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Five-star guard Cole Anthony announces 12 finalists

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For a kid that’s the son of an NBA player (who also is prominently on TV as an analyst) and a top-five recruit, Cole Anthony has kept his recruitment remarkably quiet. Our own Rob Dauster wrote 2,500 words on him earlier this summer, and still had to “read the tea leaves” as to who, exactly, was recruiting the talented guard.

Anthony finally provided some clarity on the situation ahead of his senior year.

Twelve schools made the cut for Anthony, who will now consider Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, Oregon, Villanova, Wake Forest, Pitt, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Miami as his college destination.

Anthony essentially had his pick of any school in the country, so this list is a trim, but considering the size of it, Anthony is still keeping his options open. Those options basically being all the top programs in the country. And Pitt.

(Sorry, that was mean to the Panthers. Clearly the hiring of Jeff Capel, who spearheaded Duke’s recruiting of recent seasons, is putting them in contention for top-level players.)

Anthony has said previously he’s looking to make a spring decision on where he’ll attend school.


Kentucky releases full non-conference schedule

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We already knew the dates for Kentucky’s matchups with Duke (Nov. 6) and Kansas (Jan. 26). Same goes for North Carolina (Dec. 22) and Utah (Dec. 15). Now we know the whole slate.

Kentucky released its entire non-conference schedule Thursday, announcing six games including the annual rivalry matchup with Louisville.

The Wildcats will take on the Cardinals in coach Chris Mack’s first season at the helm Dec. 29 in Louisville. Other games announced were Southern Illinois (Nov. 9), North Dakota (Nov. 14), VMI (Nov. 18), Winthrop (Nov. 21) and Tennessee State (Nov. 23).

It’s a formidable schedule for the Wildcats, who impressed in a big way during their exhibition tour of the Bahamas. With the marquee games leading the way, it’s slate that should be fun to watch as well as beneficial for the ‘Cats.

“Our goal in creating a schedule is to test our team while creating opportunities to learn and grow,” Kentucky coach John Calipari tweeted Thursday afternoon. “This one will have more than its fair share of challenges, but my hope is that be season’s end, we are prepared to play anyone and face anything a team tries to throw at us.”

Here’s the full schedule:

Nov. 6 — vs. Duke (Indianapolis)

Nov. 9 — Southern Illinois

Nov. 14 — North Dakota

Nov. 18 — VMI

Nov. 21 — Winthrop

Nov. 23 — Tennessee State

Nov. 28 — Monmouth

Dec. 1 — UNC Greensboro

Dec. 8 — vs. Seton Hall (New York)

Dec. 15 — Utah

Dec. 22 — vs. North Carolina (Chicago)

Dec. 29 — at Louisville

Jan 26. — Kansas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)


Five Takeaways from Kentucky’s Bahamas exhibitions

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Big Blue Nation invaded the Bahamas last week, as the Kentucky Wildcats took another trip to the Atlantis Resort to play four exhibition games against professional competition.

And man, was their performance on the islands dominant.

Kentucky knocked off three professional teams as well as the Bahamian National Team by an average of 29 points in their four games.

Here are the five things that I learned while watching the Cats play:

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This isn’t exactly breaking news.

Kentucky is, after all, currently sitting at No. 3 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, and I am on record saying that the top three — Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky — is so close that any of them are justifiable as a preseason No. 1; Duke could be tossed in that mix as well.

And after watching 160 minutes of Wildcat basketball this weekend, that ranking is more than justified. Kentucky has it all. They haave size. They have depth. They have perimeter scoring. They have guards that can really, really pressure the ball. They are going to be able to get on the glass. Their sophomores look terrific. Their freshmen look ready, and have the luxury of not being asked to carry the load from the get go.

Perhaps most importantly, there is lineup versatility. They can play big; or small; or roll out a lineup that can press and force turnovers; or play a team that is going to be able to put up points in a hurry.

And we still haven’t really gotten a chance to see E.J. Montogomery in action yet.

Suffice to say, Kentucky looks like they are going to be farther along early in the season than I expected,

I’m not quite ready to bump them up in my preseason top 25, but that’s mostly because I don’t want to overreact to only seeing them play without actually seeing how good Kansas or Gonzaga — or those Blue Devils — look as well.

That said, I still do have some of the same concerns that I had before, and that’s because …

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To a point, this is always the case with Kentucky, isn’t it?

Their best teams are absolutely overloaded with talent — see: 2009-10, 2011-12, 2014-15, etc. — to the point that Anthony Davis is taking the fourth-most shots on the team or Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker are averaging 21 minutes a night. The reasons those teams were as good as they were on the court, and not just on paper, was because lottery picks that eventually turned into NBA superstars were perfectly fine with seeing their minutes reduced or their shots limited for the sake of winning.

John Calipari is the best in the business at getting guys to buy-in for the good of the team.

It’s incredible, really.

And he’s going to have to do it again this season.

It starts at the point guard spot, where Cal brought back former five-star recruit Quade Green while bringing in top ten prospects Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans, the latter of whom reclassified in order to enroll at UK a season early. Those are three of the top 20ish best point guards in the sport this season. At least one of them is going to be forced to come off of the bench, and in the event that Cal goes with a two-point guard look, they are all going to have to accept that they will be playing quite a few minutes off of the ball. (More on this in a minute.)

I think Reid Travis is going to be forced into a situation where he has to play a lesser role than anyone expected. Part of that is because both P.J. Washington and Nick Richards look like they’ve taken significant steps forward this offseason (again, more on this below), but it’s also because he was somewhat exposed during this trip. Travis is an absolute hoss on the block. He might be the strongest player in the country, and he’s undeniably a sensational rebounder, but he’s also somewhat limited athletically and quite a bit of his production the last couple of seasons was a result of being Stanford’s No. 1 option when there wasn’t a No. 2 option.

That’s not to say that he won’t be effective. There will be a bit of a learning curve, but I think our expectations for Travis should be something closer to 11 points and seven boards than, say, 15 points and nine boards.

Hell, he might not even start, because the biggest question I have this Monday morning is …

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I was expecting both P.J. Washington and Quade Green to develop into critical pieces for Kentucky this season.

I was not expecting Nick Richards to looks like a player that could force first-team all-Pac-12 transfer Reid Travis to the bench, but that’s exactly what Richards did during those four games in the Bahamas.

Richards fits the mold of the kind of center that Cal loves. He’s a 7-footer with athleticism that can catch lobs at the top of the square. There’s a reason that he started all 37 games for Kentucky last season despite the fact that he was, frankly, not very good. H

But he was awesome in the Bahamas, averaging 12.0 points while showing off an array of quick post moves and a soft touch that extended out to about 16-feet. He’s not exactly an instinctual rebounder and, despite his size, I think Washington may be a better rim-protector, but Richards is very much going to be a player that will have a positive impact on this team.

And as good as he looked in the post and as a lob target, I think his shooting touch will be just as important to this group. Both Washington and Travis are question marks as shooters, and while mid-range jumpers are not great shots, Richards’ ability to consistently make shots out to even just 12-feet will help to unclog the lane.

It’s amazing what a little bit of confidence will do for a player.

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The biggest question I have with this team right now is simple: Who their go-to guy?

Over the course of the last two seasons, Kentucky’s offense has essentially centered about two things: Point guards making plays off the bounce and in ball-screen actions, and shooters/scorers getting run off of baseline screens. The former centered about De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, respectively. The latter involved Malik Monk (as a three-point shooter) and Kevin Knox (more in the mid-range).

That will change somewhat this season, as Washington is probably the odds-on favorite to lead Kentucky in scoring at this point, but I do think that it’s fair to be worried about how trustworthy he will be as someone that you give the rock to and count on to make a play.

Enter Tyler Herro, who averaged a team-high 17.3 points while coming off of the bench during this trip. Not only is he clearly the best three-point shooter on the team, but he is the guy that is the best-suited to running off of those baseline-screens. He is going to get the shots — if not play the role — that Knox, Monk and even Devin Booker have gotten in past seasons, and while he had some issues on the defensive end during this trip, he has the size and athleticism to be at least an adequate defender in the SEC.

For a team that has questions about where they are going to get offense in the halfcourt and whether or not they can space the floor, Herro is a guy that is going to force Cal to play him a lot of minutes.

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I still, to this day, believe that the most important player in Duke’s run to the 2015 national title was Quinn Cook for one, simple reason: A former McDonald’s All-American and all-ACC point guard went into his senior year and gladly accepted a brand-new role playing off the ball. He embraced the idea that he would be the guy that chased around shooters defensively, that spaced the floor offensively and operated as a secondary ball-handler to Tyus Jones.

If Cook doesn’t buy into that role, if he doesn’t sacrifice his shots and the prestige of being “Duke’s starting point guard!” then his leadership falls on deaf ears and the talent on that roster is irrelevant in the big picture.

The scenario here is slightly different — Green is a sophomore, not a senior, and he’s never been an all-SEC point guard — but the impact will likely be the same. Kentucky absolutely needs Quade Green on the floor this year. His playmaking, his shooting, his decision-making. But they are likely going to need him playing off the ball, as the more dynamic Quickley and Hagans will get the first crack at that lead guard role.

He’ll still get his chances — Cook averaged 15.3 points and 2.6 assists as a senior, parlaying that into an NBA career that included a ring as a floor-spacer with the Warriors, and no one thinks Chris Paul isn’t a point guard playing next to James Harden — and as long as he’s cool with those chances coming in a different role this season, he’ll be the key that unlocks Kentucky’s best lineup.

Kentucky wins foreign exhibition opener as perimeter shooting struggles emerge

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Kentucky opened its foreign exhibition tour by cruising past the Bahamas National Team with an 85-61 victory on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats, making their first foreign trip since the 2015 Final Four team that started 38-0, looked impressive in transition situations as they raced out to an early lead and never looked back. But, despite the solid double-digit win, Kentucky also has something to watch for going forward, as last season’s perimeter shooting woes continued to begin the 2018-19 campaign.

After shooting 35 percent as a team from three-point range last season, Kentucky started its foreign trip with an abysmal 2-for-20 performance from distance as they couldn’t seem to get anything going. It should be noted that there could be some first-game jitters. It’s only an exhibition. New teammates are playing together for the first time. Shooting standout Jemeral Baker also sat out Wednesday’s game as he continues to deal with injury.

Despite all of those factors, the questionable perimeter shooting is still a troubling sign for a Kentucky team that desperately needs some floor spacing around its talented frontcourt players. Sophomore point guard Quade Green, in particular, struggled to a 1-for-11 shooting night and an 0-for-6 night from three-point range as he’ll likely fare much better going forward.

On the positive side (of which there is much, much more), sophomore big man Nick Richards looks like he’s improved a lot since last season as he played with much more assertiveness on the offensive end. Richards finished with a team-high 19 points and two blocks while frontcourt running mates P.J. Washington (10 points) and Reid Travis (four points, 14 rebounds) also contributed. Travis looked a bit disjointed at times, but he still crashed the glass and looked effective doing the little things.

Freshmen Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson also looked solid scorers for Kentucky as they tallied 16 and 11 points, respectively, on some smooth-looking plays. Guard Ashton Hagans, another freshman, earned some solid praise for his defensive efforts, as he should be a key energy guy for the Wildcats this season.

Kentucky still has three more exhibition games to go on this tour as perimeter shooting is going to be the key development to watch for — besides for individual growth among specific players. If the Wildcats can’t generate consistent perimeter offense, then it’s going to be tough to get guys like Richards, Travis and Washington opportunities on the interior.

Kentucky lands five-star 2019 wing Kahlil Whitney

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Kentucky added to its Class of 2019 recruiting haul on Wednesday afternoon, as five-star wing Kahlil Whitney pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-6 Whitney ascended into five-star status this summer as he became a national recruit after playing in the Nike EYBL with the Mac Irvin Fire. A natural three-level scorer with very good lift and natural athleticism, Whitney is regarded as the No. 23 overall prospect in the latest national rankings. After some strong performances in July, Whitney’s ranking could rise even more as he’s a potential McDonald’s All-American.

Whitney averaged 21.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 20 Nike EYBL/Peach Invitational games this spring and summer as he shot 48 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range. The son of former Seton Hall standout Kelly Whitney, Kahlil will have to improve his consistency while limiting turnovers if he wants to maximize his potential at the next level.

A great grab for Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting haul, Whitney’s commitment helps offset the loss of four-star wing D.J. Jeffries — who reopened his recruitment last week. The Wildcats now have three players in the fold for 2019 as Whitney joins five-star guard Tyrese Maxey and four-star in-state forward Dontaie Allen.

While there is still a long time to go in the 2019 recruiting cycle, Kentucky, once again, looks like it will be in position to compete for the No. 1 overall recruiting class. Although the Wildcats will face stiff recruiting competition from heavyweights like Duke and North Carolina, and potentially newcomers like Memphis and USC, head coach John Calipari and his staff have already reeled in three high-quality players for the future as they’re off to a great start.

Kentucky participates in Samaritan’s Feet program during Bahamas trip

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Per NCAA rules college basketball teams can take an offseason trip once every four years. While much of the focus tends to be on players being in game situations and the team being able to bond off the court, there’s also the opportunity to do for others.

Kentucky, which is currently in the Bahamas, took some time to give to those who are less fortunate. In connection with Samaritan’s Feet, John Calipari and his team took time to bathe the feet of some children and fit them with new shoes.

“The act of washing someone else’s feet and to put shoes on the feet of kids who don’t have any is the ultimate act of servant leadership, which we talk to our guys about all the time,” Calipari said via Samaritan’s Feet. “They’ve been blessed to be put in a position where they can have influence on other people. What creates joy is when you impact others and see it influence them in a really positive way. To be able to teach them that while serving the Samaritan’s Feet mission brings incredible joy for me, and I want to thank Manny Ohonme for working with us again.”

The Kentucky players are learning some key lessons in this; not only the value that comes in doing for others but also understanding the platform that they have and how they can use it for good.

What happens in the scrimmages the Wildcats play in the Bahamas, and how it could potentially help a team with national championship aspirations, will certainly be a focus between now and when the team returns to Lexington. But the participation in the Samaritan’s Feet program is something that will likely stick with them for much longer.

Photo credit: Samaritan’s Feet