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UK women want to be ‘most disruptive team in America’

With mentions of sharks, blood in the water, attacks and wrath, Kentucky’s women’s team set an aggressive tone at the Southeastern Conference Media Days Tuesday.

Coach Matthew Mitchell made it plain what style he wanted in the 2014-15 season.

“He simply said he wants us to be the fastest, most disruptive team in America,” guard Bria Goss said.

Teammate Jennifer O’Neill emphasized the need to stay in attack mode.

“When we’re on defense, we’re going to be on offense, as well,” she said.

Mitchell and his players in the Charlotte cited Virginia Commonwealth’s men’s team as an example the UK women hope to emulate.

“Real aggressive, pressing and causing havoc,” O’Neill said.

Kentucky played that way two years ago. The Wildcats routinely frazzled opponents with pressure defense and fast-break offense.

Somehow, the team got away from the attacking style last season.

“I didn’t do a very good job as a coach giving our team enough reps in the press,” Mitchell said. “I had a veteran team and I just felt it’d sort of come together. So I learned a lesson. If you’re really going to be disruptive in a full-court press, you have to give your team a lot of reps. You have to practice that way.”

Recalling two seasons ago, O’Neill gave a vivid description of what it feels like to discombobulate an opponent.

“It’s like blood in the water,” she said, “and we’re a shark.”

Clearly, the Wildcats hope to make SEC waters unsafe for other teams this coming season.

ESPN hires Delk as analyst for SEC Network

Former Kentucky All-American Tony Delk will be among the analysts on the SEC Network this basketball season, ESPN announced Monday.

Delk worked as a guest analyst during ESPNU’s telecast of the NBA Combine earlier this fall. That assignment served as a tryout for Delk. Apparently, he passed.

Delk will not be the only person with UK and/or Lexington ties working on the SEC Network this coming season. Dave Baker, a electronic media personality in Lexington for many years, will be among the play-by-play announcers.

SEC Network will televise 118 Southeastern Conference men’s basketball games in the 2014-15 season. Besides Baker and Delk, the familiar faces and voices working on the SEC Network will include former Vandy player Barry Booker, former UK assistant Joe Dean Jr., former Auburn players Daymeon Fishback and Will Perdue, plus former Tates Creek star Darrin Horn.

According to a ESPN news release, the SEC Network Basketball Play-by-Play Commentators:

  • Dave Neal –  the two-time EMMY Award winner has been covering SEC sports for nearly 15 years and worked with ESPN since 2009
  • Tom Hart –   play-by-play for SEC Network’s college football coverage, a Missouri graduate covering a span of college sports including women’s basketball and baseball
  • Dave Baker - sportscaster for men’s and women’s SEC basketball for more than two decades

SEC Network Basketball Analysts:

  • Barry Booker –played guard at Vanderbilt University from 1985-89 and has been a college basketball analyst on ESPN networks for the past five seasons. Booker will now cover games as analyst for SEC Network
  • Dane Bradshaw – new to ESPN networks, Bradshaw is a former Tennessee guard he will cover games and appear in SEC Network’s studio coverage
  • Joe Dean Jr.  – former Mississippi State basketball player and assistant coach at two SEC schools, Dean joins SEC Network after covering SEC basketball games for more than 20 years
  • Tony Delk – new to ESPN networks, Delk was a Kentucky point guard for the 1996 National Championship team. He will be an analyst for SEC Network’s studio coverage
  • Daymeon Fishback – former Auburn player, Fishback will contribute as a game analyst for SEC Network
  • Darrin Horn – previously coached at South Carolina, Horn has been covering basketball at ESPN for the last two years and will continue to do so for multiple ESPN networks including SEC Network
  • Jon Sundvold – former Missouri guard, Sundvold was an All-American and a first round draft pick. He has contributed his analytic expertise at ESPN for more than a decade including covering the SEC the last two years.  He will now also cover games for SEC Network
  • Will Perdue – a former Vanderbilt basketball player, Perdue was a first round NBA draft pick and played on four NBA Championship teams. He will contribute to SEC Network studio programming and games as an analyst


ESPNU: No plans to move UK Madness telecast to SEC Network

Kentucky fans have created a social media buzz to have ESPN change its plans to televise portions of UK’s Big Blue Madness. But the so-called “FreeBigBlueMadness” movement will not reach that goal.

ESPN, which plans to include Big Blue Madness in its ESPNU coverage of Madnesses around the country Friday night, said in an email that the plans included replay opportunities on the SEC Network.

“Big Blue Madness will be available nationwide live in its entirety on ESPN3,” an ESPN statement read. ” ESPNU will also have robust cut-in coverage throughout the event.  SEC Now, the nightly news and information show on SEC Network, will feature clips and highlights of the event.  In addition, SEC Network will produce and air a separate one-hour recap show on Big Blue Madness airing 10 p.m. CT/11 p.m. ET.”

Bill Fey, a 31-year-old UK fan living in Louisville, started the FreeBigBlueMadness movement Monday morning.

“I was listening to Kentucky Sports Radio,” he said, “They just said that the SEC Network has the rights. It almost sounded like they were holding it hostage.

“So I just came up with FreeBigBlueMadness just as a joke to try to get my tweet read on the radio.”

Fey added that he did not intend to create a buzz. He has not written or called ESPN to ask for the entire Big Blue Madness to appear on the SEC Network.

ESPN considered allowing a Lexington station, presumably WKYT (Channel 27), to televise Big Blue Madness, ESPN spokesman Derek Volner said. But ultimately ESPN chose not to do that.

New York Times reviews Combine: Too little Cal, too much idle chatter

In its Saturday edition, The New York Times reviewed the ESPNU telecast of Kentucky’s Combine Friday. The Times gave the lukewarm review and all but suggested the show be taken off, off Broadway and re-tooled.

“It was not terribly exciting for anyone but devoted Kentucky fans or college basketball junkies, who probably make up a lot of the ESPNU audience,” wrote Richard Sandomir, who covers sports media for The Times. “For the rest of us? Eh, not so much.”

Sandomir called UK’s Combine “a lesson in marketing” for both the basketball program and “the ESPN college sports machine.”

Sandomir lamented that ESPNU did not provide some play-by-play coverage of the five-on-five scrimmage, which ended during a commercial break.

“Does anyone know if the Blue team or the White team won?” he wrote. “How many points did the twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison score? How many assists did the freshman guard Tyler Ulis have?”

Sandomir said the telecast needed more commentary from UK Coach John Calipari. During one snippet, Calipari wore a live microphone. “But not for long and without a hint of revelation,” Sandomir wrote.

Sandomir suggested ESPN fly in Brent Musburger for play-by-play announcing and “then sent back to Gainesville for Saturday’s Louisiana State-Florida football game on the SEC Network?”

ESPNU: UK real good, but not without question marks

During Friday’s telecast of a NBA Combine, ESPNU announcers lauded Kentucky’s team but suggested questions can be raised going into the 2014-15 season.

Jay Bilas, who acted as the telecast host, noted Kentucky’s depth.

“There are 12 guys on this team that can play,” he said. I’m not sure anybody else in the country can say that.”

Later, Bilas added, you could cut the Kentucky team into two six-man halves. Each halve would be a top 25 team, he said.

Avery Johnson said freshman Tyler Ulis answered the question about opponents like Connecticut in the 2014 title game disrupting Kentucky will full-court pressure.

Another freshman, Devin Booker, could shoot. “You can never have enough three-point shooters,” Johnson said before adding, “Devin Booker is a knock-down shooter.”

But the analysts raised questions.

Greenberg said the much-discussed platoon system of five players rotating regularly with five other players could work. “I think they’re going to wear people down,” he said.

But, Greenberg added, would any five players accumulate enough playing time together to be steady, cohesive and productive in the final minutes of a close game?

Greenberg also said that for all of UK’s depth, the Cats lacked a “traditional small forward.”

Johnson suggested UK had too many big men. “I don’t think there’s going to be enough minutes for all their big guys,” he said.

Even Coach John Calipari raised a question by acknowledging a downside to a platoon system.

What if one of two players separated themselves as elite players among very good players, he asked.

“They deserve more minutes,” he said. “. . . This isn’t Communism.”


Cal: “I proudly wear the black hat’

During an interview on ESPNU’s telecast of Kentucky’s practice/Combine Friday, a defiant John Calipari noted how the two-hour telecast flew in the face of convention.

He playfully suggested that the NCAA would probably outlaw such a NBA Combine after seeing it used by Kentucky. Calipari said an earlier Combine staged in the 2011 post-season led to a NCAA ban.

“I proudly wear the black hat,” the UK coach said.

Of course, the NCAA ordered Calipari’s teams in 1996 and 2008 to vacate Final Four appearances because of improper gifts from an agent to a player and a fraudulent entrance exam score, respectively.

Calipari said he staged Friday’s NBA Combine for two reasons:

— NBA personnel would swarm anyway to watch Kentucky’s loaded roster (nine McDonald’s All-Americans, plus Willie Cauley-Stein) anyway. “Now, we can control it,” he said by limiting the NBA people to a Combine Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Calipari has said he will ban NBA people from practice for an indefinite period after the Combine.

— Re-assure the UK players that their individual goals to make the NBA will be honored although playing time could be limited this coming season. “They have to know I have their backs,” Calipari said. “You can play 20 minutes (a game) and achieve dreams.”

The ESPNU announcers all but scoffed at anyone who would question the propriety of staging a Combine. Host Jay Bilas dismissed the “third-grade mentality” that would say, “This is not fair.”

Bilas said, “If these were regular students, you know what we’d call it: a job fair.”

Former Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said a metaphorical level playing field was impossible to achieve.

“Every school has advantages,” he said. “. . . It is what it is. There’s not a level playing field.”

Noting how the Combine could help sell Kentucky to future prospects, Avery Johnson said the idea and telecast would “force all the other Division I programs” to consider staging a similar practice for NBA people.

ESPNU to UK: ‘How awesome are you?’ Apparent answer: Very

Kentucky staged its NBA “Combine” on Friday. ESPNU announced that 90 NBA scouts and front-office personnel sat in three rows of seats at the Joe Craft Center. They watched UK’s nine McDonald’s All-Americans go through drills and 3-0n-3 and 5-on-5 pseudo games.

For the viewer, it appeared to be a special edition of ESPN’s College GameDay with UK players rather than screaming, sign-waving fans in the background.

For two hours, panelists Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Avery Johnson and guest analyst Tony Delk saluted UK’s talent, coaching, program, tradition and NBA Draft potential.

While introducing the upcoming two-hour telecast of UK’s practice/Combine, an ESPNU studio host got the gushing started by saying, “How awesome are you? They’re televising your practice.”

In this case, “They” were “We:” ESPNU.

Davis, Miller, Russ Smith speak about NBA exhibition in Louisville

A homecoming. A NBA debut. Another step on what’s believed to a path to professional basketball stardom.

An exhibition game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Miami Heat Saturday night contains all those elements. Thanks goes to the Pelicans, who have two former University of Kentucky standouts (Anthony Davis and Darius Miller), plus former University of Louisville standout Russ Smith.

Davis, who led UK to the 2012 national championship, was in a playful mood in meeting with reporters after the Pelicans shootaround Saturday morning.

Looking around the Yum Center, he quipped, “I’d rather be in Rupp.”

Davis and Miller had dinner with UK Coach John Calipari Friday night. When asked if Calipari wanted Davis to pick up the check, Davis smiled and said, “No. Not with contract he just signed.”The exhibition game’s featured attraction figures to be Smith, who led Louisville to the 2013 national championship and, of course, played his home games on the Yum Center court.

Smith acknowledged his status as a rookie gave the game a different perspective. The playing time he expected:  “Anything from 15 minutes to a DNP.”

Smith sounded more sure of the warm welcome Davis and Miller would receive Saturday night even though they played for U of L’s arch rival.

“Oh, they’re going to get love, man,” Smith said. “Definitely, Big Blue is going to be in here, for sure.”

Miller, a native of Maysville, said he had high hopes for Kentucky in the upcoming 2014-15 season.

“I think they definitely have a shot at a championship . . . ,” he said. “I think they’ll be really good . . . a lot of talent. They have guys coming back . . . who know what it takes.”

ESPN to televise UK’s practice Oct. 10

Kentucky and ESPN announced this morning that ESPN will televise UK’s Oct. 10 practice, which will be from 3 to 5 p.m. EDT.

Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Avery Johnson will call the action for ESPNU. Myron Medcalf will handle sideline reports. Former UK All-American Tony Delk will serve as a guest analyst.

It marks the first time since the 2011-12 season UK has had a practice televised live on television, UK said.

Cal ‘stirred’ by possibilities, but he asks fans to be patient

Kentucky Coach John Calipari spoke excitedly about the possibilities for his team this coming season. But in speaking at the annual UK Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon in Louisville, he asked fans to temper their enthusiasm.

“Please be patient . . . ,” he said. “I’ve never done this before. I’m doing things I’ve never done before.”

Calipari spoke of continuing the five-man platoon system he tried in UK’s exhibition games in the Bahamas. He made no promises of continue using platoons in the season, although he noted how adjustments must be made because of varying game conditions.

Calipari said he had 12 players who deserved playing time. That might mean fewer minutes and, thus, less glittering statistics. To help compensate, Calipari said he would use analytics to put the less-glittering statistics in perspective.

UK’s wealth of talent might mean even faster play and more pressing, Calipari said. It might even mean playing zone defense in which big men are instructed to “just stand there,” he said.

Calipari made no secret of his excitement at the possibilities.

“This has got me stirred,” he said. “It’s stirred my thinking.”

As in previous seasons, Calipari said he would use early-season games to help decide how best to maximize the possibilities.

“What we do early may be at the expense of losing games . . . ,” he said. “You may say you’ll be fine with that. You will not.”