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Sports Notes: Let’s play a game called ‘Will They Stay or Will They Go’ with the Wildcats

Could guard Aaron Harrison be one of the Wildcats who will leave this summer for the NBA? (Jamie Vaught Photo)

Could guard Aaron Harrison be one of the Wildcats who will leave this summer for the NBA? (Jamie Vaught Photo)


As Kentucky’s quest for a historic basketball season continues, three questions emerge anytime two or more Wildcat fans gather.

Will John Calipari’s team go undefeated? Will Kentucky win its ninth national championship? Which of the McDonald’s All-American and other stars, if any, will be back to possibly defend that title?

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So today let’s play a little game of “Will They Stay or Will They Go.” Please, according to NCAA rules, no wagering.

Category 1, Almost Certainly Will Go: Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Andrew and Aaron Harrison.

Towns is a projected top five NBA pick and Lyles, a versatile 6-10 player who could also play small forward, isn’t far behind. Booker, whose father, Melvin, was once the Big 12 Player of the Year, is just the kind of shooter the pros dream about and he also has good size at 6-6. He is mature beyond his years and could be a lottery pick, or at least in the discussion.

Without any real evidence, I suspect the Harrison twins are ready for new challenges. Winning an NCAA title or not will have minimal impact on what decision these players make. Those who reside in Category 1 are almost certain to go no matter how the season turns out.

Category 2, Likely to Go: The wildcard is Willie Cauley-Stein, the noted free spirit who rides a scooter around the UK campus. The art major is certain to get a big payday when he turns pro, but who knows what he will factor into his decision to stay or go? A seven-footer who can defend, block shots and be a generally disruptive force both in the paint and on the perimeter would be coveted by no small number of NBA teams and it says here Cauley-Stein will answer the call. Maybe.

The bigger question then becomes what will Alex Poythress, Cauley-Stein’s buddy, do if the big man decides to give up his senior year in Lexington. Poythress would have to weigh the benefit versus risk of coming back one more year to show NBA scouts that his surgically repaired knee is ready to go. If he’s physically sound, he’s in the likely to go group.

Category 3, Won’t Go: Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, Tyler Ulis. Most everyone expects Ulis to be a four-year Wildcat, but if continues to shoot the way he has so far in his career, that combined with his quickness, passing and general peskiness will get him a look from the pros. He won’t last the full four years at UK, but he won’t leave this year.

Lee and Johnson both have size and the former has off-the-charts athleticism, but both probably realize they could benefit from another year of college experience. Particularly if their three more talented front-court teammates give up their roster spots.

Category 4, Won’t Go but Probably Should: Derek Willis. The 6-9 sophomore from Mount Washington has stated publicly that he has no intention of transferring and he will likely stick to that commitment. The problem is if he can’t get off the bench this year despite opportunities created by injuries, illnesses and the Calipari platoon system, what makes him think anything will be different next year when the Cats’ restock their roster with more stars?

It’s far from guaranteed that Willis would achieve the kind of success another similarly sized UK transfer, Kyle Wiljer, is currently enjoying at No. 2 Gonzaga, but he could certainly be an impact player somewhere on the Division I level.

Speaking of Gonzaga, it knocked off San Francisco Sunday to improve to 24-1 with a 17-game winning streak. Murray State (21-4) extended the nation’s second longest win streak to 19 with a victory over Austin Peay Saturday. Stephen F. Austin has the third-best streak at 18 after a decision at Houston Baptist.

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A Kentucky win at LSU Tuesday, of course, would push the nation’s top winning streak to 24 in a row. That would be the program’s second-longest season-opening winning streak, trailing only the 25-0 mark set by the 1953-54 Wildcats of Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan.

That team finished 25-0, declining an NCAA Tournament appearance because its three best players (the other was Lou Tsioropoulos) were ineligible for postseason play because of their status as graduate students. That rule was later revoked.

When all streaks are considered, UK’s 23-game mark is tied for the fifth-longest in single-season history and eighth longest overall.

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A pair of central Kentucky standouts passed milestones during games last weekend.

At Transylvania, senior center Alex McKenzie scored her 1,000th career point in a win over Anderson. She also has 688 career rebounds, making her the eighth player in school history with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.

McKenzie hit the 1,000 point mark with a three-pointer in the second half. She ranks fifth in school history in rebounding and 18th in scoring.

At Midway, McKinzie Laswell became the newest member of Midway’s 1,000-point club when she tallied her eighth point in a win over Indiana Southeast. She is only the fourth player since 2003, and the first since 2008, with 1,000 or more points for the Eagles.

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Morehead State’s Almesha Jones and Kentucky’s Makayla Epps have both been named to the 2015 Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List.

The list includes 31 finalists and was announced by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Now in its 15th year, the award is for the nation’s best NCAA Division I point guard. Candidates exhibit the floor leadership, play-making and ball-handling skills of Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman.

The list will be narrowed down to 15 and then a final five by mid-March. The Lieberman Award winner will be announced during the WBCA Award Show in Tampa during the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops used last week’s National Signing Day to announce that he had hired Andy Buh to coach linebackers. Buh previously was defensive coordinator or co-defensive coordinator at Stanford, Nevada and California, and also coached for a Big Ten champion at Wisconsin.

Technically, UK had an opening for special teams coach, but Stoops said he was changing some assignments on the defensive side of the ball and that coaching special teams would be a shared duty.

While Buh said he was excited to be working in the SEC and for Stoops, he also had a more personal reason for accepting the job. His wife’s family is from Indiana, just across the river from Louisville.

“I also wanted a chance to coach in the SEC, a premier conference,” he said. “We’re excited to move to Lexington as my wife is from that part of the country.”

Buh’s wife, Kelly, is a native of New Albany, Ind. They have two sons, Luke and Logan.

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