UK basketball notebook: Basketball P.A. announcer Whitmer a pro among over-the-top peers

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 19, 2012 

jerry tipton

Jerry Tipton

In its May 21 issue, Sports Illustrated offered this surprising factoid: There is something called The National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers. Here's another eyebrow raiser: the organization encourages a just-the-facts approach to informing fans.

"It's about professionalism," said Brad Rumble, the executive director of NASPAA. "Not trying to be entertainers. No gimmicks or anything. Just reporting information in a timely manner."

Good luck with that. More and more, P.A. announcers try to add verbal pyrotechnics to the sensory overload at arenas and stadiums. Worst offender: the NBA, where recently the Miami Heat apologized for their announcer saying a sixth foul "extinguished" New York's Amare Stoudemire. Earlier in the series, Stoudemire had injured a hand by punching a fire extinguisher.

"The NBA is an example of how not to do it," said Glen Waddle, the P.A. man for Ole Miss football and the NASPAA's Announcer of the Year in 2010-11.

The NASPAA has an ally in Patrick Whitmer, the P.A. man for Kentucky home basketball games.

"I try to be like a really good official and stay out of the way," he said.

Whitmer, who lives in Northern Kentucky and works a "real job" for a bank in Cincinnati, said he's by nature an "understated" fellow. "I try to follow my personality," he said.

With a chuckle, Whitmer acknowledged how he sounds more excited when calling a UK dunk or three-point shot. He calls the same play by an opponent, sometimes comically only seconds later, with a deadpan delivery.

The late Bob Sheppard, a P.A. icon who worked New York Yankees home games from 1951 to 2007, set an exacting standard. "A P.A. announcer is not a cheerleader," he said in a quote posted on the NASPAA Web site, "or a circus barker, or a hometown screecher. He's a reporter."

The NASPAA isn't trying to tone down the NBA's cheerleaders/barkers/screechers. Nor does it expect P.A. straight men (and women) at big-time college football and basketball.

College games are "amped up," said Rumble, a Kansas State graduate who noted how blaring music increasingly intrudes upon college football. "It used to stop when the team went into the huddle. Then when the quarterback went under center. Now when the quarterback is making an audible call."

The Southeastern Conference wants P.A. announcers at its member schools to be fair and courteous to opponents, said Waddle, an attorney for the Mississippi Bar Association.

The NASPAA hopes to encourage such an approach in high school and youth sporting events.

Tradition

Coach John Calipari recently defined UK basketball tradition as a history of departing from custom, i.e., Adolph Rupp playing a national schedule, Joe B. Hall leading the effort to build Wildcat Lodge.

By this pretzel logic, not playing Indiana next season continues UK's tradition.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M sent an informational pamphlet recently explaining its traditions. The A&M tradition includes:

■ Since 1922, the school refers to its student body, past and present, as "The 12th Man." During the '22 season, student E. King Gill came from the stands, put on a football uniform when injuries reduced A&M to 11 football players for a game against No. 1 Centre College.

■ Since 1907, five students are elected as "Yell Leaders" each year. A&M fans don't cheer, they yell. Instead of pep rallies, the school has Yell Practice.

■ Since a game against the TCU Horned Frogs in 1930, A&M's attitude toward opponents is to "Gig 'em."

■ Since 1931, A&M's official mascot is a dog named Reveille. Reveille VIII, the current mascot, is a full-blooded collie.

■ A&M's official greeting is "Howdy." The pamphlet did not give an originating date.

Graceful exit

In his last game as Mississippi Valley State coach, Sean Woods saw a 16-point lead erased inside the final five minutes of the NCAA Tournament's "First Four." UK Coach John Calipari wrote about the difficulty of overcoming such a reversal of fortune in his book, Bounce Back. For Calipari, the painful loss came in the 2008 national championship game.

Woods handled the disappointment well enough to impress Morehead State Director of Athletics Brian Hutchinson. Woods' graceful post-game news conference was "a big factor" in Morehead State hiring him earlier this month as coach, Hutchinson said.

Expectations

With Morehead State having won 102 games in the last five seasons, and playing in a post-season tournament three of the last four years, Sean Woods faces relatively high expectations. Brian Hutchinson spoke of the Eagles as contenders for the Ohio Valley Conference championship year in and year out.

"Sean's leadership will lead us to that point," he said, "and beyond."

When asked what he'll rely on to elevate Morehead State's basketball profile even higher, Woods said, "My relentlessness."

'Jims and Joes'

Although guiding Morehead State's basketball program, Sean Woods downplayed the difference coaching can make. Recruiting elevates or suppresses programs.

"You can have all the Xs and Os," he said. "If you don't have the 'Jims' and 'Joes,' I don't care how good a coach you are. ... That's 95 percent of the battle."

UK-Morehead State

As Morehead State Director of Athletics Brian Hutchinson explained it, the Eagles will play at UK on the day before Thanksgiving. The game is part of the Barclays Center Classic, which will feature UK playing Maryland in the new Brooklyn home of the NBA Nets. Morehead State plays Long Island in the other game of the double-header.

UK assistant John Robic called with the offer to play in the event, Hutchinson said. As part of the deal, Morehead State also plays at Maryland and gets a home game against Lafayette.

Unforgettable

Sean Woods breathed new life in the term Unforgettable as he spoke about his place in UK basketball lore.

"I earned every bit of it," he said, "because, I tell you, some of my blood is on the Memorial Coliseum and Rupp Arena floors. Because of the exorcist I played for."

The man who made the metaphorical head turn 360 degrees was Rick Pitino.

Quote of the week

Former UK point guard Sean Woods won last week's news conference introducing him as Morehead State's new coach when he responded to a question about how the Eagles could keep up with OVC power Murray State.

"Murray State's got to be worried about Morehead State," Woods said.

Applause ensued.

Controversial Cal?

Reader Tom Atkinson emailed a rhetorical question: "Do you remember a coach causing more controversy at Kentucky than Calipari?"

Then Atkinson answered his question about John Calipari.

"I don't mean Billy G., he said in reference to the UK coach's immediate predecessor, Billy Gillispie, "but one who showed less regard for the ticket holders, academics, traditional scheduling, etc."

Atkinson objected to the end, or at least interruption, of the Kentucky-Indiana series. He suggested the value of such games goes beyond mere winning or losing. And he saw Calipari's promotion of neutral sites, the format UK insisted upon in any future games with Indiana and the means for made-for-TV matchups, as wrongheaded.

"I thought going to your school's basketball games at home was one of the highlights of my college career," he said. "Seeing Hobo Jackson, Lamar Greene, Danny Cornett and other fellow students at Morehead when they play the great Western Kentucky team with Jim Daniels, Clem Haskins, etc., is still one of the great memories I have of going to college.

"That ain't going to happen with these kids going to UK."

Making memories

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas noted the memories made in a game like Kentucky-Indiana.

"I don't even remember non-conference games I played in against kind of lower-level teams," said Bilas, who, of course, played for Duke in the 1980s. "You went out there. You beat up on someone.

"The games you remember are the big games."

Addition by subtraction

Jay Bilas suggested that the way to improve the chances of games like Kentucky-Indiana continuing is to reduce the number of Division I teams.

"Cut down the field of choices for non-conference games," he said. A smaller number of Division I schools reduces, if not removes, "a vast array of cupcakes."

The number of Division I teams approaches 350. Thus, November and December veers toward irrelevancy. As banks and airlines consolidate, so should Division I, Bilas said.

"Cut down the landscape and make it more compelling," he said.

Quite the contrarian, Bilas scoffed at the notion first-week David-versus-Goliath matchups give the NCAA Tournament a vital charm. Even with Lehigh and Norfolk State beating Duke and Missouri, respectively, in this year's tournament, such upsets happen too infrequently, he said.

Belated condolences

One of UK athletics' unsung heroes passed away on April 2, mere hours before the victory over Kansas in the NCAA Tournament championship game.

Lydia Wehrle, who had worked in UK's ticket office for more than 30 years, had battled ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) the past three years.

Wehrle, 81, retired in 1997.

"Needless to say, she was a true blue fan of the Wildcats," her son, David Wehrle, wrote in an email. "In other words, she bled blue."

Happy birthday

To former Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson. He turned 49 on Thursday. ... To Jamaal Magloire. He turns 34 on Monday. ... To Ron Mercer. He turned 36 on Friday. ... To Enes Kanter. He turns 20 today.

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service