From the time Kentucky started recruiting point guard Skyy Clark it was a “blessing” for the family.
“Recruits dream of getting a call from coach Cal or his staff at Kentucky,” said Kenny Clark, Skyy’s father. “That is huge for these kids. Definitely an honor and speaks for all the hard work he has put in.
“It was a special moment when he got the Kentucky offer. We knew it was coming one day but it caught us off guard. Coach Cal had not offered an incoming junior yet and he never offers except in person. With everything going on, he had not had a chance to see Skyy play this AAU season, so a Zoom call was the best he could do but we were still thrilled.”
Skyy Clark has over 25 scholarship offers already and figures to get more. So what makes a Kentucky scholarship offer from John Calipari more special than other offers?
“Everybody knows who coach Cal is. You see how genuine he is as a person, then you meet him and everything you thought about him is true,” Kenny Clark said. “It’s just that mystique of coach Cal. You look at any NBA roster and see players from Kentucky on every roster.
“It’s the Kentucky basketball history that impresses not only my son but all these kids. Everybody wants a Kentucky offer.”
The 6-2 Clark is a top 15 player in the 2022 recruiting class and has an elite set of skills that could easily allow him to reclassify to the 2021 recruiting class to get to college a year earlier if he wanted.
However, Clark has worked diligently to get where he is now.
“He started playing at 9 years old and he has had to grind,” Kenny Clark said. “He sat on the end of benches and shed a bunch of tears because he was not playing. I actually thought about putting him into football. A friend of mine told me I had to see the future and that he had a skill set to be great in basketball.”
Kenny Clark played in the NFL. So did his brother and his cousins. Skyy Clark has the same “phenomenal” athletic ability even if he had “to work his butt off ” early in his basketball career.
Why didn’t Kenny Clark prod his son into at least trying football considering the family football genes?
“I did not push my kids to do anything they did not want to do,” Kenny Clark said. “If he did not want to play football, that was okay. If it was basketball, he just had to figure it out. If not basketball, then we would have looked for something else.”
Success has not changed Clark’s personality, either.
“He’s always been mature and outgoing. What you see is what you get. He won’t change,” Kenny Clark said. “He’s got an old soul. He doesn’t follow. He always leads. He dances to his own music. He takes everything in stride. He has not let success change who he is at all.”
Part of that humble approach is because the high school junior still remembers when he was sitting on the end of those benches years ago. His father remembers him crying and how people doubted if Skyy could play basketball. That’s when former Syracuse and Long Beach State player Ramel Lloyd changed Skyy Clark’s future.
“Ramel saw Skyy was frustrated. We were going to leave (basketball) and find something else to do,” Kenny Clark said. “Ramel told our coach to give him Skyy and watch what he would do for him. Since then he was always on coach Lloyd’s team. He started improving every day. He put the confidence in him and expected nothing but greatness out of him.”
Many others now expect the same greatness from Skyy Clark even if there are some who question his outside shot, size and more. Those doubters amuse Kenny Clark.
“You can’t please everybody,” Skyy Clark’s father said. “Some say he can’t shoot. Yet he shot 40 percent on the 3-ball last. Some say he’s not the tallest point guard but he was the second leading rounder on his team and also averaged two or three dunks per game.
“We just have got to keep honing his skills. He gets shots up daily. He works on his basketball IQ daily. Let all the naysayers talk. We do not listen to them. He doesn’t care what people say. Myself, I always thought a 6-2 point guard was fine. But we’ll just keep working.”
Recently Skyy Clark said on “Sources Say Podcast” that he was “definitely” considering reclassifying to the 2021 recruiting class depending on how much he improves in the months ahead.
“Reclassification is on the table,” Kenny Clark said. “We don’t know exactly if he will. But I think you have to give yourself all the options you can. You want to give yourself every option. You always want to stay prepared because you never know what can happen.”
One huge advantage that Frederick Douglass junior defensive back Ty Bryant knows he will have when he gets to college is the competition he practices against daily.
Senior receiver Dekel Crowdus is a recent University of Kentucky commit. Junior receiver Dane Key has 11 Division I offers, including Kentucky.
Bryant already has six scholarship offers, including Kentucky, with plenty more likely to come as he continues to hone his skills.
“I know going against those guys in practice every day makes me better,” Bryant said. “Dekel is so good. He’s quick, fast. He can really move. Last year me and (Baylor signee) Devin Neal guarded him a lot before he left (to attend IMG Academy in Florida his junior season).
“Now it’s nice to have him back. It helps me a lot. When you are going against the best in practice, games are going to come easy. Last year our motto was to make practice harder than games.
“I feel like going against Dekel and Dane, they take everything out of me. We are competitors. We don’t like to lose. I know when it comes to game time the dude in front of me is not going to beat me ‘cause of what I have seen from Dekel and Dane every day.”
Dave Goren’s sportscasting class at Wake Forest normally has a high percentage of Wake Forest athletes in it.
“I think a lot just want an easy A and then are surprised by the work involved,” said Goren, executive director of the National Sports Media Association and sideline reporter for Wake Forest football.
One of the professor’s students for the 2019 fall semester was all-ACC basketball player Olivier Sarr, who has transferred to UK and hopes to get a NCAA waiver so he can play this season.
“I don’t know that most of my students want to be sportscasters but I think it is great for the athletes, including Olivier, to learn the other side and how we do our job,” Goren said.
Every student in his class has four projects — three short papers, a two-minute sportcast they must write and do in front of a camera, a two-minute play-by-play broadcast and up to a two-minute reporter package. The class final is a sports talk show.
Since Sarr is a native of France and English is his second language, Goren offered to let him do his class projects in French (the professor took French for six years from eighth grade through his freshman year in college).
“It would have been fun for me to translate but he chose English,” Goren said. “He’s very quiet but he’s really smart. It took me a little while to get to know him. He’s a great young man, very mature. He improved a lot the second half of last year. Selfishly, I was excited to see him his senior year at Wake but I told him he had to do what was best for him.”
Sarr will be a senior for coach John Calipari if he’s ruled eligible and will be on a team dominated by true freshmen. Kentucky’s last two graduate transfers, Reid Travis and Nate Sestina, have been terrific leaders and players.
“I think now he sees it is fun to be a leader,” Goren said. “I expect him to do that at Kentucky with no problem. He’s more confident, a better player. But he’s also ready to take on that leadership role and I think he will be fine.”
Goren has no doubt he will be fine on the court, too, if he’s ruled eligible.
“He was more of a finesse player when he got to Wake but he’s put on weight and added strength. He’s still not the biggest guy in the world, but he doesn’t back away from anybody,” Goren said.
Kentucky junior defensive lineman Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald returned to Lexington from Florida at the end of May and his father, Steve Fitzgerald, says the COVID-19 issues may actually have helped him.
“He was recovering from shoulder surgery, but now he is caught up and ready to go,” Steve Fitzgerald said.
The UK junior’s father said new defensive line coach Anwar Stewart has made a favorable impression with his son in their limited contact.
“He likes his style a lot and says he’s a little emotional, which Abule likes,” Steve Fitzgerald said. “It’s a big year for him. I am just anxious to see if he can take that next step. It was a big step last year just to get consistently on the field even in a limited role (he played in all 13 games last year). He has grown so much confidence-wise from that.
“But even if he had never got on the field this has all still been an extremely positive experience for him and our family.”
The 6-6, 280-pound Abule came to the United States from Nigeria at age 12 hoping to be a college basketball player and eventually was adopted by the Fitzgeralds. Steve Fitzgerald is a high school basketball coach but Abule’s senior season he joined the football team at Victory Christian High School, caught UK’s eye eventually and signed with the Cats.
His father is not worried about the UK junior breaking COVID-19 protocol.
“He is a perfectionist. He has an OCD type personality. This has messed with him mentally. I know he will follow everything the coaches tell him,” Steve Fitzgerald said. “He goes straight home, stays away from everybody. I feel safe with him there and they get tested at least every two weeks.”
The recent racial unrest nationally left both Abule and his brother — who also was adopted by the Fitzgeralds and joined the family that already had five children — perplexed.
“It was the first time they had really seen the impact of this and he’s had a hard time processing it all,” Steve Fitzgerald said.
Steve Fitzgerald said Aaron Hogue, multi-area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has helped the UK junior understand his feelings.
“Abule is an over thinker at times,” Steve Fitzgerald said. “He has spent a lot of time with Aaron and Aaron has also set up him with some folks. I think Abule is in a good place today and I am really appreciative of what Aaron has done for him.”
Quote of the Week: “In my opinion, Tennessee should be the favorite in the SEC on paper, just ahead of John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, who are basically starting from scratch once again,” CBS Sports college basketball analyst Gary Parrish on his favorite to win the SEC basketball championship.
Quote of the Week 2: “We are running out of time to correct and get things right, and as a society we owe it to each other to be as healthy as we can be,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on his worries about the 2020 college football season.
Quote of the Week 3: “Knowing I came from a small town and I am going to get to play for a school like Kentucky feels great. I will get to go somewhere different, meet new people and it is a great feeling,” Georgia linebacker Martez Thrower on his commitment to Kentucky.