Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted July 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Let us celebrate with moderation, Nerlens Noel’s good fortune this celebratory week (July 4).

A multi-millionaire, ($2,640,600, according to NBA Rookie pay scale), the newest Philadelphia 76er is probably house shopping for Mom, gated community of course. And, assuming he has a driver’s license, a shiny new car to go with tailored and monogrammed wardrobe, while his agent negotiates a product endorsement or two.

Noel has arrived. Life is good, right?

Well, maybe.

Drafted sixth, not first, then traded, Noel told reporters he felt overlooked and declared. “I’m going to make them pay.”

Truth is, Noel the teenager, ought be spouting modesty since he is 30-plus pounds light and three years short on experience to talk payback anything.

Noel must prove he’s up to an 85-game grind for a franchise in rebuild mode, the travel, and flurry of temptations.

Unmoved by sentiment and draft expert projections, five NBA general managers demonstrated that Noel leaving Kentucky after two semesters was a mistake. Too skinny and with a surgically repaired and untested knee, the kid who took bad advice.

Most talking-head prognosticators, ESPN to CBS to, said Noel would be first pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Oops. All have gone quiet.

Anthony Bennett was top pick followed by Indiana’s Victor Olapido. Then, if you were a Noel handler/advisor, including Kentucky’s coach, came the big embarrassment … three big men were drafted ahead of UK’s one-and-doner – 6-9 Otto Porter of Georgetown, 7-0 Cody Zeller from IU, and 7-1 Alex Len from Maryland.

Noel was chosen by New Orleans and traded to Philadelphia.


So, the kid who should be doing re-hab drills and shoot-arounds at UK’s Craft Center as a sophomore-to-be at University of Kentucky this winter, is a teenage millionaire.

His college coach has already changed the subject. John Calipari won’t be tweeting: Picked sixth instead of first cost Noel 1,793 million dollars for first NBA season alone.

Anthony Bennett’s first NBA contract calculated out three years, will make him more almost $14 million; Noel projects to make $8.27 million. Difference: $5.62 million.


Bottom lines?

√ Leaving Kentucky too soon costs Noel millions.

√ This is the true face of dollar-driven one-and-done.


One must be pleased for up-and-down Archie Goodwin. Chosen 29th by Phoenix Suns, one-and-done Goodwin could qualify as poster boy: “I wanna ball, man, show my game, not go to no college!”

He made the first round cut and is guaranteed $887,000 for first season.

What next? Goodwin, who seemed to want to fight every defender who muscled him in college, had better grow up fast or find himself in the D-League.


Basketball fans in Kentucky love shooters. It’s in our genes. An efficient lay-up to conclude a fast break could be a logo for Rupp Era Big Blue, but the “gimme that old time religion to make ‘em holler,” calls for a pull-up jump shot and swish at the end.

So, Kyle Wiltjer, Kentuckians will miss thee mightily. Big Blue Nation thanks you for the moments.

Wiltjer may change his mind, not transfer, but playing time for two seasons elsewhere seems a sound one.

The junior-to-be never got the public vote of confidence he earned. To wit: “Kyle’s experience makes him our starter at power forward until somebody beats him out.”

It never came. With a reloaded roster, Wiltjer was instead, expendable. Business is business.


Seemingly more aware of academic achievement these days, University of Kentucky’s athletics department issued good news recently.

The Learfield Sports Directors Cup, a measure of academic success in college athletic departments, reports University of Kentucky was 25th in final standings for the 2012-13 year. First top 25 finish in UK history.

Notably, neither men’s basketball or football contributed toward UK’s record Directors’ Cup results.

The Learfield finish, “continues a pattern of consistent improvement in the Directors’ Cup during the Mitch Barnhart era,” the release said. “With the steady upward trend, Barnhart’s goal is advancing UK into the top 15 by 2015.

“Clearly, the sports that gather the most attention, rightly or wrongly, are ones we’ve got to get better in,” AD MitchBarnhart said. “Fans look at three or four sports, first and foremost, and it’s interesting that while we might not have had the success that we’ve wanted or been used to, excitement for those sports is at an all-time high.”

Right again.


Q. Who’s the best Kentucky (basketball) Wildcat you ever saw?

A. Anthony Davis. From Hall of Famers Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan in early 1950s, to youngest All-American ever at Kentucky, Davis was nearest to Best of the Best, Larry Bird (at Indiana State).

Q. Lots of praise and expectation for Kentucky and Louisville are going to be next season. Are they really that far above others?

A. No. Both started last season ranked in top three. We know how that turned out.

Q. Coaches, active top 10. Your best of the best?

A. Easy. 1. Mike Krzyzewski, 2. Rick Pitino, 3. Bill Self, 4. Geno Auriemma (UConn), 5. Brad Stevens (Butler), 6. Mark Few (Gonzaga), 7. Kevin Stallings (Vandy), 8. Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), 9. Tom Crean (Indiana). 10. Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth)

One to watch: Ray Harper, Western Kentucky.


In this space last month a quote from Isaiah Thomas about Larry Bird was, well, a misquote. The correct one: Detroit Piston guard Isaiah Thomas told reporters in 1987 that if Bird were black he ‘’would be just another good guy’’ instead of being portrayed as the league’s best player.”

And so it goes.