Connect with us

Men's Basketball

Kansas and North Carolina Meet in the Championship. Kentucky Blew Both of Them Out. What Happened to the Wildcats?



Photos by Chet White | UK Athletics

On December 18th, 2021 the Kentucky Wildcats took on the North Carolina Tar Heels and won in 98-69 rout. A little over a month later, on January 29th, 2022, Kentucky took on the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse and won in a lopsided 80-62 victory.

On April 4th, Kansas will take on North Carolina for the National Championship, while Kentucky has been sitting in Lexington since being upset in the first round by Saint Peter’s.

After beating these teams by a combined 47 points, what happened?



The most obvious thing to point to that hurt Kentucky is injuries. Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington, and Jacob Toppin were all key players, and all suffered injuries that caused them to miss game(s) towards the end of the season.

One can argue that the most significant injury was when TyTy Washington sprained his ankle for a second time on February 12th (I will mention this date a lot) against Florida. Following that game, TyTy just never seemed to return to 100%, averaging 11.6 points but on an inefficient 35.6% clip from the field and 36% clip from three.

As a team, that date seems to point to where the team changed and could never readjust to form. In their last nine games following Florida, Kentucky finished 5-4 and never returned to form.

Kellan Grady

As great as Grady was at times this season, he was just as bad in the last five games. The best shooter in the SEC went north pole type cold, going 5-22 (22.7%) from three in his last five games.


Outside of his poor shooting, the veteran wasn’t providing anything else on offense or defense. In the last five games, of those with 10+ minutes per game, Grady was ranked as Kentucky’s worst defender with a 112.6 defensive rating and had the team’s worst player efficiency rating at 9.1 (Real GM).

That’s not to say Grady did not contribute to this team. Despite the finish to the season, Grady still finished as the 5th best three-point shooter in school history by percentage (Big Blue History). However, his play at the end of the season is something we should try to forget and not remember him by.

Offense Became Less Efficient

Prior to the season, Calipari knew he had to bring in shooters (and makers) and he did. Kellan Grady, CJ Frederick, Dontaie Allen, and TyTy Washington were seen as the best shooters on paper, and outside of Frederick, who missed the season due to injury, the rest lived up to those expectations.

As a team, Kentucky shot 35.1% from three up to February 12th, which would have ranked top five in the Calipari Era and top 100 in the NCAA this season. However, after that dreadful day, the Cats plummeted to 29.7% in their last 5 games, which would rank as the worst shooting team in the Calipari era.


Without the shooting ability to spread out the floor, Oscar was still able to produce, but it congested the spacing, limited other players, and the offense as a whole was never as effective.

Towards the end of the season, you could really see this team’s need for a stretch four. While Toppin and Brooks could make the mid-range jumper, they were not nearly as consistent as they needed to be to spread the floor. In my opinion, that is a definite need for Calipari to fill this offseason.

Defensive Woes

Kentucky let Saint Peter’s, the 232nd ranked offensive, shoot over 50% from the field and three-point land (KenPom), but the defensive troubles started before that.

Prior to February 15th, Kentucky had only allowed 100 or more points per possession in six of their twenty-five games to that point. Following that point, they allowed 100 or more points per possession in eight of their final nine games, with the lone game under being the regular-season finale at Florida. (Bart Torvik)


In terms of overall defense, Kentucky was 35th in defensive efficiency (KenPom). However, just looking at their last 10 games, the Wildcats ranked 163rd in defensive efficiency (Bart Torvik). This was the worst of any top-12 seed. However, an interesting note is that Duke ranked 158th in their last 10 in defensive efficiency.

Despite the promise Kentucky showed through the regular season, when the defense regressed and the team lost its shooting touch, the writing was on the wall for an early exit. With that said, seeing two teams that Kentucky absolutely handled earlier in the season, play for a championship, is pure frustration.


Men's Basketball

Ansley Almonor Is Coming to Kentucky With a Chip on His Shoulder, “I Belong Here, This Isn’t a Fluke”



Ansley Almonor dreamed of playing for the Kentucky Wildcats as a kid. Here is how that dream has become a reality.
Photo by Eddie Justice | UK Athletics

A no-star, unranked recruit coming out of high school in 2021, Ansley Almonor recently committed to play on one of the biggest stages and for one of the most successful programs in college basketball, the University of Kentucky.

“I never could have predicted it, not in a million years,” Almonor told Kentucky Insider in an interview. “It’s crazy.”

When Almonor says crazy, he has been a part of crazy. A starter for the 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson team that upset 1-seeded Purdue in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, he (6-7, 219 lbs) defended National Player of the Year Zach Edey (7-4, 300 lbs).


What has been the crazier experience between being part of one of the biggest upsets in sports and committing to Kentucky? The latter Almonor says, already feeling the love of the Big Blue Nation. “You can feel the love from the community everywhere you go. So many people have reached out to me on social media. So many followers. Fans going to bat for me like their lives are dependent on it. It’s surreal.”

The path to Kentucky hasn’t been easy and it started in New York, where he was raised by Haitian parents. “It definitely shaped me as a player and person,” he said of growing up in The Big Apple. “Everything over there you got to earn. They don’t give you nothing. You have to go out and earn it. Every game is a fight. Everybody is tough. You have to be tough and take what you want.”

One thing he wanted as a kid was to one day play for the University of Kentucky, even having a picture of the Kentucky logo hanging on the front of his bed as a daily reminder and source of motivation. However, coming out of high school that dream looked bleak, having few options to choose from before signing with Farleigh Dickinson. “I wasn’t recruited at all. I wasn’t a big-time recruit in high school. I wanted to prove everybody wrong.”

Over the course of three seasons, he did. As a freshman, Almonor came off the bench, averaging less than ten minutes per game on a 4-win Fairleigh Dickinson team. As a sophomore, he was named NEC Most Improved Player of the Year en route to helping the Knights to their first NCAA Tournament win. As a junior, he earned All-NEC First Team honors as the team’s leading scorer and best shooter, averaging 16.4 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting .394 from 3-point range.


Despite those efficient numbers, Almonor didn’t have many Power schools calling when he entered the transfer portal. According to some, he even gave Sienna a verbal commitment. That quickly changed when Kentucky assistant Jason Hart, with his “Cali swag”, sent him an email.

“Coach Hart emailed me and it was surreal,” Almonor said. “I almost thought it was fake at first. The next day I spoke to the coaching staff, and it went from there.”

Just a few days later, Almonor arrived in Lexington for a visit. Coming from Fairleigh Dickinson, where the team had gotten stuck in an elevator, and had watched film in a cinderblock shower room, with a projector that rested on a Gatorade bucket, he was in awe.

“It was almost night and day,” Almonor said. “Those schools have pretty good facilities for that level, but Kentucky’s facilities are second to none. They treat their players like pros. Everything over there was top-notch. Literally, every single thing.”


The highlight of the visit though, Rupp Arena. “Everything about it. The arena, the seats, the size of it, the locker room. Everything.”

This is also where Mark Pope made one of his pitches to Almonor.

“I didn’t realize how big it was in there,” he said. “He (Pope) took us to the very top seats and had us look down below and asked, ‘Could you see yourself playing here, with this place being full from the very top, all the way down to the bottom?’”

That is when Almonor said he started to imagine an arena full of 20,500+ members of the Big Blue Nation, cheering for him. “It’s just a crazy, surreal experience when you’re in that building to imagine that. It’s just crazy. It gives you chills.”


From there, Almonor was shown the locker room where he got to put on a Kentucky jersey for the first time. “Putting on the jersey, that was really the craziest experience. Not only for me, but for my family and friends. Them seeing me in a Kentucky jersey, that’s crazy for them to think about.”

Now it’s no longer crazy, it’s no longer a dream. Instead of having the Kentucky logo hanging on his bed, Ansley Almonor will be wearing it across his chest and he isn’t taking that lightly.

“Coach Pope is taking a chance on me,” Almonor said. “I come from a small school, but people don’t know where I come from. What I have been through. I know what it takes to play at Kentucky, to play on this level. I belong here, this isn’t a fluke. I got to go out there and prove everybody wrong. Not even just personally, people are saying we aren’t going to be that good of a Kentucky team. Our goal is to hang banner #9. We got to go out there and prove it to them.”

Other Questions

Coach Pope has great energy and is very relatable. That’s something I have heard from other coaches and old friends of his. You as a player, how does he show that energy and relatability?

His energy is just very outgoing. I feel like he never goes to sleep. He answers my texts like 4 AM, 6 AM. His energy, you feed off him just being around him.


He likes to tell stories. He’s funny. He’s honest. He’s just like a really good guy to be around. He always has a story to tell because he has been through so much. He’s been a lot of places, coaching-wise, and as a player he’s been where you want to go so he’s got a lot of advice and knowledge.

You played the five spot a lot at FDU. Do you expect to play a similar role at Kentucky? What kind of style has the staff talked about playing?

Definitely the four spot. He (Pope) wants me to come in here and make open shots, move the ball, and be able to play with the ball in my hands. I feel like I fit in perfectly with my skill set.

When the staff was recruiting me, they were telling me how good of a fit they thought I was. Him showing me film and where he sees me and stuff, I feel like it’s the perfect it. I don’t think there is another team in the country that I fit this perfectly with.

He goes through a lot of analytics. He went into detail about my numbers and what I need to work on and things I am really good at.


You went through two coaching changes at FDU. Now you’re joining Mark Pope in his first year at Kentucky. What did you learn in those previous changes that you can bring into this situation?

Come in there and prove myself in front of everybody you know. I’m going to go in there and prove that I belong on the court and I that I am going to be a key player.

Continue Reading

BB Recruiting

Mark Pope Talks About His Recruiting Approach, “Those Who Belong at Kentucky Are the Very Best Players in All of College Basketball”



The hiring of Mark Pope was met with mixed reactions from Kentucky fans, but he is well respected in the coaching community.
Clare Grant/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

When Mark Pope was first hired at Kentucky, multiple coaches who have competed against Pope talked to Kentucky Insider about what to expect. By his peers, Mark Pope is seen as one of the best offensive minds in all of college basketball, but the question was, can he recruit?

In just over a month as Kentucky’s head coach, Pope has filled 11 of his 13 scholarship spots. Eight of those players have come via the transfer portal, which has become the quickest way to fill a roster with talent in such a short span. It also shows Pope’s understanding of the importance of the transfer portal.

That said, going forward it’s clear that Pope wants to maintain the Kentucky brand in recruiting and what it means to some of the best young talent in the country. This past weekend he and his staff were in Texas and Indianapolis watching more than a dozen five-star recruits from the 2025 and 2026 classes, including several top-five prospects. While doing so, he talked to Kyle Tucker of The Athletic about his recruiting approach.


“We’re just out here recruiting the best players we can get, and the best players you can get at Kentucky are the best players,” Pope said. “I’m used to working with a relatively limited pool, and Kentucky has a relatively limited pool also. It’s just a little different kind of pool. The guys who belong at Kentucky are the very best players in all of college basketball, so those are the guys you’re chasing. And then from that group, we’re chasing guys that really fit us, the way we’re attacking the game and the way we’re playing.”

Of the players that Pope is pursuing and will pursue, they are tiered. “It’s a balance. We’re actually tiering kids,” he said. “The kids we think are one-and-done that we really want to try and grab; another tier of guys we think can come be in the rotation as freshmen; and then a tier of guys you say, ‘Man, I’m telling you, that kid is going to come add something to our program as a freshman, even if he’s not in the rotation, and then he’s going to win us the biggest games in college basketball as a junior or senior.’”

In summary, “We do our best to tier guys and then go hunting and be super deliberate about the guys in each of those pools that we recruit really hard.”

Pope has three assistants who will be helping him on the recruiting trail, two of which are seen as two of the best recruiters in all of college basketball, Alvin Brooks and Jason Hart.


Brooks comes from Baylor, and his father was the Director of Basketball Operations at Kentucky under Billy Gillespie. Pope calls him: “One of the elite recruiters in all of college basketball, because he builds these super, super deep, meaningful relationships with guys.”

Brooks was responsible for recruiting the likes of Keyonte George, Ja’Kobe Walter, and VJ Edgecombe to Baylor, and is already eyeing two five-star Nike EYBL standouts from Texas to come to Kentucky, Hudson Greer and Shelton Anderson.

As for Hart, he is a former ten-year NBA veteran (player) who was most recently the head coach for the G League Ignite. Before that, he was the associate head coach at USC (2013-21) where he helped recruit some of the best talent in the country and put a half dozen players in the NBA.

“You’re not going to meet a better person in the world than Jason Hart,” Pope said. “He’s got an energy that’s contagious, and he’s really smart and he could spend all day every day in the gym because of how much he loves the game.”


The third and last recruiting assistant is Cody Fueger, who has been with Pope at Utah Valley and BYU. He is someone that Pope trusts and has worked

“Cody has just been grinding, getting great talent to some of the hardest places in the world to recruit,” Pope said. “So now he’s coming at this from a much different angle: ‘This is easy compared to what I’ve been doing.’ Because it’s Kentucky. And we say that every day: It’s Kentucky.”

Kentucky Insider has talked to one of Pope’s teammates and a fellow coach, Scott Padgett, who is confident that Pope will prove himself as a capable recruiter given his positive attitude, charisma, and worth ethic.

All three have been apparent to Kentucky fans early, and with a talented staff around him, Pope is going to purse the best of the best. As recruiting begins to ramp up with the 2025 class, we will see who that first player is.


Continue Reading

Men's Basketball

Last Season’s Players Say They Will Continue to Support Kentucky Following Calipari’s Departure, “I’ll Come Back, For Sure”



Former Calipari era players say they will continue to support Kentucky following Calipari's departure.
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Towards the end of his fifteen season tenure at Kentucky, many fans had mixed feelings about John Calipari. However, his players never wavered in voicing their appreciation and love for him as their coach, and still do.

“To me, he’s the best coach in the world,” Reed Sheppard said at the NBA Draft Combine last week. Sheppard, an in-state product and the son of two former UK stars, has his own pre-existing ties to Kentucky basketball. What about the other players, the ones who came to Lexington from across the country to play for Calipari?

Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader asked three players from last year’s roster, Rob Dilligham, Antonio Reeves, and Justin Edwards. It should come as no suprise that they would support Calipari as heads to Arkansas, but they affirm they will continue to support Kentucky. In the end, that is the university that they represented and the fanbase they were supported by.


“I’ll go to the game where they play each other. That would be even, right?” Dillingham said with a laugh, when asked if he would attend any Kentucky or Arkansas games in the near future. “I love Coach Cal. I appreciate him for the opportunity. And you see him — he’s put so many players in the NBA. He’s done a great thing at Kentucky.”

As for where Dillingham will return, it will be Lexington not Fayetteville.

“I’ll come back, for sure, to Kentucky. Obviously, they protected me,” Dillingham said. “It wasn’t just (Calipari). It was the fans. It was the teachers. Everybody there. I love Mitch Barnhart, the Athletic Director. I love all of them. So I really liked the UK experience, because they helped me as a whole, and they treated me like family.”

Reeves, who will go down as John Calipari’s last All-American at Kentucky, makes the point that he played for Calipari and Kentucky, and will support both.


“I’d say both. I played for him. So, of course, I’m gonna cheer for him at Arkansas. Why not?” Reeves said. “The fans at Kentucky — I definitely can’t leave them behind. So I definitely gotta go back and just show them love whenever I get a chance. And I came from Kentucky. So I can’t just leave that behind.”

Edwards is one of the few that has had the opportunity to talk to Coach Pope since he took over at Kentucky.

“I’ve talked to Mark Pope. He was here (Draft Combine) today,” Edwards said, “I dapped him up. He told me if I was ever in town and needed a gym that I was always welcome to use the Craft Center. And Coach Cal told us the same: any alum or players that he had (at Kentucky), if they want to come work out, they can always use the gym.”

“Those guys are two genuine guys. You can tell that they’re caring people.”


Edwards’ quote summarizes it greatly. Both are good people and coaches that care about the program.

At the end of the day, Calipari did a lot of good for Kentucky Basketball and will be honored for it in the future. However it was time for a change, or as Calipari said in his departure video, “a new voice”. That new voice is Mark Pope, who is making an effort to bridge all the generations of Kentucky Basketball.

John Wall, arguably the face of the Calipari era, was seen meeting Pope for the the first time this past weekend at a Nike EYBL event in Indianapolis.

Continue Reading