We’re still a couple of months from the start of the season, but there is always something going on with the Kentucky basketball program. Whether it’s meaningless exhibitions, trying to figure out how to replace one group of freshmen with another group of freshmen, or Coach John Calipari walking away from his job in order to be the coach of a national team of a country he’s not even from, something is always going on. To stay apprised and educated, you’d be well-advised to follow me on Twitter @NotJerryTipton. Here’s the weekly notebook:
*Too Low For Zero: Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has appointed a task force to study the future of Rupp Arena. Specifically, a determination is being made as to whether it would be more prudent to build a new arena, or simply to modify the storied facility that has been the home to Kentucky basketball for over 30 years. The first question many people had when this was announced a few months ago was “why is Kentucky trying to copy off of Louisville?” As soon as UofL opened the doors to its state-of-the-art Yum! Center, UK apparently decided it had to follow suit, even though Rupp Arena is as structurally sound as any building in Lexington according to a construction worker I spoke with. And this isn’t the only instance of the Cats trying to keep up with the Cards. Consider: In 2001, Louisville hired Rick Pitino, a flashy Italian-American from the Northeast who used to coach in the NBA, and who has ties to UMass. Eight years later, Kentucky does the exact same thing. And if that bit of mimicry weren’t enough, earlier this year, UK coach John Calipari decided to hire Denny Crum to coach a basketball team. Guess who was the last school to make that same move? Yep. The University of Louisville. It’s almost enough to make one wonder who’s the “Big Brother,” and who’s the “Little Brother.”
*Don’t Go Breaking My Heart: On Monday, it was announced that two walk-ons would be joining the UK basketball team: Brian Long and Sam Malone, who are from New Jersey and Massachusetts, respectively, will join the roster for the 2011-12 season. Not so coincidentally, both Long and Malone had prior relationships with John Calipari: Long’s brother played for Cal at Memphis, and Malone’s father and Calipari are buddies. Many Kentucky fans were incensed that the UK coach decided to take part in this sort of cronyism. Why, they asked, would Coach Cal decide to let a pair of out-of-state kids wear the UK uniform without giving a native Kentuckian that same chance? The father of one such homegrown kid simply doesn’t get it: “My boy could play for the Cats, ain’t no question. He can fill it up, and ‘at Calipari didn’t never even ask him if he wanted to play,” says Billy Dan Woodhurst, whose son Bobby Don averaged 4 points per game for the JV squad at Bourbon County last year. “Don’t make no sense.” When asked whether he feels that Calipari opted to bring in the two out-of-staters simply because he despises the Commonwealth of Kentucky and all it stands for, Woodhurst said no, but his tone suggested otherwise.
*Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me: Over the last couple of weeks, the biggest story in the world of sports was that involving the scandal at the University of Miami. In a widespread bombshell that pertained to both the football program and the basketball program, it was revealed that not only were student-athletes at the school being paid sums of money, they were also being provided with prostitutes, drugs, and all other sorts of improper (and frequently illegal) benefits. When the story first broke, it undoubtedly resulted in widespread consternation across the Bluegrass, as — fans will remember — former UK standout John Wall was heavily recruited by Miami, and even paid a visit to the Coral Gables campus. Clearly, this suggests that he was actively seeking improper benefits, and may very well have been enticed to Kentucky by illicit means. Several phone calls to the NCAA have yet to result in a formal investigation of UK, but that doesn’t mean one won’t eventually be commenced. Also, it should be noted that the Yahoo! article that spawned this controversy does not specifically state that UK is innocent of any wrongdoing. Until this happens, the cloud of scandal will linger in Lexington. Could UK’s 35 wins and Elite 8 trip from the 2010 season be (here’s that word again) vacated? Time will tell. The question is, will Nevin Shapiro?
* On this date: On this date in 1999, Louisville easily defeated Kentucky in football by the score of 56-28. (They’ve also beaten UK a bunch of times in basketball.)