Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted April 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Observations from the notebook.

Louisville’s march through Rupp Arena, Indianapolis and on to Catlanta has turned Big Blue Nation and Hoosiers into the loudest silent majority since ESPN shut down Dick Vitale.

Who’s going to stop the Cards? If Rick Pitino’s team plays the next (possible) 80 minutes the way it played the last 80, and a Kevin Ware battle cry carries on, then Michigan nor Syracuse is going to flag down this flight.

Two under-card dramas will play out at this Final Four.

√ The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Committee will announce its picks for induction. Five coaches are among the 12 candidates – Tom Heinsohn, Sylvia Hatchell, Jerry Tarkanian, Guy Lewis and Rick Pitino.

How natural would it be for pied piper Pitino – a national championship and Hall of Fame induction in same week? For what he’s accomplished, including a team in this and last year’s Final Four, Da Coach should be odds-on for election.

√ The other drama could be – will the media herd take the Naismith committee to account for its nominees list for the Bob Cousy, best guard Award winner Monday evening. How come two of five finalists will play in the Final Four and neither is named Russ Smith or Peyton Siva?

Among the last five, Michael-Carter Williams of Syracuse and Trey Burke of Michigan, both are freshmen.


√ In a flash, Louisville’s Kevin Ware lay sprawled on the sideline. Right leg snapped in two places, his life changed in more ways than that. Some for the better.

Just turned 20, in a jiffy, Ware saw how suddenly a ball stops bouncing … how vital good friends are … how inconvenient simple things will become on crutches, and how crucial it is to get to class. All of them.

√ Brittney Griner’s college basketball days ended. Suddenly Baylor’s 6-8 star faces adjusting her attitude to a rough and tough workplace, WNBA.

√ Ryan Harrow decided he needed to be closer to home, Georgia State. And, John Calipari has an open scholarship. First option? Andrew Wiggins; Best (PR) option? Kentucky Mr. Basketball Dominique Hawkins.

Harrow’s decision is not sudden. It came, I believe, after conversation with coach that included in some form: “Ryan, the reality is, there are three reasons why your playing time next season might be zero. Two are named Harrison, the other is I need your scholarship. Now, let’s make a plausible heart-rending story for the media that saves face for both of us.”


CHEERS. Landmarks for Louisville. The Lady Cardinals upstaged their Final Four-bound brethren Sunday with a stunning win over odds-on favorite Baylor. Sixteen threes and a picket fence around Brittney Griner was enough.

CHEERS. Kevin Ware’s injury could have wilted the Cards in shock having witnessed the ugly injury. They could have surrendered to emotional drain, but did the opposite. Their’s became a nationally televised show of maturity and character. A reward for fans who could be immensely proud of a veteran team.

CHEERS. Too, the Cardinals’ show of unity and collective emotion was in a memorable way, college sports at its best.

JEERS. With words “other opportunities” on his lips, Bellarmine basketball coach Scott Davenport shopped himself last week to Ball State. Maybe Davenport is only looking for $ome love from his employer.

With recruits who committed to him and his commitment to them, I hope Davenport ego hasn’t swollen over his better judgment to examine a model set by Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens.

CHEERS. I like to believe VCU’s coach and Butler’s did not say ‘no’ to

UCLA last week as much as said Yes! to commitment to something besides money … their programs at Virginia Commonwealth and Butler respectively.

JEERS. Steve Alford cleared that up. Former darling of Indiana basketball and man of such principle and piety he objected to Bob Knight’s colorful language, became just another ball coach last week.

Moved his lips and lied. Saying he loved New Mexico and agreed to a 10-year contract, days later Alford job jumped to UCLA. Some principle.

CHEERS.Western Kentucky’s move to Conference-USA. Only downside – should’ve happened sooner. Incalculable, the revenue loss to WKU from three decades in the Sun Belt. Tepid fan support, lack of “we play on teevee” recruiting pitch to athletes, NCAA Tournament at-large bid option, football bowl game possibles and television money. In C-USA WKU gets a $1.7 million piece of the (CBS/Fox) pie annually.

Rivalry possibles for Hilltopper fans look deliciou.s Along with Middle Tennessee add Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion, and factor in trips to Boca Raton (Florida Atlantic) and Miami (Florida International).

Next? WKU must raise $2 million for C-USA entry fee. Maybe the first call ought go to Bob Petrino.


√ Tubby Smith to Texas Tech? Bad match. At Kentucky, Tubby gave Big Blue Nation winning and ethical basketball success for 10 years, including a national title. Then he gave Minnesota basketball new energy and new hope. Tubby Smith was let go at both places for one overriding reason, he would not or could not hire a recruiter.

√ Minnesota was said to have dumped Tubby in hopes of a new man able to recruit several high school stars in the state. Yet, top candidate is said to be Minnesota alum Flip Saunders, best known as an NBA coaching re-tread.

√ Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield was flirting with USC last week. His contract at FGC pays just $157,000 a year. USC would pay him $2 million, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

√ Parallel perfect: Duke assistant Chris Collins hired to head coach at Northwestern mirrors Mark Stoops’ move to Kentucky football from Florida State.

√ A friend asked, “what would Bob Knight say about his protege’ Steve Alford about-face on New Mexico?

Answer: Bob Knight we know might use a twist on Jerry Tarkanian-spin and say “just blame it on Kentucky.”

And so it goes.