Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted January 11, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Western Kentucky University sent its basketball coach packing last week. Ken McDonald’s departure was overdue, coming with all the surprise of a New Hampshire exit poll.

McDonald’s name goes onto a list at WKU ‘Just Didn’t Work’ beneath Murray Arnold, Matt Kilcullen and Darrin Horn. A list set next to Job Jumpers – Ralph Willard, Dennis Felton, Gene Keady and Clem Haskins.

Enter Ray Harper. Man from Greenville knows how to shoot (3,033 points at Bremen High), how to become legend (jersey retired at Kentucky Wesleyan and his name on the court). And, knows how to coach – six times national coach of the year at D-II and NAIA levels.

Man with Interim in front of his title, Harper has a dozen games to right the ship, five home dates to make Diddle Arena a high decibel fun place again. Beyond the joy of that, two months to show his boss a “national search” for a head coach would be money better spent on say, recruiting.

If WKU officials become afflicted with “Gotta find My Guy” disease and stars-in-my eyes notions to “make a big time hire,” should pause and review WKU history. Then, ideally, reject out of hand names already dropped. Richard Pitino at Louisville, Orlando Antigua at Kentucky should not be considered, nor John Pelphrey at Florida who already job jumped a Sun Belt gig at South Alabama.

But Harper will need help, a honeymoon and a how-to. None will come easy.

• Help from players who appear to try hard but have made dreadful on court decisions. Ones that have too often turned chance-to-win-games into head-scratching losses. The close ones have “gone the other way” for the Toppers all season. Losing at home in over-time to a six-player set by Louisiana-Lafayette at the end was bottom.

• Honeymoon. Harper’s good-old-boy persona does more than remind fans of John Oldham, we hope. It can be player-coach connection difference maker. Winning will draw fans who have gone away in droves, leaving empty seats and game tickets so devalued they sell for a dollar each at local food stores.

• How-to. A 15-man roster with 14 underclassmen (seven freshmen) is promising and begs for experiment and change-up. Harper ought loosen his conservative neck-tie and coach like its his last chance. Perhaps give Sonny Smith (Auburn’s one-time SEC funny man) a phone call for a savvy-up session on one-liners for the media.

After all, beyond Hilltopper executives, fans and family, who wants Harper to succeed more than those sniffing for a feel good story?


John Calipari visited an eastern Kentucky coal mine last year. Last week, alongside UK president Eli Capilouto, Cal pressed the flesh with budget-making lawmakers. Kentucky’s coach was lobbying for funding to improve campus and classrooms at UK.

Bravo. This must be Calipari’s genuflect to: “To whom much is given, much is expected” doctrine. If only UK’s coach can be made to see the potential long-term damage of that other doctrine. One-and-done-ism.


Losing at Kentucky, then two games at home to Big East foes, Louisville “is in trouble,” coach Rick Pitino said after the Notre Dame shocker. “But we’ve been in this situation before.”

Yes, and few ball coaches handle “this situation” better than the little New Yorker.

Could be the street kid grit and survival instinct in him, but I think Pitino relishes pushing the rock up the hill in January more than being in Syracuse’s neighborhood at the top.

The Cardinals have nine games before February 13. That’s when Jim Boeheim’s team plays in Yum Center.


Best backcourt player in Kentucky and arguably best in the U.S.? Peyton Siva? Doron Lamb? Marques Teague?

None of the above. Isaiah Canaan at Murray State is best by a mile.

When Murray faced long-time rival Austin Peay at Clarksville last week, the Racers jumped to a 16-5 lead. Canaan scored them all.

The extraordinary things about 6-foot junior from Biloxi, Mississippi were Canaan’s clutch shooting, unselfishness and poise when the Governors made runs. His seven threes on eight tries and 35 points in 37 minutes were impressive, but not as much as his calm, leadership and five assists that seemed double that.

Canaan’s emergence as a star brings us once more to ask, “How is it, six-figure salaried assistant coaches named Antiqua, Pitino et al, who seine for prospects for a living, miss a kid like Canaan?”


Where have all the critics gone? Football analysts (charlatans?), led by Mel Kiper, and the NFL’s Party of No saying, because of his mechanics Tim Tebow’s professional future would never be at quarterback, but maybe at tight end.

Through the regular season, players on other NFL teams mocked and made fun of Tebow’s religious convictions.

Following Denver’s Tebow-led overtime shocker over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, an internet story came with the following lead.

Early Monday morning, the top item on Google Trends hot searches is John 3:16, the passage from the bible that reads:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The number two and three searched terms on Google? Tebow and Tim Tebow.

It’s surely all coincidence, but how many yards did Tebow throw for as he led the Denver Broncos to a 29-23 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL’s divisional playoffs on Sunday night?

Answer: 316.

And so it goes.