Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Final scores have never intrigued me. The element that stays on after scoreboards are turned off is The Spread.

Time spread, how the drama builds then plays out from pre-game pomp to first whistle to final buzzer and what happens after. How athletes and fans and media … handle it. What intrigues me most is how media spins “what it all means.” Then, how fans synthesize what they’ve seen and how they read a result.

When we pause to examine the level of our passion for winners and those who don’t, isn’t it curious how seldom we remember a score, but how often we recount in detail turning points, the “we wuz robbed” element, the high and low lights?

Examples …

• Stan Musial died last weekend. The Man was one of baseball’s icons, seven batting titles and three MVP awards, Hall of Famer. More, he married his high school sweetheart, had a family, is remembered for wit and kindness, smiled alot and, at the slightest invitation, playing the harmonica. And, if the Cardinals ever tried to trade him, he said he would quit the game.

Musial was remembered by a fellow hall of famer as “Everybody loved Stan. The guy had no enemies in baseball.” What higher tribute?

• The Harbaugh brothers. Unprecedented, John and Jim have arrived at the summit of their careers together and on opposite sidelines. Men who were boys who competed at baseball board games in the backyard, are going to Super Bowl XLVII.

Task: Keeping cameras out of the faces of the coaches’ proud parents.

Good stuff.

• 20th anniversary. Western Kentucky honored its 1992-93 basketball team (26-6) last weekend. Coach Ralph Willard (who had the best job he ever quit) was on hand at Diddle Arena along with stars Mark Bell and Darnell Mee. Conspicuous by his absence, a sophomore on the 1993 team and future Hilltoppers head coach, Darrin Horn.

• Billy Donovan’s Florida team gave its coach his 400th career win. Donovan gave it back. “All those individual things, as (they) relates to coaching, it’s much, much more a reflection of players I’ve had to coach here,” he said. At 42, Donovan isn’t only the dean of SEC coaches, but by a good margin based on conviction to doing it the right way consistently, is among best of the best nationally.

• Syracuse and Jim Boeheim did more than defeat top ranked Louisville last Saturday. The Orange handed Rick Pitino a tactical gift. No coach wants his team atop the rankings in January when tournament seeds are awarded in March. Too, being beaten at Yum Center puts the mute button down on players with tendency to wag their tongues.

More good stuff?

• Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As part of National Mentoring Month, he paid for 14 children from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte to attend last Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. One of Kentucky’s all-time favorites, Kidd-Gilchrist, when he heard more than 300 children in the program have no mentors and are on a waiting list, remembered the New Jersey neighborhood from whence he came, and stepped up.

• Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame at Cooperstown this summer? Nobody. The Baseball Writers created a nice pause from tiresome rewrites on bad boy Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the rest. Humble pie is a good thing.

• Ex-NBA star Charles Barkley told Kentucky fans what some (grudgingly) already know – none of the 2012-13 Wildcats is NBA ready. Barkley didn’t stop there. Because a rule has a loophole or gray area (for 18-year-olds), does not justify a coach violating its spirit.

“I love John Calipari,” he said, “but I hate the one-and-done thing.”

Best of the best?

• Close to home: Montgomery County High School officials did a wonderful thing last week. For dedicating four decades of his life to WMST radio play-by-play for boys’ and girls’ games, broadcaster Dan Manley discovered his name had been painted onto the gymnasium floor.

Classy. Lesser known, Manley has entertained listeners around Mt. Sterling for decades, interviewing an incredible list of Hollywood and national celebrities and sports stars. For what Manley has brought to the state, he should have been inducted into the Kentucky Hall of Fame long ago. Never mind the KHSAA.


• In one interview Lance Armstrong tried to explain away 20 years of lying.

• Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti T’eo tried to explain also while Notre Dame did damage control. T’eo, whom Dick Vitale gushed over ad naseum during Kentucky’s game at Notre Dame November 29, was having to man-up, deal with a blizzard of hoax jokes. Some of them quite clever.

• New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick ducked out on the media after his team lost to Baltimore. Who cared?

• Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs cheapened his team’s win over the Pats by wasting time (and venom) kicking on the vanquished.

And …

• Dick Vitale being inducted to the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame brought a reader to write, “somebody clue me in on HOW, or maybe more aptly, WHY, Vitale has been allowed to grace air waves all these years. He’s a self-proclaimed basketball expert and horrid commentator. He sure fooled somebody at ESPN.”

Comment: And laughing all the way to the bank.


Finally, a report from Bleacher Report about candidates for college hoops John Wooden Award for player of the year included this: “Dominant teams like Florida, Arizona and Butler are not represented on this list, because they don’t have star players on their roster(s). Their high merit has been a result of balance.”

Comment: A college hoops team being disqualified for team-ness? A pattern? The coaches – Billy Donovan, Sean Miller and Brad Stevens.

And so it goes.