Kentucky’s special football season could end in an even more special way at the NFL Draft in Nashville in April.
Josh Allen still has a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick. No, mock drafts are not projecting him No. 1. Most have Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa going first to the Arizona Cardinals. However, most drafts also have Allen going second to San Francisco.
“I really don’t think there is much of a gap between them,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “Nick had an injury his senior year in high school and an injury this year. Josh Allen is more of a oneyear standout. He really came into his own this year. He was a good player before but he became a great player this year. They could go either way in the draft.”
Kiper updated his 2019 mock draft last week and here’s what he posted about Allen going No. 2 to San Francisco: “If the Niners don’t trade down to add more picks, I expect them to take an edge rusher here. And Allen (6-5, 250) is just a step behind Bosa on my board. Two former firstround picks along the defensive line (Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas) have struggled in San Francisco, but neither has the pure pass-rushing ability of Allen, who had 17 sacks and five forced fumbles last season. Allen would fill a glaring need.”
Another ESPN analyst, Todd McShay, also has Allen going No. 2 to the 49ers in his jock draft: “The Niners really want an edge rusher after only DeForest Buckner cracked six sacks for them in 2018 (Buckner had 12). Allen blew up offensive linemen all season en route to 17 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss for the Wildcats. With his big 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame, Allen could line up as a defensive end in the 49ers’ 4-3 scheme if he tacks on some more weight.”
Kiper believes Allen still has a realistic chance to “close the gap” on Bosa for the No. 1 pick.
“Allen had an unbelievable year. It was not like he was not solid before but he became a great player and his numbers improved dramatically,” Kiper said. “He became a one-man wrecking crew and had some really good players on that defense with him but he was the cornerstone of their defense. With his length, speed and kind of kid he is, he’s right there (in the No. 1 conversation).
“Allen fits with what the 49ers really need in an edge rusher. Allen would really help that front seven. I don’t think the 49ers or Jets (who have the No. 3 pick) would want to trade out (and pass on Allen). I think the 49ers will take him at two.”
Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow says Allen’s high profile on draft day will be “huge” for the Kentucky football program since he came to UK as a two-star recruit that had only one other Division I scholarship offer.
“He was a kid that nobody really wanted and to watch his progression to grow to become one of the best college defensive players I have seen in a long time was remarkable,” Marrow said. “Me and Josh got close.
“NFL people want to know what kind of kid they are getting for all this money. I tell them he is one of the most humble kids I have ever seen. When he decided to come back (for his senior season), Josh could have been running around here, going to clubs, hanging out, chasing girls. He was totally opposite. He was leading the married, professional life going into his senior year.”
Allen became the consensus national defensive player of the year, something Marrow said was “great” for him and the program.
“But it was not a surprise. That is what Mark Stoops wanted this program to be. We want to win awards just like kids at Ohio State and Alabama. We can do all that here and Josh proved that,” Marrow said. “Josh is going to change the direction of his family’s life in two months. It can be a generational change for him and to think you helped recruit a kid like that is pretty special. He is ready and I am really excited for him.”
Roger Harden had no illusions about what his role as a point guard would be when he came to Kentucky to play for coach Joe Hall in 1982 after earning McDonald’s All-American and Mr. Basketball honors in Indiana.
“The first thing coach Hall got across to me, and he was fair because he told me up front, was that I would have to give up my offense to play point guard for him,” Harden said. “You knew you better get the ball inside to Sam Bowie, Mel Turpin and Kenny Walker.
“When I signed I knew I had taken my last 20-foot shot off the fast break. I knew what I was getting into and I wanted to play at Kentucky. To me, the greatest thing you could do was play at Kentucky.”
Harden played his role well. He had 498 assists in 122 career games. He still ranks third on UK’s all-time assists list behind Dirk Minniefield’s 646 in 123 games and Anthony Epps’s 544 in 141 games. Behind Harden are Wayne Turner with 494 in 151 games, Sean Woods 482 in 91 games and Kyle Macy 470 in 98 games.
“Dirk probably scored more at point guard and had more freedom than anybody coach Hall ever coached,” Harden said. “I am amazed at how Cal (John Calipari) makes things work with new players every year. When I got to Kentucky, Dirk was a four-year, five-star player and he had the athleticism of John Wall or De’Aaron Fox. When you are a freshman and run into that, it is not pretty.
“Then we also had Dicky Beal. You come out of that experience a man and you had time to adjust rather than having to play immediately like guys do today. I was just thinking if I could start by the time I was a junior or senior, I am willing to risk going to UK. I was one of the top two or three players in my (recruiting) class, but that was just the way it was then.”
Several fans have asked me what that black tape is that PJ Washington has had on his shoulder for recent games.
Since I didn’t know, I asked his mother, Sherry.
“It’s called KT tape. It’s an elastic sports tape designed to relieve pain while supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments,” she said.
Washington has been on quite a scoring tear for Kentucky in Southeastern Conference play and figures to have to carry an even bigger load with Reid Travis out two weeks or more with a knee sprain. However, the tape is not a sign of an injury for Washington.
“He’s just been sore from all the hard work inside the paint,” Sherry Washington said.
Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard is one of the best freshmen in the Southeastern Conference, or maybe the best.
“Her versatility, I mean you can’t really put a position on her,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. “She’s a tough matchup, she is poised beyond her age and I think that comes from some of her experiences with USA Basketball. She just plays at such a calming pace.
“She would be the kid I would pick in a pickup game. I think she’s just a tough matchup for every player in the league and I think she’s mature beyond her classification.”
Neighbors said she plays with a rare confidence for a freshman and credits UK coach Matthew Mitchell for using her the right way.
“They have put her in great position to be successful and don’t ask her to do too much because she has great players around her,” Neighbors said after Howard hit a game-winning shot to beat his team. “If she came in a year later and they wouldn’t have Maci (Morris) or Taylor Murray, it might be a different situation.
“I think she is just able to take what comes… she doesn’t have to force her game or rush it. She has dominated the SEC. She had my vote a long time ago for freshman of the year but she really has it now.”
Former Kentucky standout Devin Booker is one of the rising stars in the NBA and former Kentucky teammate Karl-Anthony Towns felt he should have been on an NBA All-Star this season.
“I think the biggest thing for him is just keep playing his game. He could have had a shot and should have deserved a spot this All-Star Weekend, but you can’t be worrying about that,” Towns said.
“He just got to come next year and make it undeniable for him to be in here. He’s already regarded as a top talent in this league. Everyone knows that. No one disagrees.
“Now it’s just for him to go out there and make it undeniable for him to be here on Sunday (in the All-Star Game next year).”
Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne isn’t afraid to share insights that many other coaches won’t with the media or fans. Payne is candid with his observations and never ducks questions — and he did not recently when asked if coaches have a different approach for different players. Coaches do but most won’t admit it like Payne did.
“It has to be. Each kid is different. I have a philosophy that I heard years ago: You can’t coach what you don’t know and every kid is an assignment,” Payne said. “The way Keldon Johnson’s personality is is different than the way Tyler’s (Herro) personality is, which is different than the way Ashton’s is, which is totally different than the way EJ’s is.
“Those four freshmen have to be dealt with separately and more geared toward them and what they are and who they are.”
Some freshmen can handle the intense criticism better than others. Payne noted that point guard Ashton Hagans has “pouted” at times this year, something Hagans did not deny.
So which freshman out of all he’s coached at UK has been able to take the most criticism?
“Brandon Knight would be the first,” Payne said. “No matter what we said, no matter how hard we pushed him he was out to prove to us that he could do whatever.”
Quote of the Week: “I think being from Kentucky, we love Kentucky. When you are born, you are either a Wildcat or something else, but usually it’s a Wildcat. Kentucky, area wise it is large, but it is a very small state and everyone knows each other it feels like, so you just want to see your family do well,” senior Maci Morris on what being from Kentucky has meant to her