Clay: UK coaches not getting respect they deserve

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 3, 2012 

Many believe we in the mainstream are full of biases and agendas, none of which we admit, all too eager to settle scores and open new wounds.

I'd argue the coaches are worse.

Far worse.

Latest example: Somehow, Kentucky's Matthew Mitchell was not named the SEC Women's Basketball Coach of the Year.

Now maybe the fellow league hoops coaches are jealous of Mitchell's hair. Perhaps they do not appreciate his brand of goofy humor.

Or maybe they have never had their email question answered during the "Guitar Tips" segment of the Matthew Mitchell Television Show.

None are good reasons to ignore the man who coached Kentucky to its first women's basketball conference title in 30 years, and won it outright by the way.

And yet when the league announced its award winners last week, as voted by the league's coaches, Kentucky's A'dia Mathies was named the league's Player of the Year, Kentucky's Bria Goss was named the league's Freshman of the Year, but Mitchell was somehow not named Coach of the Year.

That distinction went to Arkansas' Tom Collen, the former Louisville coach who is a fine fellow, I'm sure, and no doubt did an excellent job guiding the Lady Razorbacks to a fifth-place finish in the league standings.

You read that correctly: Fifth.

Not only did the Lady Razorbacks not win the league, they failed to earn a first-round bye. Arkansas had to play on the first day of the SEC Women's Tournament in Nashville, then lost by a point to LSU in the second round.

The SEC cited the fact Arkansas won eight straight SEC games. (Kentucky was 10-0 before suffering its first loss.) The SEC mentioned that Arkansas was almost certainly headed to its first NCAA Tournament since 2005. (Kentucky had not won the SEC since 1982.)

It did not mention that Mitchell lost Victoria Dunlap, his best player off last year's team.

But when it comes to coaches' votes, or comments, you often scratch your head.

Second example: Bob Knight's recent appearance on ESPN radio's "Mike and Mike" show in which the Hall of Fame coach and current network analyst talked about the best teams in the country, and failed to mention Kentucky, then talked about the season's Player of the Year candidates, and failed to mention Anthony Davis.

Knight doesn't like Kentucky. We get that. He's a cantankerous bully. Always has been, always will be.

But isn't he being paid to be a basketball analyst? If so, how could any analyst not mention the team ranked No. 1 in the nation as being among the best teams? If so, how could he not mention Davis, a player every other analyst has on his POY consideration list, as among the top players in the land? Simple, spite.

The fear here is that such subjective thinking could happen in the National Coach of the Year honors. Kentucky enters Sunday's game with a 29-1 record overall and a 15-0 record in the SEC. The Cats are considered the favorite to be the NCAA Tournament's overall No. 1 seed.

And yet many of the post-season award discussions mention Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, or Michigan State's Tom Izzo, or Notre Dame's Mike Brey, or Missouri's Frank Haith. (Haith? Seriously. The guy didn't even recruit his star players.)

In my mind, the award goes to Boeheim or Calipari.

But then Boeheim didn't guide a team starting three freshmen to 21 straight victories. All this recent one-and-done debate has done is distract attention from Calipari's strengths. He gets his players to play together. He can flat-out coach defense. And, in sharp contrast to the recent Sports Illustrated piece on a dysfunctional UCLA, he knows how to manage a traditional power that attracts star-power recruits.

All of which means the award will probably go to someone else.

Blame it on Cal's hair.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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