Tyndall's Eagles are Cats' first prey

Morehead's Tyndall is hoping for lucky Friday the 13th

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 24, 2009 

The game is on Friday 13th. It will be the first game of the John Calipari era.

Yes, you could say Morehead State Coach Donnie Tyndall wanted to play Kentucky in the worst way.

"I don't know what made me do that," Tyndall said, tongue firmly in cheek, about the Eagles' opening the season at UK on Friday, Nov. 13.

Tyndall knows full well why he scheduled the game. Morehead State needs the money that comes with a guarantee game. Plus, it has to help in-state recruiting to tell a prospect you'll give him a chance to play Kentucky in Rupp Arena.

Yet, the first game of the Calipari era will also give UK fans their first chance to let loose in support of the new coach and his revamped, high-powered roster.

"We know — especially that night — it'll be rockin' in there," Tyndall said.

Tyndall took the initiative to schedule the game. He called the UK offices and spoke to assistant John Robic. Earlier this spring, Calipari noted how the credibility of non-conference opponents can greatly affect a team's Ratings Percentage Index.

He was not kidding.

Robic told Tyndall that Calipari wanted opponents to have an RPI of 140 or better. If that holds true, Kentucky fans will see a better quality of sacrificial lambs.

Calipari also told reporters that he wanted opponents who figured to win 20 games.

"He asked me point-blank how good we'd be," the Morehead State coach said. Tyndall said he thought the Eagles could win between 17 and 20 games. He also sees MSU finishing in the top third of the Ohio Valley Conference despite losing the team's best player, Leon Buchanan.

The Eagles return four starters and six of their first seven players from an NCAA Tournament team. Senior Maze Stallworth, a native of Elizabethtown, figures to become a 1,000-point career scorer this season.

"It is Friday the 13th," Tyndall said, "and stranger things have happened on that night."

The mind drifts back to 1989 and the start of the Rick Pitino era. Ohio U lost to Kentucky by three when its top player, Dave Jamerson, missed a three-point shot in the final seconds.

"Trust me," Tyndall said. "I'd take the same shot to tie it this year."

Dear John

Just like the common salt-of-the-earth sportswriter, UK President Lee Todd gets plenty of feedback. So no surprise that the hiring of John Calipari produced a response.

"The positive ones came in early," Todd said. "Now, it's calmed down. People don't have the time to write me or e-mail because they're Twittering with him."

Straight shooter

Former UK All-American Kenny Walker expects John Calipari to handle the give-and-take of post-game press conferences.

"I think he'll be able to come out after a tough game and say, 'Hey, guys, we didn't get it done tonight, and here's why,'" Walker said.

"That's what the fan base needs: a guy that will shoot you straight."

Great Wall of UK

Former UK coach Joe B. Hall needs no more convincing about mega point guard prospect John Wall.

"Oh, he's a magician," Hall said. "He's as good as it gets at penetrating and being in traffic and finding the open man and getting the ball to him in a variety of ways with either hand. I mean, he does things you wouldn't believe."

His UK teammates will need to play with Wall to get used to receiving such unlikely passes.

That said, not everyone is bowled over by Wall.

Longtime recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons ranks Wall No. 4 for his All-Star Sports service. He's got forward Derrick Favors No. 1 followed by Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins.

"He doesn't shoot it consistently well enough," Gibbons said of Wall. "He's just a jet going up and down the floor. If it's a slam-dunk contest, he's flashy and fun to watch."

Gibbons also found Wall turnover prone.

Good deed punished

Former Indiana player Dan Dakich later coached at Bowling Green. Now he plays host to a sports radio talk show out of Indianapolis.

That career path served a purpose last week when Dakich asked a guest how many Kentucky players would have to forfeit scholarships in order for the program to meet the limit of 13 per team.

The guest said he never bothered to count. Teams always found a way to get to 13 while adding as many players as they wanted.

Of his do-gooder practice of bypassing a prospect if it meant moving past 13 scholarships, Dakich said, "I used to do that. Now I'm in the radio booth."

Future shock?

Recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger suggested a freshman-versus-freshman matchup worth seeing next season: UK's John Wall against Florida's Kenny Boynton. Each is a top-10 national prospect in the Prep Stars service.

"Kenny Boynton is about as quick as they come," Oettinger said. "Wall couldn't go by him (pause) easily" in summer play.

Oettinger saluted Boynton as a willing and effective defender.

Surrender, SEC

Pat Dooley, the sports columnist at The Gainesville Sun, expects John Calipari to return Kentucky to a dominating position in the SEC.

"Gator fans are almost like, 'OK, we had our run ... Let's get back to football,' " Dooley said.

Mark your calendars

Nell Main, the brains behind the Lexington Rotary Club, was asked if John Calipari's scheduled Oct. 15 appearance had excited members.

"They ask me weekly, 'Now is it the 15th he's coming?'" Main said.

Main noted how Billy Gillispie's arrival two years ago also excited the masses.

"It wore off rather quickly," Main said.

Good fit

Recruiting analyst Dave Telep saw John Calipari's top-rated recruiting class as fitting for Kentucky.

"To me, Kentucky basketball has always been over the top," Telep said. "Whether it's how many people go to their games or expectations for their program or the profile of the coach.

"This recruiting class is over the top."

Bledsoe: pro and con

In voicing his concerns about Eric Bledsoe signing with UK, the player's high school coach acknowledged his unease about the subsequent arrival of heralded prospect John Wall.

"How would you feel if that was your player going and you've got another point guard coming in that's supposed to be the No. 1 player in the country?" Bledsoe's coach, Maurice Ford, said. "That's a no-brainer there. I mean, c'mon man."

Reader K. Nicole Wilson disagreed with Ford.

"Hey, sour grapes," she wrote in an e-mail. "I would feel happy that my player was going on a team that had a lot of weapons. I would feel happy that my player came to a team that had a chance of going to and advancing far in the Big Dance. I would feel happy that he could practice against another extremely skilled point guard every day and improve his skills as a result.

"Do you want Bledsoe to be one and done? You need to think about what that mentality encourages. You need to consider that this is a team sport. And you need to contemplate the difference between cutting down nets and simply being the top scorer in the land."

Although some readers objected to Ford's concerns being publicized, Wilson said that the public airing of the comments served a purpose.

"We can't have the sweet without the sour," she wrote, "and everything isn't always bright and shiny. There's no need to hide the truth."

Wilson described herself as a "poet/teacher/editor" from Maysville. She now lives in the Seattle area. She graduated from UK in 2002, then received an advanced degree from Spalding in 2005.

She's a lifelong UK fan.

'Mature approach'

Fan Paul Brooks sent an e-mail salute to Eric Bledsoe for signing with UK despite the likelihood of sitting behind mega prospect John Wall next season.

"Obviously, the kid wants to be a part of BIG things," Brooks wrote. "His mature approach to this is great for the team and shows he is not a 'me player.' Only time will tell if this is true, but he's going to be playing against the best guard in the league every practice. Screw 90 percent of the Kentucky games this year. I want to go to the practices."

Brooks, who works in UK's physical plant department, was born in West Palm Beach, Fla. His family moved to Kentucky when he was 3.

Brooks said he has been a UK fan since the age of 6. "I probably watched games before that, but those were the first I remember," he wrote. "Watching (Travis) Ford and the ugliest UK uniforms ever."

Anticipation

What a season 2010-11 is shaping up to be.

It will start with Kentucky in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Then at season's end, UK Coach John Calipari will be one of the honorees at the Dick Vitale Gala, which serves as an annual spring fund-raiser for the V Foundation.

This year's gala raised about $1.1 million for cancer research, Dick Vitale said.

Cal State

What UK calls the John Calipari Basketball School will be in session this summer in a series of camps.

The camp circuit begins with the Father-Son Camp on June 19-20.

Calipari and staff will be joined by current and former UK players, as well as other standout players.

Twitter followers of Calipari that put their Twitter username on a registration form get a guaranteed spot.

For more information, call (859) 257-1916 or go online to www.ukathletics.com/camps. Fans can also contact UK's Jason Walberg at jason.walberg@uky.edu.

The camp schedule is Father-Son Camp June 19-20, Overnight/Day sessions June 21-24 and July 26-29 and a Wildcat Serious Skills Camp on July 19-22. The latter will feature Tony Delk and Scott Padgett.

Happy birthday

To former UK forward Cedric Jenkins. He turns 43 on Monday.

Jenkins began a second career on Christmas Eve when he bought a General Nutrition Center in Hamburg Place. In his first job, he worked as a commercial lender for a bank. That experience allowed him to study what made for a successful business. Now he'll put that education to work.

Jenkins and his wife, Jamie, have a 5-year-old son, Alijah, who is studying kung fu. "So I'm taking a few punches," Jenkins said with a chuckle.

Good thing Jamie is completing work on a doctorate degree in health care administration.

Like all UK fans, Jenkins marvels at the quick restoration being performed by new coach John Calipari. "Just amazing to go from not making the NCAA Tournament to top 10 in only a matter of months," he said. "I'm definitely excited."

Jenkins expressed hope that a return to basketball dominance will renew a "sense of brotherhood" among the former Kentucky players.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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