Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm

An internet basketball opinion piece from Bleacher Report last month offered for discussion: 10 Most Polarizing Figures in College Basketball.’

Some good, some not and naturally, a few debatables from writer Doug Brodess.

Four have ties to our basketball triangle. No. 7 Rick Pitino, No. 6 Adolph Rupp, No. 4 John Calipari, and of course, Bob Knight at No. 1.

A (Brodess) sampling.

PITINO teams have always played with an in-your-face brashness, applying huge amounts of pressure on both ends of the court.

Legions of people in Lexington still love him since his successful stretch (1989-97) coaching the Wildcats. Just as many in the Big Blue Nation could forgive him for leaving, but nearly lost their minds when he took the job at Louisville.

RUPP reputation of being a tough and demanding. His practices reminded many of “a military boot camp.” Outspoken, he once said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game – that’s what they say. Well, that’s a lot of hogwash. Why the hell do they keep score if that’s true?” (Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Sept. 19, 1972).

UK star Bill Spivey once said Rupp “wanted everybody to hate him, and he succeeded.”

Even today, Rupp is simultaneously legendary (among the long-term Wildcat devotees) and loathed (among those who despise anything related to the Big Blue Nation).

COMMENT. This could be first time in half-century a writer penned a piece about Uncle Adolph without including Jim Crowe. Commendable. However, the quote attributed to Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 1972 was not accurate then and so is wrong now. Ironically, so is Rupp’s legacy.

Like him or not, more than any coach this side of Hank Iba, Rupp brought exciting (fast break) style to basketball that made it television-worthy and opened doors for ball coaches to become millionaires. And, he forced a football-run and reluctant SEC to embrace basketball. A sport that would help make it rich.

CALIPARI has carved out a reputation as one of the best recruiters of all time. In four years at Kentucky, he has reeled in one elite-level recruiting class after another. The Wildcats, on his watch, have won 123 games in four years. They love him in Lexington!

And this: S.L. Price (Sports Illustrated) points out that “the NCAA hasn’t held him accountable for any major violation. Dark rumors about his recruiting methods have never stuck.”

KNIGHT one of the best tactical coaches in the history of the game. Great in preparing his teams, He was also a mastermind in terms of in-game adjustments.

… Never a question that Knight ran a clean program, that his players graduated or that the Hoosiers won games. All the “other issues” made Knight so controversial and polarizing.”

“However, his on-court theatrics and tantrums turned many people off. His post-game press conference antics were condescending and distasteful. His infamous “Chair Throw” was only the most visible example of Knight absolutely losing it.”

Others in Brodess’s TOP 10 most polarizing: No. 2 Mike Krzyzewski, No. 3 Christian Laettner, No. 5 Michigan’s Fab Five, No. 8 Tyler Hansbrough, No. 9 Patrick Ewing, and No. 10 Dick Vitale and Cameron Crazies.

COMMENT: Hansbrough and Ewing? Me thinks Brodess ran out of steam.

Far more polarizing than Vitale was Billy Packer, because he was articulate, analytically enlightened and down-the-middle.

And, how could any polarizing list on basketball be legitimate without Pat Summitt and/or Luigi ‘Geno’ Auriemma?

Who would be on your list of most polarizing personalities in sports?


Having added a new spin on an old word to football parlance in Kentucky, Mark Stoops Yahtzee! battle cry might get the ball coach a pay raise by February 7, 2014.

For the uninformed, that’s the day after high school football players sign their names to scholarship forms.

Kentucky’s newest coach rang the bell again last week, getting a ‘yes’ from a kid nicknamed (what else?) BOOM! Stanley Williams is a gifted if smallish (5-8, 186) running back in Bethlehem, Georgia.

More important: Friday is first day of summer and Stoops and staff have kept football media abuzz with caliber of commits they’re getting. Fan optimism soars, season tickets are cha-ching, and those phantom football experts are putting Big Blue in same sentence with recruiting kingpins Alabama, Ohio State and the rest.

By the way, a traditional definition for board game Yahtzee? Skills required: Luck, probability, strategy.



For University of Kentucky fans and alums, the good news is the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate report last week was High 5-worthy. All 22 UK sports teams surpassed the NCAA APR minimum (930). Men’s basketball 963, women’s 976.

The APR report is the result of a four-year composite, 2008-09 to 2011-12 academic years, measuring academic eligibility and retention of student-athletes.

The better news long range is, since this is college athletics, the NCAA’s APR scores tell us how well athletics administrators are monitoring and motivating athletes and coaches to be academically responsible.

Puzzling however, this: How a reasonably healthy men’s basketball 963 score square with retention at Kentucky? In the last four years a dozen underclassmen left UK – nine freshmen, two sophomores and a junior.


A casualty to the NCAA’s APR Report: Florida International. Men’s basketball is officially not eligible for postseason play next season. With much fanfare did Richard Pitino job jump from FIU two months ago to become head coach at Minnesota.

Pitino had succeeded Isaiah Thomas who was fired after coaching the FIU program down the drain on and off the court. All of which put an ironic spin on a quote from Thomas recently. “If all I’m remembered for is playing basketball, then, I didn’t accomplish much.”

In fact, Thomas is remembered for another quote: “Only reason Larry Bird is in the Hall of Fame is because he’s a white guy.”

And so it goes.