Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted May 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Unhappy is the land that is in need of heroes

– Bertolt Brecht

Sport in America today requires we search a little harder, be more selective, for genuine heroes. Considered the mountains of money and cynical judgments of Donald Sterling in Los Angeles and parade of self-righteous howling critics, who could blame the fan on the street from throwing up his/her hands in disgust. Yet, heroes can be found every day, most every place.

This week, a handful of qualifiers.

1. California Chrome. In 2008 the Derby winner’s mother, Love That Chase, was bought for a pittance, $8,000. Then Steve Coburn and Perry Martin bred their mare to a $2,000 nag … uh, stallion. An investment that moved another trainer to call Coburn and Martin dumb asses for even getting into horse racing.

Coburn and Martin used the scathing criticism to name their operation DAP Racing. Dumb Ass Partners produced a foal to be named California Chrome.

Heroic, seems to me, to spin insult into self deprecating humor (DAP) into Kentucky Derby success story.

2. Jon Hood. University of Kentucky graduate tweeted followers last week: “I leave this great university in less than a week for good. It has meant the most to me over the past five years. Given me so many memories. I love UK and couldn’t be happier about the relationships I formed and what we accomplished as a team.”

3. Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky will return to the Badgers next season. “I’m at the pinnacle of my basketball playing career, at least in my eyes,” he blogged. “I know the NBA has (its) crazy fans and all, but if you look at their games, there are games when teams like the Bobcats get hardly any fans, and it looks flat out boring.”

“At the Kohl Center, we play in front of nearly 17,000 fans every single time we step onto the court. When we travel, we play in front of sell out crowds who absolutely hate us. Not because of who is on the team, but because of where we go to school. Who could leave that?”

COMMENT: NBA flat out boring? I like it.

4. Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone. Kentucky men’s basketball was well represented on the Southeastern Conference honor roll for winter semester. Junior-to-be Alex Poythress is on his way to a degree in accounting; Jarrod Polson earned a degree in Finance/Marketing.

But the go-to-guys on this Wildcats team were Lanter, Long and Malone. Walk-ons, they were stars who carried the team to 3.0 GPA and All-SEC honors.

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In a Time Magazine editorial about the Donald Sterling flap, Abdul-Jabbar reminded the self-righteous among us about certain truths. “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media?” he wrote. “Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way?”

COMMENT. Abdul-Jabbar’s access to high places – Time Magazine and ABC-Television to air his views, is a reflection of how far most Americans have come with racial issues.

That one rich white man (Sterling) can generate such self-righteous rage across the sports spectrum is peculiar on its face.

America. I love this place.


In a matter of weeks, and before their 21st birthdays, Johnny Manziel … Jabari Parker … Julius Randle will be our newest multi-millionaires. A place (too) many Americans consider the summit of success.

If I were choosing a person standing squarely at a pinnacle place in life today, it would be John Calipari.

Kentucky’s ball coach is on R&R these days after hip surgery. A respite that gives the 55-year-old coach pause to peer down from his summit and evaluate treasure and where he is in life.

√ Bonus money added to more riches than he can spend in a lifetime.

√ Book gone up the best seller list.

√ Nerve and clout enough to suggest the NCAA let him have a hand in solving some of basketball’s (play for pay) problems.

√ Courted by the most storied sports franchise this side of the Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers.

√ Resume` includes an NCAA title, two more Final Fours and more market potential than Rick Pitino ever enjoyed at Kentucky.

√ To know his next team is ranked No. 1 in the nation before practice balls are tossed out at Craft Center … again.

√ Recruiting for next year is already in the hands of a new guy with quick lips, named Slice.

√ Transcending all these things for Calipari, all of them – health and family.

Epilogue: A warning looms also as job demands and pressure Calipari.

√ Much as John Wooden became prisoner to success and despised his Wizard of Westwood title, Calipari has R&R time to reflect on his legacy also.

Even as he tries to walk back from the label, almost certainly it will include a not-so-endearing term.

Let’s see … Adolph Rupp: Der Baron, Man in the Brown Suit; Joe B. Hall: Joe B.; Rick Pitino: Man with Midas Touch; and John Calipari: One and Done.


Sophomore-to-be at Kentucky Derek Willis was succinct enough when he tweeted the other day: “I am not transferring or leaving Kentucky! Quit bothering me about the situation . It is annoying and untrue.”

And so it goes.