UK Men's Basketball

The 10 best in Kentucky sports for 2015

Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic champion American Pharoah had his chin rubbed at his barn on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic champion American Pharoah had his chin rubbed at his barn on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. Herald-Leader

The top finishers in the 2015 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sportsman of the Year voting:

1. American Pharoah

Why 2015 was a very good year: In addition to winning the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Pioneerofthenile out of Littleprincessemma won seven of eight races in 2015. He finished atop the North American Race Earnings standings ($8,288,800) by more than $6 million over runner-up Tepin ($2,092,520).

Two other cool things to know:

1). Among the 12 horses that have won the Triple Crown, American Pharoah ran the fifth-fastest Kentucky Derby (2:03.2, tied with War Admiral), the seventh-fastest Preakness (1:58.46) and the second-fastest Belmont (2:26.65).

2.) American Pharoah’s stud fee during his first season standing at Ashford Stud, Coolmore America’s North American breeding facility, will be $200,000 per live foal. The country’s leading sire, Tapit, commands a $300,000 stud fee.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: American Pharoah is the first horse racing figure to finish in the top five of voting since jockey Calvin Borel was fifth in 2010 and third in 2009.

What the voters said:

1.) “A horse of a generation! He became the first horse in 37 years to win the American Triple Crown. His absolutely spellbinding romp in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland and the way he galvanized an entire sport makes this Kentucky-bred a runaway winner as the Kentucky Sportsman of the Year.” — Mike Cameron, WLXG-AM, Lexington

2.) “American Pharoah’s run to the Triple Crown was just what horse racing needed. He begins it in Kentucky at the Derby, returns to the Bluegrass State to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and retires to stud in Versailles. What a year.” — Danny Weddle, WFTM-AM/FM, Maysville

2. John Calipari

Why 2015 was a very good year: Employing two distinct “platoons” to utilize all the talent at his disposal, Calipari coached Kentucky (38-1) to an undefeated regular season (34-0), the SEC regular season and tournament championships and UK’s fourth Final Four trip in five seasons. Was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Two other cool things to know:

1.) Through Calipari’s first six seasons as UK coach, Kentucky is 22-4 in NCAA Tournament games, 3-3 in Final Four contests. In Rick Pitino’s first six, postseason-eligible seasons as UK coach (1992-97), Kentucky was 22-5 in NCAA Tournament games, 3-2 in Final Four contests.

2.) Calipari is currently the only men’s basketball coach in the country with as many as 189 wins at three different schools.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: Over the last seven years, Calipari has finished in the top three of voting six times — first in 2009, second in 2011, 2012 and 2015, and third in 2010 and 2014.

What the voters said:

1.) “Now when we think of ‘Platoon,’ the movie comes to mind second. A 38-0 start and the Hall of Fame, all in one year.” — Kent Taylor, WAVE-TV, Louisville

2.) “Not an easy thing to do, helping a team stay undefeated till the Final Four. Cal made it look easy. He truly is an elite-level coach, on and off the court.” — Bruce Snyder, cn2 Sports, Louisville

3. Brandon Doughty

Why 2015 was a very good year: The Western Kentucky University quarterback led the nation in passing yards (5,055), completion percentage (71.9) and touchdown throws (48) while leading the Hilltoppers (12-2) to the Conference USA championship and a victory over South Florida in the Miami Beach Bowl.

Two other cool things to know:

1.) A 6-foot-3, 220-pound, Davie, Fla., product, Doughty ended his Western career 15th in FBS history in passing touchdowns (111) and 16th in passing yards (12,855). He threw at least one touchdown pass in his last 28 games.

2.) CBSSports.com ranks Doughty as the ninth-best quarterback prospect and the 172nd-best overall prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: Doughty is the first active WKU sports figure to finish in the top three of voting since then-Western football coach Jack Harbaugh was third in 2002 after coaching the Toppers to the I-AA national championship.

What the voters said:

1.) “Doughty deserves a large portion of the credit for turning WKU into the state’s best football program in 2015.” — Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal

2.) “After seeing what WKU’s offense used to be, it’s surreal we started to take Brandon Doughty’s 400-yard, five-touchdown games for granted. But that’s just how electric he and the rest of the Hilltoppers offense were.” — Brad Stephens, The Bowling Green Daily News

4. Jeff Brohm

Why 2015 was a very good year: Coached Western Kentucky football team (12-2) to the Conference USA championship, a victory over South Florida in the Miami Beach Bowl, and a final ranking of 24th in the Associated Press’ top 25.

Two other cool things to know:

1.) In two seasons as WKU’s head coach, Brohm is 20-7. His 74.1-percent winning percentage is in the ballpark with the best FBS coaches in Kentucky history. Bear Bryant was 15-6 (71.4 percent) in his first two seasons as UK’s head coach (1946 and ’47); Bobby Petrino was 20-5 (80 percent) in the first two years (2003 and ’04) of his first stint at Louisville.

2.) How is this for a Kentucky football résumé? Brohm has won a high school state championship (Trinity, Class 4A, 1988) as a starting quarterback; he’s won a college bowl game (Louisville, Liberty Bowl over Michigan State) as a starting quarterback; and he has now won two bowl games and a league title as a head coach (Western, 2014 and ’15).

Sportsman of the Year factoid: With WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty third and Brohm fourth, this is the first time that WKU has ever had two of the top five finishers.

What the voters said:

1.) “The Louisville native continues to build WKU football in an exciting and refreshing way. His ongoing commitment with the Hilltoppers has brought increased pride and attention for the growing program.” — Michael McCammon, CardinalAuthority.com, Louisville

2.) “I mean, Western Kentucky ended the season in the top 25. Think about that for awhile.” — Chad Bishop, WBKO-TV, Bowling Green

5. Karl-Anthony Towns

Why 2015 was a very good year: The Kentucky freshman big man (10.3 points a game, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocked shots) emerged as UK’s go-to offensive scorer and helped the Wildcats to a 38-1 season that ended with a trip to the Final Four. Became the third UK player in the past six years to go No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft when Minnesota selected him.

Two other cool things to know:

1.) When Towns, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound Metuchen, N.J., product, was named SEC Freshman of the Year, he became the sixth straight UK big man to win the award — DeMarcus Cousins (2010), Terrence Jones (2011), Anthony Davis (2012), Nerlens Noel (2013), Julius Randle (2014).

2.) In Kentucky’s final two games, a tense, two-point victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight and the crushing Final Four loss to Wisconsin, Towns hit 17 of 24 shots (70.8 percent) and averaged 20.5 points and seven rebounds.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: There has been a Kentucky men’s basketball player in the top five six times in the past seven years.

What the voters said:

1.) “The only thing missing from Towns’ 2015 was a national championship. The freshman wasn’t always considered the No. 1 NBA Draft pick during the 2014-15 season, but his play and resolve made him the easy choice.” — T.J. Walker, CatsIllustrated.com

2.) “UK fans not only watched him develop into the number one draft pick as part of one of the best UK basketball teams in history, they also fell in love with him and wished he would date their daughter.” — Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio

6. Philip Haywood

Why 2015 was a very good year: Belfry High School football coach became the first in state history to exceed 400 career wins (now 403-128) and led the Pirates (14-1) to their third straight Class 3A state title, the head coach’s fifth state championship.

Two other cool things to know:

1.) Haywood won his first game as a head football coach for Prestonsburg High School in 1975 over Breathitt County — which was coached by Dudley Hilton. When Haywood became the all-time Kentucky wins leader in 2011 with 346 victories, the mark he broke (345 career wins) was shared by Hilton and former Newport Central Catholic Coach Bob Schneider.

2.) If you spot Haywood on the sidelines on a Friday night, you will see him dressed in coat and tie. It is a practice he picked up as a student teacher at Tates Creek High School from iconic former Commodores Coach Roy Walton, who who always dressed up on the sidelines.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: Haywood is the first high school coach to finish in the top 10 since Trinity football coach Bob Beatty was fifth in 2011.

What the voters said:

1.) “Philip hasn’t wavered in dedication to community or game plan, resulting in the number of wins and trophies that make a legend.” — Kenny Rice, NBC Sports

2.) “A leader of student athletes, Haywood is also a mentor to many coaches within the commonwealth. A true Kentucky treasure.” — Freddie Maggard, Kentucky Sports Radio

7. Kendra Harrison

Why 2015 was a very good year: The University of Kentucky track star won an NCAA indoors championship in the 60-meter hurdles (7.87 seconds) and an NCAA outdoors championship in the 100 hurdles (12.50), along with a second-place finish in the NCAA outdoors 400 hurdles. Took the silver medal in the 100 hurdles at the U.S. Championships.

Two other cool things to know:

1.) Led by Harrison and sprint star Dezerea Bryant, both transfers from Clemson, the Kentucky women finished second to Oregon in the 2015 NCAA track and field team championships, the best finish in UK history.

2.) A product of Clayton, N.C., Harrison has a unique family. Of Gary and Karon Harrison’s 11 kids, nine are adopted, including Kendra. In a household where the parents are white, the Harrison clan includes children who are Korean, Bolivian, black and white.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: Harrison is the first women’s hurdler to finish in the top 10 since Eastern Kentucky University star Jackie Humphrey was fifth in 1988.

What the voters said:

1.) “You’d be hard pressed to find even the most die-hard UK fan who could name someone on the track team. But Kendra transcended that on her way to becoming a national champion and, perhaps, the best to ever run here.” — Mary Jo Ford (nee Perino), WLXG-AM, Lexington

2.) “Kendra Harrison became perhaps the greatest UK track athlete of all time, was among the best in the world — and managed to earn a spot on the academic All-America team.” — Dick Gabriel, WLAP-AM, Lexington

8. Emma Talley

Why 2015 was a very good year: The former Caldwell County High School golf star won the women’s NCAA individual championship for Alabama by one shot after birdieing the final hole.

Two other cool things to know:

1.) The 2015 NCAA championship was not the first major national victory for Talley. In 2013 she won the 2013 U.S. Amateur title.

2.) Talley’s reputation for being a “sportsman” in her home state was established in 2009. Then a Caldwell County sophomore, Talley was going for her second straight high school state championship. She had it, too, having won the state tournament by six shots. However, she noticed she had signed an incorrect scorecard and called the penalty on herself. Her disqualification eventually kept her from being a four-time Kentucky high school state champion.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: Talley is the first women’s golfer to finish in the top 10 since ... Emma Talley was ninth in 2009. Talley is the only women’s golfer ever to finish in the top 10.

What the voters said:

1.) “After capturing the Division I women’s golf individual championship and advancing to the final round of LPGA qualifying school, Talley set a good example by opting to return to Alabama to complete her education before turning pro. She is an exemplary ambassador for the western part of the state.” — Chris Jung, Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville

2.) “Talley is a future star, and has now won the U.S. Amateur title and NCAA championship title. This is only the beginning for Talley.” — Mike Stunson, Paducah Sun

9. Kash Daniel

Why 2015 was a very good year: Paintsville High School football star earned Mr. Football, the Paul Hornung Award and Gatorade Kentucky Player of the Year after starring as a linebacker (158 tackles) and a quarterback (1,315 yards passing with 15 touchdowns; 926 yards rushing and 22 TDs).

Two other cool things to know:

1.) A Kentucky Wildcats early enrollee, Daniel used a a stellar showing in a Rivals recruiting showcase in Charlotte, N.C., to go from recruiting afterthought to a player who would eventually have offers from Michigan, Louisville, South Carolina and UK.

2.) For a high school with an enrollment of some 218, Paintsville has had great success claiming major Kentucky high school sports awards. Besides Daniel’s 2015 Mr. Football honors, Paintsville products John Pelphrey and J.R. VanHoose were Mr. Basketball in 1987 and 1998, respectively.

Sportsman of the Year factoid: This is the second year in a row a high school football player has cracked the top 10. In 2014, Madison Southern star Damien Harris finished 10th.

What the voters said:

1.) “Kid cared so much and made himself into something when no one knew who he was in the tiny town of Paintsville.” — Jamie McCracken, WYMT-TV, Hazard

2.) “Cannot remember the last time a player vaulted so quickly into prominence from so completely out of nowhere. Carries the hopes of an entire town on his back, and has foregone opportunities at bigger-name (college) programs to try to make a mark on his home-state school.” — Zack Klemme, The Daily Independent, Ashland

10. Kelsi Worrell

Why 2015 was a very good year: Louisville Cardinals swimming star claimed NCAA championships in the 100-yard butterfly (:49.81) and 200 butterfly (1:51.11), and later set an American record in the 100-meter fly (:55.42).

Two other cool things to know:

1.) With Worrell, a product of Mt. Holly, N.J., starring, Louisville’s women finished sixth in the 2015 NCAA championships, the school’s best result ever.

2.) A bit of a swimming late bloomer, Worrell’s first international competition was last summer’s Pan American Games. She made the first time a charm, earning a gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly (57.24 seconds).

Sportsman of the Year factoid: Worrell is the first swimmer to crack the top 10 since Rachel Komisarz was eighth in 2004.

What the voters said:

1.) “Two-time NCAA champion, gold medalist in the Pan Am Games, an American record holder, and she is a tremendous positive influence in her community.” — Howie Lindsey, CardinalSports.com, Louisville

2.) “Swimming doesn’t get a ton of press, but Worrell took the swimming world by storm in 2015. Can’t wait to see what she does this summer (in the Olympics) in Brazil.” — Mark Blankenbaker, The Crunchzone.com, Louisville

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