Having the opportunity to play professional basketball in Italy was an experience that former Kentucky basketball star Maci Morris knew would be unlike anything she had done before.

    It started out that way, too. She was leading her team in scoring, 
getting to see and do new things, and basically just having fun.
    Then the corornavirus started spreading throughout Italy.
    "I was having a good time. It was nice to go around, explore, see 
different cities, engage in a different culture. It was just fun 
playing basketball and having fun again with it," said Morris. "I 
loved the city of Florence. It was close to my city and me and my 
roommate had planned to go to some other places before this stuff all 
    Morris played for USE Scotti Empoli — about an hour from Florence — 
since early October and was leading the team in scoring (15.5 points) 
and minutes (31.6) per game. She also had made a team-high 44 3-
pointers and was hitting almost 41 percent from the field. Morris was 
also adding 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
    She managed to get home to Bell County last week about 24 hours 
before the travel ban from Europe went into effect. She decided to 
put herself into a two-week quarantine even though she's not been 
sick to make sure there's no way she might pass the virus to anyone 
    Her mother, Patti, admitted she got nervous the closer it got to 
time for her daughter to return home.
    "I kept waiting for somebody to jerk the rug out from under her," 
Patti Morris said. "I try not to worry until stuff happens. I don't 
sweat things until they happen but I am glad to get her home."
    Much of Italy has been under a total lockdown to try and control the 
spread of the virus. Morris said she was not in the "red zone" that 
had the most restrictions.
    "It had been several weeks since we played a game and they had 
suspended the season until April 3 and we did not know if we would 
even play then," Morris said. "Where I was at you could at least walk 
around but not in a group of people. The grocery stores were open, 
and some businesses. But everything shut down at 6 (at night).
    "All sporting events were cancelled. I was not even allowed in the 
gym. They locked us out. I could not lift or anything. This is 
probably the longest break I've had from basketball forever and 
probably will just not do anything until my two-week quarantine is up."
    Morris, a former Kentucky Miss Basketball, is UK's sixth all-time 
leading scorer with 1,692 points and her 252 3-pointers are second 
all-time. Her 41 percent 3-point career mark is the best at UK.
    Morris is ranked No. 6 on UK women's all-time scoring list with 
1,692 points while her 252 career 3s made ranks second all time. She 
also hit 41.1 percent of her 3-point tries during her Wildcat career, 
ranking her at the top of Kentucky's all-time list in that category.
    She had adjustments to make on and off the court in Italy. Some were 
as simple as no air conditioning and clothes dryer where she lived. 
Italians also ate dinner nightly at a much later time than Morris was 
used to and she had some issues with the language.
    On the basketball court, games were more sporadic. The team had a 15-
day break between games in November and an 11-day break in October. 
Never did the team play  more than two games per week.
    Morris said playing in a small town made it easier for fans to 
interact with her. She would get asked if she played basketball on 
trips to the grocery store and fans would talk to her about basketball.
    "But it was nothing like Kentucky fans," Morris said.
    Morris isn't sure about her future basketball career. She was an 
undrafted WNBA free agent who went through training camp with the 
Washington Mystics last year before getting cut and signing to play 
in Italy.
    "I was playing really well when our season ended," Morris said. "My 
body felt really good. I was happy with what I was doing."
    Would she return to Italy again to play?
    "Possibly. I don't know,"  Morris said. "It depends on a lot of 
things. Do I get offered another contract or get a contract offer 
somewhere else? Do I want to keep playing basketball or not? I am 
just praying and seeing where God leads me when it is time for me to 
make a decision about my future."
Burton is top 250 player nationally
    CatsIllustrated publisher Justin Rowland says there's no doubt that 
two of UK's biggest in-state 2021 recruiting targets are offensive 
lineman Jager Burton and receiver Dekel Crowdus, Frederick Douglas 
High School teammates.
    Burton is a top 250 player nationally and the 6-4, 270-pound lineman 
has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oregon, Oklahoma, 
Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia and others.
    "I really think he could be a future NFL player," Rowland said. "I 
think Kentucky has a good shot. I have heard he really likes UK. He 
is a very savvy kid. Some guys do not have a plan and are not 
organized then you have guys like him who are very calculated. He 
knows the impact of his words and where he might end up."
    Crowdus left Lexington last year to play his junior season at IMG 
Academy in Florida but is now back.
    "He competed against some of the best defensive backs and receivers 
daily in practice," Rowland said. "He has been timed sub 4.4 
(seconds)  in the 40 (yard dash). He has great speed.
    "He has to improve his production and route running. He's probably 
still a bit raw but he has speed you cannot team and that's something 
most staffs have no trouble gambling on."
    He has cut his list of schools to 10: Baylor, Kentucky, Louisville, 
Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma and 
South Carolina.
    Burton even suggested on Twitter that they could be a "package deal."
Branham has lots of offers
    Malaki Branham is a 6-5 small forward from St. Vincent-St. Mary 
(Akron, Ohio), who is one of the top 25 players in the 2021 
recruiting class.
    He has scholarship offers from Alabama, Iowa, Louisville, Kansas 
State, Missouri, Ohio State, Purdue, Cincinnati, Marquette, Xavier, 
Akron and Ohio. He's also been hearing from Michigan and others.
    His cousin also happens to be Kentucky freshman receiver Kalil Branham.
    "He's the No. 1 recruit in Ohio," the UK receiver said.
    What about his cousin playing for John Calipari's Wildcats? "He 
wants, too," Kalil Branham said.
Pitino at Iona
    Two years after being forced out at Louisville, Rick Pitino is back 
coaching college basketball at Iona following the resignation of 
coach Tim Clues for health reasons.
    "Rick is a Hall of Fame coach who has won at the highest levels and 
he is committed to leading our student-athletes and our program to 
national prominence. He brings passion and energy and shares our 
desire to build a winning program that will make our community 
proud," Iona athletics director Matthew Glovaski said.
    Pitino has a 647-271 record as a college head coach and won the 
national title at Kentucky in 1996 where he coached eight years and 
he later won a national title at Louisville where he coached 16 years 
that the Cardinals were later forced to vacate due to NCAA violations 
that led to Pitino's dismissal.
    Pitino, 67, has been coaching in Greece for Panathinaikos. His team 
won the Greek Cup and Greek League last year.
    Pitino was also apparently the top candidate at Grand Canyon before 
accepted the Iona job last week. Seamus Carey is the president at 
Iona, a job he held at Transylvania College as well. Carey was at 
Transy when Pitino coached at Kentucky.
    Sporting News college basketball columnist Mike DeCourcy calls it a 
"great" hire for Iona and a chance for Pitino to put what happened at 
Louisville behind him.
    "It got one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. I 
don't see any reason why it would be bad for college basketball," 
DeCourcy said. "What happened at Louisville was on his watch, and one 
could say he should have been more vigilant, but I've always believed 
him when he said he wasn't aware of what was going on at the athletic 
    Veteran ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale predicts Pitino 
will make Iona a "mid major power" in three years.
    "His desire to get back in college is off the charts," Vitale. "I 
would not bet against him making them into what Gonzaga and Dayton 
had been."
    Former WLEX-TV sports anchor Alan Cutler knew Pitino before he ever 
came to Kentucky.
    "This won't be popular and I could care less but I'm glad to see 
Pitino get the Iona job. If you don't know him, he's already paid a 
big price for his dumb mistakes," Cutler said.
    Kentucky fan Bruce Richardson of Lexington says he hopes Pitino wins 
big for how he revived the UK program after it went on probation 
under former coach Eddie Sutton.
    "Rick's been through hell and brought some of it on himself but he 
rescued UK when it was desperate. He gave UK instant national 
credibility, when only three days earlier SI (Sports Illustrated) had 
its ‘Kentucky's Shame' cover. He put UK on the sports page for 
success, not scandal," Richardson said.
    "Few other coaches, and none that would have come to UK at that 
time, could have have had such an instant restorative impact on the 
UK basketball program. Pitino was riding high as the head coach of 
Knicks. If he wanted to change jobs there were plenty (college and 
pro) that he could have had that didn't have two years of serious 
    "I have always been a Rick Pitino fan. I just hated that he coached 
Marrow sees himself in Joseph
    Vince Marrow didn't want to "toot my own horn" but says that LSU 
transfer Kelvin Joseph reminds him a lot of himself in some ways.
    "I am not going to toot my own horn too much but I remember when I 
was at Toledo (playing tight end) and nobody knew about me (as a 
player)," Marrow, a 1992 draft pick by the Buffalo Bills who also 
played for Kansas City and Carolina, said.
    "Just watching this kid, he has all the tools. He has size, can run, 
plays physical. He played as a true freshman at LSU. Just watching 
him last season in drills and on scout team, he has a chance to be as 
good as any cornerback we have ever had. He can play."
    Marrow believes having Joseph eligible after a redshirt season and 
the return of safety Davonte Robinson after he missed last season 
with an injury will bolster an already strong secondary.
    "It's really going to be interesting to see all that talent on the 
field together next year. We are going to be three deep at certain 
positions with guys that can all really play," Marrow said.
    Quote of the Week: "There's no list for any of this. I have an 
undergraduate degree, a Masters degree from Syracuse. This was never 
in one of my Masters classes. We have a few law degrees in their 
offices. I checked with each of them. No, they never had this one in 
our law school classes. So that's reality," SEC commissioner Greg 
Sankey after cancelling the SEC Tournament last week.
    Quote of the Week 2: "I know we lost Lynn Bowden but I still think 
we are going to be good at that position. I think Josh Ali will be a 
star. He's our best route runner and is really fast," Kentucky tight 
end coach Vince Marrow on UK's receivers for next season.
    Quote of the Week 3: "Kenny makes it about the kids. He shuns the 
spotlight, and yet isn't it funny how those kinds of people – the 
ones who care only about their work – are the ones we honor at the 
end of the day," Kentucky coach John Calipari on assistant Kenny 
Payne being selected for A STEP UP Hall of Fame  honoring assistant coaches.

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