By LARRY VAUGHT
It was an impossible task for anyone to try and follow Dan Issel, Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer after his brilliant three seasons playing for coach Adolph Rupp from 1967-70.
Yet Jim Andrews did it so well that he will be going into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame, an honor many considered long overdue for him. He helped UK go 63-21 from 1970-73 and finished his career with 1,320 points and 783 rebounds.
“It’s nice to kind of get the monkey off my back. I have heard stuff about the best player to play at Kentucky that most people did not know about or how I deserved to already be in,” Andrews said.
He’s been dramatically under-appreciated for what he did at UK. He averaged 20.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game as a senior and 21.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game as a junior. He was the last UK player to average 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds over two seasons — something only Issel, Cotton Nash and Cliff Hagan have ever done. Over the last 50 years, only Andrews, Kevin Grevey, Kenny Walker and Jamal Mashburn have averaged 20 or more points in two seasons. The Cats won three SEC titles with him at center and made the Elite Eight twice.
The 6-11 Andrews, who had 43 double-doubles (third best in UK history), understands why his numbers were easy to overlook.
“There was so much going on. Issel left the program, Tom Payne became the first African-American player at UK, coach Rupp was forced to retire in 1972 and then coach (Joe) Hall took over. There were so many distractions that could have derailed the team,” Andrews said.
“I always wondered what would have happened if we had not had a good year in coach Hall’s first year. On his 93rd birthday, he grabbed me and said, ‘Jim, you saved my career.’ We won the SEC championships all three years but if we had not won at Tennessee that first year to make the NCAA Tournament, Joe probably would have been fired. So there was a lot going on.”
Andrews always felt he could have done more and still regrets losing to Indiana his senior year in the 1973 NCAA Tournament. Indiana beat UK 64-58 during the regular season but Andrews said the Cats missed “three easy layups” late in the NCAA game.
“If we had won, I know we would have gone to the Final Four,” Andrews said.
Andrews’ name got more mentions when Julius Randle arrived at UK for the 2013-14 season and had a terrific streak of double-doubles. His name came up even more last season with what Oscar Tshiebwe did on the boards.
“It was kind of special to hear my name every week with what Oscar was doing. It was like, ‘The last guy to do this was Jim Andrews.’ Even when I found out I was nominated for the Hall of Fame I didn’t realize where I stood with some of the great names like Hagan, Issel and Walker.
“I kind of feel validated with what I have done. It’s hard to believe that those numbers I put up 50 years ago are still that good.”
Hall discovered Andrews by accident when he was Rupp’s top recruiter. Hall was going to Findlay, Ohio, to watch another player when he stopped in Lima to get gasoline and was told by a worker there about a “big guy who averaged 36 points and 22 or 23 rebounds a game” playing in town, according to what Hall told Andrews and others.
“He came and watched me play that night,” Andrews said. “Joe told me he could not even remember the name of the kid he originally was going to Findlay to watch that night. I really don’t remember if he offered me a scholarship that night or later but he did invite me to come watch Kentucky play Tennessee. I was actually considering going to Tennessee to play but I liked the up and down style Kentucky played a whole lot more, so I came to Kentucky.”
Andrews was a freshman during Issel’s 1969-70 senior season. That’s when freshmen could not play in games but Andrews watched and learned. He also eventually became one of only five players to play for both Rupp and Hall when they were head coaches.
“I knew when I was recruited that coach Rupp was going to retire after my sophomore year because of the age requirement. He tried to fight it, but I was expecting him to have to retire,” Andrews said. “I had three different coaches in high school, so it didn’t bother me. There was a lot more pressure on coach Hall than the players.”
What will the recent feud between Mark Stoops and John Calipari over the basketball coach’s remark that Kentucky is a “basketball school” while Alabama and Georgia are “football schools” provide any inspiration for the football team?
Stoops defended his program immediately on social media and again in a press conference last week.
“It’s not intentional. I didn’t ask for this situation (with Calipari). I didn’t, but they (UK players) know I have their back and that’s it. No disrespect to anybody in here, but I can promise you I’m not concerned with anyone outside of that building at all. No disrespect at all,” Stoops said.
“I work hard, we work hard to make our fanbase proud. I can promise you in that building there is work getting done 24/7 and we got to continue to go, continue to push. That is not a PR firm right there. That is a work environment.”
That attitude is why ESPN/SEC Network host Peter Burns says players respect Stoops.
“If you find a coach that has his team’s back like Stoops at Kentucky, then chances are you’ll have a locker room that will do anything for that coach and success will follow,” Burns said.
While TV basketball analysts Dick Vitale and Seth Greenberg agreed with Calipari about UK being a “basketball school,” another ESPN analyst, Fran Fraschilla, had a different take.
Fraschilla said he was “sad to say” he had to disagree with Calipari.
“Yes, UK, Arizona, Kansas, Gonzaga, the Big East may be called ‘basketball schools’ but it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not where the money is. I’m not sure UK wouldn’t give up basketball just to stay in the SEC,” Fraschilla posted on Twitter.
Calipari did acknowledge he should have worded his comments better.
“I said the wrong thing. Mark and I will be fine,” he told WLEX-TV’s Keith Farmer in the Bahamas. “We’ll get back and talk about it. I’m not real smart, and sometimes it doesn’t come out the right way. That’s my Italian in me. But we’ll be fine.”
New Kentucky assistant basketball coach KT Turner admits Sahvir Wheeler is a better passer than he realized even though he led the SEC in assists the last two years.
“He is very underrated. He is really a great passer and he is all about winning,” Turner said during UK’s exhibition trip in the Bahamas. “One thing he does as a point guard is he knows who is on and where to get them shots. He will find you and he gets his teammates a lot of open shots.
“He keeps up with the game. He notices what happens. He knows who is hot but he also knows who has not had a shot in a while.”
Guard CJ Fredrick says there is no doubt Wheeler is a needed team leader. Transfer Antonio Reeves said in UK’s win over the Bahamas in Sunday’s game that it was Wheeler who took charge in the huddle with UK eight points down in the first half.
“It was heated but he talked to the team and led like he should. I do not remember exactly what he said but it was mainly about the defensive side and we got his message,” Reeves said.
Fredrick said he’s also a special point guard on the court.
“Sahvir is so electric. He starts it on defense. He makes you work for everything,” Fredrick said. “He is always controlling the tempo and pace. That’s our floor general.”
Fredrick says there’s no doubt Wheeler is the fastest player with the ball he has played with or against.
“That’s why a lot of teams don’t press us. He will go right by you,” Fredrick said.
Assistant coach Orlando Antigua said there were a lot of things Wheeler did well in the four exhibition games.
“He went against big guards, veteran guards and kept playing the way he plays,” Antigua said. “He puts immense pressure on guards and (freshman) Cason (Wallace) is learning that. Sahvir uses his physicality to cause problems.
“He’s the best point guard in the country leading the team and then defending the way he has, that is great.”
Wheeler scored 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and also had four assists, two steals and a blocked shot in Sunday’s win over the Bahamas. He averaged 14.5 points, 6.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 rebounds per game in the four games. He also had only six turnovers in 94 minutes.
A year ago Kentucky associate coach/recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow was telling anyone who would listen how special quarterback Will Levis was going to be. Levis led UK to 10 wins, including a Citrus Bowl victory, and Marrow certainly has not backed off his praise of Levis.
“He could be the first pick in the (NFL) draft. No worse than No. 10,” Marrow said. “He can make a lot of throws. He’s big and physical. He can run.”
Marrow said Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, and Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud are both talented but Levis is bigger than both of them.
“He looks bigger than them. His ball comes out a lot better,” Marrow said. “Will is also such a great leader. Everything is 110 percent or more with him. You just sometimes have to slow him up because he gets so excited about everything.”
The Penn State transfer’s success has helped the UK football brand grow — or had until last week when John Calipari said UK was a “basketball school” that drew national attention as well as quick disagreement from Stoops and Marrow.
“I think we’re picking it up more in the north. It’s the same message that we have for the kids in Ohio and Michigan, ‘If you don’t go to Michigan, if you don’t go to Ohio State, come and play in the SEC. You’re still a four-star guy, come and play in the best conference,’” Marrow said a few days before Calipari’s remark.
“Now you’re starting to see guys from New Jersey, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, we’re branching our brand. But like Stoops always says, do not get it twisted, Kentucky and Ohio will still be our home base of where we go recruit.”
Quote of the Week: “I am still trying to figure out what I want to do. I love working with kids. I am interested in playing pro ball, maybe going overseas. I would love to travel a bit more. I am not sure about coaching but I will do something connected with basketball,” UK senior Blair Green about her future after her UK career ends.
Quote of the Week 2: “There will be a lot of competition in there. A lot of guys are going to rotate in and get snaps. It’s not a situation where we have got a guy like Josh Pachal that you can put a huge workload on and let him go. This will be more of a rotational group but there is talent there,” UK defensive coordinator Brad White on the defensive line.
Quote of the Week 3: “The great tradition, the tradition is growing and just a winning culture. Had a great season last year and I know I can be a part of something special,” running back Ramon Jefferson on why he transferred from Sam Houston State to Kentucky.