Kentucky Wildcats Mark Stoops Embraces the Rivalry at the Governer's Cup Luncheon while Jarrod Polson serves in Ethiopia

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Jul 17, 2013; Hoover, AL, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops talks with the media during the 2013 SEC football media days at the Hyatt Regency. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Governor’s Cup Luncheon at the Hurstborne Country Club marked the beginning of the hype for the Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals annual football game.  They’re set to square off on September 14th but the talk of knocking Louisville and Chawlie Stwong off his high horse has been at a fever pitch since Mark Stoops was hired as our Head Football Coach.  Of course since Louisville roasted Florida last year in their bowl game, Cardinal fans unreasonable expectations have fueled this to the nth degree. Mark Stoops had a lot to say to the media yesterday and to save your eyes from the strain of reading, I’ve found video from the Courier-Journal. You’re welcome.

Stoops on his first season:

Stoops on playing Louisville:

Stoops on time management,Yahtzee:

Two days ago, on my birthday 7/23/2013, the Louisville Cardinals were honored by President Obama at the White House on their 2013 National Championship.  I’ve always liked this practice but never really understood it.  Still don’t.  But what I understand less is Andy Katz and his assertion that Louisville is capable of defending the title.  Technically, he’s right because they are fielding a basketball team and do play in the ACC now so they have the opportunity to defend but not the capability.  They lost too much from last year’s squad and by too much I mean Gorgui Deing and Peyton Siva.  And no, I can’t believe I just characterized Peyton Siva as a huge loss but it’s the truth.

Like it or not, the attention nationally on Louisville took a different turn after Ware’s injury. It was too dramatic not to shift the focus to the Cardinals in the sport and across mainstream news platforms. “Once Kevin got injured, people were paying attention to our team,” Behanan said.

Peyton Siva, who finished his career with the title victory over Michigan, said, “For us to see him walking around and shooting the ball and getting up and down is really great. It’s definitely a great story for other people to see how determined he is to get back onto the court. He’s ready. He can’t wait to get back on the court and play with the guys.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been cautious to not shine too much attention on Ware. “It’s an injury that takes a long time to heal, but he will heal, and so we’re very optimistic after speaking with his doctors,” Pitino said.

But to make this Louisville team all about Ware would be a mistake. There is so much more to this team now, as there was during the NCAA tournament.

Luke Hancock: He was the MVP of the Final Four coming off the bench, dealt with his father being gravely ill due to cancer during that time and then the grief of him passing away on June 25. Hancock still honored his commitment to try out for the World University Games and then made the team that finished a disappointing ninth in Kazan, Russia, earlier this month. Hancock averaged 10.8 points, three rebounds and made 16 3s for the Americans.

“My dad being able to share that national championship with me is pretty special,” said Luke of his late father, Bill. “It was a wild summer. There were ups and downs. I talked with my dad about not going [to USA basketball], but he looked at me and made me promise to him that I was going to go. The first several days after I found out, that was really tough. I wasn’t going to back out on my promise. That’s exactly what he wanted me to do.”

Montrezl Harrell: Harrell was an energy rebounder for the Cardinals during the postseason. He has a chance to ultimately be the best pro prospect on the 2013-14 roster. He was third on the team in scoring (10.6) and averaged 3.7 rebounds with 10 blocks and eight steals on the gold-medal winning FIBA U-19 team that won in Prague earlier this month.

“The last six months for me have been fun and a great experience,” Harrell said. “I had a great experience with this team, winning the national championship and winning the gold. It’s a great feeling.”

The guards: One-time walk-on Tim Henderson got a shout out from the president and Pitino during the ceremony. He said those two 3s he made against Wichita State in the semifinal “changed his life,” due to the national recognition he received. “A lot of guys get a dream to get this opportunity and it has been a blessing and an unbelievable feeling,” he said.

The top returning player is Russ Smith, who is in Europe competing with a foreign touring team loaded with college players. Smith has professed that the Cardinals can win the title again. They can with him leading this squad. Contributing wing Wayne Blackshear is back, and the infusion of JC transfer point guard Chris Jones has the team anticipating another title run.

The starters of Smith and Jones, the spot play of Henderson, the potential return of Ware, the face-up shooting of Hancock, the contribution of Blackshear, the inside play of Behanan and Harrell make up a team that can win the title again. The one thing missing is the intimidating back-line defense of Gorgui Dieng, leaving that onus on Harrell and Behanan. How much the newcomers — guards Anton Gill, Terry Rozier and big man Akoy Agau — contribute is still to be determined.

Louisville will be the team to beat in the American Athletic Conference. The Cardinals should be considered as a preseason No. 1.

“It takes a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work and a great family type of chemistry,” Pitino said. “We’ve got those things now. More than anything else we have to replace Gorgui Dieng. Peyton Siva had an unbelievable attitude but we’ve got some great guards coming in. We’re very deep in the backcourt. We’ve got to replace Gorgui in the 5 spot. I’m not as confident as Russ Smith who told one of the New York tabloids that even though he was going to Spain and he would miss seeing the president that he would see him next year. We’re not that confident as a coaching staff.”

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