By Larry Vaught
Kentucky fans were disappointed when five-star center Marques Bolden picked Duke over Kentucky recently even though some recruiting services still have UK with the No. 1 recruiting class.
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy doesn’t think losing Bolden was a devastating blow for Kentucky.
“Although I like Bolden a lot and think he is a useful player, I never thought it was urgent for Kentucky to get him. He would have made the Wildcats a better team, as he will make Duke better,” DeCourcy said. “But UK has a lot of frontcourt players. If they don’t excel next season, it won’t be for lack of size or depth.”
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Kentucky football season ticket sales are lagging behind last year — and who can be surprised by that after four straight losing season.
So what player or players has to make a big jump in August for UK to be successful next season? That’s a question I posed to four media members who cover Kentucky football and basketball.
Tom Leach, UK Radio Network/Leach Report: “We’ve seen players make transformations over the summer in the past and this would be a great time for Matt Elam to take it to another level in preparing himself to be a force in the middle of the defensive line come August. And other interior defensive linemen making that big jump would also be a big plus because the Cats.”
Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader: “The entire middle of the defensive front, and I’m sure people will focus especially on Matt Elam because of his recruiting profile.”
Keith Taylor, Kentucky Forward: “Boom Williams and the receivers, namely Garrett Johnson and Jeff Badet will need to build on the spring they each had in order for the Wildcats to establish a legitimate passing game. Didn’t see as many dropped passes during spring workouts, also a bonus for the new offensive coaching staff.”
Freddie Maggard, Kentucky Sports Radio: “Offensive tackle and the defensive line in entirety. If those two improve or develop, Kentucky has the surrounding skill talent to win some games.”
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Probably not near enough attention was paid to what the Kentucky men’s golf team did when it finished 13th in the NCAA championships after failing to even make the tourney field last year. It was Kentucky’s best finish since 2006 when the Cats were sixth.
Coach Brian Craig got UK into the NCAA for the sixth time in his tenure and not only did the Cats play well, but they did it with only one senior and four of the five NCAA players were Kentuckians.
Sophomores Chip McDaniel of Manchester and Cooper Musselman of Louisville tied for 26th in the individual race. Senior David Snyder of Somerset and sophomore Stephen Stallings of Louisville tied for 66th and freshman Lukas Euler of Germany 79th.
It was quite a year for the Cats. Stallings had a nine-hole score of 29 during a 7-under par round of 65. He was the first UK player to shoot a 65 in two years when Snyder did the same things at the SEC Championships. Stallings was only the 11th UK player since 2005 to shoot 65 or better in a round.
The team won its first tournament title in several years and McDaniel had a terrific individual season.
Stallings’ mother, Pam, is understandably proud of what the team did at the NCAA Championship in Oregon.
“Everyone in Oregon was simply spectacular and watching Golf Channel realizing how well our boys have done — the UK Nation should be so proud and coach Craig and the boys deserve all the attention and support,” Pam Stallings said.
The team probably deserved more attention because the 13th-place finish was higher than the more high profile UK teams had this year.
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Seven-footer DeAndre Ayton of Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix is one of the top players in the 2017 recruiting class but Kentucky’s interest in him had seen to wane until recently when Ayton said he has again been hearing regularly from the UK staff.
Much like Skal Labissiere, Ayton has not played basketball as long as many others in his recruiting class. He will be 18 in late July, but started playing basketball in his native Bahamas only five years ago. He says he still can’t remember exactly why he started playing.
“I didn’t really come over here to United States for basketball. It was really just for a good education and opportunity. Coaches started to see my potential and size. They wanted to train me and I just fell in love with it,” Ayton said. “I have always been tall. I never had growing pains.”
One of his favorite players happens to be former Wildcat Anthony Davis.
“Anthony Davis is something special. To be a point guard and now have point guard skills at his size, that’s crazy. He can put the ball on the floor, go by an opponent any time he wants. That is what I am trying to work on as well. I model my game after Anthony Davis, too,” Ayton said.
Ayton prides himself in his 3-point shooting.
“We have worked and put up a lot of shots off the dribble, spot up shooting. Every time we got in the gym we work on post moves and shooting every day,” Ayton said.
Ayton says the attention from summer games and big-time coaches from Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and others will not distract him. He does not plan to officially trim his college list until later this summer and then take his official visits.
“I have got to keep my eye on the prize to be honest. The day you fail at your craft, nobody is going to want to show you any attention,” Ayton said.