This past weekend saw the passing of one of the true female pioneers in American life, and one that was born in Kentucky, Helen Thomas. Thomas was born in Winchester in 1920 and after leaving Kentucky with her Lebanese family soon thereafter, she grew up in Detroit, studying to become a journalist. In a field dominated by men, Thomas quickly rose as the leading “female voice” in Washington, writing for UPI (that once meant something in the pre-internet days) as their most important “woman’s issues correspondent.” But Thomas quickly grew tired of that role and beginning in 1961, she started on the White House beat, covering John F Kennedy. Over the next 48 years, she covered every United States President from Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton to Bush to Obama. She sat in the same seat for virtually all of those years, on the front row ready to pounce, a White House Jerry Tipton asking the first question. She was considered by many to be mean and gruff, but she also fought for respect for women in a profession where it is not given easily. Over the years she was part of many controversies, often for making offensive comments, especially in her latter years. But at her peak, she was one of the press’s biggest checks on the United States President, giving Republican and Democrat Commanders in Chief tough scrutiny of whatever actions they were undertaking. In a world where nearly all news is partisan and most “questioning” is simply political ideology masked as journalism, Thomas stands out as a different breed. She seemed to hate everyone equally, and that made her effective. She passed away Friday at the age of 93, a journalistic trailblazer, whose snarl helped an entire generation of women that followed her have the chance to share the same space as their male colleagues.
This weekend has some (but not a ton) of news, so with that we will break this into four parts…the four news stories worth talking about, followed by 4 recommendations of non-sports entertainment you might like and 4 pictures that could make you smile. Let’s get going:
1. 2014 Basketball Recruiting Goes Deeper: The John Calipari era has been characterized by one constant over the past five years…the ability to lock up the best recruiting class in America and turn “basketball recruiting” into a no-worry follow for UK fans. As our caller Scott in Shelbyville always says, the phrase “trust in Cal” has proved 100% correct and it has caused most recruiting “news” in basketball to be relatively thin. But this year we are seeing something different. Kentucky is offering more players in the 2014 class than at any point during the Calipari era. At this point, by my count, Calipari has offered Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn, Cliff Alexander, Stanley Johnson, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Josh Perkins, Emmanuel Mudiay, Myles Turner, Angel Delgado, Kelly Oubre and Justise Winslow…in addition to the commitment of Karl Towns. That counts for 14 outstanding offers, which is the most of any class since Calipari has been in Lexington. The reason for this is simple…the top players are considering more schools, and a greater variety of schools, than any group in recent years. Part of this is because of Duke, Michigan St and Arizona’s decision to follow Calipari’s lead and go full out for the “one and done” kids. This is causing tremendous competition for the elite guys. But also it is due in part to the oddities of this class…players see themselves as package deals (Okafor/Jones and Mudiay/Turner), meaning the risk/reward for the top guys is higher. Kentucky is still going to end up with a great class, but the news this weekend that Calipari has offered Justise Winslow suggests that he is reaching to a different type of player, in part to try and grab an elite class with top flight talent (some say Winslow may play with Okafor and Jones). The smart money still says UK gets one of the top two classes in college basketball (Towns, Mudiay, Turner, Lyles, Johnson and Vaughn seem like the strongest potential commitments now, but honestly any of the above 14 besides Okafor/Jones would not be a surprise). However everyone is having to put in a bit more work and cast their net slightly wider to make it happen this time.
— This is the best time for television in the history of the genre. If you can’t find a good show to watch from the past decade (“The Wire”, “Sopranos”, “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men”, “Game of Thrones”, etc), then that is on you, not the makers of television. But the last couple of years have seen only so-so new shows, making me wonder if the golden age is winding down (“The Newsroom” makes me cringe…and not only because people say I remind them of the Jeff Daniels character). However the first two episodes of the FX series “The Bridge” shows a lot of promise. The show is centered on the El Paso/Juarez USA/Mexico border and involves a crime that brings the two countries together. If you can get past one serious deficiency (I am not sure they could have made the female lead character less likable if they tried…and it makes the show hard to watch), the storyline and the themes are very well done. I am not sure if it will stay good…”Homeland” is an example of a second season gone awry. But as of now, it is worth catching up and following Season 1 as we head towards the third episode.
This picture of Yao Ming and a 4’11” woman from Deadspin makes me very happy.
2. UK Football Recruiting Continues to Amaze: I will be the first to acknowledge that I was the biggest naysayer of all when it came to UK football recruiting. I accepted what was thought to be the commonsense notion of recruiting to Lexington, assuming that it simply couldn’t be done at an elite level. Mark Stoops is proving me wrong daily. The latest example was the somewhat surprise commitment of 4 star Defensive Tackle Cory Johnson, who picked UK over a host of top rated schools. The Juco DT was coveted by Miami, Tennessee and Nebraska (who really must hate us now) among others, and Stoops, Marrow and company convinced him to be part of a UK recruiting class that is starting to sniff a top ten ranking. With other commitment possibilities looming over the next week, it is starting to become a likelihood that UK will be all but done with recruiting by the season’s open, leaving only a handful of spots for the late fall and spring. The pictures that came out of the Friday Night Lights Camp this past weekend showcase in part how this is happening, as Stoops was surrounded by players smiling and encouraging the creation of a bond extending throughout the class. Drew Barker, Thaddeus Snodgrass, Boom Williams and others are making a culture where UK football is cool and it is shocking the world, as seen by the comments of other SEC coaches at SEC Media Days. A few big targets remain (such as Matt Elam pictured below), but Kentucky is certain to (a) have the best recruiting class in its history (b) substantial buzz going into 2015 recruiting and (c) a group ready to make history as the “class that turned it around.” It is amazing what Stoops has accomplished already, without even playing a game.
— After hearing about it for weeks, I finally checked out Jerry Seinfeld’s new web show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” this weekend and I am a huge fan. I already went through the David Letterman, Chris Rock, Larry David and Don Rickles episodes and each of them I found fascinating and funny. The series is what the title says…Seinfeld drives around with comedians, talking and getting coffee. Each is about 20 minutes and each will make you laugh and get to know guys/women you probably already like. Check it out when you have some time to kill. I am doing Sarah Silverman tonight after we finish this post up.
Matt Elam is entertaining to me. He will be a fan favorite if he picks UK over Alabama…and he is also huge. This picture by a fan makes me feel sorry for all those that play John Hardin this year.
3. Change is Coming to Commonwealth Stadium: This weekend was yet another example that there are some serious changes coming to the UK football experience. If you missed it earlier, Matt Elam tweeted out a picture of the new grey uniforms (which I thought looked very cool), and set the UK social media world buzzing with comments. Most people seemed to be in favor of them, but there were the dissenters (usually with the predictable…”our colors are BLUE AND WHITE” refrain). On Sunday night, it came out that Mark Stoops was instituting a “wear suits to the game” policy for home and road games this year. This mindset, “we are going to work”, is par for the course for this group and will certainly make the Cat Walk a more fashionable affair. None of this is surprising if you know Stoops, but it is part of an overall change that fans need to get ready for. Commonwealth Stadium and the gameday experience will not be what you are used to in the past. I expect much more modern (aka rap and hip hop) music and a different mindset in the stadium that gears the experiences towards recruits and making this a “cool” team. You will see it in the uniforms, the helmets and the attitude and it may lead to some sacred cows being sacrificed. I have advocated this mindset for some time, but we have been stuck in an “old school” football mentality. That has ended…gameday as a party is beginning and people should be ready for what is ahead.
— I have given you a tv show and web series, so now how about some reading. I just finished Dave Eggers’s “A Hologram for the King” and it is one of the best novels I have read in the past two years. Eggers, who you may remember from “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” focuses his story on a middle-aged American businessman sent to Saudi Arabia to try and sell an American product to the King. What follows is a reflection on the difficulty of American labor in the modern world and how individuals in the working class deal with a global economy that increasingly leaves them out of the bargain. It is a great story, exquisitely executed, while also having light enough moments to remain entertaining. Check it out if you so please.
Geraldo Rivera turned 70 this weekend and posted this selfie of himself to showcase what good shape he is in. We can all admit he is in good shape…but we can also admit that it will be hard to get this awful image out of our brain…you might need the “Night Court” theme.
4. Another Example of NCAA Shams with Players: The story of Florida women’s basketball player Sydney Moss would obviously be of interest to us for obvious reasons. Moss was the Miss Basketball for Kentucky in 2011, is Randy Moss’s kid and is interested in transferring to Kentucky. Florida coach Amanda Butler however is limiting the schools she can attend, specifically focusing on Kentucky, one of the four schools for which Moss asked to be able to get a transfer. Butler is limiting Moss from attending Kentucky (likely because they are in the same conference) and now Moss is probably going to go instead to Division III Thomas More because she doesn’t want to sit out the year to go to a school outside of the state. The issue obviously is important to us because of the Kentucky connection, but the problem extends beyond that. It is yet another example of how schools retain way too much control over kids, their lives and their academic/athletic futures. Why shouldn’t Moss be able to go to Kentucky? If a SEC school wanted Coach Amanda Butler, nothing would stop her from taking the job. So why is it fair for a player not to have the same freedom? There are internal problems at Florida that are contributing to Moss’s decision to transfer (some believe the coach is on the rocks). If the coach is gone, Moss will have no choice in her coach, and she should have the right to go play where she pleases. To set a restriction is, in my view, unfair and another example of the “ownership” mentality of players that I hate in college sports. When Kyle Witljer left Kentucky, Calipari put out no restrictions. When Marvin Stone wanted to leave to go play for LOUISVILLE, Tubby Smith let him do it. Both of those coaches won titles. Butler shouldn’t be so petty as to let her relative lack of success cause her to infringe on a player’s right to have a happy collegiate experience.
— I am a sucker for old magazine articles…I bought a series of books on Kindle of the best articles from Esquire magazine. One of my favorites is this profile of Mr Rogers from the 1980s. The author follows Mr Rogers around and showcases how he wasn’t just a television persona, but also a genuine person showcasing the best of human emotions in his life. If you don’t read it and strive to be a better person yourself, then there isn’t much I can do for you.
Dick Vitale was in Colorado this weekend and saw John Mayer perform. Here is a picture of the two of them…I find it hilarious.
The KSR TOUR is in its final week beginning Monday morning in Glasgow. We will be at the Glasgow Country Club ready to talk about all the news of the week and give away some tickets. Check it out and if you can, come see us in Danville, Maysville, Lexington or Louisville for our final stops. We leave for Alaska Saturday, so we have a big week to get ready. See you around the way…