Basketball done, time to concentrate on spring football.
OK, so basketball isn't done. In fact, you can argue the important stuff is just beginning. John Calipari has holes to fill. Seven Wildcats stood up Thursday and announced their intentions of becoming former Cats. No problem.
Seven out, seven in? Maybe not, but history suggests it is reasonable to assume Calipari will have no trouble finding the refresh button. The coach isn't changing his approach, nor should he. No other program in the nation has been to four Final Fours in the past five years. No need to fix what isn't broke.
Football is a different animal. The sport's dynamics and heavy reliance on numbers make reloading improbable to the point of impossible. A few good players won't turn a losing football program into a juggernaut. That feat takes lots and lots of good players and lots and lots of time. Recruit, develop, build. If Rome wasn't built in a day, football programs aren't built on a single recruiting class.
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This brings us to Kentucky football, which held an open practice/scrimmage Saturday at the Nutter Training Center. Stadium reconstruction has scrapped this year's traditional Blue-White Game. Better the long-term benefits of overhauled facilities than the short-term buzz of a spring game. One step back for two steps forward.
That could be Mark Stoops' story arc, as well. After the expected staple-things-together feel of a 2-10 opening season, the Kentucky coach improved the win total by three in his second season. The problem was that those five victories came in the first six weeks. A 5-1 start did a fade route to a 5-7 finish. Five of the six losses that ended the campaign were double-digit defeats, three of those were by 30 or more points.
Rome wasn't built in a day, remember. Most important, you want the steps to continue moving forward, if at all possible. If Kentucky did not follow through on the promise of the first half of the season, the Cats have shown enough good, young talent in the Stoops era to make you believe the rock is not rolling back down the hill.
Some of that talent was on display Saturday as fans lined the boundaries of the main practice field at Nutter. It was a sunny, upbeat day.
Patrick Towles, the returning starter at quarterback, had a nice afternoon. He threw a pair of nice effective balls, one to Blake Bone, one to Thaddeus Snodgrass, the latter a redshirt freshman wide receiver. If Towles did not play well enough for Stoops to immediately declare the junior the 2015 starter, that was only because redshirt freshman Drew Barker has had his moments this spring, as well.
"There's been some back and forth," Stoops said Saturday.
Defensively, linebacker Josh Forrest made a pair of interceptions, a fact which Stoops seemed not to have noticed. ("He had two? Really?" said the coach.) That was because the coach was more focused on the senior's lapses in the run game. A former receiver who stands 6-foot-3, Forrest covers lots of ground in the pass game. What the coach wants now is more knock-backs in the run game. Forrest has made those plays. He just needs to make more.
"Consistency," said the head coach with the defensive roots.
Still, overall, the general feeling off Alumni Drive is one of more — more athletes, more playmakers, more big guys up front on both sides of the ball. Whether there's enough to make some headway in the brutal SEC next season remains to be seen. As ex-Georgia coach Jim Donnan used to say, those other teams are out trying to recruit great players, too.
His honeymoon period is winding down, of course, but you get the feeling that Stoops feels better about where his program stands right now. Saturday, he praised not so much the scrimmage itself but "a good, solid week." That's what you need. A good, solid week on top of another good, solid week. And then another.
"I still like the direction we're headed," said the coach.
In football, you still have to build.