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Basketball Season Coverage
Way back in the summer of 2012 members of the Big Blue Nation were introduced to the young man pictured above. The player was Montrezl Harrell, a top 100 player with loads of potential, who had been released from his letter of intent to Virginia Tech after Seth Greenberg was relieved of his duties. Among the list of the potential landing spots were Louisville and Kentucky but with his high school coach joining Pitino’s staff the choice was pretty clear. Monrezl choose to become a Cardinal in early June and the symptoms of L1C4 began to manifest shortly thereafter.
Montrezl (Freshman Year)
As a freshman on the 2013 national champion Cardinals, Montrezl’s playing time was limited and the spread of the Cardinal virus was held relatively in check. Against the Cats that year Harrell was held to just 7 points in 23 minutes while taking on a freshman Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel. It was a solid start for the power forward and it looked like the Cards could have another well-respected rival in the mold of Gorgui Dieng or Peyton Siva.
Montrezl (Sophomore Year)
However, with Peyton and Gorgui leaving the Cardinal program as graduates rather than being booted off as is Cardinal tradition there was nobody left to mentor young Montrezl and the L1C4 virus truly began to transform the once mild-mannered teen. Gone was the reserved Montrezl Harrell. All that remained was the newly dubbed “Trezz”, a moniker coined by the Greater Louisville Society of DJs. The new Trezz flexed at every opportunity and doubled his points per game. However against Kentucky and Willie Cauley-Stein in Rupp the story stayed the same. 6 points in 21 minutes. In the second meeting with the Cats he finished with 15 but fouled out and had to watch from the sidelines as UK rallied to win. It was assumed he’d end the spread of the L-mutation and leave for the NBA. That didn’t happen and now L1C4 has really taken hold.
Montrezl Circa December 2014
There have been few documented cases of L1C4 as astonishing as the one that has transformed Montrezl into Trezz. A tell-tale line beard has now manifested which illustrates there is no turning back and Harrell suffers from full blown L1C4. The dreads that have long plagued Louisville DE Lorenzo Mauldin also appear to be spreading. The only hope for Montrezl is another domination by Willie to send his record against Kentucky to 1-3.
Had Montrezl picked UK two years ago things would probably have been very different. Primarily Harrell would be in the NBA right now because his coach would have done what was right for the kid and sent him on to change his life. Thus it’s a bit difficult to see the kid who once held such potential fall prey to the illness that consumes so many that set foot on the Louisville campus.
By Nick Roush on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 7:30pm
Exhibit #1: #NeckTatsForWillie
KSR’ers rarely get to witness greatness without being “on the clock.” Seizing the opportunity, the tats meant for pretty girls’ cheeks were instead applied more properly – on the neck. I can’t take credit for this ingenious idea; that all goes to Sammy the BullDozer Reider. It somehow didn’t scare away every woman within a 10 foot radius (more on that later), but I am little upset that most people had too ask “is that real?”
Also: If you’re wondering why I’m wearing a football jersey at a basketball game – they won’t let me wear it inside the CWS Press Box.
Exhibit #2: Pizza on a Bloody Mary
And the good kind of pizza in the morning: pineapple and pepperoni, served cold, of course. I now understand Kristen Geil’s obsession with the Lincoln Park pizzeria Homeslice.
Exhibit #3: Speaking of Lincoln Park…
…It’s probably the most attractive place in a big city there is. Finding an ugly person/thing in DePaul’s adjacent neighborhood is nearly impossible. The homes remind you of the Full House home. The food tastes like stuff you can’t get anywhere else, and it’s all a stone’s throw away. Oh and did I mention all of the beautiful people? It wasn’t just the Dozer and I drooling over pretty girls; the kids were cute enough to be models and the dudes walking dogs looked pleasant as peaches.
You can look, but don’t touch. At a Kansas Bar we stumbled into the first night, the Dozer set a world record for the fastest turn down in the history of The Game. He couldn’t even get a slice of consolation prize pizza.
Exhibit #4: Ride The Pony
The Windy City’s UK bar is nowhere near the United Center, but they made sure it was still the place to be before and after the game. They supplied neck tats, pom poms, shuttles to and from the game, food after the game, and all of the beer your wallet could afford.
Matt often talks about the “SEC Tournament crowd” that you see on display for many road trips. This friendly bunch was here, and going full force well before noon. As we made our way to the back of the bar, a giant table was put in the middle of the “dance floor” (I use the “” because I don’t think it’s normally a dance floor, just when the Cats murder opponents) in front of the biggest TV in the house. Who else would be holding it down than a strong Louisville South End contingency? The Dozer and I felt right at home. We simply couldn’t escape our people.
When we returned after the game, the only thing that had changed was the size of the stacks of empty beer cups on the table.
Exhibit #5: Not Too Shabby Seats
How did we get so close? Jut a few tricks up our sleeves. We learned from the best, PG. But if I told you what the tricks were, they wouldn’t be tricks now would they?
Exhibit 6: We Met Dancing Guy
And that’s all I have to say about that.
Exhibit #7: Cats by (Almost) 90
There was a lot of pictures to re-hash on Sunday, but none made me smile more than this one. The Bruin Beatdown was so bad, I thought I’d capture the moment the finally put points on the board. But if you look closely, I couldn’t snap the picture before the Cats already had a ball going through the net on the other end.
Who’s worried about Louisville again?
Exhibit #8: The Latino Express
The name of our shuttle bus was also a play on an old stereotype: 30 people crammed onto an 18-passenger short bus for the ride home. It was 135 degrees and the music was bad and I couldn’t stand up straight because the ceiling was too low, but hey, it’s for the Cats.
Exhibit #9: Cruisin’ for a Boozin’
When Drew Franklin and Aaron Flener organize an alcohol outing on a boat, you don’t ask questions. We didn’t, and it turned out to be….something.
Ally T and KG unfortunately didn’t share the same ideology as the Dozer and I, but it’s their loss: the
boat yacht had a helicopter. Ok maybe I should go easy with the words “yacht” and “helicopter.” The chopper didn’t even have a propeller on top, but it made the Anita Dee II look less boat-y and more yacht-y.
The people on the boat were of a strange variety. Everyone was fighting for a good spot in the extremely long line for drinks. Everyone also had a Santa hat, making it difficult to distinguish between the women you had already talked to, even though the Dozer still managed to find someone he went to grade school with. The blonde Pre-K teacher was nice. The Memphis native was not. I’d hate it too if my coach left a shit town that hasn’t been cool since Elvis lived there to be “King Calipari of College Basketball.”
The only thing the boat needed was a little more boogie. I brought my my my dancin’ shoes, but most on the cruise were all about the booze. Except Drew. Something in the water turned him into an evil authoritarian, ordering 1,000 words to be typed by 9:00 pm Sunday. This post is only 993 words, EAT IT DREW!
Exhibit #10: It doesn’t get much better than this
Following the phenomenal weekend, Matt has talked about the historical significance of the game, but let’s be honest: EVERY game that Cal coaches at Kentucky is history in the making. What you do and how you spend it will only make it better. Anxiety over undefeated or a three-point streak is useless. What we watched this weekend is something that won’t happen again, and that’s how it is with EVERY SINGLE GAME. I can only hope that you will celebrate each game like we did this weekend, because we’re just getting started, bro.
It’s safe to say, we cocked back that joint and banged on ‘em.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 5:00pm
The team has the next few days off to spend with their families, and Calipari spent last night in the Bronx with his daughters watching his son, Brad play. In his latest Mailbag episode, Cal tells the BBN some of his family’s Christmas traditions, many of which sound very familiar, at least to me. His family always gets a real tree (because they are the best), hangs the same, personalized ornaments, and opens one gift on Christmas Eve, which is always chosen by Erin Calipari, because “she’s so bossy.” Watch it, Cal!
Hilariously, Cal can’t remember the word for tinsel when describing how they decorate the tree. “We also put the…you know, the icicles, you know, the ‘cicles, we all would…you know, you lay them over your tree, that was one of my mother’s things to do. But you can’t find them anymore, so we had to go out and buy them online.”
Get in the holiday spirit by watching Cal’s entire Mailbag over at CoachCal.com.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 4:00pm
FanCams are one of my favorite things ever, especially when done in a setting as big as the United Center. Coke Zero sponsored a FanCam at the UCLA game Saturday, so when the picture went online, I giddily settled in for an afternoon of screenshotting. In addition to COUNTLESS ugly UK sweaters (Tipsy Elves must be killing it…promo code “kentucky”!), there were some great faces out there in the crowd. Here are 21 of my favorite screencaps…
The saddest UCLA fan in the entire world. Or, at least I think she’s a UCLA fan, because her dad is wearing a generic BEACH Buccaneers t-shirt in UCLA colors:
There were plenty of UK celebrities in the house, including Mike Pratt and Tom Leach:
Someone who I think is Mitch Barnhart:
Joe and Jennifer Palumbo:
My favorite Cat of the 90’s, NAZR MOHAMMED!
And of course, World Wide Wes, who is probably reading KRS. More importantly, what is that man’s phone cord hooked into???
There were even some KSR celebrities in the house! Looking good, Kristen, Ally, and Nick.
As you can expect, lots of three goggles:
I enjoyed this triumphant fist:
And the simple #1s up:
Robic’s hair, always glorious:
Hey, cool guy:
A dirty hippie:
Four men having a good time:
The most intimidating thing about UNC this season:
An “8-clap” sign.
I googled “What is 8-clap,” and found this:
That is stupid.
The UCLA bear staring down a fan:
Finally, Greg Anthony chowing down on some popcorn:
After his missteps during the broadcast, that was probably the highlight of Anthony’s night.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 3:30pm
Remember our old pal Daniel Orton? He’s playing basketball in China right now, and yesterday, was involved in a brawl with practically the entire Tianjin team that spilled into the stands. Check out the footage above.
But he’s a good kiiiiiiid, right?
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 3:00pm
UK is the unanimous #1 in the AP poll for the third week in a row, and while they are also #1 in the USA Today/Coaches poll, two coaches still aren’t giving the Cats their first-place votes. Who are they? Let’s look at the list of voters and take our best guess once again…
Tommy Amaker, Harvard
Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Todd Bozeman, Morgan State
Glenn Braica, St. Francis Brooklyn
Rick Byrd, Belmont
Scott Cherry, High Point
Tim Cluess, Iona
Ed Conroy, Tulane
Keith Dambrot, Akron
Scott Drew, Baylor
Matt Driscoll, North Florida
Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Bruiser Flint, Drexel
Mark Fox, Georgia
John Gallagher, Hartford
Ray Harper, Western Kentucky
Dick Hunsaker, Utah Valley
George Ivory, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
Rob Jeter, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Danny Kaspar, Texas State
Mike McConathy, Northwestern State
Greg McDermott, Creighton
Matt Painter, Purdue
Dave Paulsen, Bucknell
Randy Rahe, Weber State
Joe Scott, Denver
Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth
Bob Williams, UC-Santa Barbara
Mike Young, Wofford
I wonder if a win over Louisville will be enough to convince Amaker and Boehiem–I mean, whichever coaches are still voting for Duke and Arizona–that the Cats are the best team in the land.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 2:15pm
Were you at the game Saturday? Find yourself in the CBS Sports Classic Coke Zero FanCam! Apparently there’s some contest that goes along with it, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.
Here’s the link: CBS Sports Classic Coke Zero FanCam
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend my day looking for three goggles, awkward faces, and people taking selfies.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 12:51pm
Another week, another unanimous #1 ranking in the AP poll. Enjoy it in all its glory:
1. Kentucky (65)
11. Wichita State
12. Iowa State
16. Notre Dame
17. St. John’s
18. West Virginia
20. North Carolina
21. Ohio State
24. Colorado State
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 11:15am
Everyone points to recruiting as the key to John Calipari’s success, and for the most part, they’re right, but ESPN’s John Gasaway has another theory this morning. Gasaway writes that the secret to Cal’s success has been assembling multiple rim protectors on one team, creating a wall around the basket:
Calipari has taken the role of “rim protector” and made it plural. Ordinarily, this role is supposed to be filled by one guy who’s susceptible to foul trouble and less than skilled offensively, but UK’s paying no price to speak of for having center-type players logging minutes at the 4 spot. These rim protectors don’t foul often, and they’re also excellent offensive rebounders. This season, the Wildcats have pulled down 46 percent of their missed shots.
The way college basketball is supposed to work, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee should be playing the 5 spot for four different teams. Instead, they’re playing alongside each other. Calipari has flouted convention and built a wall of size around the basket. That wall won’t always be the determining factor — Columbia and North Carolina actually shot somewhat normal percentages on their 2s in back-to-back games against Kentucky. But having multiple rim-protectors on the floor at the same time gives the Wildcats the potential to simply nullify any opponent’s aspirations to compete, let alone win. Just ask UCLA.
Calipari is famous for developing point guards, but after DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Karl Towns, Marcus Lee, etc. etc. etc., his bigs may be his calling card so far at UK.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 10:45am
Congrats to Devin Booker, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week by the league this morning. Booker is coming off of two huge games against North Carolina and UCLA, and against the Bruins, he scored a career-high 19 points, including 5-6 threes. All in 19 minutes. This is the fourth time this season a UK player has won SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Did anyone else notice this motion Booker does after hitting threes?
Here’s another one from the second half:
Finally found a good angle from KyWildcatsTV:
By Bryan the Intern on ©December 22nd, 2014 @ 9:00am
It seems that very often in the UK-UL series (not always), there is a guy on the UK roster that comes through and plays a key role in the game without people expecting it. An unsung hero. Here are just a few examples:
2012: Ryan Harrow
-Yes, Kentucky lost this game, but if there was 1 positive we took away it was the play of Harrow. 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and most importantly, no turnovers. Many people thought Harrow had turned the corner. Of course we know that didn’t happen.
2010: Josh Harrellson
-Maybe the most unsung of heros, Harrellson at that point had a career high of 15 points. He scored 23. Harrellson never made 10 or more field in his career until this game and never did after. UL just had no answers for Jorts that game.
2006: Jodie Meeks
-It what had to be the worst played game in series history, Meeks was the star. Yes, he became a prolific scorer, but at that point in his freshman year, he had only scored in double figures once. Against Louisville, he poured in 18. Very unexpected.
2005: Sherray Thomas
-Huh? Really? Oh yeah, in the 2005 contest, only 2 UK players scored in double figures. Rajon Rondo and…….Sherray Thomas.
1992: Gimel Martinez
-In his other 3 games against UL, Martinez scored 5 points total. In the 1992 contest, he scored 14. Only 2 other times in his career did he score more in a game. UK won by 20 in Freedom Hall by the way.
Those are just a few, but I wonder who you might think this year’s unsung hero might be. How to define who might qualify is a tough task, but I generally think the guy can’t be one of your two best players. That eliminates WCS and Aaron Harrison. Either way, just want to know what you think. Who will be the guy that could surprise us with a big game Saturday? Maybe score a career high.
We knew coming into this season that this Kentucky team was going to be very good. That much was not a mystery. When you return the majority of a team that goes to the National Championship Game, add Four McDonald’s All Americans and give them a summer trip to work out the kinks, it isn’t surprising that the end result is a team that can be special. But while very good was never in doubt, the question of great, or even elite, was still an open one. We all saw the talent, but the legacy of the start of last year still lingered. A pessimist might see the loss of last season’s best player (Randle) and best shooter (Young) and think, “well maybe they will struggle a bit until they hit their stride in March.” After the nation’s mockery of 40-0 pronouncements last year, it seemed foolhardy to suggest that such a thing was possible this time around, no matter how much talent Calipari had stocked up. The cold, snowy night in Dallas and the putback dunk in Fayetteville had us all slightly skeptical and trying our best to temper the excitement. We saw a team in the Bahamas with the potential for greatness, but we all remained a little leery and scared of uttering any phrase that could jinx what was to come. Grand preseason pronouncements were, for once at least, not coming from the Big Blue Nation until Missouri’s state motto could be realized and the evidence was in front of our face.
That evidence is now here. There is no reason to hide it anymore and attempting to play humble is no longer honestly possible. It is time to embrace facts. This team is on the path to being historically great. The game Saturday in Chicago was one of the most thorough, dominating performances of my lifetime. 24-0…41-7…a 40 point win over UCLA and it never felt that close and could have been so much worse. What we are seeing this season is not only something that hasn’t come along very often in UK basketball history…it hasn’t come along very often in college basketball history. In my lifetime, college basketball has certainly never seen a team this deep and has almost certainly never seen a team this elite defensively. As of this moment, Kentucky has the best adjusted defensive efficiency rating since Kenpom has begun keeping the statistic (2001). They have the greatest string of double digit defeats to start a season in UK history. They lead the nation in every meaningful defensive statistic and they are putting on performances against blue blood programs that are almost difficult to comprehend. Think about these facts:
— Kentucky beat UCLA and Kansas, two teams of the highest pedigree in college basketball, on neutral courts by a combined 73 points.
— Kansas and Texas, two teams ranked #5 and #6 that UK handled with relative ease and the favorites in the Big 12, have not lost a game besides their loss to Kentucky.
— Kentucky held UCLA, a program with more championships than any in college basketball history, to the fewest points in a half IN THE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM…and not only that, they cut the record in half from 14 to 7.
— Kansas, Texas and North Carolina are all three currently ranked in the Top 12 in the Kenpom numbers…yet Kentucky beat them by a combined 59 points.
— UK lost a returning Junior starter that at times has been projected as a first round draft pick and proceeded to win its next two games against UNC and UCLA by a combined 55 points.
The performances almost boggle the mind. When the Cats demolished Kansas to open the season, many argued (or hoped) that it said more about Kansas than it did about Kentucky’s greatness. When UK was able to handle Texas and UNC, the thought remained that the Rupp Arena advantage and other less dominant performances (Columbia and Boston) suggested that UK was great, but vulnerable to the right test. However the game in Chicago has removed all doubt from all but the most die-hard of UK haters (talking to you Gottlieb). Mike Wilbon said the UCLA game was the best the most amazing he has seen in 35 years. Seth Davis has called UK going undefeated a “real possibility.” And Dan Dakich has gone on record and predicted that Kentucky will go 40-0. We now know this Kentucky team is certainly great and the only question that remains is if they are on a crash course for historically elite status.
But we in the BBN don’t actually need the national talking heads to tell us their opinions. We have watched elite basketball for decades and we know the best when it is front of our face. And at this point, it is beyond clear that his team is special in ways we simply may never see again. It almost boggles the mind. How can a team have nine (ten with Alex) players that are all destined to play in the NBA, but are all willing to sacrifice minutes and personal glory to allow their fellow players time to shine? How can a team have this much length and athleticism at EVERY position, allowing it to play defense at levels that opposing coach after opposing coach says they have never seen before? How can a team have no obvious weakness, not only playing tough defense, but sharing the ball as well as any group in over a decade? How can a team have all that talent and also be made of a group of genuinely good kids who are as high level off the court as they are on the court? How can all of those factors come together at once, in one season, with a coach at the top of his game, followed by a fan base unmatched in the sport and still find a way to dazzle us and produce multiple performances that leave us shaking our head?
It is time to embrace it. These are the proverbial good old days for Kentucky basketball and this may be a team for the ages. That doesn’t mean perfection is certain. Kentucky could still be shocked next Saturday by Montrezl’s punches and Rick’s hair plugs in the hardest game left on the regular season schedule on the road at Louisville. The Cats might end up in some random game on the road in February on the SEC where a team hits 13 threes and rides the wave shocks the world. Even worse, it is possible that in the NCAA Tournament, UK has the worst run of luck imaginable and trips up against an inferior team in a one game scenario that will seem as arbitrary and unfair as it is heartbreaking. Any of those things may happen. But it doesn’t change the simple fact. This team is already one of the best to ever wear the Kentucky uniform. 1948, 1951, 1978, 1996 and 2012 stand at the mountaintop of UK teams because of the way their titles were won, followed closely by a group that includes 1949, 1958, 1966, 1984, 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2010. It is nearly impossible to forsee a scenario where this 2015 group is not certain to be at least at the top of the second list, and potentially the top of the first one as well. At this point only two moments of this season truly matter…the one where they lose their first game (if it happens) and the NCAA Tournament. Those games are for history, while the rest are simply for entertainment.
I don’t know what the future holds. Due to the randomness of the NCAA Tournament, I don’t know if it is even certain that this team wins #9. But here is what is assured. We are watching a group that we will remember forever and we are seeing things that will never be repeated. It is rare to get to watch greatness…it is rarer still to realize it while it is taking place. Our great fortune this year is we are being treated to both.
Now I know you may be confused about the title of this post. “Why compare the defenses of Virginia and Kentucky? They don’t even play each other!” Well, after UVA (who in my opinion are one of the most underrated teams in the nation) throttled Harvard this afternoon in Kentucky-like fashion 76-27, Jay Williams of ESPN has declared Virginia has the best defense in the nation.
Points Per Game: UK-47.7 | UVA-46.2
Steals: UK-8.2 | UVA-5.9
Blocks: UK 8.7 | UVA-5.3
Field Goal Percentage: UK-30% | UVA-31%
Defensive Efficiency: UK-.703 points per possession | UVA-.800 points per possession
Statistically Kentucky has the edge in three of the four major defensive categories. Jay William’s argument was that Virginia is a better fundamental defensive basketball team, and that Kentucky’s shot-blocking erases the mistakes the defense makes, whereas the Cavaliers don’t make those mistakes in the first place.
For the record, Jay doesn’t think Virginia could beat UK…
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) December 21, 2014
I’d say a Kentucky/Virginia match-up in the NCAA Tournament would clearly be a low scoring, but entertaining game. Who’s up for a 26-24 final score in the championship game?
Whenever my East Coast friends ask how a Jewish bagel-nosher like me could win statewide office in the country ham-slinging Bible Belt, I tell them it’s simple: There’s only one acceptable form of idolatry here, and it’s Kentucky basketball.
(And don’t forget the explosion of anti-Christian madness every March when CBS Sports replays That Damned Laettner Shot every 15 minutes.)
But growing up here in the sports-crazy South, the paucity of Jewish athletic heroes has always been the source of great disappointment. No scene in cinematic history rings truer than this one from the classic Airplane! (written and directed, natch, by three Hollywood Hebrews):
For the YouTube challenged, here’s the transcript:
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Would you like something to read?
PASSENGER: Do you have anything light?
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: How about this leaflet, “Famous Jewish Sports Legends”?
Sure, my grandfather had the Hebrew Hammer, Hank Greenberg, and my dad watched the Yom Kippur-skipping Sandy Koufax; but it turns out that my favorite childhood menorah-lighter, Rod Carew — the Hall of Fame California Angel and Minnesota Twin — was never actually a Member of the Tribe (sorry, Sandler).
And today, the most prominent Jewish sports “heroes” include steroid liar Ryan Braun, allegedly kosher Amar’e Stoudemire, and pretty much every controversial or detestable pro exec — late outlaw Al Davis, Redskins-assassin Daniel Snyder, loudmouth Mark Cuban, Browns-mover Art Modell, and…ugh…Donald Sterling.
Then along came Willie…
A few years ago, when word came from on high (or at least Matt Jones’ sources) that my beloved C-A-T-S had signed a super-talented, huge skinny dude named Willie Cauley-Stein, I felt like Kim Jong Un in a buffet line.
Now, for the uninitiated, I’m not suggesting that Willie Cauley-Stein “looks Jewish.” (Although he did once sport a fascinating Jew Fro). Indeed, I’ve been told for decades that I don’t “look Jewish” — and if I tried to show you surgical evidence of my covenant with God, I’d be arrested as a sex offender.
But the name “Stein” is as about as Jewish as it gets. Two of the Bluegrass’ most prominent dreidel spinners, Lexington Legend Alan and liberal icon Kathy, boast the surname. And even when it appears as a last name’s prefix (Steinberg, Steiner) or suffix (Bernstein, Goldstein), Stein is as much an indication of Semitism as the prefatory O’ is of the Irish.
Then the icing on the bundt cake: It turns out that Big Willie was raised from the third grade by his grandparents, Val and Norma Stein. I had visions of a 6 foot 6 inch, 13-year-old Willie hovering over the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah — and even better — his Jewish relatives struggling to lift him up in a chair during the hora circle dance later that evening.
But…alas…came the horrible news: Willie Cauley-Stein is not a Jew. The Steins of Kansas are among the rare subset of Steins who claim German ancestry, but have no connection to the people of Israel.
My world was devastated. My favorite current Cat — and likely the most charismatic and athletically-talented Kentucky cager in a generation — wasn’t part of our International Zionist Conspiracy. I had flashbacks to the awful moment in the Henry Clay High School cafeteria when I discovered that The Boss was Catholic. (Maybe the fact that “Mary” is the name of the woman in every other Springsteen song should have given it away.) I suddenly began to understand the horror experienced by my Irish friends upon their discovery that Barack O’bama and Hakeem O’Lajuwon weren’t wearin’ of the green.
Sure, we can put together a nice minyan prayer group every Saturday game at Rupp — with noted Chosens ranging from UK President Eli Capilouto, to Board of Trustees past chair Britt Brockman, to Medical Center head Michael Karpf, to Arts and Sciences Dean Mark Kornbluh, to rapper/super fan Drake (No kidding, Drake is Jewish!) But there’s no one on the hardwood to light the Sabbath candles.
So here’s my Chanukah wish. It would be obscene for me to ask anyone to consider modifying their faith for my own personal enjoyment. But if Willie Cauley-Stein can’t be Jewish, I would love for the emerging superstar to embrace his surname and consider becoming a Jew-ish Gentile.
Let me explain…
A decade ago, when I launched my national tour for The Compassionate Community – the book in which I discuss my political career as a devout Jew living in an inner notch of the Bible Belt — I ventured often into the rural hills and hollers of my home state. I’d speak passionately about my Jewish faith, quote the Talmud and the Rabbis; but, inevitably, there would be someone who’d come up to me afterwards to proclaim: “You are such a good Christian!”
If I could be a christian Jew, then consider my college roommate, Ron Granieri, who came to campus with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Hebraic faith, customs and moral code, quite impressive for a Roman Catholic from upstate New York. And because he was a compassionate soul with a wicked sense of humor, our other roommate — a future rabbi — annointed him as a Jew-ish Gentile. And a zeitgeist term was born. (Well, at least I’ve written about it.)
If Willie Cauley-Stein took me up on my offer to become a Jew-ish Gentile, he’d find it extraordinarily advantageous in his coming years of challenge ahead. Consider:
As he tries to bulk up his slender frame for the physical combat of in-the-paint professional hoops, Cauley-Stein would find himself surrounded by dozens of Jewish mothers, each noodging him to finish his dinner plate: “William?!? There are kids starving in Africa!”
As he works his way up the NBA ranks, he’d find common cause with so many of the Jewish folks who run the sport, from Commissioner Adam Silver, to nearly half of the league’s owners, to pretty much every sports agent not named Jay-Z.
And as he struggles through his early seasons in the pros, he’d always be buoyed by a 4000-year, comforting tradition of self-deprecating jokes, meta-awareness of neuroses, and kicking the ass of aggressive adversaries. To quote the bard of all things Jewish — Jerry Seinfeld — Willie Cauley-Stein could be the master of his own domain.
So Willie, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. But if you have an inkling that I’m onto something, please put on your yarmulke, drink your gin and tonic-ah, and have a happy, happy, happy, happy Chanukah.