UK basketball notebook: 'Nerds' not on Calipari's side

Herald-Leader Staff WriterApril 21, 2012 

Basketball elder statesman Terry Holland played point guard for Lefty Driesell at Davidson. He later became Virginia's winningest coach. He now works as athletics Director at East Carolina.

Oh yeah, he's also a nerd.

Holland, who turned 70 on April 2, is a nerd because he objects to so-called one-and-done players in college basketball. With five Kentucky underclassmen entering the 2012 NBA Draft last week, Coach John Calipari again defended the growing practice of players using college as a temporary stop en route to the NBA.

As a guest last week on the aptly-named Fox Sports Radio show Loose Cannons, Calipari said, "You had these players at a young age playing for each other and not themselves, sharing the ball, sacrificing their game for the good of the team, and every young player on the planet got to see it, including NBA players that thought that is neat. We all learned.

"Yet some nerd has got to say, 'Well it's bad for college sports.' Why? Because they're talented? Was it bad when Tiger Woods left Stanford? (Sarcastically) He ruined that university by leaving early! I mean what are you talking about?"

Calipari was labeling critics of one-and-done players nerds, not Holland particularly.

In an exchange of email messages, Holland explained his view.

Herald-Leader: How do you feel, generically, about the concept of one-and-done players?

Holland: "Basically, the rule requiring young men to attend college for a minimum of one year was well intended. The reality is that it is an invitation for players to 'use' the year simply to train for the NBA without any real interest in their class work. It has helped the NBA to evaluate the young men better before having to draft them, but it has not done anything positive for college athletics in the long term."

Herald-Leader: What do you think of a reform, perhaps modeled after college baseball in which players are free to turn pro out of high school or agree to play at least three years at the college level?

Holland: "If we honestly cared about doing the best thing for the young people involved rather than what is best for the colleges and/or the NBA, we would install a modified version of the baseball model. High school seniors would make a choice between entering the professional ranks or going to college. If they elect to attend college, then they cannot be drafted by MLB for three years.

"I would modify that with this option — allow a young man who chooses to play professionally to regain his amateur status and return to college within two years by attending college for one year without being allowed to practice with or play for his college team."

Herald-Leader: In The New York Times earlier this month, columnist William C. Rhoden suggested that there was a racial element to objections to one-and-done players. That there's no objection when, say, tennis and golf players leave college early. Only college basketball players leaving draws criticism. What do you think of the suggestion that race plays a part in the reaction to one-and-done players?

Holland: "That is a real stretch since there is no rule that requires tennis players and golfers to wait for a year prior to playing their sport professionally, thus no 'one and done' forced by the professional sport's rules. Everyone would be OK with no rule (as it is in tennis and golf, and as it was with the NBA until the 'one year' rule) or the baseball rule. Since most college athletes in tennis and golf are not minorities, it is difficult to see how opposition to the 'one year' rule is racial. The one year rule itself could be interpreted as racial."

Herald-Leader: On a radio show earlier this week, John Calipari referred to how 'nerds' might object to one-and-done players. Would you care to respond?

Holland: "Coach Cal has perfected the ability to develop truly outstanding players into a great team in a short period of time. This enables Coach Calipari to attract clusters of those players who want to maximize the value of their one year in college. Knowing John, I am guessing that he has also convinced those players to maximize the value of their classroom experience as well since he doesn't miss many opportunities to give his team an edge on the court and in the court of public opinion as he is very sensitive to the criticism that he has received."

Herald-Leader: What sense do you have that the NBA, in cooperation with the NCAA or not, might modify the so-called one-and-done rule? Perhaps making it two or more years.

Holland: "I'm not sure if the NBA is the problem. It has usually been the players' association that has been hard to deal with, although I have heard a lot of people say that the one-year rule was driven by the NBA in order to be able to evaluate those critical draft choices better. They were drafting callow and untested high school kids instead of college seniors who were proven commodities. So the one year has helped them greatly in that regard. It has just turned out to be a worse rule for the colleges than anticipated.

"And you can tell John that I am king of the nerds because it really is not good for most college programs.

"While he certainly has taken great advantage of the "one and done" rule, he is always going to be highly successful no matter what the rules may be."

'Terrific people'

UK plans to honor former president David Roselle on Tuesday by formally naming a new dormitory in his honor. This gesture revives memories of the UK basketball scandals of the 1980s.

Not all applauded when Roselle decided to fully cooperate with an NCAA investigation of the basketball program in 1988-89. But the decision led to two memorable phone calls of support.

"I remember my secretary saying, 'Bob Knight is on the phone,'" Roselle said earlier this month. "I said, 'Bob Knight?'"

Yes, it was Knight, then a fully bloomed icon as Indiana coach.

"He started off the conversation, and it's burned in my memory, 'You know, Dr. Roselle, college presidents aren't my favorite group of people,'" Roselle recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, I heard that, Bob.'

"He said, 'The reason is none of them have any (gumption). But, boy, you've got (gumption), what you're doing with that Kentucky thing.' "

Knight showed his appreciation for the course Roselle set by offering to keep Kentucky a part of the then-Big Four Classic even if expected NCAA sanctions against the UK program included a ban on live television appearances.

The Big Four was an annual doubleheader in Indianapolis pitting UK and Louisville against Indiana and Notre Dame. Because of an expected NCAA ban on live television appearances as part of a penalty for UK basketball rule-breaking, TV officials lobbied Knight to drop the Cats from the Big Four Classic and pick up LSU, which featured a star attraction in freshman Shaquille O'Neal.

"There's no way I'd do that," Knight told Roselle.

Roselle expressed his appreciation, but he asked the coach what he'd do if the TV executives insisted Kentucky be dropped from the Big Four.

"He told me, 'I'll tell them to go (blank) themselves,' " Roselle said.

Not long afterward, another prominent coach called Roselle to offer support: North Carolina's Dean Smith.

Smith said UNC did not play Kentucky because "we play by a different set of rules," as Roselle recalled. But because of Roselle's cooperation with the NCAA, Smith called to offer to start a series.

This chapter of the UK-UNC series only lasted two games, but the calls by Smith and Knight made a lasting impression.

"I learned the top guys in the game were pretty terrific people," said Roselle, who noted how neither coach was obligated to offer Kentucky assistance. "It was totally trying to be helpful."

'Signature play'

Sharing the basketball. Covering for each other on defense. Unity of purpose typified the Kentucky team in 2011-12.

But perhaps teamwork wasn't the only standout quality on display.

After the news conference announcing all five starters entering this year's NBA draft, UK Coach John Calipari saluted the players' poise. The mind drifted to how novelist Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as "grace under pressure."

Calipari noted how UK's ever-present atmosphere never adversely affected the players.

"Scrutiny unbelievable," Calipari said. "Like no other. How about how they handled themselves on the court?"

Given UK's inexperience and lack of bulk, opponents repeatedly tried to set a physical tone.

"Everybody took shots. ... ," Calipari said. "They never responded to it. They never responded to the officials."

In an interview earlier this year, UK professor Richard Smith made a similar observation. Smith, a professor in the school of psychology, recalled the late-January game at LSU that featured another opponent hoping to limit UK's fast-break opportunities.

This fundamentally sound strategy veered off course when LSU senior Malcolm White prevented a breakaway dunk by hauling down freshman Anthony Davis from behind. The referees called a flagrant foul. UK players, especially Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, seemed alarmed by the play and eager to defend Davis.

All the while, Davis stayed on the floor, no doubt collecting his wits, before standing up and calmly appearing ready to continue play.

"The signature play of the year," Smith said. "Leading by example. 'That's who we are.' There was plenty of reason to react, but he didn't. I think the long-term effect was profound."

Pressure on Pitino?

The interview on Fox Sports Radio allowed UK Coach John Calipari to again put the pressure on Louisville's Rick Pitino to win the 2013 national championship.

"He's got it on him his year," Calipari said of Pitino, according to a transcript. "He's got the best team, he's got NBA players, and he should be able to do what we did this year. So it's on him. That coat just went from me to him. We did it. He's wearing that coat this year."

Calipari said much the same thing when speaking to reporters after officially announcing that five UK underclassmen would enter the 2012 NBA Draft.

Home and home

To say UK fans are interested is putting it mildly.

Terrence Jones described the interest as fans "loving on you."

Then Jones captured the intensity of UK fan interest when he said, "For us, playing on the road is not playing on the road."

Volunteers needed

The Lexington Rotary Club is looking for volunteers to work the concession stands at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, which will be held at the Kentucky Horse Park beginning Thursday.

A portion of the revenue raised will go toward tornado relief in West Liberty.

Those interested in participating can get more information at volunteer-now.org.

Happy birthday

To former UK forwards Scott Padgett (he turned 36 on Thursday) and Fred Cowan (he turns 54 on Monday). ... To UK's most famous fan, actress Ashley Judd. She turned 44 on Thursday. ... To Father Ed Bradley. UK's unofficial team chaplain in the Rick Pitino era turns 69 on Tuesday.

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

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