Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted May 31, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Memorial Day.

Tribute then, albeit belated, to veterans who served or are serving our country.

A special salute today to heroes. For me, two of them.

• Green County native Sergeant Dakota Meyer, America’s newest Congressional Medal of Honor winner. What valor. (See 60 Minutes, May 27).

• And, a man you’ve never heard of, but Anthony’s first name will do. He remains for me a symbol – model for crisp sense of duty, clarity of purpose, unflappable confidence.

As it did for you, Memorial Day brought to mind moments in the military experience that left an eternal tattoo on us. Ups and downs, day upon day, I enjoyed serving our country. The camaraderie and team-ness.

Anthony was proud of his Airman First Class (3) stripes. Had to send a photo home immediately.

We were good pals for what seems five minutes, all those years ago. Here was an arrow straight 20-year-old from a tough neighborhood in Phoenix who skipped the: “This your first pair-o-shoes, Kentucky?” question.

Copper-skinned Anthony was ethnic-sensitive and too pleasant and gracious for stupidity. He had questions about Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln and the Kentucky Derby.

Young man with coal black hair, teeth so white, smile so perfect, you wanted to punch him. He had a soft Mexican turn in his English and killer personality. Here was a fellow comfortable in the moment and in his skin too. Confident in where he was going. He loved his dress blue uniform and spit-shined his shoes. When he polished, Anthony would hum the appropriate Elvis Presley classic.

While others hated it, he loved marching in base parades, clopping along in harmony aaaaUP-2-3-4. And, he tried to locate himself as near the American flag as we marched as possible.

“I am a career man, man,” he would say with pause for effect on the second ‘man.’ “Good life, man. Goood life. Career. You should be one too and re-up, Roberto,” he would say.

“Go now, man, and re-enlist We will get promoted to staff (Sergeant) together. If you get out, man, it is beeg mistake.”


Anthony had a plan. I had a hunch. Re-up wasn’t for me.

We reflect more as we grow older, don’t we? I can’t recount a baseball ball score from yesterday, but a decades old experience can be clear as a drink of water.

Finally, when winter turned to spring back there and time for rotation back to USA was short, Anthony did his re-enlist routine less often. We had come to this Life junction from the same direction, but were destined for different destinations for the next stops. One cold and dreary April morning we saluted one another, Anthony and me, shook hands and said good-bye there at Mildenhall Air Base near London for a flight home. Anthony would be leaving a week later, he said.

“Gonna spend a few days in Phoenix with Mom and the kids, then go on to California. Get ready for my new assignment and a promotion,” he said. “I’m goin’ to Vet Nim.”

Was April, 1965. He hadn’t learned yet how to pronounce Vietnam.

Two months later a telephone call came.

Anthony had gotten his promotion to Staff Sergeant. A week later he was killed by a Viet Cong “freedom fighter.”

From then until now, never met anyone quite like this man.

All the way to now, I wonder where Life would have taken him. He had such plans.

Memorial Day … a salute for our honored ones.


Peter Keating writes for ESPN Magazine. He has an idea to “fix the scourge of the one and done rule.” NCAA officials should consider the National Hockey League model.

“Hockey has a universal draft,” Keating points out. “NHL teams can pick anybody from anywhere who’s 18 to 20 and hasn’t already been picked or played in the league. Kids don’t have to declare for the draft as with the NBA. And, a team that drafts him retains his rights whether he stays in college one day or four years.

“Unfortunately, the one-and-done system isn’t just bad for the NCAA,” Keating goes on, “it destroys continuity among top (college) programs. It’s bad for the talent too, producing fewer top players for the NBA.”

From 1995 to 2005, 47 high schoolers entered the draft. Led by Kobe Bryant, six became superstars. Since 2006 three of 49 became franchise players – Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose. Meanwhile, nine one-and-doners were not drafted at all, three more are not even in the D-League.

Conclusion? Abolish the 19-year-old rule, stop the one year in college pretense. Both would serve professional basketball and the college game.


• Dr. Tubby Smith. Minnesota’s coach asks his recruits: “What have you done besides play basketball to make your school better, make your family better, make your community better?”

• Joker Phillips. Two seasons ago Kentucky’s coach was responding to red-shirt freshman’s complaint about lack of playing time. “It definitely helps when you keep your mouth shut and do your job,” Phillips explained. The athlete finally earned his playing time and was on schedule to being an All-SEC candidate. Too bad for Ridge Wilson. He was dismissed from the team this year after being arrested for drug possession.

• Bob Knight. Three seasons ago Knight put the light of day on the cheapness of John Calipari’s one-and-done approach to college basketball.

“An incoming freshman has to pass six hours in the first semester – six hours with a D,” Knight said. “Second semester a player technically need not attend class at all to keep eligible since by end of semester and grade accountability, the NCAA Tournament is finished and one-and-done candidates are preparing to announce they will stand for June’s NBA Draft.

“That’s not what college basketball should be about,” he went on. “Not only to what would be best for the game, but what would be best for the kids (who) play the game.”

• Bob Sheppard, late public address announcer at Yankee Stadium: “An announcer should be clear, concise and correct. He should not be colorful, cute or comic.”

• Rajon Rondo. NBA brass ruled players may not wear head bands upside down. Sports writer Bill Dwyer wrote, “most players had stopped wearing head bands altogether, but (Rajon) Rondo carried on, upside down all the way, with Jerry West facing downward on national TV dozens of times a year as the Celtics played in two NBA title series.”

So, the Rondo Rule was put in..

Playing a kid’s game wearing head bands is stupid. Rondo wearing his upside down brought to mind an old John Wayne remark. “Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.”

And so it goes.