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Jon Hale: Unlikely rise to prominence makes Josh Harrellson state's top 2011 sports figure

What image comes to mind when you think of the 2011 Kentucky sports year?


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Is it Matt Roark being lifted off the field after the University of Kentucky football team finally took down Tennessee? Is it Brandon Knight sending the Wildcats to the Final Four? Is it the Kentucky Derby or maybe the NBA draft?


Or maybe, like me, when you think about the 2011 sports year the first image that comes to mind is a pair of “jorts.”


One of the state’s standout athletes will be honored for his or her 2011 performance when the Lexington Herald-Leader’s annual Sportsman of the Year award is unveiled on Feb. 15 as part of the first Bluegrass Sports Awards.


The award winner is selected by a statewide media voting process. Any athlete, coach or sports administrator at any level is eligible if he or she plays for a team in Kentucky, is from Kentucky or played for a college in Kentucky. Horses that were born in the state are also eligible. As are horse owners who are from Kentucky or who own farms in the state and jockeys and trainers who compete regularly at tracks in the Commonwealth.


You can see my ten-person ballot (listed in reverse order) with a short explanation of each vote below. In general I tended to choose people who I thought had the best stories of 2011, not just the best performances. Feel free to send me an email at jon@kyforward.com with you own selections.


10 — Kenneth Faried (Men’s Basketball)


Not many people outside of Morehead knew who Kenneth Faried was entering the year, but that changed in 2011. The Morehead State University center ended his collegiate career as the NCAA’s modern-era leader with 1,673 rebounds. He was named OVC Player of Year for second-straight season, OVC Male Athlete of Year and a third-team Associated Press All-American. The Denver Nuggets picked in first round (22nd overall) of 2011 NBA draft.


9 — J. J. Jude (Football, wrestling)


Few Kentucky high school athletes in recent memory can compete with the accomplishments of Johnson Central running back and wrestler J. J. Jude. On the football field, Jude rushed for 3,122 yards as a senior to finish with a state-record 8,637 rushing yards in his career. On the wrestling mat, he went 52-0 and won the 171-pounds state championship.


8 — Matthew Mitchell (Women’s basketball)


UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell continued to elevate his program’s national profile in 2011 with 25-9 record and second-place finishes in the Southeastern Conference regular season and postseason tournament. Mitchell closed 2011 with a No. 6 ranked team and 11-2 record for his most recent squad. He even did the Moonwalk at Big Blue Madness.


7 — Harry Mullins (Rifle)


UK rifle head coach Harry Mullins guided his team to UK’s first national championship in any sport since the men’s basketball team won its title in 1998. The rifle team won the small-bore and overall national championship in 2011 and finished in the top three in the country for the ninth time since Mullins took over the program.


6 — Danny Trevathan (Football)


The 2011 UK football team will like be remembered for both ending its 26-game losing streak to Tennessee and snapping the streak of five-consecutive bowl games, but linebacker Danny Trevathan also capped his career as one of the best defenders in program history. Trevathan led the Southeastern conference in tackles for the second-consecutive season and ended his career at No. 10 on UK’s career tackles list.


5 — Matt Roark (Football)


On the list of best stories of 2011, few can top UK wide receiver Matt Roark. Banished to the bench after a slew of early-season dropped passes, Roark rebounded to not only post back-to-back 100-yard receiving games but also to lead UK to its first win versus Tennessee in 26 years in his only career start at quarterback. Roark may have been a forgettable receiver for most of his UK career, but the image of him being carried off the field by fans after the Tennessee win won’t be one anyone forgets any time soon.


4 — Steve Delabar (Baseball)


Seattle Mariners reliever Steve Delabar’s story is one that Disney might even turn down because it doesn’t seem plausible enough. Delabar opened 2011 as a substitute teacher and baseball coach at John Hardin High School and ended it in the Mariners’ bullpen. Delabar hadn’t pitched professionally since 2009, but after earning a tryout for the Mariners he worked his way from extended Spring Trainer all the way to the American League West in 2011. Delabar was 3-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 40 Minor League games in 2011 and closed the year with a 1-1 record and 2.57 ERA in six games for the Mariners.


3 — Victoria Dunlap (Women’s basketball)


If Matthew Mitchell is the face of the UK women’s basketball team’s recent improvement, Dunlap is the best example of that rise. Dunlap finished her UK career in 2011 as the program’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Dunlap was named SEC player of the year, defensive player of the year and an All-American. In April, the Washington Mystics picked Dunlap with the No. 11 pick in the WNBA draft — the highest selection in UK program history.


2 — John Calipari (Men’s basketball)


UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari could probably win this award every year, but even 2011 was impressive compared to his first two years in Kentucky. Calipari led UK to its first Final Four since 1998, placed four more players in the NBA and pulled in his third consecutive No. 1 recruiting class. Calipari likes to say Kentucky moves the needle in college basketball, and nothing about his 2011 suggests anything different.


1 — Josh Harrellson (Men’s basketball)


UK men’s basketball player Josh Harellson’s defining moment in his senior season might have come on the last day of 2010 with a 23-point, 14-rebound performance against Louisville, but 2011 was the “Year of the Jorts” in Kentucky sports. Harrellson was definitely not the most talented player on UK’s roster, but he averaged 7.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a senior after struggling to get on the court in his first two years at Kentucky. Harrellson topped his most unlikely surge with a second-round NBA draft selection by the New York Knicks. After a statewide celebrity tour following the end of his UK playing career, Harrellson earned a spot on the Knicks roster when the NBA’s lockout ended. He ended 2011 with a 14-point, 12-rebound performance in his first start for the Knicks.

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