Whitesburg KY

March Madness nears

Sports in Kentucky



The sun has shifted left, rides higher, stays out longer. Daffodils showed up a fortnight early and, if we listen well, the spirit of Happy Chandler is revving up for his rendition of My Old Kentucky Home — first Saturday in March in Rupp Arena.

We have come to college basketball’s full summit, arrived too soon seems to me.

For partyers and crazies, it’s tournament time. For politicals, sweet relief from finger-pointing hatefulness and blame-game.

For Tribe of Talking Heads time for kooky, quirky, know-it-all and risk sounding stupid – Jay Bilas, Dan Dakich, Seth Greenberg, Bill Walton, Clark Kellogg and clubby experts.

First from my land of logic (and not), a few observations.

1. Anniversary in college hoops. First game ever played by an all-white against an all-black team, was on a Sunday morning in Durham, North Carolina, in March 72 years ago. Hall of Fame Coach John McLendon one-time coach at Kentucky State, arranged for his North Carolina College Eagles to host a team of Pre-med students at Duke University who were unbeaten and cocksure. The Secret Game. Secret because any mix-race game in 1944 was against the law.

McLendon’s Eagles won 88- 44, but what happened after was most compelling for me. The teams chose up and played shirts against skins.

Footnote: By 1962 McLendon was coaching the Cleveland Pipers in the professional American Basketball League. Team owner was George Steinbrenner and one of McLendon’s best players was former UK All-American Johnny Cox (1959).

2. Isn’t the word Bracketology perfect? Joe Lunardi invented it and the ex-sports information director at St Joseph’s University is the most prominent face on television this month (aside from Donald Trump). Presumably, Bracketology has made Lunardi rich.

3. Bracket strategy for 2016 Road to the Final Four (in Indianapolis)? Pick upsets. Last week Xavier stung top ranked Villanova igniting No. 1 seed talk for the Musketeers. By Monday Seton Hall had humbled Xavier reshuffled the bracketology deck.

4. Putting UConn on another pedestal, the women’s NCAA can be most entertaining ever.

5. March Madness projection: Bluegrass State will send a single to March Madness, Kentucky.

6. Perennials Western Kentucky (14-15), Murray State (16-13) and Eastern (15-16) have shifted already to go-recruit mode.

7. Morehead State (18- 11) probably won’t beat out Belmont (21-10) for the OVC Tournament bid, but Sean Woods would love an NIT invite.

8. Louisville could, but won’t, be a Final Four contender.

9. Rumor. Rick Pitino to leave Louisville for Nevada- Las Vegas? What for? Scuttlebutt is UNLV can’t/won’t pay him $4 million a year. We remember a decade ago and hope Da Coach does too, he said, “I already have all the money I’ll ever need.”

UofL’s coach looks tired, disenchanted. Self-inflicted stress from sidelines antics alone, has taken a toll. From his blog post: “Thank you seniors — you have restored my faith in a generation tied up with ‘me first.’ My only regret is I could not coach you for more than one year.” Hmmm.

10. March Madness projections: Four-seed Kentucky … three-and-out. Alex Poythress will play in Europe for a season then look for a real job and find one.

11. Trivia Dept. How many Kentucky fans can recite the question verbatim and supply the answer instantly? Q. Who is “… the Kentucky player committed an unsportsmanlike act in violation of Rule 10, Section 3, a Class A Unsporting Technical Infraction and awarding two free throws?”

12. Alex Poythress. Seems to have been at UK since Billy Clyde Gillispie earned his first DUI in Fayette County. Poythress is latest on a long list that includes Dwight Anderson (1979), Richard Madison (1988) and Marvin Stone (2001). Chose the wrong school.

15. Hey you! Fellow who howled relentlessly for Tom Crean’s ouster at Indiana, via internet web site, a question: If an invite comes, will he attend IU’s basketball banquet next month?

16. Silly celebration this week of his chair throw (31 years ago), whatever happened to Bob Knight?

17. College hoops rules. Fan writes, “Men’s game needs to go to four 10-minute quarters like the women.” Says here, NCAA tinker team needs to stop fixing a golden goose that needs no fixing.

18. Coach carousel. Presuming Kentuckians will be in play, this merry-go-round for Spring 2016 could be most intriguing in years. v Kenny Payne. Logic says six-figure pay at UK is good, but six years as assistant is enough Calipari rant for this lifetime. v Chris Holtmann. Too early to move in his career, but Butler’s coach will be on someone’s radar in spite of what appeared to be a freeze-up while his team blew a double-digit lead in minute-and-half at Georgetown.

19. Success Dept. Union College Bulldogs (Barbourville) turned a hat trick, winning their third Appalachian Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships in a row to finish 28-6.

20. Jeff Brohm. This year, 2016 is when Hilltopper fans see how capable Western Kentucky’s football coach is. Post-Brandon Doughty, wait to see which and how many directors of athletics come waving (bigger) money.

21. Jason Hatcher had a dozen chances left to show NFL scouts his draftworthiness. Arrested for speeding and allegedly smoking dope, Hatcher is an ex-Kentucky Wildcat … and newest enrollee at the Johnny Manziel University of Knucklehead.

24. Finally, reminders in sunny March.

“I believe the sign of maturity is accepting deferred gratification.” – Peggy Cahn.

And …

“ How many are the things I can do without!” – Socrates on possessions

And so it goes.

You can reach me at bob. Watkins24@aol.com

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