By Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
Most college basketball experts will tell you that each season is divided into five mini- seasons which consist of pre-season practice, nonconference games, conference regular season, conference postseason and NCAA tourney. So this week UK enters the SEC regular season portion of the schedule.
The Cats are ranked No 1 and considered a prohibitive favorite to win the SEC regular season title and quite possibly run the table at 18-0 which if this materializes would put them at 31-0 entering the SEC postseason tourney in Nashville, Tenn., and on schedule for the ultimate prize of a 40-0 undefeated season and NCAA championship No. 9. So far there has been only a couple mild bumps in the road. First was the season-ending ACL injury which sidelined Alex Poythress and the second, which wasn't as much of a bump, was the first physical hard fought challenge on the road with the possibility of spoiling the undefeated season. At this point, it appears Poythress' injury can be overcome and the Louisville game while much like a scrum match has been placed in the W column for UK and everyone can now move forward.
So, with the marquee games (Kansas-Texas-UCLA-North Carolina-Louisville) now behind them and the SEC once again not getting much respect from the pollsters, the big question during Camp Cal the last 10 days was how can John Calipari keep his team hungry?
My guess is and what I would recommend is to use what everybody doesn’t want to talk about as a motivation factor. Tell the players you want to do something special, be a part of history, then let’s talk about going undefeated and keep it in the forefront and fresh on their minds before they take the court for every game. You're playing for a program that deals constantly with being placed in the national media’s eye, the majority of your roster has already experienced playing on the biggest stage. The UK freshmen like most of recent years have already been exposed to more big-time game day atmosphere through the all-star game circuit than most juniors and seniors.
I can’t think of anything else that would keep the players' minds from wondering and putting an emphasis on attention to detail more than constantly reminding them they are square in the middle of doing something very special and don't let the pressure consume you.
As far as competition the upcoming two months, I’m not buying into what others are saying especially on the road across the south. When Kentucky arrives at places like Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia -- it’s very much like when the Alabama football team rolls into town during the fall -- everybody raises their game level. More threes fall, more rebounds bounce into the home team's hands, and the whistle mysteriously turns in favor of the home team unlike Rupp Arena.
Everything taken into consideration it does appear that this UK team is special enough to pull off this 40-0 miracle season but it has to go out every night hungry with a fresh mind and true sense of purpose because it will be the world against the blue team, at least until they run into Duke.
UK Football Hits Final Leg Of 2015 Recruiting Season
Mark Stoops and his assistants are drifting into the final leg of the 2015 recruiting season and must close the deal on about 17 verbal commitments from the past year then reel in a couple recruits who have not yet made their decision.
The most coveted recruit still on board at this point resides just 25 minutes down the road in Richmond, Ky. Damien Harris, whom many consider the No. 1 running back in the entire country, is set to make his decision this coming Saturday and Harris has made it known that the winner will come from UK, Alabama and Ohio State. Many think Stoops has done his homework and will get the coveted prize come signing day but until it happens it’s still pure speculation. Marcus Lewis a 6-2 safety rated No. 154 in ESPN’s Top 300 from the Washington D.C. area, is still uncommitted and UK is reportedly squarely in the mix.
Stoops already has verbal commitments from two ESPN Top 300 players in safety Marcus Walker and LB Eli Brown. Both should have an opportunity to play as a freshman due to a severe lack of quality depth at both of their positions. As always there will be a surprise or two on signing day but if Stoops can pull in the four above mentioned recruits along with the 17 previous verbal commitments, it should provide UK with another Top 20 class, like last year, and maybe it’s all-time best.
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK basketball and football as well as KHSAA basketball and football. Also you can follow me on Twitter at @combsbrothers5.