The roll call of college coaches in Kentucky who underestimated, ignored or simply could not see past a McDonald’s all-star list when it came to homegrown high school basketball stars worthy of college ball would be too long and embarrassing.
One of the finest who got away was Glen Combs at Carr Creek in 1964. The son of Coach Morton Combs went to Virginia Tech, became a star and earned a nickname, The Kentucky Rifle. He then went on to a seven-year distinguished professional career.
When he left the state to play college ball elsewhere, Kentuckians were deprived of seeing maybe the finest perimeter shooter who never played college ball at home.
Combs will come home to visit February 20, when he will be honored before a Knott County Central basketball game. I hope a standing-room-only crowd shows up to honor Combs.
Fans around Knott County will get to see — maybe shake hands with — one of best ever who didn’t make a McDonald’s all-star list, but still became The Kentucky Rifle and made a few dollars in professional ball.
UK: Groundhog Day … Again?
Talent-rich Kentucky should have smashed undermanned Mississippi State. It didn’t.
As Aaron Harrison, then Jarrod Polson stood dribbling the basketball and pointing to teammates at Starkville in half-court sets, I wondered, is this Groundhog Day again? Haven’t we seen this movie before?
A decade ago, February 2004: Rajon Rondo stood near top of the circle, dribbling and pointing.
In Kentucky’s world of fast break basketball, the B- word surfaced soon enough. Boring. Strangely, it was attached not to Rondo, but became a legacy for Dr. Orlando Tubby Smith.
Fast forward to February 2014. Kentucky won at Starkville by 10. Lots of dribbling and pointing while the coach ranted and bellowed. Not even the home fans seemed to enjoy it much.
The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems to me.
Another mid- February has come and preseason No. 1-ranked Kentucky is ranked No. 12; attendance figures at Rupp Arena are down, even with UK officials’ fuzzy math; and UK is projected as a four-seed in the West Region for the NCAA tournament.
Calipari’s “one-and-doners” are sliding too. The NBA mock draft board of February 4 warms speculation on transfers and/or a roster logjam next season. Julius Randle ranks seventh, James Young 12th with Willie Cauley- Stein, Aaron and Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress gone from the top 60.
The good news? Seniors rescued freshmen in Starkville. Polson played 30 minutes and John Hood took advantage of his moments. Together, they were responsible for whatever rhythm and stretches of respectable play the Wildcats managed.
Curiously, since the best leverage a ball coach has are the words “take a seat, young man,” Calipari resorts to screaming frequently on his McDonald’s All-Americans whose expressions seem blank.
“… I don’t get it,” Calipari mused. “But then that’s what happens when you’re a young team.”
Maybe the weight of a national columnist’s assessment earlier this week will have an impact: “We’re getting late enough in the year that they should no longer be able to hide behind the youth excuse.”
Meanwhile, does it seem like Groundhog Day all over again to anyone else?
Trency Jackson ran laterally across backcourt, took an inbounds pass, dribbled over the centerline near the left sideline, stopped at 30-something feet out and fired. Ball in air, horn sounds. Bang!
No imaginary finish in the backyard at home, but the distance of Jackson’s three-pointer will increase with time. More important, it let Western Kentucky steal one on the road at Arkansas- Little Rock and add sparkle to what’s becoming another magical season for the Hilltoppers.
Western’s one- point escape adds to a growing list of “One Shining Moment(s)” and could lead to a third-in-a-row invite to the NCAA Tournament next month. My favorite for Sun Belt coach of the year? Ray Harper.
Mark Stoops Smokes ‘Em
Kentucky’s recruiting class has been ranked 17th best in college football. v Stole one from Alabama (Matt Elam) and stole lineman Loyd Tubman from Penn State at the end.
Coach Mark Stoops … v “To sign the top four guys in (Kentucky) this year was very important to us.” v Signed 15 defensive players; 13 offensive including four linemen.
“So the seven guys (who) are here are, off to a good start. Very excited about this group.”
How to Handle It Dept.
A college basketball player went into the stands and pushed a fan last week. The ugly implications were written on the startled, disbelieving face of a female fan at the scene.
Oklahoma State’s Keith Smart accused portly Jeff Orr of a racial slur, the fan denied it and it was left for officials at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to defuse the incident quickly. They did. Smart apologized and was suspended three games. Orr apologized and will not attend any more games this season.
Those with connections to Kentucky handled the incident well, also. v Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford (Madisonville) sent his player to a news conference to man-up and apologize for shoving a fan. v Ford took media questions, using the moment to express “unwavering support” for his player, but put emphasis where it belonged “… we can all learn from this mistake.”
Says here, we had better. v And, ESPN analyst Darrin Horn credited Oklahoma State for “owning it” (the incident) and reminded Smart (and viewers), “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
And so it goes.