After Kentucky’s 24-7 beat down at South Carolina last week, criticism was leveled at UK coach Mark Stoops and his players since it was UK’s third straight loss. Not only was it a third straight loss, but it was a second straight loss where UK really was not competitive physically.
Yet former UK quarterback Reese Phillips, who transferred to Montana to finish his career, took to social media to remind fans not to jump ship.
“Coach Stoops is the greatest thing to ever happen to Kentucky football. If you even whisper about getting rid of him you’re clinically insane,” Phillips posted on Twitter.
Another former player, running back Anthony White, was not calling for Stoops’s departure. However, White — like several other former players — didn’t mince words about UK’s dismal performance.
“There is nothing to be positive about on that game,” White said. “This is a program that I thought had turned the corner who looked like it forgot it had a game to play.”
White normally provides answers for fans with answers on Sunday Morning Sports Talk on WLAP Radio in Lexington. But not after the South Carolina fiasco.
“I look at that game and just can’t figure out what happened. There are no answers for why Kentucky played like that,” White said. “I apologize (to listeners). I do not have answers because I don’t know what we saw. I am waiting for answers just like you all.”
Kentucky fortunately has a bye week before facing what has become a must-win game Oct. 12 with Arkansas if UK wants to become bowl eligible again this year.
He was not highly recruited but never doubted that he could find success playing football at Kentucky.
“I always believed in myself. It was never about proving anybody else wrong. It was about proving me right. I thought I had the capabilities to be a really good player and put in the work and time to make that happen,” said Kentucky defensive lineman Calvin Taylor, a fifth-year player out of Augusta, Ga.
The 6-9, 300-pound Taylor was all-state in basketball at Augusta Christian High School – he once guarded Zion Williamson in an AAU event – and his team won a state title his senior year. However, he also had 46 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two quarterback sacks and one fumble recovery his senior football season when he caught the attention of UK coach Mark Stoops and his staff.
“He was one of those guys we came across late. He had that length you love and are looking for,” Stoops said. “He had great size. We knew if things did not work out on the defensive line he probably would make a heck of an offensive tackle (a position he also played in high school), and he probably still could.
“He has developed so well on the defensive line. What I really love about him is that he is constantly worrying about what he has to do on a daily basis to improve.”
Stoops admires how Taylor didn’t let the fact few schools knew about him impact the player he has become for the Wildcats (he started the final nine games last year and has 18 tackles in five games this year).
“He has come in here and become a heck of a player. He’s getting better every opportunity he gets. It took time for him to develop but that’s what makes me so proud of Calvin and he has become one of the leaders on our team,” Stoops said.
Maybe no one enjoyed the Kroger Field atmosphere when UK played Florida more than Taylor.
“When I first came here and talked to coach Stoops he said we are really going to change this around. Everybody thinks things about us but we knew we could change the program around. This is what I signed up for,” Taylor said. “I so appreciated BBN for coming out and supporting us that way.
“I just work as hard as I can and when I got the opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it. I have came a long way. I have never been like an individual accolades type of guy. I just want our team to win. If you don’t win, you can’t ever give yourself a good grade because you play to win.”
Taylor says there is a “lot more” he can still do to improve this year and a “lot of stuff I can tap into” to play a more complete game. Yet just what he has done so far has everybody back in Augusta, Ga., “very proud” of him.
He was one of the few bright spots for UK in last week’s loss at South Carolina. He had seven solo tackles, one quarterback sack, one tackle for loss and forced a fumble.
“I just want to show the young kids from where I am from that there is a way out and you could be here, too,” Taylor said.
A mission trip to Ethiopia through UK Athletics with Ordinary Hero with teammates Landon Young and Boogie Watson in the spring also helped changed his perspective — something he admits helps when things are not going right.
“ That’s one of those things that was a life-changing thing. Maybe before I took that trip I would have reacted a certain type of way to losing but that changed my perspective,” Taylor said. “It is another day and we are blessed to be here even if you don’t win. I am just taking that and moving forward. I still want to win. Don’t doubt that. It’s just I can accept things better because of what I saw and learned on that mission trip. I won’t ever forget those lessons I learned.”
Oklahoma traded for former Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander during the offseason but also brought in veteran Chris Paul, a former NBA all-star. However, Oklahoma Thunder general manager Sam Presti said while Paul can mentor Gilgeous-Alexander, the former UK star is also his own man.
“One thing Chris has already done is he’s built really good relationships with the entire group. When we first acquired him, that was one of the first things he did was get a lot of numbers for the different players and galvanized the group. The guy really understands every aspect of the game and the profession, and he’s really got it locked in. Pretty impressive,” Presti said.
“I think everybody on our team can pull something from him. But Shai is his own guy, and he’s a talented guy, but as we’ve all seen, like young players, they go through ups and downs. They go through a lot of adversity. I would think Shai will be no different.”
Gilgeous- Alexander averages 10.8 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game last year while shooting 47.6 percent from the field (36.7 percent from 3-point range) and 80 percent at the foul line.
Presti understands Gilgeous Alexander needs time to grow and mature with the Thunder.
“If you’re constantly checking the temperature, that takes away the ability for people to stretch themselves and try new things, and everyone is just trying to play within a box because they don’t feel like they can — because they’re being like evaluated for more or less playing time every single time, you’re not going to get the best version of them,” Presti said. “So I think we have to understand that there’s going to be times where Shai might have a bad stretch of time.
“But like that bad stretch of time could be the catalyst for a stretch of time that’s really good that’s twice that amount of time. So we’ve always tried to take that vantage point on our players and player development.”
Kentucky sophomore Blair Green says she’s is stronger than last season after “trying to hit it hard” in the weight room during the offseason.
“My ball handling, my shooting are better, too,” Green said. “I have been trying to get a lot of shots up and just working on getting to the basket and being more confident. It’s going to be good.”
Green said the summer workouts were fun but competitive with other sports teams at Kentucky.
“Women’s basketball wants to outwork everyone and show our strengths but everyone on the other sports teams is very impressive. It’s just fun to enjoy each other and work hard at the same time,” Green said.
The UK sophomore said her team tries to dominate workouts but that’s not easy.
“We can do pretty well but gymnastics’ upper body strengths is incredible. To watch them do some of the moves they do is unbelievable,” Green said. “Everyone challenges each other, everyone works hard. We all have what we can do better than others but they also have stuff they can teach us.”
She likes going to watch the volleyball team and really enjoys gymnastics.
“It’s cool watching gymnastics because I could never flip and watching them out there doing amazing things is something else,” Green said.