Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted February 19, 2013 at 8:06 pm

When did a defending NCAA champion not qualify the year after?

Answer? Don’t know, but in 1967 defending champion Texas Western lost in the NCAA’s first round, and runner-up (in ‘66) Kentucky did not make the field at all.

If once fifth ranked Kentucky does not make the 68-team field next month, here’s an idea based on a precedent set by Teddy Ballgame, Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

In 1959 the Boston Red Sox star was paid $125,000. Before the next season, his last, in 1960, Williams said he had underachieved, hit a career low .254, and insisted on a $35,000 pay cut. Thirty per cent.

Since defending champion Kentucky has underachieved, John Calipari ought take a pay cut, say 30 per cent contribution to the University’s general fund.


Nerlens Noel’s knee injury put the kid on an eight month path of grueling rehabilitation. That’s the bad news. Good news is a willowy 18-year-old has a chance to slow it all down a little, step back and watch the parade awhile.

Noel’s season ender brought the usual refrain from those who believe a high school senior who wants to go directly to a job, in this case professional basketball, ought have the option.

I agree. Noel’s injury is an appropriate time to examine the issue again. Solutions are not as complicated as those who profit from status quo would have us believe.

First, the villains, uh, players.

√ NBA Players Union. Its contract with owners includes a 19-year-old minimum. Why 19? There is no logical nor legal reason to prevent a high school graduate from pursuing a job.

√ NCAA. One internet writer said last week: “(Nerlens) Noel’s presence on (a college) campus represents restraint of trade and a bastardization of what college is supposed to be.”

Remarkable grasp of the obvious and I love the four-syllable word, don’t you?

Gives rise to the third villain in this drama that drips with dollars and greed.

√ College ball coaches and shoe companies willing to ignore spirit of NCAA rules and operate in the gray areas.

The NCAA has no incentive to change anything as it wallows in piles of cash from television that remind us of Scrooge McDuck’s front yard.

A solution is clear.

High school baseball star can be drafted and signed to a professional contract upon graduation. Before signing, if he doesn’t like his draft spot, he has another option, college baseball. If he agrees to forego a draft by Major League Baseball team, he is obliged to attend college for two years (minimum).

A two year college scholarship is worth as much as $200,000?

Two years in college …

• Opportunity for immature 18-year-old to become a 20-year-old man, physically and otherwise.

• Opportunity for universities and ball coaches to continue piling up Scrooge McDuck-type money.

• Opportunity for athletic apparel companies to increase profits from images of say, Anthony Davis (the Brow) and Nerlens Noel (flat top).

• Opportunity for fans to enjoy heroes they pay dearly to see.

Where’s the downside in this scenario?

Should work, right? Long as big money wags the dog, wrong!


Few remember it, but four months ago Kentucky was ranked in the Top 5.

Late February and Kentucky coach John Calipari said last week a couple of his players are “not coachable.”

If Kentucky’s performance in Knoxville, perhaps worst ever, maybe Calipari is right. Good thing the coach burned the game tape. He wouldn’t have seen players in blue uniforms turning their backs on their coach while being instructed … on national television. Outrageous.

Apparently coddled and cradled, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin arrived at UK with bloated sense of self. Like most 18-year-olds (going on 15 at times), they expected a seven month stay at Kentucky before a flight to New York and a David Stern handshake.

Last Saturday in Knoxville they were openly pouty and combative juveniles headed to the doghouse.

Goodwin and Poythress growing pains in public are not new of course.

In 1979, a wizard at getting to the basket was Dwight Anderson. Trouble was, kid from Dayton was a hard head unwilling to control his emotions, listen to his coaches. He left for Southern Cal, later had a cup of coffee in the NBA, then returned to Dayton and to rue the day, instead of growing up, he left Kentucky, calling it the worst mistake of his life.

In 1985 the new phenom at Kentucky was Master Blaster. Like Poythress, Richard Madison was a Tennessean with grand promise and comparisons to Charles Barkley. Four years on the only thing Madison blasted was the training table menu. His weight went up, playing time went down and he became a master fizzle.


Syracuse ball coach Jim Boeheim keeps it real. Doesn’t step back from ambitious and feisty sports reporters either, including ESPN hotshot Andy Katz.

Before one on-air interview Boeheim told Katz he would not discuss a case involving former assistant Bernie Fine. On air, Katz, trying to show his journalistic toughness tried repeatedly to bully Boeheim into discussing it anyway.

“(Katz) asked me, like, 10 times on camera,” the coach told reporters. “He never took the camera off me.

Afterward, Boeheim told Katz “right then and there, ‘Don’t talk to me. Do not try to talk to me again.’”

The Boeheim-Katz tempest became news when Boeheim apparently referred to Katz as “an idiot.”

A reporter asked Boeheim if he had regrets about the Katz matter?

“I probably shouldn’t have called him an ‘idiot,” he said. “That slipped out.”

And so it goes.