With all the talk about Kentucky’s desperation in the SEC Tournament this weekend, it is easy to forget another secondary story that will be taking place in Tampa this weekend. The SEC Tournament marks the final set of games ever to be shown by Raycom Sports. Raycom, which used to be Jefferson Pilot, has been a fixture in the SEC for virtually my entire lifetime, producing SEC football and basketball telecasts for the past 26 years. Think about that for a second….chances are that in your life, you have watched hundreds of Raycom telecasts….whether it was the Dave, Dave and Dave show for football, UK-Tennessee on Thanksgiving weekend, Joe Dean letting us know about “String Music in Rupp Arena” or the SEC Tournament with Barry Booker, Raycom has been a part of the UK sports family. It is now being replaced by ESPN next year, which is great for the school, but marks the end of a long era. At the forefront of that era in my view are Tom Hammond and Larry Conley. For the better part of those 26 years, Hammond and Conley have been Raycom’s #1 team, calling their biggest games and being a part of countless memorable UK moments. Both men are UK graduates and appreciate and cherish the UK basketball tradition. On a personal level, both men (along with Dave Baker and Barry Booker) have been wonderful to me over the years as well, and I will miss seeing them on the sidelines for SEC games of the future. It has been easy over the years to make fun of Raycom….we have done it often here. But they are a part of the texture of SEC Sports, and I will admit to having a tinge of sadness when those guys call their final games on Saturday afternoon.
To the news…..
(1): The last two days have been beyond hectic as Kentucky basketball has once again been front and center on the national stage. Virtually every major sports outlet has done a story on the UK situation and it has been the feature on PTI and had a story on NPR. On a personal level, I have been on radio shows in Nashville, Cincinnati, Raleigh, Dallas and Birmingham to talk about UK’s issues as all college basketball fans wonder what has happened to the Big Blue Nation. While many look at these articles as somewhat depressing, I take the opposite view. We often wonder if Kentucky basketball is still relevant on the national stage and this week has confirmed to me one obvious truth…..outside of possibly the UNC-Duke duo, Kentucky basketball is the biggest story in college basketball….and that holds true, whether good or bad.
(2): Along those lines, ESPN has a great piece by Dana O Neill that gives somewhat of a “behind the scenes” look at four pivotal days in the life of Kentucky basketball….from the day of the Georgia home loss to the road loss at Gainesville. It is worth reading for a number of reasons, ranging from Mitch Barnhart’s words (suggesting that after the season, a conversation would take place with Gillispie that may have more to do with attitude than coaching) to Billy Gillispie’s isolation to a verbal smack down of Rob Bromley by Gillispie. What I found best about the piece however was the way it captures the overall tone of the season that I personally have noticed most strongly. This is a team that simply has no positive vibes and does not seem to be having any fun whatsoever. Now the reasons for this may be varied and reasonable minds could disagree as to why, but this is a team with a constant dark cloud over it….there really seems to be no joy in Mudville. That overall vibe, one that I have never noticed in UK basketball since I have been covering it, may be the most difficult thing to overcome….and the ESPN piece captures it perfectly.
(3): Also today, the Lexington Herald reported statements by UK President Lee Todd suggesting that Gillispie’s future would not be discussed until the season is over. The comments (which can be read here) can be interpreted a number of different ways. I dont think they are overly positive, as absent coming out and saying he would be let go (which no President would do), he gave very little affirmation or support for Gillispie. But reading Lee Todd’s mind at this point is fruitless anyway…..this next weekend is huge for the future of the program and everything that is thought now could be changed next week. Win the SEC Tournament and there will be no job controversy….so for now, as we said last night, I think it is time to focus solely on the goings-on in Tampa.
(4): Finally, Larry Vaught had this article, which suggests that Patterson and Meeks both seem to be intent on testing their NBA status after the season. This isnt really a big surprise as the NCAA essentially allows all students to do this for free once and virtually everyone believed both young men would see where they were situated on the NBA scouts’ draft boards. There are some interesting quotes here from Jodie Meeks’ father and Patrick Patterson’s mother, but nothing earth shattering. Just like with the future of the coach, the future of these two young men is a long way from being decided…..it should hit the back burner at least until the festivities in Tampa are concluded.
(5): Finally, after an earlier report that 2009 PG recruit Eric Bledsoe had narrowed his list, a Memphis blog spoke with him and he said that was not the case. He reaffirmed that Duke was his dream school, and gave UK, Florida and UAB as his school choices, but said that other schools were still in the mix as well. I have been told by two scouting folks today that Bledsoe is VERY unlikely to qualify, but his talent still makes him of interest to major programs. We shall see how this develops, but his skills could be a huge boost to Kentucky’s fortunes if he were to (1) qualify and (2) commit.
This is a big weekend coming up for the SEC Tournament coverage on Kentucky Sports Radio. We will be having coverage such as:
— Live blogs with guests in Tampa
— UK postgame reports from the locker room
— Live blogging of the UK postgame press conferences
— Updates throughout the tournament of the behind the scenes goings on (our 5th Annual SEC Tourney Blog)
— Pictures of the best of the SEC cheerleaders….some with Macon Vol Fan.
All in all, it should be a great experience. It will begin Thursday at noon and continue through the end of the semifinals (unless UK makes the finals). We will live blog each UK game, so make sure and join us for all the fun.
Oh yeah and here is an old picture of Scott Padgett….just because: