Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted March 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm

A Churchill Downs stretch run measure for Kansas … Syracuse … North Carolina and Kentucky at mid-March?

Kentucky. A furlong back, Syracuse and North Carolina this close.

Length-and-a-half back – Kansas, a neck in front of Ohio State and Michigan State.

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Transition defense aside, Kentucky’s play at Florida Sunday was surgical, college hoops at its finest.

With run-the-table at stake, that Anthony Davis would even attempt a 3-pointer was entertaining for its audacity and told us he was thinking “watch this!” for national television.

That Davis’ shot swished heightened the joy, right? Not for everyone.

That Kentucky crushed the heart out of Florida’s Senior Day, did not sit well with some Sunshine state media.

As John Calipari’s best-team-in-America ran up its SEC ownership flag (again), a volley or two was fired across Kentucky’s bow. One was significant because of its source, another because of its folly and a third because of its stinging truth.

Each is relevant, because, as Winston Churchill said,

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

FIRST. Source. One-time candidate for the Kentucky job, Tom Izzo at Michigan State weighed in on John Calipari’s one-and-done model, telling Sports Illustrated in its Mar. 5 edition, “It (Kentucky) is like a factory. Nobody has any ties to the place.”

Bingo. No UK fan I know cares a hoot about John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and the rest who passed by to build a resume’ on teevee. That NBA rules and Calipari’s use of them brings Ws to the Bluegrass has a hollow-ness and is clear evidence, that Izzo hit the nail squarely on its head.

Moreover, it gives license to someone named Michael Rosenberg (at SI) to write: “… he (Calipari) is hampered only by a fan base with two requests: win, and don’t lose.”

Rosenberg’s ignorance is not new. First, Kentucky’s basketball fan base does not request anything. Second, UK’s genuine fan base expects to watch basketball played well, efficiently, with unselfishness at a premium and win without cheating.

SECOND. Truth. Following Kentucky’s 15-point win Sunday, a disgruntled sports writer in Orlando found a cute way of saying what we’ve known for three years.

“John Calipari is college basketball’s ultimate baby-daddy and this Kentucky team is a glorified AAU squad,” the Orlando Sentinel man wrote. And there was this: “Sending players to the NBA is more important to Calipari than all that other stuff college is supposed to be about. You know, stuff like growing up, developing as a person, going to class, getting a degree, blah, blah, blah.”

Ouch? You bet. Truth? You bet.

Unacceptable? Should be, but isn’t.

No matter the market strategies or media spin, the NBA is a cosmetic glorification of individual showtime by millionaires who hustle jerseys and head bands and are made legitimate by television. They call it entertainment.

NBA is a hypocrite. Along with the players’ union, it dawdles at changing its wage earner age to 20-or-more to accommodate education of young men. The League sucks into black hole oblivion 19-year-olds named Anthony Davis and a host of other promising teenagers. That Calipari is able to recruit so many and create a collective for winning is short term impressive, but the approach makes him an NBA gigolo also.

A college man blessed with so high a pay grade and celebrity pedestal, Calipari ought be devoted to a higher cause. He isn’t and nobody in Kentucky is complaining out loud.

THIRD. A media zealot or two projects a Syracuse-Kentucky title game. Why? To get a by-line above the fold under a large headline. It is a prognostication made significant by its foolishness and ignores North Carolina, Kansas, Missouri and a ‘who knew?’ dark horse or two with whom we can fall in love (Creighton, UNC-Ashville, Murray State?) in a Final Four.

History? Greybeards among UK watchers know the six-game road to Kentucky’s eighth national championship is piled with rusty wreckage from coulda-woulda-shoulda been Final Fours that litter the decades – Texas Western (1966), Georgetown (1984), Michigan (1993), Arizona (1997) and more. You know the history.

• So, Winston Churchill was right of course and leaves us to wonder …

• Will the catchy Glorified AAU Team catch on?

• Will Calipari grow testy and defensive with media after being called out again?

• Will anyone in Sports Illustrated hierarchy embrace Rosenberg’s idea or, will SI dispatch him to go and “find out what the hell you’re writing about!”

While the drama plays out the next three weeks, college fans can enjoy Darius Miller’s team … OVC coach of the year Steve Prohm and his Racers, and even Louisville’s mercurial team (and coach).

America. I love this place.

HILLTOPPER SURGE

Western had a five-game win streak at this writing. However the season ends, the Hilltopper surge under new coach Ray Harper has been delicious and gives us what might be called an educational Hoosiers boost.

Troubled times are inevitable in this life. Learning to handle them well, with poise and determination and grow mature enough to know there’s sunlight on the other side, what better place to find out for yourself than on a gorgeous university campus?

Next football and basketball seasons, Western Kentucky U. is going to feature all new Attitude Hilltoppers.

POOR JOURNALISM

In its feature Not The UCLA Way, Sports Illustrated demonstrated how it can subtly ignore its own biases. That the magazine hammered Bruins coach Ben Howland was fair and fine, but ways the (shallow) story presented problem child Reeves Nelson was neither balanced or fair. Bad boy Nelson might be 21 going on 15 years old, but he deserved to have ‘a side’ in this account. He got none.

SI shame.

PARTING SHOT

Tom Crean has established himself at Indiana. Solid. Yet, his relentless and annoying march up and down in the coach’s box, make Crean a good coaching fit someplace else. Vanderbilt.

And so it goes.