UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Recruiting-rich Chicago draws renown for its unknowns

The Big Blue Nation's invasion of Chicagoland this weekend provided reminders that recruiting is an art, not a science. For all the bloviation, ratings and parsing of efficiency ratios, sometimes you just can't project how good a player can be.

Arguably, two of the best players to come out of the Chicago area were unheralded. One was Anthony Davis, who would lead Kentucky to the 2012 national championship and now is seen as the NBA's next superstar.

Taylor Bell, who first covered an Illinois State Tournament in 1959 (the year John Calipari was born), said Davis was a relative unknown.

"Even for people here in Chicago," he said. "We didn't give him a whole lot of shrift."

Of course, Davis had a remarkable growth spurt, which, uh, elevated him into prominence. But playing for a new school, Perspectives Charter, helped cloud Davis in mystery.

"Certainly not one of the high-profile schools," Taylor said. "It was a new charter school that nobody heard of or knew where it was, for goodness sake. They didn't even have a gym. No one had any clue on this kid, really."

The consensus was Davis was posting great numbers. "But he's playing for nobody," Taylor said. "Wait till he plays against some of the Simeons and the Westinghouses.

"Obviously, everybody was proven wrong with his development."

The same is more or less true for George Mikan, the NBA's first dominant big man. Of course, recruiting was not a cottage industry when Mikan grew up in Joliet, Ill., in the 1930s and 1940s.

"He played in high school," Bell said, "but he wasn't a player. He was a nobody in high school."

Then-DePaul coach Ray Meyer took a chance because Mikan was 6-foot-10.

At the other end of the spectrum are players recognized as high school stars who became basketball success stories.

Bell said Kevin Garnett, who played only one high school season in Chicago, is the best player he's seen. A less familiar name, George Wilson, led Marshall High to two state championships, played for the University of Cincinnati's 1962 national championship team and the U.S. team that won gold in the 1964 Olympics.

Then there's Quinn Buckner. "My all-time favorite," Bell said, "as a person, a player and a leader."

Wiltjer impresses

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale worked the UCLA-Gonzaga game last weekend and came away impressed with former UK player Kyle Wiltjer.

"Kyle Wiltjer has become terrific," Vitale said. "He's trimmed his body down. He's playing with confidence. He's not worried about coming in and out of the game."

Going into this weekend, Wiltjer led Gonzaga in scoring (17.2 ppg) and blocks (seven). He had made 15 of 38 three-point shots (39.5 percent) and 67 of 124 overall (54 percent).

"One thing that he has," Vitale said, "when he shoots the ball, which is a lost art today, you feel it's going in. (Gonzaga Coach) Mark Few just raves about him."

Wiltjer was averaging 26.1 minutes, which is only slightly more than what he averaged at UK as a sophomore (23.8).

Vitale spoke highly of Gonzaga. "To me, they're even better than the No. 8 team in the nation," he said.


With UK's platoon system meaning few minutes, each player figures to have less-gaudy statistics.

The New York Times last Sunday reminded us that numbers are not a be all/end all for NBA scouts.

Columnist Harvey Araton wrote about how more than one NBA team wanted to take Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft.

Curry did not shoot well in an early-season game in Madison Square Garden. He missed 12 of his first 13 three-point shots in Davidson's game against West Virginia. He finished with 27 points, 10 assists and four steals.

Later that season, Larry Riley (then with the Warriors) watched Curry and Davidson play at Purdue.

"I was curious to see how he handled that foul-you-and-beat-you-up style that Purdue liked to play," Riley told Araton.

Curry made only five of 26 shots, and scored 13 points, at Purdue.

"And you know what?" Riley said. "I walked out that night thinking that he would be a very good NBA player for 10 years. I didn't worry about what he shot. I knew he could shoot. The reason I really liked him was that he never backed down."

Ulis' heroes

Having played high school basketball in Chicago, Tyler Ulis figured to have someone from that city or the Bulls as his basketball hero.

Not so, his father said.

His son was a "big Allen Iverson fan," James Ulis said. "Chris Paul was definitely the player he wanted to play like. Very unselfish. Smaller guards who are very successful."

Scheduling conflict

Mike Taylor, who coached Tyler Ulis at Marian Catholic, was not able to attend the UK-UCLA game. Marian Catholic had a game Saturday evening.

"Everybody has their job to do," Taylor said.

1975 revisited

Perhaps the most memorable UK-UCLA game was the 1975 NCAA Tournament finals. Andre McCarter, who played for UCLA, vividly recalled Kevin Grevey's big game for UK: 34 points on 13-for-30 shooting.

"For us to take on that onslaught that he delivered, I guess that's why we were the champs," McCarter said. "He really went down fighting. So did the whole (UK) team."

McCarter said he is working on a coffee table book called The Anatomy of a Champion.

1998 revisited

ESPN analyst Sean Farnham played for UCLA against Kentucky in the 1998 Sweet 16 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"The noise and electricity in that facility was second to none," he said. "I remember when we were doing layups, everybody was, 'Man, I'm jumping higher today.' The adrenaline was going so much. We were a little tight, a little excited."


The attention paid to recruiting can obscure what's going on in the games. When asked if the CBS Sports Classic represented a chance to enhance Ohio State's recruiting effort in Chicago, Thad Matta said he had been concentrating on how his Buckeyes played.

"I need to open my eyes more," Matta said, perhaps facetiously.

Ex files

The Jessamine Journal noted last week that:

West Jessamine alumnus and former UK player Jarrod Polson has recently joined the Kentucky Non-Profit Funds team in Georgetown as vice president of sales and marketing.

Polson will be working with 100 schools, churches, missions, sports teams and other non-profit organizations to create ongoing monthly funds.

SECular holiday

Didn't see this coming: ESPN announced its Christmas morning offerings on the SEC Network.

From 6 to 10 a.m. the SEC Network will mix school fight songs (including On! On! U of K, of course) with such Christmas songs as Oh Christmas Tree, Jingle Bells and Twelve Days of Christmas.

Basketball talk

On Friday, Darrin Horn and his brother, Greg Horn, recorded an interview with longtime Tates Creek High School coach Nolan Barger.

The conversation touched on four decades of high school basketball in Lexington, Barger's coaching philosophy and the ever-evolving nature of the sport.

This "Hoops with Horn" will air on Darrin's/Nolan's birthdays, which are Christmas Eve, at 5:05 p.m. on WLRT-AM 1250.

V Foundation fund-raisers

Dick Vitale asked that the word be spread about two fund-raising options that will benefit The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

■ The 10th annual Dick Vitale Gala will be held May 15 in Sarasota, Fla. The honorees will be Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher and Tampa Bay Bucs Coach Lovie Smith.

More information is available at

■ All proceeds from a new book titled It's Awesome, Baby! will go to The V Foundation.

"There's a lot of John Calipari stuff in the book," Vitale said.

Autographed copies can be bought on the website The book is also available in stores.

'Blue to the bone'

Former UK wide receiver/kick returner Derek Abney turned 34 Friday.

Abney and his wife, Christina, live in Charleston, S.C., with their daughters, Eden, who is 4 and, Olive, who is 2. Abney works as an assistant terminal manager for Kinder Morgan Incorporated at their Port of Charleston terminal.

Although he grew up in Wisconsin, Abney attended a Rick Pitino camp at UK while junior high school age and won most outstanding camper or basketball player for his age group. "We still have the Pitino signed basketball he was given as a 'trophy,'" Abney's mother, Sylvia, wrote in an email. "Blue to the bone!"

Abney's parents are from Kentucky: Father Larry from Winchester and Syliva from Frankfort.

Happy birthday

To Jeff Brassow. He turned 44 on Saturday. ... To Roger Harden. He turned 51 on Friday. ... To Eric Manuel. He turns 47 on Sunday (today). ... To Rick Stansbury. The former Mississippi State coach, now an assistant at Texas A&M, turns 55 on Tuesday. ... To Cliff Hawkins. He turns 33 on Christmas Eve. ... To Myron Anthony. He turned 37 on Thursday. ... To Ron Jirsa. The former Georgia coach turns 55 Sunday (today).