Does the memory of last year’s season-ending loss to Louisville that cost UK a bowl bid after the Cats got off to a big early lead still haunt Coach Mark Stoops?
“I hope it motivates our guys. I’m not going to sit there and talk about that all the time. I’m going to move forward, and I’m going to control the things we can control as we move forward in our approach and how we work. If that motivates certain individuals, so be it,” Stoops said. “I know I may have some self-motivation from that, but you’ve got to learn from every opportunity.”
Stoops noted that Louisville was not the only game UK had a chance to win last year — and the season before — and failed to make the plays needed to win.
“We’ve got to learn from those failures and we’ve got to move forward. We’ve very close, and I’m tired of being close. I don’t want to talk about being close anymore, but we’re putting ourselves in a position to go to bowl games and to win more than that,” Stoops said.
“Our margin for error has been small. As we recruit, as we develop, as we get physically tougher, mentally tougher and we work and we put the pieces together we’ll win those games and push us over the top to go to bowl games and beyond. That’s what we’re looking to do.”
UK’S LANDON YOUNG IS NOW ON CAMPUS
His friends Kash Daniel of Paintsville and Drake Jackson of Woodford County were enrolled at Kentucky for spring practice and got a jump start on their collegiate football career by graduating from high school a semester early.
Yet Lafayette’s Landon Young has no second thoughts about opting for a chance to win a state heavyweight wrestling championship (he did) and state titles in the shot put and discus (he won one, finished second in the other).
Now he’s at Kentucky for the summer term and working out with teammates. He spent much of spring practice at UK watching the Wildcats and how new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran might use him at tackle. He knew the pace would be faster — more like the U.S. Army All-American Game he played in and impressed national recruiting analysts.
“Just the pace of plays run and getting in and out of the huddle was a big difference then and will be at UK, too,” Young said. “I tried to keep pretty close tabs on what they were doing all spring. I did private training and lifted a lot (of weights) during track, too. But I also know when I get to UK I am going out there balls of flame and trying to get a starting position.”
Young got to talk to both Gran and quarterback coach Darrin Hinshaw often about their offensive philosophy to see what their methods would be like.
“They were just scratching the surface of what they have in spring practice and remember the offense did dominate the defense in the last scrimmage,” Young said.
The 6- 7, 310-pound Young says he was glad to know Gran had no issues playing a true freshman offensive lineman. Young thinks he could play left or right tackle and noted the way tight end C.J. Conrad produced as a true freshman last year.
“To play as a freshman in the SEC shows the talent a guy like C.J. has,” Young said. “Same with me. If I work and show what I am capable of doing, I will get playing time if not start my freshman year.”
Young, just like Drake Jackson, picked UK in large part because of offensive line coach John Schlarman, a former UK player.
“He is really a good guy and is one of the main factors I committed as early as I did to Kentucky,” Young said. “You will not find a much better guy and he’s a heck of a coach, too. He pushed for me and I will not forget that.”
C.M. NEWTON’S GRANDSON IS NOW A COACH AT SAMFORD
Before he became athletics director at Samford, Martin Newton was director of basketball operations at Kentucky for coach John Calipari.
Newton’s son, Charles, is now an assistant coach at Samford under former UK star Scott Padgett. He says his father and Calipari still communicate regularly.
“Cal will hear something and call my dad or my dad will shoot him a text after a game. I hope people at Kentucky really appreciate and understand how special he is. He never loses contact with anybody that helps along the way,” Newton said. “My father had a huge hand in the hiring of John Calipari to Kentucky and Cal will still contact him about things going on here.
“It is really cool. That’s the type of guy that coach Cal is. He is unbelievable man and really helps everybody and still talks to all his guys. It is a special thing that not many coaches will do.”
So that must meaning having his father as AD where he works is great, right?
“He is a pain in the butt,” Charles Newton joked. “No, he is a real basketball guy and it is awesome to have my father there. Good for our staff. Horrible for me because I get blamed for everything.
“He is a basketball guy and he knows what it takes to win. He worked for Nike 20-some years. We get basically what we want. Now some of those players have to get in there and produce and make him look good. He is doing all this to give us nice stuff and we have to make him look good.”
Newton’s grandfather, C.M., coached at Alabama and Vanderbilt. He was athletics director at Kentucky when Rick Pitino was hired. He’s worked for the Southeastern Conference and USA Basketball.
“Since I was born, my granddad — I call him Coach — put a basketball in my hand and my father did,” Newton said. “I grew up and got to travel when my dad was with the NBA and Nike. Got to meet guys like Avery Johnson. I didn’t have a choice. Charles Martin IV, my son, already is telling me he wants to play with his daddy. But basketball is special and what bonds us all together.”
TOP UK RECRUIT TO RETURN TO STATE
Jarred Vanderbilt has so many Division I scholarship offers that his father, Robert, says he is not even sure what the total is.
“There is a whole bunch of them from A to Z. They’ve all made offers. I would say the number is unlimited,” Robert Vanderbilt said.
The 6-9 forward from Houston is one of the top players in the 2017 recruiting class. He made an unofficial visit to UK in December and played four times in the Bluegrass last year.
His father says they will be back to play again at the Marshall County Hoop Fest and the McCracken County Mustang Madness.
“If they have one in Lexington, we might still be there, too. We are working on it right now,” Robert Vanderbilt said.
Vanderbilt’s father said his son hoped to narrow down his potential college choices by the end of summer.
“Then we hopefully will take official visits in the fall and see what happens,” Robert Vanderbilt said.
Just as senior forward Derek Willis was drawing praise from Kentucky basketball Coach John Calipari, he was arrested in northern Kentucky over the weekend on a charge of public intoxication.
The 6-foot-nine Willis, who turns 21 next week, was released from the Boone County Jail after posting a $50 bond.
In praising Willis before the arrest, Calipari said, “He’s changing more as a player because he’s invested more in the game. Now he gets disappointed when he doesn’t play well. That’s what happens: The more you put into it, the more you work, the more you’re committed, the more disciplined you are in your approach to the game, the less chance you’ll surrender.”
“And when things don’t go right, you’re really going to self-evaluate because you’ve worked too hard. That’s why I’m proud of him. He’s done well in school. He’s not even the same guy that walked on this campus.”