He’s viewed as a receiver who could be a God-send for Kentucky’s offense next season even though he has just 17 catches for 195 yards and seven scores this season.
However, in 2020 there’s really no way to judge just what this season has been like for Frederick Douglass receiver Dekel Crowdus, an early UK verbal commit.
“Obviously he doesn’t have a lot of big stats but none of our guys do,” said Frederick Douglass coach Nathan McPeek. “Against North Hardin we had six turnovers that took a lot offensive plays away from us. The Ballard game we got up four scores easily and the other games were blowouts in the first half. We’ve also not had a lot of games.”
Frederick Douglas had not played since beating Montgomery County 29-0 on Oct. 23 when it beat Great Crossing 62-21 in the playoffs last week. The three games before Montgomery Cunty it won by a combined 153-27 margin after opening the season with a 19-17 loss to North Hardin. The Broncos had a 28-day break between games when they beat Great Crossing Friday in the Class 5A playoffs. They play Scott County this week.
Crowdus spent his junior season at IMG Academy in Florida. Since returning to Frederick Douglass, McPeek has seen dramatic improvements in the way he practices daily.
“His approach to the game has been a lot better,” McPeek said. “Overall his route running has gotten better. His communication level has improved. We are still working on his communication but he’s a young senior and that’s not easy for him yet.
“When he came back from IMG, he had learned some good stuff there. He’s been working really hard on reading coverages and understanding leverage. He’s always been very fast and athletic. We want him to have the ball in space and let him do his thing. He knows when he goes to college the talent level will be a lot better, especially in the SEC, and he will have to understand leverage, angles, coverages a lot better.”
There has been some concern over whether Crowdus could change his mind about his commitment to UK considering Kentucky’s lack of a consistent passing game this season. Crowdus has not indicated he’s going to de-commit.
“He has not told me he is not still committed to Kentucky,” McPeek said. “He has not come to me about anything like that.”
Crowdus’ teammate, offensive lineman Jäger Burton, is also verbally committed to UK. Burton is the top-rated recruit in Kentucky. McPeek says the two are “great friends” who made their own recruiting decisions.
McPeek thinks Crowdus, who had three catches for 56 yards and two scores last week, is going to be “fine” when he gets to college. He will not be an early enrollee in January.
“He has got to get his body to where he can compete in college. I think he can play some as a true freshman but he has to work at it,” McPeek said. “Skill-wise and athletic-wise he is there. I think he’s going to be fine. He’s always been a great athlete. I don’t think he’s got any faster but he’s got amazing speed (4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He’s
got to get bigger but he knows that.
“I taught him in eighth grade at Bryan Station Middle School. I love him and believe in him. He’s going to be a big contributor in our playoff run.”
During his one season at Kentucky, winning mattered a lot more to Tyrese Maxey than what might happen with the NBA Draft.
“My thing at Kentucky was, you know, Coach Cal said he had a role for me to play there, and that’s what I did. I wanted to win games, and I wanted to try to win a national title. That was the only thing that was on my mind at the University of Kentucky is trying to help your team win a national title, do whatever it takes, do whatever Coach Cal needs you to do, and try to get better and work on your game, your overall game,” Maxey said after he was picked No. 21 in the NBA Draft by Philadelphia.
“No matter what you have to do at Kentucky, work on your overall game for the future. That’s what I did. After the year was over, I sat down with him (Calipari) and he said he thought I was ready. And we made that step.”
Some had projected Maxey as a lottery pick. Falling out of the lottery only motivates Maxey to do even more with the 76ers.
“I think I always play with a chip on my shoulder just because that’s just how I am,” Maxey said. “I’m extremely grateful for where I ended up. I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me, and I’m very thankful for Philly for giving me this shot.
“I’m going to go out there and give it 110% and give it my all and make sure it’s not a regret.”
Kentucky freshman forward Isaiah Jackson grew up a Kentucky fan and even had UK gear in his bedroom. He said in a preseason interview it was a dream come true to now be at Kentucky.
Yet because of COVID-19, he had only a virtual Big Blue Madness experience and will not see anything close to a normal crowd in Rupp Arena this year.
“Yes it is different. My expectations are a little low but still high because the season has not started,” Jackson said before UK opened the season. “Once the season gets rolling my expectations will pick back up.
“But it’s different. We are restricted on going out, hanging out and just being around fans and things like that. It is weird. Limited number of fans at games, so I will not really be able to feel the actual feeling of playing in front of all those fans at Rupp. I do feel cheated but that’s life and you have got to keep pushing.”
Jackson did get a chance to show off his skills during UK’s virtual Big Blue Madness last week. He won the dunk contest with a dazzling display that did not surprise teammates.
“He’s just an incredible athlete,” freshman teammate Lance Ware said.
Kentucky never really had a chance at No. 1 Alabama Saturday when it was missing 10 players, including leading rusher Chris Rodriguez and leading tackler Jamin Davis, due to COVID-19 protocols.
However, it was no surprise that Kentucky coach Mark Stoops made no excuses before or after the 63-3 loss, the biggest loss in his time at UK. Maybe that’s a characteristic Alabama coach Nick Saban liked years ago when he tried unsuccessfully to recruit Stoops.
“Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown was part of my recruiting area for a long, long time. All the Stoops brothers came through there,” Saban said last week. “That’s where they went to school. Their dad was the defensive coordinator there.
“Even though they all ended up at Iowa, we still tried to recruit him at Michigan State when I was at Michigan State. Don Bucci was the coach and Ron was the defensive coordinator, which was their dad, who I had a really good relationship with.”
It was not just Mark Stoops that Saban tried to recruit unsuccessfully.
“Vince Marrow, who’s on his staff right now, also was a player that we recruited from Cardinal Mooney and didn’t get,” Saban said. “His brothers all went to Wisconsin . I’m kind of admitting I wasn’t a very good recruiter back in those days.”
Recruiting is no problem for Saban now, one reason Stoops said he not only is the nation’s best coach now but one of the best of all-time as he aims for another national title this year.
Stoops is trying to keep his 2021 recruiting class together and signing day approaches. He knows it has been different for everyone recruiting with the COVID restrictions.
“We have to do the best we can at building relationships through Zoom and phone calls the best way we can. Fortunately, with this class we already had some personal relationships from the years we have been recruiting them and them being on campus maybe as freshmen and as sophomores,” Stoops said.
The Kentucky coach feels like UK is in “good shape” recruiting despite UK’s 3-5 record and lack of consistent offense.
“I feel like we have a strong class and we have to continue to build on it the best we can to get it to the finish line,” Stoops said.
Jay Bilas can still remember the reaction from Kentucky fans when he said that UK basketball didn’t produce pros but instead recruits pros. The ESPN analysts recalls a lot of UK getting “their noses out of joint” for his belief the first time he expressed it.
“That’s not a knock on anybody. That’s true of every program. In six, eight months of being on a campus, whether it’s Kentucky’s or anybody else’s, there’s only so much that you can do,” Bilas said.
He knows the theory some had recently was that Tyler Herro became a NBA draft lottery pick and playoff sensation for the Miami Heat because of what he learned in one season at UK.
“I just don’t believe that’s completely true. Of course, coaching matters and coaches help players get better. But Tyler Herro has been a pro a lot longer than he was ever a college player,” Bilas said. “How much credit do the Miami Heat get for their coaching staff and their developmental group?”
Bilas knows Kentucky coach John Calipari and other college coaches have to market and sell their programs. He has no problem with that.
“I word things differently. I don’t think programs produce pros. I think they recruit pros. It doesn’t mean they don’t make players better. Of course, programs do that and coaches do that,” Bilas said. “Everybody does this: you wind up comparing players to their predecessors. So you wind up comparing a Kentucky guard now to Kentucky guards in the past several years.”
Even though there are no media guides this year due to COVID-19, Bilas said those publications all had long sections at major schools promoting NBA players from their programs.
“You have these huge portions of these media guides that sell that. So the idea is if you get recruited by Kentucky, you’re pro-caliber,” Bilas said. “And that’s the mindset. That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s business and there’s nobody better at this business than John (Calipari).”
Nolan Hickman’s decision to play his senior season at Wasatch Academy in Utah rather than staying in Seattle seems to be paying off for him already.
Rivals/Yahoo basketball writer Krysten Peek watched Hickman recently at the Pangos All-American Festival and says there’s no doubt he has improved since making the move.
“I have seen him five or six times now and he’s improved every single time,” Peek said.
She was impressed with how he handled himself against Chet Holmgren, a 7-foot center who is considered the top player in the 2021 recruiting class, at the recent camp.
“If he knew Chet was in the lane, instead of shooting a floater he would go under (the rim) and scoop with his other arm on the other side of the basket,” Peek said. “He is also really good at reading defenses and using that to his advantage.
“I really think he can score at all three levels. I had seen some inconsistencies in earlier games but he had 22 points the first game at the camp and 20-plus the next day. There was no doubt he was one of the best guards at the camp.”
Hickman had 28 points, four assists and three steals in that second game to make the all-tournament team along with future UK teammate Daimion Collins.
Peek said the 6-foot-2 Hickman is not as fast as former UK guard De’Aaron Fox or doesn’t have the outside shot of Malik Monk, another former UK guard.
“He’s kind of a hybrid. Not a typical Kentucky guard but that could work to his advantage,” Peek said. “You can see similarities between him and (UK freshman guard) Devin Askew when they are driving and attacking the basket. His change of speed is probably one of his best assets. If he sees an opening, he can go at the drop of a hat.
“It’s going to be interesting for Kentucky fans to see him grow because he’s not a typical five-star recruit. It’s too early to tell his exact potential because his 2021 class is blooming late because there was no spring or summer ball. But he has a great work ethic, great attitude. If he can fit in the system as well as I think he can he could be a steal.”
ESNP national recruiting director Paul Biancardi likes the way John Calipari’s recent recruiting class fits together.
“Calipari‘s best teams have always had a defensive presence, and Daimion Collins fills the void in a big time fashion,” Biancardi said. “Bryce Hopkins and Nolan Hickman are strong pieces and with the possibility of Skyy Clark reclassifying up to 2021, you can see how the Wildcats are building their future roster.
“Hopkins can shoot and score, while Hickman can orchestrate the offense with cleverness. Kentucky is seeking more star power as they are involved with ESPN top prospects Jaden Hardy and Hunter Sallis.”
Sallis, another point guard, recently cut his college list to eight and Kentucky remains on his list. Hardy at one-time seemed like a UK lean but now the Las Vegas wing seems to have other interests.
“I will never ever count out Kentucky in any recruiting, but do I think they have a lot of ground to make up. Right now I would say he is probably headed to a Pac-12 school like UCLA or Arizona or the G-League,” Peek said.
Senior KeKe McKinney thinks UK women’s basketball fans should be ready to see a lot from sophomore forward Dre’una Edwards, a Utah transfer who was Pac-12 Freshman of the Year during the 2018-19 season, and freshman forward Nyah Leveretter.
“Dre is coming back from an injury and she had to make a lot of changes over the past year, and she is doing very well. She looks great, she is running great and she is doing great,” McKinney said.
“Nyah, she just never runs out of gas. Nyah is really impressing me as a freshman, and I think we’re going to have big things coming from her,” McKinney said. “I am loving what I am seeing.”
Quote of the Week: “I have not been going to Mass because of the COVID. I don’t want to be inside,” Kentucky coach John Calipari stressing the importance of following COVID protocols.
Quote of the Week 2: “A major difference. I feel like the game is 70% confidence, 30% mental. I feel like if you go out there with the right mindset, the right swagger, the right confidence, can’t nobody stop you,” UK freshman BJ Boston on the importance of being confident but not cocky.
Quote of the Week 3: “They are definitely hard workers and are going to be threats on offense and defense and hate to lose like everybody else on the team. We know how we play and where we want to get the ball and how we want to get the ball. We know what the others are thinking before they even do it,” UK junior Rhyne Howard on having former AAU teammates Treasure Hunt and Jazmine Massengill on the team this year.