Even the outlandish Donald Trump might have been rendered speechless by the bold talk on the SEC Network on Wednesday. In promoting SEC basketball, Dino Gaudio said of Kentucky's Tyler Ulis: "He is the best point guard in America."
In Trump-like fashion, Gaudio doubled down on his declaration. After saying he'd coached standout point guards Chris Paul, Jeff Teague and Ishmael Smith at Wake Forest, he said of Ulis, "He's as good as two of the three of those guys."
That merited a follow-up call. Alas, Gaudio would not say which two former Wake Forest stars would have eaten Ulis' dust entering their sophomore seasons. But he did say of Ulis, "He's right where they were."
"The difference between them and Tyler projected (beyond college) is they had better physical size than Tyler," Gaudio added.
Paul and Smith were listed at 6 feet tall; Teague at 6-2. Last season, UK said Ulis was 5-9.
Size aside — and must every mention of Ulis touch on size? — he has won over Gaudio and fellow SEC basketball analyst Sean Farnham. Both made Ulis Kentucky's representative on their All-SEC teams. They also agreed on LSU freshman Ben Simmons, Vanderbilt center Damian Jones and Texas A&M wing Danuel House. Gaudio filled out his all-league team with Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida, while Farnham picked Mississippi State freshman Malik Newman.
Gaudio and Farnham mentioned Ulis' tenacious on-ball defense, which disrupts the opposition's offensive spacing and timing. They also lauded his decision-making with the ball.
"He just makes every right decision off the ball screen," said Gaudio, who watched Ulis play pickup games on campus last month. If the defender goes under the screen, Ulis can make three-point shots. If the defender goes over the screen, he can work the pick-and-roll or pass to a teammate in the corner depending on which option is available.
Of course, there are other players to consider as the top point guard in college basketball next season. North Carolina's Marcus Paige comes immediately to mind. Farnham also mentioned Tyrone Wallace, who led California in scoring (17.1 ppg), assists (4.0 apg), rebounds (7.1 rpg) and steals (1.3 spg) last season.
Then there's Kyle Collinsworth of Brigham Young. Last season alone, he tied an NCAA career record with six triple-doubles. He's the most underrated point guard in America, Farnham said.
Given Kentucky's so-called platoon system of substitution last season, Ulis could not post gaudy statistics (5.6 ppg; 3.6 apg; 1.0 steals). But his play convinced many observers that he will extend UK Coach John Calipari's list of standout point guards.
"He's going to be the orchestrator, the guy that's in charge of facilitating the offense," Farnham said. "And you're going to see some fantastic ball movement and floor spacing."
SEC-UK gap closing?
Kentucky should be a big favorite to win the SEC championship this coming season. But the Cats should not be as big a favorite as they were going into last season.
"Less than last year," Sean Farnham said of UK's favoritism. "But I think they're the favorite, and I think they should be the favorite and the favorite by a wide margin."
Farnham picks Vanderbilt for second place. He also likes Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU.
"Do I anticipate that Kentucky runs the table?" Farnham said. "Probably not."
Another ESPN analyst, Dino Gaudio, echoed the sentiment of UK as, perhaps, not quite so big a favorite.
"They come back a little bit to the pack," he said of his 2015-16 expectation. "And everybody else takes a step forward from last year."
Newcomers make Gaudio like Florida (John Egbunu, a 6-11 transfer from South Florida), Vandy (Nolan Cressler, a 6-4 transfer from Cornell), Texas A&M (Anthony Collins, a 6-2 transfer from South Florida) and LSU (freshman Ben Simmons).
However, another newcomer might widen that gap between Kentucky and the rest of the SEC. On Wednesday, Gaudio wondered aloud if Kentucky had enough size to be, well, Kentucky. When told on Thursday that UK had added 7-foot Australian Isaac Humphries, Gaudio said, "That's going to be a good 'get' because of the depth he provides on that front line."
'Slightly above average'
Upon request, numbers maven Ken Pomeroy gave a first impression of UK's 2015-16 schedule, which was released last week. He neither applauded wildly nor hissed loudly.
"I'd guess it's slightly above average for a top 25 team," he wrote in an email. "It does have the appeal of not having any truly bad teams on it. So it will probably be treated very well in the RPI."
To review, UK's non-conference schedule includes Duke, UCLA, Ohio State, Louisville and Kansas as well as lesser lights Arizona State, Eastern Kentucky, Illinois State, Boston U, Wright State, NJIT and Albany.
"It's a typical Kentucky schedule: 4-6 tough games," another analyst, Jerry Palm, wrote in an email. "That's pretty good."
Later in the week, Kansas announced its schedule. It included Michigan State, the Maui Invitational (Chaminade, then UCLA or UNLV, then Indiana or St. John's or Wake Forest or Vanderbilt), Kentucky, UC Irvine, Montana, Holy Cross, Harvard, Loyola (Md.) and Northern Colorado.
Asked to compare the Kansas schedule to Kentucky's, Pomeroy wrote: "I don't think it's as strong. That Maui field is somewhat down this year."
Added Palm: "Also pretty good, depending on what that third game is in Maui. They're similar."
The spirit of it
Barely five hours after tickets for the Kentucky-North Carolina "game" went on sale Aug. 14, Jean Isaacs walked away from the Rupp Arena box office with a smile on her face. She had bought tickets. She and her son, Forrest Isaacs, would be going to the Sept. 13 charity event.
Because of cerebral palsy, Forrest must sit in the area designated for wheelchairs. That space is difficult to get for UK regular-season games. So Jean keeps an eye out for other opportunities to get Forrest to games.
"It's easier for him to come to the Blue-White Game, the charity games and Coach Cal's comedy caravan," she said. The latter is a reference to the charity fund-raiser staged last year that featured standup comedians.
Though not regular-season games, these events serve to put people in "the whole spirit of it," she said.
Isaacs had reason to smile. The box office said tickets for the UK-UNC game were selling "very well." In the lower arena, only scattered singles remained available as Isaacs walked away.
UK volleyball player Anni Thomasson coined a term worth filing away for possible use in the 2015-16 basketball season. As is annually true of John Calipari's basketball team, the UK volleyball team is counting on contributions from freshmen.
"I think a lot of the freshmen are having 'freshman frustrations,'" Thomasson said. "Everybody kind of goes through them. If you're screwing up in practice, you just feel you can't do anything right.
"And that's not true. I think they're doing a good job of pushing through."
Teammate Morgan Bergren added, "You have to get worse before you get better."
UK women's soccer coach Jon Lipsitz recalled a recent trip to the grocery store. Another shopper approached him with a request.
"Hey, coach," the shopper said. "All I want you to do is beat Louisville."
After the shopper moved on, Lipsitz turned to his wife and said, "Do they realize I'm not Coach Cal?"
At first glance, a Colorado-at-Auburn game next season falls into the ho-hum category. Then you think of Bruce Pearl's intention to put Auburn on the college basketball map.
He made the case that the game is a significant step in elevating Auburn's profile.
The game is part of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon on Nov. 17. (It's one of several warmup acts en route to the UK-Duke and Michigan State-Kansas double-header that night.)
For Auburn, it's the second straight year in the Tip-Off Marathon, and first time as a host school.
And, believe it or not, it will be the first time the Tigers have been the home team on an ESPN telecast of a non-conference game.
"These are exciting times for Auburn Basketball as we are continuing to build a national program," Pearl said in a news release.
The Oklahoman, the daily newspaper in Oklahoma City, is in the midst of a five-part series on new Thunder Coach Billy Donovan. Of course, the series includes his start in coaching as a graduate assistant for Rick Pitino at Kentucky in 1989.
Pitino assigned an assistant, future UK Coach Tubby Smith, to be Donovan's mentor. "We took a liking to each other," Smith told The Oklahoman. "Great listener. Energy was off the charts. He just absorbed everything."
Donovan found his niche in coaching after briefly working on Wall Street. He found the business world overly absorbed with material things.
"It was all about making money," he said of Wall Street. "Just money, money, money."
Former UK Coach Tubby Smith led his Texas Tech team on a trip to Canada last week. The Red Raiders won their first two games: 54-46 over McGill University in Montreal last Sunday, and 88-53 over Laval University in Quebec City on Monday.
Before the trip home on Friday, the team also toured the sites in Montreal, including Olympic Stadium, St. Joseph's Oratory and Old Montreal.
Thanks to new media contact Matthew Dunaway for the update.
To Jodie Meeks. He turned 28 on Friday. ... To Todd Tackett. He turned 36 on Saturday. ... To former Mississippi State Coach Richard Williams. He turned 70 on Saturday. ... To Kent Hollenbeck. He turns 65 on Monday. ... To former Indiana star Quinn Buckner. He turned 61 on Friday. ... To Richie Farmer. He turns 46 on Tuesday. ... To Van Florence. The long-time Man Friday for UK basketball coaches and president of the Committee of 101 service group turns 69 on Wednesday.