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This UK team on path to ‘greatness’





Bob Watkins

Bob Watkins

February. The rodent in Pennsylvania didn’t see his shadow … some of us forgot the Valentine’s Day thing … Jerry Tarkanian’s name made it into same sentence with Dean Smith … and pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

Closer to home, a mammoth stampede on supermarkets Maysville to Bardwell preceded a mammoth snowstorm. … Mr. Lincoln’s birthday came and went without fanfare … and Louie Dampier gets another good-foryou! 15 minutes of fame by way of election to the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Since bettors in Las Vegas will take a wager on anything, what odds on length of Louie’s speech: Minute-and-a-half? 39 seconds?

Then, Mother Nature sent us another snowstorm.

While it snowed and snowed and snowed, these historical gems surfaced. v Kentucky’s basketball team caused telephones to ring again at Cliff Hagan’s house and Frank Ramsey’s too. v The Wildcats’ 25-0 kept teevee talking heads and barbershop worry-warts jabbering, “but, can Kentucky beat Virginia?” … “but, can Kentucky beat Wisconsin?” v By mid-month the cliché’ flirtation-with-greatness was in vogue again. But, wait a minute, Kentucky passed that one already and moved along to word at the cliff ’s edge: Grrrreat!

As overused as grrrreat is, these Wildcats are starting to well, play all-for-one and near the orbit of grrrreatness.

Meanwhile, another snowstorm is on the way.

UGLY BALL?

An action photograph of Cliff Hagan (UK 1954) in the Lexington newspaper last Sunday brought to mind another era in college hoops. Hagan’s image and the game in the 1950s reflected grace, skill and satin execution. Hagan could be logo guy for a time when the word often attached to college basketball was ballet.

A few days ago an Internet columnist suggested college hoops in 2015 is ugly. I would add: It is too physical and too (ball-screen) repetitive. Most entertaining teams? Kentucky, Virginia, Arizona, Butler, Notre Dame and Duke.

The Internet ‘expert’ added, “Kentucky’s best attribute is sheer size and brute force and not terribly entertaining in and of itself.”

Wrong! Not even close. Kentucky, at its best playing manto man defense is grandly entertaining. Too, no team I’ve seen, other than Arizona, is more artful running a fast break.

JOHN CALIPARI

Buzz for John Calipari’s nomination for induction to the Naismith Hall of Fame paralleled celebration of Jerry Tarkanian’s coaching career. It brought to mind elements the two had/have in common. v Mold extraordinary players into Team Think. Often coaches fail for lack of skills to motivate and maximize talent. v Sell the formula — decisionmaking, recognize fast break opportunity (and not), dedication to clampdown man-to-man defense and confidence to play physical smartly. v Savvy. Tarkanian then and Calipari now calculates risk and has nerve enough to challenge the NCAA, operate at the edges of or around its rules without being held accountable.

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John Feinstein’s style and writing skills are superb and proven. His analysis, by design I like to think, is preachy, leaving fans to fume. Leaves others of us to reexamine facts.

The author of several books, Feinstein recently suggested arrogance is at the root of Kentucky’s decline to play UTEP.

“Kentucky’s refusal to play (Texas-El Paso) on the 50th anniversary of the most important college game ever played.

“ Kentucky people always yammer about how (Adolph) Rupp was unfairly cast as a racist, villain. Fine, let’s play the game and let the story be told from BOTH sides. THAT matters.”

No, it doesn’t matter.

Feinstein’s notion that “Kentucky people always yammer …” is his right as the writer. But facts seem to be above his passion pay grade. The NCAA title game March 19, 1966 was not the most important game ever played. It is a myth perpetuated by movie-makers (Glory Road) and writers who lift and embrace work and context from writers before them.

Facts are … v Context. The 1966 Texas Western is most often referred to as five black starters. One wonders how white members of the team felt about suddenly being not relevant? v History tells us two far more important college basketball games were played long before UTEP-Kentucky.

• As early as the 1940s an allwhite Duke team (Feinstein’s alma mater) played an all-black college team in Durham.

• March 1963, an all- white Mississippi State team had courage to slip out of Starkville to play Loyola of Chicago in an NCAA Mideast Regional game before which ( black) Jerry Harkness and (white) Joe Dan Gold shared an historic handshake. Contest? Courage and drama come from this game eclipses in time and impact UK-Texas Western three years later.

Finally, without emphasis on celebrating Texas Western’s NCAA title and players from both teams in 1966, a Kentucky-UTEP game today is not yammer. It is irrelevant.

FRANK RAMSEY

Frank Ramsey. A point of view expressed by the Hall of Famer in the Lexington Herald-Leader last week warmed a few hearts.

About Kentucky’s suspended season, 1952-53, Ramsey said, “I actually enjoyed that year off. There was more time to put into your studies.”

Brings us to a Washington Post story last week that reported some major-conference commissioners “want to revisit the idea of freshman ineligibility. Especially in men’s basketball, where most players are required to attend school for only one year before pursuing a professional career and thus may not devote much attention to the academic side of things.”

Logic? First- year students could benefit from an easier adjustment to academic and social challenges.

As unlikely as it is, a freshmen ineligibility rule could have an acronym: CTCL — Closing The Calipari Loophole.

And so it goes.

You can reach me at bob.watkins24@aol.com


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