Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted August 20, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Calm before the (football) storm.

Timing. Army field officers, director at the local funeral parlor, sundry real estate and insurance agents aside, few careerists understand the precise value of timing better than a ball coach.

In Lexington last week, Mark Stoops waited for warm breezes off the Bahamas to turn fan buzz for Kentucky’s basketball team to downgrade to a dull roar, and media to move roundball mania to rightful place in August – below-the-fold or back on page three.

Stoops checked his watch, grabbed a news cycle from the merry-go-round and announced Kentucky’s starting quarterback. Patrick Towles.

When high noon comes for Tennessee Martin August 30 at Commonwealth Stadium, a big ole Kentuckian – 6-feet-5, 238-pounder – will succeed Alabaman Jalen Whitlow and Californian Max Smith.

May UK fans presume “A Kentuckian at quarterback, we’ll be better?”

This week, with Planet Football back in proper orbit, the August countdown and media exposure resumes.

√ First out of the box, Western Kentucky opens C-USA on a Friday night. For fire-’em-up purposes and Big Mo, the home opening Hilltoppers are a touchdown-plus underdog to Bowling Green. Grrr.

√ Next day Kentucky’s game will be “OK, Stoops, let’s see what ya got.” followed by the proverbial “do we need to line up for Big Blue Madness tickets or wait?”

√ Rounding out Labor Day weekend, Louisville gets Miami in Cardinal Stadium for a Monday night prime timer. Second coming of fallen angel, images of contrite Bobby Petrino.


Big Blue Bahamas. Kentucky brought home five wins and a (coaches) win at the end.

Just what the doctor ordered.

A two platoon to dazzle then run competition to exhaustion and submission. Included a comeuppance in game six, letting coaches bring home a prize too. A video titled perhaps, “See, you guys got work to do.”

√ Alex Poythress’ play reflected joy and maturity UK fans appreciate from three-year college guy. Derek Willis, on any college team except one he’s on, is a starter.

√ Rookies Karl Anthony Towns’ and Tyler Ulis’ are special. Bluegrass State style players – savvy, unselfish, relentless, skip the showboat and feel the game.

Jersey numbers. If Power Five has its way, makes its pay-to-play rules, popularity of Towns number 12 and Ulis number 3 could boom into big walk-around-cash … and three-and-done.


Meanwhile, all the world may be a stage, but only the cunning know how to seize it, bask in glow of The Solo. Produced by ESPN, written and directed by and starring John Calipari.

In Nassau, ESPN shamelessly handed Calipari a six day selfie. When Jay Bilas wasn’t doing straight man for Cal-speak, Kentucky’s coach was doing play-by-play and color, cheerleading (recruiting), working a camera or getting face time atop the bleachers alongside assistant Tony Barbee.

Real stars of this show? Kentucky’s two-platoon Wildcats.

Teams on UK’s schedule will quake. The tsunami is coming. None on the schedule, I can see, should beat Kentucky without help. Help?

√ Playing time unhappiness.

√ The Is. Injury or illness.

√ Too much media and fan attention.

√ Coach whine (on court) at game officials.

√ Paranoia. Calipari’s lower-expectation-tweet warning last week? Sabotage. Sabotage?

√ Jay Bilas. ESPN’s college hoops pied piper fell in love in Nassau. His swoon over Kentucky leaves one to wonder about Bilas’ welcome when he shows up in Durham, Ann Arbor, Syracuse, Louisville and others?

√ Bilas’ UK locker room talk to players was remarkable. A seminar in truth, possibility and reality. Maybe part II will deal with “… when the ball stops bouncing.”


Brent Bach was a skinny 6-1 shootist for Augusta High school’s Panthers last winter. Averaged 31.2 points a game and named second team all-state.

Next, Bach will play at Bellarmine U. for Scotty Davenport. Kid’s numbers beg a visit to attitude. In a press release, here is Bach’s approach. “I want to improve … I know I have a long way to go. I have to get bigger and work on my passing. There are several really good big guys on the team … I want to be able to work with them and make them happy, too.”

Context. Thousands of Kentucky kids have taken the right and realistic attitude to college, one said this: “I could run, jump and hustle, put the ball on the floor. I got out on the break, filled the lanes.”

Was 64 years ago. Kid’s name was Cliff Hagan. Pure Kentucky.

And so it goes.