Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted June 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm

When year-end time comes to chronicle the Kentucky Story in Sports, 2013, the suspense will be like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes 40 years ago. June 9, 1973, Secretariat by 31 lengths.

Story in Sports 2013 – University of Louisville athletics by 31 lengths.

Latest chapter 2012-13, the baseball Cardinals (51-12) are off to Omaha, Nebraska this week for the college World Series.

That UofL dumped No. 2 overall seed Vanderbilt came on the heels of Rick Pitino’s NCAA title team and national champion Alabama’s football team being hailed for high academic achievement.

And, an announcement that the financial largess will be applied to paying for a new academic center for student-athletes.

All this since the women’s basketball team played in a Final Four title game.

And Charlie Strong’s team thumped Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

For merchandisers of UofL gear, UofL fans, and Terry Meiners too, Year of the Cardinal has been all that.

And, never mind those Houston Astro throw-back jerseys being worn by the baseball Cardinals in Omaha.


Interesting off-season subject: Bleacher Report recently offered a 10-man list of Most Underrated college basketball coaches. The familiars: John Beilein at Michigan, Bo Ryan at Wisconsin and Bob Huggins at West Virginia. Two on the list coached teams to an NCAA championship and their stories have an uncanny link to Adolph Rupp.

Don Haskins at Texas Western (1966) and Joe B. Hall at Kentucky (1978).

Haskins underrated? Coached 1961-1999, 719 wins in 1,073 games, 67 per cent. Fourteen trips to the NCAA tournament, seven to the NIT. Pinnacle career moment, March 19, 1966. Texas Western won a national championship upsetting Kentucky. On the UK bench that night, assistant coach Joe B. Hall.

Hall underrated? Head coach at UK 1972-1985, 297 wins in 397 games; an NIT championship, three NCAA Elite Eights, three Final Fours including a national championship win over Duke in 1978.

He is one of three men to win an NCAA championship as a player (1949, Kentucky) and coach. Bob Knight and Dean Smith are the others.

COMMENT: Considering Texas Western’s schedule and conference, the late Haskins was not underrated. Over the years, he was given more than ample credit for the win over Kentucky. In 2007 he was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. His 1966 team has also been inducted.

COMMENT II: Hall has been underrated. His succeeding Rupp was publicized with a sympathetic slant, but media commentary during his tenure at UK did not adequately amplify the magnitude of expectations, criticism and second guess work he dealt with as a native son coaching at Kadillac U.

Was there a dark cloud over Hall’s tenure? Yes.

A smudge on his career at Kentucky and arguably pushing his name onto an ‘underrated’ list, was NCAA rules violations. Alleged $50 hand-shakes with players and boosters in the locker room, improper gifts to visiting recruit (Kent Benson), and a slush fund for players. Results were NCAA probation and Hall’s earlier-than-expected departure after just 13 seasons.


Had to be a skip in his step last week when Mitch Barnhart presented his department’s GPA for 2013 spring semester to the University of Kentucky athletics oversight committee.

In particular, 12 of 13 men’s basketball players posted a 3.0 or better grade point average and two had a 4.0. Outstanding. Point of pride for caring parents of players, educators and Big Blue Nation too, right?.

That six of 13 players were newcomers to UK, a 3.4 GPA is more remarkable when one calculates time invested in class, study hall, tutorial time, daily practice, team travel and whatever social life they manage.

UK basketball’s GPA also reflects two college education vitals largely unmentioned – learning personal discipline and time management.

By the weekend coach John Calipari was crowing, but his tweet was re-crafted from once hailing one-and-doners drafted by NBA teams as “greatest day in UK history.” This time there was at least acknowledgement of academics.

“Are we proud of our players making it to the NBA? Of course,” Calipari said. “Are we happy about averaging more than 30 wins over the last four years? You bet. But we’re about more than that here at Kentucky. When you run a players-first program, it’s about helping kids reach their dreams both on and off the court and preparing them for the rest of their lives. You can do both at the University of Kentucky. It’s a standard that’s been set.”


There is a higher one to pursue. The NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) is the academic measure of all 976 Division I teams on retention and eligibility on a 1,000 point scale.

Kansas men’s basketball achieved a perfect score on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate for seventh straight time.

“We’ve been fortunate to have guys who buy in to what it means to be a Jayhawk in basketball and in life,” Self said

Last week NCAA champions Louisville (basketball) and Alabama (football) were recognized for scores between 978 and 1,000 on annual APR rankings released in full this week.

And, one of my favorites, Butler, twice NCAA basketball runner-up, was back on the APR list having scored perfect 1,000 each of the previous three years.


Basketball coach Brad Stevens turned down suitors trying to hire him away from Butler University again this spring.

“The coaching carousel is a lot of fun to talk about and form opinions on and speculate about — until it hits your family. Then it’s not fun. It’s not fun to think about the impact it has on your family. No decision is made, no move is made until you examine the impact it has on your family.”

And so it goes.