UK football coaches basketball fan converts

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 7, 2014 

  • Spring football

    When: Through April 26

    Where: Nutter Training Center (practices closed to public)

    Spring game: 3:30 p.m. April 26 at Commonwealth Stadium

Buried in spring football, even Kentucky's coaches aren't immune from enjoying the basketball team's run to the national championship.

In fact, Coach Mark Stoops confirmed he's flying to Dallas on Monday afternoon to see the title game at AT&T Stadium.

"I'm going to go watch the game," he said when asked his plans for the evening. Stoops also was in Indianapolis for the region semifinal game against Louisville.

Stoops, who also was at Memorial Coliseum for the first two rounds of the women's NCAA Tournament run, said he's enjoyed watching Coach John Calipari's team succeed.

"I have, I really have," Stoops said after Monday's practice. "It's been exciting. We've been fortunate here at Kentucky to watch some fantastic games coming down to the wire, so it's been a lot of fun."

Calipari's team provides an important lesson for all athletes no matter what sport they play, Stoops said.

"Just to see them persevere through some tough times and everybody's on their case, there's a lot of pressure on them and they just responded," he said. "They just kept on playing and put their head down and went to work. Eventually it turned and good things started to happen to them. I think a lot of people and a lot of teams could take something from that."

Did Stoops, who has been part of plenty of big games in his coaching career, have any advice for this young basketball team as it prepares for the biggest game of its career?

"Nah," he chuckled. "Cal's got that down.

"Those guys are playing with a lot of confidence, or at least that's what it looks like and playing loose, so I'm just rooting for them, just there to support them and cheer for them."

The Cats have turned another football coach (and his young son) into big UK basketball fans, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said on Monday.

"I've loved it," he said of the UK run. "I have loved it.

He's been watching the games, especially the last three all won on big shots by Aaron Harrison in the final minute, on the edge of his seat.

"In a football game, I'm working, so I'm not a fan, you know what I mean?" he said. "So in these basketball games, I've just been a straight fan. I'm jumping out of my seat. I've got my 8-year-old son, we're high-fiving. Every time they hit one of those shots, I wake up all the other kids."

Practice notes

After Saturday's scrimmage, Stoops was disappointed in the lack of fire he saw out of the Cats' defense, but it bounced back well on Monday.

"I was a little discouraged, a little frustrated and felt like we were not progressing as much as I'd hoped at certain positions," he said. "I didn't feel like the defense played with much of an attitude Saturday. Today was much better, much more spirited practice. Got a little bit better, much more physical today, and both sides had their moments."

 Running back Jojo Kemp missed another practice as he tries to heal his hamstring issues, but Braylon Heard returned (non contact) after missing Saturday's practice following a mild neck strain. Stoops expects Kemp to return "full go" for practice on Wednesday.

In the meantime, early enrollee Mikel Horton has gotten a lot of valuable reps with the first team.

"He's getting better," Stoops said of Horton. "And he's a long way off, but he's exactly what we want talent-wise. He's picked things up very well. But he needs to get in better condition; he needs to play with his pads a little lower. He's going to get bounced around as you know, but it's good experience for him right now."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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