Tourney trail revealing truths

Post-season exposes character and characters

Herald-Leader Sports Columnist,By Mark StoryMarch 24, 2009 

Fast-break points from the tournament trail:

21. Travis Ford. Timing and circumstance will determine whether the former UK point guard ever gets the chance, but the coach I watched leading Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament over the weekend displayed many of the qualities a head man would need to succeed at Kentucky.

20. Western Kentucky University. Has fielded a men's basketball team clearly better than Kentucky's for two straight years now.

19. Steffphon Pettigrew. Since two Kentucky coaches (Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie) both decided not to offer the former Elizabethtown star a scholarship in 2007, Pettigrew has been on WKU teams that have played in five NCAA Tournament games; UK has played (and lost) one such contest over the same period.

18. Orlando Mendez-Valdez. Have you ever seen a guttier, more crafty performance than the one turned in by the Western point guard during the Hilltoppers' instant classic with Gonzaga?

17. Last-second Toppers. Being on the happy side of the Big Dance game winner (see Rogers, Ty) is a little more enjoyable, eh Tops fans?

16. Darrin Horn. Didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare in Bowling Green when he left for South Carolina.

15. Butler University. Has fielded a men's basketball team clearly better than Kentucky's for three straight years now.

14. Donnie Tyndall. Most impressive thing about the Morehead State coach was the approach he took to the Eagles' inclusion in the "play-in" game.

Many see a negative stigma in that contest. But Tyndall emphasized the positives — chance to play on ESPN, win an NCAA tourney game, earn MSU's 20th victory — and his team bought in.

It was a great example of glass-half-full leadership.

13. Kenneth Faried. After his strong two-game NCAA tourney performance, the bouncy Morehead State big man was being compared as a rebounder to Dennis Rodman and Renaldo Balkman (ex-South Carolina standout now with the Denver Nuggets) by the hoops talking heads in Dayton.

12. University of Dayton Arena. If there is a better venue in which to watch college basketball than this quirky little gem of a gym, I haven't seen it.

11. Phony Cinderella. Arizona might be the only double-digit seed (No. 12 in the Midwest) alive in this chalk-heavy NCAA Tournament, but a BCS conference school, by definition, cannot be a Cinderella team.

10. Xavier University. Has fielded a men's basketball team clearly better than Kentucky's for three straight years now.

9. John Calipari. If the Kentucky head coaching job were to open, it would be an abdication of everything Lee Todd said when he became UK president about the kind of athletics program he wanted to run for Kentucky to pursue the Memphis coach.

8. Big Blue self-deluders. If the Kentucky head coaching job were to open, those who are fantasizing that a former UK coach presently working at another state university might return are in la-la land.

Why would Rick Pitino want to compete against his own unmatchable 1990s record at Kentucky?

Having gone through all the anger of switching sides in our state's most intense sports rivalry, why on God's earth would he put himself through that again?

Do you really think, after years of advocating for a new Louisville arena, Pitino would leave just as he was going to get to coach in it?

When it comes to UK basketball, Rick Pitino is not walking through that door.

6. Billy Donovan. If the Kentucky head coaching job were to open, the Florida coach needs to ask himself a question: Wouldn't a guy with all his passion for hoops like to try working at a school where basketball actually matters to the fan base?

5. Siena University. Has fielded a men's basketball team clearly better than Kentucky's for two straight years now.

4. President Obama's NCAA bracket. Those hating on the POTUS because he made public his tourney picks in a time of national economic crisis are being ridiculous — not even the president should be expected to adhere to all work, no fun, just because times are hard.

3. Looming Big Blue dilemma. If the national title game is Louisville vs. North Carolina, who do you root for, Cats fans?

2. The University of Kentucky. If the Kentucky administration has off-court or philosophical issues that explain why Billy Gillispie's hold on the UK coaching job seems so tenuous, so be it. They presumably are in position to know things about how Billy G. has gone about his job that are not fully apparent to the rest of us.

1. Billy Gillispie. But if it is a basketball decision being made, two years are not a fair trial upon which to render a final judgment on a coach.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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