Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted July 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Planet College Hoops had a hiccup last week, then shifted back to business as usual.

Hiccup? We would have been less shocked if Vladimir Putin had handed Edward Snowden over to Jesse Jackson than seeing Danny Ainge introduce Brad Stevens as the Boston Celtics’ new coach.

Say it ain’t so? From middle America, Jimmy Stewart goes to Beantown?

NCAA basketball had lost its best cover guy since Denny Crum was Cool Hand Luke in the 80s.

Butler University and we were stunned. Two years into a 12-year contract, Stevens traded a fledging program on its way to the Big East Conference, and four new recruits were locked in, for what? To be Rajon Rondo’s assistant.

Translation: “I can put up with anything for $22 million for six years.”


So, another ball coach jumped a contract, duped student-athletes, season ticket holders and those who embraced the idea “they can’t touch our ball coach with a 10-foot pole.”

In a rear view mirror, a 12-year pact, Butler and Stevens, for about $900,000 a year, was laughable. Average attention $pan of most college coaches today is barely a fraction of that so why would we expect Stevens to be different?

On the subject of ‘whys’: Why hasn’t the Walter Alston Way become fashionable again? Man they called Smokey, managed the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers for 23 years on a one-year-at-a-time contract. Today, ball coaches have agents who tell school presidents “my client must have long range security.”

Security … at 2-3 million dollars a pop?

For $10 million-plus over 12 years on Planet Hoops, Butler’s coach was not secure?


Butler’s new coach Brandon Miller hastened to say the right stuff. “‘I look at the university and the basketball program and the first thing I think about is the Butler Way. This university is a value-based place and that will not change.”

It will change of course. Miller will too. And Brad Stevens.

Danny Ainge and others can spin, but history says, soon enough after a Beantown media honeymoon, with a few seven-figure checks deposited, and when he learns first hand, dealing with a homesick kid back in Indy who needs advice how to clean up his dorm room properly is more fun than, “so, Rajon, whatta ya wanna do?”

At 37, Stevens will be back …

√ As surely as Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino, Leonard Hamilton, John Calipari and others didn’t last.

√ When he has time to reflect on the list of famed (and rich) men who resisted descending to the NBA.

He will return to Planet Hoops more savvy and seasoned at 40-something and be as Jimmy Stewart charming as ever, and still be in high demand.

Meanwhile, I hope …

√ He fares better than the last young hot shot who tried to put his stamp on the Celtics – 1996-2001 Rick Pitino’s teams won 102, lost 146.

√ He, the wife and two children find home, automobiles and Stuff enough on which to spend $3.66 million a year for six.

√ With six years on the coach’s contract and two years on Rondo’s, maybe the ex-UK-Me-First player will get his comeuppance after doing mostly as he pleased under Tubby Smith then Doc Rivers.

Hunch here: Rondo will be playing elsewhere before end of the coming season.

Planet Orbit Shift

The college game without Brad Stevens means an orbit shift. The game we love will draw nearer still to the business model track. Level where presidents approve tuitions hikes, and directors of athletics up the ante on gold standard setting. Down the hallway carpetbagger coach bags 18-year-olds leaving high school with ‘it’s-a-business-baybee’ attitude and personal agenda, i.e.. “gonna get me some love at college, man. Then, come June, coach is gonna get me to my lottery spot payday!”

Feel the orbit shift? Of course not. Didn’t see the hiccup coming either did we?


Kobe Bryant was asked recently for his list of five greatest players in NBA history.

“It’s not very difficult for me,” he told ESPN. “I’d go Magic (Johnson), (Michael) Jordan, (Larry) Bird, (Bill) Russell and (Kareem-Abdul) Jabbar.

“I will say as the years go on people really forget how great Larry Bird was. He was ridiculous. And I grew up in LA — just like everyone else here — hating his guts. Dude, the guy was just money.”

And so it goes.