UK basketball notebook

Tipton: Replacing Rupp name could irk fans

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJanuary 1, 2012 

UKvUL

UK hosted in state rival UL Saturday,Dec. 31,2011 at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer

JONATHAN PALMER

Retired Fayette County teacher Louise Eversole happened to see Herky Rupp in a store recently. The sight of Adolph Rupp's son moved her to action.

"I was compelled to tell him that if the powers-that-be changed the arena name, I would no longer bleed blue," Eversole wrote in an email message. "He graciously thanked me, a total stranger."

Herky Rupp and his family regularly hear this sentiment.

"We have people tell us that every day," he said last week, "which, of course, makes us feel wonderful."

Adolph Rupp, the founding father of Kentucky basketball, remains an iconic figure. But as city and UK leaders ponder an entertainment district in downtown Lexington, many UK fans apparently fear that Rupp Arena could be no more. To pay for a proposed re-invention of Rupp Arena, the "Rupp" name might be replaced by a corporation willing to pay millions for the privilege.

Even if corporations are people, as presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested, fans like Eversole see none as a worthy substitute for Adolph Rupp.

"Next to Henry Clay, I don't know what man's name conjures up Lexington, Ky., more than Adolph Rupp," Eversole wrote. "It would be, in my opinion, a major blunder to change the arena name."

Mike Ondrejko, the chief operating officer for Legends Premium Sales, works to arrange naming rights deals between sports facilities and willing sponsors. As part of Mayor Jim Gray's Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force effort to explore all options, Ondrejko attended UK's recent game against Samford and later toured Rupp Arena. During the visit, Lexington leaders advised Ondrejko that planning was preliminary in nature. "All could change significantly," he said he was told.

With funding a prime concern, might Lexington seek fees for the naming of the overall district and/or Rupp Arena? Or might we see some unwieldy hybrid name like, say, the Toyota Center at Rupp Arena?

Those who agree with Eversole might take comfort in the experiences of Ondrejko and Legends Premium Sales. The company has been involved with new stadiums for the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. It is currently working on a renovation of the Rose Bowl. In each case, it was decided to keep the names Yankee Stadium, Cowboys Stadium and Rose Bowl rather than raise money by selling naming rights.

Plus, earlier in his career, Ondrejko worked on the on-going renovation of Madison Square Garden. Although J.P. Morgan Chase played a key role in financing, MSG will remain MSG.

"I wouldn't read too much into it," Ondrejko said. " ... There can be arguments made on both sides of that. Our stance is typically to lean on our clients to give us direction on what they want to do."

A new name for UK's homecourt would seem contrary to Gray's continuing efforts to unite varied interests in the idea of revitalizing downtown Lexington with an entertainment district. To remove the name "Rupp" might divide Kentuckians or drain support for the project.

Bill Owen, president and CEO of the Lexington Center Corp., considered selling naming rights a decade ago to help pay for an earlier renovation of Rupp Arena. Before the idea got to the Lexington Center Board for debate, he decided to find alternate financing.

"That doesn't mean you can't do it effectively or you shouldn't consider doing it," Owen said. "But it is a challenge."

Naming rights fees can mean big money. KFC reportedly agreed to pay $13.5 million over a 10-year period to have Louisville's new downtown arena called the Yum Center.

The largest amount believed paid for a college arena is — believe it or not — at Fresno State. Because Save Mart Supermarkets reportedly agreed to pay $40 million over 20 years, Fresno State plays in the Save Mart Center.

The Green Bay Packers are inviting fans to pay $250 for a share in a major renovation of Lambeau Field. It's been suggested that Lexington might ask UK fans to buy an interest in the entertainment district. As an incentive, buyers could be eligible for a raffle of premium seating and parking for each home game.

"With the (growing) hype on renovating Rupp Arena, the one thing that had better never come up is possibly changing the name," Eversole wrote. "There are still too many who revere the man. And the name Rupp Arena symbolizes Lexington and the Bluegrass as much or more than Keeneland and the Horse Park.

"I would buy a chance on a seat and parking space to help the cause, but not if it has a corporate name instead of the famous one in place."

Rupp Arena immediately brings to mind Lexington. It is Kentucky's version of Cameron Indoor Stadium and Allen Field House.

"Who does it mean the most to?" Herky Rupp said of the name Rupp Arena. "It means the most to us. We'd love to see it stay the same."

Oh those refs

Apparently, the Kentucky-Indiana game earlier this season was what ESPN calls an "instant classic." A replay last week revived memories of a few curious officiating decisions in Bloomington.

Most memorably, as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist drove toward the basket, IU's Jordan Hulls tried to take a charge. The late-arriving Hulls collided with Kidd-Gilchrist hard enough to separate the UK player from the ball. No call.

More than once since the game, UK Coach John Calipari has questioned the officiating.

"It appears the guy is whacking him (Kidd-Gilchrist) and he's not getting calls," Calipari said on his radio show.

In noting how UK failed to foul in the final 5.6 seconds, Calipari said, "When Marquis Teague didn't foul, that was the only foul they didn't call on us."

Then again, there's the view that Kentucky got the same treatment at Indiana that visiting teams get in Rupp Arena.

"Exactly, exactly," said Tony White, who played for Tennessee in the 1980s. "Eventually, some calls are not going to go your way. Kentucky experienced that for a change."

White was involved in one of the more famous — or infamous — calls in Rupp Arena history. That's not counting the horrific walking call on Charlotte's Byron Dinkins that gave Kentucky the 1987 UKIT title (ask your parents, kids).

With Tennessee clinging to a lead late in the game, White tried to split a UK trap. A dubious charging call was White's fifth foul. UT crumbled without its leading scorer.

"I'm not going to say it was a charge or not ... ," White said recently when asked about the merits of the call. "I just split it. I didn't hit the guy. I split between both of them. The guy fell down. I was going at a 45-degree angle. I wasn't going straight at the guy. The guy fell down and the ref called a foul."

At UK's Tip-Off Luncheon in Louisville last fall, Calipari spoke of what he called the "Kentucky Effect." He seemed to suggest that one byproduct is what's known in polite company as the homecourt advantage.

"It not only affects the outcome," he told the luncheon audience, "it affects how you play and prepare."

Meanwhile, Kidd-Gilchrist spoke of the non-call on Hulls as an inescapable part of the sport.

"That's the game of basketball right there," the UK player said. "It was an away game, so I wasn't surprised at all."

Best wishes

To walk-on Sam Malone. He is scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday to repair the anterior cruciate ligament he tore against Chattanooga.

UK's orthopedic team physician, Scott Mair, will perform the surgery.

Malone, a fan and media favorite, will be undergoing his fourth major knee surgery in five years.

Controversy?

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas supports UK Coach John Calipari's idea to drop a traditional rival: either Indiana, Louisville or, most likely, North Carolina.

"I'm not sure why there's a controversy," Bilas wrote in an email. "Every coach schedules in his best interests. As a player, I know I'd rather play in the bigger games. Nobody dreams of playing against directional schools. They dream of playing the big shots.

"Selfishly, I'd like to see Kentucky play Indiana, UNC and Louisville every year."

But, Calipari is free to drop one of UK's traditional non-conference rivals if he so chooses.

NBA-bound

With John Calipari making the preparation for the NBA a centerpiece of his recruiting, a list of schools that produce the most NBA players caught the eye.

According to a list it produced, Arizona is tied for eighth nationally in terms of producing active NBA players.

Here is Arizona's list of schools that produced the most active players:

1. Duke, 17; 2. UCLA and Kentucky, 15; 4. Texas and Connecticut, 13; 6. North Carolina and Kansas, 12; 8. Arizona and Florida, 10.

Arizona also broke down the most NBA players produced by each major conference. That list is:

1. Atlantic Coast, 62; 2. Pac-12, 53; 3. Big East, 49; 4. Southeastern, 45; 5. Big 12, 40; 6. Big Ten, 25

Literary corner

On a first date with his future wife, Mike Krzyzewski took United Airlines stewardess Carol "Mickie" Marsh to a Martha and the Vandellas concert.

Seth Davis, the Sports Illustrated scribe and CBS college basketball analyst, was among the Duke students who answered Krzyzewski's call for participants in a tryout for walk-ons for the 1991-92 Blue Devils team. Davis did not make the cut.

Nuggets such as this make The Last Great Game a surprisingly engaging read. Gene Wojciechowski, a senior national columnist for ESPN.com,, had the seemingly thankless job of rehashing what's commonly known as the Christian Laettner game. Laettner's famous game-winning shot gave Duke a 104-103 overtime victory over Kentucky in the 1992 East Region finals.

It might have been the best game in college basketball history. It's surely one of the most examined games.

Yet, Wojciechowski's attention to detail makes the seemingly familiar a compelling read. The book, subtitled Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 seconds that changed basketball chronicles Rick Pitino's remarkable revival of UK basketball and Krzyzewski transforming Duke into arguably the college program.

The star of the book, as in the game, is Laettner, whom Wojciechowski portrays as fully human (as in far from a stainless hero).

As in real life, the Final Four is anticlimax. Yet the book recalls that the 1992 Final Four included:

■ the Duke-Indiana national semifinal in which Bob Knight unnerved Krzyzewski with a perfunctory post-game handshake.

■ Duke beat Michigan's Fab Five in a championship game filled with racial undertones.

Despite the Laettner shot, it's a book UK fans would enjoy reading.

Freshmen

UK surely subscribes to the conventional wisdom that freshmen no longer are freshmen as a season unfolds.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant was asked last week at what point the experience of a season allows first-year players to shed the label of freshman.

"They'll be freshmen all year," he said. "You hear coaches talk about that all the time. I think there's a point where they understand what to do, how to do it and when to do it. They understand the mind-set they've got to have approaching each game, whether it be home or away, and they've been through those tests and have been able to pass those tests. We're not there yet. We still have some growing we need to do as a team."

Happy birthday

To Eloy Vargas. He turned 23 on Friday. ... To Irving Thomas. He turns 46 on Monday. ... To Travis Ford. He turned 42 on Thursday. ... To Aminu Timberlake. He turns 39 today. ... To Randolph Morris. He turns 26 on 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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