Kentucky High School Athletic Association commissioner Julian Tackett would like to see high school sports return but says fi- nancial reasons are not the main reason.
“High school sports are important to every community,” Tackett said. “Society needs to get back to some sort of normalcy. Revenue is not the biggest concern. Money is really a secondary issue.”
Instead, Tackett stresses high school sports are “very, very important” for society to get going and get back together.
“That is the advantage of American interscholastic sports that no other country in the world has,” Tackett said.
“There are three things everybody in a town in Kentucky can tell you. Who was born, who dies and when was the last time they had a team in the state championship game. That’s why we feel we are a contributing block to getting normalcy back because high school sports are so important to every community.”
Because he had not seen Kentucky signee Isaiah Jackson play in person like he had most of this year’s top college basketball recruits, Aaron Torres of Fox Sports took time recently to study film of the 6-9 Jackson.
“I’ve seen BJ Boston multiple times, Devin Askew multiple times, Terrence Clarke, on and on. So I just wanted to pull up a little tape to better familiarize myself with his game — and wow was I was impressed,” Torres said. “He isn’t super skilled, but has the athleticism of few high school big guys I can remember.
“And on the surface it appears as though he plays really hard. Elite athleticism, high motor and intensity is a hard package to come by.”
Jackson played his senior season at Waterford Mott High School in Michigan and had a triple double — 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks — in his final home game to help his team win its conference title.
He finished the season averaging 19.7 points, 13 rebounds, 7.7 blocks, 3.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
“Isaiah is a guy that has tremendous energy on both ends of the court. He seeks the ball and should be a great rebounder for us and also should be able to really protect the rim,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said. “We have to take advance of his speed and athleticism. It can start with him grabbing boards and flying out in transition.
“We are going to have guys that are versatile next year. Isaiah is tall, but he is a guy that can move around offensively. What is frustrating for Cal (John Calipari) right now is that we normally get guys here in the summer and try to figure out what they can do best. It’s really more about what they cannot do more than what they can do so he can blend the team together. But we all know Isaiah can do a lot of things.”
If Wake Forest transfer Oliver Sarr is eligible next season, he will certainly be the starting center. But if the 7-footer is not given a waiver by the NCAA, then Jackson likely could play a lot of center in a smaller lineup.
“If Sarr is not eligible, it is hard to see Kentucky reaching their potential. The only saving grace is that fans have wanted John Calipari to ‘embrace small ball’ for years, and he might have no choice with Isaiah Jackson at the five, Keion Brooks, BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke and one of the guards — Devin Askew/Davion Mintz — at the point guard,” Torres said. “That isn’t ideal though. We’ll see if Sarr can get eligible — it is one of the biggest questions in all of college hoops this off-season.”
If former Kentucky assistant coach Chuck Smith decides to watch a NFL game, there’s a decent chance he might see one of the linebackers he coached at Kentucky playing.
“It is pretty cool when you do see one of them playing,” said Smith, who is also a former UK linebacker.
One of his former players, Danny Trevathan, was just selected for induction in the Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame. He was a two-time All-American and led the Southeastern Conference in tackles in 2010 and 2011 when he had an 287 tackles along with six quarterback sacks, four interceptions, nine forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He’s been just as successful in the NFL playing first with the Denver Broncos and now the Chicago Bears.
“Danny was really fast but he was also very self driven his whole career,” Smith said. “He really knew how to use his speed.”
Smith also coached Bud Dupree, who just signed a one-year, $16 million deal with Pittsburgh; Wesley Woodyard, an undrafted free agent in 2008 who has over 950 career tackles with Denver and Tennessee; Avery Williamson, who has played with Tennessee and the New York Jets; and Micah Johnson, who has played in the Canadian Football League since 2011 after brief stints with four NFL teams.
“Danny was probably the most instinctive of all of them,” Smith said. “He could see things before they happened. Then he was such a headhunter and nasty guy. He really wanted to hurt you when he hit you.”
Smith said former UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders did a terrific job evaluating Williamson, who was highly underrated in high school just like Woodyard and Trevathan were.
“He was a lot like Wesley in terms of focus, self motivation and determined to be the best he could be,” Smith said. “Just like Wesley when it came to work. They worked harder than everybody else and it paid off.
“I think Wesley far exceeded expectations anybody had for him. When you know Wesley, what he has done is not a surprise but athletically he has far exceeded his athleticism because of his work. It’s incredible for someone his size to have done what he has and to be in the NFL so long.
“Wesley was just smarter than everybody else and worked his craft like nobody else. He made himself into a great player through brains and his work ethic.”
Smith doesn’t talk to any of his former players regularly because he does not want to bother them. He texts some with Woodyard and talks to Williamson occasionally.
“I don’t hear from Danny and Bud as much but I follow them and keep tabs on them all. I am really proud of all of them,” Smith said.
What impact will not having summer football camps have on Kentucky?
Normally coach Mark Stoops and his staff have a variety of camps in June for players of various skills and ages.
“Financially, it won’t affect the school very much. That’s not much there (financially),” Stoops said. “It will affect us in our evaluation process and getting kids on campus. That’s a great way to get kids … sometimes they haven’t been here yet.
“It’s a way to get them introduced to the campus, to see Lexington, to meet our coaches and be around our coaches in a coaching environment, see the way we coach and interact with kids. It hurts us that way, really hurts in the recruiting aspect more than anything with us, a way for us to get our eyes on kids.”
However, Stoops understands no summer camps impact families a lot more than it does the UK coaching staff.
“As far as the community, it hurts, it hurts my children. They’re used to going to baseball camps, and basketball camps, and so on, just being a part of it and doing things to keep them active,” Stoops said. “It’s going to drive a lot of moms crazy. That’s always a good way to get them out of the house for a couple of days.
“For us, as coaches, to interact with them and spend some time with them, and have some fun with some young kids. Just like all this, just different. We all have to adapt to it as best we can.
Mollie Kregor, director of the Mitchell Family Foundation, says it’s impossible for anyone to fully appreciate what Jenna and Matthew Mitchell do to support so many charitable efforts in Lexington and Fayette County.
“They are just unbelievable people and not a lot of people know all they do because they don’t need or want any recognition. They just want to help others,” said Kregor.
Matthew Mitchell, the head women’s basketball coach at Kentucky, and his wife started their foundation in 2014. Samantha Bowie, the daughter of former UK All-American Sam Bowie, was the first director before Kregor took over in October of 2018.
Kregor, who is from Louisville, graduated from UK in 2016 with a degree in communications but had always been passionate about “giving back” to others. She came from an athletic family — her older sister played golf at Alabama, her younger sister played tennis and her brother was a baseball player. Mollie showed American Saddlebred horses — and even won a few world championships — but every time she competed it was also a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital as her passion for helping others started at an early age.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mitchells have been doing even more charitable work. “It’s really awesome what they have done on top of everything else they were already doing,” Kregor said.
The Mitchells partnered with Blue Grass Community Foundation/ United Way of the Bluegrass Coranvirus Response Fund with a $35,000 matching gift for donations as well as a $10,000 donation. Over $400,00 has been raised with this fund to help those in need.
“They just do things out of the goodness of their heart,” Kregor aid. “They are two of the most giving and wonderful people I have ever been around. They love Lexington and if anyone needs help, they are there supporting them.
“They give back more than anybody knows. They are very passionate about character building, too, and that’s why we have three youth education programs we do in the Fayette County school system through their foundation that really are never talked about a lot but touch so many people.”
One is a 10-week program that instills character values in sixth-grade students. The foundation hires UK students to teach and work as mentors — last year 30 were hired — to talk about bullying, lying, stealing or other subjects that can impact sixth graders.
Another program is a summer project for at-risk and vulnerable high school students.
“We will take them to local business, visit colleges and other things that might not have been able to do but can benefit by doing,” Kregor aid.
The third program is a first-grade book project. Former Mercer University women’s coach Susie Garner wrote a children’s book based on teamwork that Kregor reads to students and then gives each one a book.
“It teaches the value of being a good teammate,” Kregor said.
The Mitchells have contributed $25,000 to the UK student emergency relief fund along with $132,000 to Fayette schools to provide backpack meals to needy students, cleaning supplies and utility assistance for families in need. The foundation also donates $60,000 to Project Elevate in the Fayette Schools along with additional funding for the other school education projects each year. They have been involved with Nourish Lexington, a way for out of work hospital industry workers to make money delivering meals to those in need, and one other feeding program — EastEndFeeds — with personal donations not through the foundation.
If that’s not enough, the foundation has made contributions to The Well of Lexington, Children’s Charity of the Bluegrass, Lighthouse Ministries, Idle Hour Employee Relief Fund, Lexington Arts Resilience Initiative, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“They are just loving, giving people who really enjoy helping others and expect nothing in return except the joy of helping people,” Kregor said.
Remember a few weeks ago Matthew Mitchell had a chance to possibly get the vacant coaching job at Mississippi State. He quickly said he had no interest because of his love for Lexington – and this charitable work helps substantiate what he meant.
(For more information on the Mitchell Family Foundation, go to www.mitchellfamilyfoundation.org/.)
Quote of the Week: “Even our neighborhood is in the best shape of their lives. I have never seen so many people walking around and getting exercise,” Kentucky volleyball coach Craig Skinner on the impact of COVID-19.