UK basketball notebook: Careful, writers, Cat fans can bite

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2012 

UK fans watched the Wildcats warmup before the University of Kentucky played Baylor University in the NCAA South Regional final played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., Sunday, March 25, 2012. This is first half action. Charles Bertram | Staff

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Soft-hearted ... piranha.

That's how Coach John Calipari described how rabid — but not too rabid — Kentucky fans are.

Noting how he'd like the UK players to win the national championship for themselves and the fans, Calipari said of the latter, "I bet if we played in Sioux City, we would pack an arena.

"I don't know how they get there, but they get there."

Next stop is the Final Four in New Orleans, where Kentucky plays Louisville in the national semifinals Saturday. If all goes well, UK would play either Ohio State or Kansas in the championship game Monday.

"I've never been in a place in my life where they're so passionate," Calipari said Tuesday of UK fans. "Yet, they've got a soft heart. They're not mean and nasty. They're not The Miserables."

Later in the pre-Final Four session with reporters, Calipari warned sportswriters, presumably near and far, not to irritate the UK fans.

"They are piranha," he said. "If you have an agenda, and you write a story that's agenda-driven, they will take out everything you've written and prove it wrong, and then look at your background and go over what you've done.

"So if you have an agenda for another coach (U of L Coach Rick Pitino?) or you do it for another coach to create something, piranha."

With that, Calipari made munching food sounds.

"They'll eat your yard and they'll eat your house," he said. "These people are nuts."

Fab freshmen

Although freshmen-oriented, UK has not experienced the ups and downs associated with first-year players.

"They haven't been playing like freshmen all year," said senior Darius Miller, who cited talent and work ethic. "They've put in a lot of work."

Doron Lamb, one of UK's relative gray beards as a sophomore, echoed the sentiment.

"We've got one of the top freshman classes in the country," he said. "They haven't played like freshmen. They've played like seniors."

Security

In describing UK's efforts to minimize distractions, Calipari noted how the team will be accompanied by five security guards. He also said the players would be all but sequestered like a jury while in New Orleans.

"No one will be on (their) floor except players," he said. " ... If you want to meet family or friends, go to the lobby."

No validation

Calipari dismissed the notion of a national championship validating his merit as a coach.

"My friends and family probably feel that way more than I do," he said.

Calipari noted how Gene Keady, John Cheney and any number of coaches are considered top-notch although they did not win national championships.

"I'm not looking at it like a validation," he said.

Pros help

Marquis Teague agreed with the premise that UK's pickup games with members of the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer fostered a team-first attitude.

"We figured out how good we could be if we played together and shared the ball," he said. "Trying to go one-on-one, it didn't work."

When asked about the benefit of those pickup games, Calipari quipped, "Obviously, it helped the Thunder being here, too. They're doing pretty good." Indeed, Oklahoma City leads the Northwest Division by a big margin.

Raised awareness

Calipari has noted how the playing court will be several feet off the base floor of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

When asked about the needed adjustment, he gestured toward the Craft Center practice gym and joked, "We've got a court here six feet off the ground. Only Kentucky can do that."

Then in an apparent reference to the NCAA, Calipari added, "I'm not sure we're allowed to do that. I didn't ask anybody."

First game?

CBS raised Kentucky eyebrows when it decided the UK-Louisville game would be the first semifinal. Kansas plays Ohio State in the heart of prime time.

"Really two good matchups," said Mike Aresco, Executive Vice President for Programming at CBS. "Either way would have been fine. It's a nice decision to have. The games are roughly the game."

Aresco would not say exactly why CBS chose to begin the doubleheader with Kentucky-Louisville. He acknowledged that Kansas-Ohio State had less of a regional aura.

"Except Kentucky-Louisville transcends the state of Kentucky," he said.

As the No. 1 team in the country, Kentucky could draw viewers to the semifinals, Aresco said.

Biloxi?

For fans who can't find hotel rooms in New Orleans, there's always Biloxi, Miss. It's about an hour's drive away.

The Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association has packages that include transportation and rooms. The packages include opportunities for golf, charter fishing and beach time. Call 1-888-388-1006.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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