John Clay

Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson hold keys to next UK basketball season

Before Saturday, would anyone have called Tyler Herro a defensive stopper?

Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro talks about the defensive job he did guarding Wofford’s Fletcher Magee, college basketball’s all-time leading three-pointer shooter. UK defeated Wofford 62-56 in an NCAA Tournament game on March 23, 2019.
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Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro talks about the defensive job he did guarding Wofford’s Fletcher Magee, college basketball’s all-time leading three-pointer shooter. UK defeated Wofford 62-56 in an NCAA Tournament game on March 23, 2019.

An all hoops edition of random notes:

No surprises so far from the annual decision-making process with regard to Kentucky basketball players. PJ Washington is gone for certain. Ashton Hagans is returning. Keldon Johnson has declared for the draft, but left the door open to return.

The key could be Tyler Herro. Will the 6-foot-5 freshman follow Johnson’s lead and test the waters with an option to come back to campus? The guess here is he will. I doubt both return, but If either Johnson or Herro does, the Cats should be in terrific shape for next season.

Virginia’s national title is continuing evidence there is more than one way to win it all. Kentucky (2012) and Duke (2015) did it with one-and-dones. Villanova (2016 and 2018) did it with veterans and three-point shooters. North Carolina (2017) did it with experience. And Virginia (2019) did it with defense.

The common denominator is terrific coaching. Whether it’s John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Jay Wright, Roy Williams or now Tony Bennett, we’re talking about some of the best coaches in the game.

Despite all the national title preview talk about Virginia-Texas Tech being a boring matchup between teams with boring styles, the game’s TV rating was up 20 percent from last year’s Villanova-Michigan finals. Overall, the NCAA Tournament’s ratings were up 11 percent from last year.

Interesting route SEC members Vanderbilt and Arkansas took to filling their coaching vacancies. Each opted for someone with an NBA background. Arkansas hired Nevada Coach Eric Musselman, who was a head coach with Golden State and Sacramento in the NBA. Vanderbilt picked ex-North Carolina star Jerry Stackhouse, who was an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies. Before that, Stackhouse was a head coach in the G League.

“I can get any coach in the NBA on the phone,” said Stackhouse at his introductory press conference. “I can get pretty much any GM on the phone. So can (Vandy athletics director Malcolm) Turner. At the same time, you’re gonna get one hell of an education when you come here. That’s the pitch. There’s not much more than that.”

With Alabama hiring Nate Oats and Texas A&M hiring Buzz Williams, the only SEC coaching question mark now is what happens with Will Wade at LSU. The FBI reportedly interviewed the suspended head coach last week.

After being spurned by Calipari, Jamie Dixon and Rick Barnes, UCLA hired Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin. The guess here is Cronin will do a good job for the Bruins. True, he was never able to get the Bearcats over the NCAA Tournament hump, but he did take UC to nine straight tournament appearances.

Cincinnati could do a lot worse than hiring Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen. Reportedly, ex-Cincinnati star and current Memphis Grizzlies assistant Nick Van Exel is also a candidate for the job.

Kudos to Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl, who when asked by ESPN about the controversial calls at the end of the Tigers’ Final Four loss to Virginia, advised Auburn fans “to get over it.”

Great to see John Pelphrey back in the head coaching chair. The former UK star was named head coach at Tennessee Tech last week. With both Murray State and Belmont getting NCAA Tournament bids this year, the OVC continues to grow stronger.

And congrats to Mark Pope, one of our favorites, who was named the new head coach at BYU on Wednesday. The former UK star was 77-56 in four seasons as the head coach at Utah Valley. Remember, his Utah Valley team lead UK 34-25 at halftime of the 2017-18 season opener at Rupp Arena.

We depart with a note about the 2012 NCAA Final Four MVP. Ex-UK center Anthony Davis wore a T-shirt under his blazer for the New Orleans Pelicans’ final home game on Tuesday night. Davis has asked to be traded. His T-shirt said, “That’s all Folks!”

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