Monday, February 19, 2024

West KY Player just 'different' Coach Thompson says

Paducah Tilghman coach Sean Thompson knew a little bit about Martels Carter before he moved to Paducah before the start of the 2023 football season.

“One of my coaches used to coach with his father. I had seen film of him because of my assistant,” Thompson said. “Seeing him in person on the field, though, you immediately knew how special he was. He does things you do not typically see. I don’t even know how to explain it. I have never coached a kid with the explosion he has. He just practices and plays at a different level from others.”

The 6-1, 190-pound Carter already has about  50 Division I college scholarship offers to back up what Thompson said.

“He is heavily recruited and he should be,” the Paducah Tilghman coach said. “He works hard and I hope he ends in a situation that is really good for him in college.”

Carter had 43 catches for 1,066 yards and 10 scores in 13 games last season at Tilghman and also ran 17 times for 214 yards and three scores. He returned five punts for scores and had one kickoff return for a touchdown.

On defense, he had 44 tackles and three interceptions to help Tilghman reach the Class 4A semifinals where it lost to Covington Catholic.

While he has the size, speed and skill to be an offensive player in college, he’s being recruited primarily as a defensive back.

“He definitely a defensive back first. He plays offense and special teams  and probably his most immediate impact in college will be on special teams. You  can’t kick it to him. If you kick him the ball

it is immediate offense,” Thompson said. “He is big, physical, fast and just different from most kids you see. He should be able to play anywhere in the secondary because he’s a very physical kid.

“The ball was not thrown his way much. He doesn’t get attacked very much in the passing game. I am not saying teams avoided him but he was not tested very much. We had a really good secondary but he made it elite. His leadership ability and ability to erase mistakes on the back of the defense is incredible. He has the ability to chase down and negate plays that usually are touchdowns.”

Thompson is not positive how fast Carter is. He’s been timed in 10.5 seconds in the 100-yard dash and 4.3 in the 40. 

“I haven’t seen him have to run full speed on the football field or be in a situation where he had to completely open up,” the Paducah Tilghman coach said. “He is extremely explosive and you do not totally understand that until you hit him or get hit by him.”

Carter is originally from Rome, Ga., but moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., when his father became the head coach at Brainerd High School. He started both ways from Brainerd playing for his father — he played on an elite 7-on-7 team with UK freshman quarterback Cutter Boley.

His father, Martels Carter Sr., suffered a stroke last summer and the family opted to move to Paducah to be closer to his doctor there.

Football-wise, Carter Jr. did not miss a beat and recently narrowed his potential college choices to Oregon, Clemson, Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky. But his father told Phillips Dukes on Five-Star Flex that the final three are Kentucky, Oregon and Clemson.

The Paducah Tilghman junior is ranked as the No. 173 overall player in the 2025 recruiting class by On3 and the No. 1 player in Kentucky. He’s made it clear that he’s friends with Boley but also likes Kentucky sophomore receiver Barion Brown.

“He is a big goober who likes to have fun. All this recruiting does not bother him at all,” Thompson said. “He is a humble kind which a lot of people forget because he looks like a grown man. He is big on wanting to prove people wrong who doubt him but he likes to have fun. He’s energetic, enthusiastic and usually happy to just be at work.

“He’s special. The two years before he came we struggled with the culture in our locker room. He was a big reason our kids became closer last season. The kids felt like they needed to match the energy he had every day.

“I would say he could go on a basketball court and impact the game. I know he could lock somebody down, get steals and rebound. He’s that good of an athlete. You just almost have to see him in person to know how good he is.”

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Bush Hamdan didn’t recruit transfers Brock Vandagriff or Beau Allen. He didn’t recruit true freshman Cutter Boley. However, the new Kentucky offensive coordinator likes the quarterbacks he will be working with in Lexington. 

“You don’t take the job unless you feel pretty good about that quarterback room. I’m excited certainly to work with all those guys and I know they’re eager to,” Hamdan said.  “I know Brock Vandagriff and all of those guys have already been by, and I’m excited to get to work with them.”

Hamdan doesn’t have a lot of time to get to know the UK roster before spring practice starts in March. 

“I don’t think there’s a more important relationship — maybe in football — than the coordinator and the starting quarterback. So that’s the starting point,” Hamdan said about his top priority. “What do you feel comfortable with? 

“You do understand that a lot of teams have a lot of carryover in schemes. Maybe not in terminology, but it’s getting on the same page with him.”

Vandagriff transferred from Georgia to play for former UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen. Boley picked Kentucky in large part because of Coen. Hamdan knows he has to build a relationship with them and others as quickly as possible.

One player he does know is North Texas transfer Ja’Mori Maclin, a 1,000-yard receiver last season. He had the most catches of 50 yards or more of any FBS receiver in 2023. 

Maclin began his college career at Missouri with Hamdan as wide receiver coach.

“He was awesome. I mean, the guy is a worker. I think that’s the first thing I’d say about J-Mo,” Hamdan said. “Certainly, I just go back to that trust and developing that trust in them. We thought we did the right thing, we did. We had good conversations at Missouri  even when he left me.

“It’s funny. I think we were talking probably about two, three weeks ago. He was calling and asking me his opinion on some different places. It’s one of those full-circle moments. Maybe in the craziness of college football, that’s one story. At least for me and my family, to be able to come back and work with him, it’s one of those things that’s super special to me.”

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Being called a sleeper team in the SEC that could advance to the College World Series is fine with Kentucky baseball coach Nick Mingione. He knows the traditional SEC powers who garner most of the preseason attention even though his team reached the Super Regional last year before losing to eventual national champion LSU.

“This is what I know. Until we just do it every year maybe it is fair (to consider UK a sleeper team). It is up to us to change that narrative,” Mingione said.  “I try to stay away from reading those (predictions). If that is what someone wants to say, that’s fine. The only opinion that matters is guys inside our program. As long as we make it (to the College World Series) people can say whatever they want.”

The Kentucky coach knows last year was special when Kentucky got to host a NCAA Regional and win in front of its home fans. Kentucky had huge home crowds all season and beat some of the nation’s best teams.

“It has been a challenge (coming off last season). Having guys who have been there, done that is so important,” Mingione said. “To have returning pieces like we do is so important. It’s no guarantee of success  but having solid pieces back is really important.

“Last year’s team and this year’s team are very similar in that they are super competitive. Last year our scrimmages were so close and it has been very similar this year.  Our guys were getting after it and getting after each other which I like.

“In my 20 years of coaching this is the best defensive plays I have seen in scrimmages. It was incredible. We want to be an attacking defense. We were  just chiseling each other and making each other sharper.”

Kentucky often created chaos offensively with its speed last season, something Mingione hopes will happen again this year.

“We will run the same style of offense. We are going to bunt and run,” the UK coach said. “One of my favorite ways to score and have a big inning is to score on bunts and walks.

“Will we have as many guys with 15 stolen bases? I don’t know. But at the end of day  we are going to try and create chaos.

* * *

Kentucky set a new NBA mark for most All-Star selections from a single school in a single year for this year’s All-Star Game with  seven, breaking its own mark of four shared with UCLA.

Anthony Davis played in his ninth All-Star game on Sunday while Devin Booker (4), Karl-Anthony Towns (4), Bam Adebayo (3), Julius Randle (3), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) and Tyrese Maxey (1) all also made the game even though Randle could not play because of an injury.

However, a strong case could be made that UK should have had one more player — Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox — in the game.

At the All-Star break, he was averaging 26.8 points, 5.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while playing 35.6 minutes per game. He was also shooting 47 percent overall and 33 percent from 3. He was averaging 30 points per game at one time this season.

Fox credited Kentucky coach John Calipari for his success in an interview with the Arizona Republic.

“He teaches you how to work like a pro,” Fox, a first-time All-Star last season, said. “You have a defined role when you get into college, you get into the league, you develop a little bit more and you show more things that you have, but Cal shows that once you’re in the NBA, unless you’re a superstar, you have to have a role and you want to be a star in your role.”

Fox is having his  best season since being the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft. He already had scored 9,258 points at the All-Star break. He also had 1,641 career rebounds along with 2,716 assists and 605 steals.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Fox said about not making the All-Star Game. “I get to go on an All-Star break and actually have a break. I saw it last year. As an All-Star, you don’t really get a break. I’m not pressed about it at all.”

* * *

Just when you think nothing else can surprise you about Reed Sheppard, something happens to surprise you.

CBS Sports recently released its latest 2024 NBA Mock Draft and Gary Parrish had Sheppard as the No. 2 pick to San Antonio in his list. He had another UK freshman, Rob Dillingham, at No. 4.

The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker noted Sheppard was the only player in the country to have 100 or more rebounds, 100 or more assists, 60 plus steals and at least 50 3-pointers in his team’s first 24 games this season.

Here’s what Parrish wrote about Sheppard in his mock draft:

“Nobody, and I mean nobody, had Sheppard projected this high — or even as a lottery pick — in the preseason. And, obviously, this is really high. But in a draft that’s been labeled weak, relatively speaking, for at least a year now, why not make a bet on a 6-3 guard who can dribble, pass, shoot and guard his position  … He’s just a basketball player, plain and simple, and a super-impressive one even if he has mostly been coming off of Kentucky’s bench this season.”

Sheppard leads the Southeastern Conference with 65 steals, an average of 2.6 per game. He had five steals in the win Saturday over Auburn, the third time in four games he made five steals. 

In UK’s first 25 games, he had at least one steal in all but one game. Sheppard has 65 steals this season, 12th best on UK’s all-time list. He needs 22 more steals to tie Rajon Rondo’s all-time record of 87. Kentucky has six regular-season games left and at least two postseason games. If he continues to average 2.6 steals in those eight games, he will become UK’s all-time single season steal leader.

* * *

Quote of the Week:  “Kentucky disrupted us. Their length at the rim obviously disrupted us. Their ball pressure disrupted us. They had a good scout. I really think you just go ‘alright, Kentucky guards like this, they can beat anybody.’ But we know that. Where are they ranked? They’re a nationally ranked team. They’re a three or four seed in the NCAA Tournament. They played well and we didn’t, that’s why we got beat,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl after losing to Kentucky.

Quote of the Week 2: “To all the Kentucky fans that are trying to run John Calipari out of there — take a step back. Take a second and breathe. We’re in February, I know how sensitive people get. Let’s see how we finish in March,” ESPN Jay Williams on Kentucky fans upset with coach John Calipari.

Quote of the Week 3: “Because he is such a threat when he catches it, he just has to lift his eyebrows and the defense is going to fly by. He has so many ways to score and when he gets hot he can really get on a roll,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on UK freshman Rob Dillingham's offensive ability.