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We dread saying good-bye to UK faves

Sports in Kentucky


Bob Watkins

Bob Watkins

For basketball fans in Kentucky, a calendar’s turn to February is the bittersweet. The sweet is obvious: Bragging rights, record without blemish, the team’s place at pinnacle of Hoops World. Traditionalists analyze the games painstakingly — assists, fast-break points, and new favorite, blocked shots.

February, here comes the bitter — attachment to favorite players counting down to June. A growing, if unspoken dread for the recently institutionalized part of Kentucky basketball, get-me-to-the-NBA. In two months, too many favorites will be gone too soon. Among them perhaps, SEC freshman player of the week for last three in a row, Devin Booker.

The new generation of Wildcat fans are (John Calipari) re-programmed to “next!”

The rest of us will cherish those who savored time on the Glory Road instead of perilous pursuit after gold at the end of it.

ERNIE BANKS

Ernie Banks died the other day and it made me of another Mr. Cub. Leon Singleton.

Lives in McCreary County these days, Leon. He and the rest of us who took to dusty baseball fields on the hot July days of our youth, celebrate that Mr. Cub came our way. In my case, both of ‘em.

Fare-thee-well, Mister Cub. Ernie Banks’s body was 83. But between his ears he was 15, maybe. Ever smiling, ever grateful for life. Along with smiling Leon Singleton and others who owned his baseball card, he gave us sunny words as timeless as the best Yogi Berra-ism. Let’s play two.

And, we did play two.

Mr. Cub was responsible for other wisdoms that separate those who embrace life sweetly no matter circumstance, from those who pursue it through brambles and briars of dollars.

In his book, Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ‘69, author Phil Rogers wrote of No. 14 whose smile seemed forever… v “I tried to sign every kid’s autograph. Because in my mind, I thought that one day I might have to ask this kid for a job. v “My dad used to take me to the cotton fields, tell me to pick cotton. It taught me how to use my hands. I would grab. When I started to play baseball I just had the natural quick hands. That was my extra advantage, my slight edge over anybody else. I had quick hands. I could wait to the last minute and hit the ball. Nobody could understand it. But I had those quick hands, which I developed by picking cotton. v “Ernie Banks grew up in Dallas, Rogers wrote, and told me once he was having so much fun riding buses with the Kansas City Monarchs that he wasn’t happy when owner Tom Baird sold him and pitcher Bill Dickey to the Cubs for $20,000 in September, 1953.” v “My life is like a miracle.”

Ernie Banks. Baseball fans are grateful he came our way.

And, Leon Singleton’s way too.

BURROW HONOR IS WAY OVERDUE

Bob Burrow, two-time All-American at Kentucky ( 1955 and 1956) will be honored at this year’s SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville March 11-15 as a Conference Basketball Legend.

Sixty years on, this honor for Burrow and family is shamefully overdue. University of Kentucky athletic officials in rapture of goingson in Calipari era, ought pay better attention to the program’s rich past.

WESTERN ROLLS

Western Kentucky’s 7-0 start in C-USA is the best conference start since 1969- 70 when the Jim McDanielsled Hilltoppers were on way to 14-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Severe tests for the Tops this week with league road games at Louisiana Tech Thursday and Southern Miss Saturday.

What-to-Watch Dept. Ben Lawson at Western Kentucky. Having seen the maturation of Nazr Mohammed at Kentucky and Felton Spencer at Louisville from walk- and- chew- gum- atsame time to NBA-worthy, Lawson’s advances are remarkable.

The gangly Brit is a study in team guy learn-growadvance.

In twin wins last week Lawson’s carefully managed minutes produced 11 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocked shots.

Native of Hitchin, south of Cambridge, England, Lawson has much to do – time at the dinner table and in weight room. But his minutes, timing and circumstance coach Ray Harper and staff choose to use their 7-0 sophomore, makes an intriguing chapter in a special story.

LOUISVILLE

Rick Pitino did last week one of the things he has a reputation for doing so artfully, spin.

His team’s 15-3 record (at the time) is an accomplishment Da Coach rates somewhere between Houdini and a space walk. In fact, along with growing a beard it was smoke to take away from Montrezl Harrell’s revoked team captaincy and home losses to Kentucky and Duke sandwiched around a stinging give-away at North Carolina.

The Cardinals are still a team nobody wants to play and are back in groove in time for North Carolina then road games at Miami and No. 2 Virginia.

PARTING SHOT

ESPN basketball analyst Dan Dakich drew the ire of Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey last week after Dakich blistered Iowa center Adam Woodbury for poking fingers into the eyes of two Wisconsin players.

Seeing a replay, Woodbury should be disciplined, and McCaffrey should use it as a teaching moment instead of berating a TV analyst.

And so it goes.


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