Kentucky offensive guard Austin Dotson waited for his chance to be a regular part of the playing rotation and this year finally has got his chance.
He had played in 16 games in 2018 and 2019 but mainly on special teams or in a limited backup role. This year he’s sharing time at guard with Kenneth Horsey and for the Belfry High School grad that’s a dream come true.
Dotson worked out with senior tackle Landon Young during the COVID-19 quarantine to get ready for this season.
“I was home most of the quarantine. I would go to the high school complex, lift there and get my running in,” Dotson said. “When I got to come back to Lexington, Landon messaged me and said he needed to lift, too. He had equipment he had made. I would go to his house, lift with him. He pushed me and I could push him.
“Just knowing you had somebody else there striving to be better made you push. Me and Landon were always rivals in the weight room to see who could lift the most, get the most weight by the end of the day.”
Young had worked out earlier in the summer at his family’s farm in western Kentucky.
“I think I could have held up with him on the farm work, too,” Dotson said.
Young said the two both liked hunting and fishing, reasons they developed a friendship.
“He is a whole new player this year,” Young said. “He is realizing there is an opportunity at that position anybody can take. He has been able to step up and his potential is a lot higher than what he originally thought it was.”
Offensive line coach John Schlarman has carefully nurtured Dotson and the former Belfry star calls him a “player’s coach” who never stops helping him.
“He will push you in the classroom, on the field and in the film room,” Dotson said. “He is somebody that if you need to get something off your chest or talk about issues, you can talk to him. He will go out of his way to help you and is just one of the best coaches I have ever had.” s
No matter what you may think about Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin, there is one thing he can do — coach offense. Just ask Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.
He had worked for coach Tommy Tuberville for 14 straight years at Ole Miss and Auburn when he joined Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee in 2009. Gran left the next year to become offensive coordinator at Florida State.
“It was one of the scariest times of my life when I joined the Tennessee staff,” Gran said before Ole Miss beat UK 42-41 in overtime and had 459 yards. “I didn’t know anyone very well on the staff. I didn’t know really what to expect.”
He quickly learned that Kiffin, now the head coach, knew a lot about offense.
“His organization and play calling ability were really good, one of the best I have been around,” Gran said. “I have coached with Bobby Petrino, Noel Mazzone. He’s up there with the top two or three in the country. His mind is just different.
“I learned a lot in a year working under him. It really helped me in my maturation process as a good coach.”
However, Kiffin is not always popular with everyone and irritated UK fans with this comment after the win over UK.
“We said it all week that we have to get to 1-1 and whether it is two to nothing or 42-41, find a way to win and we did and send a Christmas present to their kicker,” Kiffin said referring to UK kicker Matt Ruffolo who missed an extra point in overtime. s
Being picked 13th in the 2019 NBA Draft left Tyler Herro with mixed feelings. One, he was happy to be going to the Miami Heat. Two, he felt he should have been drafted higher.
“I think being drafted 13 definitely motivates me, but I love where I was drafted. I mean, I love the opportunity I was drafted into, the situation. But the 12 guys ahead of me definitely are in the back of my head all the time, and I know every last one that was drafted ahead of me. And I mean, it definitely does fuel me,” Herro said. “But I think just with our team, we have a bunch of guys like that, who were doubted, who were looked over, and I think that’s the chip on our shoulder that we have.”
Those doubters left him playing with a chip on his shoulder just like he did at Kentucky for one season after failing to make the McDonald’s All-American team. Just like he did at Kentucky, Herro got better and better as the season progressed and really shined in the NBA playoff bubble.
“Obviously the coaches have trust in me but I think like coach said, the biggest thing is my teammates from top to bottom trust me. From the oldest guy to the youngest guy and that’s big,” Herro said. “The vets are like that — they really shine light on me ever since I’ve been in Miami.
“(Guard) Jimmy (Butler) has been the biggest influence for me and he just continues to teach me and help me. Without my teammates, I don’t think that would be possible, especially as a rookie.”
John Calipari, Herro’s coach at Kentucky, says not to underestimate one of Herro’s best skills — his work ethic. His 37-point game against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals got a lot of attention but Calipari says results like that come because of the work Herro often does even on his own.
“How much time are you willing to spend? That usually, if it is ridiculous, your ceiling goes up and your ceiling goes up because you’re building your own self-esteem and your own self-confidence,” Calipari said.
“This kid is fearless because of his confidence. I’m not the one who built his confidence. I mean, as a matter of fact, I got after him to defend better, to pass better, that if he wasn’t a fearless, confident player that would have taken away his confidence. It didn’t do anything to this kid. He listened fine. ‘You don’t understand how good I am.’ That’s what I see on the court.”
Calipari does see another challenge coming soon for Herro after his fabulous rookie season and superb playoff performances.
“I want him to keep chasing because at some point it’s going to flip and he’s going to be the chased in the NBA. It isn’t right now. So, don’t think you’re in that mode. Keep chasing. Keep fighting because eventually now all of the sudden, you keep going now everybody is chasing you and now you have to have a different mentality on how you’re approaching this,” Calipari said.
Herro played himself into the lottery at Kentucky after he averaged 14 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while starting 37 games during the 2018-19 season.
What did Calipari tell the Heat about his guard? That’s the question I asked him last week.
“You say, ‘Look, whatever you’re seeing, add 20- 30 percent to it because this kid will never leave the gym. He’s fearless and he has built his own confidence,’” Calipari said.
“There are some signs of some passes that Tyler will throw that you’ll go, ‘Oh my gosh.’ But you’re seeing him now in pick-and-rolls. Well, when he was here, we needed him to score. He had the ball in his hands. He could make plays, but he wasn’t in pick-and-rolls. Now you’re seeing that.”
Seeing that and a lot, lot more.
Butler had been more than a mentor to the 20-year-old Herro and admits that Herro’s approach makes everyone smile and enjoy playing basketball.
“We’re all so happy for him because he knows what he’s capable of, and he just plays with so much confidence. He’s been doing it all year long. So to him, there’s no pressure or anything. He’s just going to keep playing basketball the right way,” Butler said.
The veteran NBA player doesn’t think Herro’s success is going to stop any time soon, either.
“I think he’s been playing this way for a long time. He’s comfortable. He picks his spots. He works on everything that you see him do in the game, in the pickand roll and the ‘iso situation’,” Butler said during the NBA Finals. “I think the game slowed down for him a long time ago. Now, he’s just playing at an incredibly high level. Y’all see it now because of where we are in the playoffs. But he’s been doing this yearlong now, and we want him to continue to play that way. s
With the NBA playoffs turning into what seemed like an infomercial for John Calipari’s Kentucky basketball program, national attention got focused on what goes on at UK to help players like Anthony Davis, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and Jamal Murray play so well.
“He (Calipari) really runs his practices and that program like an NBA program. Obviously, he coached in the league, so he knows what it takes to get there,” Davis, a NBA all-star, said. “I think that’s an advantage for all players who go to Kentucky.
“He’s able to get you ready in one, two years, and most of the time how you be successful. I think going there and having a coach who coached in the league, and having a great assistant coaching staff around him, it’s like no other. When I was there Rod Strickland was there as well. So a guy who played in the league, who was very successful.
“He brings in the right guys, he’s a great coach, and like I said, he runs his program like an NBA program. It makes it a lot easier for that transition.”
Adebayo earned his first All-Star status this season in his third year with the Heat. He blossomed into an even bigger star during the NBA playoff bubble. Like Davis, he credited Calipari for his development.
“In Kentucky, when you play against rival schools, it’s kind of like their Super Bowl. So whoever we play away or at home, they’re going to give us their best game because they want to beat us so bad,” Adebayo said.
“You can’t be scared to be in those moments that define you, define your team. You can’t be scared to live up to those moments. I feel like that’s the biggest thing that helped me get to where I am, living in those moments.”
Calipari also believes playing at Kentucky prepares players for the spotlight they need to embrace in the NBA. He noted how UK does social media training when players arrive on campus and then also do media training.
“Then their first game is done and they walk out and there is 50, 60 of you (media) standing there. There’s a whole group of televisions up there and then they go and break down into little groups to do media after going up there,” Calipari said. “I mean, that’s every game we play here. You’re not going out there and there’s one media member. There’s 50 after every single game, sometimes it’s 100.
“So, I think they get the picture here and they understand that they’re not only speaking for us and Kentucky, they’re speaking for them and their own name and brand. They get that and our kids have been good here. They really have. And our staff has done a great job at preparing them.” s
Three of John Calipari’s former players at Kentucky are playing in the NBA Finals. What I didn’t know is just how highly Calipari thought of another former Wildcat, Rajon Rondo, who played two years for Tubby Smith before he was the 21st pick by Phoenix in the 2006 NBA draft.
Rondo is now on the Lakers with Anthony Davis and is a four-time NBA All-Star. He’s led the NBA in assists three years and four times was named to the league’s all-defensive team. He also won a NBA championship in Boston in 2008.
“Rondo has been great now. He’s been great to me and I tried to get him to play on the Dominican National Team,” Calipari said.
That was back in 2012 when Calipari coached the team hoping to earn an Olympic berth and Rondo was still with Boston.
“I said, ‘Hey we’re allowed one American. Why don’t you be the guy? We’ve got all of these guys and you will go to the Olympics,’” Calipari recalled telling Rondo.
“He thought about it, but he called and said, ‘Coach I can’t do it. I can’t spend that much time away in the summer.’ So, he didn’t do it.”
Yet it has worked out for Rondo. He was traded to Dallas in December, 2014, and in 2015 moved on to Sacramento before playing with Chicago (2016) and New Orleans (2017). He joined the Lakers in 2018. He has played in almost 900 games and averaged 10 points and over eight assists per game. He also passed Michael Jordan for 10th in career playoff assists this season.
“He’s a dog too now,” Calipari said. “He’ll fight and battle and he’s not afraid. You can say, ‘Well, he doesn’t shoot it well.’ But he makes the shots he needs to make.” s
Quote of the Week: “He is so tall and big and sees things maybe other quarterbacks do not see. It’s a learning process for him, especially when we don’t slow down. He is making good decisions. He has such a strong arm, he sees over everything and makes throws that some others can’t,” UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran on quarterback Joey Gatewood.
Quote of the Week 2: “Just having that mindset that this is an older team and we can control what we can control. We can control our mindset, mentality and how we want to come out to practice and just not mope around. It sucks, but we have to get better as a team and that should be everyone’s mindset right now,” quarterback Terry Wilson on UK’s mindset after 42-41 loss to Ole Miss.
Quote of the Week 3: “It’s going to be a long, challenging year, and you’d better have your feet up underneath you and be focused and come to work each and every week. We’ll get our team back and get them ready to play again next week,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops after the Ole Miss loss.