Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted May 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Now that Andrew Wiggins has made his choice without fanfare … and Rick Pitino has his tattoo … Orb has moved to Pimlico and John Calipari stage-manages to keep his name in the news (inviting Bill Clinton to his fantasy camp), the next big thing in Kentucky has to be, Drew Barker.

Connor High School’s splendid 6-feet-3, 215-pound quarterback is GI Joe clean-cut, tall enough to see over crowds at the mall, has no tattoos that we know about, and is latest prize grease-penciled onto Mark Stoops’ board in the war room in Lexington.

A native son prospect choosing Flagship U. over Tennessee and especially Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, qualifies as a giant leap forward for UK football … on paper.

Barker has Opie Taylor presence 10 years on. A fresh-faced kid with a Gosh Mom grin, brimming confidence and a howitzer. Too, he has the distinction of being first Commonwealth quarterback to say ‘no’ to Tennessee since before he was born, 18 years.

Last week Barker pulled on a blue ball cap and these things happened.

• The Andrew Wiggins-to-Kentucky crowd had time to take a deep breath.

• UK basketball was upstaged for one news cycle.

• Louisville basketball and football slipped below the fold.

• Somewhere down in this story are the words savior Patrick Towles.

• And, media ga-ga went viral comparing UK’s newest rookie-to-be to Tim Couch.

First four are okay items. The last, while predictable, is pre-mature by a Cawood Mile as well as “we’ve seen this movie before” wishful thinking.

For every exaggerated compare to Couch there must be a Morgan Newton warning. The former was a darling and a Deuce before he said ‘no’ to Tennessee in 1995 and yes to propping up Hal Mumme’s career. Rude change in popularity for Couch followed the 1999 NFL draft.

Newton, in 2008, was Parade All-American at Carmel, Indiana and all the rage when he signed with Kentucky. Four years on, nobody’s asking for autographs and Morgan is headed to an NFL try-out as a tight end.

And, two seasons ago, the new savior for Kentucky football was going to be Patrick Towles. Heading to the 2013 fall practice, Towles is clipboard carrier for Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith.

Brings us to a wish list.

• Wish Stoops had advised Barker to skip the melodramatic gala press conference with piped in fight song. When the tune stopped the only people impressed with Barker’s signing and four-star credentials besides Mom, will be the motivation coach at whatever Connor High opponent is up next.

• Wish the kid had had a better idea – text his recruit-to-UK-pitch to pals still on Stoops’ war room wall.

• And, wish Barker had skipped the low-bridge job on ex-UK coach Joker Phillips.

Not recruiting Barker, if it happened, likely had extenuating circumstances like …

1. Three-deep at QB, Smith, Whitlow and Towles, and presuming UK coaches were as impressed with Barker as Stoops is, could be Phillips knew the kid from Connor was a Big Blue fan and put him on the recruit-later priority list. Took him for granted. It happens.

2. A more urgent priority may well have been find-and-sign a few 300-pounders to insure his quarterback would not spend another SEC season running for his life.

Then, there’s history.

As always, the record sets context. Every ex-UK coach since and including Bear Bryant has been accused of incompetence, and specifically failing to recruit this or that player. A criticism leveled mostly after the coach and staff have left town.

√ Jerry Claiborne failed to recruit Kentucky’s first Mr. Football in 1986. Tight end Frank Jacobs at Newport Central Catholic went to Notre Dame. Claiborne also rebuffed Steve Bird, all-state receiver at Corbin whose uncles Jerry, Calvin and Rodger had starred at UK. Bird went to Eastern Kentucky and became an All-American.

√ Hal Mumme, Guy Morris did not recruit Jacob Tamme at nearby Danville in 2003. Rich Brooks did and Tamme became arguably the best tight end in UK history, an All-American and Peyton Manning’s favorite target in the NFL.

√ Bill Curry was accused of not recruiting Shaun Alexander in 1994. Alexander went to Alabama and became a Heisman finalist.

√ Charlie Bradshaw’s brutality was responsible for the best linebacker ever in the Bluegrass State, Dale Lindsey transferring to Western Kentucky.

√ Bear Bryant drew criticism in the early 1950s for not recruiting Paul Hornung hard enough. Hornung won a Heisman at Notre Dame, had a glorious career and is in the Hall of Fame.

These items aside, with summer just ahead, the menu of sports topics across Kentucky to rival UK hoops, is extraordinary.

Football? Never better. Honeymoon continues for Mark Stoops, Bob Petrino and Charlie Strong.

Basketball? Rick Pitino basking in glory. Happy Osborne’s move to Kentucky Wesleyan. And, prospect of a Clinton-Calipari game of H-O-R-S-E. Would be televised of course.


If the NBA Draft skinny on Archie Goodwin is a topic, don’t expect John Calipari to do any interviews if he shows up at a table in the Green Room alongside Archie Goodwin June 27.’s evaluation on Goodwin? “extremely raw … Doesn’t seem to fully understand how to utilize his physical gifts yet. Jump shot is flat, low trajectory, and lacks a fluid release … His shooting motion is in need of reconstruction as he slings the ball. Goodwin a likely long term project as a NBA contributor.

Since Cal likes to crow about his priority to, “… make kids better,” we wonder what exactly were Calipari and his coaches doing for Goodwin last season?

And so it goes.