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Last Razorback Standing Cops to Secret Loyalty to UK Basketball

photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

By now, it’s part of the fast-building lore around Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari’s first couple weeks on the job. In a viral clip from his introductory press conference, the Hall of Famer put a wry touch on the strangeness of taking over a program in this era of such high roster churn, saying he had “met with the team…there is no team.”

And indeed, until the recent commitment and signing of Kentucky basketball transfer Zvonimir Ivisic, the Hogs had zero scholarship players on the roster. An entirely empty locker room…that is, with the exception of 6-foot-10 forward Lawson Blake. For a few days, the walk-on was the true embodiment of athletic director Hunter Yurachek’s catchphrase “One Razorback.”

The Fayetteville native recently went on the “Coaches and the Mouth” podcast to discuss the situation that has him feeling like that one scene from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as his hidden appreciation for the Kentucky Wildcats.

The Arkansas Basketball Roster

“Never ever would have expected it,” Lawson Blake said last Saturday about being the lone Razorback. “Somehow ended up being just me. It’s been a weird couple of days being the only one on the roster. I’m not worried about it, I think we’re gonna be alright.”

He cracked a joke about getting in his offseason workouts with the GAs in the mostly-empty practice gym. Blake then talked about the strange Zoom meeting Calipari held with him and a couple scholarship Razorback athletes who were in the portal.

“We met briefly before his press conference, it was just a couple of us that he talked to for a couple minutes,” Blake said. “You can tell he cared a lot. He told us, he’s like ‘I feel sorry for you guys, this is not what you guys signed up for, what anybody had in mind going into this.’ It’s a tough situation, and it’s different than how things would’ve been even just five years ago with the portal action going on.” 

Calipari added he supported them regardless of direction they wanted to go.

“‘Whatever you guys need, just let me know and I can help you,” Blake recalled him saying. “If you’re trying to go to a different school just tell me, and I guarantee I know somebody at that school.’ So he’s let it be known that he’s here to help us.”

Growing Up a Kentucky Basketball Fan

As it turns out, the news of John Calipari’s hiring likely made Lawson Blake happier than anybody else in Arkansas, as he admitted on the podcast that he has a “soft spot” for Kentucky basketball and even rooted for the Wildcats during his childhood.

“When I was a kid growing up, we didn’t live in Fayetteville,” said Blake, who lived in a suburb of Houston until moving to Fayetteville when he was 8. “So I wasn’t born a Razorback, necessarily, but my grandpa had grown up a Kentucky fan since he was a kid and raised my dad to be a Kentucky fan. So naturally I kind of fell in line with that, being all about the Kentucky Wildcats when I was little.

“I looked up to Cal, followed all of his teams…it’s been a very full circle moment for me to get the opportunity to play for Calipari. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. He definitely had the aura as soon as he walked in the room, it’s kind of all eyes on him. It was surreal to be face to face with him.”

Sure enough, you can find photos out there of the current Razorback as a kid, donning a Kentucky basketball jersey in photos with Coach Cal.

Life As an Arkansas Basketball Walk-On

Lawson Blake, who is entering his senior year at Arkansas, gave some perspective on the life of a walk-on in college athletics and how he has embraced his role.

“It’s not for everybody, of course, it’s not easy,” Blake said. “You have to really think about what your goals are and what you want out of your college experience. I didn’t come in expecting to bring a ton of on-court value, I kind of understood what the deal was. But I take a ton of pride in my role…just to be an Arkansas Razorback has been the coolest thing in the world to me.

“Running scout team every week, learning all of those different plays, having a different role in practice. Just focusing as much as I can on making everybody else better, trying to get everybody else ready for those games. It’s a lot of hard work. There’s not always the same recognition that some other guys get, so it takes a lot of self-motivation.”

The Fayetteville High product has motivation in spades, considering he’s a pre-med student majoring in exercise science. He had a 4.0 GPA through the fall semester, and said that he is taking the MCAT this summer with the hopes of going to medical school after finishing his undergrad. Blake said he’s been grateful for the opportunity to play for his hometown school.

“I feel extremely proud and honored to be able to represent the state, represent the town, kind of be the local kid,” Blake said. “There’s not a ton of Fayetteville recruits that get to come play for the Razorbacks, so it’s been a great honor to me to get to do that.”

Now, the former Calipari and Wildcats fans essentially gets the best of both worlds. A fine reward for sticking around in the midst of an historic turnover.

Watch the full interview with Lawson Blake here:

Next Arkansas Basketball Commit?

All signs point to the next scholarship Razorback becoming Karter Knox, the five-star prospect who previously committed to Kentucky, but has since re-opened his recruitment.

He’s widely believed to be a package deal with the 6’10” Somto Cyril.

Calipari will likely use the transfer portal to populate the majority of his roster. It’s also widely expected that he will fill in his roster with a few other former Wildcats and former UK signees, too. Those former UK signees may include Boogie Fland, Jayden Quaintance and Billy Richmond, while portal targets include Tennessee’s Jonas Aidoo and Duke’s Jeremy Roach.

Read more about all of that here:

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