UK Men's Basketball

Basketball in June includes warning shot over Kentucky’s bow

Calipari says 2019 will be a breakout year for returning players

Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to the return of Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery to the team.
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Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to the return of Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery to the team.

Southeastern Conference coaches reflected upon last season and peered ahead to next season during Thursday’s “Summer Teleconference.” Keeping in mind the increasingly quaint notion of an offseason, here are five takeaways from a basketball-themed question-and-answer session in June:

Florida’s gain in graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. makes the Gators “look like a real threat to Kentucky” next season, wrote Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com.

To twist the knife, Blackshear considered a transfer to UK. As a player who averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for Virginia Tech last season, he gives Florida the productive “big” it has been seeking since Patric Young was SEC Defensive Player of the Year in leading the Gators to the 2014 Final Four.

Chris Harry, senior writer for FloridaGators.com, noted that Florida’s three returning “bigs” — Gorjok Gak, Isaiah Stokes and Dontay Bassett — averaged a combined 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds last season.

Of Florida’s returnees, point guard Andrew Nembhard ranked fifth among SEC players in assists as a freshman. And Noah Locke broke Anthony Roberson’s program record for three-pointers as a freshman.

An incoming freshman class ranked in the top 10 nationally includes small forward Scottie Lewis and shooting guard Tre Mann. They are the first two McDonald’s All-Americans to sign with Florida in six years.

On Thursday, Parrish ranked Florida No. 9 in his top 25 for next season. His top four were Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Louisville.

Here’s a bar bet ripe with winning potential. Mike White of Florida has joined UK’s John Calipari among the now six coaches in SEC history to win at least 20 games in their first four seasons in the league.

The other four are Tubby Smith (Georgia in 1995-96 and 1996-97, then UK in 1997-98 and 1998-99), Nolan Richardson (Arkansas 1991-92 through 1994-95), Bruce Pearl (Tennessee 2005-06 through 2008-09) and — here’s where you win the bet — Jerry Green (Tennessee 1997-98 through 2000-01).

Even with Nic Claxton off to the NBA and nine newcomers on the roster, Georgia returns a 1,000-point scorer. Correction: make that scorers (plural).

Five Georgia returnees totaled exactly 1,000 points last season. They are junior Rayshaun Hammonds (339 points), seniors Tyree Crump (292) and Jordan Harris (226), plus sophomores Tye Fagan (78) and Amanze Ngumezi (65).

Of the star freshmen not playing for UK next season, keep in mind Florida’s Scottie Lewis (of whom Bleacher Report asked “The Next Kobe?”) and Georgia’s Anthony Edwards (placed among the first two overall picks in mock 2020 NBA Drafts compiled by SI.com, Bleacher Report and SBNation.

Georgia Coach Tom Crean said Edwards’ vertical leap was measured at 42 inches before his program’s summer training began.

LSU freshman Trendon Watford is the younger brother of Christian Watford. UK fans might recall Christian Watford making the winning shot that beat Kentucky 73-72 on Dec. 10, 2011. That was the first of two losses that UK’s most recent national champion team had that season.

The younger Watford is the tallest player on LSU’s team (6-foot-9) and is projected as the No. 21 pick in SI.com’s mock 2020 draft.

Dean Smith-like

New Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said the school’s baseball team winning the College World Series earlier in the week created “some momentum we want to ride.”

Vandy baseball coach Tim Corbin has been a “great mentor,” Stackhouse said. “What Coach Corbin has built over there with baseball is phenomenal. I liken him to, really, Coach Smith. Coach Dean Smith. How he’s able to be just a pillar of consistency.”

Of course, Stackhouse played for Smith at North Carolina.

Remembering Tubby

The recent attention given John Calipari’s “lifetime contract” (10 years, $86 million) to be Kentucky coach led a reader to suggest that one of the former UK coaches has been overlooked and underappreciated.

Tom Atkinson sent an email expressing his appreciation for the job done by Tubby Smith as UK coach from 1997-98 through 2006-07.

“I’m tired of people picking on Tubby,” Atkinson said in a follow-up telephone conversation. “Tubby came in there, he had to follow (Rick) Pitino and Tubby never embarrassed the program.”

In his email. Atkinson pointed out that Calipari had led Kentucky to one national championship in 10 years. Smith also led UK to a national title in a 10-year period. And Pitino led UK to one national title in his eight-season tenure as coach.

Actually, one championship every 10 years is par for Kentucky basketball. There have been 81 NCAA tournaments. UK has won eight.

If winning percentage is your thing, there’s not a huge separation among the most successful Kentucky coaches. Adolph Rupp leads the way at .822 (876-190) followed by Pitino at .814 (219-50), Calipari at .811 (305-71), Smith at .760 (263-83) and Joe B. Hall at .748 (297-100).

Atkinson, 72, grew up in Paris. He has been a season-ticket holder every season since Rupp Arena opened in 1976.

Winning impression

Former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Chris Lofton (Maysville) got a mention in the media guide for this year’s NBA Draft.

One of the lasting memories from this past season was the remarkable maturity and poise Wofford guard Fletcher Magee displayed after his team lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

In a game two days earlier, Magee set a Division I record for career three-point baskets. But against UK, he missed all 12 of his three-point shots (four of 17 overall). After the game, he was surprisingly composed as he fielded reporters’ questions about his poor shooting with grace, patience and equanimity.

In the NBA Draft media guide, East Tennessee State Coach Steve Forbes is quoted as saying, “Ten years ago, I coached the best three-point shooter in the history of the SEC in Chris Lofton. I didn’t really think I’d see a better shooter than that, but I have.”

Forbes was an assistant coach at Tennessee for Lofton’s final two seasons for the Vols. Lofton most recently played for the Seoul Knights of the Korean Basketball League.

Practice makes perfect

Wabash College guard Jack Davidson set an NCAA record this past season by making 95 straight free throws. To explain this accuracy, he cited nothing more esoteric than hours of practice.

“It’s peaceful,” he said in a story published in Wabash Magazine. “And when I’m in there, I just feel like I’m at home. It’s a way to get away from everything else going on. Once you perfect that form, everything feels so fluid. It’s like poetry in motion.”

Incidentally, Davidson, a 6-1 sophomore, made 93.1 percent of his free throws on the season (202 of 217). For comparison sake, UK’s Tyler Herro shot free throws with 93.5-percent accuracy (87 of 93) this past season. Herro had streaks of 30 and 36 straight makes.

The Division I record for consecutive free throws made is 73, set by Gary Buchanan of Villanova in 2000-01. Buchanan’s streak covered 21 games from Nov. 17 to Feb. 12.

Wabash led Division III by making 81.7 percent of its free throws.

Concert update

The concert put on by former UK player Isaac Humphries last Sunday raised more than $15,000 for The Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Chelsi McDonald, the charity organization’s Director of Development and Communications, wrote in an email that the money will be used to support “our House, Family Room and Happy Wheels Care cart programs.” Those programs serve more than 10,000 people each year, she wrote.

Lexington Center Corporation said a crowd of 414 attended the concert at the Lexington Opera House, which has a capacity of about 900.

Happy birthday

To Dominique Hawkins. He turned 25 on Thursday. … To Arizona State Coach (and former Duke point guard) Bobby Hurley. He turned 48 on Friday. … To former UK Coach Tubby Smith. He turns 68 on Sunday (today). … To Tom Parker. He turns 69 on Monday. … To former Ole Miss Coach Ed Murphy. He turns 78 on Monday. … To CBS analyst Clark Kellogg. He turns 58 on Tuesday. … To former voice of UK basketball and football Ralph Hacker. He turns 75 on Tuesday. … To Mark Halsell. He turns 31 on Tuesday.

Looking ahead

With a vacation set for next week, here are happy birthday wishes for July 4 through 10:

To former Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps. He turns 78 on July 4. … To Todd May. He turns 55 on July 5. … To Ashton Hagans. He turns 20 on July 8. … To Carlos Toomer. He turns 47 on July 9.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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