DeMarcus Cousins helped make Tre Mitchell the player he is today

John Calipari believes Tre Mitchell is one of the nation’s best transfers. (Vicky Graff Photo)


John Calipari has a question that he wishes someone could answer for him.

“Why isn’t the country talking about Tre (Mitchell) as one of the top transfers (in the country). Is that stunning (that they are not)?” asked Calipari. “Who settles us down? Who impacts this team every game? He does.

“Without him … he talks to all these young guys. If he is not one of the top five or top three transfers, I got to see. I am talking about making an impact on a team. He impacts our team.”

Mitchell started his collegiate career at Mass before transferring to Texas for his junior year. He moved on to West Virginia as a senior and planned to play another season with the Mountaineers before then coach Bob Huggins stepped down after a DUI arrest.

“I was there when it was all happening,” Mitchell said. “I had to make a selfish decision about what was best for me. I really can’t knock my experience there at all but the dude I came to play for was no longer there.”

That brought the 6-8 Mitchell to Kentucky with Huggins’ blessing.

“I have talked to him (Huggins) a couple of times. He completely supported my decision (to come to UK). Even before I made my decision I went to his house to talk to him about it before it got on social media (about the transfer). There was nothing but support from him. He understood the circumstance. I really think Hugs is a standup guy to be honest.”

Mitchell already had a connection at Kentucky because UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua had recruited him out of Woodstock Academy (Conn.) for Illinois and then each time he had previously transferred.

“Every single time I have been out there and been available he has recruited me. He had tried,” Mitchell laughed and said.  “Sometimes things just shake down differently. For me, the preexisting relationships were not going to determine where I was going. I wanted to go to a place that was a good fit for me and what I was trying to do. That turned out to be Kentucky this time.”

Mitchell had followed Kentucky basketball since he was about 10 years old. He said he knew Calipari “because he is Cal” and young players knew his success rate.

“I always wanted to be a part of the Big Blue Nation. It has been a dream of mine since I was a kid,” he said. “I hadn’t really had a real conversation with Cal until I came on my visit here. He had some preexisting relationships with my family before me. I am not sure what they got into back then but he’s been great.”

Former UK star DeMarcus Cousins was part of Calipari’s first recruiting class at UK in 2009 and helped change the way Mitchell approached basketball.

“He was not a guy I would say I emulated but he opened my understanding of the game a little bit,” Mitchell said about Cousins. “I was always bigger than everybody and was always at the 5 (center). People back then just said you are a 5 and you have to stay inside the paint, set ball screens and roll to the basket.

“Seeing DeMarcus play, he was the biggest dude on the court and he was out there doing everything so why can’t I. He changed how I looked at the game.”

Mitchell has to bring that perspective to his younger teammates after their unexpected 80-73 loss to UNC-Wilmington last week.

“We’re human. We’re not going to be perfect,” he said after the loss. “We’re going to have nights like tonight. It’s whether we can have the maturity level to not get super down on ourselves and to take a look at the tape and film.

“I think we know in our heads what we did wrong. But when you really look at it on film, you’re able to analyze it. It clicks in your head. But as a leader, nothing changes from my perspective. I have to come into practice and push these dudes and not let the energy get low.”

LCA quarterback Cutter Boley is ready to enroll early at UK to get a head start learning the Kentucky offense. (Lisa Collins Photo)

Lexington Christian Academy quarterback Cutter Boley will be enrolling at UK in January to get a head start on the 2024 season.

“I feel like at quarterback I need to know as much as I can and get in the playbook and learn as fast as I can to compete and have the best chance to get on the field,” Boley said. “I want to get in early and get that extra time that some other kids don’t to get ahead.”

LCA coach Doug Charles says getting to UK in January was not an easy task for Boley.

“He will be the first senior to have ever graduated at LCA in December,” Charles said. “It has not been easy. He had to take statistics and Spanish 2 online and those are two tough classes. He had to do that on top of playing a very tough schedule.

“Also at just about every home (UK) game Kentucky wanted him down there at the facility helping them put this recruiting class together. After a Friday night game, he would be there at 10 a.m. for a noon game. We played three Saturday night games and two of them he was at the UK facility until 4 o’clock. But that’s the kind of kid he is. The character he exemplified all season was just a blessing for our team and school.”

Boley and others will be able to sign with UK starting Dec. 20. The Cats currently have a top 25 recruiting class.

“We have all gotten really close. There were a few guys on official visits with me and we have kept in touch. Even some guys uncommitted or committed to other places I have stayed in contact with,” Boley said.

Boley completed 172 of 268 passes for 2,187 yards and 24 scores with nine interceptions this year.  He finished his career completing 565 of 937 passes for 8,331 yards and 82 scores. He also ran for 17 touchdowns.

Kentucky assistant coach Chuck Martin says freshmen Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham have tremendous chemistry. (Vicky Graff Photo)

Two players not worried at all about not being in John Calipari’s starting lineup are Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham. Sheppard has the best overall statistics of anyone on the team while Dillingham leads the team in assists and is second in 3-point percentage.

However, while some UK fans are clamoring for one or both to be in the starting lineup, the two freshmen are fine with their roles even though Sheppard did start against UNC-Wilmington last week when UK lost because D.J. Wagner was injured and could not play.

“I think it’s solid,” Dillingham said about coming off the bench. “I like playing with Reed. I like playing with all the guys. I feel like it helps our team, because their starters are still in, and we got me and Reed coming in, so we push the tempo.

“And then we get D.J. (Wagner) right back in the rotation or leave him in with three guards. So I feel like either way it works out because we got so many good players.”

Dillingham and Sheppard usually enter the game after four or five minutes and Dillingham said time on the bench allows them to focus on what opponents are doing.

“We go in and we both have the mindset of, ‘We’re gonna do whatever we need to do to win,’” Sheppard said. “We’re gonna go in and make the right passes, the right plays, and just try and bring energy off the bench.”

UK assistant coach Chuck Martin likes the way the two freshmen feed off each other.

“They’ve got a tremendous chemistry,” Martin said. “Those two really are fun to watch. They’ve got something going on. I think it started in Toronto (in July), and it’s grown over the last few months.

“It puts pressure on the opposing team, for sure. They’re two kids who are unselfish. They’re looking for one another. They’re capable 3-point shooters. They can beat you off the bounce and get to the rim. It does put pressure on opposing teams, knowing that — within four minutes — D.J. and Justin (Edwards) are coming back.”

Kentucky sophomore Barion Brown did not have the huge breakout season that many thought he might based on what he did his freshman year. He finished the regular season with 40 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns after making 50 catches for 628 yards and four touchdowns in 2022.

However, he did end the season with 250 all-purpose yards in the win over Louisville that included a 100-yard kickoff return that changed the game’s momentum.

It was his second kickoff return for a touchdown as he also had a 99-yard scoring return against Ball State.

Combined with his 100-yard return against Miami-Ohio in 2022, Brown’s three kickoff return touchdowns tied Craig Yeast’s school mark of three career scoring kickoff returns. His two touchdown returns this year tied Derek Abney’s single-season school record.

Brown had 180 kick return yards against Louisville —the third-most in a single-game in UK history behind Derrick Locke’s 191 vs. Louisville in 2009 and Keenan Burton’s 185 vs. Louisville in 2006.

Brown currently has the school record for kick return average with at least 30 returns at 29.55 yards per return on his 31 returns.

Craig Skinner celebrates with his seniors after UK beat Baylor last week. (Vicky Graff Photo)

Kentucky volleyball will be playing in the Sweet Sixteen this weekend at No. 1 Nebraska after sweeping two NCAA Tournament matches at Rupp Arena last week. Kentucky will play Arkansas in round three and then likely face host Nebraska, which beat UK 3-1 earlier this season, in the regional final Saturday for a Final Four berth.

Coach Craig Skinner has guided UK to seven straight Southeastern Conference titles and also won the 2020 national championship.

Junior All-American setter Emma Grome calls him an “awesome” coach who players love.

“He is somebody that clearly knows what he is doing in volleyball but also really cares about us as people,” Grome, who had 45 assists in UK’s sweep of Baylor in the NCAA second round, said. “He wants the best for us on and off the court and wants us to develop into the best people we can be. You don’t see that very often in coaches.”

Grome likes the way Skinner lets his players have fun.

“He does get that it is important. He always tells us we play our best when we are loose but not giddy,” Grome said. “He wants us loose and focused and that’s what we always try to do on the court. When we are having fun, we are unstoppable. He gets it.

“He can get on us if we need it. Don’t worry about that. When he does that we know we have to take care of business and get refocused.”

Kentucky certainly has been focused the last two months as the Cats have won 18 straight matches, including the last four by sweeps.

“They understand that the expectations on a program like Kentucky are to compete for championships, so we’re not going to overlook our next opponent, but the goal when you’re in the NCAA tournament is to win the championship, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Skinner said.

Kentucky will be playing Arkansas for the third time Thursday night. The Cats beat Arkansas 3-2 Oct. 7 in Rupp Arena but then swept the host Razorbacks 3-0 Nov. 22.

“It’s a little bit easier to prepare for a common opponent but also more difficult because they also know you very well,” Skinner said. “We might have to make some tweaks and adjustments.”

Quote of the Week: “It plays a lot because that is how we are off the court. We are a bunch of friendly guys hanging out together, so I think it plays a big part in our success. I feel like us being young plays a part in it, so we try to get everyone to go out with us. Even the vets we go bowling with sometimes and we just try to get everybody out,” UK freshman Justin Edwards on the team having fun on the court.

Quote of the Week 2: “The retention is the most important thing. Retaining and keeping the best players we have on our roster. I’m just telling you what happens in the real world is they poach them, they’re going to pay them. The great ones on our team, they pay them. Let’s call it the way it is. They get to a third person, they call them and they say we’re going to offer you X amount of money and they pay them,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops on keeping players from leaving UK.

Quote of the Week 3: “We came into this game selfishly, I think. First half we weren’t really swinging the ball to each other as much as we usually do. We didn’t get the same amount of assists we usually do; guys were trying to do things on their own – we were just out of it,” Kentucky sophomore Adou Thiero after the loss to UNC-Wilmington.