It’s that time of week again. Time to take an unbiased look at what’s happening with Coach Cal, World Wide Wes, and the overly-hyped freshmen who seem to comprise the UK roster each year. This season, the team hopes to make the NCAA Tournament, obtain a favorable draw, and a relatively simple path to the Final Four. They also hope against hope that unlike the previous Final Fours in which John Calipari has coached, this one will stick. For those who want to stay informed and educated, follow me on Twitter @NotJerryTipton. Here’s the weekly notebook:
* You Talk Too Much: After Kentucky’s recent win over Tennessee (aided by an injury to UT center Brian Williams), UT coach Bruce Pearl criticized Kentucky junior DeAndre Liggins for talking trash to Scotty Hopson during the game. Though he’s taken a lot of heat in the media for his alleged transgressions, you have to admire Pearl for sticking up for his player in that manner. Hopson is the most soft-spoken and humble kid you’d ever want to meet, and even the most ardent Tennessee-hater has to appreciate the blue-collar, no-nonsense approach he takes to the game. Even his haircut reflects the throwback nature of his style of play. No matter where your rooting interests lie, you have to admit — if you’re objective — that trash-talking has no place in the game of basketball, especially when a kid as likeable as Hopson is on the receiving end.
* Smooth Operator: When the ACC announced its postseason honors this year, one thing stood out: No players from league champion North Carolina were named first team all-ACC. Somehow, Roy Williams was able to piece together a roster consisting of 7 McDonald’s All-Americans, and turn them into the underdog, feel-good story of the season. Several early season losses (including a 20 point beatdown at the hands of also-ran Georgia Tech), left some people thinking that Williams lost his mojo, especially on the “heels” of last season’s trainwreck that saw UNC miss the NCAA Tournament, also with a squad featuring more talent on its roster than 99% of the teams in America. But what he’s proven this year is that if you give him a roster full of McDonald’s All-Americans, Parade All-Americans, and a National Player of the Year, he’ll turn them into a ragtag group of scrappy underdogs. Don’t underestimate how difficult this is. Most coaches, when given the kind of talent that Williams has at his disposal, would spend the entire season ranked in the top 5, and would be burdened with the pressure that accompanies such a lofty ranking. That Ole’ Roy has somehow managed to turn this group of high school All-Americans into a team of under-the-radar overachievers, without a single all-league player? Masterful.
* Don’t Believe The Hype: The current issue of Sports Illustrated features a lengthy, detailed article on John Calipari. The article, written by award-winning journalist S.L. Price, portrays Calipari as a complex, misunderstood figure whose reputation as a dishonest and unethical shyster is largely unwarranted. Additionally, the piece paints Louisville coach Rick Pitino as a disingenuous and hypocritical whiner. Predictably, UK fans have praised Price’s work, and have expressed gratitude that some long-held myths regarding Calipari were ostensibly disproved by the piece. However, one must question why such an article had to come from a national writer, as opposed to a local scribe. Consider: Kentucky-based journalists such as Rick Bozich, Billy Reed, John Clay and myself have had unfettered access to the coach for almost two years now. One would think that if Price’s portrayal of and assertions concerning Calipari were accurate, one of the talented writers I just mentioned would have written a piece like his. But this has not happened. In fact, no Kentucky writer has penned anything on Calipari that even remotely resembles Price’s article. As such, one must question its validity. And for those who unfairly ascribe more credibility to national writers than regional writers, there happens to be a well-known ESPN journalist who lives in Louisville, and has yet to produce anything about Calipari that’s even remotely positive. If the article’s portrayal of Calipari is accurate, then why hasn’t Pat Forde written anything similar?
* In Remembrance: There are no birthdays this week, so instead of celebrating the living, we’d like to pay homage to a formerly integral aspect of college basketball that is no longer with us: Bob Knight’s relevance. It died 24 years ago this month.