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December 2014
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My Final Days At LEX18

It’s very bittersweet to share with everyone that I’m leaving Lexington and WLEX in a few weeks to take a job doing the sports at KXAN, the NBC affiliate in Austin, Texas.

First things first, there was absolutely no ill will in this decision. I love LEX18 and as far as I can tell, they didn’t mind having me around either. But no matter how much you enjoy a place, sometimes (particularly in this line of work) you have to go elsewhere.

I’ll be with LEX for the Kentucky Derby and for a few more days following the race before I pack up to make the move 1,070 miles to the southwest.

I grew up a Cats fan (shoutout to my mom, who is a graduate) and it was a dream come true to work in Lexington. Every time they let me in to Rupp Arena free with my press pass I still think, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Having grown up in Nashville, I thought I knew what to expect with the BBN… but I had no idea. The passion, knowledge and sheer number of people in the fan base makes working here fun and challenging, you have to be on top of your game or you’ll get tuned out and I appreciate that.

Then there’s all the stuff I’ve had the chance to watch and cover. As far as timing goes, how lucky have I been? Good, bad and strange, I saw a little of all of it. Consider that my first night on the job VMI came in to Rupp and beat UK. Since then I saw two final four runs plus this year’s national championship, the biggest long shot to ever win the Kentucky Derby, the end of the Tennessee streak in football and a buzzer-beater to win the Boys Sweet 16, to name just a few particularly memorable moments.

No matter how you get your sports news locally, I can almost certainly assure you it’s coming from someone who is very talented and dedicated to his or her craft. Like most places, the sports media in Kentucky is its own sub-culture and I’ve learned so much working among so many talented writers, broadcasters and bloggers. The same goes for the folks at WLEX – I’m eternally thankful for their patience and friendship.

So whether you’re a fan, coworker or an LEX18 viewer, I owe you a big time thank you for the fun I’ve had the last few years.

Brent

Did You Know DeMarcus Cousins Has A Brother?

 

These are two videos of Jaleel Cousins. Since older brother DeMarcus is ‘Big Cous’ I guess you could call Jaleel ‘Little Cous.’ Except that he’s 6-foot-10 and 265 pounds.

The younger Cousins is a senior in high school in Mobile, Al. and holds a scholarship offer from Seton Hall, according to ESPN.com. The site also lists Murray State as one of the three schools showing interest – East Carolina is the other – so who knows, maybe the “In Kentucky We Love Our Cousins” signs may make a comeback.

Cats In The NBA: 2011/2012 Season Preview

Fifteen former Kentucky basketball players will be on NBA rosters when the league begins its season on Christmas Day.

Only two schools, Duke (17) and UCLA (15) have produced as many or more current NBA players.

Here’s a preview of what to expect from the 15 Wildcats in the league.

Eric Bledsoe (Clippers) Still recovering from knee surgery in October, he isn’t expected to play until the middle of January. With Chris Paul now a Clipper, Bledsoe will compete for minutes at backup point guard.

DeMarcus Cousins (Kings) Boogie was hobbled by an ankle injury in the preseason but is fully healthy for the start of the season. The sky is the limit for Cousins, the questions as always concern his attitude and commitment.

Josh Harrellson (Knicks) Jorts-mania is sweeping through Manhattan after the Knicks traded for Harrellson on draft night. He’s already a fan favorite and his play in the preseason has made him popular with the coaching staff as well. He’s impressed with his toughness and shooting touch, whether he can crack the team’s rotation remains to be seen.

Chuck Hayes (Kings) Hayes’ first attempt at signing with the Kings fell through when team physicians discovered a heart abnormality. A second opinion from doctors at the Cleveland Clinic gave Hayes a clean bill of health and he officially joined Sacramento this week. He will start in the frontcourt opposite DeMarcus Cousins.

Enes Kanter (Jazz) Utah traded Mehmet Okur this week, a move that opens up plenty of minutes in the frontcourt for Kanter. Unfortunately for the rookie, Okur – like Kanter – is a native of Turkey and was serving as Kanter’s mentor. Kanter told the media in Utah that he was saddened by the move and considered Okur a big brother.

Brandon Knight (Pistons) Knight is already impressing his new teammates and coaches with the same traits Kentucky fans got to know last year: his intelligence, work ethic and quickness. Teammates are calling Knight the future of the organization but with veterans Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum on the roster, he won’t be counted on to play a ton of minutes right away.

DeAndre Liggins (Magic) A spot on Orlando’s roster wasn’t guaranteed when the team drafted him in the second round but Liggins made the team in training camp. He impressed enough with his defense to earn a roster spot but minutes will be very limited.

Jamaal Magloire (Raptors) Magloire joins his hometown team and becomes the first Canadian to play for the Raptors. His role with Toronto will likely be to provide physicality and depth in the frontcourt.

Jodie Meeks (76ers) Meeks will continue to start for Philadelphia, keeping Evan Turner – drafted second overall by the team in the 2010 draft – on the bench. Meeks began last season buried on the Philadelphia bench but carved out a role in the second half of the season as the team’s designated perimeter shooter.

Nazr Mohammed (Thunder) OKC is one of the deepest teams in the league but they are also among the youngest. Mohammed is the only player with more than eight years of NBA experience on the roster. He brings a veteran presence and another big body to a team that should contend in the West.

Daniel Orton (Magic) After missing all of last season with a knee injury, the first part of 2011 is critical for Orton’s future in Orlando. The team has until Jan. 25 to decide whether they will pick up his rookie-level contract extension for next year or allow him to become an unrestricted free agent. The front office has expressed concern over Orton’s injury history but he says he’s 100 percent going in to this year. Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has been complimentary of Orton in the preseason but has also said he is hesitant to use a player with so little experience in his rotation. Orton’s situation figures to change if Orlando trades all-star center Dwight Howard.

Patrick Patterson (Rockets) Patterson is recovering from off season ankle surgery and is hoping to only miss the first week of the season. Once he gets back on the floor he’ll compete at forward for minutes in new coach Kevin McHale’s rotation.

Tayshaun Prince (Pistons) Prince resigned with the Pistons in the offseason and will be among a small group of veterans who will have to reestablish a role as the team begins to rebuild around Brandon Knight and new coach Lawrence Frank.

Rajon Rondo (Celtics) The sand is slipping through the hour glass for the aging Celtics. Rondo’s name was fodder for off-season trade rumors but he returns to Boston to play point guard as the Celtics attempt another run at an Eastern Conference championship.

John Wall (Wizards) The rebuilding process continues to slowly take shape in the nation’s capital. Wall largely lived up to lofty expectations as the first overall pick in his rookie year, despite playing through a number of nagging injuries. Cutting down on turnovers and improving his percentages is key for him to go from good to great and for his team to go from bad to average.

Projecting Average Points Per Game

One of the best parts about the pre-Christmas part of the schedule is watching John Calipari figure out the rotation he will use the rest of the schedule. Last season, only six guys consistently logged meaningful minutes. But Calipari likes to use eight or nine players and has said he hopes to have that many players establish significant roles this season.

He certainly has no shortage of options.

For instance…

Who knows how he will divide the minutes between Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller? If they play at the same time who will sit? It would likely be Terrence Jones or Anthony Davis. But those are perhaps the two most talented players on the team, so would Cal be willing to cut in to their minutes? If not, Kentucky would be forced to go with a big lineup and sit Doron Lamb. Would Lamb get those minutes back as the back up point guard for Marquis Teague, leaving Twany Beckham out of the rotation once he is eligible to join the team after Christmas? And if there are that many big guys on the floor at once, how difficult will it be for Calipari to find minutes for Kyle Wiltjer? And if he can’t find minutes for Wilter, how will Eloy Vargas ever get in the game?

See what I mean? You could carry this conversation out all day long.

With that said, here’s my best guess at everyone’s year end scoring average. It totals up to 81 points a game. To put that in perspective, there were only ten teams in the country that totalled that high an average last year. Kentucky was 38th in the country in scoring a season ago at 74.9 points a game.

A player’s average last year is in parenthesis, after it is my best guess at what they’ll do this season.

Terrence Jones (16) 19 ppg

Anthony Davis 15 ppg

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 13 ppg

Doron Lamb (12) 13 ppg

Darius Miller (11) 9 ppg

Marquis Teague 5 ppg

Kyle Wiltjer 3 ppg

Eloy Vargas (1.5) 2 ppg

Twany Beckham 1 ppg

And then the players who either won’t play or will average less than a point a game, together I’ll say they’ll account for a point a game. Bringing the total to 81.

Stacey Poole, Jr. (0.3)

Jon Hood (0.8)

Jarrod Polson

Sam Malone

Brian Long

Ryan Harrow

Kentucky and Florida: The Silver Anniversary Of Losing Edition

Before the season, while I was making my preseason predictions, I had two sneaking suspicions. One was that Kentucky would lose to Louisville. The other was that they would bounce back and upset Florida the following week.

I’d like to say I had compelling reasons for either pick, but for the most part, I didn’t. As the first month of the season has played out, Kentucky has proved to be a lot worse than I imagined. In fact, I was one of the people who before the season thought this team would hold its own and win more games than they would lose. Had I known they were going to look like this, I would have guessed they would lose to Louisville and Florida and I obviously would not have been alone.

Of course there’s still that little bit of hope that somehow everything changes tomorrow. Am I stupid for not completely giving up? Probably. But that’s part of what makes sports great. Every game the score starts tied at zero.

So as we hope for a miraculous turn of events and fear for the worst/expected, I have a question for you: Which of the twenty-four losses hurts the most?

There have been some big ones. These are embarrassingly big losses. Florida won 73-7 in 1994, 65-0 in 1996 and 63-5 in 2008. Those are scores that make the routine 25-plus point win (of which there have been five more) seem like nothing.

But is being embarrassed worse than getting your heart broken? Sounds like a question better suited for a country music song. Sadly, True Blue Fans have plenty of experience in both. The second loss of the streak in 1988 was 24-19. Jerry Claiborne’s bunch lost another close one the following week to Tennessee. A win in either would have qualified the Cats for a bowl game and at least shortened either streak.

The short-lived Ron Zook Era at Florida was the Golden Age of Almost for the Cats during the streak. In 2002, Zook’s first year (he lasted three) a 4-0 Kentucky team narrowly missed winning in the Swamp, losing to the No. 7 Gators 41-34. The next year was the infamous “Lorenzen Game,” when Kentucky blew a 21-3 fourth quarter lead. It was an epic meltdown for the Cats that featured Florida scoring on fourth down and a NSFW sort of ugly interception by Lorenzen that set up the Gator’s go-ahead score.

Since then the only close call was in 2007, when No. 8 Kentucky lost to No. 14 Florida 45-37. That one wasn’t even as close as the score suggested, although it was a heartbreaker for many gamblers.

So which one hurts you the most?

Projecting The NFL Future Of Randall Cobb

It’s huge understatement to say that it was really cool for all of us in the Commonwealth to see Randall Cobb play so well last night in his first game in the NFL.

It has interested me to hear what former players Cobb gets compared to as the NFL community gets to know one of our all-time greats. It seems many like to pigeon hole him with the likes of Hines Ward or Antwaan Randle El. Guys who like Cobb, took snaps at quarterback in college.

That’s an easy angle for those who are familiar with little more about Cobb’s time in Lexington than his stint under center. Of course anyone who closely followed his career at Kentucky knows – much to the chagrin of some fans – that he only spent half a season playing primarily quarterback. Cobb worked hard after his freshman year to learn the fine points of playing wide receiver and was just as polished as anyone else at the position in last year’s draft class.

Another popular comparison is to Donald Driver, the venerable Packers receiver who at 36 years-old, is likely to bequeath his role to Cobb in the Green Bay offense in the coming seasons.

Comparing Cobb to Driver makes a lot more sense than lumping him in with the quarterback-turned-wide receiver types like Brad Smith of the Bills or Randle El and Ward. But the truest comparison for Cobb – and for the career he could wind up having as a pro – is to look at another veteran NFL wide receiver: Derrick Mason of the New York Jets.

Now before you point out that Cobb is around 1,534 times more athletic than D. Mase, remember that he’s one of the most grizzled players in the NFL at 37 years-old. He’s clearly lost a step, but there was a time when Mason was among the most dangerous players in the league. In fact, he holds the single-season all purpose yards record with 2,690 yards in 2000 with Tennessee.

In his prime Mason was not just a dangerous return man, he was a wide receiver capable of lining up all over the field and making plays. I have fond memories (*disclaimer: I’m a Titans fan) of him running a long dig route down the sidelines, stopping on a dime and spinning around toward the line of scrimmage just in time to pluck the ball out of the air. With the ball in his hands and the cornerback he just ditched bearing down on his back, Mason would blindly fake inside and spin outside, dashing up the sidelines as the cornerback grasped at air. It took quickness, a great feel for the game and the sort of football courageousness that borders on reckless.

Starting to sound a lot like our man Cobb, right?

Turns out, they’re also nearly the exact same size. NFL.com lists Cobb as 5-foot-10, 197 pounds and Mason at 5-foot-10, 192 pounds.

Throughout his career Mason has been lauded for his leadership, first with the Titans and then for six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. His fiery personality plus a high football IQ helps explains how he’s managed to stay productive going in to his fifteenth year as a pro [he had 61 catches for 802 yards and 7 TD last season] and why the Jets, despite all their other stars, jumped at the opportunity to bring him in for a fifteenth season.

Considering what he demonstrated with the Cats both as a leader and a playmaker, it is not difficult at all to imagine Cobb’s career following a very similar arc.

It would not surprise me if – despite the great performance in his debut – significant opportunities are likely to be few and far between for Cobb this year in Green Bay. The Packers offense is loaded and although Cobb housed his second catch of the game, he was rarely on the field for the offense.

Mason got off to a similar start in his career. Before his record setting campaign in 2000, he only had 49 catches in his first three seasons as a pro. Yet all these years later, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, his career stats [924 catches, 11,891 yards, 66 TD] stack up similar to the likes of Charlie Taylor, Lance Alworth, John Stallworth and Ward; three Hall of Famers and a fourth who is a shoe-in upon retirement.

Considering Mason has always played in offenses that are run heavy and Cobb plays for a pass-crazy offense with a superstar quarterback who is entering his prime, is it crazy to imagine that his numbers could wind up being even better?

The short answer is, yes! For starters, Cobb is only one game in to his career. Also, Mason’s longevity relied on him staying ridiculously healthy throughout his career. Few players are that lucky.

But yet in the wake of an extraordinary debut, it’s awfully fun to imagine the very best for one of our all-time favorites..so, why not?

Should Joker Consider Changing His Message – For His Sake?

In October and November when those of us in the media flock to John Calipari’s press conferences, we all know what is coming.

You can see each of us sneak glances back and forth at each other and roll our eyes as Calipari spends his twenty minutes embelishing explaining all the shortcomings that his team will have to overcome in the first few months of the season as they learn and mature. Certainly, there’s plenty of truth in what Calipari preaches. Nearly all teams – especially young or inexperienced ones, which his are often both – fail to play up to their potential early in the season.

But Calipari of course knows his team is good, no matter how much he downplays it. He also knows it will get better. Along the way, there’s likely to be a few rough spots. As with everything he says, his message has a purpose, it buys his team time. It lowers expectations and pressure for the first part of the season as his players come together, learn his system, and their individual roles within it.

Maybe Joker Phillips, for his own sake, should take a page out of Calipari’s book.

Phillips’ message to the media seems to differ very little if at all from what he tells his team. It’s impossible to imagine him lamenting to us about how little experience his team has at the skill positions [which is true] and how difficult it will be to replace the likes of Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline [also true.]

Calipari on the other hand, does it every year. It seems it is his central message win or lose for the first three months of the season at a minimum. Even though you know there was no way he ever spent one nanosecond coddling Brandon Knight while explaining to him he understood the difficulty of taking over for John Wall, you hear it enough times from him in post or pregame press conferences and you start to believe it, too.

An ugly win in December against an inferior opponent is often easily explained by Calipari by saying, “I told you so.”

The vultures are already beginning to circle this year’s Kentucky football team despite that they’ve only played one game, which was a win. Granted it was an ugly one, but would the reaction to it be different if Joker spent more time publically in the days and weeks before it expressing his concern with the lack of proven playmakers, or the injuries on the offensive line, or the new scheme on defense?

Offensive line coach Mike Summers admitted Tuesday that the team knew they had a lack of playmakers before the WKU game happened. Should Joker have admitted the same thing publically? It may have made the ugly performance last Thursday a lot easier to swallow.

To be fair, college football is a different beast than college basketball. The games are fewer and a team must be ready to go from the get-go of their season to achieve success. Also, the UK basketball program and Calipari have earned some early season leeway with their successes. It would be unfair to expect fans to extend the same good faith to the football team.

And of course the biggest difference is that Phillips does not have the job security or trust of the Commonwealth that Calipari has earned. If Joker conceded that it was possible his team was going to struggle early, fans wouldn’t want to hear it. Calipari can admit those things because he knows everyone trusts he’ll eventually right the ship. The best thing Phillips can do is prove that goes for him, too. That certainly will be easier said than done.

Future Was Bright For Injured Collins

Like everyone, I was disappointed to hear today that Cats freshman wide receiver Daryl Collins will miss this season after suffering a serious knee injury. Collins was among the first names you heard creating some buzz when the Cats’ newcomers reported to campus in June. It’s hard to know exactly what sort of impact he may have had this season but if you read between the lines – and that’s what it takes, since the coaches have made an effort to talk as little as possible about specific freshmen – it seemed that he was going to get a chance to factor in to the offense.

We haven’t had a chance to watch much practice this pre-season but the few times Joker has let the press inside, Collins has stuck out. Going off the eyeball test (and that’s all we can go off during these weeks of summer practice) Collins looked different than the typical UK wide receiver. He was small (listed at 5-foot-11, that may be generous) but explosive and shifty. The Cats have plenty of tall receivers, Collins looked like he could be something different, giving the offense a valuable new weapon that they may not have without him. He more than held his own in an “Oklahoma” drill where he lined up in a three point stance and tried to block a freshman defense back. The drill is used to measure toughness and it seemed that Collins had plenty of it.

What really stuck out about Collins is how naturally he caught the ball and his poise running routes. Joker has sang the praises of this year’s group of freshman receivers, pointing out that unlike many of the players before them at UK, these guys played the position in high school. There’s a certain polish that comes with a guy who arrives as a bona fide receiver, rather than a converted quarterback or with the always ubiquitous designation: “athlete.”

Collins of course was the guy who turned down a scholarship to play at in-state Alabama, where the Tide planned to gray shirt him, to come to UK.

Obviously the silver lining is that he suffered the injury before the season. He can redshirt and not lose a year of eligibility and begin the necessary treatment and rehab early. Here’s hoping he recovers quickly.

Good Reviews For Bryan Station’s Miller

Joker Phillips has yet to get the chance to work with the new crop of freshmen who arrived on campus in June. If you’re not a strength coach, NCAA rules prohibit you from working directly with the players this time of year. But Phillips says he can sense a buzz around the program that stems from the way the newest group of players is impressing their strength coaches and upperclassmen teammates.

Apparently one of the guys who is raising some eyebrows is offensive lineman Darrian Miller. Miller is a Lexington native who attended Bryan Station High School. He was one of the Cats’ most highly touted recruits a year ago, receiving a four star ranking from Scout.com. The recruiting service ranked him as the No. 17 offensive tackle in the class of 2011.

Phillips says one of the big differences in the program now is that players can identify guys who are the real deal because they’re used to working out next to NFL-caliber talent. So when a player like Miller immediately raises their eyebrows, he takes it as a very good sign.

This all comes straight from Phillips, who spoke to the Rotary Club Thursday afternoon in Lexington. As he put it, winning the in-state recruiting battle will always be a top priority but finding “legs and arms” (read: skill players with SEC caliber speed) will largely come from outside of Kentucky. The offensive line is a spot he thinks he’ll be able to keep well stocked with home grown talent. Miller is a great example. So is this year’s o-line, the unit Phillips (and most pundits) say will be the team’s biggest strength. Four of the five starters on this year’s unit are from Kentucky. For that reason Miller likely will be hard pressed to play his way on to the field much this season – in fact a redshirt year is certainly a possibility – but then again…you never know.

Ohio State vs. Kentucky Feels Like Fate

If you believe in the existence of the basketball gods and their almighty power over the hardwood, than it makes perfect sense that Kentucky and Ohio State are meeting Friday in what is unquestionably the biggest game of the Cats’ season.

After all, it feels like this just had to happen.

Many years from now we’ll look back on this Kentucky group and think of one thing: what if Kanter had played?

Losing him for good when the NCAA ruled he was indefinitely suspended is something we’ve all tried our best to forget. One way or another, we should remember it tomorrow.

Lets be clear, the team deserves credit for the way it has moved on from what was obviously a very disappointing decision. But then again, that’s what teams are supposed to do. Several other top teams in the country have also lost key players to injury (Duke,) suspension (BYU,) or just flat-out quitting (North Carolina) and have still put together terrific seasons.

What may be more impressive is the way the Kentucky fan base has moved on from its “Free Enes” revolution. It was clear from the feedback we were getting at the station that for most fans, after a week or two of bashing the NCAA and wallowing in the raw deal they felt Kentucky had yet again received, they were ready to move past it. Nobody wanted to hear anymore about it and nobody was using it as an excuse.

Yet all these months later, the fact remains that losing Kanter was an enormous blow to this team. Sure, Josh Harrellson’s season has been a joy for every UK fan to watch. An upperclassman whose career was left for dead a year ago, he used sheer determination to work his way in to owning and eventually mastering a mostly thankless job as the Cats’ blue collar man in the middle. Without Harrellson, the Cats would not be where they are today, simple as that.

But, Harrellson is not Kanter. And don’t fool yourself, it’s not even close.

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to watch Kanter play in person this season in the Cats closed door practices, his ability is jaw dropping.

But even if you’ve only seen him on television, as I did the first time I saw him, you know what I mean…even if you’ve chosen to forget.

I’m talking about last spring when Kanter played for the world select team in the Nike Hoops Summit, an all-star game for high school players. I remember the TrueBlueFan Facebook wall was full of posts by people who, like me, were ready to check out John Calipari’s latest commitment on national TV.

What we all saw was a spectacle. Kanter scored every way imaginable, finishing with a game-record 34 points and 13 rebounds. I remember watching and thinking, “There’s no way he’s this good.” He just couldn’t be.

The only other solution was that the guy he was matched up against for most of the night must be overrated. Sure, he was signed to Ohio State and I knew that he was regarded by recruiting experts as the top big man in the class of 2010, but after what I saw, that just couldn’t be right. This guy had to be all hype. There was no way Kanter could so thoroughly dominate a player at this level if the opponent wasn’t grossly overrated.

Of course, that player was Jared Sullinger. Obviously I learned very quickly that he clearly is not overrated, he’s one of the best college players in the country.

So what does that say about Kanter? Well, it doesn’t matter…because we’ll never know. Kanter and Sullinger will meet again but it will be in the NBA, not the NCAA Tournament.

That’s why Kentucky and Ohio State meeting in the tournament feels fated to happen. Whether we like it or not, history will remember this season first for the story of the superstar freshman turned student assistant coach. For the way Enes wasn’t freed. So it had to be that the season’s defining moment comes against the same player who we first saw Kanter dominate. The player who’s success all year has made me wonder if when we all adopted the “Free Enes” campaign, we really understood just how significant his presence on this team could be.

Tomorrow determines how that story will end. Either this team will be remembered for overcoming what easily could have been a crippling loss in a way none of us could have imagined to beat the best team in the country and potentially advance to a Final Four. Or, they’ll lose to a team that most will agree was better than them and we’ll be left wondering, what could have been?