John Clay: Joker and his Cats fill summer musings

Can UK score enough to keep year 2 lively?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 22, 2011 

Second-year head coach Joker Phillips said the Cats have been close enough to contending in the Southeastern Conference that there's reason for optimism ahead of this season.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

It's not summer, not officially, but it's close. Temperatures are rising. Schools have a couple of weeks left. Many swimming pools open next weekend, Memorial Day Weekend.

Here's to a long, lazy summer.

And here are 10 UK athletics questions to ponder while lounging beside the pool.

1. Can Joker Phillips get the job done? We're coming up on year two of the Phillips' administration. Year one left an uneasy feeling among the football faithful. The head coach is not unaware. He changed defensive coordinators. He continues to tweak. Will year two bring a pleasant surprise?

2. Will UK football find some playmakers? Randall Cobb is gone. Derrick Locke is gone. Chris Matthews is gone. Mike Hartline is gone. An offense that didn't have an easy time scoring touchdowns last year must find some new faces that can find the end zone in 2011.

3. Will Morgan Newton reach his potential? Now is his chance. The job is all his. The junior quarterback was considered a tremendous get when he signed with the Cats out of Indianapolis. For a successful season, surely UK must get good play out of its quarterback.

4. Did Kentucky do the right thing with Tony Woods? We don't know yet what that "thing" will be. Woods' former attorney says the Wake Forest big man will "likely" end up at UK. Woods' former AAU coach talks like Texas is the favorite. If the Cats pass, will they later wish they had rolled the dice on another big man? But if they take Woods, will he cause an unnecessary distraction?

5. Can a team with three freshmen at the top win the title? Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague figure to be the basketball Cats' top trio next year. They are all immensely talented. But do they have enough talent, and enough support from the likes of Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, etc., to overcome North Carolina's experience?

6. How will the new president deal with UK sports? We don't know a lot yet about Eli Capilouto, who will succeed Lee Todd as the school's new president. Even if we did, not sure it would be all that relevant.

When Todd became president he talked about the athletic department one way, then seemed to deal it with another. It's one thing to be looking at the chair from the outside. It's another to be sitting in the chair.

7. What will happen with Gary Henderson? After UK's final home game last weekend, the baseball coach didn't want to talk about his job status. Said everything was fine. Said he expected to be back.

But he has been the coach for three seasons, and the Cats have not qualified for the SEC Tournament in any of those seasons. Mitch Barnhart had faith in Henderson when he tabbed the associate head coach to succeed John Cohen. Will Barnhart keep the faith?

8. Will Randall Cobb and Brandon Knight get to start their pro careers? Cobb was a second-round NFL Draft pick of the world champion Green Bay Packers. Many NBA Draft experts think Knight could go as high as No. 3 overall to the Utah Jazz. But the NFL is in a lockout. The NBA could end up in a lockout, as well. How tough would it be to get so close to your dream of playing professionally, only to have the dream deferred?

9. What will the Lexington task force recommend about Rupp Arena? Apparently you and I are the only two not on the task force. It's a big group appointed by Mayor Jim Gray. But then it's a big issue. Louisville has the shiny KFC Yum Center up the road. Can Lexington match that? Can it afford to try?

10. What will be the next media controversy concerning John Calipari? You know it's coming. The coach can't escape it. Whether it's Derrick Rose's SAT, or Eric Bledsoe's grades, or Enes Kanter's eligibility, or a former staffer's questionable phone calls, a media firestorm seems to pop up from time to time concerning Kentucky's polarizing coach. The fire burns, then wanes, then disappears. And we wait for the next one.

And while we're waiting, pass the sunscreen.

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