Cats rally around Collins

Published 4:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2023


Contributing columnist

UK basketball coach John Calipari probably reacts more to his heart than his brain when it comes to sophomore forward Daimion Collins. His father passed away unexpectedly before the season started. He was in Lexington visiting his son at the time.

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“He lost 17 pounds. His dad would have been his best man in his wedding. That’s how close they were,” Calipari said. “Now he is starting to come back but I am not throwing him to the wolves. Putting him in and out. His confidence is growing.”

Calipari said Collins told him three different times after the recent Mississippi game how much he appreciated the coach.

“He didn’t need to say that,” Calipari said.

Teammate Oscar Tshiebwe lost his father at age 12 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his home. The All-American said he hugs Collins every time he sees him.

“I can look at his face, and I can see how much pain he has, but doesn’t show,” Tshiebwe said. “Because I went through that.”

Tshiebwe said it impacted him for several years after his father’s passing.

“For me to be back to normal, it took me so many years. For him, I’m just praying for him, because I can see him now …  he’s starting to learn how to let it go, to let time pass,” Tshiebwe said. “It’s going to take him a little while to heal, but I just need people to keep praying for him.

“He will be good. He’s a kid who loves basketball. He works on it all the time. He competes.”

Guard CJ Fredrick says the UK team is a “brotherhood” that takes care of each other.

“Just seeing him out there, seeing him playing, seeing him smiling, having fun … that means a lot to us. He’s been through so much,” Fredrick said.

Freshman Cason Wallace is Collins’ cousin and went with Calipari to Ben Collins’ funeral in Texas. Daimion Collins took the flight back to Lexington with them.

“I’m sure he knows that I’m here for him. And if he ever needs something, I got him,” Wallace said.

Brown: “I’m here to stay”

Kentucky freshman receiver Barion Brown never misses a chance to make sure Kentucky fans know he is not going anywhere no matter what social media speculation might say.

The Nashville, Tennessee, product is one of the key building blocks for the Kentucky offense and new offensive coordinator Liam Coen. He had a team-high 50 catches for 628 yards  — both UK freshman records — and four touchdowns last season while playing in all 13 games with seven starts.  He also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and averaged 27.5 yards per kick return, the third best mark in the SEC.

The five-star prospect picked UK over Alabama, LSU, TCU and a lot of other offers. One reason he picked Kentucky was the passionate fan base and he was quick to embrace the “Ls Down for Life” theme that UK fans love.

During a recent appearance on Kentucky Sports Radio he once again assured UK fans he never had any intention of transferring.

“Like every week, a fan or somebody would see something happen, or a rumor that he’s going to transfer because he didn’t get the ball this many times or he’s going to transfer because of this or that,” Brown said. “I just think honestly that was a fan perspective that was going around.

“That’s why I had to tell BBN, ‘I’m here. Y’all ain’t gotta worry about nothing. I’m here to stay.’”

Perry talks recruiting

While Travis Perry was pursuing becoming only the second Kentucky high school boys basketball player to score 4,000 points in his career, he also had to continue to take phone calls and visits from major college coaches recruiting the Lyon County junior.

Perry joined King Kelly Coleman in the 4,000-point club last Saturday when he scored 32 points in a win over Bracken County.

He was hearing from plenty of college coaches before then and that certainly won’t change the next few weeks or once AAU play begins.

One school who has made him a recruiting priority from the start is Western Kentucky.

“I love their coaches. They are in touch all the time,” Perry said. “They are in all the time to see. I really like them. I have a great relationship with their coaches and am continuing to build that.”

He says recently Western, Cincinnati and Purdue have been to Lyon County recently and he’s also made a visit to Vanderbilt. He also has been getting a lot of attention from Missouri and Indiana.

What about Kentucky, which extended a scholarship offer last summer?

“Coach Cal obviously is coach Cal. He’s a great coach and from when I have talked to him, he is a great person who cares about his players, program and all the people involved in it,” Perry said. “We have conversations where they tell me good game. They are keeping in touch. I am growing that relationship.

“I am trying to find a time to get down there and hopefully we make it to Rupp (Arena for the state tournament) and make a deep run. It’s just about growing that relationship and building it more with them.”

UK’s Smith knows her role

Senior outfielder Rylea Smith made a New Year’s resolution to make sure she “expressed my power as a player” and understood what her role needed to be to help coach Rachel Lawson’s team the most.

“Am I going to be an all-star player of the year, person? Probably not,” Smith said. “But I do understand I can protect those players like Kayla (Kowalik) and Erin (Coffel). I want to make sure I understand my role and can execute to make sure my team goes even further.”

Smith admits she is not going to be a big vocal leader for Kentucky softball. That’s not her personality.

“I am more of an uplifting person. I like to make sure people understand their effort is being seen but in leadership through my actions. I want my teammates to see me go 100 percent all the time and then they want to do that,” she said. “So for me it is more leading by example.”

Smith believes Kentucky has a “promising” freshman class to contribute this year, especially with so many upperclassmen willing and able to help guide them.

“We have been able to get them to catch up quickly. They are in a good spot to succeed early on,” Smith said before the season started. “But in the SEC no matter how many years of experience you have it is not easy. But because of how quickly they jumped in with us I think we are going to have really good results with them.”

CUTLINE 1: John Calipari and UK players know how much pain Daimion Collins (4) has dealt with this season. UK Athletics photo by Vicky Graff

CUTLINE 2: Lyon County star guard Travis Perry became only the second Kentucky player – and only the 37th nationally – to reach 4,000 career points. Lyon County Athletics photo)