Ex-UK player Mike Phillips dies

Former Kentucky player Mike Phillips died from a fall Saturday night in Madisonville. He was 59.
Hopkins County coroner Dennis Mayfield confirmed the death. An autopsy will be performed Monday morning, Mayfield said.
Phillips teamed with Rick Robey to form a “Twin Towers” tandem that helped Kentucky win the 1978 national championship. Both averaged double-digit points: Robey 14.4 and Phillips 10.2.
In his four-year UK career, Phillips scored 1,367 points. That ranks 25th on UK’s career scoring list.
Before coming to UK, Phillips was a two-time Mr. Basketball in Ohio (1973 and 1974).
Former UK teammate Jack Givens noted how Phillips became the first player from the 1978 national championship team to pass away.
“Even at our age, now, we feel invincible,” Givens said in describing the shock of Phillips’ death.
Kyle Macy, a guard on the 1978 championship team, noted how Phillips evolved: from a “free spirit” as a UK player to a man who arrived at a team reunion the model of decorum in a three-piece suit.
Macy said he wondered, “OK, what did you do with Mike Phillips?”
Joe B. Hall, who coached UK’s 1978 national championship team, called Phillips a “statue of competitiveness.”

Herky Rupp: UK fans are not nuts

John Calipari likes to affectionately noted how “crazy” Kentucky fans are. In formally accepting the Rupp Cup from the son of former UK Coach Adolph Rupp, Calipari said, “This thing here your father left is crazy.”
On Thursday, Herky Rupp, the son of the founding father of Kentucky basketball, volunteered a respectful clarification and history lesson.
“I’m not sure Coach Cal really understands,” Rupp said after Calipari was awarded the Rupp Cup, a national Coach of the Year Award named for UK icon Adolph Rupp.
“When he says these people are crazy, and the insanity that circulates around the program,” Rupp said. “It’s not really insanity.”
Rupp noted how his father came to Kentucky in 1930 during the depths of the Great Depression.
“The whole country was depressed,” he said. “Kentucky was really depressed. So he brought a pride to the state.”
Noting the state-wide enthusiasm generated for UK basketball, Rupp added, “As bad as the economics might be, as bad as conditions might be, it was something the people in the state of Kentucky could hang their hat on and say, ‘We’re the best at this particular thing’ and ‘We’re better than you all are.’
“And I contend Kentucky fans, the Big Blue Nation it’s become, now, are the smartest, most educated and passionate basketball fans in the world.”
Earlier in the 25-minute ceremony and media availability, Calipari noted Kentucky’s state-wide presence.
“Louisville has a good program and they have their following,” he said.
But, UK is unique, which Calipari attributed to Adolph Rupp.
“The legacy you want to leave is that when I’m gone, this thing just continues to go,” Calipari said. “That’s what this thing did. It hasn’t changed.”

Cal: Willis working to be part of . . . No. 1 team next season?!

When asked about Derek Willis Thursday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari noted how the Kentucky native is working on his shooting.
“I see Derek in the gym on his own putting up shots,” Calipari said.
Then the UK coach noted how the loss of seven players to this year’s NBA Draft has not dampened expectations for the 2015-16 season.
“We have three guys in the warmup line right now,” Calipari said. “And someone said they picked us No. 1 in the country. We don’t even have a team and we’re No. 1?!
“It comes back to what Coach (Adolph) Rupp started here. It’s expected here.”
Calipari did not make adding more players in this recruiting cycle sound especially important. He said UK might add one or two more recruits. Or maybe not. No biggie.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, it’s going to be crazy again.”

Cal: Poythress to return, Lee to enjoy starburst

After formally becoming the only two-time winner of the Adolph Rupp Cup (symbolizing The Commonwealth Athletic Club of Kentucky’s national Coach of the Year), John Calipari spoke optimistically about next season.
For starters, Calipari said Thursday that Alex Poythress has decided to return to Kentucky for his senior season in 2015-16.
“We’ve talked,” Calipari said. “I think he’s wanting to come back. So I think he’ll be fine.”
Poythress’ return to pre-season practices will not be delayed because of the anterior cruciate ligament he tore in mid-December and had surgically repaired, Calipari said.
The UK coach spoke excitedly about what Poythress and other returnees can do.
“I’m so anxious to get him on the court,” Calipari said. “I’m anxious to get Marcus Lee (on the court) because it’s their time. This is their time, now.”
Lee played behind All-American Willie Cauley-Stein and the possible overall No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Karl-Anthony Towns, this past season.
“In the normal college situation, that is normal,” Calipari said. Not at Kentucky, where player development is set at “warp speed.”
Calipari all but predicted that the 2015-16 season will serve as a coming-out party for Lee.
“People are going to say, ‘Cal should have played him the last two years,'” Calipari said. “‘What the heck was he thinking?'”

Jim Nantz questions twins, Dakari entering this year’s NBA Draft

Jim Nantz, the long-time play-by-play man on CBS telecasts of the Final Four, questioned the decision by several Kentucky players to enter this year’s NBA Draft.
Speaking on the Rich Eisen radio show, Nantz said he could not understand how Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Dakari Johnson could enter the 2015 NBA Draft.
“Why are they leaving?” Nantz said of the Harrison twins. “Is it really going to behoove their future . . . to get drafted in the second round, if they get drafted at all?”
Nantz noted the negligible impact Johnson made in UK’s Final Four loss to Wisconsin.
“You wouldn’t even know he was on the floor?” Nantz said. “He played a few minutes. Maybe blocked a shot? I’m not sure. Nothing memorable.”
Johnson played eight minutes. He did not score nor grab a rebound. He did not block a shot.
“How is he going to help a NBA team?” Nantz said.
Nantz noted that making a NBA team can be difficult for players not drafted in the first round.
“I’d like to come back two or three years from now and pick up this conversation,” Nantz told Eisen, “and see where these seven (UK players) are. Was it a good move?”
The seven UK players entering this year’s draft are Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Johnson and the Harrison brothers.
Nantz scoffed at a comparison between college basketball players turning pro and golfer Jordan Spieth’s decision to leave the University of Texas in his sophomore year to turn pro. Spieth, 21, won the Master’s this year.
Nantz noted that Spieth had proved himself by making the cut and finishing 16th in the Byron Nelson Championship in 2010.

Booker: BFF Tyler Ulis supports decision to enter draft

Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis came to Kentucky as a duo. They will leave as solo acts with Booker’s announcement Thursday that he will enter this year’s NBA Draft.
“Tyler wanted me to do what’s best for myself,” Booker said. “Everybody knows we’re going to be best friends for life. That’s how that’s going to be. Me moving on, that’s not going to change anything, really.
“But I’d love to play with him more. I’ll be on the court with him again.”
Booker said he told Ulis of his decision to enter the draft earlier this week. Ulis offered encouragementn4. “Like, ‘I’m proud of you’ and ‘Just keep grinding,'” Booker said.
Ulis and several other UK players attended the joint announcement thursday in which seven players from UK’s 2014-15 team said they would enter this year’s NBA Draft.
Booker predicted that Ulis and Kentucky will be good next season.
“You’re going to see special things out of Tyler this year,” he said. “I mean, next year, he’s going to be a real special player.
“The recruiting class they’re bringing in, they’re going to be a really good team again.”

Andrew on 2 UK seasons: ‘I had enough’

After announcing his intention to enter this year’s NBA Draft, Andrew Harrison noted how playing for Kentucky helped prepare him for the unforgiving world of professional basketball.
When asked about entering this year’s draft rather than last year’s draft, Harrison said, “I feel I’m just ready as a person and a player. And I feel I’m prepared for anything they throw at me. Two years here, you’re ready for anything.”
Harrison noted the scrutiny that comes with playing for Kentucky. That’s especially true when you’re a point guard, and even more true when the team struggles, as it did in 2013-14 before this past season of historic achievement.
Harrison acknowledged he was not ready for the scrutiny when he arrived as a freshman in 2013.
“I really wasn’t,” he said. “I had a chip on my shoulder. When you take all the scrutiny, when you are the scapegoat of the team . . . it affects your play. But, now, becoming older and wiser, you realize it’s part of the game.”
That ability to put criticism in perspective took time.
“When you feel you’re the scapegoat and people are just picking on you, it’s tough,” Harrison said. “It’s fine, now. You mature, and you get over it.”
Harrison could have put his name in the 2014 NBA Draft.
“I actually wanted to stay,” he said. “I wanted to stay and enjoy college one more year and be a kid one more year.”
When asked if he wanted to be a kid one more year and return Kentucky next season, Harrison said, “Nah. I’m good, now. I had enough.”

Aaron, Andrew exhibit no signs of separation anxiety

In all likelihood, the NBA Draft will separate Aaron and Andrew Harrison for the first time. The twins suggested that they can handle it.
“It’s going to be tough at first,” Andrew said. “But, I mean, we’re not inseparable.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to show the world, individually, what we can do.”
Aaron made it sound like he and his twin brother are ready to go their separate ways.
“I think we’ll be just fine,” he said. “We haven’t talked about it that much. I think we’ll be fine.
“I think we’re ready to branch out and be our own men.”

Guess who Andrew talked to Thursday morning? Frank Kaminsky

Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison and Wisconsin All-American Frank Kaminsky became associated with each other in the NCAA Tournament.
In the post-game news conference following Wisconsin’s victory over Kentucky in the Final Four semifinals, a live microphone caught Harrison using an expletive and a racial slur in reference to Kaminsky.
Harrison subsequently apologized.
When asked about the incident on Thursday, Harrison said, “It’s funny. Because I talked to Frank this morning, actually.
“We talked about agents and stuff, where we’re going to be this summer.”
Kaminsky said he accepted Harrison’s apology and suggested everyone not make much out of the incident.
On Thursday, Harrison spoke of a lesson learned.
“We all know it was a mistake,” he said. “Heat of the moment. It’ll never happen again.”

Aaron to NBA: ‘I’m the best 2-guard in the draft’

NBA Draft analysts do not project Aaron Harrison as a first-round pick. The now former Kentucky guard to prove those projections wrong.
“I definitely think I can be in the first round,” Harrison said Thursday after he and six UK teammates announced they will enter this year’s NBA Draft. “I think I’m the best ‘2-guard’ in the draft. Just got to go work out prove it.”
Harrison used the word “prove” several times in talking about his draft profile.
“I have a lot to prove,” he said. “And I want to prove a lot.”
When asked what he’d like to prove, Harrison said, “Just to prove I’m one of the best guards, and just show my athletic ability, and just get back to just playing confident basketball.”
Devin Booker offered no objection to Harrison seeing himself as the best shooting guard in the draft.
“Everyone is supposed to have that confidence,” Booker said with a smile. “I feel the same way. And that’s exactly how Aaron should feel. Aaron is talented, too. You’ve seen what he can do.
“It’s going to be excited. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.”