He might not be playing, but receiver Dorian Baker has not been forgotten by Kentucky receivers coach Lamar Thomas.
Baker suffered a fracture/dislocation in his left ankle during a preseason scrimmage in August. He originally hoped rehab would help him get back on the field this season but he understood he likely would miss the entire season, something coach Mark Stoops confirmed last week.
“I talk to Dorian all the time. He is like a family member. It was an unfortunate injury for him but like we talk all the time, you have another opportunity (next year). We get through this, graduate and we play free of mind next year,” said Thomas. “He is excited about that. He is excited about getting back to working out and just getting better. Maturity-wise, that is going to help him, too.”
Baker had 55 catches for 608 yards as a sophomore. Last season he was injured early in the season had only 14 catches for 208 yards.
Both Thomas and Baker were convinced this season was going to be special for Kentucky and him. He had his best offseason and made it through spring practice and summer workouts injury-free until he went down in the scrimmage two weeks before UK opened the season.
“The first interview I did (after he got hurt) I almost got a little emotional. Any of these guys, but especially him … to see where he has come from to now,” Thomas said. “One of the first things I had to tackle when I came here was building a relationship with him. Where I needed him to come, he has progressed. It has meant a lot.”
Jackson wants him on the sideline for any game he can. He knows Baker wants to support his teammates.
“He is around a lot. He is going to class. He will come in meetings on some type of tricycle, push-bike or whatever it is (because of his ankle injury). All the guys are happy to see him. He will sit for about two minutes and disappear. But he is around. I am very proud of him and he will do well,” Thomas said.
“The whole thing for him now is to graduate and rehab. Those are two things he should be able to do. Graduate, go to grad school next year and play football free of mind. He’s looking forward to that.”
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The Marshall County Hoop Fest will pair two UK recruiting targets when Adair County’s Zion Harmon, the top-ranked player in the 201 recruiting class, goes against D.J. Jeffries of Olive Branch (Miss.), a top 20 player in the 2019 class, on Dec. 2nd.
Jeffries was the second player in the 2019 recruiting class — James Wiseman was the first — to be offered a scholarship by Kentucky coach John Calipari. In addition to UK and Kansas, he has offers from Florida, Alabama, Maryland, Texas A&M and LSU among others with the number increasing daily.
The 5-10 Harmon was the starting point guard on Bowling Green’s state championship team — he averaged 16 points per game — last season but has transferred to Adair County in Columbia. He’s made unofficial visits to UK last month. He was the first seventh-grade player to compete in the Nike EYBL.
Another UK target, Keldon Johnson, will also be in action that night with Oak Hill Academy.
And don’t be shocked on Dec. 3rd to see Wiseman going against Charles Bassey of Aspire Academy. They are two of the top three ranked players in the 2019 recruiting class.
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Kentucky should get junior linebacker Jordan Jones back when it plays at Mississippi State 21. He’s missed the last four games since injuring his shoulder in the final minutes of UK’s win over Eastern Kentucky.
Eli Brown has played well in Jones’ absence, but teammates know what Jones adds to the team with his athleticism and speed. But they also know he has to play under control and not have any more incidents like the one at Southern Mississippi where he was seen spitting towards rival fans.
“He knows he is a NFL player and they don’t want that. He just has to be humble with things he does and has got to know someone is always watching. That is one of the things I learned in JUCO. A guy pushed me one game and I just put my hands up and laughed and the ref seen me do it. If I had pushed him back, there would have been a flag. It’s just about being smart,” defensive back Lonnie Johnson said.
“That is just J. Jones. I asked him if he was like this in high school and he said he was really worse. I was like, ‘Whoa, you were worse than that?’ I was just trying to see how we can keep him under control and let him unleash it on the field and let all his emotions go on the field.”
What makes Jones lose control at times, including some plays when he has been known to forget his assignment and freelance — and yet sometimes still make the tackle?
“I don’t know. I think he is just hyped. That’s just him. We just have to keep hm focused on not doing childish things. If he does those things, then we might not have J. Jones in one of the big games where we need him. He just has to focus on the main goal and that is winning and we need him back period,” Johnson said.
Johnson understands part of what makes Jones so good — he was one of the top tacklers in the SEC last year — is that passion.
“That is why you can’t say too much to him. You just have to tell him come on, think a little bit. He is going to tell you when he understands that you were right and I should not have done that. It is just him. We all know how he is. We are going to keep him under our wing and just take control of him but it will be nice to get him back out there,” Johnson said.
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Hamidou Diallo is ready for basketball season to start now. He’s been at UK since January, but was redshirted and did not play in a game last season.
“I honestly can’t wait,” Diallo said. “We have a great schedule. Every game we come up we have a target on our back and that’s why it’s going to be important for us to be ready.”
He has gained almost 15 pounds since arriving and says he’s a better player and better person now than when he arrived in Lexington.
“I’m much more established and my skill set is so much better,” Diallo said.
He also sees himself as a team leader on a team with no experienced leader. He says he has not shied away from that role and coach John Calipari wants him to be a leader.
“I don't really look at age that much. Maybe I'm wrong for doing that. We’re just all basketball players regardless of age and experience,” Diallo said.
He’s not talking about a national championship run knowing the season has yet to start.
“We’re just focused on taking it one game at a time and trying to get prepared for the year. Hopefully we win the title. That’s definitely our goal, but something that we're not really focused on that much yet.”
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Tai Wynyard wishes he had a way to take his University of Kentucky basketball teammates to New Zealand. He thinks they would find his home base a “lot different” from anything they have experienced.
“I think they would like it,” the UK sophomore said. “Personally, I miss home a lot. I miss my family. It sucks being away all the time. But I grew up around a dad who had to be away from home a lot. He would do so many woodchopping shows. It taught me what I have to do being away from home.”
Wynyard’s father is a lumberjack champion. The UK player said his father has “ribbons on top of ribbons” at home for events he won.
“I used to wonder, ‘How did this guy get so great?’ He would show me and teach me things. But he is really big. I go to give him a hug and sometimes I just bounce off him. He is like a rock. That’s what makes him so good,” Wynyard said.
“I love woodchopping, too. Being around my dad, I have picked it up a little bit. My younger brother did a little bit more than me. But there’s no doubt my dad is the best by far.”
Wynyard played on the New Zealand national team in the FIBA Under 19 World Championships last summer — the same event where UK coach John Calipari coached the USA team. New Zealand’s team would do the haka — a traditional war dance first used on the battled to show a tribe’s strength and pride — at times during the tournament. New Zealand rugby teams often do the dance to challenge opponents.
“We do it to show we respect you but we will not back down from you and make it easy,” Wynyard said. “We will rip your head off and eat it. We are not joking.”
Could he do the dance at Kentucky?
“Wait for Big Blue Madness. That’s all I’m saying,” Wynyard laughed and said.
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Dwane Casey says not once in his NBA coaching career has he been asked about what happened at UK when he was an assistant coach on Eddie Sutton's staff and an Emery Air Freight envelope going to the father of UK recruit popped up with cash inside and Casey's name on the outside.
“If they had asked, I would have had a pure heart telling them I was not running from responsibility because mistakes were made at Kentucky when I was coaching. But I did not do what they accused me of,” Casey, now the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, said. “That’s why the lawsuit was settled. If I had done what they said, they would not have given me the money they gave me to settle.
“I would not want anyone to go through what I did to clear my name or all that the university went through. But thankfully that is all in the past. That was 30 years ago.
Casey occasionally sees Mills when he’s in Los Angeles. Same with Shawn Kemp, perhaps Eddie Sutton’s most talented recruit who left campus without playing a game.
“Life goes on. That’s one of those things you regret happened but there are no hard feelings on my part. I still love Kentucky. I am trying to convince my kids to go to Kentucky,” Casey said. “I love the school and fans.”
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Quote of the Week: “The best thing that we have going here is, I cannot tweet myself. I have to give it to somebody to do it because I don’t have a computer. I can’t see the phone. I’d probably mess it up. So it goes to somebody first, and then it usually hits six eyes, maybe eight eyes, before my stuff does anything,” Kentucky coach John Calipari on his use of social media.
Quote of the Week 2: “I just went back to my training as a stud quarterback. Should’ve been a five-star (recruit), but it’s whatever. Pulled my Benny Snell trick out of there, kept my feet moving,” Kash Daniel on his run out of punt formation that got UK a first down against Missouri.
Quote of the Week 3: “I love Harper. She is the backbone of this team. I can always count on her. She is just so dedicated. She pushes us. I appreciate her so much. She is always jumping up an d down and smiling. I love it,” sophomore Leah Edmond on senior teammate Harper Hempel.
Cutline 1: Dorian Baker won't play this season due to his ankle injury but remains on track to graduate, redshirt and play in 2018. (Vicky Graff Photo)