Blogger Spotlight: Kentucky’s ridiculous talent and eyebrows

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Kentucky fans crave information about their Wildcats. Whether it’s TV, radio, print, online, there’s a 24/7 news cycle regarding John Calipari’s team, whether it’s Lexington, the state or beyond.

That’s where Kentucky Sports Radio comes in.

The incredibly popular website does a little bit of everything when it comes to Kentucky hoops. Video, radio and an onslaught of posts fills with news snippets, short analysis and plenty of snark. Maybe that’s why one of its main personalities, Matt Jones, has become so damn popular. (Seriously? 33,000 Twitter followers?)

Matt doesn’t write as often as some of the other KSR stalwarts such as Thomas Beisner or Drew Franklin, but that’s partly because Jones is busy wrapping up his law career (he was prepping for his final case while we talked) and focuses on the radio and TV.

But hey, the guy knows his Kentucky hoops. He’s understandably amped about this season, as is Big Blue Nation.

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Q: For a 10-point win over No. 12 Kansas on Tuesday night, that game sure felt like a blowout.

A: I actually thought both of those games were like that. Duke [beat Michigan State] by five and should’ve won by 20. Kentucky fans wanted a coming out party. They remember two years ago when John Wall had his coming out party against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden . They didn’t get one of those, but they kinda had one with Anthony Davis.

More than anything, they’d been looking forward to this team for 16 months probably. Ever since Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague committed.

Q: Then compare this season’s team to John Calipari’s first two teams. They’re just as talented, perhaps more so, but is there more excitement and higher expectations?

A: There certainly have been higher expectations. People ask me all time: “Are you disappointed if they don’t win the title?” That depends. They could lose to North Carolina and I think people would understand. But .. the West Virginia loss two years ago still stinks heavy on people.

Part of that is that team, though. In my time being as a fan, there was not a more exciting team than that one.

Q: Why is that?

A: A couple of things came together for that. But, let me say this.

Kentucky has the most connected fan base in the country. But I would go even farther than that. It might be the most Internet-connected fan base in sports. The amount of fans on twitter, on blogs, I don’t think there’s another team like it. I mean, I have 33,000 Twitter followers. John Clay has like 10,000. I have not found another beat reporter from another team, and only a couple pro teams that has more followers. Nobody craves that information like Kentucky fans. They’re just wired in as anyplace in America.

And now that they can be obsessive about everything, it amplifies it even more.

Q: But what was it about that team that people loved so much? Was it because that was the team that ended the slide? Or was it more because that team was so damn good?

A: Look, there’s never gonna be anyone more popular than John Wall in Kentucky.

For a long time, Jamal Mashburn was revered like that. People saw him as the reason the team got good after probation. But they love Wall because for the first time Kentucky had the coolest player in college basketball.

They’re had good players, but not the coolest, Rex Chapman was close. I mean, Tony Delk is not cool. He was a great player, but that doesn’t make you cool. Kentucky’s never had a guy like Wall. We were the stuffy team of white guys with short shorts. But Wall tapped into this craving for cool.

Q: Bigger surprise: Anthony Davis leads the team in scoring or Darius Miller averaging fewer points than Kyle Wiltjer?

A: The latter. By the end of the year that won’t be the case, but the would be the bigger surprise. Most people figured this is the year Miller averaged 12 or 13 points a game and he may still. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Davis doesn’t surprise me at all.

Davis will score huge amounts of points against bad teams when he just overmatches everyone down low because he’s such a freak physically.

source: APQ: OK then, let’s talk about the unibrow. Is that just Davis’ brilliant method of fooling people into thinking he’s a goof?

A: I can’t understand why he keeps it. He’s an interesting kid and he’s really funny and has a sarcastic sense of humor. Everyone says he’s the funniest guy on the team. But I can’t understand it.

He clearly knows that he has a unibrow. When he first came on campus, he shaved it. Now it’s grown back. I’ve been calling him unibrow for a while and people were like “That’s so mean,” but I always said “If you think it’s bad now, wait until he has first game on national TV.” And that’s what happened last night. I tweeted “BrowDown” and it took off.

But he obviously doesn’t care. Maybe it’s becoming his thing. BrowDown may take off.

Q: This is the new “Jorts” for nicknames, right? People will love it.

A: [DeMarcus] Cousins did that by taking the nickname Boogie and messing with those buddy holly glasses. Fans love that.

Q: And besides, he’s unreal. He was swatting shots like mad against Kansas and just overmatched everyone. I felt bad for Thomas Robinson.

A: I don’t know how you score on him. I’ll be interested to see whichever guy Carolina puts on him. I’ve never seen a player like him before. He’s like Kevin Durant if you gave him three more inches on his wingspan.

Q: Davis is amazing. But is it wrong I like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist more? He plays hard, there’s no ego on him and he’s clearly talented.

A: I think Kentucky fans favor him too. [Speaking to a group of about 300 people] I asked “Who’s your favorite player?” by applause. He was first. First by a lot. I think he’s the fan favorite.

Q: How fast is Marquis Teague? Faster than John Wall?

A: He’s faster than Wall, but Wall’s faster with the ball. Wall had the unbelievable ability to dribble the ball and not break stride. He’d run the same 100 time and not break his stride. But Teague is really fast. He’s also the key. How he plays dictates everything. Like last night – in the second half he plays well and they run Kansas off the court.

In fact, this whole team is fast. When they get a rebound or steal, they don’t have to find a guard. You know that half a second when you grab a rebound or a steal and look for a guard? They don’t do that.

They just take off.

Q: Has this season been a slight shock for Terrence Jones? Or is the late-night mess more to blame for that?

A: I’d wanna see another three or four games. It might be a sample size thing. [Against Kansas] he did not play great, but that might be the best guy he’s gonna face all year. Robinson’s tough.

But they cannot beat North Carolina unless he plays really well. Last year in both games he didn’t play well. He was bad in Chapel Hill and he wasn’t great in the NCAA tournament. To me, I wanna see how he plays against them.

Q: That game’s about two weeks away. Is “jacked” a strong enough term for that game? I can’t imagine what Lexington will be like.

A: That game will be ridiculous. There are like 13 guys between the two teams that’ll play in the NBA. I can’t remember a ranked season game had that kind of talent. So yeah, Lexington’s stoked about. I think it’ll be a great thing for college basketball.

But what I’m most excited for is that big environment.

When it’s a big game, is Rupp Arena is the best environment in college basketball. That never happens in the SEC. The one time it happens is when Florida’s good, but that hasn’t happened in years. When Joakim Noah was there, people got pumped about it.

I just I wish [Kentucky-Carolina] wasn’t at noon. If it was primetime it’d be great for the sport.

Q: Got a prediction?

A: I actually think Carolina’s gonna win.

What’s you’ll see if that Kentucky is not yet mature enough to beat Carolina. They are against everybody else. But I don’t think they’re there yet.

You can find more of Matt’s work at Kentucky Sports Radio and follow him on Twitter @KySportsRadio.

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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.