Thursday Morning Roundup: National Signing Day, Welcome Back Willie
02/06/2013 10:05 PM
Here’s a look back at some of the big stories you may have missed on Wednesday while you were faxing your paperwork to Mark Stoops…
Stoops Scores Big
For all of the moments in the last two months where we could stop and say, “Wow, things have really changed for the UK football program”, Wednesday marked the most significant and most emphatic. Mark Stoops finished the day with a recruiting class rated as high as #27 in the nation (Rivals.com), while also checking in at #36 (ESPN), #39 (247Sports.com) and #40 (Scout.com). The group was as well-rounded as it was deep, continuing to send the message that this is not the same old Kentucky team.
The Signing Day success of the UK football program wasn’t just noticed within Big Blue Nation, where UK’s official live blog surpassed last year’s national championship game as the most watched in the school’s history, but ESPNU gave the Cats love during their broadcast and Kirk Herbstreit Tweeted out congratulations to Mark Stoops and company for their haul. The cultural shift that came with the hiring of Stoops, as well as his entire staff, has raised the profile nationally and has given Kentucky fans actual reason to believe that the Cats can become serious contenders, even with an SEC schedule. Because, quite frankly, if this doesn’t work, then what will?
Putting together the best recruiting class in school history tells only part of the story, as the Cats were able to make serious headway into key states, which is one of the three major elements fans have long bantered for as the recipe for continued success. The staff landed some the best players in the state of Kentucky (Jason Hatcher, Ryan Timmons and Jacob Hyde), while also doing damage in Ohio (Jaleel Hytchye, pictured above, and Kyle Meadows) and Florida (10 players). The other two parts of the equation – a high-powered offense and better facilities – are either in place or on the way, meaning things are finally being coming together in all of the areas fans have longed for. But it’s the fast start on the recruiting trail that expedites the process, while being absolutely imperative.
Stoops’ situation at Kentucky parallels Charlie Strong’s arrival at Louisville in a lot of ways and, today, it brings to mind the way Strong started fast on the recruiting trail after arriving at UofL in 2010. Strong was able to tap into his University of Florida pipelines and sign Michaelee Harris, B.J. Butler and a junior named Teddy Bridgewater. It’s the “strike while the iron is hot” mentality and the Cards benefited from it, as did the Cats today. Getting into those schools and areas while Stoops still has some of that Florida State shine was critical and UK’s head coach scored off the charts. The next step is keeping the momentum going – hopefully better than the Cards did as their rankings fell to #42 and #57 in 2012 and 2013.
But make no mistake about it. Mark Stoops didn’t just hit a home run on Wednesday. He hit it over the fence, across the street, through an open car window and into the cup-holder in his first at-bat. The future is bright for Kentucky football.
Hatcher’s Signing Signals Culture Shift
Perhaps no signing exemplified the dramatic change in the direction and perception of the UK football program than the addition of Trinity’s Jason Hatcher, rated by Rivals as the nation’s 8th-best weak side defensive end. It was less than eight months ago that Hatcher picked USC over Tennessee, saying that the Vols “lost to UK and once you lose to UK, you lose to everybody because UK finsishes last in the SEC every year.” Yet, there Hatcher was on Wednesday, flanked by his parents and sitting before hundreds of people, signing a National Letter of Intent for the University of Kentucky.
Afterward, Hatcher talked about the difference that Stoops made for the program and how the head coach, along with defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, have a proven track record of putting defensive linemen in the NFL. Their mere presence in Lexington and the respect they command when they sit down with recruits, their coaches and their families is big enough – at least in this instance – to overcome 60 years of negative perception. Yes, things have changed in Lexington.
If you missed it on KSTV, here’s some of what Hatcher was saying after he signed with the Cats:
Approval For Commonwealth Renovations Moves Ahead
With John Calipari rubbing elbows with politicians and hanging out with John Wall in the nation’s capitol on Wednesday, state legislators moved UK’s desire for improved football facilities forward as the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee unanimously approved House Bill 7, which allows for state schools to fund construction projects.
UK’s desire to renovate Commonealth Stadium and build new recruiting facilities are the headlining portion of the bill, which will now go before the House on Thursday, where is expected to be approved. From there, the bill will go before the Senate, which is also expected to approve the request. We’ll have more on KSTV Thursday night, including comments from UK President Eli Capilouto, who was in Frankfort on Wednesday.
Attacking With The Press
Shortly before Willie Cauley-Stein went down with his knee injury, the UK basketball team starte to dabble with a full-court press that appeared to be a handful for opponents. With the freshman center on the inbound passer and then doubling the ballhander when he put it on the floor, Kentucky seemed to have found a defensive look that was nothing short of devastating. That look returned Tuesday night against South Carolina in a big way and the Cats threw in another wrinkle – a new press that they’d practiced for only two days.
The increased focus on providing full-court pressure on opponents is critical on a number of fronts. Beyond simply just creating turnovers to help a struggilng half-court offense, the press allows the Cats to artificially provide a spark to a team that too often looks to be unable to flip the switch themselves. The more success they can find in their various press looks, the closer they become to being the team we thought they could be in the preseason.
Willie Enrolls In Coach Cal’s Book Club
During a two-week period that Willie Cauley-Stein said felt more like two years, John Calipari looked to keep his freshman center’s morale high by recommending that he read God Never Blinks. The book is a reflection on 50 life lessons learned by Regina Brett, a newspaper columnist, in her 50 years on Earth. According to Amazon customer Reechee Echiverri, it’s “Very Inspiring Indeed!”, so there’s that too.
Cauley-Stein Did Not Watch UK Games In A Bar
In case you were wondering – and one reporter was after the game Tuesday night, when he asked UK’s 19-year old center if he’d gone to a bar to watch his teammates play while he was hurt. Instead, he sat in bed, resting his knee and watching the Cats with his mom.
Auburn Beats Alabama
If you were hoping for some exciting basketball Saturday at Rupp after the Cats blew away South Carolina in an absolute snoozefest on Tuesday, you could be in for disappointment. And that may be an understatement.
Saturday’s opponent, the Auburn Tigers, snapped a six-game losing streak Wednesday night against Alabama in an old-fashioned SEC barnburner, 49-37. The Tigers – who won – scored 13 points in the first half. They shot 34% from the field for the game. Frankie Sullivan, the only player capable of cracking UK’s top-eight, shot 1-13, bringing his shooting percentage over the last four games to a sexy 26%.
Should be fun. Can’t wait.
NBA Cats Have Big Wednesday
It was a big night in the NBA for former Wildcats as Eric Bledsoe, suddenly one of the most talked about young players in the league, sparked an injury-riddled Clippers team to a win over the Orlando Magic. Bledsoe filled the stat sheet with 27 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 6 steals and 3 blocks. In the last three games, Bledsoe is averaging 22.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks per game.
With John Calipari and Orlando Antigua in attendance, former Cat John Wall carried the Washington Wizards to a rare win over the New York Knicks 21 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists. The Wizards, who went 5-27 while Wall was sidelined with a knee injury, are now 8-8 since he’s returned.
Meanwhile, the man who is often forgotten, Enes Kanter, quietly put together an extremely efficient game for the Utah Jazz in their win over the Milwaukee Bucks. In only 17 minutes, Kanter scored 17 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and blocked 5 shots.
Be sure to watch KSTV Thursday at 7:30pm and 11:00pm as we hear what Mark Stoops said about his recruiting class, get the latest basketbal recruiting news from Fox Sports’ Evan Daniels and grade UK’s recruiting class with Steve Jones from the Louisville Courier-Journal.