Five Things We Learned This Week In UK Sports
07/12/2012 10:30 PM
Halfway through the month of July, this summer has been anything but slow around the UK football and basketball programs. Here are five things we learned this week about the world of UK sports:
1. Anthony Davis Is Headed To London
There hasn’t been an official announcement yet but it’s pretty much official. Blake Griffin’s torn meniscus and subsequent surgery will keep him out of the Olympics, allowing Davis to slide into his roster spot just in time to jump across the pond.
After Davis injured his ankle, it seemed pretty unlikely that he’d have any shot of landing on the Olympic team, so it wasn’t surprising when he was named as a reserve. It seemed even more unlikely that someone from Team USA would get injured between now and London. Enter Blake Griffin’s already injured knee, which he opted to not have scoped following the season, making an apparent slight tweaking of it into an actual rehab process. Now, according to USA Basketball chairman, Davis will travel with the team. But how much time will he actually see?
The truth is, probably not a lot. He’s still the low man on the totem pole on a team that seems extremely comfortable playing their abundance of wing players together during international play. However, Davis helped his case by coming on strong in limited action Thursday night against the Dominican Republic and the reality is Team USA is low on big men. That means Davis does have a decent shot at grabbing a few minutes in London and there’s a small chance (we know not to count those out with Davis now) that Coach K could be pressed into using him against teams like Spain, which has talented big guys. Nonetheless, Davis is heading to the Olympics, representing UK as the first collegiate US Olympic basketball player since 1992. And somewhere, DeMarcus Cousins is seething.
2. There Could Be A Big Blue Party In Rio In 2016
Speaking of Cousins, who has every right to feel like he was slighted by the USA Basketball committe when putting together this year’s squad, he could very well be a big part of a 2016 Olympic team that has some Kentucky flair to it.
In addition to Boogie, it is probably safe to assume that Anthony Davis reprises his role when the Olympics head to Rio in 2016. You have to figure that John Wall has a decent shot considering the way he, along with Cousins and Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, led the USA Select team to multiple victories over Team USA. Then there are wildcard guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nerlens Noel, maybe the Harrison twins who could become a factor for the Olympic team over the next four years, though that’s far from certain. It all may depened on who the coach is. Which leads us to…
John Calipari. With Coach K already announcing that these will be his final Olympic Games, Coach Cal is at least in the conversation as a replacement and very well could have the credentials to land the job. He has the Hall of Fame resume, the national championships, the rapport with all the top players and now, the experience of leading a team in international competition. The Dominican Republic is not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, but Calipari put them within one game of the Olympics this year and, more importantly, shown that he can balance his hectic UK schedule with preparing for an international competition. Sure, he’s a polarizing figure in a lot of ways, but numbers don’t lie and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone whose done as much the last few years to establish themselves as ready to lead Team USA.
3. John Calipari Is Being Very Selective In 2013
The most incredible thing about John Calipari’s recruiting over the last few years at UK hasn’t necessarily been that he’s landed top prospects at a historic clip. It’s that he’s found a way to be selective within the elite talent each year because he’s made Kentucky THE place to be. That attractiveness to young talent has given Calipari the flexibility to land the best players in the country that are also the best leaders, students and teammates within that group. And in a loaded 2013 class, he’s able to be even more selective.
According to Scout.com, seven of the top eight players in the class of 2013 are considering the class and at least one, forward Chris Walker is practically begging for an offer. Well, not practically. He is begging for an offer. The seventh-ranked player in the country said earlier this week that if the Cats don’t offer him soon, he’s going to cross them off his list. It’s not the first time he’s said something to that effect and it most likely won’t be the first time that Calipari balks at it. For whatever reason – and that reason may just be Julius Randle – UK has yet to offer a top-10 player who has said multiple times that his desire is to play in Lexington.
It’s hard to guess how this story will end, though there’s probably a good chance that Walker will keep talking about it to anyone who will listen. However, it does showcase how far recruiting has come under John Calipari and is the most prominent example yet that the Kentucky coach can be selective on the recruiting trail like, perhaps, no one in history. The 2013 class could end up being historically great, with or without Chris Walker, and it will be made up of players who are elite on and off the court.
4. UK’s Non-Conference Schedule Is Good For Discussion
Has any schedule release been met with as much fanfare as UK’s 2012 non-conference slate? Not one that I can think of – at least not in terms of media attention. The Cats released the schedule earlier this week and the internet exploded with opinions and media members questioning the strength.
While it’s certainly fair to be frustrated as a Kentucky fan that you won’t be seeing as many great teams at Rupp Arena as you’ve been accustomed to in the last fifteen years, it was pretty much exactly as Calipari billed it to be. The marquee games are, of course, the home game with Baylor, traveling to Louisville and neutral site matchups with Duke, Maryland and Notre Dame. The rest is filled with various small schools and programs coached by friends of Cal. But is it as bad as everyone said?
At first glance, yes. That is, if you compare it to last year. You essentially trade Indiana and North Carolina for Baylor and a very bad Maryland team. Kansas swaps with Duke in the Champions Classic and St. Johns is exchanged for Notre Dame in the Big East Classic. That’s certainly a downgrade. But probably not enough to warrant the reaction it received nationally.
The biggest complaints around the Bluegrass seemed to center around the neutral site matchups and the dropping of the Indiana and North Carolina series. The good news is that the North Carolina game will return next season and means at least UNC or Louisville will play in Rupp Arena every year. IU is gone for now, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it returned at some point in the next several years. But the neutral site games with Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame and, eventually, Baylor are just part of the natural evolution of college basketball. Other teams have been doing it for several years and Calipari believes getting neutral site dome experience is critical for his annual group of youngsters.
John Calipari was brought into a program in shambles to return it into an annual contender for a title. He did it almost overnight. Tweaking the schedule is just the next step and if he believes that sitting through a Lafayette or Lipscomb game during the regular season increases the chances that we’ll all be together the last weekend of March in Atlanta, then so be it. Besides, it makes for good national media Twitter fodder.
5. Joker Phillips Is Playing It Cool
From quoting 50 Cent on Oprah to talking about taking his wife to see Jill Scott, Joker Phillips is very much coming across as a guy who isn’t worried about being on the hot seat. Whether that will work out in his favor remains to be seen, but with camp opening in just a few weeks, the UK head coach seems to be nothing but optimistic.
During a media session Thursday, Phillips again highlighted UK’s strong finish (his words) in 2011 and talked about young guys – Bud Dupree, Avery Williamson, Darrian Miller, Eric Dixon, Cartier Rice – being ready to lead the program in 2012. Joker even went as far as to say those guys have more talent than the upperclassmen ahead of them, which either serves as locker room motivation or an early job security plea to Mitch Barnhart.
But if UK wants to take a step forward and Joker wants to secure himself on the sideline in year three of his head coaching career, the most important thing could be simply deciding on a quarterback. The Cats haven’t had one guy they could absolutely count on under center since assistant coach Andre Woodson was calling plays and the position looks as up for grabs as ever. Joker said that Max Smith will take the first team snaps, which isn’t a huge surprise considering that’s where he finished the season. However, later in the press conference, Joker said that Morgan Newton was back to form and recovered from his injury. To me, that speaks volumes. It sounds as if its Smith’s job to lose at this point and after the way he took command of the offense and his teammates late in his freshman season, that’s probably the right call. But Newton and freshman All-American Patrick Towles will be lurking in the background and unless one of the three can claim the job outright in camp, it could make for another long season of trying to find an offensive identity.