Finally Friday: Great news about John Wall

October 30, 2009

I’m sure the news has spread through Big Blue Nation, but I just had to put it here: John Wall has been cleared by the NCAA and will play for UK this season…with a few strings attached. First, he will miss two games. One of the games will be the exhibition game against Campbellsville and the other will be UK’s season opener against Morehead. While it’s a shame that he will have to miss the first game of the season, it’s great that he won’t have to sit out any more games. There was concern that he’d miss at a minimum 3 games and it wouldn’t have been unprecedented for him to sit out a far more substantial chunk of the season. It’ll be interesting to see a starting line-up lacking John Wall. There will be more pressure on Bledsoe, but I think he’ll be up for it.

Second, John Wall will have to pay back over $700 that was accrued on unofficial visits taken by Wall when he was being coached by Clifton. Clifton had been a licensed agent at the time, which explains why Wall has to pay the money back. Wall was asked to donate the money to a charity of his choice – thanks to Wall, the Hope Center will be able to offer Thanksgiving dinner to more homeless people.

So what comes out of this story? Well, obviously a feeling of relief for UK fans, but other than that, we are given another feel good story about one of the most exciting players to wear the jersey in years.

Catch up Thursday: Blue-White game impressions

October 29, 2009

Yesterday, thanks to the absolutely rad Funchester whose real name I do not know, whose identity is a mystery to me in all but the fact that this blessed person makes UK games available to those who cannot get them any other way, I got to watch the scrimmage last night. Right, that’s enough background and gratefulness – on to thoughts!

1. It was a lot of fun. It was great to see such a fast team run the ball up and down the court, drive to the basket, slash through defenders. Bledsoe looks like he’s weaving a needle the way he can find cracks in the defense. Wall always looks like he’s having fun, and it’s punctuated by awe-inspiring baskets. Patterson looks just as good as I thought he would (and I had some hiiiigh expectations).

2. There is a long way to go for this young team. Coach Cal has been saying this from the get go, but in his Dribble Drive Motion style of play, there is no room to hide. Players are shown at the best and at their worst. The offense was at times inconsistent, shooting from the 3 point range was mostly awful (more on that in a sec), and the defense still has to get shit right, to pseudo-quote Bledsoe (honestly, Bledsoe is one of my favorite players this year – his attitude, his skill, his straight-forward nature are all just fantastic). This team will get a lot from their exhibition games coming up, and as practices continue, things will improve. I noticed a difference between the scrimmage last night and BBM. I am certain this progress will continue.

3. But don’t let 2 look too bleak. Like I said in 1, the team was having fun, which is one of the most important things (I’m not going to sit here and bullshit about how winning doesn’t matter – teams should strive to be great and they should strive to win). Also, several players really struck me as positive surprises: Darnell Dodson, Daniel Orton, Jon Hood all stepped up to the plate. Look, I’m not going to sit here talking about great Wall and Bledsoe and Patterson and Cousins are (yes, Cousins was inconsistent, but when he was on, he was ON). They get a lot of hype as is. I don’t mean to diminish their performances in the least.

Darnell Dodson is amazing. John Calipari was absolutely right in recruiting this guy. Dodson is a JUCO transfer whose skill lies in making sweet jumpshots. Without him, UK’s three point game would be limited to Harrellson (not to knock on Jorts, his improvement really impressed me, too) and a lucky one from Cousins (I love seeing him try those shots). Dodson was all over the place and led the team in scoring. Crazy, huh?

Daniel Orton often gets over-shadowed by Cousins. This should absolutely NOT be happening. Orton’s knee injury really hurt his rankings his senior year, and as he has healed, his stock has risen. His time with Hell’s Trainer over the summer helped rehab the knee and build up muscle. I can’t wait to see more from him.

Jon Hood gets pushed aside a lot. Far, far, far too often. This guy is a home-grown talent. He was ranked in the top 50 by Rivals when he was in high school, which is impressive on its own. Last night, I got to see that he can hang with the team. Hood was taking and making jump-shots, which is exactly what we need. He also had a few great drives to the rim and showed off exactly why he was Mr. Kentucky Basketball (or whatever the exact title is).

Unrelated to game play, I loved how Cal interacted with the players. You could see a strong mutual respect their. I was also a fan of him bringing Coach Joe B. Hall down to sit with him on the bench. Kentucky is a program steeped in tradition, and the way to make tradition seem alive and not just some bullshit spewed on a page is stuff like this, stuff that ties the current team and atmosphere back to a past. It makes the past vibrant and it gives the present an important context. I loved the gesture on Coach Cal’s part, and it seemed that Coach Hall did, too.

If BBM didn’t get you stoked for the upcoming season and if this scrimmage didn’t get you stoked, then go to a doctor – I don’t think you’ve got a heart. Or a brain.

Catch-up Thursday: Payne goes MSU (we think)

October 29, 2009

According to Scout, Adreian Payne, former UK recruit has committed to Michigan State. The announcement will be made in two and a half hours. Payne is an exceptional high school player – ranked number 20 by rivals, this Dayton, OH center made a big splash this past year as his stock rose and schools took notice. In the end, Payne was considering MSU, WVU, Kentucky, and Arizona, all top programs. Today, we know which one he picked.

There is a stark constrast here between Payne’s recruitment and Irving’s. Both were peppered with potential violations thanks to the activity of the fans and students (Payne’s reception at WVU, Irving’s at Duke…guess making t-shirts doesn’t really help your cause too much). Both are fantastic talents. And then their path’s diverged – Irving’s into a media fiasco and Payne’s into a controlled announcement. In Irving’s case, it seems as if the program leaked the information out way before Irving was ready to let the news go. In Payne’s case, the cards were always held close to the chest. Payne’s recruitment, at least the announcement, seems to me like the perfect way to go about it – set up a press conference, and then, only a few hours before, start to leak some information. Obviously, I can’t be heaping all of the accolades on Payne’s camp – if MSU was privy to this information beforehand, they did not show and that is absolutely commendable. Schools should not be the ones making the announcements, especially without the consent of the student, and Duke really made a blunder with Irving.

MSU is an outstanding program, and Izzo, from all accounts, is both a helluva guy and a helluva coach. I believe that Payne made a very solid decision – he picked a school that needed him, that will get him where he wants to go, and he picked a coach that will do a great job in leading him there. Best of luck to Payne.

Also, if scout is wrong, I’m sure going to have to eat my words…

Merit Monday

October 26, 2009

After a great weekend for the Wildcats and a rough loss for the Redskins (the pro teams I track are the ones with former UK players on them), it’s time to get a bit more feel-goody.

First, Randall Cobb was named the national punt returner of the week by the College Performance Awards.

Second, Jorge Gonzalez is the SEC offensive lineman of the week.

Third, Jeff Goodman thinks that Kentucky, Kansas, and Texas are the three deepest teams. Great news for UK fans – even though the team is young, there is so much talent there. There is no relying on just one guy to get a play (unlike, it seems, in football  when sometimes the team is a real team and sometimes the team lacks cohesion- in those times, thank goodness of Randall Cobb).

In other news: Rod Odom decommitted from Arizona and is going to play at Vandy. While this comes as a surprise and I’m sure it’s an unpleasant way to kick off a season (he’s class of 2010, it’s not so bad), it looks like it might be for the best for Odom. He was holding scholarships from schools like Harvard, and he made it clear that academics were important to him. While Arizona is a fine athletic and academic program, I can see the allure of a top ranked university in a strong conference. If academics were that important to Odom, I can see how he’d feel more comfortable at Vandy.

Lastly, in sad news: Tubby Smith’s father passed away. My thoughts go out to the entire Smith family.

Sunday snooze

October 25, 2009

I hope y’all had a nice sleepy day. I hope y’all felt as good as I did about your respective teams wins. Go Wildcats, indeed.

I wrote something for The Phoenix Pub about the BCS standings – please go grab a look. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Randall Cobb. Can’t deny the Big Blue Love for that incredible football player.

Forgotten Friday

October 24, 2009

I am loving this alliteration, even if y’all find it cheesy. Alliteration makes coming up with these stupid headlines a lot easier. I might go back to pure-informative later, I don’t know. Right now, cheesy alliteration is where it is at.

So I’ve been thinking about this piece by Seth Davis, scolding Kyrie Irving for denying ZagsBlog’s (correct, accurate, on the money) Tuesday night post that claimed that he had committed to Duke. Since it looks like recruiting is heating up more, and it’s a huge morass and ergo attractive to me, I’ve been following this story pretty carefully. From what I can tell, it’s been looking like Irving was a huge Duke lean for a while – he wants to focus on academics as well as athletics and he has always spoken highly of the program. His visit to Midnight Madness was what surprised me, not his enthusiasm on Duke, especially following his official visit there. I don’t think anyone was surprised when he chose Duke, even before Zag broke the story. Not too unusual.

The whole episode with Zag’s Blog wasn’t terribly unusual, either. A blog makes a claim about a recruit, and the recruit denies regardless of the validity of the claim. It isn’t a shot against the blog, it isn’t a kid lashing out, it’s just a desire by the kid to have some sort of control over his announcement. So why, as Seth Davis suggests, should Kyrie Irving apologize? What did he do wrong? Yes, he misled the public, but this isn’t out of the ordinary for recruits. Yes, he made it seem like Zag was incorrect, but given Zag’s listing of his sources and the fact that Irving’s commitment on Thursday just emphasized how right Zag was initially, Irving didn’t hurt Zag or his credibility (ps, I know his name is Adam Zagoria, but Zag is shorter).

It’s a weird situation, because the kid has every right to control his announcement, especially when that announcement is greeted with great fanfare. And, let’s not forget, these blogs and news outlets have every right to look for stories and break them when they feel appropriate. Zag’s Blog wasn’t doing anything wrong by writing about Irving’s recruiting decision – if he hadn’t some other blog might have scooped him.

But the situation is a mess, and fingers are itching to be pointed somewhere. I’d say that if it has to go anywhere, it should go to those “sources”. I’m all for the free exchange of information – I’m in a field that demands it, but there are cases where the information isn’t that important. Like here, where it would come out in a day or two, anyway. To know that some of the sources were affiliated with Duke does raise an eyebrow – how does it help your program to undermine an announcement that would be a high-point of a student-athlete’s undergraduate career?

Saturday Summary

October 24, 2009

The UK – University of Louisiana-Monroe football game has been over for just a few minutes, but I have to spill my thoughts now, jumbled as they are, or they’ll never get onto the page.

Points from the game – Truly fantastic start by UK. The two quick scores by Conner and Cobb started off the game. Conner in the first minutes, Cobb off a 72 yard run. Cobb then got another touchdown, because he’s Randall Cobb and there is apparently nothing he can’t do. The Warhawks managed a touchdown, but it was promptly answered by another from John Conner. I think it’s about time we start making those Terminator jokes.

So that’s the first half, in a nutshell, and we come to the part of the game I’d rather forget – the third quarter. I have no idea what was in the water, but UK could not hold onto the ball offensively, and UK could not hold onto the Warhawks defensively. While the Warhawks were only able to score once during the quarter, they were in control of the ball nearly the whole time: if the game continued in that vein, there is no doubt that the Cats would be unable to hold onto their lead. Fortunately, the tide began to turn in the fourth quarter, when following an interception of a questionable Fidler pass, UK managed to get a safety. After that, Kentucky figured out what an interception was and started  shutting the Warhawk’s passing game. Randall Burden intercepted a pass and ran it for a touchdown, the last score of the game. UK held onto the ball more and was able to reign in an offense that was running the game in the third quarter.

I don’t know how this will affect the MSU game next week. I think part of the troubles in the third quarter came from the players feeling comfortable in their lead and in the offenses inability to find a rhythm. This is to be expected since Hartline is still out and both Fidler and Newton are very young quarterbacks. UK is still plagued by injuries – Lindley is still out, Micah Johnson hobbled off the field,  so we’ll have to see who will be good for MSU and which holes will have to be filled. I’m interested to see what Rich Brooks has to say, both about this past weekend’s performance and about what we can expect in the immediate future.

I am totally wiped from this game. What a whirlwind!

Tired Thursday

October 22, 2009

Today’s the biggest day of my week, so I don’t have much to report. I’m sure you’ve all heard that Kyrie Irving committed to Duke (shocking!) and John Wall’s eligibility issue has been blown out of proportion. I’ve got a couple links for your viewing pleasure:

Matt Jones at Kentucky Sports Radio recaps the John Wall situation and breaks it down effectively.

Here’s the original Wall story, courtesy of ESPN.

TwoYellows at the Phoenix Pub writes something thoughtful about fantasy football.

Just read this whole website for some non-BCS football.

Night, y’all. I’ll be here tomorrow with some thoughts on Saturday football. Can’t wait!

What? Wednesday

October 21, 2009

I have two kind of thoughtful posts in the wings, but today I can’t help but be distracted by this nonsense: the University of Central Florida is risking losing a 1.9 million dollar contract with adidas and being forced to buy all the equipment and clothing for their athletes just because Marcus Jordan wants to wear Jordans.

I get the kid – if my dad was a legend in the field and had his own line of shoes, I’d probably want to wear those shoes. It’d be good to hype up the family. On the other hand, it’s just a sneaker – who the fuck really cares. Wear the brand of the school for however long you’re going to be there: it’s not a huge deal and it shows solidarity with the team.

The most surprising thing about this whole mess is that the school said that it’d try to work something out with Jordan. Now, with all due respect to the kid, he isn’t as good as his dad, and I don’t think his skill on the court is worth the contract. UCF could potentially lose a lot and gain very little. Most schools are going in the opposite direction – trying to strengthen their partnerships with sponsors to ensure that their athletes will be at the cutting edge of sports equipment and fashion. Kids want a program that’s hip – not a program that lack big sponsorship and bends to the whims of one player.

To be fair, though, UCF isn’t a basketball powerhouse. The Marcus Jordan recruitment and hullaballoo is the most media attention this program has gotten in years. And, they claim that this issue is much deeper than Jordan wanting Jordans. Nike has always been thought of as the American basketball brand – adidas has been seen as more foreign, more soccer oriented. Maybe UCF wants to shed this partnership and look for greener pastures. This is 100% sheer speculation, but I can’t imagine that a program would risk losing a huge contract for one three-star player. There has to be something underneath this, something that explains the desire to disassociate.

Twitter Tuesday

October 20, 2009

This one is popping up a little late. It’s been a busy day at Casa de AA. I have a post up at the Phoenix Pub about creating a brand in college basketball. Kentucky is featured, like in many of my basketball posts.

But that’s not the point of this entry. The point of this entry is to talk about the weirdness on Twitter. Who knows what sports-bloggers did before Twitter. Thanks to this invention, we can track recruits (something I am personally uncomfortable with – that’s for another night), talk to each other, follow athletes, link stories, the whole she-bang. Tonight, Zagsblog (run by Adam Zagoria – a real whiz in college basketball, especially the Big East) reported that Kyrie Irving had committed to Duke. Just a short while later, Irving twittered: “I have not commited to duke!!!” followed by “I don’t know what’s going on with all these supposed sources but I have not commited to duke”.

Here’s the deal – I’m pretty sure that Irving is going to commit to Duke. I’m pretty sure that his Tweets are an attempt by him to get a hold of the situation, announce on his own terms and have his moment in the spotlight. There’s nothing wrong with this. There is no reason that a young person shouldn’t celebrate and savor the accomplishment of getting an athletic scholarship from a recognized program. Furthermore, when it comes to such a big decision, he should feel like he’s in control of the situation. Irving should be allowed to commit on his own terms. So whatever comes out of this mess, there shouldn’t be any anger directed him.

Course, I could be wrong – the information could be old. But I doubt it. I wish him the best of luck with his decision. Irving’s motto appears to be “hungry and humble”. That’s a great attitude and I wish him success.


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