To help give us some perspective on this year’s Kentucky Wildcats, Inside the Hall reached out to our good friend — former Indiana Daily Student editor in chief Rick Newkirk — to answer five questions on John Calipari’s squad. (Newkirk now works as a sports copy editor for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He also follows the Wildcats as closely as anyone I know, unfortunately.) With that said, let’s get down to business.
Kentucky’s schedule early on has been aggressive. Games in Maui against Washington and UConn, at UNC and a neutral court game with Notre Dame. Overall, how is this team responding to the challenge through its first eight games?
The UConn game was the real challenge, and no one aside from Jones really showed up or responded to Connecticut’s early push. Kemba Walker did to the Cats what John Wall and Eric Bledsoe did to everyone last year, and Brandon Knight just laid an egg. DeAndre Liggins hasn’t really shown the lockdown defense he was known for last year, although he’s developed his three-point shot, and he had no success at all guarding a much faster Walker. That game exposed UK’s weaknesses, and the Cats never really showed any fight to get back into it. They’ve shown improvement since, though, and the second half against Notre Dame was the first time I’ve seen UK really respond to a challenge. Ben Hansbrough lit the Cats up for 19 in the first half, including five threes, but he missed all five of his shots in the second half and looked miserable. It wasn’t really a neutral court, though — Freedom Hall now has a permanent UK paint job, and pretty much all of the 17,000 fans there were wearing blue. But if that game was any indication, UK might be figuring out how to play through adversity.
“Well first and foremost, I’m extremely excited along with our coaching staff, to take my team into a game like this. This will be one of the most hostile and enlightening environments our players will see in their time in college basketball. I know our team is excited. It has felt a lot different this week not preparing for numerous games or going from game to game, but it has given us the chance at getting better on both sides of the ball, not only for this game, but also for the season. That is what this week and next week is really all about. There are certain elements about game preparation, but the most important thing for us is to focus on fundamentals. We are not going to have many situations like this the rest of the year where we only have one game a week.
“I think our guys are excited to play. It has been a productive week with one more day of preparation and practice before we go play a team that I think is outstanding. Kentucky’s speed and quickness has not changed. Their players have changed, but they way they attack and get into the lane has not changed. I think they move the ball well and have some very good individual talents who are starting to play much better as a team. So you can see that in a big way as you watch them on tape.”
Lawrence North senior Michael Chandler, one of the top remaining players still available in the 2011 class, said Wednesday night that he’s interested in Indiana.
“I think Indiana’s a great school. They’ve been there for me ever since I started playing, so they mean a lot,” Chandler told Inside the Hall. “I haven’t talked to them (directly). They’ve called my uncle and Coach (Jack) Keefer.”
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound center, who previously committed to both Louisville and Xavier, is in no rush to reach another decision.
In addition to IU, Chandler said his uncle and Keefer have been contacted by UConn, Oregon, St. John’s and Syracuse.
“I’ve just been really focused on the season,” he said. “I’m playing pretty good. I love playing with my teammates and making each other better as players on and off the court. I’m having fun this season with my team.”
Lawrence North will be in Lexington on Saturday for a game and Chandler will watch the IU-Kentucky game at Rupp Arena.
“We have a high school game in Lexington and while we’re down there, we’re just gonna watch the game,” Chandler said. “I’ve never seen that game up close and in-person before. It’s just something we’re just going to watch.”
Indiana’s recent recruiting momentum, including nine commitments since the beginning of August, is something Chandler is well aware of.
“I think (Crean has) gotten commitments from a lot of younger players and they could possibly change the program,” he said. “I think I could see myself fitting in at IU.”
(Photo credit: Jody Demling)
To know Eric Gordon’s full basketball repertoire, it’s best to go back to the beginning.
February 1, 2007.
That night, Gordon, inside North Central High School’s gym and an introduction to the big stage via an ESPN2 broadcast, cast a spell on Marcus and Jeffrey Jordan. Forty-three points on 17-of-25 shooting. A dominant, dizzying performance. Power and control at the rim. Range for days.
Gordon was often brilliant during his one-and-done, 2007-08 season in Bloomington before a wrist injury marred him in a shooting slump to end the year.
He led the Big Ten in scoring at 20.9 points per game. The league named him freshman of the year and granted him a spot on the first team all-conference.
He was too good for high school. Too good for college.
It was time for the NBA.
As the No. 7 pick in the 2008 draft, Gordon played well his rookie season. He started 65 games for Mike Dunleavy, averaged 16.1 points and hit an impressive 38.9 percent from three.
The Clippers finished 19-63.
In 2009-10, Gordon stayed the course: 16.9 points per game, 37.1 percent from three.
The Clippers finished 29-53.
So far, so good enough.
After two years, Gordon proved to be a good shooter that drew fouls at a strong rate, but wasn’t quite attacking the way he’d shown he was capable of in high school and college — his jaw-dropping power had gone underutilized.
Mitch McGary’s move to Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., from Chesterton High School was made with one focus in mind: academics.
The 6-foot-11, 255-pound forward says the atmosphere at Brewster, a private, preparatory boarding school, is helping him make significant strides in the classroom, where he’s currently receiving all A’s and B’s.
“I like the school a lot more than my old school,” McGary told Inside the Hall on Tuesday evening. “It’s a lot more structured. The teachers are more willing to help. The student-teacher ratio is 6-to-1. They want you to succeed.”
Being away from home is another plus, McGary said, because he’s preparing for life at college.
“I kind of like being on my own,” he said. “It makes me more responsible and (have to) make decisions on my own.”
The Indiana native is also reaping benefits on the court, where he’s playing against a more aggressive schedule than he saw at Chesterton.
“Competition is like another level up here. It’s pretty much like college ball,” McGary said. “We actually play some junior college teams. It’s a lot different. It’s a lot faster and a higher tempo.”
His game, he said, continues to develop on the perimeter as well as in the weight room. His future in college may not be solely as a post player despite his near 7-foot frame.
“I’ve been working on my 3-point shot a lot,” he explained. “Over the summer, that’s all I did. I just need to work on my handles, and I’ve been working on my strength a lot. I’m not really an inside guy. I’m more of a four and a face-up guy. I can also guard smaller forwards because I’m quick on my feet.”
(Photo credit: J. Scott Photography)
Inside the Hall has just completed its first run of the 2013 Indiana Basketball Recruiting Board, highlighting the two prospects already committed plus five others with IU interest.
In addition, we’ve identified seven other 2013 names to keep an eye on.
The Inside the Hall Twitter mailbag is a weekly collection of questions tweeted to us via our Twitter account, @insidethehall.
Tweet us your questions each week and we’ll answer as many as we can. Now, onward …
@mattresch writes: With Michel out and the scholarship open, is there a new target in the 2011 class Crean is likely to go after?
Alex Bozich: There’s not a new target that immediately comes to mind, but remember this: Tom Crean never stops recruiting. That is a fact. The Michel scholarship being freed up is a little complicated because if IU takes another 2011 recruit, it will affect the 2012 class and beyond. But if Crean identifies a player that fits in with the program, he’s going to do what he can to bring that player to Bloomington. I think the Michel recruitment proved that, even though it didn’t work out as IU hoped it would. Since the Hoosiers won’t technically be able to sign another 2011 recruit until the spring signing period, this is likely something that’s going to take time to develop.
@nickmryan07 writes: With UK coming up, what can IU do to avoid the slow start? The best way to rattle a young team is a quick start!
Ryan Corazza: Find its rhythm on offense immediately. Against Boston College and a few of its lesser talented foes, Indiana’s offense has been ugly early. Of course, defense is not to be overlooked. But grabbing some early confidence on the offense end to start should help them in a tough road environment. Establishing Christian Watford from the onset wouldn’t hurt either.
@MRHess writes: why is verdell’s nickname not Indiana Jones?
Zach Osterman: Because the Big Ten denied his petition to use a bullwhip on defense and out-of-bounds plays. Next question.
@pacerjon writes: what are the chances Michael Chandler ends up at IU?
Alex Bozich: Another day, another Michael Chandler question. I’m not a percentages guy, but the chances don’t seem to be very good. Chandler, for those unfamiliar with him, has rescinded verbal commitments to both Louisville and Xavier and is now back on the board. Since he’s from Indianapolis and has stated that Indiana is recruiting him, the buzz has continued on the possibility that he could join the 2011 class. He was once a five-star recruit, but has fallen considerably in the national rankings. At 6-foot-10 and a shade over 225 pounds, Chandler would provide a legitimate post presence to compliment Cody Zeller, but his academics have been talked about as a potential hurdle to overcome. He’s certainly a talented prospect, but at the end of the day, does the risk outweigh the reward? That’s a question the IU coaching staff will have to answer.