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Sports Notes: Maybe it's just the timing, but why isn't there more buzz about UK football?

Explosive running back Stanley Boom Williams is among several offensive stars returning for UK this season, yet there doesn't seem to be much excitement about the football program heading into the summer (UK Athletics Photo)

Explosive running back Stanley Boom Williams is among several offensive stars returning for UK this season, yet there doesn’t seem to be much excitement about the football program heading into the summer (UK Athletics Photo)


Maybe it’s just the timing. Folks are concentrating on graduations and planning summer vacations. The official start of summer is still three weeks away and Kentucky won’t kick off the 2015 football season for 96 days.

Do you know who the Cats play on Sept. 5 at the official opening of the refurbished New CWS, as the athletics department’s media staff call it? That would be Louisiana Lafayette.

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Coach Mark Stoops’ troops head to South Carolina for their second game, then play five of their next six games in their new digs. It’s likely the Cats will be the favorites in no more than three of those contests. Preseason prognosticators still see the Cats finishing in the lower level of the SEC’s Eastern Division.

Those familiar with such things say Kentucky will now finally have an SEC-quality facility to play in. Will they have an SEC-quality team to play there?

Eight home games and non-conference matches with Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, Charlotte and Louisville aside, it’s hard to see Kentucky winning more than five or six games next year. After last year’s five-win team ended the season on a six-game losing streak, would that be enough to excite the fan base?

Or will Stoops pull a rabbit out of the hat and find a way to up the win total to seven or more?

It’s no great revelation that Kentucky men’s basketball dominates the attention of the media and sports fans on a year-round basis. Since the arrival of John Calipari on the scene, basketball season and wall-to-wall coverage extends well beyond the team reporting for fall practice in October through the Final Four in April.

There are summer tours to tropical locations to cover, complete with live coverage on ESPN. And once the season ends, following a long run in March Madness, there is the massive coverage of which players will return for another year to chase a college championship or make themselves available for the NBA Draft.

And many thousands of words will be written or spoken speculating how many Wildcats will go in the first round this year.

And recruiting news operates on a 12-month-a-year loop. The local newspaper, which is shedding reporters like a cat sheds hair during the summer, has someone who covers nothing but men’s basketball recruiting. As soon as we find out whose leaving, we need to know who’s coming in to replace the players we followed so arduously during the previous season, most often their only season in Lexington.

Of course, last year was remarkable and historic. A run at a perfect season and Calipari’s second national championship. The platoon system. Fans have been slow to let go of that experience.

Still, Stoops is coming into his third year at UK and most coaches who have elevated struggling college football programs make major advances in their third year. They are coaching mostly players they recruited and their system is firmly in place.

Kentucky returns a talented and experienced quarterback in Patrick Towles and has a number of weapons on offense for the first time in several years. Defensive standouts from last year must be replaced, but there is talent on that side of the line of scrimmage as well.

So why is everyone still talking about the loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four and how good Marcus Lee might be with increased playing time? There’s more banter about whether the Harrison twins will get drafted than UK’s chances at going to a major bowl.

Stoops, who skipped the event last year, will attend the Governor’s Cup luncheon and press conference with Louisville’s Bobby Petrino Wednesday in Frankfort. Maybe that will spark a little interest in the football season.

But probably not.

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Four of Kansas City’s top 10 prospects are now playing in Lexington for the Legends.

The Royals promoted right-handed pitcher Kyle Zimmer to the Legends last weekend. He was the fifth overall choice in the June 2012 draft and he joins left-hander Foster Griffin, a first-round pick (28th overall) in 2014, and right-hander Scott Blewett, who was a 2014 second-round pick (56th overall).

Zimmer is ranked as the Royals’ third-best prospect while Griffin is seventh and Blewett eighth. In addition, MLB.com ranks Legends’ catcher Chase Vallot the club’s No. 10 prospect.

Griffin and Vallot joined the Legends on May 9 while Blewett was added to the roster on May 28.

Power-hitting first baseman Ryan O’Hearn might not be around much longer, though. The SAL leader in home runs will likely earn a promotion from the Royals in the near future.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Louisville Slugger honored Louisville pitchers Zack Burdi and Kyle Funkhouser by naming them third team Collegiate Baseball newspaper All-Americans.

Heading into post-season play, Burdi has nine saves and a 5-0 record to go along with a 0.75 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 24.0 innings pitched and 17 relief appearances this season as Louisville’s closer. He had a three pitches recorded at better than 100 miles an hour in an appearance against Clemson.

Funkhouser, a repeat pick on the All-American team, was 7-5 on the mound with a 3.29 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 15 starts and 98.1 innings pitched. A two-year all-conference righty, Funkhouser ranks second in career wins at Louisville with a 25-9 collegiate record, second in career strikeouts with 270, seventh in career starts with 39 and seventh in innings pitched at 273.1.

In Dan McDonnell’s nine seasons as head coach, Louisville has produced a total of 20 All-American selections.

Burdi also recently accepted an invitation to join the 2015 USA Baseball Collegiate National team. He is the second member of the Cardinals to earn a Team USA invitation, joining sophomore outfielder Corey Ray.

Ray is hitting .319 with 11 home runs, 48 RBI, 13 doubles, 45 runs scored and 31 stolen bases while starting all 58 games.

The USA Collegiate National Team will compete in international friendship series against Chinese Taipei and Cuba in North Carolina, as well as participating in the Americas Baseball Festival against the Canadian Senior National Team, the Cuban National Team and the USA Baseball Pan American Games Team.

The summer schedule begins on June 20 and continues through July 8.

Ray is the eighth Louisville player to earn an invitation from the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team joining Funkhouser (2014), Burdi (2015, 2013), Ryan Wright (2010), Phil Wunderlich (2009), Tony Zych (2009), Justin Marks (2008) and Mark Jurich (2002).

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