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:
* Jealous Again? – On January 27 in Bloomington, Indiana beat Illinois in a 52-49 thriller, in what was IU coach Tom Crean’s first win over a ranked opponent in his three year tenure at Indiana. What the game lacked in execution, style, aesthetic appeal and overall basketball talent, it made up for in excitement, and as the final horn sounded, Hoosier fans stormed the court as if they’d just won the national title on a half-court buzzer beater. Some Kentucky fans scoffed at this, and argued that supporters of historically elite programs such as Indiana (Cat fans also consider UK to fall into this category) have no business rushing the court after a win, particularly when said win is a relatively meaningless conference game in January over a nondescript and injury-depleted team that’s only ranked 21st in the country. However, this may just be a case of sour grapes on the part of UK fans, as Crean and the Hoosiers achieved something that night that John Calipari and the Wildcats have failed to achieve in the two years Cal has been in charge in Lexington: They upset a team at home. It seems hard to believe, but over the course of his 59 game career at UK — 28 of which were home games — Calipari has yet to upset a team at Rupp Arena. This has to be difficult for UK fans to accept, especially when one considers that Cal’s predecessors Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie were able to pull off upsets at Rupp Arena during their time at UK. Of course, when one realizes this to be the case, the motivation for the criticism of Indiana fans becomes apparent. Is the Big Blue Nation turning green?
* Crazy On You – NCAA President Mark Emmert was recently inundated with threats from Kentucky fans after the NCAA ruled Enes Kanter permanently ineligible. It seems UK fans had a problem with the alleged hypocrisy between Emmert’s statement that “everybody knew Kanter would have eligibility problems” and his position as the president of the University of Washington, which recruited and got a commitment from Kanter, before Kentucky coach John Calipari somehow got Kanter to “change his mind” and commit to UK. In fact, Kentucky fans were so menacing and threatening that the NCAA was compelled to block posts by outsiders on Emmert’s Facebook page. According to Emmert, one Big Blue Fan even said to him “You’d better check your car.” Though this obviously furthered the usual stereotype of UK fans as “toothless hillbillies,” one has to wonder how this qualifies as actual news. In fact, it only took a few minutes of dialing random numbers out of the Louisville phone book to find someone who expected this. Louisville resident and Trinity High alum Trevor Roberts said he couldn’t have been less surprised. When asked what his reaction to the controversy was, Mr. Roberts replied “Yo, you gots to expect that from those dumb rednecks. They straight crazy. Calipari a cheater, and all they fans is cheaters too!” I attempted to ask Mr. Roberts a follow-up question, but he simply screamed “T-RIZZLE IN THE HIZZLE!!!” and hung up.
* Before He Cheats – It was recently reported here that Coach Larry Brown’s attendance at UK practices last week and his interaction with players could possibly raise questions about a violation of NCAA rules. Per these rules, a consultant (which is Brown was presumed to be) is not allowed to interact with athletes. UK center Josh Harrellson was overheard saying that Brown had “talked” to the team in practice. Though Harrelson did not specify, one can reasonably assume that Brown was leading drills, drawing up plays, etc. When reached for comment, an NCAA spokesperson said “stop calling here, you weirdo,” the implication obviously being that the NCAA office was getting tired of fielding calls concerning violations committed by the UK basketball program. We attempted to contact Kentucky’s compliance officer, Sandy Bell, but she is apparently weary of running interference for the UK basketball program, as she has blocked all calls emanating from the Herald-Leader offices.
* Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems – Before Kentucky’s recent home game against Georgia, a piece of paper was placed inside each player’s locker. It was titled “The Law of the Price Tag,” and according to Coach John Calipari, it contained 10 principles and guidelines which he wants to impress upon his players. The sheet of paper contained several references to “paying” and “the price.” Given Kentucky’s long history of NCAA violations, many of which arose out of illegal payments made to UK players, the publication of this document undoubtedly resulted in a great deal of consternation among Cat fans. Were these “guidelines” simply veiled references to some sort of illicit payment scheme of which the players are a part? And was this document intended to be distributed to boosters, and only ended up in players’ lockers as the result of some sort of administrative error? One of the tenets outlined was “THERE ARE NO VICTORIES AT BARGAIN PRICES.” Does this suggest that the only way Kentucky will win is if it pays players substantial sums of money? Another read “SELDOM DO YOU GET MORE THAN WHAT YOU PAY FOR” Again, was this intended to be a directive to deep-pocketed boosters to shell out large sums of money so that the nation’s top players will continue to come to Lexington? Likewise, it does not appear that the recent economic downturn will alleviate the responsibilities of these boosters, as evidenced by the ominous and threatening words “THE PRICE NEVER DECREASES.” We may never know to whom this document was actually intended to distributed, but as long as blue-chippers keep flocking to UK, questions will remain.
* Policy of Truth – Pat Forde, my pal and contemporary, ruffled the feathers of Kentucky fans everywhere in a recent article. The topic was recruiting, and his argument was that blue-blood programs such as UK have “boom and bust” recruiting cycles that include certain highs and lows not experienced by less-flashy, more stable programs such as Pitt and Wisconsin. The offending portion of his article read as follows: “Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie and John Calipari coached seven future first-round draft picks in the last 10 years at UK. Yet the Wildcats have had one more NIT appearance (in ’09) than Final Four appearance in that time.” UK fans apparently considered this stat misleading, as 5 of the 7 first-rounders all came from the NBA Draft class of 2010, Calipari’s only one at Kentucky. Meanwhile, the NIT season was experienced under Billy Gillispie, who was summarily fired partially as a result of same. Pat’s detractors claim that lumping all 10 years of UK recruiting into one group, notwithstanding the vast differences among the three coaches, was unfair and grossly misleading, if not downright dishonest. In defense of Pat, though, what he wrote was true. In fact, I’d like to take this space to further Pat’s point that, despite employing the highest-paid and flashiest coach in college basketball, Kentucky’s recent history isn’t nearly as impressive as its fans would like to claim. Despite racking up 3 consecutive #1 recruiting classes to go along with those 7 first rounders…
> In the past 5 years, Kentucky has only advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament once.
> In the past 5 years, Kentucky has only won more than 22 games once.
> In the past 6 years, Kentucky has only won the SEC Tournament once.
> In the past 5 years, Kentucky has only been higher than an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament once.
> In the past 5 years, Kentucky has lost at least 12 games every season but one.
So love him or hate him, Pat is spot-on. Perhaps if Calipari would place a greater emphasis on recruiting 4-year players instead of NBA lottery picks, Kentucky will experience more success in the next 5 years than they’ve experienced in the past 5 years. We’ll see.
* Happy Birthday – Finally, happy birthday to Emmet O’Neal, who helped lead Central University to a thrilling 15-13 win over Kentucky on March 9, 1907. He would have turned 124 this week, had he not died in in 1949.