1. Merry Christmas to you. Especially if you or a friend has a trooper home from Iraq or Afghanistan.
2. No. 1 team in college hoops? Syracuse prevailed at North Carolina State, Ohio State and Kentucky cruised, but Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals looked best fending off Memphis. Team playing best of top four Christmas week? Louisville.
3. Wrapped in blue and red paper trimmed in white with gift card saying: “Do not open until Saturday, New Year’s Eve.” Louisville and Kentucky at Rupp Arena could be classic. Get plenty of rest next week.
4. Unbeatens. Eight men’s teams remain perfect in college hoops. Murray State is one. The Racers pushed to 12-0, four shy of school best in 1935-36, 16 in a row. Unless Tennessee-Martin, Eastern Illinois or Eastern Kentucky spoils it, Murray State can tie the record at Austin Peay January 7 on ESPNU.
5. Joe Jacoby is a college graduate. Owner of three Super Bowl rings and lasting fame as an original among the Washington Redskins Hogs, 52-year-old Jacoby earned his degree last week at UofL. Makes him a scholar- (former) athlete of the year candidate, right?
6. Eli Capilouto, a gift to Kentucky. Unlike his predecessor, University of Kentucky’s new president may be more than a Calipari groupie. Athletic budget decisions move to a committee chosen by Board of Trustees. And, Capilouto says campus, classrooms and building improvements are priorities ahead of athletic facility upgrades. Maybe UK is back on track to being a Top 20 university by 2020.
7. Joe Paterno. Reminder to those who think themselves important (Albert Pujols and other pro athletes and ball coaches). Even a man immortalized by a statue can fall far, fast.
8. Kentucky. Bowl games aside, a football win over Tennessee leaves UK football a gift to take to 2012 not enjoyed since Bill Ransdell was a pup. A one-game win streak.
9. Joker Phillips. Not every coach deserves a second chance, or a third, but some do. Joker gets one.
10. Charlie Strong remained steadfast to his commitment to UofL. I like to believe Strong ignored feelers from other schools in spite of Tom Jurich’s (negative) loyalty bonus idea, not because of it.
11. Rodger Bird. Cancer survivor, SEC legend representing Kentucky, this thought : “Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of Albert Pujols ridiculous.”
12. Willie Taggart. Joy, optimism and new spirit have flickered back to life at Western Kentucky at a sparkle level not seen since Jimmy Feix.
13. Taggart, and Strong at UofL, have brought a resurgent interest in D-I football beyond Fayette County.
14. Tim Tebow. With his mouth shut the quarterback’s play has spoken volumes. Denver’s quarterback made X-O experts look so foolish they’ve shut up (John Elway), or stooped to ridiculing a man for his religion.
15. Kentucky Mr. Football with class, Patrick Towles. Based on bloodlines and praise from coach Dale Mueller, the Fort Thomas Highlands quarterback is a worthy recipient of the 25th annual award.
Comment: Towles was chosen on nine of 15 ballots cast. Fifteen voters? The sponsoring Associated Press affiliate sports editors should apply a bit of imagination. Much as the Heisman Trophy committee did, broaden the voting base. Invite votes from (24) previous winners of the award. And, ask the state’s most winning high school football coaches retired and active to participate.
16. A ball coach to believe in: Brad Stevens at Butler. So far.
17. Pat Summitt. College basketball’s coach with most wins is a gift. Tennessee’s ball coach is all the more dear as we watch the shroud of Alzheimer’s head her way.
Lump of Coal
Candidates for Christmas tree lump of coal?
18. Justice (or lack of justice):
• Joe Deters. After the Xavier Cincinnati brawl, Hamilton County, Ohio prospector said no to criminal assault charges for Cincinnati player Yancy Gates who sucker punched Xavier’s Kenny Frease on national television. Deters based his decision in part on Yates’s tearful apology to Frease.
So, if a disgruntled voter lands a haymaker to the Hamilton County prosecutor’s face, a tearful apology will suffice?
• Susan Ilston. The San Francisco judge sent ex-baseball star Barry Bonds home last week. Found guilty of lying to a grand jury in 2003, Bonds was given 30 days house arrest by Ilston and fined $4,000.
Bonds must do 250 hours community service with youth groups, meaning Bonds will sign autographs and offer cool answers to questions about how he beat the rap … again.
19. $50,000. University of Kentucky ‘gift’ to the SEC after fans rushed the field when UK beat Tennessee. “Yes,” a UK spokesman said, “it’s a rule. We will pay it.”
20. Jackpot! Ex-Kentucky center Josh Harrellson signed with the New York Knicks. If he makes the roster, Harrellson’s salary, based on last year’s rookie minimum, will be $473,604 this season.
21. Christopher Hitchens was here awhile. Like him or not, the author and Henry Kissinger antagonist who was a severe critic of religion and other Planet Earth problems, commanded the language with rare eloquence. Hitchens died last week.
22. Appreciation to critics. Thank you. Tough is good. Harsh and hatefulness isn’t necessary.
23. Book gift ideas? (2)
• The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball. In a book due in stores and online Jan. 5, writer Gene Wojciechowski chronicles the March 28, 1992 UK-Duke game argued by some as best college game ever played.
• One- On- One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game. John Feinstein’s latest book and professional memoir.
24. America, I love this place.
“ Your time is limited. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. … Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs.
And so it goes.