Cats using homestretch to build chemistry

Ira D. Combs — Tri State Sports Media

November 18, 2013

Kentucky resumes play this week with four consecutive games of the cupcake variety in its non-conference schedule while still licking their wounds from the ugly Michigan State loss.

I’m betting the UK players have never been more excited to leave the Joe Craft Center after the last four days of Camp Cal following a loss that exposed so many areas of need on the practice floor.

These next four games against Robert Morris College, Texas-Arlington, Cleveland State, and Eastern Michigan are all in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena and should be what Dr. Cal ordered for some serious team bonding and chemistry development before their next serious challenge.

A little birdie tells me to look for freshman guard Dominique Hawkins and freshman center Marcus Lee to earn more minutes over the next four games and slowly move into what now appears to be a new 8- or possibly 9-man rotation as Cal works his way through November and December toward SEC play in early January.

Stoops’ inaugural season almost over

Unless the UK football fortunes (turnovers and offensive ineptness) change at Georgia this Saturday, or in the home finale against Tennessee on Thanksgiving weekend, it appears Mark Stoops’ first season as the UK head football coach is destined for another SEC cellar finish at 0-8 and 2-10 overall, the same as his predecessor’s final season.

Basically record-wise, and quite frankly in a lot of other areas, UK is still going to be considered for the second year in a row the worst football team in the SEC. UK and Arkansas both are winless in league competition, but Arkansas has one more non-conference win.

Yes, the team has been much more competitive in virtually all games except the Alabama and Missouri games this season, but at the end of each Saturday so far and it appears UK football is what it is — dead last.

The good news is that on field help in the form of a better class of athlete and football player is on the way, or at least 25 have pledged their allegiance to UK football. Also on the way are much needed facility upgrades and stadium renovations in the form of plush recruiting rooms. For the time being, however, it’s just simply a sad state of affairs over on Cooper Drive at UK’s campus home.

Many feel the final home game against Tennessee is now the only shot at getting a win in SEC play, and if lightning were to strike and that dream come to fruition, and if the top 15 recruiting class falls into place, it could go a long ways in keeping Big Blue Nation interested and excited about UK football through the off season.

But don’t hold your breath. Just try and concentrate more on the UK men’s and women’s basketball fortunes the next four months, and hopefully that dark cloud over Cooper Drive will fade away beginning next spring and clear up for a few years like the last four years of the Rich Brooks era.

Oh yes, don’t forget to pray for the SEC presidents to come to their senses and keep the eight-team SEC scheduling format for in-conference scheduling. It says here a new nine-game SEC schedule with the SEC championship game, then a two-game playoff system is just too much to ask of any team on the collegiate level.

It will greatly decrease the chances of an SEC school to win a championship, plus severely hamper the ability to fill all the SEC bowl invitation slots.

Cal pulls in another bumper crop

Sooner or later the NCAA coaching fraternity and/or the NCAA administration will come up with something basketball related like the new NCAA football playoff system to try and derail John Calipari’s dominance of basketball recruiting like Nick Saban has in football. The only difference here in making this parallel comparison is that Cal hasn’t finished off the impressive recruiting with as many championships as Saban has, but one NCAA championship, three Final Fours, and one Elite Eight in his short tenure at UK is dangerously close to doing what Saban has done in football.

With that said, Cal just signed four more thoroughbreds to bring into the stable over at the Joe Craft Center for 2014-15, and he may not be through with the April signing period still ahead.

For the time being, the next crop of Wildcat studs set to enter the barn are at this writing either ranked as the No. 1 or No. 2 class based on your favorite recruiting service’s opinion.

Leading the class is 6’ 10” PF Trey Lyles from Indianapolis, rated as the No. 6 or No. 7 overall recruit, and right in behind him is the No. 9 overall recruit in 7’ 0” center Karl Towns of New Jersey. Cal’s hot shot perimeter shooter of this class is 6’ 4” wing Kevin Booker of Mississippi origin. Rounding out the class of course is the next Calipari point guard project in 5’ 9” Tyler Ulis of Chicago, who will be the heir apparent to this year’s Texas twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison.

It’s really crazy to even ponder the future of this program when you have lying in front of you the next four months enjoyment of following another NCAA championship run, but its UK basketball so we’ll drift forward and just take a peek at what 2014-15 may look like.

First of all, we are pretty much 100 percent assured that Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis will be back and seasoned up a bit with one year’s experience and likely take on more serious roles. I can also see Marcus Lee coming back for his sophomore year. This alone gives you at least a seven-man rotation of players that have all been highly rated by the recruiting services as a five or four star recruit, or in Hawkins’ and Willis’ cases, Mr. Basketball candidates in their home state. Plus, don’t forget Cal has made it plain to BBN that he will never again let the roster slip to the low level of 2012-13, so expect more new horses in the Wildcat barn come next April.

This group as it stands today may not bring home an NCAA championship, but I can’t see them taking a step backwards to the NIT either.