2017-11-15 / Sports

Vaught’s Views


Sophomore Benny Snell is already the career leader in rushing touchdowns at UK and the first player to have consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. (Vicky Graff Photo) Sophomore Benny Snell is already the career leader in rushing touchdowns at UK and the first player to have consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. (Vicky Graff Photo) Former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard has seen enough. He says sophomore running back Benny Snell is the best UK running back he’s seen in his years of following Kentucky.

I’m a bit older than Maggard and watched Sonny Collins — and some others — before Maggard even knew about UK football. But I think I am on the same page as Maggard.

Snell is so good that his 17 carries for 116 yards and three scores in last week’s 44-21 rout at Vanderbilt seemed average. Of course, for Snell it was after back-to-back 176-yard games against Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Remember, he didn’t play until the third game of his freshman season and has three more games to go this year. Yet he’s already the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 27 and the first UK player ever to have consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He’s also just the third player in SEC history with 1,000 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in his freshman and sophomore seasons. The other two — Herschel Walker and Knowshon Moreno.

Snell says “doubters and haters” fuel his fire. He’ll have plenty of both this week when UK plays at Georgia. Kentucky will again be an underdog, but after Auburn tore apart previously unbeaten Georgia last week, Snell will have that chip on his shoulder believing UK can win.

“We all believe in Benny and if we execute the way we can, we can play with anybody in the country because of what he can do,” center Drake Jackson said after the Vanderbilt win.

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Kentucky freshman center Nick Richards has probably been better than anticipated on offense but not as good as expected on defense — or at least not yet.

Sporting News college basketball columnist Mike DeCourcy says that is not a bad thing this early in the season.

“Offensively he is not a super skilled post guy. He is not Elton Brand. He does not have all those undo the defense moves. Can he catch it? Yes. Can he turn and score? Okay, you can work on that,” DeCourcy said before UK opened its season.

“If he has not been good defensively, it’s okay. He’s a freshman. That is not a problem at all. It’s an issue for Cal (John Calipari) to work on and he may lose minutes, but that is something he can make up between now and March. That’s not really a great concern at this point.

“Whatever defensive deficiencies he has it is not physical. He just doesn’t know how to do it yet. That’s one of the reasons I say oneand done is a good thing. Imagine Richards having that problem this year in the NBA. Instead, he can learn from Cal and get better and make Kentucky better at the same time.”

DeCourcy, like many others, sees freshman Kevin Knox as the Kentucky player with the most potential. He anticipates P.J. Washington being the most consistent from game one to the end of the season.

What about freshman Hami- dou Diallo? He’s considered the best athlete not only at Kentucky, but one of the best in the country.

“I think that Hami is a talent. Sometimes I think because guys become highly rated … people just know he is a top 10 or 15 guy but they don’t know what each one of them is,” DeCourcy said. “It’s a question of what are they being rated for: college prospect, pro prospect. All that comes into it.

“He’s not a great shooter, but he has time to improve and is making some progress. He’s really a great up and down (the court) athlete but how good is he at picking you apart defensively. I am not sure he is great at that yet.”

University of Kentucky Radio Network analyst Mike Pratt has the same concern about Diallo’s feel for the game. DeCourcy said redshirting the second semester at UK was a move that had to help Diallo with that.

“He has a long ways to go. He is not there yet. If I looked at Kentucky’s team and was having a college draft, he would be my third pick. Maybe my fourth depending on whether I needed a point guard,” DeCourcy said.

“Hami is the guy who is the biggest variable. Can he be great? Yes. Can he be great this year? Maybe. I am not sure. I worry a little bit about how people will react to his struggles and how he will react. That’s something nobody knows at this point.”

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DeCourcy’s specialty is not college football. However, he lived in Cincinnati while current Tennessee football coach Butch Jones was the coach at Cincinnati.

DeCourcy was not been surprised that Jones did not reach the level of success that Tennessee fans wanted — including losing at Kentucky this year.

“Tennessee needs an A- coach or better. Butch is probably a Bminus. At Cincinnati he was good enough, but at Tennessee he was just not good enough,” DeCourcy said days before Jones was fired by the Vols.

“Tennessee is still a program if you are going to get it right, you have to get a great coach. I am not sure how many are out there and how many would be willing to take the Tennessee job.”

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Harlan County senior Blair Green went ziplining with Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell when he made a home visit before she signed with the Cats.

She’s already talked to him about not only coming back, but also bringing the entire team.

“I do not know if I can get them all on the zipline,” Green said. “Coach (Niya) Butts, I don’t know. She has already said no. She is terrified of heights. Coach Butts, we would have to carry her (to the zipline).”

Green said Mitchell told her a story about him and legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt having to carry Butts up an observation tower when the Vols were on an overseas trip when she was a player there.

“They had to carry her up just so she could look at it. I don’t think we are going to get her ziplining,” Green said.

Mitchell said he was not thrilled about going ziplining, either.

“That just shows my deep admiration and love that I have for Blair Green. That was not the top of my choices that we would spend the day doing. That is what she wanted to do and it was a lot of fun,” Mitchell said. “I cannot remember how many hundreds of feet in the air we were but it was too many hundreds of feet for my taste. About 10 feet is about my limit and what I like.

“It was gorgeous and beautiful and fun. It was Blair and her mom and dad, so that was a unique experience. It tells you a little bit about her. She is adventurous and has some courage about her. I will tell you we were really high up there a couple of times. But it ended up being a fun day. It was good for me.”

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Junior receiver Kayaune Ross has learned more than football the last two seasons from receivers coach Lamar Thomas.

“He’s big on life lessons. That’s what kind of guy he is. He has been through the situations. It’s like trying to show the younger guys everything he has been through, and we respect him for that,” Ross said.

“Coach L.T. is very passionate. You can just tell sometimes he wants to be out there again. He tries to give us the knowledge on little things that we can do to improve our game. He was once in my position. It’s nice to have somebody like that to get tips and reminders from, especially knowing that he cares about a lot more than just football with us.”

He had just two catches for 10 yards in 2016 after transferring from junior college. This year he has 10 catches for 160 yards.

“It’s about being a team player and being ready when your number is called. Being the type player I am, I want the ball. But at the end of the day I can’t worry about not having the ball or when it is time to get the ball my mind won’t be right,” Ross said.

“I thought I could do this. I am very comfortable. I am big. I am stronger than the DB going at me. There is not any DB that will be bigger or stronger than me. So I have that confidence. I have to play big.”

Ross said he’s become a better practice player and that has translated to game day — even though he wants to do a lot more than he has so far.

“It’s about what kind of player you are. It’s all about how you adapt to a situation that defines your character. However I respond to the situation shows what type of character that I have,” Ross said. “I still have so much to grow on. Now we are helping each other. We are in it for each other. I am helping the freshmen out. They are helping me out.

“I don’t want to limit my game ever. I don’t know how great or how good I can be. Honestly I feel like I am getting better every day. When you handle off the field stuff, it makes it better on the field. My coach tells me that and he might not think I listen to him, but I understand it. I knew it before but it is just applying it now. I really believe having stuff right in your life outside football helps you in football.”

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Kentucky men’s and women’s basketball teams both played games last Friday and Sunday at about the same times. Mitchell wishes the conflicts could be avoided but also knows fans still find a way to get to the game they want to see.

“Time and again when we have been faced with challenges like this it ends up not being that challenging. Our fans come out and watch us play and the guys get great crowds, too. We are fortunate that we have two great groups of people that come out to watch us play and when we get into these very rare situations it doesn’t every feel negative or from what I can tell impact us negatively at all,” he said.

“We are always trying to work in partnership with each other. Sure we give consideration to those things. It is not the end all, be all either.”

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Kudos to Na t han Schwake, assistant athletics director for marketing, for making sure that Kami Bivins and her daughters — Kambri, 12, and Aubry, 10 — had a special memory at last week’s Kentucky-Utah Valley game.

Their father, Eric Bivins, was an Army veteran who lost his life because of PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome). He was a huge Kentucky basketball fan and the girls made a video asking UK to honor him at a game so others would know he was a “hero” for his service.

Schwake did even more. He invited them to the game and then played the girls’ video on the big screen at Rupp Arena as they stood at midcourt with the UK cheerleaders. Big Blue Nation Cares, a group that helps special UK fans, had provided 12 additional game tickets for family and friends and both the Hyatt Regency in Lexington (Friday) and Beaumont Inn/ Old Owl Tavern in Harrodsburg (Thursday) had provided lodging.

“I met a very special veteran family. Introducing veterans at the UK basketball games is always one of my favorite announcements,” Maria Montgomery, a former Miss Kentucky who works UK basketball games and had dinner with the family the night before the game, said. “But this family was particularly special because of the video these girls made hoping UK would see it … and they did.”

Even better, Schwake helped arrange for Patrick Sparks, who went to high school with Eric Bivins, to be at the game and sit with the Bivins family. It was Sparks’s first time back in Rupp Arena since his UK playing career ended.

Former UK All-American Mike Pratt, who now works for the UK Radio Network, said he got to briefly visit with Sparks.

“I hope he comes back to a few more games now. I loved his toughness on the court,” Pratt said.

Bivins said everything about the trip was amazing. She said it was “life changing” for her daughters and a time she’ll never forget.

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