2017-10-25 / Sports

Optimism of UK grid fans takes big hit

Vaught’s Views

Kentucky has just five wins in 52 years over Tennessee, one reason why many UK fans are skeptical about Saturday’s game rather than giddy like they were after the win at South Carolina (above). (Photo by Vicky Graff ) Kentucky has just five wins in 52 years over Tennessee, one reason why many UK fans are skeptical about Saturday’s game rather than giddy like they were after the win at South Carolina (above). (Photo by Vicky Graff ) Before Kentucky lost 45-7 at Mississippi State, most Kentucky fans were optimistic that UK was going to beat the Volunteers this year. Now going into Saturday’s game, the whole mood has changed because of the way UK was dominated by State.

Of course, it doesn’t take much to get UK fans paranoid about playing the Volunteers. Since 1965, UK has just five wins over Tennessee. That’s five wins in 52 years. Four of those wins came between 1976 and 1984. The other one came in 2011 with receiver Matt Roark playing quarterback because of injuries to UK’s other quarterbacks. But five times in 52 years. That’s embarrassing and why winning Saturday against the Vols is so important to UK fans.

The Vols have been in disarray. Coach Butch Jones, the coach many UK fans wanted when Mark Stoops was hired, has lost the Tennessee fan base with a 3-4 record and most UT fans want him fired now. The Vols have had disciplinary issues — a player made an obscene gesture to Alabama fans last week after returning an interception for a score. They have not scored an offensive touchdown this month.

Kentucky played its worst game of the season at Mississippi State. How it plays against Tennessee will define the 2017 season for coach Mark Stoops’s team — and possibly Stoops’s tenure at UK. Beat Tennessee, re-energize the fan base and keep talking about a nice bowl. Lose to Tennessee, see the fan base waver even more and keep talk alive about whether UK’s 5-1 start was “fool’s gold” and not a sign of progress.


Hamidou Diallo didn’t try to copy any one particular player when he was developing his style of play. Instead, he had four or five players he watched and tried to emulate in some way.

From NBA star Dwayne Wade, he tried to take his “craftiness” and various shots he had. He liked NBA star Russell Westbrook’s “speed and how he always goes downhill.” With Jimmy Butler, it was how he played defense as hard as he did offense. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan had a midrange offensive game that Diallo tried to copy.

“I really liked Wade. I wear No. 3 because that is his number,” Diallo said. “I think he is top five all time.”

Diallo has learned to study more film since arriving at Kentucky. He started watching film as a high school sophomore and then went to watching YouTube videos of his favorite players.

“But here I learned more about what to look for on film,” he said.

He knows his biggest strength is that he’s a “competitor” on both ends of the court.

“I just have to work on being consistent and not taking plays off,” he said.


He’s helped the United States win a gold medal in international competition as well as leading Bowling Green High School to the state championship last year as an eighth-grader. He recently became only the second freshman to be invited to Big Blue Madness in John Calipari’s nine years at UK.

So how did Zion Harmon — who said Madness “was great” after his trip — end up at Adair County High School in Columbia for his freshman season this year?

“He chose to go to Adair County,” said Mike Harmon, Zion’s father. “He has a good spiritual base and keeps things low key. At Adair County he can focus on what he needs to do 120 percent of the time. It will be a good balancing thing for him. If he gets caught up in rewards and not what it takes to get rewarded from hard work, then he has a problem.

“He has been the No. 1 player in his class since second grade (when he was 11 and in the fourth grade the NBC-TV affiliate in Washington, D.C., noted how the 93-pound Harmon normally scored 30 to 40 points per game in AAU play). He’s played with top AAU teams. At a young age he flew all over the country to play basketball. But with privileges and being in the limelight you have to learn how to balance everything.

“He could have gone to a number of prep schools. He has an opportunity to go to Adair and lead a team from nothing to something. With all his accomplishments and talent, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity for him to do something special.”

Rivals.com basketball recruiting writer Krysten Peek said to write Harmon off because of his size is a big mistake.

“The first thing that sticks out about him is how much smaller he is than most players, but he’s one of the quickest guards you will see. He has great court vision and is able to find guys in the post,” said Peek. “He’s young, but the way he carries himself is something special. He uses his size and quickness to his advantage. He can pickpocket anyone at any time. He was really impressive at the USA training camp.”

Harmon’s father says his son needed major leadership skills to help Bowling Green win a state title. That’s why he wants him to set high goals for Adair County this season.

“Adair County is a major challenge for him but I believe they can shock the state and country,” Mike Harmon said. “For me as a father, coming to Adair County eliminates a lot of weekday distractions for him. He can focus on the work he needs to do behind the scenes to get where he wants to go and to keep going there. I don’t ever want him to the point where he’s satisfied.”

While Zion Harmon is one of the top recruits in the 2021 class, he likely will reclassify to the 2020 class. Harmon, who turned 15 in March, is taking six core classes at Adair this year.

“He’s a pretty smart kid. He never struggles in school,” his father said. “Our goal is to finish high school in three years. That’s why he’s already getting stuff taken care of academically. I want him to stay focused and keep grinding. He’s a good kid at heart and adjusts to what comes his way.”

He already has scholarship offers from Tennessee, SMU and Stephen Austin with plenty more to be coming soon.

He’s from the Bethesda, Md., area but lived in Tennessee before coming to Bowling Green last season. Now he’s in a completely different type of spot in Columbia.

“Moving to Adair County has been tougher on him than I thought,” his father said. “But with great sacrifice comes great rewards. Besides, on weekends he’s always away doing stuff. During the week now he can just focus on academic/ athletics and just grind. In the long run, this will be really good for him. Some kids get swallowed up in the limelight. I want him to understand the source of everything he has become is because of Christ and to keep that focus and trust God in the midst of the many rewards he’s already got.”

. Junior Maci Morris knows a lot more is going to be expected out of her this season with the loss of stars Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator off last year’s team.

However, the former Bell County star also thinks she’s got the experience now to handle an expanded role.

“I think just having a year under my belt helped me be more confident last year and just knowing what was expected of me and with everything that happened (with players leaving) that I could not afford to get in foul trouble as much … but I did most of the games,” she said.

“I just felt like that I had more confidence to step up and be more vocal really helped our team and now I have to do that even more. Me and Coach (Matthew Mitchell) had a talk at the beginning of the year and he told me he needed me to be a hustler because that’s what could really help the team. If it was taking charges … I would try to do that if I messed up. Just tried to be resilient in every game. I did that.

“It is tough losing Evelyn and Epps, two great players. It’s going to be hard to replace — and that is really not a good word because you don’t want to have to do that. But me, Taylor (Murray) and Alyssa (Rice) have to step up and be team leaders. We have a lot of newcomers and we have to be able to set the tone of what the expectations are here.”

Morris plans to be more vocal and energetic, parts of being a better leader.

“We don’t want to lead them down the wrong path. We want to make sure they can follow somebody who is going to show them what it takes to win here. We are going to put in extra time and hopefully when they see that they will put in extra time, too,” Morris said. “If we are more vocal, hopefully it will help them be more vocal. It would be less awkward for them then.”

Mitchell is counting on Morris to be better on the floor, too. She improved dramatically last season and he thinks that trend will continue.

“Maci is someone who has taken advantage of her chance to get better,” the UK coach said. “She’s stronger, more agile, more athletic. She’s shooting better, moving better on defense than she ever has. I think she has a chance to have a really special junior season for us.”


Quote of the Week: “I wouldn’t say bossy, I mean he is really talkative, he’s a leader on the court. I love playing with point guards like that. He always knows what to do and he always getting everybody in their spots. He loves winning, so he’s a great point guard,” UK freshman P.J. Washington on point guard Quade Green.

Quote of the Week 2: “I was a big Gator fan. A lot of great players came out of there. They signed a guy named Emmitt Smith and it made no sense for me to go there. Until then, I thought I would be there but I had to make decision that was best for me. My dad is a closet Gator fan. He doesn’t like to admit it. But it’s all good,” UK receivers coach Lamar Thomas on how he ended up playing at Miami and not Florida.

Quote of the Week 3: “I don’t see a sure win left on the schedule. Kentucky has to eat some humble pie and get back to work,” UK Radio Network football analyst after UK lost 45-7 at Mississippi State.

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