“America loves a winner, will not tolerate a loser. Americans love to fight. Americans love the sting of battle. We admire the best marble shooter, best ball players, toughest boxers.”
— George C. Scott in “Patton”
We do love winners. Double when an underdog rises above projections of dot.com experts. Come October, pole-opposite to one-and-done-ism will be the story line about Jason Polson and Elisha Justice.
Kentucky-breds from small towns with all-state credentials, all-star uniforms in common, and a passion for the sting of battle that only Kentucky folk and Hoosiers fully understand. Both declined college scholarship off ers, choosing to walk on at Kentucky and Louisville, respectively.
Here comes the right stuff . Polson and Justice are bold enough, confident enough and feisty enough to risk a run with dot. com big dogs whose conversations include next level jabber, the color green and puzzlement at those who “follow my dream.”
What risk? Polson and Justice will pay tuition, books and all else to sit the bench. Ground zero. Yet, hunch here is both will be 10 per cent better at Kentucky and Louisville than anywhere else.
“This has been my dream since I was a little kid,” Polson said at West Jessamine High the other day. His remark twanged the heartstrings of big and little kids in 120 counties with the same dream.
Justice’s decision for Louisville showed us resolve and planning. Having said yes to Rick Pitino, Mr. Basketball kept to it when a phone call came from Lexington. A role model-worthy commitment.
“Louisville is the right fit for me,” he said, prompting us to spin ahead 10 years and see Justice called “another Pitino protege` coach.”
Ready then for the sting of battle at Kentucky, at Louisville, Polson and Justice. Kentucky kids set to chase their dreams while you watch and glory in it too.
Like many naturalized Kentuckians before and since, Mike Pratt came to UK from Dayton in 1966. Scored 1,359 points in three seasons for Adolph Rupp teams that won 71 of 83 games (1968-70). After professional ball then college coaching, he returned to make the Bluegrass State home. Last week Pratt was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.
Before his induction, Pratt was asked by a reporter in Dayton about his old coach.
“Adolph Rupp was very intense, very demanding,” he said. “I know a lot of people thought he didn’t care about anything but basketball, but he was always into his players earning their degree. He had way more successful doctors and lawyers than he had successful basketball players”
Pratt’s tribute to elite to make a point is understandable. In fact, Rupp’s approach spawned successes over a far broader landscape – coaches at every level, ministers, farmers, pharmacists, businessmen and bankers and arguably most important of all, educators.
Comment: Ironically, Rupp’s legacy has become a novel idea in 2010 — a ball coach interested in student-athletes working toward a college degree.
Dis ‘N Data
• Decision Time. Thursday is a hoops deadline fans around Kentucky will watch with interest.
Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton at Kentucky, Louisville’s Samardo Samuels and Kenneth Faried must leave in or remove their names from consideration for the NBA draft in June.
Among Rivals.com projections of 10 college players who face the toughest decision includes Bledsoe and Orton.
• Off to China. Four Kentucky collegians are going to China next week as part of a Sports Reachsponsored basketball team representing the U.S. Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood from Kentucky, Peyton Siva of Louisville and Steffphon Pettigrew of Western Kentucky are on a roster put together by Robby Spears of Campbellsville. A nine game tour May 14-31.
• Honor Rollers. The SEC issued its academic honor roll for student-athletes for the winter semester last week. Alabama was first with 56, Florida 53, Georgia 42 and Kentucky 41.
Notable, all but three of Kentucky’s honor rollers were swimmers, gymnasts and rifles. Basketball? Mark Krebs, Carly Morrow and Keyla Snowden.
• Correction. Last week I shared a personal list of UK basketball favorites. Perhaps a brain hiccup caused the omission of Mike Casey.
Harper’s Big 3-0 Ray Harper, assistant at Western Kentucky, has been selected to Kentucky Wesleyan College’s All-Century team. His inclusion among 30 chosen is no surprise. Harper’s name has been a recipe for winning at every stop.
It began with big scoring nights at home town Bremen High in Muhlenberg County which got him a scholarship to Texas.
Harper played on two Final Four teams, was MVP in the 1985 Regional. He coached KWC for nine seasons. The Panthers won 247, lost 46, posted 30-plus winning seasons six in a row (1998- 2003) and Harper was national coach of the year. The Panthers played for the NCAA title each season, winning in 1999 and 2001.
In 2008 his No. 12 jersey was retired at Wesleyan.
Next for Harper? Kentucky’s Athletic Hall of Fame?
And so it goes. You can reach Bob Watkins at Sprtsinky@aol.com