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Sports in Kentucky

Young Wildcats are still learning


 

 

What about Kentucky’s Wildcats? Ten games in, here’s one view of the good, the bad, the ugly.

THE GOOD. Eleven players in Billy Clyde Gillispie’s rotation are underclassmen, including five who were elsewhere a season ago. And they’re learning that college isn’t high school.

Kentucky will become a good team when DeAndre Liggins and others have a “eureka moment” and discover what team-ness is and is not.

THE BAD. Under a single heading, “Am I going to mess this up?”, two players define the team so far. Perry Stevenson has experience, but like teammates, his face is a question mark: “Am I gonna mess this up?”

Even as coaches try and persuade Stevenson he is doubledouble double capable on any night, the junior forward goes forth tentatively. Like his team.

Darius Miller has no experience. His play has been a mix of sparkle and fizz. Trying to fit in, please his coach, and “not mess this up.” He’s going to be very good.

For Stevenson and Miller there are champagne bubbly days ahead. And a leadership role for the latter.

UK is feeling its way, more pressured to “not mess this up,” instead of pressing opponents to do precisely that.

Talking Team-ness is noble. Doing it with 20-plus assists a night, make good decisions and practice shot discipline in front of 23,000 assistant coaches, is step up time. This ain’t high school.

THE UGLY. The Wildcats botched the advantage of 23,000 partisan voices twice. Let themselves be schooled by VMI, then Miami. That college hoops’ winningest program would let itself be educated in a pre-conference game at home, let alone twice, is hateful.

Finally, is Billy Clyde Gillispie showing signs of bunker itis? The coach’s terse and exaggerated replies to media questions following 14 good minutes against Indiana, showed a hint of distancing.

Louisville

Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, humbled by Western, are back on track, back in the top 10 and headed for a delicious four-game tune-up for Big East wars. Beginning with Tubby Smith’s Minnesota this Saturday and ending with Kentucky Jan. 4, UofL fans could see their men’s and women’s team at the penthouse level with both UConn teams.

UK-East Carolina

Kentucky coach Rich Brooks was adamant. He would not apologize for his team going to a bowl game next month. Unless UK football fans flock to Memphis in large numbers, somebody might have to. Won’t be Brooks or director of athletics Mitch Barnhart each of whom rakes in a bowl game bonus.

Of 34 bowls this season, Rivals.com offered a ‘less-thansavory bowls’ list last week and UK-East Carolina ranks 27th. One notch behind the Music City Bowl (Boston College-Vandy).

The internet site said: “Liberty Bowl, East Carolina (9-4) vs. Kentucky (6-6), Jan. 2: Kentucky comes in having lost three in a row, four of five and six of eight. Yep, that sounds like a bowl team to us.”

Of eight bowls involving SEC teams, UK’s rates last, according to Rivals.com.

Taking a more sunny view, if there is one, the Wildcats-Pirates match will be ESPN’s only football telecast on Friday, Jan. 2. And, odds-makers predict a close game. East Carolina is favored by 2.5 points.

For fans’ sake we hope the score is nearer 38-35 than 6-3.

Mr. Football

Rolandan “Deuce” Finch is Kentucky’s 23rd Mr. Football and the first running back to earn the award since Michael Bush in 2002, Finch is only the third RB in 15 years to win it.

Congratulations and accolades aside, Finch arrives on the college prospect block at “opportunity time” at home. We hope he stays. A prize, the 5-10, 200- something Hoosier (lives in New Albany) holds a calling card that reads “swift, tough, bright and team man.”

On behalf of football fans across the Commonwealth, “hey kid, we hope you take visits to Boston College, Illinois, wherever, then come home to study, prepare for a future, play football in Kentucky.”

Opportunities?

• University of Kentucky is shopping for a back of Finch’s quality, but has already signed another Hoosier, Dakatoh Tyler. UK signees know who the head coach is going to be.

• Louisville needs help everywhere despite return of Big East rookie of the year running back Victor Anderson.

• Western Kentucky, has a new stadium, new conference, new future and new D-I level needs.

• Eastern Kentucky, for 20th time, is reigning OVC champion. A feature back with Mr. Football credentials would be a first for one of the country’s perennial grid powers.

Worth Repeating

As plans for athletic upgrades continue at Universities of Kentucky and Louisville despite hard economic times, a recent study showed public universities increased student tuition by 6.4 per cent while school president average pay, $427,400, has not suffered. Lee Todd’s compensation at Kentucky is $594,612, the study reported. UofL James Ramsey’s is $468,883.

A handful of other university presidents, including Ramsey, declined bonuses this year.

“The executive suite seems insulated from budget crunches,” Iowa senator Charles Grassley said. “In these hard economic times, apparently belt tightening is for families and students, not university presidents.”

Parting Shot

Rivals.com‘s assessment of Liberty Bowl-bound UK and East Carolina moved one UK fan to respond on the message board: “Opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one. There are several bad teams in bowls games and yes, (UK) is one of them. But we earned it, we met the requirements. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”

And so it goes.

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