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During Team USA workouts, Cousins, Cal reminisce about UK glory days

Sportswriter Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee was in Las Vegas this week for the Team USA workouts. She mentioned DeMarcus Cousins in her “Team USA notes” Thursday:
“After his coach at Kentucky, John Calipari, reminded media members that Cousins remains his wife’s all-time-favorite Wildcat, the Kings center was asked how he gained the affections of Ms. Calipari.
“‘I’m charming,’ he bellowed.
“Asked her first name (Ellen), he replied laughing, ‘Ah! You’re putting me on the spot.’ Following a pause, he added, ‘Mama! Mrs. Cal!’”
Voisin noted how the Team USA workouts drew an audience of such basketball people as Sacramento Kings’ general manager Pete D’Alessandro and coach Michael Malone, NBA coaches Lionel Hollins, Steve Kerr and David Blatt, general managers Bob Myers and David Griffin, and college coaches Mark Few and John Calipari.
“After the three-hour session, Calipari, who has four of his former players participating – including Cousins – worked the gym like a politician on the campaign trail,” Voisin wrote. “He darted from (Anthony) Davis to (Derrick) Rose to John Wall, then caught up with (Cousins) while he was being stretched by a USAB trainer on a table in the far corner. The two chatted for several minutes, joking, reminiscing, playfully arguing over who was expected to pick up the dinner tab later in the evening.”

Cousins played for UK in 2009-10, Calipari’s first season as coach. A contender for a national championship, the Cats lost to West Virginia in the Elite 8.

James Young: If 40-0 talk returns, don’t listen

Former Kentucky wing James Young cautioned next season’s players from paying attention should talk of a 40-0 record resurface. For Young, 40-0 means 40 and uh-oh.

“Don’t listen to it at all,” he said Tuesday during a break in a UK summer camp session. “We kind of listened to it last year, and it kind of got to us. And we had an up-and-down season. Leave the media stuff alone and stay focused.”

Talk of an unprecedented 40-0 record  erupted last season as UK added a record six McDonald’s All-Americans to a team had boasted the return of two regulars: Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.

There was speculation that the six McDonald’s All-Americans gave UK the greatest class in the history of college basketball.

“It was just so big for everybody,” Young said. “It was just everywhere. It was the talk just about every time on ESPN and stuff like that. It kind of got to us. We were always listening to it and stuff like that. We had to block it out.”

UK lost to Michigan State in its third game. Ultimately, Florida, a veteran team, enjoyed the record-breaking success (the first 18-0 regular-season record in Southeastern Conference history), while Kentucky finished second while struggling to develop consistency.

When asked whether the 40-0 talk brought pressure, Young said, “I feel we did (feel pressure) a little bit, just to try to please everybody instead of worrying about basketball and just playing.”

After a disheartening loss at South Carolina late in the season, Kentucky got on a roll in the post-season. The Cats lost to Florida by one point in the SEC Tournament finals, then fashioned a NCAA Tournament run that included three game-winning shots in the final seconds and did not end until a loss in the national championship game.

When asked about Kentucky’s potential in the upcoming 2014-15 season, Young saw good things ahead.

“They have a great team,” he said. “They have a lot of ‘bigs’ they can roll to. … They have a lot of size, so I feel that’s going to mess a lot of people up. They have a great advantage with that.”

Young also lauded UK’s depth. The Cats added “only” four McDonald’s All-Americans this off-season.

The big men include veterans Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, plus freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles.

While seeing success likely, Young tempered his enthusiasm.

“I feel they can do a lot of things,” he said. “I’m not trying to put no pressure on nobody, and do all that. But I feel they’ll do real good.”

Services for former UK great “Wah Wah” Jones set

The funeral service for former University of Kentucky athletic star Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones will be held at noon Friday at Lexington’s Immanuel Baptist Church, the Anderson, Laws and Jones Funeral Home in Harlan posted on its website Monday.

There will be two visitations from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Anderson, Laws and Jones Funeral Home in Harlan, which was Mr. Jones’ hometown, and also from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday at Immanuel Baptist Church.

The funeral service will begin at noon, immediately following the visitation.

There will also be a celebration of his life on Thursday from 3 to 8 p.m. at the UK K Club (1398 Sports Drive).

Mr. Jones, who turned 88 on July 14, died on Sunday. He starred for UK’s basketball and football teams. As a member of the Fabulous Five, he played on UK’s 1948 national championship team. He was also part of the 1949 national championship team.

Mr. Jones was an all-Southeastern Conference end in football.

Mr. Jones is survived by his children: Wallace “Wah” Jones, Jr. of Lexington, Vicki Jones of Lexington and Ira Dawson and her  husband, Bruce Dawson, of Louisville; his grandchildren: Brian Mains and his wife, Crystal of Louisville, Ashley Dawson of Louisville, Shawna Landers of Florida, Cara Canada and her husband, Brandon, of Louisville, and Corey Jones and his wife, Ashley, of Lexington; his seven great grandchildren: Taylor, Addilyn, Lucas, Ali, Carson, Amelia, and Reagan; and Judy Jones, mother of grandson Corey.  He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Frances Rich Jones of Harlan and his nephews Jeff and John Jones.

Condolences may be left at www.aljfh.com.

Tickets for UK Alumni game go on sale Monday

Tickets for the Aug. 24 UK Alumni Charity Game will go on sale next Monday.

Tickets cost $101 (premium lower level), $31 (lower level), and $16 for premium upper level. Tickets can be bought at the Rupp Arena box office, online at Ticketmaster.com, at any Ticketmaster Outlet or by phone at 1-800-745-3000. There is an eight-ticket limit per person.Proceeds from the game will go to charities.

You must be 16 or older to purchase tickets and children under the age of 2 get in for free with a paying adult.

Persons must be 16 or older to buy tickets, UK said in a news release.

The game, which is scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m. EDT, will pit former UK players against former non-UK players. All participants will have played or are playing professionally, UK said. NBA rules prohibit UK from announcing which players will participate.

ESPN names Donovan nation’s No. 1 coach; Cal No. 2

Billy Donovan of Florida is the best coach in college basketball. John Calipari of Kentucky is the second  best.

This Affirmed-Alydar finish concluded an ESPN production that compiled a list of the top 50 coaches in college basketball.

The countdown, which began last month, was punctuated Thursday with the announcement that Donovan and Calipari topped the list.

Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Rick Pitino of Louisville rounded out the top five.

ESPN cited Florida’s historic season in 2013-14 as evidence for why Donovan ranked No. 1.

The Gators achieved the first 18-0 regular-season record in Southeastern Conference history.

“Sure, the SEC (save, eventually, Kentucky and Tennessee) was bad,” an ESPN story on the top 50 coaches said. “But Florida was also devastatingly good. The Gators held conference opponents to .93 points per possession while scoring 1.14. They averaged the league’s highest two-point field goal percentage while simultaneously allowing the lowest.”

ESPN also noted that Donovan has achieved at a high level at a non-traditional program.

“Before Donovan, the Gators’ basketball history was almost nonexistent,” ESPN wrote.

As for Calipari, ESPN saluted the Kentucky coach for his abilities on and off the court. The all-sports network noted his five-year run at UK, which includes three trips to the Final Four and the 2012 national championship.

ESPN also cited Calipari’s marketing abilities and skills in leading a high-profile program.

“Calipari turned the one major criticism of his time at Kentucky — that he was merely cycling through mercenaries on their way to the NBA — into his chief strength,” ESPN said. “It also put Calipari in implicit opposition to every other program in the country. If you’re not ‘players first,’ Senator, then what are you? The political instinct is pure, the rhetorical brilliance staggering. It also has the benefit of being (A) true and (B) exactly what many gifted young athletes and their families want to hear.”

Kentucky’s run to the 2014 Final Four reminded the college basketball world of Calipari’s coaching abilities.

“There is real tactical substance here: a unique, restrained offensive system, an ability to coax great defense out of young players and real fluency in advanced scouting and statistical ideas,” ESPN said of Kentucky’s late-season revival.

“That’s the story of John Calipari. …The man is a born salesman. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes, it’s about as subtle as a campaign ad. When Calipari refers to himself as a ‘dream maker,’ or when he says his program doesn’t play college basketball but is college basketball itself, it’s hard not to chuckle. But salesmanship resonates only when you have a quality product to sell.

“Calipari has both.”

UK’s non-conference schedule packed with marquee opponents

North Carolina. Kansas. UCLA. Louisville.

Kentucky’s non-conference schedule in the 2014-15 basketball season is packed with the bluest of blue-bloods.

UK announced the non-conference portion of the schedule on Wednesday.  Besides UNC, Kansas, UCLA and Louisville, the schedule also includes home games against two other big-name opponents: Texas and Providence.

Fans in Rupp Arena will also get the chance to see the Cats play Eastern Kentucky and — surprise — a Buffalo team coached by former Duke star Bobby Hurley.

With North Carolina also playing in Rupp Arena, the home schedule should please even the most demanding of UK fans.

In neutral site games, Kentucky will play Kansas in Indianapolis on Nov. 18 in the Champions Classic. UK will play UCLA on Dec. 20 in Chicago in the inaugural CBS Sports Classic. The Cats play Texas at home on Dec. 5 in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

Kentucky is also staging a Cawood Ledford Classic, named for the long-time radio play-by-play man and UK basketball icon. Opponents are Grand Canyon, Buffalo, Montana State and UT Arlington.

Kentucky concludes its non-conference schedule with a game at Louisville on Dec. 27.

Here’s the schedule:

Nov. 2 Pikeville (exhibition)

Nov. 7 Georgetown (exhibition)

No. 14 Grand Canyon

Nov. 16 Buffalo

Nov. 18 Kansas (in Indianapolis)

Nov. 21 Boston

Nov. 23 Montana State

Nov. 25 UT Arlington

Nov. 30 Providence

Dec. 5 Texas

Dec. 7 Eastern Kentucky

Dec. 10 Columbia

Dec. 13 North Carolina

Dec. 20 UCLA (in Chicago)

Dec. 27 at Louisville

Cal: No ‘brainwashing’ when players make stay-or-go decisions

Kentucky Coach John Calipari downplayed his role when players make the decision of whether to return to UK for another season or enter the NBA Draft.

“I literally spend five minutes with them,” Calipari said of meetings he has with players facing such a decision.

There’s no exhaustive “brainwashing” involved in the meeting, he said.

As he did earlier this off season, Calipari mentioned his surprise that Willie Cauley-Stein chose to return to UK next season.

“I thought Willie was leaving,” said Calipari, who said he offered Cauley-Stein a congratulatory thank-you after Kentucky’s season-ending loss to Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament championship game.

Cal preaches unity on Rupp Arena renovation

Kentucky Coach John Calipari struck a non-confrontational note Monday when asked about the Rupp Arena renovation project.

In recent weeks, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray suspended the project after having hired architects and a construction firm. The suspension came after the Kentucky legislature declined a funding request.

UK president Eli Capilouto and Lexington Center Corp. chairman Brent Rice exchanged letters that disagreed about the reasons why funding for the project had not been forthcoming.

Calipari, who has been noticably quiet about the project, mentioned on an SEC coaches teleconference that he had been out of town during the latest developments in the project. He had been recovering from hip surgery. He said he received a “little overview” from UK Deputy Athletics Director DeWayne Peevy.

“I just hope everybody gets together and does what’s right for the city and the university,” Calipari said.

Cal: UK will want to win games in Bahamas

Summer trips, such as the one Kentucky’s men’s basketball team will take to the Bahamas in August, usually contain little if any sense of urgency. Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin compared such competition to a meaningless “spring game” at the end of spring practice in football.

But John Calipari said Kentucky will approach the games in the Bahamas “a little different” in August. UK will face quality competition and will want to win, he said.

The UK coach acknowledged not putting a priority on winning when the Wildcats played several exhibition games in Windsor, Canada, in 2010.

He said the competition in the Bahamas from teams based in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Frarnce will be good.

“They’ll be hard games for us to win,” he said.

Lexington mayor suspends Rupp renovation project

Lexington mayor Jim Gray announced Wednesday that he was suspending the much-discussed, much-studied project to re-invent Rupp Arena. He cited the reason as the University of Kentucky withdrawing its support for a proposed annual $10.7 million lease payment at Rupp, beginning in 2018.

The announcement became the latest chapter in an arena saga that began four years ago. UK first explored building a new on-campus arena. When UK decided that was financially unfeasible, Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart ceded the idea of a new arena to Lexington officials.

Gray appointed a task force to explore the possibilities of a new arena or a renovated Rupp Arena as a centerpiece of a much larger arts and entertainment district.

Subcommittees of the task force visited similar sites in Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis.

Subsequently, Lexington hired an consultant to explore to explore the feasibility of such a project. Priorities included satisfying such UK requests as keeping the seating capacity at a listed 23,000 while replacing upper arena bleachers with chairback seats, private suites and club seating.

Later, Lexington hired an architect and construction firm.

All the while, UK officials were restrained publicly in voicing support for a Rupp Arena renovtion.

In recent meetings with Gray and Governor Steve Beshear, UK relayed the decision it had changed its mind about the lease, Gray said in a statement. “We designed this arena based on what UK said they needed. But I understand timing and pacing are everything, especially with major projects like this. So we’ll adjust and adapt,” Gray said.

In the separate meetings with Gray and the Governor, UK discussed a much smaller project … perhaps 10-15 percent of the University’s original investment in the project under the lease, Gray said in a statement.

Gray said that he would continue to work on the idea of an arts and entertainment district while the Rupp renovation is suspended.