The Kentucky-Indiana basketball series came and went last month with a nod and whimper. Celebration for the 70th renewal was north of the Ohio after another Hoosier sweep.
Is this a series worth saving? You bet. And, it can be.
Kentucky planners need a new approach to resuscitate a series that dates to 1939 when George Crowe was Indiana’s first Mr. Basketball and Jumpin’ Joe Fulks (Kuttawa) was Kentucky star of stars.
A revival starts with the V-word, volunteer. And, a few ideas.
First, Jerry Colangelo became managing director of USA Basketball men’s national team in 2005. He developed a program that drew 33 top players and asked Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski to coach. From 2006 to 2008 USA was 36-1, 8-0 at the Beijing Olympics and a gold medal.
Most Americans don’t realize, but it was USA’s first gold in a major international competition since 2000.
Colangelo, then Krzyzewski, then Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as core players to Team USA. Key to success was that quality that makes America great. Volunteerism.
Coach K. and Jim Boeheim managed egos, kept patriotism and winning ahead of agents, sneakers and merchandising. It worked.
So, a model for the Kentucky- Indiana series.
1. To fill Colangelo’s and Coach K’s roles, a rotation, Denny Crum managing director one year and Joe B. Hall to coach. Reverse roles next year.
Their names, if not time, would lend honor and prestige to youngsters invited to try-outs and give voice to “summer pickup games at college can wait!”
Having become veterans of radio talk, both men would do commercial work for television and pitch on community radio and newspaper ads. Do them in markets beyond metros Lexington and Louisville.
Who pays? See Idea 2.
2. Sponsorship. Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation has been faithful underwriter for the series alongside the Indianapolis Star newspaper. Time for new sponsors to help. How about Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance … all around Kentucky? And Kentucky Fried Chicken? Both have a huge stake in the Bluegrass State. Why not help promote the Kentucky-Indiana series?
3. Making the team is a privilege. Still is in Indiana.
Link selection process to the High School Basketball Coaches Association from whom a geographically balanced, 16-member screening committee would be chosen each year. A committee to not wait for ballots, but aggressively solicit player nominations from colleagues, then communicate (NCAA-approved) try-out invitations by way of twitters and/or phone calls from celebrities Rick Pitino and John Calipari.
4. Alliance with the Kentucky Mr. Basketball Fraternity. Founded by Harry Todd of Cadiz, the Fraternity has fostered an annual Ralph Beard Achievement Award for Kentucky Mr. Basketball winners, and is a natural ally to reignite interest in the all-star series.
5. Media. Community radio stations should be more than invited to cover games. Station managers should be lobbied as important partners. Coordinating director for media? Hall of Fame broadcaster Wes Strader of Bowling Green, and author Gary West. Both have considerable experience and each is well connected.
6. Boys’ team coach? Annual rotation, man from the heartland (Cynthiana) Joe B. Hall knows what it takes to win, understands satisfaction of beating Indiana. Hall of Famer Denny Crum has same credentials and would be perfect as well.
7. Girls’ coaches? I have no clue, but, if you’re still reading this, you will.
8. Preparation plan? After team selections each spring, three exhibition games each, boys and girls, to rotate around the state arranged by managing director. Done right, the all-star series can start here to build a financial war chest.
First year, boys’ team plays at Pikeville, Northern Kentucky University and Owensboro. Girls play at Marshall County, Elizabethtown and Lexington Catholic High.
Opponents? Former stars locally headlined by regional Mr. and Miss Basketball winners past. Example (boys): At Pikeville, Todd May (’82), J.R. VanHoose (’98) and Ervin Stepp (’08); At Fort Thomas, Doug Schloemer (’78) and Ross Neltner (’03); At Bowling Green, Brandon Stockton (’02) and Daymeon Fishback (’96).
Girls’ all-stars and Miss Basketball winners? Same format.
Mr. and Miss Basketball winners who decline to play would be invited to banquet with teams and honored before game tip offs.
Hindsight being 20-20 is also invitation to speculation.
Short term: Jodie Meeks made a mistake. Long term: We’ll see.
Selected 41st by Milwaukee means less than no guaranteed one-point-something million dollars for Meeks. His agent must negotiate a deal with a guard-heavy team (seven) including first pick, Brandon Jennings.
Best case scenario, Meeks is able to bump Damon Jones, Ramon Sessions, Charlie Bell or Keith Bogans for a roster spot. Given his shooting skill, physical strength and especially his attitude, this is a real possibility.
A plus, in a peculiar kind of way, if Meeks makes the team then his season trying to please Billy Clyde Gillispie will have toughened him up well for grumpy Bucks coach Scott Skiles.
From SI.com‘s Luke Winn at NBA Draft night. “First thing I noticed upon walking into the Garden was the proposed seating arrangement: Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Kentucky’s John Calipari assigned to back-to-back chairs just outside the green room. The ego-cramping in that scenario would’ve rivaled the physical cramping when the NBA seated Shawn Bradley and Manute Bol back-to-back at the 2004 draft. Pitino eventually sat in his seat while Calipari avoided his, which meant no awkward photos, and no opportunity for Kentucky fans to create Photoshops of him putting his feet in Pitino’s hair.”
And so it goes. You can reach Bob Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.