Lexpatcast – Episode Two

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In what could be described as either irony or just horrible time management, denimjersey and myself were concerned with filling 30 minutes and ended up plowing along well past the 60-minute mark.  That wasn’t the only disaster.  My phone dropped our call about ten minutes in and my audio-editing skills had to be put to use when I (unintentionally) kinda-sorta OK’d drinking and driving when talking about the Rod Strickland situation.  But aside from the shitty cell phone service and laissez-faire attitudes towards serious crime, I think we did okay.  Not unlike last time, we’re a bit long-winded.  Topics of discussion include:

– Mr. Jersey’s take on Calipari’s first season with Kentucky

– The Rod Strickland DUI

– Tiger at Augusta

– Ben Roethlisberger

– The O.J. Chase

– The urgent need for a Lexpatcast theme song (I’m looking at you, tokenwalkon)

It goes without saying, but all segues are seamless.

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 1)

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 2)

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 3)

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Triumph of a Salesman

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John Calipari: The Salesman.  In essence, those four words are the reason that I’m still, no pun intended, not sold on the guy.  My argument is this: people like Calipari (i.e., guys who shape, craft, and code their every word to either overtly or covertly make a point, which almost always serves to improve your opinion of them) are the people I respect the least in my everyday life. You can’t trust a word they say, and there’s a sleaziness and a desperation to it that turns me off immediately.  No small part of this distrust stems from the last salesman we had as our head coach, Rick Pitino, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone how things turned out with him.

Calipari has both a personality and a history that supports this kind of behavior, and since he’s come to Kentucky I’ve constantly grappled with the idea of embracing and rooting for a guy that is so blatantly calculated.  I go back and forth.  Hell, the very first thing I wrote for this site was a fawning, overly-long catalog of all my favorite Calipari sales ploys.  Drake, LeBron, the Social Media Revolution, even the incessant It’s not about the money, it’s about Kentucky-line (which I ate up as much as anyone) that he dropped somewhere in the neighborhood of eleven-million times in his first week on the job.  All that stuff was a sale.  He used Drake to sell Kentucky to a certain crowd.  He used LeBron to sell it to a different crowd.  His fascination with Twitter gave him a platform to make his pitch to a viral audience on an as-often-as-he-wanted basis.  And his It’s not about the money… line was his initial (and genius) sell to the people he would have to continue selling himself to for as long as he stayed in Lexington.  Calipari realized something from the get-go that Billy Gillispie and Tubby Smith never did: Kentucky fans want a guy who holds this job in the same esteem that we hold it.  Almost as much as a winner, we want a guy who understands the privelage of being here.  Calipari came out of the gates singing the job’s praises (the anecdote about being in Rupp for the first time and knowing right then and there that this was where he wanted to coach some day, telling his Memphis team that Kentucky was the ‘Notre Dame’ of college basketball, his constant references to National Championship banners hanging above his head, etc.) and we couldn’t get enough of it.

Before that press conference, I wasn’t in favor of having him as our next head coach.  Afterward, he had me eating out of the palm of his hand.  “This guy gets it,” I said repeatedly to myself in my one-bedroom apartment.

It was exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it the most.

…..

For a salesman, what’s more important than knowing how to sell to your customers is knowing what to sell to them.  A guy selling you a car isn’t just selling you on four-wheel drive and gas-mileage, he’s building rapport, pinpointing doubt, and subsequently alleviating your concerns.  It’s a subtle art that is easy to spot yet hard to ignore.  I see Cal up there tugging on my heart strings with all his ‘Roman Empire’ talk, and I know exactly what he’s trying to accomplish, yet I can’t make myself turn away.  There’s a powerlessness that comes with hearing what you want to hear, even when you know the speaker knows exactly what they’re doing.

And as I already mentioned, Calipari came into Kentucky knowing what we needed to hear.  We’re a narcissistic fanbase; essentially, we’ve got a giant ego but low self-esteem.  We like to think of Kentucky as a premier program, but we’ve been known to set the bar a tad high and get a bit of an inferiority complex when we don’t measure up.  Before Calipari came here, we were playing second fiddle to Louisville in the state, not to mention being left out of the conversation entirely when it came to best programs in the nation.  Those were tough times for a fanbase as proud as us.  But Calipari’s big talk and recruiting prowess cured that instantly.  But just one year later, after an ugly loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight and five of our best players bolting for the NBA Draft, that pessimistic side of our personality started to rear its ugly head.

So what does Calipari do?  Again, he sells us exactly what we need: optimism.  Enter the newest Wildcats: Brandon Knight and Michael Gilchrist, the two best players in each of their respective classes.

All of the sudden, the mood of the fanbase does a complete 180.

Sure, we just lost the nucleus of the best Kentucky squad in over a decade.  So what?  Now we know we’ve got another, maybe better one coming in.  No more John Wall, the best college point guard prospect since Jason Kidd?  That’s alright, now we’ve got Brandon Knight ready to take his place.  How will we make up for all the scoring we lost to the NBA?  Michael Gilchrist, the best wing player to come out of high school since Kobe Bryant, is a pretty good start.

The best way to make someone forget about the past is to make them look forward to the future.

Again, exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it the most.

…..

Just so we’re clear, I’m not claiming to be the first person to say this.  Lots of people saw it for what it was.  However, I can assure you that none of them have a greater appreciation for it than me.

I could talk for days about Knight and Gilchrist.  I won’t (mostly in the interest of you, the readership – all eleven of you), but I will say that I’m (sort of) surprised people aren’t making a bigger deal out of this than they are.  Do these talking heads at ESPN and CBS not realize what they’re witnessing right now?  This is one of the great recruiting coops of our time.  He’s in the midst of putting together (indisputably) the best recruting class ever for 2011, putting together another blockbuster one for 2010, and doing it all after putting together (arguably) the best recruiting class ever in 2009.  I can guarantee you this, if Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams had done it, your ears would be bleeding as a result.  But Calipari isn’t Coach K or Roy, so when he signs guys like Wall and Cousins, they suddenly become guys that “could only play for someone like Calipari.”  I’m torn between laughing at and punching people who produce this sort of word-vomit.

You know who else recruited guys like Wall and Cousins, and now Knight and Gilchrist?  Every motherfucker in the country.  If Wall’d gone to Duke (which he almost did) been a one-and-done (which he would’ve been), and gotten a 3.4 GPA in the process (which he did at Kentucky), you’d be reading a thousand stories about how, despite being an extraterrestrial-type talent who knew his time at this level would be short, he treated the college game with the integrity it deserves.  But since he plays for Calipari at Kentucky, people are writing stories and posts like this one, in which they imply, with absolutely no basis, that Wall and Cousins are not finishing out their semesters.  (And this is another post for another day, but if they aren’t, so what?  Integrity in college sports went out the window when the NCAA did nothing to combat the NBA age-limit, and essentially opened the door for corruption and offered it a drink.)

But fuck those guys.  Calipari’s doing it his way and he’s doing it in a way that only he could conjure: build it up, tear it down, then rebuild it in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.  The best players from two separate recruiting classes on the same day…has anything close to that ever happened before?  And does anyone believe anything other than that it was completely of Calipari’s creation?

What I’m getting at with all this is, of the numerous Calipari sales since coming to Kentucky, the great Knight-Gilchrist heist of April 14th, 2010 may go down as his greatest yet.  Brandon Knight and Michael Gilchrist, the #1 rated player in the 2010 recruiting class and the #1 rated player in the 2011 class, both committing to Kentucky on the same day, just over sixty minutes apart.

Exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it the most.

Lexpatcast – Episode One

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Finally!  It only took me two-and-a-half weeks to figure it out, but the inaugural installment of the Lexpatriates Podcast is finally online.

Listen to ReverseLexPat and myself nervously (and drunkenly — but only to combat the nerves) stumble and vocal-pause our way through a 50-minute conversation ranging from John Calipari’s first season in Lexington to Tiger Woods’ comeback to why Interested In: Wayne Turner may have been a more strategic blogging alias.  Fair warning: both of us greatly underestimated our conversational savvy.  As a result, Reverse’s phone dies about 30 minutes in (almost certainly in response to the intensity of our chat), and we went just a bit over the 30-minute time limit we’d set for ourselves.  Oh well.  As RLP said just as we were about to sign off, our first foray into the podcasting world was, we think, “not at all a failure.”

Lexpatriates Podcast – Episode I (Part I)

Lexpatriates Podcast – Episode I (Part II)

Kentucky’s NBA Draft Prospects (Part III)

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All this chatter regarding the number of scouts in Rupp Arena tonight five Kentucky players declaring themselves eligible for the draft got me thinking: How many legitimate NBA prospects does Kentucky have on its current roster?  It’s been awhile since we’ve had more than one at a time, let alone several like we have this year.  Some are gimmes, others are works in progress, and there are even a few potential diamonds in the rough buried at the end of the bench.  Let’s break down the roster, layer-by-layer, in terms of perceived NBA talent.

Part I

Part II

The Randolph Morris Group (i.e., guys that really have no business going, but for whatever reason are bound and determined to anyways.)

Well, it finally happened yesterday.  All five of Kentucky’s NBA prospects declared for the draft, including Daniel Orton.  Without a doubt, Orton’s departure is the most baffling of the group.  I think anyone who watched his freshman season would agree that his game doesn’t exactly scream ‘One And Done.’  Orton only averaged three points per game this past season.  Ditto for his rebound average.  He’s a bit soft for a guy his size.  His offensive skill-set is non-existent.  And despite being something of a shot-blocking presence, he commits too many silly fouls and is far from a complete defender.

In short, Orton didn’t give Kentucky fans a whole lot to be excited about.

However, he does have one thing that always gives NBA GM’s plenty to be excited about: size.

Despite all his shortcomings, Orton is 6-10, 260 lbs. with a chiseled frame and broad shoulders.  Translation: Upside.  Forget about all the stuff he can’t do.  Think about what he could do.  He’s got an NBA body, runs the floor, has shown a talent for blocking some shots, and has the athleticism to play above the rim.  Who cares if he couldn’t get on the floor for more than 13 minutes a game in college?  This guy has star potential!

But before we go any further, I want to show you the averages of another 6-10, 260 lbs. guy, Randolph Morris, in his freshman season at UK.

Minutes – 19.8

Points – 8.8

Rebounds – 4.2

Blocks – .9

FG% – 53%

Now compare those with Orton’s:

Minutes – 13.2

Points – 3.4

Rebounds – 3.3

Blocks – 1.4

FG% – 53%

Keep in mind, Morris declared after his freshman season and went undrafted.  Part of that was attributable to Morris’ poor performances in pre-draft camps and individual workouts, but most of it was because teams got the chance to look past his NBA-caliber appearance and break his actual game down on tape.  Upon further review, teams decided that Morris 1) didn’t have much in terms of an offensive skill set and 2) wasn’t exactly hyper-motivated when he stepped on the court.  This was due in large part to the fact that 1) he didn’t and 2) he wasn’t.

With that said, could someone please explain to me what Daniel Orton’s game has that Randolph Morris’ didn’t?  Whatever it is, it’s making Daniel Orton a projected first-round pick (or lottery, depending on who you listen to) and made Randolph Morris undraftable.

At this stage (post-freshman year), they’re essentially the same player: big, raw, no go-to offensive move, lacking in the intensity department, etc.

I’m not saying Orton will go undrafted, or even get drafted and be a subsequent bust, I’m just saying the red flags are there for everyone to see.  And in this case, there’s a recent and obvious player for all GMs – and Kentucky fans –  to use as a comparison.  I just hope Orton’s first go ’round with the NBA Draft goes better than Morris’ did.

But the Morris comparisons aside, I can’t figure out why an NBA GM would be willing to take a chance on Orton in the first round.  Best case scenario, the guy becomes a contributor in two or three seasons.  I don’t think anyone actually believes that Orton is ready to step in and play serious minutes for an NBA team next year, so to take him in the first round (and pay him first-round money) would be a serious investment in your team’s future.  Throw in the character issues that (supposedly) plagued Orton all season and (supposedly) played a role in his inconsistent playing time, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a serious headache.

Orton may one day end up being a legit NBA center, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening very soon.  The kid’s got a lot of stuff he needs to get straightened out.

NBA Draft Express: Daniel Orton

Kentucky Basketball: We’re Back

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Alright, I’ve given it some time.  I’ve cooled off.  I’ve reflected.  I haven’t watched the game a second time, but it’s not like I need to.  There’s not a whole lot in the form of analysis that can be said about last night’s game against West Virginia that hasn’t already been said.  Basically, Kentucky picked a hell of a time to have their worst game of the season.  Their shooting was horrendous, their inability to get the ball inside to Cousins with any consistency was frustrating, and their defensive breakdowns, especially the ones on Mazzulla, were dumbfounding.  It was one of those Murphy’s Laws games; anything that could go wrong did go wrong.

But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, it’s not like this kind of game was completely unforseeable.  Lots of people, including myself, were terrified when they saw that West Virginia was the two-seed in our bracket.  The reason: we can’t survive a stinker against those guys.  And once again, if we’re being completely honest, we’ve had plenty of stinkers this year.  Luckily for us, they mostly came against teams like Miami (OH), a Louisville team that’s down this season, Georgia, and Alabama.  Had we been playing in a conference where the gap in talent between the top schools and the rest isn’t as great, like the Big 12 or the Big East, I think there’s be some serious question marks in regard to whether or not we’d have put together a win-loss record that comes close to the one we did.  It really comes down to this: This team, as talented as they were, often played below their potential.  With the exception of Arkansas, the first game against Florida, the SEC-tourney game against Tennessee, ETSU, and Wake Forest, I can’t think of any games where we were able to keep it together for a full (or even for the majority of) 40 minutes.  This team had lots of bad tendencies: coming out of the gates flat; building a 15-point lead and taking their foot off the accelerator; settling for too many outside shots; too many turnovers; inconsistent production for the 3-spot; the belief that they could coast for 30 minutes then turn it on for the final ten and be alright; giving up too many open 3’s….all of these were tendencies this team fought all season long.  There were times – most notably after the Wake game – when it looked like we’d turned the corner on a lot of those problems.  But in the end, almost all of them, at one point or another, reared their ugly head in the West Virginia game.  We all knew going into this one that our C-game wouldn’t be enough, and it wasn’t.  Not even close.

Now, the attention shifts toward next season.  Who will stay and who will go?  From what I’ve read, Wall, Cousins, and Patterson are gone.  Good for them; they need to go.  The question marks are Bledsoe and Daniel Orton.  Bledsoe’s projected (at the moment) as a lottery pick, but I don’t expect it to stay that way.  Orton, I believe, is projected as a late first-rounder on most draft boards.

I will say this, if Bledsoe’s stock stays where it is (which, I’ve already said, I don’t think it will), it will be really tough for him not to go.  Even if he comes back and kills it next year, it’s hard to imagine him rising higher than the late lottery.  However, I expect his stock to take a bit of a dip after these last two tournament games.  If you remember, all this lottery talk involving Bledsoe’s happened exactly twice this year: after his 25-pointer against Florida in Gainesville, and after his eight-trey, 29-point performance against ETSU in the opening round of the tournament.  This gives me the sense that teams are really trying to talk themselves into this kid, because for anyone who has watched him play much this season, he doesn’t scream lottery pick.

Ditto for Daniel Orton.  He’s had flashes where he looks like a legit prospect, but he’s had plenty more that make him look like a raw talent that is, at this point, a bit timid and in serious need of another year or two of college ball.

(I’ll talk more about these two and the rest of Kentucky’s pro prospects in the coming weeks.)

But above all else, this game, as well as this season as a whole, should make us appreciate the transition from last season to this one.  It was almost exactly one year ago today that Billy Gillispie was fired and the program, along with being a national punchline, was in total disarray.  We were coming off our worst season in twenty years, our perceived savior had proven to be a fraud, our old coach was leading Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament, our other old coach was leading Louisville to the overall number one seed, and to top it off, the players were rumored to planning a mass exodus.

Two months later, we’d hired Calipari, signed the best recruiting class in history, and re-energized a fanbase that was in desparate need of some good news.

Say what you want about Calipari being a sleaze, but the guy has absolutely killed it since coming to UK.  While we now know that we won’t be hanging our 8th National Championship banner in Rupp this season, we can rest assured that we’ve reclaimed our spot atop the national landscape.  Calipari, through myriad ways that make even this 4,000-worder seem dated, has made Lexington the capital of college basketball again.  And don’t think the rest of the country hasn’t taken notice.  In one year, Calipari’s turned an NIT team into the most-talented in the country.  LeBron James, Drake, Magic Johnson, and Mike Tomlin are wearing Kentucky blue in Rupp Arena.  Kentucky’s leading SportsCenter every night.  John Wall, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins each graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at some point this season.  And it’s looking more and more like  Brandon Knight, the best high school player in the country, will be playing in Lexington next season.

Make no mistake about it, regardless of what happened against West Virginia last night, The Roman Empire is back.  And that, my friends, is no small consolation prize.

Tragedy Strikes: WVU over UK, 73-66

I don’t know that I’m in a rational-enough state of mind to get too heavy with the analysis, so this one will be quick.

– Kentucky picked a terrible time to have arguably their worst shooting performance of the year.  Part of that can be attributed to WVU’s D, but just as much should be put on a poor shooting day by the Cats.  This is something this team’s battled all year long.  Somedays they hit shots, somedays they don’t.  Today was one of the days they didn’t, and WV not only is too good of a team to do that against, but on top of that they were hitting shots from everywhere.

– Three stats that killed Kentucky:

1)   4-for-32 from 3-point range compared to 10-for-23 by WVU. That one’s a no-brainer.

2) 16-for-29 from the foul line. You just aren’t going to beat many good teams shooting free throws like that.

3) Only 10 assists for the entire game. I don’t know what our season low is, but that’s got to be it or close to it.

– There’s really not much to say beyond this: When Kentucky doesn’t hit shots, they become infinitely more beatable.  Today they didn’t hit anything, and as a result, WV was able to shut them down.

I hope to have more later on tonight, once I’m able to settle down and think about today’s game and this season with a level head.  I feel like an upset parent right now.  It’s not that I’m angry, I’m just so disappointed.

Get Ready for the Best Game of the Tournament

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“The Best Game of the Tournament” – That’s what people were calling the potential WV-UK match up when they were filling out their brackets a few weeks back.  At that time, just about everyone was picking West Virginia to pull the upset; now, the consensus is shifting back towards UK.  Part of that is due to the way Kentucky’s played in their first three games of the tournament, and part of it is due to the injury to Truck Bryant.  But even without him, WV still matches up with Kentucky better than any team left in the field. Ebanks has already said he’ll be guarding Wall, and you won’t find many players in the country with more length and athleticism than Ebanks.  I believe he’s 6’8” and it’s almost all limbs.

But as dangerous as WV is, people need to remember that Kentucky is still much, much more talented.  I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but if we hit shots from the outside, it doesn’t matter who we’re up against.  This team can score in ways that West Virginia can’t, and if we do that tomorrow night, we’ll be just fine.

Also, I’m not looking ahead, but I just want to be the first to say it: If Kentucky beats WV and Duke beats Baylor (which I think will actually be a tough match up for them), the Duke-UK contest will be the most-watched national semi-final game ever.  The hype leading up to it will be unreal, and I can’t think of a team I’d rather beat if we make it that far.  I’ll talk more about this if/when it actually happens.

I’ll leave you with this article by Yahoo!’s Dan Wetzel.  He does a great job of explaining how and why this game is so important to the people of West Virginia and Kentucky.  There aren’t many (if any) states whose flagship schools have more clout within their respective borders than these two.