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Hoops ‘feel good’ stories continue in Ky.




Bob Watkins Sports in Kentucky

Bob Watkins Sports in Kentucky

Western Kentucky University has been struck by an “occupier” movement. Fans of a Hilltopper team that’s won three of four, want interim removed from Coach Ray Harper’s job title. The team transformation since Harper took over a month ago is becoming a feelgood story to rival Murray State’s No. 9 ranking and 23-0 streak and Kentucky’s climb to No. 1.

Harper’s Hilltoppers have shown new energy, grit and growing confidence not seen at WKU in some time. The coach’s rotation seems to have sent morale soaring too. The Topper Revival was reflected in Harper’s remark last week about the new atmosphere in Diddle Arena:

“This is the crowd that I remember … the one when I was a kid or even when I was growing up,” he said after Western defeated South Alabama. “It’s the sixth man. This is our house. That’s how we’re going to attack it each and every time we come to Diddle Arena.

John Calipari deserves to be named coach of the year, says Bob Watkins. Cal’s Cats defeated Florida Tuesday night. (AP Photo)

John Calipari deserves to be named coach of the year, says Bob Watkins. Cal’s Cats defeated Florida Tuesday night. (AP Photo)

“We are not losing games at home. Our fans were the sixth man tonight. I cannot thank them enough. Our kids can’t thank them enough. They played hard, they played together and to me, that is what the game of basketball is all about.”

If Hilltoppers roll on, and if the occupiers have their way, Harper will be out recruiting next month without interim in his title.

Cardinals In Revival?

When Rick Pitino said last week he hopes his Cardinals can win “five of nine” the rest of the way in Big East regular season play, I wondered if Da Coach was spinning, being pragmatic or lowering expectations.

Answers: Yes, three times.

• Pitino was spinning … to his players.

• Pragmatic, yes. The Cardinals play at Cincinnati and West Virginia, and have two games left with Syracuse.

• Lower expectations, of course. Routine for ball coaches. When results are “better than expected,” talking heads named Vitale, Dykes and the rest roll out the praises — “What a great coaching job. Wow!”

In fact, Louisville’s play the last two weeks has been good enough that the Cardinals could be favored in all but their final game at Syracuse.

Coach of Year Cal?

John Calipari could be national coach of the year, but his name is seldom mentioned as a candidate “because,” ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes said, “other coaches don’t like him.”

Ah, the politics of college ball coach fraternity. When coach of year ballots are cast, “like” should have nothing to do with it. Says here it isn’t that Calipari is unpopular as much as resentment of his being perceived as a one-anddone shill for the NBA.

Still, with the Ville Trials still ahead – Nashville, Starkville and Gainesville – Calipari is the best coach in America. The enormity of Anthony Davis’s progress, to threeyear starter Darius Miller coming off the bench ready to play, and on to Terrence Jones’s growth spurts, Kentucky’s ascendance is remarkable.

College coach of the year? Calipari.

Kentucky Uniforms

UK showed up for its game with Tennessee in Rupp Arena last week dressed as the Georgetown Hoyas. With school-traditional blue reduced to a stripe and numbers unrecognizable, the drab grey uniform was another tail-wagsdog moment. A shoe company conceived a bad uniform and gave Kentucky basketball the time and place to debut it. Thumbs down to Mitch Barnhart. UK’s director of athletics deserves a hearty round boos.

Big Blue Nation Warning

Lexington officials unveiled a plan for refurbishing its Lexington Center last week, including Rupp Arena.

Price tag? $250 to $300 million. Who pays? Undetermined. An item Big Blue Nation should keep a wary eye on is naming rights. History tells us, if the price is right, Lexington politicians will sell off Adolph Rupp’s legacy. Says here, no matter the amount a bank or corporation is willing to pony up, Rupp Arena should have no other name affixed on Rupp Arena.

Warning: The Daniel Boone Parkway’s name given away shamelessly as patronage by former governor Paul Patton to politician Hal Rogers in 2003 is evidence everything has its price. Kentucky fans would do well to guard their gold standard, Rupp Arena, as is.

‘Star’ System Hoax

High school football stars signing college scholarships last week brought to the fore the “star system.” This kid is a four star, that one’s a three, or two.

The star system is uneven, subjective, exaggerated and an unreliable hoax. How does it sustain credibility? The media herd. Sports writers, television and radio talking heads quote who is or is not a four star as if reading from the Scriptures.

Last week, Kentucky unveiled its list of commits for 2012 with star ratings for each. One “service” said Joker Phillips signed only three two-star prospects. Another said it was six.

Just wondering – weren’t Wesley Woodyard and Randall Cobb two star prospects? How about Danny Travathian, and Bobby Rainey?

Here’s a glimpse of reality…

Like teenagers joining the armed forces, college signees are 17-18 year olds headed for culture shock that makes the star system a bad joke.

The ratings should be based on who best adjusts to having no more of Mom’s cooking, no more backslaps at the barbershop, and no fan love and free lunch at the corner cafe. And, the girl friend is probably moving on too.

Presto, the kid is on campus. Hand the kid a map while he shakes off homesickness and Dear John.

Next, classes where nobody cares what he did in high school, how many stars he owned, especially professors not gaga for football the ways PE or Driver’s Ed teachers were back home.

Practice? Pace is faster and the kid across the line is as big and fast or faster than the new kid. Coach yells at the kid who is trying block or avoid somebody named Mr. Cobble.

Compete for playing time. New guy’s stars give way to who has the motor and stamina to play every play, attend every class, make every grade. Or, handle it when coach says, “son, we’re going red shirt you.”

Those who dole out four stars or two stars should wait and see who shows up on campus in August, who’s still around a month into classes, and who’s still around after the Tennessee game.

Player ratings on signing days in February — beyond weight and speed in the 40 — is all a con.

And so it goes.


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