The only way last weekend could have been “My Old Kentucky Home” better would be if former Gov. Happy Chandler were alive to sing our song and my Corbin friend Malcolm Pace had a microphone to say, “Boyz, it don’t get no better than this.”
Pikeville College is king of NAIA. Bears are national champions.
Bellarmine is king of NCAA Division-2. Knights are national champions.
And, East Region champion Kentucky is headed to the Final Four.
The Wildcats chopped down No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 North Carolina to earn a trip on the golden road citizens of Big Blue nation believe is a divine right. Next stop: Reliant Arena.
Houston town will be lit up in hues of blue and dazzling variations of the letters U and K, fans “looking for tickets” and somehow, some way, finding them. Texans will be pleased with Kentucky cowboy-up types who know how to party and can explain in one sentence the coded meaning of fast women and beautiful horses.
Twangy accents? Lone Star folks won’t have a problem with Commonwealth dialects, Paintsville to Princeton and points between.
And a good thing for the baseball Astros, they open the season in Philadelphia.
Kentucky is headed to 2011’s last dance with 10 wins in a row, Big Mo and one last pay-back on its dance card. Having gotten revenge against Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Vanderbilt and North Carolina, and from last year’s NCAAs, West Virginia, during the last three weeks, UConn stands in the doorway of Reliant Arena.
John Calipari won’t have to so much as whisper: Psst. November 24, in Maui, 84-67.
The Final Four.
First, the two underdogs. Virginia Commonwealth’s young coach Shaka Smart looks as if he belongs on a Florida beach this week on spring break. And, even with spectacles, Butler’s Brad Stevens could still pass for a ball boy wearing a stolen suit instead of priming his team for a Final Four sequel.
Smart and Stevens are of course, smart. Bright with enough moxy to destroy your bracket and crafty enough to convince their players how to put a stone in the sling, ignore the trash and conduct a giant killing.
Shaka Smart, who bounces the sidelines like a mascot without the Ram’s head costume, takes a team to Texas that refused to quake at chalk talk Jayhawk trash. Instead, it daggered the last No. 1 seed into submission, turned mighty Kansas into a jelly roll Sunday, sending the second winningest basketball program home.
Bonus for Shaka? Not official, but expert Jay Bilas is bound to receive an invitation to VCU’s basketball banquet. When ESPN’s expert said the Rams didn’t deserve a tournament bid, he earned persona non grata status in Richmond, Virginia, until, that is, the Rams pushed through to Houston.
Footnote: And, we can wager Bilas’s name will be on Shaka Smart’s Christmas card list.
Brad Stevens’ team is back for a sequel. On paper and off the lips of talking heads, the VCU-Butler game has promise to be first rate entertainment, albeit an undercard in Kentucky. After the Final Four, we can count on Butler’s coach returning to Fayette County to steal the next Shelvin Mack from under Kentucky’s nose.
Ah, those Wildcats. If Shaka Smart whined ad nauseum about “all the disbelievers,” John Calipari kept his powder dry. The Wildcats coach confessed, given the brackets, he is as surprised as the rest of us, “that we’ve gotten this far.”
VCU notwithstanding, Kentucky’s march to Houston is a model for underdogs everywhere. Not only surviving Ohio State and North Carolina, but how both wins were accomplished. Says here, the perfect amalgam. Harnessing physical gifts, poise, smarts, disciplined toughness and audacity. Then, team play on every play. In two words: Brandon Knight.
This is the recipe for advancing to a Final Four.
Brings us to the naysayers.
Joe “Bracketologist” Lunardi (snake oil salesman?) has left the building. Gone back to their day jobs – babblers Digger Phelps, the bald headed guy with one eye, Greg Gumbel and his pals, Bilas, and his cab driver. For weeks, they told each other, “Kentucky cannot win with freshmen … can’t win without Enes Kanter … can’t win with Josh Harrellson … can’t win with a short bench … can’t win on the road. … and can’t win close games.”
This week, as Butch said to Sundance in 1969, we wonder, “who ARE those guys?”
Safe to chortle and know, they’re echoes in the wind.
• Thumbs up for Kansas State coach Frank Martin and former coach Steve Lappas saying rightly Kentucky owes its success its “core players,” DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller.
• That being said, raise your hands if you’ve heard anyone say, “But Calipari has gotten Kentucky to the Final Four with Billy Gillispie’s recruits.” Anybody?
• Kentucky’s win over North Carolina was doubly sweet. Ousting the Tar Heels and denying them 30 wins. UNC finished with 29 wins.
• Doubles. Coaches Kelly Wells at Pikeville and Scott Davenport at Bellarmine own championships at high school and college levels. Wells coached Mason County High to a State title in 2004. Davenport led Louisville Ballard to a championship in 1988.
• UConn stars Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb did a television interview Sunday with CBS. The interviews left us believing that whatever college courses these two student-athletes are taking, public speaking isn’t on the list. They were an embarrassment to their university.
• Says here nobody will be more gracious eating crow for however long it takes than ESPN’s Jay Bilas.
When college directors of athletics meet in Dustin, Florida after the Final Four, somebody should lock them in a room with a big screen TV and force them to watch 60-minute non-stop video clips of block-charge calls this season. Since game officials will never call technical fouls for flops, ADs should vote to tweak rules for its basketball golden goose and paint a horse shoe in the paint.
Like Josh Harrellson, Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins has come far. The one-time bad actor grown to star got a kiss on the forehead from his coach after Liggins had the audacity to hit a three-pointer to stick a dagger into North Carolina near the end of the Wildcats’ win Sunday.
“Some guys in this game start out from third base,” Calipari remarked. “And some guys start from outside the Arena. DeAndre has come a long way. He trusts his coaches and teammates. He’s not afraid now.”
You may reach Bob Watkins at email@example.com