Ask Antonio Curo what he likes most about 6-foot-5 guard Brandin Podziemski and he has a quick answer.
“There’s not a lot to not like,” said Curo, Podziemski’s AAU coach. “The biggest thing is he plays every possession hard. He competes. He has no fear. He is very, very skilled and a very instinctual player.”
He’s not a top 25 national recruit but not having a 2020 AAU season or college coaches and recruiting analysts not being able to see games this season has impacted that ranking.
“Watching games online just does not do him or any player justice,” Curo said. “Brandin has a little bit of old school in him. He’s gotten into a comfortable place on the court and is playing with great rhythm. But he also fights every possession. He’s been playing at a high level.”
The left-hander was averaging 35.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 4.8 steals and 1.3 blocked shots per game through games last week as well as hitting 62% overall from the field, 42% from 3-point range and 83% at the foul line. He leads the state in scoring and is fifth in steals, reasons he’s a solid Mr. Basketball candidate in Wisconsin.
“He has always been a scorer but we went to work on a lot of stuff this fall,” Curo said. “I just helped him clean up something with his shooting. Once I did, he jumped from a certain percentage shooter to a 45 to 50% shooter beyond the arc.
“The great thing about him is that he embraced the change. He made adjustments and put in the work to make it work. He was receptive to change and the work that went with it. It’s kind of like a .270 hitter in baseball who makes a mechanical change and all of a sudden he’s hitting .320. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Curo stresses often to Podziemski to play the game the “right way” and understand the time and place when he has to take over like he did in a recent game when his team’s lead was cut to 43-40 and he scored the game’s next seven points. He had 24 of his 32 points in the second half of the 67-60 win and also added 16 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.
“After every game we are not saying he is the greatest thing in the world,” Curo said. “He’s been put in a situation this year to play guard with the ball in his hands. At times that means passing up open shots to help his team. But he is very efficient and productive at the same time. He had 46 points in a game earlier this season with eight minutes to play and did not take another shot. He could easily have got to 50 or 55 points. That speaks volume about his character.”
Curo is involved with Podziemski’s recruiting and says they are trying to figure out factors such as who will be back for certain teams and what other offers might be coming. Curo says if not for COVID-19 recruiting restrictions, Podziemski would be higher in the recruiting rankings and definitely have more high level offers.
“Like many others, he’s had a lot of things taken away,” Curo said. “If he had an opportunity to compete in the (Nike) EYBL or play in front of college coaches this season his offer list would be through the roof. Right now he’s looking for a system he fits, a coach that can fit his potential and where the interest between him and the school is a fit. It’s not about getting 30 offers but finding the right spot.”
Would Podziemski fit at Kentucky, a team that could desperately use a consistent 3-point shooter this year?
“He would be outstanding there,” Curo said. “It goes without saying shooting is something they are likely to focus on (in recruiting). If that would be the decision he makes, he would embrace the opportunity to wear Kentucky on his chest like he would any other school.
“He respects the game. Whatever school he goes to, he is going to wear that jersey with pride.”
Defensive lineman Justin Rogers was the highest rated recruit coach Mark Stoops has signed at Kentucky and one of the nation’s best defensive linemen in the 2020 recruiting class.
Kentucky also signed defensive linemen Josaih Hayes, Octavious Oxendine and Tre’Vonn Rybka in the same class and like Rogers were considered players who might make an impact in the 2020 season. Instead, they all played only sparingly.
Rogers got in seven games and had nine tackles. Hayes got in five games and had two tackles. Oxendine played in three games. Rybka did not play.
Kentucky defensive line coach Anwar Stewart said not to worry about the four freshmen not playing or contributing more.
“You should be impressed,” Stewart said. “It is the SEC. They are pups, not grown yet. They were trying to adjust to everything around them. There was a lot for these young men to deal with this season.
“But we have a bright future with them. We have got to count on these guys coming up and they all need a hell of an offseason. But don’t worry. Our young men are growing.”
Stewart said the biggest reason they didn’t play more was that the veterans deserved the chance to play and played well.
“The freshmen got their opportunity in spurts and now it is their time to develop and grow,” Stewart said. “This is the SEC. This is an all-American conference. How many freshmen defensive linemen go into the SEC and start? Not many.
“Shame on me if I get them out there and they got hurt because they were not ready. They got in some and got some experience and now their time is coming to put up and really step their game up. That’s why we are excited about the future with them.”
Stewart knows all four wanted to play bigger roles last season and wants to recruit players who “want to ball” and succeed.
“If they won’t put the work in shame on you. You want them to be the best. That’s my job,” he said. “When they call and ask if they can get in extra work, I am like, ‘Heck yeah. Let’s roll.’ That is a student of the game. Those guys want to have an opportunity at the next level.
“The only things you can control are your effort and your attitude. If you have that you can be really good players and good young men after they graduate and are done here. I want them all to have that opportunity at the next level and those four know it is out there for them.”
John Calipari doesn’t believe Kenny Payne’s departure from the UK coaching staff this year has anything to do with the team’s poor play this year. Payne was on Calipari’s staff for 11 years at UK before leaving to join the New York Knicks in August.
“My staff is doing it (what Payne used to do), believe me. They’re there, every day with these guys. They go to the lodge and check them out, do extra work,” Calipari said when asked about Payne’s absence impacting the team.
“Kenny was great at what he does but we have guys doing the same thing. Do I miss him? I miss him because he was like a brother, but we have guys here doing that. If you think anybody could change guys’ games or their abilities, I’m not sure there’s one guy that could do that.”
Maybe not but Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Julius Randle and others all seemed to really flourish under Payne. Also UK had no emotional player breakdowns — or at least during games — like it has this year.
In fairness, Payne never coached during a COVID-stressed season but this year’s results sure seem to indicate UK misses him more than Calipari wants to admit.
“We’re taking time, and I’m spending extra time with these kids, but it adds up. We’re at Kentucky. This isn’t easy. You start losing, everybody has an answer,” Calipari said.
Former Kentucky all-SEC running back Anthony White spent a lot of time watching Wan’Dale Robinson play when he was recruited by Kentucky two years ago and again now that he has transferred from Nebraska to UK.
He thinks the former Western Hills High School star is a player who can help “keep the chains moving” for the UK offense.
“He is the perfect guy to go to if we need six or seven yards for a first down,” White said. “Put Wan’Dale in the slot and motion him around and you can throw him the ball on a bubble screen and he will get the first down. That will be a new wrinkle for us. If teams want to stack the box, now we have a guy in the slot who can pick up yards.
“His workload will not have to be overly heavy. But he’s going to be huge on giving us more options to move the chains. We no longer have to be scared and predictable on third down.”
White expects new offensive coordinator Liam Coen to use Robinson a lot of different ways and be creative getting him the ball.
“He is also tough enough to make guys miss. Wan’Dale is smart enough to catch the ball, pick up yards and get the first down,” White said. “He may not take the ball and outrun everyone but he will get open plenty of times to move the chains and make big plays.”
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops says Robinson is one of those “guys that can change those digits on the scoreboard” and Kentucky’s offense needs that.
Robinson caught 91 passes for 914 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 134 times for 580 yards and four scores in two years at Nebraska.
While some UK fans are comparing Robinson to former UK star Lynn Bowden, Stoops wants no part of that.
“None of our players deserve to be compared to other great players that have been here but it’s fair in this way: they were both 1-2 that year in the most versatile players in the country so Wan’Dale is very versatile,” Stoops said on Kentucky Sports Radio last week. “He can punt return, kick return. They (Nebraska) played him some at running back. We don’t plan to do that but it does show his versatility.”
What has Kentucky’s horrific start done to recruiting? The Cats signed Nolan Hickman, Daimion Collins and Bryce Hopkins in November and recently Oscar Tshwiebe transferred from West Virginia to UK.
Nashville junior point guard Skyy Clark has verbally committed to UK and recently his father said he remains all-in with Kentucky.
Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus did not seem to think UK’s 1-6 start was a big deal recruiting-wise when I asked him about it now that UK is 5-9.
“I think the biggest thing in recruiting is getting to know those individuals. That’s the key. I think when we’re talking recruiting, you’re talking about their season,” Justus said.
“You’re talking about their feelings. You’re talking about their dreams, what they want out of their experience at the University of Kentucky and coming to play for a Hall of Fame coach with a staff that’s going to be with you, is going to challenge you, that’s going to love you. You’re going to be on the greatest stage of college basketball playing in front of the greatest fans that are out there in our sport.
“So for us, I think that nothing has really changed whether we were 13-0, or 0-0, or whatever. We have a great product here, and our thing is to continue to communicate that to families and people that want to come here, that want to be built different, that want to be on the greatest stage, to come to a world-class university and challenge themselves every day. It’s more about, I think, when you’re recruiting the individual, the family and you get to the bottom of what they want to become.”
Still losing like UK has cannot be a plus for a team used to contending for national titles and producing first-round draft picks.
Quote of the Week: “I have to be careful with my response here. Did I see it coming? Yes. I am grateful it came. Does it surprise me? Not one bit,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops when asked on Kentucky Sports Radio about NCAA compliance problems with Tennessee football that led to the firing of coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine other staff members.
Quote of the Week 2: “I didn’t play Brad. I could have said screw it I am playing my own son. I didn’t,” Kentucky coach John Calipari on how he does not play favorites, including his son Brad when he was at UK.
Quote of the Week 3: “With Kentucky up against it, with their fans turning on them because they were expressing their opinion, I just want the players who are considering going to Kentucky, that we’ll welcome you out here in the conference of champions,” college basketball TV analyst Bill Walton urging recruits to play in the Pac-12.