Congratulations to Coach Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals — and to Vinny Tatum — this week for bringing the big trophy back to the Bluegrass for the second year in a row.
Yes, Vinny Tatum. He is the young chubby fellow who has sat on the end of the Louisville bench as Cardinal basketball equipment manager since Pitino came back to the Bluegrass.
Tatum, you see, was a student manager under “Mr. Wildcat” Bill Keightley when Pitino was at UK in the 90’s. Those folks in the inner circles of UK basketball during Keightley’s later years at UK will tell you that Vinny Tatum was Mr. Wildcat’s chosen one, while those in UofL circles will tell you Tatum has been Pitino’s chosen one since the coach’s return.
As the game clock ticked toward 0.00 Monday night I couldn’t help but notice a very jubilant Vinny Tatum looking for the world exactly like another young chubby bald-headed guy sitting at the end of UK’s bench 35 years ago Joe B. Hall won it all in St. Louis in 1978. And I’m one of the lucky few in the Commonwealth that can lay claim to a special friendship to both Bill Keightley and Vinny Tatum.
That said, I must suggest to Coach Pitino that it’s time to move Vinny to the front of the Cardinal bench just like he did Bill Keightley at UK. He’s more than earned his stripes with Cardinal basketball.
One of our state’s time honored slogans is “The Land of Fast Horses, Beautiful Women and Good Whiskey.” Now we can add to that, “Winning Basketball.”
Move over Tobacco Road, the boys and girls from the Commonwealth have taken full control and are at the top of college basketball on all levels. I’m proclaiming anointing the state of Kentucky as the new “king of hoops” after Louisville’s 82-76 win over Michigan in this year’s NCAA championship game.
Our teams have won the championship now with high profile five-star freshman recruits and we’ve won it with junior- and senior-dominated rosters that have a blue-collar mentality.
We’ve accomplished and proven enough over the last four years to place us at the top today. And last but definitely not least, college basketball’s two kingpins of the coaching fraternity, Rick Pitino and John Calipari, reside at UofL and UK.
Elsewhere with Kentucky in the last four years, the UPike and Georgetown College men have won an NAIA championship each. The Kentucky Wesleyan men and Bellarmine University men have each won an NCAA Division II championship. The Kentucky Wildcats under the direction of Calipari have been on a recruiting run of utter dominance in men’s basketball which resulted in an NCAA championship, Final Four, and an Elite 8 appearance during Cal’s first three years.
Matthew Mitchell has slowly but methodically built a top 10 women’s team at Kentucky that can beat anybody this side of Baylor and UConn. The Louisville Cardinals under the overall direction of Tom Jurich (we must give credit where it is due) has given Pitino and women’s Coach Jeff Walz the means and facilities to rebuild the Cardinal brand of basketball to national championship levels.
Still, in due time over the coming days, I’m quite sure there will be a few members of the statewide media along with a few Louisville fans who will gouge Wildcat fans, and especially UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, on the special year Louisville athletics has experienced of late. I choose to concentrate on how our state has taken full control of college hoops.
Syndicated columnist Ira Combs lives in Jeff in Perry County where he operates Tri State Sports Media and Promotions with his brother Harold Combs.