For the third straight season, Kentucky will have a new offensive coordinator. Once again, even returning starters have to prove they deserve to be on the field.
“Every position on offense has to be wide open,” new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “When I started, I told (the players) you’re going to start building your resume. I’m looking for accountability and dependability. It doesn’t matter to me (who plays).
“I have played freshmen at this level. If your mature enough, your athletic enough and mentality ready to go and can help this team, let’s play. That’s the message they got and that’s why they’re excited to come and compete (against the returning players). Our guys know that and are fully aware of that. You’ve got 15 practices (in the spring) to show me what you can do.”
“Right now, it seems like everybody is buying in and I’m excited about it. This offense has proven it can work. They see it on film and see some success.”
Kentucky returns Drew Barker, who started the final two games last season at quarterback. Gran and new quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw brought in junior college quarterback Stephen Johnson to push Barker. But Gran also says freshman Gunnar Hoak of Ohio, who enrolled at UK in January, will have a chance to become the starter.
“Really, Coach Hinshaw was the lead dog on Gunnar (when we were coaching at Cincinnati before coming to UK). He had guys we were going after that he evaluated and did that early. Gunnar was one of those guys. He really detailed him. We loved everything about him. The way he threw, the way he competed. Once he committed to Kentucky, we went on,” Gran said. “But him already being here was just a bonus for us when we got here.”
Gran said it would be foolish for him to think Hoak could not compete for a starting spot.
“I think all of them have to compete. Who says they all can’t compete. You just don’t know enough about them,” Gran said. “Bringing in Stephen creates competition that could make you great or make you not so good. We will find out. Somebody is going to compete and take the job. Who says it could not be Gunnar?”
Kentucky also has two walk-on quarterbacks, but don’t look for Gran to give all the quarterbacks equal reps during spring practice.
“That can’t happen. You can’t do. You can’t have full reps with five different quarterbacks. It sounds good, but it won’t happen,” Gran said. “There will be some people that will be unhappy just like at running back. There is one ball, one back. Somebody is going to be unhappy When you get your opportunity, you better be productive.
“If you want to move up on that scale, that’s how it has to be. It’s unfortunate sometimes but we have five (quarterbacks) out throwing four days a week. They are all ready to compete, but there’s no way to give them all equal reps. Can’t happen.”
Kentucky’s play is taking a toll on coach John Calipari this season.
“I know they want to win and I know they want to play well. They’re a great group of kids, but I’ve got to keep teaching them. It’s very tiring. You notice I’m back to exercising because I’m trying to make sure you don’t find me under the desk in a week,” Calipari said.
That was a day before his team dominated Florida 80-61 and three days after his team blew a 21-point lead and lost at Tennesse. That was the biggest lead any UK team had ever blown to lose a game.
No wonder Calipari admitted every day has been a “new challenge” for him this year.
“I’m getting on my staff to be enthusiastic, to add some energy, and then telling them to stop because I want the team to have the energy, not the staff. It’s got to be them. It’s a process. All we’re trying to do is, ‘How do we get better?’ I can’t tell you,” the coach said.
Hopefully he can figure it out soon because UK has four road games — South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Florida — remaining that will determine it’s NCAA seeding — or even NCAA eligibility.
Any Kentucky basketball fan has to know who ESPN sideline analyst Shannon Spake is.
Last March she practically became a part of the UK program she spent so much time following the unbeaten Wildcats. She is a sideline reporter for Saturday primetime college basketball and Super Tuesday SEC basketball games. She is a sideline reporter for Saturday college football games.
She’s also an avid runner and even though she’s on the road most of the week still finds a way to train — and run long-distance events regularly.
Last week she worked the Kentucky at Tennessee game. She also brought one of her twin sons, Brady, with her to the game. She takes each boy on one road trip each season and this was Brady’s treat.
During UK’s shoot-around, someone took a picture of her talking to UK guard Tyler Ulis as her son looked on. “One day I’ll explain to my kids how far ‘playing with heart’ can take you and use this guy as an example,” Spake posted on Twitter along with the picture.
I always enjoy talking to her and had a chance to visit a few minutes before the game. She was a bit worried about her pregame preparation because Chet’s iPad had broke and he had used her laptop during the day.
“I feel so nervous because I am not prepared like I usually am,” Spake, who also covered NASCAR at one time, said.
About an hour before game time, she got ready to say goodbye to her son and gave him his pregame instructions about where she would be, what he could, what he could eat, etc. Then she smiled at him and gave him a kiss. The grandfather in me could not resist taking a picture of that touching moment that I posted on Twitter and tagged Spake.
Here is the response I got from her: “I so appreciate it! My favorite moment EVER! And thank you for your kind works and support,” Spake said.
There’s no ESPN analyst I respect more than Spake. Her work is always terrific and she does it in a charming way. She has to conduct halftime interviews with coaches who are not always eager to talk. She has to give in-game updates. But coaches and players all like and respect her and from my perspective fans do as well — and should.
Standout junior Billy Preston of Advanced Prep International in Texas was wearing a Kentucky basketball hoodie after playing in the Thoroughbred Classic in Somerset Sunday. He had taken an unofficial visit to UK along with teammate Trevon Duval, one of the nation’s top junior point guards, on Saturday to watch Kentucky practice before the Cats played Florida later that day.
He cautioned not to read too much into him having on a Kentucky hoodie.
“I usually try to buy something to wear from the schools I go to visit,” said the 6-9 power forward after spending time signing autographs after his team’s loss to Hillcrest Academy.
Preston and Duval do not have scholarship offers from Kentucky yet even though both are consensus top 10 players in the 2017 recruiting class. Preston, who had 22 points in a win over Thon Maker’s Athlete Institute of Canada Saturday, said Calipari really did not discuss when or if UK would offer during his visit.
“Anybody is going to wait for an offer from Kentucky,” Preston said. “I have 13 offers now and I am going to narrow that down to six in the next few months.”
What if Kentucky does not offer until sometime in the summer? After all he already has offers from Kansas, Maryland, Arizona, Connecticut and others.
“Nobody is going to cut down a list without having a spot for Kentucky. If they offer, they are on the list no matter when it is,” Preston said.
Calipari and his staff did not make an appearance in Somerset Sunday. That was somewhat surprising since not only were Preston and Duval playing, but so were 7-0 Deandre Ayton and 6-9 Jarred Vanderbilt. Ayton is ranked as the top player in the 2017 recruiting class by most and Vanderbilt is a top 10 player. Both have Kentucky offers.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson and staff members were there Sunday.
If you have never seen the Firecrackers, a jump rope team from Ohio, perform their halftime routine, it’s your loss. They were back at Rupp Arena last week for the UK-Florida game and got a standing ovation from the Rupp Arena faithful. They always draw an ovation, but it was even bigger this year. Thanks for reading and remember you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @vaughtsviews on Twitter. You can also read more of my work at www.vaughtsviews.com.