UK Basketball notebook

UK basketball notebook: Knight has no regrets about turning pro, mom says

Herald-Leader Staff WriterOctober 16, 2011 

When NBA Commissioner David Stern announced last week that the current player lockout forced the cancellation of the season's first two weeks, surely underclassmen who left college last spring winced.

That means you, Brandon Knight.

With this coming NBA season seemingly shrinking like Michelle Bachmann's poll numbers, logic suggests that Knight and other players might second guess decisions to enter the 2011 NBA Draft.

Yet when asked how Knight was doing, his mother blithely answered, "He's fine."

Fine? After playing point guard for a Final Four Kentucky team, Knight is fine with possibly not playing this season? He's not concerned or the least bit apprehensive about his basketball future?

"For what?" Tonya Knight asked. " ... They will have an NBA season. If not this year, next year or the year after.

"In the meantime, he'll do what he'd do anyway."

Knight is taking online classes and working out. "Business as usual," his mother said.

Knight splits time between his Florida home and California. While on the West Coast, he works out with other players represented by agent Arn Tellem. Those players include Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.

"He's playing against the best point guards in the NBA ..." Tonya Knight said. "So he's having the time of his life."

The lockout can be a good thing, Knight's mother said. It gives him time to gain weight and strength while also allowing him to rest.

Tonya Knight acknowledged that she hears her son's decision to leave UK second-guessed.

"Sure, several people have," she said.

Tonya Knight has a ready answer.

"I tell everybody, if somebody was going to pay you millions of dollars to do the thing you always wanted to do all your life, what would you do?" she said. "It's just common sense."

This argument wins the day.

"I haven't met one person yet that told me they would continue to do the opposite of the thing they dreamed of doing," Tonya Knight said.

Human interest

HBO takes an inside look at top-level high school basketball in a 90-minute special to debut on Oct. 25. UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist figures prominently in the program, which chronicles the 2010-11 season for New Jersey high school powerhouse St. Patrick.

Watching a preview copy of Prayer for a Perfect Season last week revealed much more than basketball. For all the winning and dunking, it's not entirely an uplifting, G-rated story. Human drama overwhelms basketball.

The human interest centers on Kidd-Gilchrist, whose father was murdered before the future UK player reached his third birthday. And on the day he signed with UK, Kidd-Gilchrist and his family grieved the sudden death of an uncle who had been a surrogate father.

"I didn't want to play (anymore)," Kidd-Gilchrist says when reflecting on the loss of his uncle, Darrin Kidd.

In one of the program's many memorable moments, Kidd-Gilchrist's mother, Cynthia Richardson, tries to console her son. She tells him to lean on God.

"If there's a God," he says quietly.

To which his mother replies, "Don't say that."

Another St. Patrick player, current Western Kentucky freshman Derrick Gordon, also wrestles with psychological pain. His twin brother began serving a five-year prison sentence in that season.

Former Sayre player Dakari Johnson, who transferred to St. Patrick, makes a cameo appearance.

But the program stars the St. Patrick program, its pugnacious coach, Kevin Boyle, and Kidd-Gilchrist.

More than a few F-bombs fly as Boyle tries to guide his talented team to the program's first unbeaten season. Archrival St. Anthony, coached by Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, stands in the way as the program reaches its climactic ending.

Hurley salutes Kidd-Gilchrist as the kind of passionate player any coach would like. "He appears to be all about winning," Hurley says.

But as the HBO special makes clear, Kidd-Gilchrist is truly made of flesh and blood.

"If he was here right now, I'd be chilling," he says after mulling over a picture of his father. "I wouldn't have a motor at all."

Gone, forgotten

In speaking to reporters on Media Day, John Calipari likened his upcoming team to Louisville's dynasty run of the 1970s and 1980s. This made no impression on the UK players, who were not yet born when Denny Crum guided U of L to national championships in 1980 and 1986, plus numerous other Final Fours.

Crum, a Hall of Fame coach, accepted this anonymity without complaint.

"I think it's normal," he said. "That's not a big surprise. There are probably a lot of Louisville players who don't know a lot (of the program's history)."

Calipari spoke informally with Crum earlier this year about how U of L won with many similarly sized and skilled players.

While fans might look askance at cooperation between UK and U of L, Crum noted that the fraternity of coaches supersedes rivalries.

"Coaches all help each other and steal from each other," he said. "There aren't that many secrets."

Titles vs. picks

Fans approached at Madness had no problem with John Calipari saying earlier in the week that he'd be disappointed if UK wins the national championship but does not have a player drafted in 2012. The so-called "players-first" philosophy was fine.

"He's looking more to the future than one season," fan Jason Higdon of Paducah said. "He's trying to build an empire, if that's the right word. I'm not a one-year guy. Plenty of teams have one championship, and that's it. It's good he's thinking of the future."

Tyler Spence of Olive Hill suggested a practical reason for Calipari to put the higher priority on preparing players for the NBA.

"I think he's using it as a recruiting tool," Spence said. "He does want to bring a national championship to us. At the same time, he wants to see players do well further in life."

As for Calipari's disappointment in a championship that comes with no draft picks, Rick Spence of Olive Hill would not share the coach's sadness, "Nah," he said. "I wouldn't be disappointed. Absolutely not."

Rick who?

In saluting past UK coaches, John Calipari's Madness speech mentioned Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall and Tubby Smith.

Conspicuous by his absence was Rick Pitino.

Of course, also left unmentioned were Eddie Sutton and Billy Gillispie.

Intramurals?

In a commentary for National Public Radio earlier this month, Frank Deford cited a recent story on Bloomberg News about athletics and academics at Rutgers. The story noted that Rutgers' women's basketball coach received a salary of $1.3 million (plus allowances for a car and golf). Last season, that team drew an average attendance of about 3,000 and lost $2.2 million.

Meanwhile, in a cost-cutting move, Rutgers removed the phones of 40 history professors.

Of course, UK juggles its own academic and athletic priorities; most notably during a financial crisis in 2003 when the academic side started skimping on light bulbs at the same time athletics administrators got huge raises.

The situation at Rutgers moved Deford to propose that many college athletic teams — besides football and men's basketball — compete on an intramural basis.

"Would the universities' educational missions be diminished by that decision?" he said "Would good student applicants reject them for lack of league lacrosse games? Come on."

Deford quoted Clark Kerr, who used to lead the California university system, as saying that the modern American university's purpose "has come to be defined as providing parking for the faculty, sex for the students and athletics for the alumni."

This led Deford to conclude, "OK, given that student sex and faculty parking are a given, couldn't we just switch most intercollegiate athletics to the intramural? Surely, there are enough professional teams for the alumni to turn to for their amusement."

Laettner again

Two names that sting UK fans — former Duke All-Americans Christian Laettner and Grant Hill — will be part of the coverage of next year's NCAA Tournament. The two are part of Turner Sports' look at Duke basketball, which the network billed as "one of the most storied college basketball programs in the history of the game."

A documentary entitled Duke '91 & '92 will air on truTV in advance of TV coverage of the tournament, which will be on TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV.

Duke won national championships in 1991 and 1992, becoming the first program to win back-to-back titles in almost 20 years.

In a news release, Turner Sports noted how the documentary will examine "an era that helped set the stage for the school's reign as college basketball's most influential and successful program, on and off the court, of the last 20 years."

Among the documentary highlights are — brace yourself, UK fans — Laettner's famous buzzer-beater that defeated Kentucky in the 1992 East Region finals. As UK fans well know, Grant was not guarded on the inbounds and delivered a three-quarter pass right to Laettner.

Other highlights include Duke's 1991 upset victory over UNLV in the Final Four, the 1992 victory over Michigan's Fab Five and a look at a 20-year reunion Duke staged earlier this fall.

Homegrown is key?

Reader Ernie Henninger offered his advice — via email — on how UK football can improve.

"The two keys to a Division I program are reputation and talent supply," Henninger wrote. "... UK basketball is well-set. Its reputation, i.e. established record of success, guarantees that top prospects will keep coming, in assurance of winning and enhancing professional futures.

"UK football, however, is going nowhere. Without the reputation and without a good supply of local and statewide talent, and in competition with the deep South for SEC caliber players, the best UK football can hope for is luck — spelled Randall Cobb."

Henninger suggested that the cash crop of the deep South has switched from "cotton to speed-of-sound 300-plus-pound behemoths and speed-of-light gazelles."

In conclusion, he wrote, "All UK fans should stop moaning and start raising our own crop of super (players). If we could do that for both basketball and football, we could break our dependency on first- and second-rate mercenaries and once again have teams that actually represent the university and the State of Kentucky."

Henninger taught physics at DePauw University. He now is retired and living in Harrodsburg.

Transy-UK dinner

Transylvania will play host to a fund-raiser dinner prior to playing an exhibition game against Kentucky.

Its "Dinner with the Pioneers and the Wildcats" will be held Oct. 30 at Keeneland's Entertainment Center. Proceeds go to Transy athletics.

UK Coach John Calipari is expected to attend and speak to the crowd.

Tickets are $150 per seat or $1,200 for a table seating 10. A table that includes Calipari or Transy Coach Brian Lane costs $15,000.

Tickets can be bought by calling Natasa Mongiardo of Transy's alumni office at (859) 233-8275.

Happy birthday

To former UK player Todd Ziegler. He turns 46 today. To former UK player Tony Cooper. He turns 40 Monday.

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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