The Sports Zone
by Jamie H. Vaught
LEXINGTON — Some UK basketball notes and observations:
— Even after Saturday’s 74-46 win over Portland, John Calipari warned the 6-3 Cats are not very good right now. The coach has mentioned similar statements several times since the campaign began in early November.
“I’m just telling you we have a long way to go,” he said.
Calipari says if the team, which has final exams this week, is willing to work hard and improve on mental toughness, it has a chance to be special like last season’s national championship club.
“We could be top 10, top 8,” he said. “Those eight are the only ones that truly have a chance to win the whole thing.”
— While Kentucky is struggling somewhat, the NBA scouts or observers, not surprisingly, are still very high on the Wildcat superstar rookies. They simply look at their talent and future potential.
According to the latest 2013 mock NBA drafts, three UK players are expected to be lottery picks.
Both NBADraft.net (as of Dec. 11) and DraftExpress.com (as of Dec. 6) have stated that Nerlens Noel (No. 2 overall selection by both Web sites), Archie Goodwin (No. 10 and No. 8) and Alex Poythress (No. 12 and No. 7) will all be very high draft picks.
In addition, Willie Cauley-Stein is No. 16 in the 2013 mock draft, according to NBADraft.net, while he is No. 17 one year later in the 2014 draft by DraftExpress.com.
— Kentucky has already played nine games this season and Cauley-Stein is still the only Wildcat to post a double-double after getting 12 points and 12 rebounds in UK’s 88-56 victory over Samford last week.
At the same time last year (in the first nine games), the Wildcats had already posted a double-double four times, including three by Anthony Davis.
— Middlesboro product and UK graduate student Julius Mays poured in 13 points against Portland, marking the fifth time in the last six games that he has hit in double figures. He has made at least one three-pointer in every game this season.
A 6-2 guard, Mayes leads the team in minutes played (300) and is third in the SEC in assist/turnover ratio (2.8). The transfer from Wright State is enrolled in the Master of Science program in Kinesiology and Health Promotion.
— Morehead State coach Sean Woods, who got himself in a national controversy after a very heated altercation with his player during the Eagles’ 81-70 loss to UK last month, was one of 10 former Cats to return to Lexington as an opposing head coach.
Over the years, Kentucky has been very successful in beating the former Cats like Travis Ford (EKU/UMass) and Kyle Macy (Morehead State), to name a few, who were working as the opposing coach. Can you name a former Wildcat who has had the most coaching success against UK?
If you are an old-timer, that’s a pretty easy answer. It’s former Adolph Rupp player C.M. Newton, who coached at Alabama and Vanderbilt. Newton’s record was 10-32 versus UK.
Newton and current Florida assistant John Pelphrey, who spent four years as the boss at Arkansas, are the only ex-Cats to win at least one game against Kentucky, according to UK’s game notes distributed for the media. The other former Wildcats who also coached against Kentucky include Winston Bennett (Kentucky State), Larry Steele (Portland), Guy Strong (Oklahoma State) and Carey Spicer (Georgetown College).
— Interestingly, the New Orleans Hornets and Washington Wizards, who faced each other Tuesday night in a matchup of the league’s two worst teams, have had two things in common. Their recent No. 1 overall draft picks came from Kentucky — Anthony Davis (Hornets) and John Walls (Wizards) — and these two stars have been out of action with injuries.
While Wall is still recovering from a knee injury, Davis — who had a stress reaction in his left ankle — played his first game since mid-November, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 25 minutes as New Orleans dropped to Washington 77-70. Davis also had three steals and three blocked shots in a reserve role.
Calipari said in his Facebook posting on Wednesday that he was “really happy to see Anthony Davis back out on the court. Looking forward to seeing John Wall back out there soon.”
Davis’ pro teammate, former Wildcat Darius Miller, also played against the Wizards in a limited role, getting two rebounds and two steals in 12 minutes.
By the way, in a recent Sports Illustrated edition, Davis also says he still plans to keep his famous unibrow. Not a surprise since the phrases associated with his unibrow reportedly were trademarked several months ago.
— When the NBA began its 2012-13 campaign on Oct. 30, UK had more NBA players on the opening-day rosters than any other school in the country.
The Wildcats had 21 players as compared to Duke’s 18 and North Carolina’s 17.
— Calipari was scheduled to make a quick stop in Charlotte late Wednesday afternoon, planning to watch Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Bobcats battle Eric Bledsoe and the Los Angeles Clippers. Kidd-Gilchrist has just been selected by the NBA as the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November.
On his former players in the NBA, the Kentucky coach said in Facebook, “Nothing makes me happier than seeing our guys succeed. I wish I had time to see all of our guys play. Every year I look at their schedules and try to see what games I can make.”
— While UK actually has a decent non-conference schedule this season, facing the likes of Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville on neutral floors or away from home, many folks, especially the season-ticket holders, aren’t thrilled with the team’s home slate. It contains numerous unattractive opponents in non-SEC action. (Last year, the Cats had three marquee matchups at home: St. John’s, North Carolina and Louisville.)
As you know, Kentucky only had one attractive Rupp Arena date in non-league play this season and that was against Baylor, a formidable club coming off a school-record 30 victories and its second Elite Eight appearance in the last three seasons.
That CBS-televised contest on Dec. 1 marked Calipari’s first-ever home setback as UK mentor (in almost four years) when the Cats dropped to the Bears in a 64-55 verdict.
Going into Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. home contest with Nashville’s Lipscomb, the Wildcats have already faced five cupcake schools. They also will meet Marshall and Eastern Michigan in the other pre-SEC matchups during the upcoming holidays.
According Jeff Sagarin’s NCAA Basketball Ratings (through Tuesday, Dec. 11), which appears in USA Today, all of Kentucky’s non-league cupcakes are ranked no higher than No. 156. Among the eight low-profile schools, Sagarin’s Ratings have rated Marshall the highest at No. 156 with Samford the lowest at No. 317 (out of 347 teams).
Unranked in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, the Wildcats are No. 17 in Sagarin’s Ratings and No. 22 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll.
Like many fans, yours truly (along with photographer Wayne Mason) can hardly wait for the meaningful SEC battles to begin, especially after making many recent trips to Rupp Arena when the talented Wildcats were devouring their undermanned cupcakes.
And the anxious Big Blue Nation will find out in the next two months how good the Wildcats will be.