Five Things We Learned This Week In UK Sports

07/20/2012 01:30 AM

Another summer week is in the books as we move closer to the start of the 2012 college football season. Here are five things we learned this week about the players, coaches and teams that have made Lexington their home.

The Expectations For Football Aren’t Exactly High

No one really expected UK football to be the toast of SEC Media Day. After all, in a conference that’s claimed six straight BCS National Championships, the Cats are an afterthought. And that’s in a good year. That’s what happens when put together a 48-125 record in conference play since 1990 – a span that included five head coaches – and win only one outright conference championship in 89 years of SEC play. But the expectations for the Wildcats appear to be as low as they’ve been in a number of years.

The Cats were picked by the media to finish last in the SEC East, which now also includes Missouri, and placed only one player (Larry Warford, 2nd Team) on any of the three All-Conference teams. To make matters worse, during ESPNU’s broadcast of SEC Media Day, the in-studio analysts predicted the Cats to match their basketball counterparts by putting a zero in the win-loss column. Unfortunately, the panel picked the football Cats to go winless. Even worse, they suggested that UK aspire to be a program like…wait for it…Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth in the SEC West.

But if you’re looking for a bright side to glass-is-three-fourths-empty take of the SEC Media, it’s that the Cats don’t seem to be fazed by any of the presumed doom and gloom around the program. Joker Phillips continues to try to sell optimism and did so again during his media sessions in Hoover. The three veteran players he took with him – Collins Ukwu, Matt Smith and Larry Warford – did the same. In a season where expectations are low and the head coach enters the year coaching for his job, there’s an apparent “Nothing To Lose” mentality around the team, which is somewhat refreshing.

Last season, the Cats stumbled out of the gate against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan by walking away with wins that were closer than they should have been before giving away the game to Louisville at Commonwealth Stadium. They were guilty of a lot of things in those losses, but playing terrified was chief among them. From the quarterback position to the wide receivers to everyone on defense not named Winston Guy or Danny Trevathan, it appeared to be a group that was playing in fear of making a mistake. So maybe it’s a positive that they collectively seem a little more loose entering what appears to be a dead-end 2012 season. Maybe having a group of youngsters on defense that watched a veteran group struggle all season will mean a meaner, hungrier, more aggressive unit in Year Two of the Rick Minter regime. Maybe opening the season with a chip on their shoulder can give them the extra attitude needed to not get murdered in the SEC. Maybe.

We’ll find out soon enough as UK’s season-opener with Louisville on September 2 could dictate the future of the program. And maybe – just maybe – we’ll look back and say the Cats weren’t taken seriously enough in the preseason.

It’s Finally Aaron Boyd’s Time…Again

The one consistent thing about being a UK football fan is that off-season stories tend to be repetitive from year to year. If there’s ever a time for optimism in Kentucky football, it’s the summer months when there are no Floridas or Georgias or South Carolinas to slap your books out of your hands and push you into your locker. We’re all guilty of it to a certain degree and that optimism oftentimes manifests itself in the form of a certain player that we all want to believe is ready to break out. Which brings us to Aaron Boyd…again.

Perhaps no player has been as frustrating to fans in my lifetime as Boyd, the Lexington native and former four-star recruit who famously picked the Cats over Oregon back in 2008. The brother of former UK quarterback Shane Boyd, Aaron was far and away the star of a class that would end up including lesser ranked players like Randall Cobb, Chandler Burden, Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy – all now in the NFL. But for whatever reason – and every person you talk to has one – Boyd has never found a way to make an impact on the field. He’s barely even registered for the UK media guide, let alone the record book, registering only six catches for 51 yards in his entire career. But here we are again asking ourselves if he can be a significant contributor in his final season. Why? Because, for once, the coaches are at least hinting at it.

Boyd enters the fall listed at second on the depth chart at wide receiver, which in itself is fairly remarkable. And at SEC Media Day, Joker Phillips said of Boyd, “The one thing he can do is catch the football. When he gets an opportunity, he has to take advantage.” Not exactly a call to put him on a Heisman Watch List, but still something to be slightly celebrated by UK fans.

For all the things that UK struggled with last season, the one thing they absolutely could not do was catch the football. It became almost comical how many passes were being dropped by the wideouts, the tight ends, the receivers…pretty much anyone with two hands. So, the fact that Boyd can actually catch isn’t as much of a laughing matter as it might be at other schools. And on top of that, I was impressed with the way Boyd handled himself when he did finally see the field last season. I tried to make it a point to only watch Boyd when he was inserted into games last season and he appeared to be a player that was not only committed to getting open, but also dedicated to blocking on the outside on run plays. If he can use his limited action as a springboard for this season, he could give UK a tall, reliable possession receiver. Almost like a Keyshawn Johnson Lite.

Ok, maybe we’re taking this optimism too far.

Terrence Jones Will Be A Factor For The Rockets (Or Whoever He Plays For)

When UK sent six guys into the NBA last month, there were a couple of certainties. Anthony Davis was going to be a star. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was going to be the hardest worker on his team. Marquis Teague was going to have the best mustache in the draft. But Terrence Jones, well, he had some question marks. His draft projections were all over the place and teams were concerned about his work ethic and his lack of a true position. Oh how things can change after one week of NBA Summer League.

Jones asserted himself as a consistent force in Las Vegas, averaging 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Houston Rockets. But it was the way that Jones accumulated his stats that stood out much more than the box score. The player that had some GMs questioning his desire to dominate displayed the consistent motor that made him a dominant player on both ends of the floor last season after returning from a broken pinkie. Jones’ points were efficient and he defended the post and the perimeter, allowing his versatility to become a strength, rather than a question about position. Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale was so impressed that he called Jones “clever” and “a different kind of player”.

The future for Jones is still a little murky because Houston’s roster situation is still uncertain as they chase after Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. But in our conversation with Jason Friedman from, Friedman said that Jones has impressed the Rockets so much during the NBA Summer League that they are ready to move forward with their young roster that features Jones should they not make a deal for a superstar. And if they do pull the trigger on a trade, especially with a rebuilding Orlando club, expect Jones to be a not only a featured piece of the deal, but also the future of the franchise that picks him up.

John Wall Is Ready To Make A Jump

When we look back at the historic run of former UK players John Calipari is sending to the NBA, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall will sit atop the list. He was the first marquee player of the Calipari Era at UK and took the nation by storm with his athleticism and his dance and, eventually, was selected first in the 2009 NBA Draft. But, according to Wall, he’s ready for people to think of a couple of different things when his name is brought up in conversation.

In an interview with Hoops World, Wall said, “It’s time for me to be in the playoffs. It’s time to be an All-Star. It’s all those types of things that I’ve been wanting and wanting (for) this organization, to help the Wizards get better. So it’s all up to me to lead my team and us to get better.” Basically, he wants 2012-13 to be the year he takes the NBA by storm, much like he did with the NCAA in 2009-10.

It wouldn’t be fair to call Wall’s career to this point a disappointment, though he did fail to take a major step forward during his sophomore NBA season. Wall’s statistics were nearly identical to his rookie campaign and the Wizards, with slight dips in rebounding, assists, steals and three-point percentage. But the numbers don’t entirely do him justice as a shortened season presented unique circumstances for everyone in the league and playing for a team full of knuckleheads on the verge of being shipped out of town made it hard to take the team forward.

Now, in his third season, Wall has the opportunity to play alongside two talented guards in Jordan Crawford and Brad Beal, who also share his desire to take the team to the next level. The team also added veterans Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza through trades, essentially doing a full 180 on the previous environment. For the first time in Wall’s career, he’s going to be surrounded by players that are professionals – and not just because they’re getting a check. The change in the locker room atmosphere alone could be enough to propel Wall to the next level in his career. But as far as the playoffs go…well…see the last line of the Aaron Boyd section above.

Charles Barkley Thinks DeMarcus Cousins Is A Knucklehead

This was bound to happen at some point. Charles Barkley and DeMarcus Cousins just seem too predestined to be linked together in some way for this never to happen. At some point today, our buddy Sean Cunningham from News 10 in Sacramento talked with the NBA Hall of Famer about the former Wildcat big man and asked him if he thought Cousins should be headed to London as a part of Team USA. Barkley’s response? “Hell no! He’s a knucklehead.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories. In 2009, after a Duke loss, Coach K was asked by a reporter what he thought of ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb saying that the Blue Devils were “alarmingly unathletic”. Coach K replied that he might have to be concerned with that because, if there is anyone that is an expert on being alarmingly unathletic, it was Gottlieb, the former Oklahoma State point guard. And if there’s anyone that’s an expert on being a knucklehead, it’s Charles Barkley.

But the assessment raises an interesting question. Are there different types of NBA knuckleheads and are some more tolerable than others? In this situation, there’s no question that both guys carry that label, but it’s an interesting contrast in reasoning. Barkley, of course, had multiple legal issues or run-ins with the law, but was viewed as a winner and over-achiever and, for the most part, was beloved by nearly everyone he played with. Cousins, meanwhile, has encountered no off-court issues, but has been cast as a guy that pouts at times and has difficulty being a part of a team. In a world of common sense, Cousins would be the lesser of two evils, but in the basketball world, it’s Barkley that’s in the Hall of Fame and has endeared himself to NBA fans for nearly three decades. Cousins has the personality and game to transform himself into a Barkley-like figure, but he’ll have to win over his teammates first. If being called a knucklehead by Charles Barkley won’t wake him up, nothing will.

Stay tuned to KSTV all week for the latest UK football and basketball news.


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