Notebook

UK basketball notebook: Calipari's poll on ending rivalries riles traditionalists

But soft schedules make happy coaches

Herald-Leader Staff WriterDecember 4, 2011 

John Calipari's pseudo fan survey asking which traditional series Kentucky should terminate or postpone was missing the best response: None of the above.

That's the view of former UK athletics director Larry Ivy, who objected when more than one of Calipari's predecessors sought to weaken the schedule.

"I think tradition has so much to do with it," Ivy said last week before adding a biting comment, "If you're touting yourself as the No. 1 program, I don't think you should be afraid to play anybody."

Of course, Calipari's trial balloon on Coachcal.com about ending UK's series with either Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina does not mean he's a scaredy-Cat. He's more of an exceedingly cautious Cat. He sees how the Southeastern Conference might increase its schedule from 16 to 18 games, and he wonders when enough is enough for what he predicted would be an annual Kentucky team dependent on freshmen.

It doesn't help Calipari's case that he fretted about having to play in the EA Sports Maui Invitational last fall. Too much competition and too much travel for his fuzzy-cheeked team. Then the Kiddie Cats refuted their coach by returning to the Mainland and eventually advancing to the Final Four, where they lost to — ahem — another team they saw on Maui, Connecticut.

Kentucky certainly touts itself as the No. 1 program. Public address announcer Patrick Whitmer proclaims UK's "greatest tradition in the history of college basketball" before each home game.

That tradition includes repeated examples of coaches wanting to remove challenging opponents from the schedule. Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino lobbied publicly and privately to end the long-standing series with Kansas. Both argued that UK did not recruit the Great Plains.

"Rick and I had a lot of battles over scheduling," Ivy said. "Everybody I'd suggest we play, he'd look at their roster, and they'd always have three or four lottery picks, regardless of who it was."

When asked the outcome of those battles, Ivy said, "I didn't win many of them."

Later, Tubby Smith called for Kentucky's schedule to be lightened. Ivy won that one. He said that Kentucky needed to play a Kentucky schedule.

Coaches and athletics directors don't always have the same scheduling aims. Coaches want to win games. "Their records look a lot better if there's a 'W' over maybe a lesser opponent rather than a loss to somebody fans would enjoy you bringing in," Ivy said. "It's a balancing act."

With the increasing cost of tickets (UK requires a $5,000 donation to be eligible to buy each ticket in the first four rows), schools are obligated to play some top-drawer opponents, Ivy said.

Calipari correctly noted that other dynasty programs do not play as many non-conference rivals as Kentucky. Then again, Kentucky never tires of touting its exceptionalism. So ...

Television probably contributes to the problem. UK basketball cannot risk the wrath of its TV masters. Maybe that's why Calipari sidestepped a pointed question about which is the higher scheduling priority: Traditional rivalries or made-for-TV matchups. More and more, revenue for TV networks and athletics departments trumps sentiment and rivalries.

According to UK, the pseudo survey generated 11,317 responses. A solid majority of 70 percent voted to axe the series with Indiana, if necessary. Twenty-two percent voted for (or is that against?) North Carolina. Only 8 percent would end the UK-U of L series.

Meanwhile, Kentucky went into its game against North Carolina on Saturday with a schedule Collegerpi.com rated the 91st toughest in the nation.

Reaction

So how did Louisville, Indiana and North Carolina officials react to John Calipari asking fans to vote on which series to terminate or postpone?

■ U of L spokesman Kenny Klein said that Athletics Director Tom Jurich considered the series with UK as good for the state of Kentucky.

"He did not see the need to talk about it any further as we have been playing since 1983," Klein wrote in an email.

The current UK-U of L contract expires after next season's game, Klein wrote.

■ Indiana Coach Tom Crean said he was aware of the sham vote (sham because Calipari said the balloting was irrelevant).

Like North Carolina, Crean seemed to recoil from the suggestion that any series should be viewed in how it served Kentucky's interests.

"We're always going to do what's best for Indiana," he said. "Every school is going to do what's best for them, and we're no different. We're going to do what's best for us, and I know we have a contract now. We'll leave it as it is and see what happens."

IU Athletics Director Fred Glass noted the value of the series between programs in neighboring states.

"I think Indiana-Kentucky is one of the great rivalries in college basketball, and I'd sure like to see it continue," he said. "Our fans enjoy the traditional rivalries. One of the reasons I was really enthusiastic about the Crossroads Classic is, it ensures we play Butler and Notre Dame in alternating years. Growing up here, the Notre Dame game and Kentucky game were always staples of our pre-Big Ten Conference schedule, and I'd like to see that continue."

■ UNC senior associate athletics director Larry Gallo told ESPN.com that the Tar Heels have to evaluate their schedule. That comes with Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Those are pretty big heavyweights,'' said Gallo, who works with UNC Coach Roy Williams on scheduling. "Are we going to play them twice, are we going to play them once, who are you going to play away? That still all has to be worked out."

But it appears North Carolina wants to continue the series with Kentucky.

"We're in the first year of a four-year contract with Texas," Gallo said. "You want to keep playing games like Kentucky ... but do you want to schedule anything any heavier?"

'Cal should be ashamed'

Reader Gene Russell sent a copy of the email he composed to state his disagreement with John Calipari about Kentucky perhaps needing to remove a traditional opponent from its schedule.

"I understand but disagree with Coach Cal," Russell wrote. "His reasoning: Unless we drop Indiana from our schedule, we can't be successful. What is he scared of? Kentucky can hold its own with the Hoosiers.

"Having the toughest intersectional schedule is something to brag about. I know of no team that can boast of a tougher intersectional schedule than North Carolina, Louisville and Indiana. I think it's an honor to play traditional basketball schools.

"I'd much prefer retaining Indiana even if it means sometimes losing (rather) than adding a pushover like Mississippi Valley State and watching a boring 99-41 victory."

Russell, 79, then added, "Think about it. We can't be successful if Indiana remains on the schedule. Disgusting!!!!! Cal should be ashamed of himself."

A retired Air Force officer, Russell grew up in North Carolina. He has lived in Tennessee since retiring from the Air Force in 1974 and beginning a second career with Pan American World Services, a subsidiary of the airline.

Russell, a graduate of East Carolina University, comes from a family of UNC graduates (two brothers, three nieces, one nephew and two cousins). "I'm the black sheep of the crowd," he wrote in an email.

"I think there's something special about neighboring flagship universities that are basketball schools playing one another. It's just the thing to do. I'd like to see Kentucky play Indiana and North Carolina annually forever."

Brother vs. Brother

UK point guard Marquis Teague and older brother Jeff Teague used to play one-on-one games in the back yard.

"He's a competitor," said Jeff, now a member of the Atlanta Hawks. "I knew how to get under his skin."

How did he do this?

"When he was in high school, I was a lot stronger. I'd take him into the post, run him over, be real physical. He'd call a foul."

Jeff would not agree to the foul call, which irritated Marquis.

"He used to beat me," Marquis said, "and he used to get me frustrated."

Point guard professor

Marquis Teague credited Rod Strickland, a special assistant to John Calipari, for helping him improve.

"I watch a lot of film with Rod Strickland," Teague said. "He pretty much tells me when I'm getting too deep, when I should pass the ball earlier, when I need to slow down or when I need to pull up for the jump shot."

Strickland, who played in more than 1,000 NBA games, also tutored UK point guards John Wall and Brandon Knight.

When asked whether he was old enough to recall Strickland, Teague said, "I watched 'Strick' a lot. He was real good. He was in the NBA a long time."

Left-handed compliment

Joe Wootten, who coached UNC point guard Kendall Marshall on the high school level, said being left-handed made Marshall a more effective player.

"I love to coach lefties," Wootten said. "They're a little different."

Fashion statement

UK savored its football victory over Tennessee last weekend.

To visit the athletics offices last week was to see a box of blue T-shirts with the message "Rocky Stopped" on the front. UK distributed the T-shirts to athletics department staffers.

Congratulations

To former Eastern Kentucky Coach Max Good. His Loyola Marymount team beat No. 23 Saint Louis 75-68 Tuesday night.

That meant Loyola Marymount defeated a ranked opponent in consecutive chances for the first time since defeating three straight in the 1989-90 NCAA Tournament. That was the year Bo Kimble led LMU to victories over New Mexico State, Michigan and Alabama.

Prior to the Saint Louis game, Loyola Marymount beat then-No. 17 UCLA 69-58 on Nov. 11.

Even a Duke fan?

Hopefully tongue in cheek, reader Mike Sturgeon sent an email with questions for Vicki Sageser. She was the UK fan (and former UK cheerleader) who performed CPR and saved the life of UNC fan John "Toby" Tyler two years ago.

Sturgeon, who had Sageser as a physical education teacher at Julius Marks, wrote:

"Would like to know two things: Did she know the man was a Tar Heel fan? Would she have done the same thing for a Duke fan?"

Sageser played along and sent a response.

"Tell your reader it is not possible to ask your victim if they are any kind of fan when suffering cardiac arrest," she wrote. "As much as I am NOT a Duke fan, even more so than not being an NC fan, if they turned out to be half the person Toby is, then I would be happy I did CPR on them."

Sturgeon, who still has family in Lexington, moved to Rogersville, Tenn., 16 years ago. "I always say I am a small speck of blue in this big sea of orange," he wrote.

He said his favorite UK player is Dan Issel, who happens to be Sageser's brother-in-law.

On Monday, Tyler and Sageser are scheduled to talk about how she saved his life. They will participate in what's called a "CPR Celebration" from noon to 1 p.m. at UK's W.T. Young Library.

Happy birthday

To former Auburn coach Cliff Ellis. He turns 66 on Monday. ... To former UK (and Marshall) player Randy Noll. He turns 62 on Monday. ... To former UK point guard Brandon Knight. He turned 20 on Friday. ... To fan favorite Sam Malone. He turns 20 on Tuesday.

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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