Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted July 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm

With fewer than 40 days until Kentucky and Western open the college football season in Nashville, there is news buzz across the land.

News and Views.

NEWS. Coaches Charlie Strong (Louisville) and Mark Stoops (Kentucky) broke bread together this week at the Kentucky Derby Museum to promote the upcoming Governor’s Cup.

VIEW. All plus. Does football in Kentucky get any better than … Strong’s team vying for a national title; Stoops waving a magic wand (recruiting) over his program at UK enough to have 49,000-plus show for a spring game?

NEWS. At SEC football media day last week, Kentucky’s Raymond Sanders fired the first verbal volley at Western Kentucky football. The UK running back said the Hilltoppers ‘disrespected’ the Wildcats after a stunning win on UK’s home turf last year.

VIEW. Typical bravado to promote the game, but I wonder if Sanders is running extra laps this week. Considering UK’s 2-10 season last year, we can bet coach Mark Stoops had four instructive words for his players here-after. “Shut the hell up!”

NEWS. Best in College Sports Award is home in Kentucky. University of Louisville earned it and everybody else was second by a mile.

CBS ran up the Cardinals flag. Men’s and women’s basketball successes, a Sugar Bowl win; and trip to baseball World Series showcase sports prosperity in the Ville.

VIEW. And Peyton Siva married a beautiful lady at Yum Center. Life is good.

NEWS. ESPN weighed in. An ESPY for Rick Pitino. Louisville’s charismatic coach is back at the summit … best of the best in all sports, the network said.

VIEW. Charmed Life II Pitino is living at UofL. Humiliated in Boston and humbled by a scandal in Louisville, Pitino is back at the summit.

Some will remember Da Coach’s Charmed Life I. 1989-1997, pied piper Pitino micro-managed an era of revival, prosperity and fun at Kentucky like none since Adolph Rupp. Wins and losses came soon enough, but Pitino made his program about The Journey more than winning a crystal basketball. His supreme confidence became contagious. In all years covering hoops I never saw Kentucky fans happier. Pitino’s emphasis on “embrace the precious present” soothed even the worry warts whose glass-is-half-empty attitude was symbolized by fret over Richie Farmer’s playing time.

Was a golden age when UK teams belonged to fans by way of Cawood Ledford and Bill Keightly. Both are gone now. Kentucky basketball has become D-League, and much of that Old Blue Magic has faded.

NEWS. Seventy-three University of Kentucky student-athletes made the Southeastern Conference First-Year Academic Honor Roll.

Football: Seven; Men’s basketball: Six. Qualification: Must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better, be on scholarship, have completed 24 semester hours of non-remedial credit, and been a member of team for the sport’s entire NCAA championship segment.

The 2013 SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll is based on grades from the 2012 summer, 2012 fall and 2013 spring terms.

VIEW. Refreshing. That university officials consider it press release-worthy is good too.

NEWS. Kyle Wiltjer has transferred to Gonzaga.

VIEW. This sort of decision-making should serve him well in the real world. Wiltjer left a comfort zone (Washington State) to play in the eastern time zone, challenged himself at Kentucky, enjoyed modest success, earned an NCAA title ring (and experience), and now has his cake and will eat it too.

Gonzaga assistant Donny Daniels said recently. “(Mark Few) does a great job of role identification. Everybody has a role, and those guys pretty much buy into what we’re trying to do to make us the best team we can.”

Part of Few’s aura is instincts, how players fit into his system.

NEWS. NBA Phoenix rookie Archie Goodwin scored 20 for Suns in a game last week. In three games the ex-Kentucky player was six-of-six from the 3-point line. Goodwin said he’s being going to the gym frequently to work on correcting his shot motion.

VIEW. That first round pick Goodwin is settling into a pro career is a reminder the NBA Players Union and NCAA failed him and fans too, by not allowing him to go directly to play-for-pay, skip college, leave a scholarship for a kid who wants to play college hoops.

NEWS. Keith Olberman returns to ESPN to host a late night show.

VIEW. Brilliant and irreverent, Olberman debuts Oct. 26. When he grows up – in some ways we hope he never does – Olberman is good enough to have all late night talking heads looking for work.

NEWS. With back-to-back national championship trophies in the case, Alabama coach Nike Saban must be living the wonderful life. Maybe. Earlier this year a rival SEC football coach said Saban is the Devil. Last week he had a new nickname. Robot.

VIEW. More curious than why such stupid remarks rise to the level of reporting, is why editors pass them on to print.

NEWS. Steve Spurrier wants to “pay the players.” At SEC media day, South Carolina’s coach suggested $300-a-game. And, Spurrier added, he wouldn’t object if funding came out of coaches salaries.

VIEW. The stampede you heard was ball coaches hitting the exits.


Antonio Morrison is a sophomore middle linebacker for the Florida Gators. Last week he was arrested (second time in five weeks). The charge? Allegedly barking at a police dog then resisting arrest.

Suspended for the Gators first two games already, Morrison was asked “why did you bark at a police dog?”

“Because the dog barked first,” he replied.

And so it goes.