Five Things We Learned In UK Sports This Week
10/26/2012 12:23 AM
A look back at the key storylines this week from the world of UK sports…
The Old Man Gets Respect
Senior Julius Mays wasted no time making an impression during Wednesday’s Blue-White scrimmage. The Wright State transfer scored 13 points in the game, but established himself early as an offensive threat for the Blue team, registering points on a variety of drives, jumpshots and buzzer-beating runners. We joked on Twitter during the game that his relentless style and craftiness with the ball was reminiscent of Uncle Drew, Kyrie Irving’s elderly alter ego in a summer Nike commercial. After the game, we talked with Mays’ teammates about his performance and discovered he already has a pretty appropriate nickname.
On the surface, the nickname appears to be a playful jab at Mays’ seniority and freshman Archie Goodwin even joked that his senior teammate is “about 50”. But in talking with his teammates more in depth after the game, it became very obvious that the old man gets respect. Goodwin talked of a relationship between the two that sounded a lot like a guy leaning on his older brother for guidance. Mays talks with him at practice about keeping his emotions under control and junior Jon Hood said that Old Man is always “talking guys down off the ledge”. Why? “Because he’s an old man,” Hood says. “He’s been around forever and he knows what to do.” In the first half of the Blue-White game, he was attacking the basket and pouring in points. In the second half, he settled into more of a distributor role and didn’t try to do too much – the same thing he’s been talking with Goodwin about. And that’s part of why they’ve grown to love him so much.
In a fairly short period of time, Mays has earned the respect of his teammates, which is all the more impressive considering his unique circumstances. He’s one-and-done, whether he’d like to be or not, and unlike many of Calipari’s freshmen with much higher ceilings, he has to quickly understand how he fits on the court in a more limited role, as well as navigate his spot off it. Respect and trust is something that often can take time to earn, especially in the world of sports. But after Julius Mays excelled in two very different roles on the court Wednesday, his teammates made it clear that Old Man has their attention in the locker room too.
Willie Cauley-Stein Is A Beast
During UK’s Media Day, one of the better quotes we heard came from freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, whose reputation had grown to mythical proportions over the summer thanks to John Calipari’s constant praise on Twitter and CoachCal.com. We asked Cauley-Stein about that subject and he joked that after he committed to UK, everyone was calling him a project and despite no one having seen him play over the past few months, fans kept Tweeting him and calling him “a beast”. Pretty casually, the seven-footer laughed and said, “I guess I have to go be a beast now.” And that’s exactly what he’s done.
His powerful dunk over Nerlens Noel was the trademark play of Big Blue Madness and his aggressive and efficient play inside continued in Wednesday’s Blue-White scrimmage. During that exhibition, Cauley-Stein scored 11 points on 5-7 shooting and blocked 3 shots, but the stats don’t tell the entire story. Starting for the Blue team, alongside Julius Mays, Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson and Twany Beckham, Cauley-Stein helped pace the reserves to a double-digit lead over the starters and dominated his one-on-one matchup with Nerlens Noel. At the half, the two bigs switched teams and Cauley-Stein continued to give the possible #1 overall pick fits, leaving Noel frustrated to the point of slapping away Cauley-Stein’s hand a few times on defense. Afterward, he was again nonchalant about his performance, saying only it was just a scrimmage and they’re back to competing and making each other better the following day, but the message was clear. Willie Cauley-Stein is everything John Calipari said he was this summer and he may just be that beast everyone was Tweeting about.
And we didn’t even talk about his hook shot and the turnaround jumpers!
Andrew Wiggins Makes It Official
The nation’s top prospect in the class of 2014 became the top prospect in the class of 2013 yesterday when Andrew Wiggins officially announced that he’d like to get to the NBA a year sooner. The announcement was not much of a shock to anyone really. We talked with Wiggins’ high school coach, Rob Fulford, in July and he said that the decision would be made, but not necessarily announced, by the second week of August when school resumed. Shortly after that, Wiggins stopped doing interviews until his father announced yesterday that he’d be reclassifying.
Kentucky has been the favorite throughout the whole process and it’s essentially been a two-team run between the Cats and Florida State for the past two months. But Wiggins said earlier this week that he wants more teams to recruit him and will not make a decision on where he’ll attend school until the spring. To some UK fans, that was a reason to be concerned, but most likely it’s just another step in the process of what seems like a fairly cut-and-dry scenario. And in the case of Wiggins, it seems to go slightly beyond the usual “Calipari puts guys in the NBA” thought.
Andrew Wiggins will be a one-and-done player, no matter where he goes to school. Barring a catastrophic injury, he’s going to be the #1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. And even saying that, it may not do him justice in terms of explaining just how special the situation he is in right now because he’s the type of prodigy that some say scouts haven’t seen since LeBron James or Kevin Durant. His phenomenal basketball skills, as well as his style of play and personality, have put him in position to have an immediate impact both on the court and in marketing as soon as he enters the draft. It’s something that he’s well aware of and guess what? That may just be an extra notch on Kentucky’s belt.
Wiggins’s situation is a special one that LeBron James also found himself in as he closed out his prep career. But he didn’t have to mess with going to college for a year. He just went with Nike and let them do the work. Kevin Durant, though probably not quite in the same stratosphere as Wiggins and James at the same point, did have to go the college route and he headed to Texas. He put together an incredible freshman season, waltzed his way into the NBA Draft and got his Nike career going. But how many people actually noticed? Outside of the college basketball world, how much of a commodity was Durant when he entered the NBA?
Now quickly compare that with Anthony Davis, who by nature of his position, is probably not the most likely of people for the general public to latch on to. But Davis (and his unibrow) became massive celebrities to casual fans and people who don’t even watch basketball last season. Why? Because UK has found a way to market their players and have established themselves as the predominant topic of the basketball world. It doesn’t matter what the subject may be or who is discussing it. If you’re talking hoops, you’re going to talk Kentucky. The players leave school with name recognition and almost something of a brand already. Andrew Wiggins will be a star anywhere he goes. At Kentucky, he could become a superstar – and not just in basketball circles.
Kentucky Fans Got Played By David Williams
For as long as fans have debated UK football, the quest for competitiveness has centered around the old chicken and the egg debate. Kentucky can’t win without talent and a good coach, but they can’t attract those without facilities. But Kentucky also can’t attract private donors for facilities without a roster or coaching staff that’s attractive to those with the cash. And for all the time it was debated, there was no clear answer…unless that money was coming from the state. Enter David Williams.
The Senate President was long viewed as the person responsible for blocking UK’s ability to bond their own athletics projects and stood in the way of potential renovations to Commonwealth Stadium. But like any good politician, Williams responded to the widespread criticism from UK football fans earlier this summer by saying he would support the proposal as long as it was submitted on its own. Why the change of heart? Well, it now looks like it might have just been a game of politics.
Shortly after Williams agreed to play the role of good guy, rumors began to swirl that his 13-year run as Senate President would be ending as he was privately lobbying for the open 40th circuit judgeship. Williams even told cn|2’s Ryan Alessi several weeks ago that if Governor Steve Beshear wanted to appoint him to that position, he would accept. Late Thursday, that offer was extended and Williams accepted, leaving UK football fans to wonder if the faint hope Williams’ promise had brought was leaving Frankfort as well.
But Williams’ desire to leave his Senate President position shortly after making the statement to support UK’s football proposal wasn’t the only thing that left the situation smelling a little fishy. The fact that no such proposal was on the table and, according to UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto, even in the works, leaves us all scratching our heads not only about Williams’ promise, but also the future of UK football. What fans are now left with is the familar feeling of pessimistic uncertainty and a school administration that doesn’t appear to think of it as much of a priority. All the while, David Williams moves into his new position being able to give the old “I tried” shoulder shrug. Gotta love politics.
UK Football Is Going All-In Against Mizzou
Remember the Bourbon Bowl at the end of The Waterboy when Dan Fouts keeps telling Brent Musberger that, “It’s the last game of the year, Brent. You can’t hold anything back now” after ever play? That’s essentially been the storyline of UK football since the loss to Western Kentucky. Just go for it. And, for the most part, the Cats have, though the results have been less than inspiring for the most part. But Saturday brings another opportunity to Febreze away that losing smell when the Cats travel to Missouri – and Joker Phillips is again ready to go all-in with the hand he’s been dealt.
Joker announced Thursday that freshman Patrick Towles will see some action, sharing snaps with starter Jalen Whitlow, after he’s been cleared to return from an ankle injury. Some fans see it as the move of a desperate coach, trying like hell to conjure up some magic and keep his job. I’m not sure I necessarily agree since Towles’ medical redshirt opportunity was gone the second doctors cleared him to play and because Joker took the cautious route with Max Smith earlier in the season when he could have clearly benefited personally by playing him. But that doesn’t mean that playing Towles isn’t a desperate act.
Towles has made it extremely clear over the past few weeks (and so has his father) that he came to Kentucky to play. And that’s what he/they expect. With rumors of a transfer swirling all season and intensifying with each successive loss, a Towles transfer is still believed to be a very real possibility to many around the program. Will playing him in the final games increase the likelihood that he returns to the program next year? Maybe. But sitting him on the bench would seem to essentially appear to be the same of walking up to his dorm room and starting to load his possessions into boxes. When you have a high school All-American who went 5-5 with a touchdown in his only appearance of the season begging to see the field for a team whose marquee player is a punter, then you have to put him on the field. Especially when you may just have a shot at winning…
…seriously. The Cats are in a better spot against the Tigers than they’ve been in any of the last five games, even if it is on the road. Missouri, like Kentucky, is still looking for their first conference win and, like Kentucky, will not have their starting quarterback on the field. Reshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser will make his second straight start after relieving injured James Franklin against Vanderbilt two weeks ago, marking the start of the dreaded three-and-out offensive plague that UK has become so familiar with. In six-and-a-half quarters under center, Berkstresser has completed 35% of his passes and led the Tigers to nine points – six of them coming on an 85-yard pass against Vanderbilt. If the Cats are closer to the team that we saw against Georgia than they are to the team we saw against Arkansas, the 15-point spread doesn’t just seem a little steep. The Cats could actually win. And with Vanderbilt, Samford and Tennessee (also winless in the SEC left), they could be primed for a big finish to the season.
Too much? You’re probably right. But, hey, you can’t hold anything back now.