Tag Archives: UofL

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KENTUCKY HOOPS SAYS GOOD-BYE TO EPPS AND AKHATOR, HELLO TO A YOUNGER BUNCH 

BY STEVE KAUFMAN 


Matthew Mitchell will start from scratch this year, without star power but with a lot of depth


John Calipari loses – and replaces – key players every year on his Kentucky men’s basketball team. But for Matthew Mitchell, coach of the UK women’s team, losing key players can be extremely disruptive.

And that is the case for this year’s squad. Gone by graduation from last year’s nationally ranked team that won 22 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament are Makayla Epps, the dynamic floor leader and shotmaker, and Evelyn Akhator, the imposing inside presence.

Epps scored 17.7 points a game and shot 35.5 percent from three-point range. Akhator added 16 points and nearly 11 rebounds a game. She was the third pick overall in the WNBA draft, by the Dallas Wings. The fiery Epps was drafted in the third round by the Chicago Sky.

So, in other words, much to replace.

The burden falls on two double-figure scorers from last year, juniors Taylor Murray and Maci Morris. Both are sweet-shooting backcourt players, and Murray, in particular, is as fast a player as anyone in the country. She also was a McDonald’s All-American (a reference all of Big Blue Nation is familiar with) while in high school in Odenton, Md.

Of all returning players from last year’s team, Murray carries over the most points per game (12.2), rebounds (4.9 a game), assists (3.9 a game) and steals (2.0 a game). Morris averaged 11.8 a game and led the team with 53 made threes.

Whether either one has the dynamic, aggressive floor leadership abilities that Epps brought to the court will have to remain to be seen. But the early season has produced a 3-0 record and a national ranking. And the two veterans combined for 34 points in the third win of the season, 71-54 over the University of Montana. Murray added 12 rebounds in that game.

Another returner, senior Jessica Hardin (a transfer from Bellarmine), was leading the team in three-point average a year ago before suffering a concussion that ended her junior season. Mitchell regards her value as more than just shooting. She’s an energetic hustler, as well.

As is Jaida Roper, a 5-6 sophomore whose slim statistics last year probably weren’t an indication of how much Mitchell hopes she’ll bring to the court this year.

And then there’s replacing Akhator. In early season play, 6-3 freshman Dorie Harrison has been asserting herself. She had nine rebounds in 20 minutes in the season opener, a 101-point effort over Sacramento State; and another eight rebounds against Montana.

But the team suffered a severe loss, even before the season began, with a knee injury to Ogechi Anyagaligbo, a 6-1 junior who transferred to UK from SUNY Stony Brook, where she was the America East Conference freshman of the year, averaging 10 points and nine rebounds.

Other bright spots in the season-opening win over Sacramento State were Makenzie Cann, a 6-1 senior guard who scored 17 points, making six of nine shots, four of six from three; and Tatyana Wyatt, a 6-2 freshman forward, who scored 13 points in 15 minutes off the bench.

Cann had another double-figure game against Gardner-Webb, scoring 10 points (with four-of-seven shooting) and with seven rebounds in the team’s 72-34 route. Last year, Cann played inside a lot, because of her height. The feeling is, the deeper talent on this year’s squad will enable her to roam the floor, where her height will make her a tough matchup for most teams.

And Roper, making the most of her off-the-bench opportunities, came in against Sacramento State and threw up six shots in 21 minutes, scoring nine points. She scored another 10 against Gardner- Webb, and 14 against Montana.

But the season’s early non-conference games in November are just that. Early games in November. Coach Mitchell will remind you it’s a long season, especially in the SEC, arguably the strongest women’s basketball league in the country. South Carolina is the reigning national champion, last year ending the Connecticut Huskies’ four-year reign. The Gamecocks beat another SEC school, Mississippi State (who knocked off the Huskies in the semifinals), in the national championship game.

Last year, Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri, Auburn and Tennessee also made the tournament (as well, of course, as Kentucky and the two championship finalists). And Tennessee, when coached by the late, legendary Pat Summitt, was probably the country’s most elite program, with eight national championships and five other losses in the championship game. Summitt’s gone, but Tennessee still brings the weird-colored magic.

But Kentucky is not looking in from the outside. Mitchell can do much more than dance like Elvis. His Kentucky teams have won 71 percent of their games. He has led them to eight straight NCAA tournament appearances, developing the games of such UK superstars as Victoria Dunlap and A’dia Mathies. His teams have reached three Elite Eights. He’d probably laugh at the notion, though, that this might be his toughest rebuilding year. He’d probably say that every year is tough and challenging.

Calipari’s teams are always loaded with promising freshmen. Mitchell is not without the same on his team this year. Keke McKinney, a 6-1 frosh from Knoxville, Tenn., is learning a new role. She played the 1 or 2 in high school, but Mitchell wants her out on the court, probably in the 3 position. Even as a freshman, though, on a team dominated by upperclassmen, she has shown the vocal, aggressive personality that made Epps such a compelling presence during her UK tour.

Ten players played double-figure minutes against Sacramento State, eight more against Gardner-Webb, and seven against Montana. That’s a preview of the depth Mitchell expects to get from his team this year. Of course, minutes on the floor tend to condense as players’ strengths and weaknesses emerge and the level of competition gets tougher. Kentucky basketball fans have become used to seeing every year how Calipari goes from 10 or 11 players early to a nucleus of seven or eight in the cauldron of the real season. But Mitchell has indicated just the opposite tendency, especially with this team.

Without a breakthrough, dominant player – like Dunlap, Mathies or Epps – he’s counting on the strength of this team being its depth. The ability to bring in fresh legs without losing competitiveness. It’s a factor that always plays well against less-deep teams, who begin gasping for breath and tugging on their shorts, especially in up-tempo games. It’s what he expects to see this year.

But is that how it will play out? Coaches who preach depth and balance are always hoping that somebody steps up and claims superstar status, providing the bulk of minutes, points and leadership to take their teams deep into the NCAA tournament.

Does Mitchell have that superstar? Might it be Murray, or Morris, or maybe Wyatt, or Cann, or Harrison? The beginning of every season is always rife with unknown possibilities. The fun of the season is seeing how all that plays out.

Even more fun than one of Mitchell’s stank legs or hammer-time dances, baggy Hammer pants and all.

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LOUISVILLE CITY FC LAUNCHES “LOUCITY BOURBON BRIGADE”

New supporter volunteer group seeking people willing to assist.

Louisville City FC has launched a new volunteer group for supporters who wish to assist in the growth of the United Soccer League club and soccer throughout the region.

Christened the LouCity Bourbon Brigade in honor of the region’s rich bourbon heritage, this new supporter-led volunteer group will have the opportunity to work directly with the LouCity front office and team by helping grow the soccer club’s supporter base.

LouCity Bourbon Brigade members will be invited to:

• Become a Lou City ambassador and assist and help staff LCFC events

• Use their own contacts and networks in the community to help expand the LouCity season ticket base

• Use their experience to assist LouCity in generating new season ticket sales leads, season ticket renewals and assist with promotional events and campaigns throughout the year

• Support the club’s charitable and community-oriented efforts

• Assist in the club’s efforts to have a new stadium built in Butchertown

Fans who join the new volunteer group will be rewarded for their time and efforts with recognition, great rewards and prizes and unique money-can’t-buy LouCity experiences including:

• An opportunity to meet the team and coaching staff at an exclusive event

• Attend a closed-door team practice and a team talk from Coach James O’Connor

• Earn exclusive club merchandise

• Have their photo taken with their favorite LouCity player

• Earn a chance to travel with the club to a road game and be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a trip to an English Premiership match

• Help introduce the team as part of the Bourbon Brigade Tunnel on match day

Supporters interested in joining the new group can apply at the club’s website: www. louisvillecityfc.com/bourbonbrigade. Membership of the group is by application only and open to anyone 18 or over. Interviews for successful applicants will take place in November.

“This is a unique opportunity for our most dedicated fans to get even closer to the club by dedicating their time, effort and contacts in the community to help LouCity and soccer in general in our region grow and flourish,” said Louisville City FC Chief Operating Officer Steve Livingstone. “If you love Louisville City and soccer, and have some time to spare, we’d love to hear from you by applying at the LouCity website. There are some great rewards, experiences and recognition for those supporters who get involved.”

Supporters can apply to join the volunteer group at www.louisvillecityfc.com/bourbonbrigade or call Jon Davis at 502.384.8799, ext. 114 or email him at jdavis@louisvillecityfc.com.

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What’s Next? MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS THESE DAYS IN LOCAL SPORTS

By Howie Lindsey | 790 KRD

What’s next?

THAT’S THE QUESTION MOST EXASPERATED LOUISVILLE FANS HAVE BEEN ASKING OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS. IT’S ALSO A COMMON QUESTION AMONG THE ARDENT BASKETBALL FANS IN INDIANA AND KENTUCKY AS THE CORE OF COLLEGE HOOPS SEEMS TO BE IN QUESTION DUE TO THE ONGOING FBI INVESTIGATION. 

WHILE I DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS, LET’S ATTEMPT TO BREAK OUT THE CRYSTAL BALL TO DETERMINE WHAT MAY BE NEXT FOR A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT PEOPLE AND ENTITIES IN OUR SPORTING LANDSCAPE. 

What’s next for Louisville Basketball? 

In the short term, David Padgett and his new trio of assistant coaches — longtime veteran head coach Trent Johnson, eager assistant Greg Paulus and former program assistant R.J. Evans — will man the ship until a head coach can be hired. This year’s team has so much talent and athleticism that it just might surprise people on the national landscape who viewed Louisville as a lost cause after Rick Pitino’s firing.

Fans are going to love the new and improved Deng Adel with his incredible defense and improved jumpshot. Fans will like the smooth confidence of VJ King and the bouncy athleticism of Ray Spalding and more consistent play from Anas Mahmoud. And the freshmen? Darius Perry will be a sparkplug at guard and Malik Williams is a quiet, rebounding machine.

What about long term? 

I recently spoke with Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra who said they were flooded with candidates when looking for assistant coaches. I think it will be the same when the Cardinals go looking for a head coach next spring. Louisville is still a Top 10 program with a Top 3 arena and competitive pay. It’s an elite job and — as Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams once said — many coaches would crawl over broken glass to get to Louisville.

Williams, Xavier’s Chris Mack, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Dayton’s Anthony Grant will all be on the short list of candidates.

What’s next for Rick Pitino?

Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino isn’t fighting for his job any more — that part of the fight is over. Now, he is fighting for his reputation.

Pitino and his lawyer, Steve Pence, filed a lawsuit against Adidas over its handling of the recruiting scandal that rocked the University of Louisville and four other universities last month. Pitino told Jay Bilas that Adidas “robbed him of his love of basketball.”

Through lawsuits against Adidas and the University of Louisville, Pitino will attempt to prove he didn’t know any of the alleged activities were going on. And he just might do that.

Regardless if he wins or not, it is difficult to imagine him coaching college basketball again at age 65. So what’s next? TV, of course. Rick Pitino would be a smash hit as a television analyst – breaking down games for ESPN or CBS. It’s a natural fit.

What’s that you say? No way a network hires him with the NCAA issues. Ahem, Lou Holtz left NC State, Minnesota, Arkansas, Notre Dame and South Carolina on NCAA probation. That’s FIVE schools, and the TV networks love him. He’s even in rental car commercials. Pitino will follow that same path.

What’s next for the Yum! Center? 

The specter of a possible NCAA Death Penalty is a worst case scenario for the Yum! Center and the city of Louisville. Without a season of men’s basketball games, the Yum! would have 20 more dates to fill and no real way to make up that kind of income.

The good news? Very few believe the NCAA will ever enact the Death Penalty on a program again. More likely, the NCAA will enact more post-season bans or perhaps the same kind of media blackout that hit Kentucky basketball during the “Kentucky Shame” days of the late 1980s.

The Yum! Center is restructuring debt and is also getting an extra $2.5 million per year from Louisville, it’s primary tenant, as well. Hopefully, that will keep it viable for years to come.

What’s next for Romeo Langford? 

The New Albany superstar guard was once thought to be leaning toward Louisville. Not anymore. After recently visiting Indiana for Hoosier Hysteria, many people think his choices are Kansas, Indiana, Vandy, UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina. The trouble is — with the FBI still investigating every major program in the nation — committing to ANY college at this point is fairly perilous because of their involvement in possible recruiting violations. Well, except maybe Vandy.

So what’s a recruit to do? At the very least, it’d be best to wait until the spring to make the pick and even then, I wouldn’t advise him to sign a binding National Letter of Intent to any school. Romeo’s good enough that colleges will hold a spot for him if he tells them he’s on his way. [Editor’s Note: This issue of Extol Sports went to press Oct. 25.]

What’s next for college basketball?

While some coaches have issued statements noting their “shock” and “surprise” at the allegations of rampant payments in college basketball, don’t believe them.

While individual coaches can be shocked that their actual assistant coaches were involved (see: Pitino, Rick), the fact that some recruits were getting paid is not news to anyone in the business.

And it’s not just an Adidas issue.

The assistant coaches ensnared in the first wave of the FBI probe worked for schools represented by Nike (Arizona, USC and Oklahoma State), Adidas (Louisville and Miami) and Under Armor (Auburn).

How big will the FBI’s net get? On the day the initial indictments were filed, the FBI told college basketball coaches, “We have your playbook. You will be better off contacting us before we contact you.”

In the weeks since then, some have suggested the initial estimates of 50-80 coaches involved, have been diminished, but others have said this issue is just getting started.

“There are some problems that are baked in that are perhaps a little more prevalent because of the structure of college basketball,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, “but you don’t have to have too vivid an imagination to see this showing up in other sports.

“As a result, this is going to be around for a while, and we’re likely to be in the same situation we’re in now We don’t have very much information and we aren’t going to get a heads up before something happens, and as a result it’s a period of discomfort.”

So how big could this get? What happens next to summer shoe-circuit basketball? My guess would be the Blue Ribbon panel the NCAA convened to talk about the issue will shut down shoe-circuit basketball tournaments and camps in favor of NCAA-led summer efforts. Will that stop the cheating? No, but it should slow it down some.

What’s next for Tom Jurich?

In addition to firing Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville fired Athletic Director Tom Jurich during its cleanse of all things athletics in mid-October. Jurich, who likely stands to land a bundle of money from the university in a lawsuit over how his termination was carried out, could certainly take another athletics director job at another university. He has had many options over the years, offers from many of the top traditional programs in NCAA sports, but he has never left Louisville.

He could certainly say yes to one of those offers now, but my guess would be that he doesn’t.

Instead of finally taking one of the southern California schools up on their consistent offers, my guess would be he creates and chairs a search firm where he can be hired by schools all over the country to help hire coaches in major sports.

We all know he has a knack for hiring effective coaches, and this would allow him the flexibility to work outside the typical athletics framework to land the right candidates with the right jobs. He’d be a smashing success at it.

What’s next for the Louisville Athletics?

Interim President Greg Postel may have struck gold in Vince Tyra. The life-long Louisville fan whose father, Charlie, is one of the greatest players to ever don a Louisville uniform, Vince hit the ground running as acting AD and hasn’t looked back.

Tyra met with every coach on campus in the first two days of his hiring, he met every team on campus in the first three weeks and he seems intent on keeping his focus on exactly the right thing: the student-athletes on campus.

One of Tom Jurich’s most-effective leadership traits was focusing on the student-athlete experience and making sure they had everything they needed to be successful. Tyra seems intent on continuing that tradition, asking the athletes he meets, “What can I do to make you successful?” That’s such a powerful question when executed with the right intent.

Is Tyra the long-term solution? No one is sure, including Tyra.

His pay structure — $100,000 per month of his employment — is set up to be fairly indefinite.

Much like Louisville basketball, Louisville athletics will have no shortage of elite candidates who would crawl to come to campus to run athletics in the future. With the nearly $400 million in facility assets on campus and a primo spot in the ACC, the future of Louisville athletics looks strong as long as athletics isn’t diminished under a future UofL administration.

What’s next for other Louisville coaches? 

One of the most common questions over the last several weeks has been what happens to the other coaches that Tom Jurich brought to campus? Let’s start with this: None of the coaches will leave immediately. They have seasons to coach and have very lucrative contracts in place with compensation to boot. But the long-term success of UofL will depend on the board of trustees finding an athletic director who can continue Louisville’s upward trajectory.

Certainly, Tom Jurich could be a firebrand, but the board would be making a mistake if they overcorrected and brought in a milquetoast, meager manager to replace Jurich.

Someone with a lack of vision could derail the forward progress in many of Louisville’s 23 sports and could cause Louisville’s current set of all-star coaches to start listening to other offers.

What’s next in local sports media? 

UofL is building a new $8 million TV and production studio on campus. The new studio is part of the ACC’s contract requiring every school to have its own production studio up and running by the end of 2018 before the launch of the new network in 2019. So what does this mean for local sports media? Well, with schools and leagues taking over more production and shows, the amount of access granted to local media outlets may diminish. Conversely, the amount of options for fans to learn about their favorite team will be at an all-time high, with much of the slickly produced video content coming from the school directly.

As a side note, the new studios and production team will allow UofL students the ability to leave college with real broadcast experience for the first time in decades. That could be a nice feeder system of young talent for local TV and radio stations.

What’s next for Adidas and Louisville? 

A common question over the last few weeks has been what happens to the 10-year, $160-million deal between Louisville and Adidas. It was, after all, an Adidas employee who was involved in the FBI scandal.

While no one knows for sure what will happen with the deal, my guess is that Tyra and UofL will do everything they can to make sure Louisville gets that money. Even though Interim President Greg Postel said he wanted “no part” of the money “if it’s tainted,” the agreement is so key to Louisville’s Athletic development that it would be prudent for Louisville and Adidas to implement more oversight and continue working together.

On Oct. 24, Tyra said “I’ve been through that thing quite a bit. The contract itself does not raise concerns for me. … We’ll go through that and flush out more details this week as we move along. But today I don’t have a report that there’s anything negative tied to that contract.”

The deal included an innovative Create Space on Louisville’s campus that would allow for product innovation and creation with the aid of athletes and trainers. It also established funding for internships and Sports Administration major opportunities that would give Louisville’s SPAD program a leg up on every University except perhaps Oregon, who has a similar partnership with Nike.

What’s next for local sports? 

This is perhaps the most interesting question. Could Jurich’s firing at Louisville open the door for proponents of professional basketball at the Yum! Center? Possibly, but I still don’t think the city has enough corporate donors to make it happen. Of course, all that could change if Louisville’s bid to become Amazon’s HQ-2 is successful. Now THAT would revolutionize this region.

What’s next for the Louisville and Southern Indiana sports landscape likely includes the new stadium for LouCity FC and continued rise for that fan base and franchise. The location there in Butchertown could be a stellar spot, and the renderings the ownership group have proposed would make the stadium a showpiece on the highly visible I-64 corridor just east of downtown.

On the college level, newly signed deals for long-term rivalry games between Louisville and Indiana will be good for our area, plus the NCAA’s new charity basketball game legislation will allow for Kentucky and IU to arrange a new preseason basketball game in the Yum! Center each year to benefit a charity of John Calipari’s choosing. Won’t that be fun? Well, we can dream, can’t we?

[Editor’s Note: This issue of Extol Sports went to press Oct. 25.] 

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Predictions

We asked a panel of “experts” to weigh in on the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball season. Here’s what they said.


HOWIE LINDSEY, 790 KRD 

SURPRISE TEAM: Virginia Tech. I think they will be much tougher than people realize and it wouldn’t shock me if they are a Sweet 16 team this season.

DISAPPOINTING TEAM: North Carolina. They seem to be a preseason Top 10 team with a lot of question marks.

FINAL FOUR: Duke, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Miles Bridges, Michigan State

COACH OF THE YEAR: Bob Huggins, West Virginia


JIM BIERY, Extol Sports Columnist

SURPRISE TEAM: Northwestern. First trip ever last year & majority of team coming back.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: UK. Top returning scorer just 4.6 PPG.

FINAL FOUR: Arizona, Michigan St, Villanova, Duke

PLAYER OF YEAR: Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) complete game defense & offense

COACH OF YEAR: Tom Izzo. Team is loaded and he is one of top teachers of the game.


ZACH MCCRITE, Extol Sports Columnist

SURPRISE TEAM: I’ll go with the homer pick for me: Indiana. Archie Miller went right to work in recruiting and, by all national accounts, really did well. Combine that with a new energy around Bloomington and why wouldn’t they return to the NCAA Tournament in 2018?

DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Louisville. With Rick Pitino not roaming the sidelines, I can’t imagine the expectations for this season being met. That’s no knock on new head coach David Padgett, it’s just a testament to my respect for Pitino as a coach.

FINAL FOUR: Shot in the dark: Kentucky, Kansas, West Virginia and Florida.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jalen Brunson – Villanova. That’s off the board a little, but his effective field goal percentage was 61.9 last season. That sounds like a number a seven-footer would have. He’s a point guard!

COACH OF THE YEAR: Give me Bill Self. He’ll continue to run the Big 12 and will do it with more ease than in recent seasons.


STEVE KAUFMAN, Extol Sports Writer

First of all, anyone who tries to predict pretty much anything is a fool. So I do not stand behind any of these picks – unless I’m right!

SURPRISE TEAM: Missouri; great freshman class, especially the Porter brothers

DISAPPOINTING TEAMS: Duke, preseason No. 1 – I don’t think they’ll finish No. 1; Louisville, preseason No. 16 – just way too much turmoil, loss of a great coach, replaced by an inexperienced rookie coach, simply unfair to him; Minnesota, preseason No. 15 – not a good year for the Pitino family

FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida (or some other four teams)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Michael Porter Jr., Missouri or Kevin Knox, Kentucky

COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike White, Florida (for no particular reason, except he’s done good things there and I think will continue to do good things); second choice – Archie Miller, Indiana


REX BEYERS, Professional Oddsmaker/SoIN native

SURPRISE TEAM: Penn State

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Kansas

FINAL FOUR: Xavier, Villanova, West Virginia, Arizona

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jevon Carter, West Virginia

COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Mack, Xavier


ADAM KLEINERT, Extol Sports Art Director & Sports Fan

SURPRISE TEAM THIS SEASON: Alabama

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Gulp…Louisville

FINAL FOUR: Duke, Wichita State, Michigan State, Kansas

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Marvin Bagley III, Duke

COACH OF THE YEAR: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State


JEFF NUNN, CardinalSportsZone.com

SURPRISE TEAM: Xavier

DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Villanova

FINAL FOUR: Duke, Michigan State, Arizona, Xavier

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grayson Allen, Duke

COACH OF THE YEAR: Sean Miller – Arizona


 

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Schooling Romeo | High School Spotlight

screen-shot-2017-11-06-at-4-25-10-pmSure, Romeo Langford is a basketball star but his education is key, says dad Tim Langford.

By Angie Fenton | Photos by Steve Squall

It’s been nearly a year since we caught up with New Albany High School senior basketball star Romeo Langford, whom we featured in the inaugural issue of Extol Sports.

From an outside observer, life has looked like a constant whirlwind. Not so, said Romeo’s father, Tim Langford. “It’s been really fun.”

While fans have continued to debate where Romeo will end up going to college (and who knows, by the time this is published that debate might finally be settled) Tim said the teen and his family have remained focused on enjoying the ride. “The whole family is doing good,” said the elder Langford. “We stay under control. It’s not overwhelming as long as you keep everything in perspective and take it one day at a time and enjoy as we go.”

How do you stay grounded under a national spotlight that continues to intensify? In part, the daily morning phone father and son have shared since Romeo was in elementary school. Since Tim Langford goes to work very early, every morning when Romeo wakes up “we talk 3 to 5 minutes just on how he’s doing. We focus in on his school and classes. We can focus in on the sports part later after school.”

Regardless of where Romeo chooses to go to college, it’s the education aspect that is most important, Tim Langford said. “Education is the number one goal. Basketball is just a platform to get him a scholarship and get him an education. He’s going to whatever (school) he decides to, to get that degree.”

In the past, Romeo considered working toward an engineering major, but his dad says he’s now interested in studying communications, but there will be plenty of time to decide all of that later.

In the meantime, said Tim Langford, “we’re really excited about Romeo’s senior year (at New Albany) and looking forward to the whole season.”

 

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INDIANA BASKETBALL: WINDS OF CHANGE BLOWING AT ASSEMBLY HALL AS MILLER TAKES OVER IN BLOOMINGTON

BY REX BEYERS | PROFESSIONAL ODDSMAKER, FORMER SOIN NATIVE

Those who have been wishing for new guidance at the top of the program for Indiana’s flagship basketball program got their wishes last March when Tom Crean was fired after nine seasons in March and Archie Miller was hired in from the University of Dayton to take over.

Crean admirably guided the Indiana Hoosiers through a tumultuous period at the start of his tenure. The program was gutted by Kelvin Sampson-era rules-breaking that left the Hoosiers woefully underprepared to win consistently in the uber-competitive Big 10.

Patient fans allowed Crean to win six 10 and 12 games in his first three seasons as he rebuilt the program properly through redshirting and better recruiting. The payoff came in 2011-12 when IU finished 27-9 and went to the Sweet 16. Ultimately, Crean never was able to better that season’s performance in the NCAA Tournament. Despite an outright Big 10 crown in 2015-16, the hungry fan base wanted more.

It’s tough to tell if they’re going to get it from Miller’s first team.

The losses from last season are fairly significant, as James Blackmon, OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant all left eligibility on the table to declare for the NBA Draft. Grant Gelon also is a transfer loss from last season’s 18-16 team that lost at Georgia Tech in the first round of the NIT.

Bryant started all 34 games from a year ago and averaged 12.6 points per game. He led the team in rebounding and got to the line far more than any other Hoosier. Anunoby injured his knee in early January and that finished his season. Blackmon led IU in scoring at 17 ppg.

Miller’s first coaching job was getting the three Crean recruiting signees to keep their pledge to come to Bloomington. He was able to get all three to re-commit. Hoosier fans will quickly get to welcome Justin Smith, Al Durham and Clifton Moore. Smith is a 4-star recruit, a wing from Buffalo Grove, Ill. Durham is a 3-star recruit at point guard from Lilburn, Ga., while Moore is a 6-foot-10 forward from Ambler, Pa. All figure to have a chance to contribute immediately considering what was lost.

Robert Johnson is the most notable letterman that will be back in cream-and-crimson, having logged more minutes than any Hoosier in 2016- 17. Johnson is also the returning leading scorer, at 12.8 ppg last winter. He also shot more free throws than any Hoosier other than Bryant, and led the team in both steals and turnovers, as well.

Josh Newkirk is among the more exciting of the returnees, having paced the Hoosiers with three assists per game while adding nine ppg as well. De’Ron Davis played in all 34 games, but averaged just 14 minutes per outing. His playing time figures to go up this season, as does his scoring average, which was 5.9 ppg. Davis and Juwan Morgan each blocked almost a shot per game and Morgan scored almost eight points.

Devonte Green, Curtis Jones, Zach McRoberts and Freddie McSwain are all players who contributed and started in at least one game that return as well. Those guys are likely to be role players on Miller’s first team.

No IU players made the preseason list of All-Big 10 players, so it will be incumbent on the sum of the parts to play well together if the Hoosiers are to exceed the mid-pack Big 10 expectations over the next few months. The preseason conference writers tabbed IU to finish ninth out of 14 in league play.

IU opens the regular season with a home game at Assembly Hall against Indiana State on Nov. 10.


ULTIMATELY, CREAN NEVER WAS ABLE TO BETTER THAT SEASON’S PERFORMANCE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT. DESPITE AN OUTRIGHT BIG 10 CROWN IN 2015-16, THE HUNGRY FAN BASE WANTED MORE.


 

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LOUISVILLE BASKETBALL: A DON’T-MISS SEASON FOR THE CARDS IS AHEAD

BY JEFF NUNN OF CARDINALSPORTSZONE.COM

For the first time since 2001, the Louisville Cardinals will open the basketball season without Rick Pitino roaming the sideline. Pitino was officially fired Oct. 16, less than one month prior to the Nov. 12 season opener vs. George Mason. But Pitino would not have been there anyway due to serving a five-game suspension issued by the NCAA as part of his punishment for failure to monitor his program.

Assistant coaches Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair also will not be on the sideline. Fair was fired for his involvement in the Adidas scandal that is currently being investigated by the FBI. Johnson is still on administrative leave as the investigation continues.

The lone returning coach is former Louisville player, David Padgett. Padgett played at Kansas for his freshman year and then transferred to Louisville. He had to sit out the 2004-2005 year but played for Louisville under Rick Pitino from 2005- 2008. After playing a couple of seasons in Spain and on a couple NBA summer league teams, he unofficially retired from playing and turned his attention to coaching. Padgett returned to Louisville where he was the team’s assistant strength coach for the 2010-2011 year. He then left to become an assistant at IUPUI and stayed there until the end of the 2013-2014 season. Then, he returned to Louisville and was named director of basketball operations starting in the 2014-2015 season. On Sept. 29, he was named acting head coach, and when Pitino was officially fired, he was named interim head coach and given a one-year contract.

Padgett has hired former LSU, Stanford and TCU head coach Trent Johnson as an assistant coach. He also hired former Duke point guard and Ohio State assistant basketball coach Greg Paulus as another assistant. The final assistant spot was filled from within. R.J. Evans, who has been a program assistant since May, was elevated to acting assistant coach for the Cardinals on Oct. 20.

It seems as though Padgett has been thrust into a nearly impossible situation but his saving grace is that, despite losing a few key pieces from last year, his roster is loaded with talent.

Gone From Last Year: Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Johnson, Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks and David Levitch.

Mitchell is the biggest loss, as he averaged 15.9 points per game. He was drafted 13th overall by Denver in the NBA draft. Johnson (8.0 ppg and 5.8 rpg) and Mathiang ( 7.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg) were also major contributors. Hicks was a graduate transfer who had limited time due to injury while Levitch was a fan favorite.

RETURNING PLAYERS: Louisville returns seven scholarship players, including two starters and three who started various games throughout last season.

Quentin Snider: The 6-2 senior is from Louisville Ballard High School. This will be his third straight season as the starting point guard. He has started 62 games and appeared in every game for which he was healthy. He is a team co-captain for the second straight year and is expected to help lead this team through the turbulence of the coaching changes. He averaged 12.4 ppg, 4.1 apg and 2.7 rpg last season and his assist to turnover ratio is excellent at 2.7:1.

Deng Adel: Adel is a junior who flirted with going to the NBA draft after his sophomore season. The 6-7 forward averaged 12.1 ppg and 4.5 rpg last season and those numbers are expected to rise. He is most versatile Cardinal and will play both forward positions. He could play the two-guard spot if needed. It’s amazing how good he is considering he has only been playing basketball since he was 14. He is also a co-captain as voted by his teammates.

Raymond Spalding: This junior is a Louisville native out of Trinity High School. The athletic 6-10 big man will be expected to play both the power forward and center positions. He averaged 5.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg last year but will need to step up after the losses of the two big guys from last season. I expect a big season for him probably averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Anas Mahmoud: The mobile seven-footer is another co-captain and has steadily improved each season. This is his senior year and I expect that improvement to continue. He is a great rim protector and the anchor on defense. He averages 2.1 blocks per game but is limited offensively. He averaged 5.7 ppg and 4 rpg last season and I look for those numbers to be close to the same this year.

VJ King: A 6-7 wing scored 5.5 ppg last season in limited time. This sophomore is expected to take a huge step forward. He was the prize recruit in the 2016 class and has a wealth of talent. He looks poised for a breakout year and I think he will get 20+ minutes a game and average 12 points and 5 rebounds a game.

Ryan McMahon: McMahon is a 6-0 sharpshooter who frequently comes off the bench to give the team a scoring lift. This kid shoots and shoots with confidence. He hasn’t met a 3-pointer he doesn’t like. Last year as a freshman, he attempted only 8 two-point field goals compared to 52 three-point field goals. I expect more of the same this year.

Dwayne Sutton: After playing his freshman year at UNC-Asheville, the Louisville native came home and had to sit out last year due to transfer rules. As a sophomore he is expected to have an immediate impact. The 6-5 wing averaged 12 ppg and 7.7 rpg as a freshman but it was against lesser competition. Look for him to get better as he gets accustomed to ACC basketball.

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KENTUCKY BASKETBALL: YOUNG, PROMISING AND BATHED IN SHADOWS

Monk, Fox and Adebayo are in the NBA. Willis, Briscoe, Hawkins and Humphries are gone, too. And the Wildcats start all over again. Again.

BY STEVE KAUFMAN

There’s a UK basketball schedule and poster out right now. Across the poster is the 2017-18 team, their silhouettes shrouded in shadowy gray. You can’t make out who they are, or see their faces.

Behind them is a wall of former Kentucky stars, all of whom you can see clearly – Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Karl-Anthony Towns, John Wall, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, the Harrisons.

There are two profound messages here.

One, Kentucky basketball history provides a challenge for each new freshman group to live up to.

Two, the dark silhouetting is apt. We know very little about these individuals.

It’s an annual rite of autumn for John Calipari to say (a) this is the youngest college team in the country, and (b) boy, do they have a lot to learn!

This year, though, he’s saying it’s the youngest college basketball team in history. And, if you saw the Blue-White scrimmage in October, boy do they have a lot to learn!

Rarely has a team, even a Calipari/Kentucky team, turned over to this extent. Of the main participants on last year’s squad, the only returnees are Wenyan Gabriel, who played 672 minutes and started 23 games but had lost his starting spot to Derek Willis by the end of the season; and Sacha Killeya-Jones, who played 14 games and 96 minutes but sat on the bench the entire last three months of the season.

Gabriel has good experience, he just needed to bulk up some. It seems he has.

Interestingly, on a 40-minute basis – one of those statistical tricks that evaluates a player’s statistics-per-minute, as if he had played entire games – Killeya-Jones would have had 12.9 rebounds a game last year, more than Bam Adebayo. Only Willis had more.

So, the returners may contribute more than expected.

But the real expectations rest on the shoulders of these freshmen, perhaps the most impressive group in the Calipari tenure – certainly the deepest. The problem is, who are they?

A good question. With a few exceptions, they’re a bunch of tall, very athletic kids who are reportedly able to play a variety of positions, from handling the ball, to shooting from the outside, to going strong to the basket, to rebounding on both ends. Which, if accurate, would make almost any combination of five of them a tremendous matchup problem for opponents. How do you guard 6-foot-9 with 6-3 or 6-4? And if you put the typical 6-foot-9 big man on one of them, you’re giving up speed, quickness and agility.

The exceptions are Quade Green, a 6-1 point guard who’s stepping into the big shoes of De’Aaron Fox, Ulis, Harrison, Knight and Wall; Jemarl Baker, a 6-4 guard reputed to be the best shooter of the group; and Nick Richards, a 7-footer whose only position is center.

Of the rest, the most familiar of the freshman names is Hamidou Diallo, a 6-5 guard from New York who was on the Kentucky roster half of last year and practiced with the team but never played a game. Diallo has amazing physical skills, but his outside shooting has been questioned.

The most promising of the freshman names is Kevin Knox, a 6-9 forward from Florida, reputed to be agile and athletic and able to score from anywhere. It’s said he can also handle the ball, if necessary.

The most intriguing name is P.J. Washington, a muscular 6-7 forward from Texas, who can also shoot from long.

The most mysterious name is Shai Gilgeous- Alexander, a 6-6 guard from Canada who was not upgraded to four stars by the ratings groups until very late, after he’d already committed to UK. Apparently, nobody had seen anything promising about him – until, suddenly, they did. It’s said he can play point guard or shooting guard or swingman or forward, and will be a nightmare on defense for opposing teams.

The most frustrating name is Jarred Vanderbilt, a five-star 6-9 forward from Houston who has outrageous skills and a bad foot. Vanderbilt first hurt the foot at the very end of an AAU game in the spring, hurt it again on campus in September, and is out either until the second semester in January; or just the first week or so of games; or, Calipari now says, perhaps the whole season.

Calling them forwards or guards is almost superfluous. Calipari has his buzz phrase for the season – “positionless basketball” – in which almost any of these players can play outside or inside, on the ball or off the ball, shooting jumpers or layups or dunks. There is the true possibility of playing five players on the court at one time the shortest of whom is 6-foot-9. That’s almost reminiscent of the 2014-15 team that occasionally had 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein, 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns and 6-10 Trey Lyles on the court at the same time, with the 6-foot-6 Harrison twins. You might remember that team.

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College Spotlight | Jaire Alexander

Photo & Story by Jeff Nunn of CardinalSportsZone.comscreen-shot-2017-09-25-at-7-14-23-pm

The University of Louisville had a player voted to the first team in the first-ever Associated Press preseason football All-American list.

No, it wasn’t the reigning Heisman trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, but rather junior cornerback, Jaire Alexander.

Alexander also was named to Sports Illustrated’s 2017 Preseason All-America Team as well as 247Sports’ Preseason All-American team and the All-ACC preseason team, and was named to numerous preseason watch lists, including the Paul Hornung watch list (most versatile player in major college football), the Jim Thorpe watch list (best defensive back in college football), the Bednarik watch list (college defensive player of the year) and the Nagurski watch list (best collegiate defensive player). Those awards will be handed out after the season.

All those awards and nominations are very impressive for any college athlete but especially impressive for Alexander because he didn’t start playing cornerback until his junior year of high school. He grew up playing wide receiver but made the switch to corner when he transferred high schools. When the Charlotte, N.C., native transferred, his new school already had established wide receivers, but there was a need at corner. So, he moved to the defensive side of the ball and played corner full time but still managed to play wide receiver part-time.

The 5-foot-11-inch, Alexander managed to be the leading receiver in the Charlotte area during his senior year at Rocky River High School. Despite being the state’s most productive two-way player, and being ranked as the fifth best player in the state of North Carolina by Scout.com, he received exactly zero scholarship offers from the from any of the power-conference teams in North Carolina. He was rated as a consensus 3-star athlete and the No. 67 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com.

The lack of big-time offers and low player ratings didn’t seem to bother Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, who is known to recruit to what he feels is a good fit for his style of play rather than “expert” rankings or star ratings. Petrino knows talent when he sees it, and so Louisville was the first school to offer Alexander a scholarship

Alexander committed to Charlotte but soon changed his mind when South Carolina came calling.

Alexander comes from a tight family, and they were heavily involved in his college decisions. It was said that Alexander and his parents felt like South Carolina didn’t give Alexander the love he deserved and the coaches couldn’t exactly tell them where their son fit into their plans.

It was time to move on, so they moved on to the University of Louisville where Alexander was only promised a chance to compete for the starting job. He had to earn it.

Alexander enrolled early in January of 2015. In his freshman year, he played in 10 games and recorded 19 total tackles, one interception, and two passes defended He also had 23 punt returns for 223 yards (9.7 yard per return average).


ALEXANDER BY THE NUMBERS

4.32

40-YARD DASH


While those statistics are good, they were not good enough for Alexander. He worked very hard in the offseason in the weight room as well as the film room.

In his sophomore season, he burst onto the national scene when he returned a punt for a touchdown versus second-ranked Florida State with ESPN Gameday in the house. He nearly broke off a second touchdown but was tripped up short in his attempt. He told his father, Landis, that “his body locked up preventing him from scoring” on that second punt return.

He later had two amazing interceptions and a forced fumble in another nationally-televised game in Death Valley versus fifth-ranked Clemson. He also had a two interception game vs Virginia. He finished his sophomore season with a team leading five interceptions, nine pass breakups, 39 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus (a website that focuses on a thorough analysis to grade every player both college and the NFL) graded Alexander as the No. 1 Power-5 cornerback for the 2016 season.

Entering this season as a junior, expectations of his performance have been raised by everyone, including Alexander himself. He again has worked hard in the off-season and has become faster. He was clocked with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash.

Along with those expectations come talk of skipping his senior year and entering the NFL draft. Alexander is ranked as the No. 19 draft prospect in 2018 by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Landis praised his son and said that he has remained grounded and focused despite all the awards and attention. He also said if his son is not projected as a first- or second-round pick at the end of the 2017 season, he’ll return to Louisville for his senior year.

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790 KRD | From Ali to Kanye to Lamar: Adidas’ American BOOM is a Huge Boost for Louisville

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was written and published in the print version of our October issue prior to the developments at the University of Louisville. Instead of pulling it from our website – because you can’t do that when something is published in print – the Extol Sports team made the decision to publish this column online and in our digital format, too. Please keep that in mind. Like so many other sports fans, we’re waiting to see what happens next.  –Angie Fenton, Extol Sports Editor-in-Chief

By Howie Lindsey of 790 KRD

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-7-57-20-pmA NEW PARTNERSHIP worth $160 million makes Louisville the highest-earning college program in Adidas history.

The new deal, announced in late August, will include 10 years of apparel and branding partnership between the University of Louisville and the global shoe brand at a rate of $16 million per season.

“Our new partnership with Louisville is one of our largest ever investments in sports in America,” Adidas North America president Mark King said. “When you think about college sports in America, you think Louisville. The athletic program the Cardinals have created is remarkable. These young athletes are impressive competitors in every sport.”

The partnership between UofL Athletics and Adidas will not only include clothing and shoes, but also facility enhancements and collaborative, widespread brand-marketing efforts meant to take the Louisville logo to an international audience.

While the $160 million is certainly headline grabbing, the more interesting story is where this deal came from and where it is going.

GENESIS

The deal with Louisville started nearly 20 years ago when Louisville Vice President and athletic director Tom Jurich was working to find a partner for athletics in the apparel business.

“Our first deal was if we bought two pairs of shoes, the third would be half price,” Jurich said with a smile. “We have come a long way since then.”

Since then, Louisville has gone from Conference USA to the Big East to the American and now to the ACC, arguably the nation’s top all-sports league. And along the way, Louisville’s elite athletes – national champions, Gold Medal winners and Heisman Trophy winners – have worn the three stripes that Adidas is known for.

“When we began our relationship with adidas nearly 20 years ago, we weren’t in the same shape we are now,” Jurich said. “Adidas has stood arm-in-arm with us through adversity and success. The biggest winners in our cooperative partnership have clearly been our student-athletes, who are at the focus of all that we do.”

King, the Adidas’ North American president, explained, “Louisville has been an important partner of ours for nearly 20 years, and we see tremendous value in our new partnership as we continue to shape the future of sports together.”

While Louisville’s success led to higher numbers in each subsequent apparel deal, Adidas’ rise as a North American power helped send the newly announced deal into the stratosphere.

Essentially, as Louisville built itself into a multi-sport national power under Jurich’s guidance, Adidas built itself into a stronger American brand.

Signing innovative shoewear designers and art and culture influencers like Kanye West, Kendall Jenner, Pharrell and Missy Elliott, Adidas transformed its image from European soccer shoes and shell-toes to Yeezys, UltraBoosts and innovative design like Tubular Shadow.

It has worked so well that Adidas’ stock has been rising for nearly two years straight and the brand just leaped Michael Jordan’s signature line.

“Adidas has overtaken Jordan as the No. 2 brand in U.S. sport footwear. This is an achievement I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” sports industry analyst Matt Powell of the NPD Group wrote. “Adidas sport footwear sales grew more than half for the month of August, and shares grew by nearly half, to 13 percent of the market.”

“Adidas basketball grew more than 40 percent, while Nike declined in the mid-singles and Brand Jordan lost about a third of its sales,” said Tonya Garcia of MarketWatch in mid-September.

Adidas’ rise in market share and stock price meant more money available for schools like Louisville, Nebraska and Kansas.

THE FUTURE

So that’s where this new deal came from, but where is it going?

Jurich was asked to name details at the official announcement and declined, smiling while saying, “We have big plans and we’re excited about our future together.”

Adidas wants UofL – and its other collegiate partners – to think outside the traditional box of teams wearing sneakers and gear.

Jurich said, “We are thrilled to be partnered with an enterprise who shares our passion for innovation, pioneering efforts, striving for excellence and simply doing things differently.”

Doing things differently fits with Jurich’s brand – he is always thinking five years down the road to see what is next in collegiate athletics. Part of Louisville’s plan is to continue its strong Adidas Interns program, where UofL students can learn the business of sports apparel with an inside look at the Adidas brand.

And what else will the deal include? Jurich and Adidas’ Chris McGuire said fan and media will have to wait and see.

“It’s not vague,” McGuire said. McGuire is Adidas’ senior director of sports marketing. “It’s just that our product timelines are 12 months in advance, so we have a lot of work to do on our end to bring those products to market. It’s a long process for releasing products. There’s a lot of concepts that are out there, a lot of different ideas, just not anything that’s ready to come to fruition yet.”

Part of the Adidas partnership announcement centered around Louisville Athletics’ new slogan, “We, The Future.” The slogan, developed over the last 18 to 24 months, firmly focuses Louisville Athletics’ vision on the future of its athletic programs.

“It is here the future of sport will be written,” the UofL mantra states. The “We, The Future” branding is all over Louisville’s campus and athletic fields this fall.

Louisville’s slogan fits hand in glove with Adidas’ longtime mantra “Impossible is Nothing,” especially considering “Impossible is Nothing” comes from a 1974 quote by Louisville’s native son, Muhammad Ali.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it,” Ali said. “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Most people familiar with the metropolitan commuter school in the early 1990s would have thought it impossible that Louisville would sign a $160 million dollar deal with an international brand like Adidas. But it happened this fall.


U OF L & ADIDAS PARTNERSHIP BY THE NUMBERS

10 YEARS

$16 PER SEASON

ADIDAS HAS OVERTAKEN JORDAN AS THE NO. 2 BRAND IN U.S. SPORT FOOTWEAR