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UK boosted by ‘great addition,’ 10-plus assist man, ‘relentless rebounder’

·7 min read

Chris Dortch, editor and publisher of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, cited “great choices from the portal” as a reason Kentucky is No. 7 in the publication’s preseason top 25.

That’s a reference to transfers Kellan Grady (Davidson), Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia), Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) and CJ Fredrick (Iowa).

“I’ve been able to see Kellan Grady play a lot because I admire the way Davidson plays under Coach Bob McKillop and watch Davidson games whenever I can,” Dortch wrote in an email. “So, I know he’s a great addition who will play a huge role.”

Of Wheeler, who led the Southeastern Conference in assists last season, Dortch wrote, “He could average double-figure assists this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Dortch judged Tshiebwe as “a relentless rebounder and rim protector.”

Fredrick and Grady will give Kentucky the three-point shooting threat that was missing last season, he wrote.

“Other than Texas, that’s as good a haul from the portal as anyone,” Dortch added. He saw this showing how Kentucky and Coach John Calipari could effectively adapt to the evolving nature of college basketball.

“I think it speaks to how the game has changed that Kentucky might start four players that began their careers at other schools,” Dortch wrote.

Double-digits

In making its case to name Gonzaga as No. 1 in its preseason poll, Blue Ribbon noted that the Jags won a record 27 straight games by a double-digit margin last season.

That streak ended in the Final Four when Gonzaga beat UCLA 93-90 in overtime in the national semifinals and then lost 86-70 to Baylor in the championship game.

This prompted a question: What is Kentucky’s longest streak of victories by double-digit margins?

Answer: UK won 20 straight games by 10 or more points in the 1948-49 season. The streak began on Jan. 15 and ended on March 14.

Kentucky’s second-longest such streak came in the unbeaten season (25-0) of 1953-54. UK won 16 straight games by 15 or more points. Led by Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos, the Cats had only two games in which they won by a single-digit margin: 77-71 over Xavier and 63-56 over LSU.

The longest streak in John Calipari’s time as UK coach has been 12 straight to start the 2014-15 season.

Ranked opponents

Kentucky will play 10 games against teams in Blue Ribbon’s top 25 in the 2021-22 regular season. That’s two each against No. 10 Tennessee and No. 15 Alabama, plus one each against No. 3 Kansas, No. 8 Duke, No. 13 Arkansas, No. 20 Ohio State, No. 22 Auburn and No. 24 Mississippi State.

Kansas returns four regulars from last season. Plus the Jayhawks added transfer Remy Martin, who led the Pac-12 in scoring for Arizona State last season.

Tennessee adds a top four freshman class, plus transfer (and Kentucky native) Justin Powell from Auburn. Productive “big” John Fulkerson returns.

Arkansas’ four returning regulars include SEC Sixth Man of the Year JD Notae.

If backcourt experience and steady guard play remain a must, Alabama (Jahvan Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford) and Mississippi State (Iverson Molinar and transfer Rocket Watts from Michigan State) are equipped to compete.

Cat crazy?

Lance Adams and his daughter, Cadence, were among the fans who attended the Kentucky players’ NIL event known as Fans First Fan Fest last weekend at Transylvania University.

Adams, 39, recalled being about his daughter’s age when he watched the UK team in a preseason event at Nelson County High School prior to the 1991-92 season. Seeing players including Richie Farmer, Sean Woods and John Pelphrey in the flesh made a lasting impression.

A Louisville graduate, Adams said he regularly wore UK attire on the U of L campus. The reaction from fellow Louisville students? “Plenty of nasty looks,” he said.

Adams, who lives in Mount Washington, seemed to suggest heredity and/or environment made him a rabid UK fan.

When Christian Laettner made the famous (infamous?) shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, “my mom threw the channel changer through the glass door,” Adams said. “I came from a crazy family.”

To ask Adams what he did for a living seemed to prompt a punch line. “Behavior analyst,” he said.

Basketball crazy

Mohammad Hmoud attended the Fans First Fan Fest with his girlfriend, Nicole. He is a native of Jordan, the Arab nation on the east bank of the Jordan River. He moved to New Jersey when he was 10.

In his first week in the United States, Hmoud watched a game in which Michael Jordan moved a basketball from one hand to the other to free himself for a dunk. Hmoud was hooked.

Basketball led him to Kentucky, where he is attending UK while working in Frankfort. An uncle had earlier moved to Kentucky and recommended Hmoud follow his example.

“I always loved basketball in general,” Hmoud said. “My uncle told me, ‘You’ll love it here. They’re crazy about basketball.’”

Hmoud, 41, said he considered himself 80-percent American, “but I still like my culture and people. I still speak fluent Arabic.”

In Kentucky, Hmoud is bilingual in more ways than one. “We all talk basketball,” he said.

Good to be king

During an appearance on a Truss Levelz podcast this summer, Alabama football coach Nick Saban acknowledged having been an all-state high school player in basketball and baseball as well as football in West Virginia.

His lofty status as a championship football coach ensures a starring basketball role that endures to this day.

“We still play noon-time basketball …,” Saban said. “I pick elite players to be on my team. And then I pick the guy to guard me on the other team. And then I call all the fouls.

“So, we’re pretty successful.”

As Mel Brooks said in the movie “History of the World, Part 1,” it’s good to be king.

Congratulations

To former UK All-American Anthony Davis. He and his wife, Marlen P, were married last weekend.

A social media posting showed Davis singing “Never Make a Promise” by Dru Hill to Marlen.

The website Essence posted that guests included fellow ex-Cat and former NBA teammate DeMarcus Cousins. Other guests included Adele, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Jared Dudley and Quinn Cook.

Davis became at least the third NBA player to marry this month. Earlier in September, six-time all-star Damian Lillard married college sweetheart Kay’La Hanson. And Josh Hart married high school sweetheart Shannon Phillips.

Congratulations II

To former UK player Tyler Herro. He became a father on Sept. 14 with the birth of daughter Zya Elise Herro.

The baby’s middle name was inspired by her mother’s name: model Katya Elise Henry.

Belated happy birthday

To former LSU coach John Brady. He turned 67 on Sept. 17. … To former NBA player and coach Phil Jackson. He turned 76 on Sept. 17. … To Dickey Beal. He turned 59 on Sept. 18. … To former UK coach Rick Pitino. He turned 69 on Sept. 18. … To Derrick Hord. He turned 61 on Sept. 19. … To Adam Williams. He turned 36 on Sept. 19. … Jared Carter. He turned 35 on Sept. 20. … To Jack Givens. He turned 65 on Sept. 21. … To former Vandy coach Bryce Drew. He turned 47 on Sept. 21. … To Hall of Famer Sidney Moncrief. He turned 64 on Sept. 21. … To Dakari Johnson. He turned 26 on Sept. 22.

Happy birthday

To Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin. He turned 50 on Thursday. … To Rodrick Rhodes. He turned 48 on Friday. … To Matt Heissenbuttel. He turned 40 on Friday. … To Cliff Berger. He turned 75 on Saturday. … To Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. He turned 56 on Saturday. … To Cade Cunningham. The first overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft turned 20 on Saturday. … To Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He turns 28 on Sunday (today). … To Riley Welch. He turns 24 on Sunday (today). … To Jeff Sheppard. He turns 47 on Wednesday.

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