Is Kentucky Wildcats Football the New Basketball?

Now I know that basketball season is still many months away but there really is no offseason in the Blue Grass. Steve Helwagen takes on Calipari’s stud recruiting classes while at UK, and what Jerry Meyer has to say about next year’s team is off the charts.

A Scout’s View

Over the years, any number of teams have excelled with freshmen leading the way.

Michigan’s Fab Five class, led by Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard, went to the NCAA title game as freshmen in 1992 and again as sophomores in 1993.

Carmelo Anthony was a freshmen star when Syracuse won the 2003 national title.

Ohio State, led by freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, reached the NCAA title game in 2007.

And, of course, the Davis-led Kentucky squad won it all just one year ago.

Jerry Meyer, the basketball recruiting editor for 247Sports.com, has tracked recruiting for over a decade.

“I have been doing this for 10 years and nothing else really comes close to this class,” he said. “For us, it’s No. 2, 3, 4, 9, 11 and 13. Then the other guy (Willis) is a four-star. I don’t think anything historically compares to it.

“People talk about the Fab Five at Michigan and their rankings don’t compare. We’ll see what happens on the court. This group are Alpha dogs. They are really physical, strong-minded, strong and they play with a lot of pride.”

Meyer discussed what sets this group apart.

“Randle and the Harrison twins are very special,” Meyer said. “They can get their own shot and they can score. The other freshmen are highly ranked, good at certain things, likely to be pros, but not necessarily ready to come in right away and make it happen. These guys can all go one-on-one and get their shots or make a pass for somebody else to score. They are playmakers.

“The Harrison twins are unbelievable in the backcourt. But Randle gives them that physical guy who can go inside and score. He can also play outside as a four. He will get rebounds. I would not compare him to DeMarcus Cousins because they are different body types. He will bring stability to the inside game. Marcus Lee is like a jumping jack and shot blocker.

“As far as the Harrison twins go, Aaron is the better shooter and is probably more wired to score. Andrew is thinking create a play. He can also score, but he can get into the lane and throw a great lob pass or kick it out. He’s thinking pass maybe more than Aaron does. I have also seen Aaron play the point when Andrew was hurt or in foul trouble. It’s really hard to see a difference.”

Randle and the Harrison twins all come from Texas, where none of the Division I schools were able to reach the NCAA Tournament this year.

“I don’t know if it’s a trend, but the Texas schools definitely got beat in this go-around,” Meyer said. “I think it’s just the lure of Kentucky. Kentucky had been recruiting those guys. They just felt like it was the best place to go to be one-and-done and improve their draft stock.

“I didn’t even know the Final Four is in Dallas next year. That would be something if that happens.”

Regarding Wiggins, Meyer is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“The consensus is there just might be too many guys at Kentucky for him, but nobody has counted Kentucky out yet,” Meyer said. “Who knows? Some people think they could pull off the miracle class. I’m in the camp that there are too many guys and he will end up at one of the other schools he is looking at.”

Meyer figures that Noel will make the obvious decision to leave to become at least a top-five NBA draft pick.

But Meyer expects that anybody else who stays could have to accept a supporting role going forward.

We will have a Drew Barker sighting soon.  According to J. Rowland @RowlandRivals, Scouth’s #3 rated QB in the 2014 class, Barker has decided to attend Kentucky’s Spring rather than South Carolina’s.  This is a huge change for the momentum of Kentucky Football of years past.  Stoops is killing it right now.

 

 

With the Spring Game just a week or so away, fans are anxious to see just how devastating Neil Brown’s Air Raid offense is going to be.  And of course a great amount of the responsibility for its success rests on the shoulders of the WR’s but Neil Brown doesn’t have a great depth of experience to rely on so the walk-ons are getting valuable experience through the first three weeks of practice. At this point, around 45,000 tickets have been distributed, up from 4,500 a year ago. Stoops is kicking ass and taking names Football is becoming the new basketball.

Kentucky’s current walk-ons have far more opportunity than that. Through three weeks of spring practice, some have even earned playing time with the starting offense.

“I wish our depth was like this when I was playing,” Brown said on Friday.

Redshirt freshmen Austin Sheehan and A.J. Johnson have made a name for themselves early. They don’t have much experience – but then again, neither do the rest of the Wildcats’ receivers.

None of UK’s six scholarship players at wide receiver have been full-time starters, so there’s not a significant gap between them and the four walk-ons this spring.

“There’s no stamp on a scholarship guy, that he gets to get up and play,” wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said. “Bottom line is, there are no favorites now.”

Sheehan and Johnson both spent some time working with the starting offense in UK’s first spring scrimmage last week. The majority of their time is spent with the second string, but even the No. 2 player on the depth chart is likely to play a significant role during the season.

“This is a dream come true, really, with (this coaching staff) coming in,” Sheehan said.

There’s precedent for walk-ons working their way to a successful role in the system. Wide receiver Alex Torres showed up in Lubbock without an invite to fall camp in 2009 and did more than just make the team.

He started all four years for the Red Raiders, finishing his career with 178 catches for 2,131 yards and 16 touchdowns. Torres wasn’t a preferred walk-on, but had 67 catches for 806 yards in his first season.

Then there’s the example that Brown sets. Even without a strong playing career at Kentucky, he worked his way to becoming one of the top young coordinators in college football.

“It’s definitely encouraging to see where he ended up,” Johnson said. “I know it’s not impossible for me, being a walk-on.”
Johnson started spring practice strong and moved up on the depth chart before UK’s first scrimmage, working his way in at the Z receiver position. Sheehan has been playing primarily at the X receiver position, along with junior Demarco Robinson and sophomore Demarcus Sweat.

They’ve both distinguished themselves with their change-of-direction skill and route running abilities. Sheehan also has the advantage of being the only receiver on the team who has experience playing with sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles. They starred together at Highlands High School, where Sheehan was the Bluebirds’ top receiver.

“I kind of know sometimes when he’s going to throw me that ball, because we have that connection,” Sheehan said. “Say if I have a fade, he’ll give me a look and I’ll know he’s throwing to me.”

Saturday’s scrimmage will be their next chance to show how they can help. A strong performance just a week before the Blue/White game on April 13 could push a player into the starting lineup as spring practice winds down, setting the tone into summer.

Things won’t get easier for players like Sheehan and Johnson from here, when four new scholarship receivers arrive on campus from the 2013 recruiting class. But they have a chance to win a job now and make someone else envious.

“There are all kinds of examples of guys who came from out of nowhere and started making plays and earned scholarships,” Brown said.

 

 

Speaking of the Spring game, at this point around 45,000 tickets have been distributed, up from 4,500 a year ago. Stoops is kicking ass and taking names. What a huge impact he’s having on this program already. With the $110 million in renovations forthcoming, football season is no longer the time killer between basketball seasons.

Just in case you were planning to purchase a t-shirt by Adidas that was inspired by the Louisville Cardinals’ Kevin Ware, don’t bother. Apparently with the NCAA already battling image issues and lawsuits of profiting from student-athlete likeness merchandise, the shirts have been shelved.

ATLANTA – A spokesperson for adidas told USA TODAY Sports that the company has stopped selling t-shirts inspired by Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s No. 5 due to a “use of logo issue.”

“The shirt is not currently for sale,” the spokesperson, Madeline Breskin, wrote in an e-mail.

Earlier this week, adidas was advertising shirts for $24.99 through Louisville’s Web site that read “Ri5e To The Occasion,” which was supposed to pay tribute to Ware, who suffered a gruesome open fracture to his right tibia last Sunday during the Midwest Regional final. Ware has subsequently become a national sensation, appearing on the David Letterman Show on Thursday before traveling to Atlanta for the Final Four.

Initially, Louisville said it had waived any traditional royalties for sales of the t-shirt and that instead adidas would make contributions to the university’s scholarship fund.

But questions have subsequently arisen about the t-shirt, both in the appearance of a shoe company profiting off Ware’s injury and whether it might be illegal since Louisville acknowledged that the No. 5 represents Ware. NCAA rules prohibit schools from selling merchandise that references a specific player but have traditionally been able to sell shirts and jerseys with numbers under the argument that it could represent any player who has worn that number.

However, Louisville associate athletic director Brent Seebohm told local television station WDRB on Thursday that the shirt was created at the school’s request “as a respectful tribute to honor Kevin within NCAA trademark apparel parameters, and allow fans to rally around the team.”

Asked what he thought about the fact that a shoe company and a university could generate revenue off Ware’s injury while the player gets nothing, Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said: “I don’t think it’s right.”

“For him to get the notoriety, I think it’s awesome,” Siva said. “But as far as profits and everything, it kind of sucks, him being in college that he can’t really see any of it. Hey, they give our school a lot of money so in the end it works out for both.”

Guard Russ Smith initially cited the fact that college athletes get a free education and said it probably wasn’t his place to comment. But when reminded that the Final Four offered him the biggest stage possible to stand up for the interests of college athletes, Smith acknowledged the issue was worth discussing.

“It definitely raises an eyebrow,” Smith said. “I’ll definitely go that far with it, and Kevin’s my friend. I take business classes, and I know the kind of route that’s going, but it definitely raises an eyebrow and as a friend of Kevin I only wish the best for him. I hope they’ll be able to take care of him one day for doing something like that.”

Forward Chane Behanan, who is Ware’s closest friend on the team, said Ware “hasn’t complained about it.” Asked if it was exploitive, Behanan responded: “It is, but then again you have to look at it as he’s still a college athlete.”

Topics: Basketball Articles, Football, Kentucky Wildcats

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