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February 23rd, 2017

NEXT MAN UP: PJ Washington meets the BBN in Marshall County

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[Ed. note: This is the latest installment in an ongoing series about Kentucky’s 2017 class. Be sure to check out our other features on Jarred Vanderbilt and Nick Richards, and stay tuned for Quade Green and Shai Alexander.]

Halfway through my conversation with PJ Washington, I look up and notice we have an audience. A crowd of 20 or 30 Kentucky fans has quietly filled in around us in the lobby of the Marshall County High School gym, waiting to get PJ’s autograph or picture. Knowing my place, I step aside and let the fans meet the future Cat, who politely and patiently grants each request. While the concept of signing autographs is still new to the five-star power forward, this group is nothing compared to the one who surrounded him the night before; after nearly getting a triple double in his first game at the Kentucky Lake Showcase, PJ spent almost an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with fans.

“Oh my goodness, it was at least 50-70 people last night,” PJ says, smiling. “This is my first time playing in Kentucky in a while and a lot of the Big Blue Nation was here. It was just great.”

For PJ, the weekend in Marshall County was a preview of what’s to come when he suits up for Kentucky next fall, the culmination of a childhood dream.


PJ Washington remembers the exact moment he knew he wanted to play for Kentucky: when he saw John Wall do the John Wall dance at Big Blue Madness in 2009.

“Ever since John Wall went to Kentucky, I just fell in love with the program,” PJ says. “I remember the John Wall dance and everything.”

We’ve said it for years, but that dance was also the exact moment that Kentucky became a cool program again. Even though they were in Dallas, Texas, PJ said his entire youth basketball team loved the Cats because of Wall.

“I was in Dallas and I was playing on my dad’s team and that’s when Kentucky had the tight jerseys and the long shorts and everybody wanted to do that, so my team did it as well. We just wanted to be like them,” PJ says. “At that point, everybody was Kentucky fans and everybody just fell in love with John Wall’s game and the way he played at Kentucky, it was just a big dream for me to come there.”

PJ Washington repping Kentucky on UCLA's campus back in 2011

PJ Washington repping Kentucky on UCLA’s campus back in 2011 (Photo via Paul Washington)

PJ loved the Cats so much that when his dad, Paul Washington, took him to visit UCLA in 2011, he wore a Kentucky shirt. His dad snapped a picture of PJ with the Bruin Bear sculpture on campus and years later, showed it to Steve Alford when Alford started recruiting his son.

“He was fine,” Washington Sr. says of Alford’s reaction. “He just smiled and said, ‘Send it to Cal, he’ll post it on his Instagram.'”


Fast forward a few years to when PJ picked up the coveted offer from Kentucky. Early on, he turned heads as a strong scorer and rebounder around the rim, but as time went on, his game expanded and his calling card became his versatility. Last weekend in Marshall County, he nearly had a triple double on Friday night, putting up 23 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks. On Saturday, his numbers weren’t as flashy — 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists — but Findlay Prep was up by so much that he spend a good portion of the game on the bench. Even though he’s listed as a power forward, PJ occasionally brought the ball up the court and spent most of the game trying to create opportunities for his teammates rather than looking to score himself. At 6’8″ 235 lbs., PJ was comfortable operating from any spot on the floor, looking every bit the “positionless” player that John Calipari covets.

“I try to do everything on the court, passing, rebounding, scoring, and really, just trying to get my team involved,” PJ says afterwards. “I just play with everything I have, play with my heart every game and just try to win.”

After growing up as a Kentucky fan, you might think Washington would have committed to Calipari on the spot when he got the offer, but his parents made him promise to go through the process. He did, taking official visits to Kentucky, North Carolina, and UNLV, but to anyone who was paying attention, it was obvious Kentucky was the favorite. PJ was actually born in Louisville, and although his family moved to St. Louis shortly thereafter, his mother Sherry likes to joke that her son has the Bluegrass in his blood.

“He was born in Kentucky so he always had it in him,” Sherry says. “He always wanted to play for Kentucky.”

The Washingtons eventually settled in Texas until PJ’s sophomore year, when his dad got the job as the head coach at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, DeAndre Liggins’ alma mater. Despite all the moves, Washington Sr. confirms his son “has been a Kentucky guy from day one.”

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(IG: PJ_Washington)

PJ took his official visit to Kentucky in September, but his dad knew his son would want to come back for Big Blue Madness in October, so he started saving up for an unofficial visit (on the family’s dime) last summer. After seeing the spectacle that is Madness up close, PJ couldn’t wait much longer. He committed to Kentucky on November 10.

“Just seeing the fans and the crowd, it was way different than everyone else,” PJ says of his reaction to Madness. “The brotherhood was amazing. Everyone came back for Big Blue Madness and we’re just a family and we want to be a part of it.”


PJ Washington and his family after his commitment

PJ Washington and his family after his commitment (IG: PJ_Washington)

Ten days after committing, PJ signed with Kentucky, making the decision final. In his remarks about Kentucky’s early 2017 signees, John Calipari set the bar high for his future forward.

“P.J. Washington is an alpha dog,” Cal said. “I’m not trying to hype him up because I don’t do that, but he’s a combination between Trey Lyles and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He’s not quite as big as Trey and shoots it a little bit better than Michael, but he’s that kind of player. He’s a physically strong player. I want him to come in here and lead and be an attack dog. In the same sense as Nick, he’s not close to where he’s going to be. He can shoot it, you can throw it ahead to him in the break and he can bully a player that’s not big enough to guard him. He’s an outstanding player.”

How powerful is PJ? I got an up-close view on Saturday:

Basically, PJ Washington is a player we could really use this year.


After it became official, PJ pretty much turned into a walking advertisement for Kentucky Basketball, sporting a UK shirt in warmups of his games and, according to his mother, practically living in UK knit caps. Although Quade Green seems to have taken the lead role on recruiting Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox to Kentucky, PJ says he never misses an opportunity to put in a good word about the BBN.

“I talk to them all the time,” PJ says of Bamba and Knox. “I get at them on Instagram, Twitter, everything. Every time they post something, I’ll get on their photos talking about BBN. I mean, it’s just all love, and I feel like we’re in a good place with them.”

How does he sell Kentucky to Bamba and Knox?

“It’s the best place for you to get ready for the next level. It’s the best place for you to get ready to play with great players on the same team and it’s the best place for you. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the best college in America.”

Washington won gold with the 18U National Team last summer, and hadn’t planned on playing with the 19U squad this year until he heard that Calipari would be the coach. That changed everything.

“I really wasn’t planning on doing it this year until they said he was going to do it, so I feel like it’s a great thing for me to do since I’ll be able to be coached by him before the season,” PJ says. “It’s going to give me a good head start because some of the guys that are going to be on our team are going to Kentucky as well, like Quade Green, Hamidou [Diallo], maybe Mo Bamba. It’s just going to be a lot of fun playing with those guys and playing for Coach Cal.”

For now, PJ keeps in touch with his future teammates via a group text, which he says blows up during UK games, specifically, “every time we see Hamidou on TV.” Speaking of Diallo, you can tell PJ’s a little envious that his former 18U squad teammate is already in Lexington.

“He’s lucky, I wish I there right now. I’m glad he’s there, I’m glad he came. I’m excited to play with him next year.”


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Back to the lobby at Marshall County, where PJ is still signing autographs and taking selfies. The crowd keeps building, and when I ask his mom about it, she just smiles.

“It’s a proud moment to see him accomplish his dreams. I just sit back and smile when I see it all.”

PJ may be coached by his dad, but it’s clear the buck stops with mom, who asked Kentucky fans to help keep her son in line next season.

“I want Kentucky fans to know that PJ Washington is going to work hard. If he’s not, let me know. But he’s a great kid. If you see him out anywhere, he’s very approachable because he knows mom will get on him, and dad. And if I get any reports that he’s not…He’s a good kid, he really is. Very respectful. He knows right from wrong. If you see him out and he’s doing something he’s not supposed to, get on him. Get him back in line, straighten him up.”

If the weekend in Marshall County is any indication, so far, so good.


Watch: Highlights from Boogie’s First Game in New Orleans

@PelicansNBA

@PelicansNBA

DeMarcus Cousins’ debut for the New Orleans Pelicans began with a bang, but the night ended with a whimper.  The Houston Rockets pulled away from New Orleans in the second quarter and never looked back.  The Pelicans lost 129-99.

Still, there are plenty of highlights to share.  Davis finished with a team-high 29 points and 9 rebounds, but he didn’t fill the stat sheet quite like Cousins.  Boogie had 27 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and 4 blocks.  Cousins started strong, knocking down his first shot as a Pelican.

The crowd’s reaction to his make might be even better than slow motion.

The best of Boogie’s four blocks was this swat on James Harden.

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Five things from Senior Night at Memorial

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

No. 22 Kentucky pulled out a massive upset tonight, taking down No. 3 Mississippi State 78-75 on an emotional Senior Night. The Cats are now 20-8 on the season and third in the SEC and an electric night in Memorial proved that they are a real contender this year. Check out Savannah’s post to read more about tonight’s overtime win.

The seniors took over the second half. 

Kentucky went into the third quarter trailing 31-30 and Makayla Epps had decided she had enough. Epps came out and had an 8-0 run to give the Cats a 38-30 lead. This gave Kentucky some much needed momentum after they had a rough time getting their offense moving in the first half. For only having four points in the first half, Epps came out and rolled out 18 more in the second half for 22 points total.

Akhator, was also a victim of a weird first half. Only scoring five points in the first half, she went to work in the second and scored 22 points to give her 27 totally points and 17 rebounds. A ridiculous stat line, but one that is not unusual for the senior. She took advantage of MSU getting in early foul trouble to work her way into the paint and be a huge factor in Kentucky winning tonight.

Head coach Matthew Mitchell was elated for the seniors tonight.

“The best feeling for us is that Makayla and Evelyn will always have tonight. And now that they have it, you can’t take that away from them,” Mitchell said after the game.

Free throws matter

If you follow me on Twitter then you’ve seen me preach this over and over again while watching our guys play. But free throws were what kept the Cats in this game. Mississippi State was making stupid foul after stupid foul and Kentucky took advantage. They shot 71% from the charity stripe, making 20 of 28 free throws.

Memorial was lit

“That atmosphere out there felt amazing, it felt like one of the Rupp Arenas game,” Epps said. And it did have that feeling. 5,224 fans showed up to cheer on Epps and Akhator tonight and it was one of the best atmospheres I’ve experienced in Memorial.

This is the Cats biggest win of the season

It’s no secret that Kentucky has struggled this season. They’ve lost all but one matchup against top 25 teams this season and have lost both of their games that went into overtime. Tonight, they knocked off the No. 3 team in the nation and the top team in the SEC. The Cats also played one of the most complete games they’ve played all season with things flowing on both ends, hitting the shots that mattered and forcing turnovers one after another.

This was big going into the SEC tournament

Next week I will be traveling to Greenville, South Carolina to watch the Cats compete in the SEC Tournament. This win seals Kentucky at three seed so they will receive a one day bye and will play on Thursday. That is huge because the Cats will need all the rest they can get going into March.

 

Also, this video from the locker room is awesome.

I didn’t wake up today thinking I’d see Matthew Mitchell standing on a table, but ya never know.


Wendy’s KSR Top 10 Tweets of the Night

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Wendy’s new Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich features our iconic Spicy Chicken, topped with a one of kind Sriracha Jack Cheese, thick-cut Applewood Smoked Bacon, creamy Sriracha aioli, spring mix, and red onion, all served on a toasted Sriracha-infused bakery-style bun.


You can be a part of Wendy’s KSR Top 10 Tweets by using hashtags like #KSR #BBN or #KSRtop10. You can also nominate tweets by mentioning them with the hashtag. If we like what we see, it could be posted the next day. Now. On to the tweets:

 

#10 Ray J. Vaske

That’ll last like a week.

 

#9 Becky

I think everyone does.

 

#8 Chris McIntosh

Yeah, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

 

#7 Backdoor Slider

Definitely De’Aaron

 

#6 Jenn Stevenson

Dude needs to chill.

 

#5 CeeCee

I think this is better than what he actually yelled.

 

#4 David Kimbleton

Print it on some t-shirts.

 

#3 Randolph Vance

Pot meet kettle.

 

#2 Not Safe for Work…

Again, pot, meet kettle.

#1 Joe Seiter

Nope. No there is not.
@haleysimpKSR


UK Hoops Wins Big on Senior Night

Photo By UK Athletics

Photo By UK Athletics

UK Hoops WON against Mississippi State tonight, 78-75. And ya’ll, WHAT A GAME.

A win. In overtime. On senior night. Against the third ranked team. What more could you ask for?  It was an emotional senior night win for Makayla Epps, Evelyn Akhator and Matthew Mitchell after the turmoil of the beginning of the season.

“Makayla and Evelyn will always have tonight. To have that moment with them, it’s one we’ll probably never forget,” said Matthew Mitchell

The Cats struggled in the beginning, Mississippi State went on a 8-0 run in the first quarter. The Cats were shooting 1 of 6 while the Bulldogs were 4 of 5. But the Cats were able to get something going with the help of Maci Morris who had seven points in the first quarter. The second quarter was all back and forth and all Epps and Akhator, MSU led 31-30.

Epps and Akhator both went off in the second half and after too much back and forth for my liking, we ended up in overtime. Mackenzie Cann missed a huge three with eight seconds left in overtime but, Epps saved the day with two points. With one second left, Maci Morris went to the free throw line and I’ll admit, I was too scared to watch. I’m told she made both though from those who could stomach the pressure to watch on press row. Memorial was already loud but man, when that second shot went in and then the buzzer went off shortly after – IT GOT LOUD. 

Epps had 22 points, Akhator had her 15th double-double with 27 points and 16 rebounds. The two seniors scored 59 of the Cats’ 78 points. These seniors are special ya’ll, and the environment in Memorial was truly a testament to them. I counted about six Makayla Epps fatheads and five Akhator ones. Even I couldn’t help but get a little emotional during their senior night ceremony (but no, I didn’t cry).

“People counted us down and out when we went through that turmoil. I took that on the chin. We knew we had to play today. It’s a crazy feeling to win,” said Epps.

Well, that’s all from Memorial for this season. UK Hoops plays one last game against South Caroline on Sunday at 2 , and then it’s off to the tournament we go!


Watch: Makayla Epps’ Senior Night Game-Winner

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With the game tied, Makayla Epps hustled to grab Mackenzie Cann’s missed three-pointer and put it back through the rim.  The made bucket with eight seconds left in overtime gave Epps a win in her final game at Memorial Coliseum.

Epps and senior Evelyn Akhator combined to score 27 of UK’s final 29 points. More coverage is on the way.


Hear From the Man who Knows Where Mohamed Bamba is Going

via Greg Payan | AP

via Greg Payan | AP

Kentucky’s highest-ranked remaining target in the Class of 2017, power forward Mohamed Bamba, is taking his official visit to Duke this weekend.  The Cats were in good position following his January 20th official visit, but that all could change in Durham.  It’s the perfect time to hear from someone who knows what Bamba will do, but Seth Burger, his Westtown head coach, won’t spill the beans to Sports Illustrated.

Where is Mohamed going? He is going to the NBA, where superstardom awaits.  Where is he going to college? It doesn’t really matter.  He will decide when he decides.

His coach (who also happens to be the founder of AND1) didn’t share any scoop, but his perspective of the recruiting process is interesting.  Fans frequently ask where Bamba is going.  Of course, he can never give anything away, but he can eloquently describe Bamba’s elite skill-set.

Mo is the best shot blocker and rebounder I have ever seen in person, at any level. Mo also is supremely talented on the offensive end. In our league championship on Feb. 17 (we won, 96–72), Mo had 19 points, missing one shot all game. He made a 6’8” Division I big his personal poster with an opening drop step dunk, and also went 3 for 4 from three. There is nothing this kid cannot do on the court. Mo is also extremely intelligent, so much so that he qualified to go to Harvard with his grades and test scores.

If that doesn’t paint the picture well enough, watch him do work at this year’s Peach Jam alongside Quade Green.

In other basketball recruiting news, Cal’s other elite 2017 target still on the board, Kevin Knox, told ESPNU  he will announce his decision in mid-April.  Knox originally planned on announcing in March, but will now wait until after the college basketball season.


Attorney General Andy Beshear joins Matt on Hey Kentucky!

beshear-hey-kentucky

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear took a break from his day job to co-host Hey Kentucky! with Matt Jones.  Beshear discussed his first year in office, his contentious relationship with Governor Matt Bevin,  and if he’s considered running against Bevin in 2019.

See the Kentucky Attorney General talk about a variety of topics by watching the entire episode after the jump.

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Watch: Kentucky Women’s Basketball Senior Night Ceremony

@KentuckyWBB

@KentuckyWBB

For the final time Evelyn Akhator and Makayla Epps took the Memorial Coliseum court .  Matthew Mitchell’s Senior duo received the send-off they deserve.  First, Akahtor’s introduction:

Things may have gotten a little dusty for Epps’ entrance.

When the two teams finally left the benches for tip-off, Epps kissed the UK-logo at center-court, just like her father.  See the full video from the KSR Facebook page after the jump.

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MUST READ: Makayla Epps pens article for The Players’ Tribune

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We’re moments away from Makayla Epps’ Senior Night in Memorial Coliseum and there is a story on the internet that you HAVE TO read before that one tips off.

The story of Epps, in her own words, just went up over on The Players’ Tribune, where several famous athletes have penned their own pieces.

Epps is the next in line to do so, sharing how she went from Anthony Epps’ daughter to Louisville commit to Kentucky Wildcat, and how playing for Kentucky was/is so special, beyond basketball.

Here, have an excerpt:

All my life people have been asking me about playing in my father’s shadow. I never saw it as a negative thing. If anything, I felt the opposite. I watched my father strive to succeed while he was playing, and it inspired me to play the game the way he did.

And I liked the bar being set high for me. It motivated me to bring my best to the court every game. I told myself that by the end of high school, when people in Marion thought of the name Epps, they were going to be thinking of me first.

Seriously, read it: Kentucky Woman by Makayla Epps


Terrence Jones waived by the Pelicans

No room for the real T. Jones after the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

It’s unfortunate, but he’ll land on his feet. Plenty of spots in the league for a 12 and 6 guy.


How Makayla Epps stepped out of her father’s shadow

Britney Howard | UK Athletics

Britney Howard | UK Athletics

Four years ago, Makayla Epps was the daughter of a former Kentucky basketball player who happened to be a four-star recruit out of Marion High School in Lebanon, Kentucky.

Now, Epps is projected by DraftSite.com to go as the 13th WNBA pick to the San Antonio Stars. Just before teammate Evelyn Akhator is projected to go 14th to the New York Liberty. She’s the leader of a Kentucky team that was in shambles last April and had to have tryouts to fill two spots on the roster. She never gave up and kept fighting for a team, and state, that she loves.

Epps wears 25 on her jersey, the same number her father did in his tenure at Kentucky, but has managed to make it her own and become the face of Kentucky Women’s Basketball. But regardless of how good your dad is, if he’s a Kentucky basketball player, it’s going to be hard to separate yourself from that.

So how did she do it? How did the daughter of a player for one of the most successful basketball programs in history step out of her fathers shadow?

She didn’t leave

When Matthew Mitchell lost all of his coaching staff, the departure of seven players and two commitments Epps could have flown the coup, but she didn’t. The senior stayed and fought for her team to be a competitor this season against all odds. Many players went to more dominant programs, Alexis Jennings went to South Carolina and Batouly Camara went to UCONN, and Epps could have done just the same. Thankfully, she chose to stay and back the team she had spent the last three years building.

“I had people asking me, ‘are you leaving, are you leaving’ and I said nah, I can’t leave the blue and white. I’m glad I stuck it out,” Epps said before the beginning of the season.

She’s a stone cold leader

Epps is this team’s Tyler Ulis. Each and every girl on the squad looks up to Epps and trusts her to lead them through thick and thin, and it’s apparent on the court. She’s the most vocal person on the court, always telling her teammates where they need to be on the court and calling out the plays. If someone misses a beat, Epps is right there telling them what they need to better the next time around – almost as if she’s an extension of the coaching staff. As a senior, Epps is on the floor more than anyone else on the team, averaging just over 35 minutes per game, and spends the entire time doing her best to help her team exceed.

“I’ve played more games for Kentucky than any other player on this team. I know the game, I know what it takes to win games, I know what it takes to compete in the SEC, and I know what it takes to be the top dog, ranked in the country type. I’m just being more vocal, my teammates respect me, I respect all my teammates. So when I say something, they stop and really listen,” Epps said.

She’s scored almost twice as many points as her dad

Anthony Epps may have helped the Cats score a national title in 1996, but in his four years from 1993-1997 he scored 881 points. Placing Epps at 75th on the all time scorers list for Kentucky Basketball history. His daughter, has almost doubled that having scored 1,664 career points for 5th best in program history. This season, Epps leads the team in points per game, averaging almost two more points than the next highest scorer at 16.9 ppg. Akhator has the second best average with 14.9 ppg. In fact, Epps has led the team in scoring each year since her sophomore year. In her sophomore year she averaged 14.9 ppg and her junior year she averaged 17 ppg.

It doesn’t take a national championship trophy to leave a mark at Kentucky. Fans have grown to love Epps, some even waited in lines reaching outside the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday to get her autograph. She’s a homegrown Kentuckian who has made her state proud. The farthest Epps has ever taken a team in the Sweet 16 but she will be remembered as one of the greatest women to ever wear the blue and white.


Player Development Levels: Offense

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The time it takes for incoming players to develop into contributors greatly varies. Levels of contribution also differs. Factors that drive on-field significance are influenced by opportunity, talent, depth chart mobility, willingness to work, and more. In this post we’ll discuss Kentucky’s offensive players that are in differing development stages for the 2017 season. These Wildcats will be divided amongst five categories that are named: It’s Time, National Honors, Conference Honors, First to Second Year, and Red to Blue Shirts. Please note that not all offensive players fit into these predesignated columns.

Let’s get started:

IT’S TIME

The name of this developmental stage is self-explanatory. The following player entered the program with a high probability to succeed and has been on the team for an adequate amount of time to start playing at a high level. Expectation has exceeded output; it’s time to step up or get stepped over on the depth chart.

Receiver Blake Bone

Bone started his UK career with 20 receptions, 210 yards, and 1 touchdown in his freshman campaign. His numbers dipped as a sophomore: 14 catches, 194 yards, and 2 TD’s.

2016: Caught 5 passes for 82 yards. A significant statistical jump in his senior season is mandatory. The outside or X receiver group will be crowded with JaVante Richardson joining Kayaune Ross, Dorian Baker, Tavin Richardson, and others. Playing time will be fiercely contested for in spring practice and fall camp.

benny-snell

NATIONAL HONORS

This Wildcat is accomplished to the point of collecting national level awards. He could compete for All American honors if projected improvement continues on current, established pace. 

Running Back Benny Snell
Throughout 2016, fans and media types were racking their brains to name a historical UK running back that Snell compared to as a rookie. The Freshman All American developed into the program’s standard for all RB’s to measure against by the Austin Peay game as he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark.  

2016: 186 carries, 1091 yards, 13 touchdowns.

CONFERENCE HONORS

These Cats could find themselves on All SEC Teams at the end of next season.  This projection is based off prior production and also considers work ethic, maturity, talent level, and developmental ceiling.

Receiver Dorian Baker

The rising senior’s best season came as a sophomore: 55 catches, 608 yards, 3 TD’s. In three seasons Baker has caught 88 passes for 1,015-yards, and 6 touchdowns.

2016: 14 catchers, 208 yards, 2 TD’s in limited time due to injury. Call it a hunch; Baker finished 2016 strong and could be in store for a special senior season.

Tight End CJ Conrad

Known throughout the SEC as one of the conference’s best blocking TE/H-Backs. Conrad was close to having a breakout receiving season as a sophomore but QB Stephen Johnson missed on several sure completions that would have given him a higher number of catches. That situation must be remedied in the offseason.

2016: 19 receptions, 262 yards, 4 TD’s. The SEC produced several top level TE’s a year ago. The canvass is wide open for Conrad to secure a spot on the all-conference team.

Guard Nick Haynes

2016: PFF 2nd Team All SEC, Haynes was a consistent force within the interior of the UK offensive line. With Jon Toth’s departure to the NFL, the senior from Niceville, Florida will be called upon to lead John Schlarman’s unit that played at an extremely high level in 2016. Haynes is considered the unit’s top technician.

Receiver Garrett Johnson

“Juice” Johnson career numbers: 107 catches, 1,550-yards, and 9 touchdowns. Poised to become UK’s big-play receiver. Word from the Training Center is that he’s diligently working to finish his Wildcat career with a bang.

2016: 39 receptions, 585 yards, 5 TD’s.

Cole Mosier/Landon Young

2016: Due to positional time share, it’s unlikely that one will be named to an all-conference team. However, the combination thereof has the potential to play at an All SEC level. Mosier is the OL’s rock. Landon Young is the group’s future rock star.

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First to Second Year

The most populated category, this collection of prior true-redshirt freshmen and JUCO transfers established early playing time in 2016. Their jump from rookie to veteran status could prominently influence UK’s win/loss column.

Tight End Greg Hart

Coaches throughout the Southeastern Conference rave about Kentucky’s blocking TE’s. Hart is a physical football player on the field and a resilient leader off.

2016: 6 catches, 32 yards. Hart is Eddie Gran’s designated blocking TE or H-Back dependent upon formation.

Quarterback Stephen Johnson

This story has been well documented on numerous occasions. The JUCO transfer took over for Drew Barker on a full-time basis in week three against New Mexico State. While fumble prone and at times inaccurate in short to intermediate routes, the California native went on to lead the Wildcats to a New Year’s Bowl. Johnson was named the MVP of the Governor’s Cup after standing toe-to-toe with the eventual Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson: 16/27, 338 yards, 3 TD’s passing; 8 rushes, 83 yards rushing.

2016: 145/265, 2037 yards, 13 TD’s, 6 INT’s passing. He also rushed for 327 yards and 3 scores.

Receiver Tavin Richardson

There were moments in 2016 that Richardson established himself as the Wildcat’s go-to receiver for the future. Consistency should be more present in his second season.

2016: 9 catches, 160 yards.

Receiver Kayaune Ross

Battled injuries; Ross is a physical specimen that presents Lamar Thomas with an answer in the Red Zone.

2016: 2 catches, 10 yards, 1 TD.

Guard Logan Stenberg

2016: 1st Team Freshman All SEC. Stenberg is a rising star.

Tackle Mason Wolfe

2016: Provided depth and played on special teams. Another developmental project that will show strides.

Red to Blue Shirts

The following players redshirted and are expected to compete for playing time in 2017.

Offensive Lineman Luke Fortner has been described as “Jon Toth” like. If that proves to be true, Fortner will be a plug-and-play lineman that can play multiple positions.

Quarterback Gunnar Hoak went 5/5 in last year’s spring game and will push Stephen Johnson for the starting quarterback job. At a minimum, Hoak will be a consistent backup for Darin Hinshaw.

Receiver Za’Aire Hughes seems to be the forgotten name within the inside or slot receiver position previews. Hughes has an opportunity to impress in spring practice prior to the arrival of Lynn Bowden and Josh Ali. Expect to see the Paducah native active on special teams.

Center Drake Jackson will be expected to compete for the starting center position vacated by Jon Toth. Jackson was ranked as one of the nation’s top centers coming out of Woodford County HS.

Tackle Tate Leavitt was expected to compete for immediate playing time a year ago. After adjusting to SEC football last spring and fall camp, it was decided that a redshirt year would best benefit the Hutchinson CC product.

Tight End Justin Rigg was the talk of fall camp. An injury forced a redshirt but did not stop Vince Marrow from gushing over his prized TE from Ohio.

Running Back AJ Rose simulated Lamar Jackson and Justin Thomas on the scout team which should bode well for Eddie Gran’s Wildcat package going forward. AJ Rose is a name that the BBN should get used to hearing going into spring practice. We had Rose evaluated extremely high on National Signing Day.

Player development is the absolute backbone of a program like Kentucky. 5-star prospects aren’t overpopulating its locker room. Mark Stoops and staff rely on early evaluation and good ole fashion hard work to better his team on an annual basis. Spring practice starts soon.


De’Aaron Fox stars in new De’Aaron Fox All-American promo

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Kentucky Wildcats TV released a new “This is Kentucky Basketball” promo featuring De’Aaron Fox, starring De’Aaron Fox.

It opens up with some good acting by Fox and UK strength coach Rob Harris, and then gets right to Fox’s highlights for his All-American candidacy.

Check ‘er out:

No, we do not have an update on Fox’s knee.


Suns tried but couldn’t move Brandon Knight before deadline

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, and Brandon Knight is still a member of the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns were seeking a second-round pick in exchange for the former Wildcat (a small asking price for one of SI.com’s top 100 NBA players) but could not find any takers before today’s 3 pm deadline.

Had Knight been dealt, Tyler Ulis was expected to see an increase in minutes. That still may be the case, although keeping Knight will not help Ulis’ shot.

To recap, this year’s trade season saw DeMarcus Cousins join Anthony Davis in New Orleans; Nerlens Noel get out of Philadelphia; and Phoenix still has four ex-Kentucky Wildcats.