family even had a UK room when he was younger.

“We did in my basement but it flooded and we had to take it all out and we ended up putting just a couch and carpet down there. But we did have a UK room when I was younger,” Kennard said.

Scott Daniels has a son playing with Kennard, but he knows how the Kennards feel about UK.

“His family are big, big Kentucky people. Me, I am a big Buckeye fan. We have had all the big coaches here. My son talked about Rick Pitino coming to school. I hope to see him be a Buckeye but wherever he goes he is going to succeed. He is academically sound, great family around him. I don’t really know how to put it but a class act all the way around and a great, great player who has a family that has always loved Kentucky from what I have seen,” Daniels said.

Teammate Evan Crowe has been on recruiting trips with Kennard.

“Honestly I don’t think he knows where he wants to go. I sometimes think do you really not know, but it will be a tough decision for him,” Crowe said. “The Kentucky atmosphere is amazing. It is Kentucky basketball. The coaches seem like great guys, so down to earth.”

Tayshaun Prince was his favorite player and Prince’s team was the first UK team he can really remember following.

“He was a lefty, I am a lefty. I remember going to the Heagen’s house and they would set up a hoop in their basement to watch the game down there and I would shoot during the game. That team was my first one to really follow,” Kennard said. “I met him this past summer at his camp. He is a great guy. I always liked his mentality and the way he controls himself on the floor. You could tell he was a great, humble guy. He was a role model for me and I was hoping to grow up like him.”

First, though, he has to decide whether to play at UK like Prince did or go a different route with his collegiate career.

“Making the decision early kind of has two sides to it,” Kennard said. “The first one would have to be it will be good to get it over with and get some pressure off and I can enjoy the rest of my season, AAU and my senior year.

“But the other side have to be that I have grown so close to so many coaches, that it will be hard to tell some no. So there will be two sides to it, but I think the big one really is just getting it out of the way and that’s what I plan to do sometime late spring.”

Click on the photo to view a short action clip of Luke Kennard.

Click on the photo to view a short action clip of Luke Kennard.

By LARRY VAUGHT

FRANKLIN, Ohio — Luke Kennard says he likes basketball better, but football is right there.

“I have a great time with football and I have grown close with the football coaches and all my friends play both sports. I have a great time with football, but been with basketball since I was born is what people like to say,” Kennard said. “There have been a few colleges talking to me about both sports, but I’ve had conversations  with my parents and coach Bales about playing both in college and the decision is just play one and that is basketball.

“But I like being a part of the football team here. I have grown up playing it and enjoy it a lot. I love being part of it with my friends. At the same time, being a highly recruited player I like being a high school student and kid that can have fun. So I am no sure what I will do about football after I make my college choice this spring.”

Basketball teammate Evan Crowe, who plays tight end and receiver in football, agrees that Kennard is better at basketball.

“But he is a heck of football player, too,” Crowe said. “He knows not to risk getting injured. We take good care of him. He has good linemen to protect him and he knows how to get rid of the ball.”

However, winning is what Kennard likes no matter what he’s doing.

“I am very competitive. I like to win,” the Franklin junior said.

No one understands, or appreciates, that more than Crowe.

“We are playing Flappy Bird, some little stupid (video) game (in which a player controls a bird flying awkwardly through a series of tubes), and he like has a 100 and I have 20,” Crowe smiled and said. “He is competitive in everything. In practice, he wants to win every drill, which is good because that makes us all better. But we also have great teammates to push him as well because we all enjoy beating him if we can, too.”

However, Kennard knows his success has made him a role model for youngsters in the Franklin area and, win or lose, he tries to always make time for youngsters.

“I love being around little kids. They always have a great time. I think that really comes with how my parents raised me and have to give credit to my parents for that. I have grown up able to communicate with young kids,” he said. “There are a lot of them that want pictures and autographs after games, and that’s fine. But there will be some older and middle aged people, too. It is kind of a mixture. My teammates will kind of joke around about it or stuff. They don’t really mind. They enjoy being a part of it seeing the kids interact with me. That’s why I just love being part of this team so much.”

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.