Mark Story: Can Kentucky catch UCLA in national titles?

Bruins' 11 titles no longer unattainable for UK

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 8, 2012 

Terrence Jones (3) of the Kentucky Wildcats with the championship trophy after UK defeated Kansas in the championship game of the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament Monday, April 2, 2012, in New Orleans. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • How Mr. Basketballs have fared at UK

    When Kentucky won its eighth NCAA championship Monday night, Darius Miller claimed a bit of commonwealth hoops history. The UK forward and former Mason County High School star became the first player ever to win a Kentucky high school state title, Kentucky Mr. Basketball honors and an NCAA title at UK. Darrell Griffith is the only other men's player to complete the "Triple Crown" of Kentucky basketball, doing it at Male High School and the University of Louisville. Sixteen Kentucky Mr. Basketballs have played for UK. This is how they've fared:

    Player, High School | Mr. Basketball | State title | NCAA title | UK points

    Jon Hood, Madisonville 2009 No Yes (2012) 46

    Darius Miller, Mason Co. 2008 Yes (2008) Yes (2012) 1,248

    Brandon Stockton, Glasgow 2002 No No 120

    Josh Carrier, Bowling Green 2001 No No 110

    Richie Farmer, Clay Co. 1988 Yes (1987) No 898

    John Pelphrey, Paintsville 1987 No No 1,257

    Rex Chapman, Apollo 1986 No No 1,073

    Winston Bennett, Male 1983 No No 1,399

    Todd May, Virgie 1982 No No 14

    Dirk Minniefield, Lafayette 1979 Yes (1979) No 1,069

    Jack Givens, Bryan Station 1974 No Yes (1978) 2,038

    Jimmy Dan Conner, Anderson Co.1971 No No 1,009

    Mike Casey, Shelby Co. 1966 Yes (1966) No 1,535

    Randy Embry, Owensboro 1961 No No 393

    Pat Doyle, North Marshall 1959 Yes (1959) No 12

    Billy Ray Lickert, Lafayette 1957 Yes (1957) No 1,076

    ■ Hood was a member of the 2012 NCAA champions but missed the entire season with a knee injury.

    ■ Lickert was a freshman at UK in 1957-58 when the Cats won the NCAA title. However, freshmen were not eligible for varsity action at the time and therefore he was not a member of the championship team.

When speculation emerged last week linking John Calipari's name with the New York Knicks head coaching job, the Kentucky coach issued a statement saying he was "chasing UCLA," not NBA positions.

UCLA, of course, is the all-time leader in men's NCAA Tournament basketball championships with 11. After beating Kansas on Monday night to claim the 2012 title, UK now has eight NCAA championships.

Is it realistic to think UK can catch UCLA?

There was a time when the answer appeared obvious: No way.

In 1995, after Jim Harrick coached the Bruins to their only post-John Wooden NCAA championship, the all-time tally stood at Bruins 11, Cats 5.

A margin of six seemed insurmountable.

But since that most recent UCLA title, Kentucky has now claimed three more championships, 1996 for Rick Pitino, 1998 for Tubby Smith and this year for Calipari.

If UK could repeat the same ratio — beating UCLA by three championships over the next 17 years — it would tie the Bruins in 2029.

Now, that isn't going to be easy to do. For one thing, there's obviously no certainty that Kentucky can win three more NCAA titles in the next 17 years. Consider: With all the emphasis and resources UK puts into men's basketball, it's won four NCAA Tournaments since 1958.

Secondly, UCLA could just as easily add to its championship total. Current coach Ben Howland took the Bruins to three straight Final Fours (2006-08) but failed to claim a championship in that run.

As Sports Illustrated detailed earlier this season, Howland has fallen on rough times in recent years. If he can't get the UCLA ship righted and soon, the Bruins will make a play for a coach who can.

Still, catching UCLA seemed impossible for UK in 1995; now it seems to have improved to very difficult in 2012.

One game, huge impact

In retrospect, the 1975 NCAA championship game between Kentucky and UCLA may be the most historically significant contest UK has ever played.

If you reverse the outcome of that one game, a 92-85 UCLA victory, then the all-time NCAA title count would now be UCLA 10, Kentucky nine.

That deficit would be very surmountable.

Miller's 'Triple Crown'

Before Darius Miller played his first season at Kentucky in 2008-09, I decided to look up how past Kentucky Mr. Basketball winners had fared in their UK careers.

Miller won the 2008 Mr. Basketball honor, given annually since 1956 to the top senior high school hoops player in the commonwealth, after leading Mason County to the '08 state title.

What I found surprised me in two ways.

First, at the time Miller became a Cat, he was only the 15th Kentucky Mr. Basketball to play for UK (current Wildcats guard Jon Hood, the 2009 Mr. Basketball winner, made it 16 the following year).

Secondly, I noticed back then that no player had ever played for a Kentucky state champion, earned Mr. Basketball honors and then gone on to play for an NCAA champion at UK.

Darrell Griffith — who led Male to the 1975 state title, claimed 1976 Mr. Basketball honors and then starred for Louisville's 1980 NCAA champs — was the only male player to ever hit "the Triple Crown" of Kentucky basketball.

On Monday night, when Kentucky claimed the 2012 NCAA crown, Miller achieved the triple.

Asked about the significance of joining Griffith on a very elite list in the state of Kentucky's basketball history, Miller was typically humble, talking about how much UK's title meant to "the people in the state. It's a big accomplishment for all of us here. We're proud to be a part of something like this," he said.

Another Miller record?

On Friday, Mason County basketball coach Chris O'Hearn emailed wondering if Miller holds another historical distinction. "I was curious as to who has played the most games on the Rupp Arena floor?" O'Hearn wrote. "I'm guessing it would be between Darius and Richie Farmer."

During his Clay County days, Farmer played in 14 games in the Kentucky high school state basketball tournament, but four of them in 1988 were in Freedom Hall, not Rupp.

Farmer played in 58 UK home games (he missed the first home game of his senior year in 1991-92, against West Virginia, with the flu), giving him 68 total games in Rupp by my count.

Miller played in nine Sweet Sixteen contests (three as an eighth-grader in 2004; two as a sophomore in '06; four in '08) in Rupp Arena for Mason County, and 69 UK home games.

Bottom line: It seems likely that no one has played in more basketball games in Rupp Arena than Darius Miller's 78.

Bittersweet for Hood

For Jon Hood, Kentucky's NCAA championship drive in 2012 was "bittersweet. Very frustrating." The ex-Madisonville High School star missed the entire 2011-12 season after tearing an ACL last summer.

"I've gotten used to it," Hood said of not playing. "I guess, maybe, you should say I've gotten on with it."

Speaking on the Sunday before Kentucky faced Kansas, Hood said the right knee he injured last July in a pickup game is now about "95 percent."

"I'm cleared to do everything but contact," Hood said. "I start agility drills this month, probably about a week after we get back. I'll resume full pickup (basketball games) in late May, early June."

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Hood will be a junior next season. As difficult as it was sitting out what became a national championship season, Hood says he does think the year off will benefit his game, especially his shot.

"I think my (shooting) stroke has gotten better," Hood said. "I think I shoot it better. My rotation on the ball is a lot better. My fundamentals, the mechanics on my shot are extremely improved. I'm more consistent when I shoot now."

All-time wins

The men's college basketball all-time wins leaders ended 2011-12 ranked like this: 1. Kentucky, 2,090; 2. Kansas, 2,070; 3. North Carolina, 2,065.

In a season in which UK won a school-record 38 games, you'd expect it to be able to open some breathing room in all-time wins. Yet the Cats added only six victories on both Kansas and Carolina, who each won 32 times in 2011-12.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory.Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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