Calipari, fans look beyond vacated games

Big Blue Madness stokes wildfire of expectations

Herald-Leader Staff WriterOctober 25, 2009 

When asked about being the only coach to have two Final Four appearances vacated, John Calipari tried to put that awkward distinction into perspective.

"I'm not the only coach to have games vacated," he said at the Southeastern Conference Media Day on Thursday. "And there's other coaches who won championships and had games vacated. They just didn't have them vacated that year.

"The point of this for all us coaches is we're all responsible, and I'm responsible for everything that goes on in my program. But it's hard to be accountable — or held accountable — for everything and everybody else."

Calipari recalled being an assistant at Pittsburgh and recruiting the son of a high school coach. The prospect went to another school and later was caught stealing from his teammates. How could a coach anticipate and prevent that?

Calipari acknowledged that, like it or not, coaches are held responsible. When he coached at UMass, his star player, Marcus Camby, took improper gifts from an agent. That led to UMass vacating its 1996 Final Four appearance.

The NCAA ordered Calipari's Memphis team to vacate its 2008 Final Four appearance, in part, because star guard Derrick Rose was judged to have cheated on an entrance exam. Memphis is appealing the ruling.

"Some of the rulings say we are (responsible and accountable)," Calipari said. "So you live with it. I'm not happy about it. I'm hoping the appeal is successful.

"And I'm coaching Kentucky."

At Kentucky, Calipari can easily look forward. He said fans seldom ask about the vacated Final Fours. For that, he can thank UK fans' famously myopic view of college basketball.

"These people are all excited about Kentucky basketball," he said. "They probably don't know where I coached. They just want to know how we're preparing the team.

"I tell you, they know who coached at Kentucky. They know who played at Kentucky. They may know who Derrick Rose is. I bet you they don't. I bet you none of them know Tyreke Evans' name."

Madness revisited

A walk through Rupp Arena — from the top row of the upper arena to the first row courtside during last week's Big Blue Madness — gave the impression that fans were simply happy to be there.

A few highlights:

■ Top row view.

"We're big Wildcat fans," said Heather Herrera, who sat with her husband, Carlos, on the top row of Section 320.

When asked if they regretted not bringing binoculars, Heather smiled and said, "I've got zoom on my camera."

■ The gentleman from North Carolina.

Zach May, 18, sat with his uncle, John May, on the third row from the top of Section 230. It was Zach's first time in Rupp Arena.

Zach grew up in Floyd County but now lives in North Carolina.

"Tar Heel Country," his uncle said.

To which, Zach corrected him by saying, "Tar Hole Country."

■ Great expectations.

When asked what he expected from the UK team this coming season, Zach got right to the point.

"No. 8," he said, meaning the program's eighth national championship. "That's pretty much what any Kentucky fan would expect. Great players. Great coach. You expect that No. 8."

But Zach recoiled from the suggestion that anything short of the championship, or a Final Four, would be a disappointment.

"We didn't even make the (NCAA) tournament last year," he said. "That is disappointing."

However, his uncle had more of a pass-fail mentality.

"If Kentucky does not go to the Final Four, it's not a good season," John May said. "If Kentucky goes to the championship game, that's a good season. If Kentucky wins it, that's a great season. Anything else is a bad season."

■ Less show biz, please.

In first-row seats at center court sat Rick Brizendine and Jerry Roberts, who camped out first in line outside Memorial Coliseum for Madness tickets.

Brizendine welcomed Calipari's promise of a Madness with more basketball and less pseudo show biz.

"I like the idea of more basketball and less clog dancing," he said. "I'd rather see the players than some hillbilly faction."

'Zero worries'

John Wall is not the only former player for Brian Clifton's D-One Sports team. More than one reader wondered if those players face eligibility questions like Wall because of the association with Clifton, who at one time was an agent.

Duke freshman forward Ryan Kelly, a Raleigh native, was Wall's teammate on the club team for at least three years. Kelly's mother, Doreen Kelly, told the Raleigh News & Observer that her son's amateur eligibility and academic credentials have been approved by the NCAA.

"I have absolutely zero worries as regard to Ryan as a student-athlete," she told the Raleigh newspaper. "None whatsoever."

'Today's realities'

On Feb. 8, the Raleigh News & Observer published a story about the recruitment process surrounding highly regarded prospect John Wall. The story included this paragraph:

"Wall and those closest to him epitomize today's realities in the pursuit of the best young talent. These include: the involvement of summer-league coaches as de facto agents, their insistence on knowing how their players will be used and the way that perceived differences in playing and coaching styles can sway prospects, and the hiring by colleges — coincidental or not — of coaches with ties to recruits."

Analyst Jerry Meyer of the recruiting service Rivals.com described Brian Clifton as a "regular AAU coach" doing things that AAU coaches do. "Nothing that unusual about him," Meyer said.

Perspective

UK fan Ed Luttrell sent an e-mail last week asking for information on how to donate money to help Mark Krebs' mother, Terri, in her battle with cancer.

"I wish Cat fans would put half as much energy into a need such as this as opposed to worrying about John Wall's eligibility (and there is no bigger die-hard UK fan than I)," Luttrell wrote.

Then he added, "P.S. — Sure hope Wall is eligible asap. ... (oops, it just slipped out)."

Luttrell, 51, was born in Hazard and grew up in Lexington. A 1980 UK graduate, he lives in Charlotte, N.C. (or as he put it, "serious enemy territory") and works as a civil engineer and senior vice president for an engineering company.

"My son is currently at UK," he wrote. "Born in the Carolinas but a proud third-generation Wildcat."

By the way, anyone wishing to donate to help the Krebs family pay medical expenses should contact the Citizens Bank in Newport. The bank has set up a fund. The phone number is (859) 572-2660. Ask for Theresa Gilliam.

Transparent, opaque

UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. talks about wanting transparency. But only Mississippi State has practiced it this fall when having a player facing eligibility issues.

Mississippi State acknowledged for weeks, if not months, that freshman Renardo Sidney has not had his eligibility confirmed.

"I've been on record all fall with my guy," State Coach Rick Stansbury said. "His amateurism is being reviewed. That's about all I know."

At SEC Media Day, Stansbury added that he could not be sure when the NCAA would determine Sidney's eligibility status.

Meanwhile, UK still has not confirmed that freshman John Wall also faces eligibility questions. Even SEC Commissioner Mike Slive saying last week that amateurism issues had to be resolved before Wall could be eligible failed to move UK to be, well, the least bit transparent. If fans want to know Wall's status, they'll just have to see if he dresses and plays. Otherwise, shut up and keep sending in the donations.

NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh sent an e-mail on Friday saying athletes with eligibility questions can practice, but not play in games until a judgment is made.

Stansbury said he would not play Sidney regardless of the rule. He'll wait until the NCAA determines Sidney's eligibility.

"I'm not going to play somebody I may not have," the State coach said. "I'm going to wait to make sure I get them before I play them."

Jackson's new look

Earlington native Albert Jackson joined Coach Mark Fox as Georgia's representatives at SEC Media Day. Each required more than a glance to be recognized. Fox, because he's a first-year coach.

Jackson, because he has a new look. Gone are the dreadlocks that fell onto his shoulders.

"Coach wanted me to," he said of his close-cropped haircut. "He did not force me to. It was a choice."

Jackson said he chose to cut his hair to be viewed more as a leader of the group rather than an individual.

"No one is going to buy into the system unless I do," he said.

Fox said he suggested the haircut not solely for basketball reasons. The dreadlocks could be a hindrance, the coach said.

"If somebody is interviewing him, I don't think he'd get the job in the corporate world," Fox said. "Our job is to help them become educated and employed and present themselves in the right way."

Gillispie hopeful

Former UK Coach Billy Gillispie surfaced at Arkansas-Little Rock last week. Arkansas-Little Rock Coach Steve Shiels, a longtime friend, invited him to observe practices Monday and Tuesday. Billy G. also spoke to the players.

As for his future, Gillispie told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "I'm just day to day. I love coaching. I love young people. I love the game of basketball."

Gillispie, who coached at UK for two seasons before being fired last spring, acknowledged missing the game.

"You really get the itch when you don't have a team," he said. "I'm hopeful I'll get another opportunity. If and when that happens, I'll make the most of it."

Cal at Rotary

Since John Calipari appears everywhere, it's no surprise he continued the tradition of speaking to the Lexington Rotary Club. With one glaring exception, UK coaches have been giving the club a preview of the upcoming season dating back to Adolph Rupp.

Calipari's appearance included gift giving. He received a tie, a portrait and an honorary Rotary badge and pin.

The UK coach also received a jar of Kentucky-made sorghum.

To which, Calipari said, "What is sorghum?"

A Rotarian answered, "It's sort of like 10W40, only sweeter."

Much laughter ensued.

The Rotary Club had its largest crowd ever. Member Nell Main said about 500 people attended. Usually about 235 attend the meetings.

Musical note

The SEC Media Day brings fiercely competitive people together in a relatively relaxed atmosphere. When Florida Coach Billy Donovan crossed paths with Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl, the latter asked how the Gators were looking.

To which Donovan quoted a 1970s pop music act. "We're like Karen Carpenter," the Florida coach said. "We've only just begun."

Blue Ribbon

As always, one of the highlights at last week's SEC Media Day was getting a copy of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Its 400 pages provide the best detail on every Division I team.

Editor Chris Dortch said fans can buy a copy through the Web site www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or by calling 1-877-807-4857.

The yearbook will also be available in Lexington at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

Happy birthday

To Bob Knight. He turns 69 today.

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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