As the passing show slows for Thanksgiving, there are people who parade through our lives to whom I am immensely thankful.
I am thankful for . . .
1. Joe “Joker” Phillips came this way. Three seasons into a five-year deal, he’s out. Some will forget that Kentucky fans abandoned him. Some of us won’t.
2. Finishing the season after being fired, Phillips said: “… reason I’m here is we have good kids and if I didn’t think we had good kids there’s no way I would do this because it would be hard for them to get going and for us (coaches) to tell them to get going and have them respond the right way.”
3. We needn’t worry that Phillips (and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley) will file for unemployment. They will be paid $2-plus million and $5 million respectively … to get out of town.
4. November-December overlap of college football and basketball. Traditional rivalries merge with prime-time intersectional basketball games straight on to Christmas. Delicious.
5. Army and Navy. One hundred and ninth meeting is Decem- ber 8. Navy has 52 wins, Army 49, with seven ties.
6. My two favorite teams are going bowling after regular season finales. Northwestern (8-3) has Illinois at home and Vanderbilt (7-4) finishes at Wake Forest.
7. John Calipari. Kudos for Cal’s smarts. His Kentucky team needed no part of Indiana on any floor neutral or otherwise this season.
8. Murray State. Racers earned media darling status last season and can again, as they climb the rankings. Led by best point guard in America Isaiah Canaan, Murray destroyed Auburn last week. Tigers coach Tony Barbee: “(the Racers) play with a swagger of a team that won 31 games. They expect to win by how they play and how they compete.”
9. Western Kentucky U. football fans. Hilltopper fans stuck with their team to what became a disastrous and bitter end.
10. Rusty Troutman’s free ride. Basketball star at Bullitt East High, the 6-5 all-stater who averaged 16.9 points as a junior, has earned a free education less than an hour from home at Bellarmine University. Oh yes, and play basketball for Scott Davenport.
11. Jarrod Polson, the player, and Greg Thompson, the fan.
• Polson’s playing time is symbolic, a reminder that hanging banners in Rupp Arena is not what the UK basketball phenomenon is about. It’s more about the long blue line of favorite players, and voices who told us who they were – J.B. Falconer, Claude Sullivan and Cawood Ledford. Grand moments in time marching through your memory.
• Thompson: “Ten or 12 years down the road when someone talks about John Wall or Anthony Davis or So-And-So Noel and says, ‘Remember when he played for Kentucky?’ the answer will be: ‘Did he play for Kentucky? I don’t remember that name.’”
12. Alex Poythress. One fan is already in love. “He’s going to be yet another All- American freshman for UK. Powerful, graceful, runs like a deer, can jump to the rafters, has a normal haircut and, as far as I can tell, not a single tattoo.”
13. Archie Goodwin. When the rookie learns to distinguish between a good shot and from a bad one, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is right, “He’s going to be a star.”
14. Kyle Wiltjer. Key to UK success this season, according to some experts, the kid who averages 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game must get more five field goal tries as he did against Duke last week.
I am also thankful for . . .
15. A fan writing on an Internet site (Bleacher Report) to offer up a “Most Iconic Coaches” in college basketball list that included Adolph Rupp, John Wooden, Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Eddie Sutton and Jim Calhoun, but left out iconic Ed Diddle, Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan and Bill Self.
16. Mike Krzyzewski. A ball coach who has brought honor to our country with back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics; four NCAA titles for his university, and most coaching wins in history.
17. Jay Bilas. College basketball’s reigning guru is around to issue the equivalent of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent don’t pay taxes” gaffe.
Bilas:“. . . stop yearning for a basketball time that no longer exists. We’ve got a younger game now. It’s almost like we as a basketball community refuse to admit it.”
18. Bob Knight. Confess it, you look forward to Knight’s commentary on ESPN Thursday night telecasts with Rece Davis of SEC games that include Kentucky, on the road of course?
19. Specials. College hoops today, (and Jay Bilas’s celebrity) owes everything to this game as it was a decade ago and a decade before that. I believe personalities capture fans’ hearts, young and old, not dollar potential. On my Difference Makers list this Thanksgiving: Anthony Davis, Jimmer Fredette, Bill Russell and as ever, Larry Bird, and Pat Summitt.
20. Televised games. Virtually infinite the choices, and supplemented by a wonderful little device, a remote control . . . with a mute button.
21. Mercifully, Dick Vitale can be thrust upon America by only one ESPN channel at a time.
22. Kentucky center Matt Smith. A nominee for an award that honors performance, classroom excellence and community service, he said last week, “That’s exactly what coach Phillips’s whole thing is. It’s those three things.”
23. Lifelong friends Warren McNew and Stewart Hardesty in Corbin.
24. That The Mountain Eagle exists and you are reading it right now.
And so it goes.