Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted April 16, 2014 at 2:16 pm

What is basketball in Kentucky all about? Final Fours … NCAA banners? Nah. It’s the journey.

This week, look east, good fellows, to Louisa Elementary School. Super Hero Day was held last month at the school in Lawrence County and young Jake Preece showed up wearing a UK sweatshirt and hat to honor his super hero – Aaron Harrison.

Far from twitter, tweet, hype and coach spin, the genuine essence of basketball in Kentucky IS Jake Preece and every tow-head kid like him, and every Pollyanna little girl too.

Kid gets an eyeful how a game (on teevee) affects mom and dad, how it impacts a kid’s peers. Special. Not to be forgotten.

Kid picks a favorite college team, picks a favorite player … imitates him, tries to dress like him and invests his/her young heart in every breathtaking 3-point try.

In context, I wonder then, when 19-year-old Aaron Harrison looks to his coach for counsel about leaving college after seven months, does his ball coach and other college coaches pause to remember – before their piles of money – the indelible and innocent joys of being kids growing up with super heroes?

Super heroes … basketball in Kentucky.


“It’s taken us four years, and we’re very proud to present our rankings of the arena experience for each of the 351 teams that compete in Division I,” writer Paul Swaney says of Stadium Journey.

How did arenas in Kentucky rank?

Criteria: Food and beverage, atmosphere, fans, neighborhood, access (traffic, parking, restrooms, ability to move around in the arena), and overall return on investment.

In reverse order …

223rd. Northern Kentucky. Opened in 2008, the Bank of Kentucky Center has taken the Northern Kentucky University Athletic Department to a whole new level. Division I.

200th. Morehead State. Ellis T. Johnson Arena was constructed in 1981, seats 6,500. Venue has elements of modern and classic college basketball home. Steep, high sideline bench seats suggest a historic field house, but modern video boards on both baseline walls keep spectators informed with scores, stats, and replays.

165th. Eastern Kentucky. Paul S. McBrayer Arena is a unique venue boasting the world’s largest wooden cross-arched roof.

42nd. Murray State. Continued commitment to basketball, the athletic department unveiled a plan in 2011 to add separate practice facility next to the CFSB Center and addition of corporate luxury boxes. Sky is the limit in Murray, Kentucky!

23rd. Western Kentucky. Too often the step-child in a basketball crazy state, but it shouldn’t stop fans from venturing to the hilly college town of Bowling Green, Kentucky. E.A. Diddle Arena provides a fantastic basketball experience at an affordable price.

19th. Louisville. KFC Yum Center. When it comes to the atmosphere at the KFC Yum! Center, all you can say is WOW. If you haven’t been to a Louisville Cardinals game yet, you haven’t seen what makes college basketball one of the greatest live sporting events in all of the land.

And, best of 351 in all the land, Kentucky’s home of the Wildcats.

1st. Rupp Arena. Named for 41-year and 4-time National Champion coach Adolph Rupp, 23,000 seat venue in downtown Lexington draws over 24,000 spectators for marquee matchups. Eight NCAA title banners hang from the rafters to greet fans and provide a reminder of the history and tradition of the Kentucky’s program.


Thumbs Up. University of Kentucky freshman Drew Barker is drawing high praise so far and comparisons to you-know-who from Hyden, Ky.

Thumbs Down. That rookie Barker is drawing comparisons to you-know-who from Hyden, Ky.

Thumbs Up. Western Kentucky football’s new recruits include some newspaper headline-worthy names – Gee Monee Brown, Prince Charles Iworah and Wonderful Terry.

Thumbs Down. Exaggerated expectation to live up to them.

Thumbs Up. Ex-UConn coach Jim Calhoun called John Calipari BSer recently and added. “His way, one-and-done, most institutions are not going to allow what Kentucky does.”

Thumbs Down. Calhoun’s credibility. In final year of his watch at UConn, the Huskies were banned from NCAA Tournament because of players’ shamefully poor academic performance.


For University of Kentucky alums, and for parents weighing options to $hell out, send a child to John Calipari summer basketball camps, this:

√ NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins, UK head coach got a $150,000 bonus to go with two $100,000 bonuses already guaranteed.

√ Assistant Kenny Payne’s bonus, about $58,333 to go with $350,000 a year. John Robic’s bonus, $50,000 to go with $300,000 a year.

√ Assistant Orlando Antigua leaves Lexington for South Florida with an extra $45,833. Annual pay from UK, $275,000.

√ Director of athletics Mitch Barnhart got a $25,000 bonus to go with $25-grand when Kentucky qualified for the NCAA.

Meanwhile …

University of Kentucky officials lobby alumni to pressure legislators in Frankfort to stop a 2.7 per cent cut in UK’s budget by state government (your tax dollars).


CHEERS. CHEERS. Ex-Kentucky player Rex Chapman should have stopped at trying to sing My Old Kentucky Home during a UK Final Four telecast in Dallas.

JEERS. Instead, Mr. Basketball 1986 opened his mouth before engaging his brain and twittered that John Calipari-to-the-Lakers was a “done deal.”

Next, Chapman did a “I’m no journalist” back-pedal on, of all places, the Dan Patrick radio show. In early March Patrick had predicted Calipari’s time as UK coach was short.

As Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

And so it goes.