2017-11-22 / Sports

Star Bol Bol will play twice in Kentucky

Vaught’s Views


ESPN college basketball analysts agree that Kevin Knox Jr. has to be a star for UK to have a special season. (Jeff Houchin photo) ESPN college basketball analysts agree that Kevin Knox Jr. has to be a star for UK to have a special season. (Jeff Houchin photo) Bol Bol not picking a college during the early signing period had to a positive for Kentucky basketball.

Bol is the gifted 7-3 center who is ranked No. 1 at his position in the 2018 recruiting class. At one time he was thought to be a UK lean until he failed to make the U.S.A. team coached by John Calipari last season that included UK freshman P.J. Washington and UK signee Immanuel Quickley.

Calipari did not make the decision to leave Bol off the team, but that move still seemed to cool his interest in Kentucky. Some thought it might pick back up when he did make an official visit to UK, but it looked like he was going to sign with Oregon.

Instead, Bol not only did not sign with Oregon, he also changed prep schools. Instead of playing in California, he’s now at Findlay Prep (Nev.) where the coach is Paul Washington Sr., P.J. Washington’s father. Remember that Paul Washington was one of the few last spring who thought Kevin Knox Jr. would fit best at Kentucky and never missed a chance to tell Knox’s parents — or the player — that same thing. Of course, Knox is now at Kentucky.

“At this point I am just excited to get him on my team and I am worried about getting him acclimated to Findlay,” Washington said after Bol’s transfer in mid- November. “But if his family asks me any questions, I feel like I am an expert on Kentucky basketball.”

Bol shined on the Nike summer EYBL when he averaged 24.1 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game.

“We just got lucky and had a scholarship available,” Washington said. “Everything fit perfectly. He has a high IQ. He really knows the game. It’s not rocket science. You have got to dribble, pass, block shots, score. He can do a lot of things.

“I obviously knew who he was. I had never had a conversation with him. I had just watched him play. He played against (Washington’s youngest son) Spencer. P.J. played in some camps with him. But I never had any real interactions with him.

“He was in great situation in California. His mother had to get back to Kansas. By leaving California, it opened up where he could go and he just fit with our roster and coaching style.”

Findlay Prep — ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today — plays twice in the Marshall County Hoop Fest. It will play Orangeville Prep Dec. 1 at 5:30 CST and then take on Aspire Academy of Louisville and top 2019 prospect Charles Bassey at noon on Dec. 2.

“We will go much deeper and will shoot the ball a lot better this year,” Paul Washington said. “We can go 10-11 deep. It’s exciting to think I can sub a 7-3 player with another 7-3 player.”

The other 7-3 player is Connor Vanover, who will play for Memphis. The roster also includes Arkansas signee Reggie Chaney, who averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game for Findlay last year, and 6-7 Spencer Washington (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists per game last year). Findlay has also added Texas Tech signee Kyler Edwards, a 6-4 shooting guard; Wake Forest signee Jaime Lewis, a 6-3 point guard; San Diego State commit Nathan Mensah, a 6-9 forward; and T.J. Moss, a 6-3 senior combo guard who transferred from Memphis East.

“We have 11 seniors this year,” Paul Washington said. “Bol just adds another dimension for us and gives us even more versatility.”

Spencer Washington, P. J. Washington’s younger brother, had been slowed by an ankle injury but his father/coach said he’s fine and anxious to play in western Kentucky again.

“Fans treated us great last year and we are looking forward to being back,” Paul Washington said.

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Kentucky ends regular-season play by hosting Louisville Saturday when it tries to beat the Cardinals for the second straight season and erase the memories from the 42-13 loss at Georgia. However, Louisville was listed as an early 9.5 favorite based on the way each team has played recently.

Speculation continues to run rampant about what bowl game Kentucky could play in this season. Many believe UK would not to go the Music City Bowl in Nashville because it is Dec. 29, the same day as the UK-Louisville basketball game. However, sources tell me not to rule out Nashville. Instead, I was told the Music City Bowl “wants UK really bad” despite the basketball conflict and would love to pair the Cats against Iowa.

Certainly there might be some UK fans who would like to see the basketball game and the bowl game. But there will be many more UK football fans delighted to spend New Year’s weekend in Nashville rather than going to Memphis or Texas. Of course, Kentucky could enhance its bowl position with a win over Louisville but even then depending on what happens with other SEC teams, the Cats could still learn that the Music City would be their best option.

One other note to consider for the UK-Louisville football game. There’s a chance it could be the final game for Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner. The Cards are bowl eligible but there is some concern about the recent problems with the Louisville athletics department and fan interest. Sources have also said there is some talk Jackson may opt not to play in a bowl game to avoid injury like several high-profile players did last year without hurting their draft status.

If that happens, his final college game will be at Kroger Field Saturday.

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For Kentucky to be a special team in March, college basketball analysts seem to agree that Kevin Knox Jr. has to be a special player like he was when he scored 20 points in UK’s loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic.

“Kentucky has a lot of good players, but I am not sure they have a great player. Kevin Knox could be. I watched him at the U.S.A. Basketball Trials in June, and he can get anywhere with the ball,” Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy said. “But is he a great player and can he finish plays? He has to prove that to me. If he makes shot he gets to, he will be a star.”

Former Indiana coach Tom Crean, an ESPN analyst now, says Knox has to be consistently good.

“He can be an inside-outside type of guy. He’s got to be a guy that is going to be a mainstay on their team defensively as they go into what John (Calipari) is doing, but very much being able to make plays and get a confidence level hopefully early for that team for them to continue to understand that they can play through those guys,” Crean said.

Another ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas, believes Knox will be the team’s leading scorer.

“John will want him to drive it and to get to the free-throw line and to make those type of plays, but he’s also got to be a rebounder. He’s capable of rebounding, and he’s going to have to rebound on both ends and run the floor and defend at a really high level without fouling for them to be as good as they want to be,” Bilas said.

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Freshman Madison Lilley has played a huge role in the success of UK’s volleyball team this year. She was an elite recruit that coach Craig Skinner got out of Kansas.

“She started coming to camp (at UK) in seventh grade. She won a national club volleyball championship,” Skinner said. “We knew how good she could be.”

What makes her so good?

“She is fearless and wants to get better. Very few kids are that focused every single point,” Skinner said. “She never feels like she is out of winning any point. She also has a cannon of an arm. She can rip the ball. She has instincts you can’t teach and can anticipate things before they happen. She also has very fast feet to make up ground.

“We’ve had a lot of good players at that position and she’s had some role models to look up to. But she has not shied away from that. She wants to be better than anybody.”

With what she’s done this season, she could well be before she leaves Kentucky.

She’s been SEC setter of the week 10 times this year and with four regular-season matches left and at least one NCAA match, she already had 1,118 assists — ninth most in a single season in the 25-point rally scoring era — after getting 47 in Sunday’s win over Ole Miss. She ranks sixth in the nation in assists at 11.90 per set and is first in the SEC.

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David Hopewell was a starting offensive lineman on Kentucky’s 1976 and 1977 teams that might have been the most talented teams ever at UK. Hopewell loves what he sees from Kentucky sophomore running back Benny Snell when it comes to appreciating the players who block for him.

“It’s a joy to watch Benny play on Saturdays but it’s a joy to watch the guys up front make progress to help Benny out. Benny displays those same actions when he runs to congratulate and thank them for making holes,” Hopewell said. “As a former lineman myself I know how much that is appreciated.

“I know what a pleasure it is to make holes for a guy like Benny that is going to give you every ounce he has in his tank to get the job done, then is grateful for what you do for him up front. A little chip block for a guy like Benny and he’ll get you 5 extra yards.”

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Paul Washington recently got to watch his son, freshman P.J. Washington, play twice for Kentucky. The UK freshman had a superb game against Vermont but had issues at times in the loss to Kansas in Chicago.

“I am excited to see him get into his rhythm,” Paul Washington said. “He’s still got a lot more to offer than anyone at UK has seen yet. He can play better defense, play with more of a motor.”

Paul Washington is coach at Findlay Prep (Nev.), the top-rated team by USA Today going into the season.

“This Kentucky team just needs time. They are starting five freshmen. It takes time to bond and get a feel for each other,” Washington said. “It’s all about where they will be in March, and Cal knows that.

“It’s been kind of surprising to me that P.J. has been in the low post so much. But he’ll do whatever it takes to win and he can play in there. I like the way he passes out of the double team, and he will see plenty of them. He won’t shy away from contact and he is athletic enough to play in there.”

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