UK basketball notebook: Patience not Calipari's prime virtue

Herald-Leader Staff WriterDecember 15, 2012 

Kentucky basketball player Sam Bowie sat out the 1981-82 season with a leg injury. One of the most heralded high school prospects of the time, injuries not only shortened his college career but limited his NBA career as well.

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The coaching job John Calipari undertakes this Kentucky season led Hall of Famer Denny Crum to offer a quaint suggestion.

"If I could give him some good advice, it'd be 'patience,'" Crum said last week. "They're all young kids. They all don't automatically mesh like last year's team did."

Patience, one of the proverbial virtues, doesn't get much mention nowadays. But it came up repeatedly last week as Calipari continued working to maximize this team's potential and UK fans grappled with the idea that the Cats are not — gasp — dominant.

Crum, who led Louisville to two national championships in the 1980s, suggested that this UK season is a return to normalcy. Last season, with freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist playing well enough to be the first two picks in the NBA Draft, was the exception worthy of much discussion and dissection.

"What happened last year is not going to happen very often," Crum said. "I don't care who your freshmen are."

Anyone needing help in accepting this reality could look to the visiting bench in Saturday's game. Lipscomb was in the process of meshing eight newcomers into its rotation.

When asked about the difficulty in creating an effective unit from so many newcomers, Lipscomb Coach Scott Sanderson said, "It just takes time. It's every day trying to get a little better."

When Florida went through a similar transition after national championships in 2006 and 2007, Coach Billy Donovan wrestled with the concept of patience.

"I'm going to force this," then assistant Larry Shyatt recalled of Donovan's approach. "I'm going to make this particular kid tougher and more humble."

With 20/20 hindsight, Shyatt saw inevitable growing pains for Florida's four freshman starters in 2007-08: Nick Calathes, Jai Lucas, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus.

"If you look back, yes, we were long, wiry, skinny," Shyatt said. "Just high school graduates.

"Basically, that's who we were. And thank God, the way Billy is, he could move that forward. He just couldn't move it forward fast enough."

Florida played in the NIT in 2008 and 2009 before Parsons and Tyus, as seniors, led the Gators to an NCAA Tournament region finals.

Though preaching the improvement that can come in a month or two, Calipari didn't sound patient Friday when he tried to make five workouts in a day sound reasonable.

Meanwhile, Shyatt, now in his second season as Wyoming coach, sounded ready to help.

"Tell Cal, any of those guys he's disappointed with, tell them Laramie is waiting," Shyatt said.

Where are they?

Former UK player Allen Edwards, who turns 37 today, is in his second season as an assistant coach at Wyoming. Literally and figuratively, he's a long way from his roots in Miami.

Edwards had worked with Wyoming Coach Larry Shyatt's son, Jeremy, at Virginia Commonwealth. So when Wyoming hired him, Shyatt made Edwards his de facto defensive coordinator.

"I wouldn't trust a lot of people in this country with our defense," Shyatt said.

Edwards noted the deep roots he has in the kind of defense Shyatt wants to play. First of all, he played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Along the coaching trail, he worked at VCU for Anthony Grant, a disciple of Pitino disciple Billy Donovan.

"Something of a family tree," Edwards said. "So it's been an easy transition for me."

Edwards, who aspires to be a head coach, earlier worked as an assistant for Morehead State, Towson and Western Kentucky.

"Coach Shyatt has been great to me," Edwards said. "I like to say he's put the final touches to what I need to lead my own program."

'Gimmick games'

The New York Times ran a story last week on the diminishing importance of college basketball's regular season. By the way, UK Coach John Calipari made much the same point when saying that losses to Notre Dame and Baylor represented no long-term detriment to the Cats' national championship ambitions.

In The Times' story, Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis noted how college basketball uses "gimmick games" to pump life into its regular season. He cited the so-called "basket-bowl" UK-Michigan State game in Detroit's Ford Field in 2003 as an example. There are also games on aircraft carriers.

These "gimmicks" are nothing new, but alarms rang last season when Washington won the Pac 10 title, yet did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies had a 14-4 conference record, a game better than California and Oregon.

On the plus side, sportswriter Greg Bishop of The Times saw Kentucky fully capable of being a national contender in March.

"Should Kentucky, which has dropped from the top 25, improve greatly and in time for the post-season, few would be surprised." he wrote "Its early-season struggles would register as no more than a blip. Only the most interested fans would notice. Regular season? What regular season."

Mayans

In his weekly syndicated column last week, Norman Chad poked fun at television coverage of sports. That endeavor led him to the Mayan calendar, which ends on Friday. This has been widely and mistakenly interpreted as an end-of-earth prediction.

Wrote Chad:

"If the Mayans are right, I wonder what SportsCenter will lead with The Day After."

Then he added, "If the Mayans are right, it will put programs like Around the Horn in perspective."

If people believed the Earth will end on Friday, Camp Cal seems a futile gesture. But, on the plus side, it would help explain all the empty seats at the much-hyped Ford Bend Travis-Archbishop Mitty high school game/recruiting hoopa-palooza Thursday night.

Actually, NASA released a four-minute video earlier this month explaining that the world would not end on Friday. How's that for confidence?

NASA likened the end of the Mayan calendar to a car odometer reaching 999999, and then rolling over. In that sense, the Mayan calendar (which covers a span of more than 5,000 years) hits all zeroes on Saturday.

But that wasn't intended to mean the end of the Earth.

Nor, NASA added helpfully, was an alleged rogue planet named Nibiru about to collide with Earth.

Rocky Mountain high

Wyoming's 10-0 record marks its best start since beginning the 1987-88 season under Coach Benny Dees with an 11-0 mark. The Cowboys' best start ever was 12-0 during the 1950-51 season. Wyoming took pride in receiving votes in both The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls last week. UW earned 15 votes (29th) in the AP poll and eight votes (31st) in the coaches' poll. The last time Wyoming was ranked in The AP Top 25 was at No. 13 in the final poll of 1987-88.

Four of the Mountain West's nine teams are receiving votes in both polls. "This is a very tough conference," Wyoming assistant coach Allen Edwards said. "The average fan just thinks of the BCS conferences. This conference stacks up pretty well with all those guys."

Going into this weekend, Coach Larry Shyatt had a three-season record of 50-21 (.704), which made for the second-best winning percentage in program history. He was 36-5 at home in Wyoming's Arena-Auditorium, 7,300 feet above sea level.

Wyoming recently celebrated the upcoming 70th anniversary of its 1943 national championship. The school honored Kenny Sailors, the oldest living Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, and his 1943 teammates. Sailors was recently inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

"We're the highest court in the nation," Shyatt said. "Two miles up (OK, more like a mile and a half). It's unique."

'Game of Change'

Former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote returned to East Lansing this weekend to participate in a commemoration of the "Game of Change," a 1963 NCAA Tournament matchup between Loyola of Chicago and Mississippi State.

Mississippi State, an all-white team, defied a court order and traveled to East Lansing to play an integrated team in the 1963 Mideast Regional.

Michigan State planned to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of that game by staging an alumni game Friday in its former arena, Jenison Field House, which was the site of the State-Loyola of Chicago game.

In addition, Michigan State planned to play Tuskegee University in Jenison Field House on Saturday.

Bowie in spotlight

ESPNU plans to air a documentary on former UK star Sam Bowie.

The documentary, titled Going Big, will air at 9 p.m. Thursday. It chronicles the ups and downs of Bowie's career. The arc began with him being one of the most heralded high school prospects. Of course, he sat out two seasons at UK because of stress fractures. Injuries cut short his NBA career.

In promotional material released on Tuesday, Bowie recalled being examined by doctors for the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the 1984 NBA Draft.

"I can still remember them taking a little mallet, and when they would hit me on my left tibia, and 'I don't feel anything' I would tell 'em," Bowie said in the release. "But deep down inside, it was hurting. If what I did was lying and what I did was wrong, at the end of the day, when you have loved ones that have some needs, I did what any of us would have done."

Correction

In an email, Baylor play-by-play man John Morris advised not using ink to mark the date for Baylor-UK at Cowboys Stadium in 2013. "I had in my mind it was Dec. 13 but have learned that it is Dec. 7," he wrote.

Morris, who grew up in Danville, missed the Baylor-UK game on Dec. 1 because he had to call Baylor's Senior Day football game. Alas, Baylor has a football game against Texas next Dec. 7.

Morris held out hope that Baylor might move next season's basketball game against UK to Dec. 8 to avoid the conflict.

Happy birthday I

To former UK assistant football coach Bill Arnsparger. He turns 86 Sunday.

Also Sunday, Arnsparger is being honored by the Miami Dolphins. His name is going up on the Wall of Honor at the Dolphins' stadium, which his wife, B.J., described as a "great birthday gift."

Arnsparger's two children, David and Mary Susan, will represent him in Miami on Sunday.

Happy birthday II

To former Arkansas coach Stan Heath. He turns 48 on Monday. ... To former Vandy coach Jan van Breda Kolff. He turns 61 Sunday. ... To Adam Chiles. He turns 30 Sunday. ... To Unforgettable Deron Feldhaus. He turns 44 Sunday. ... To Rupp Runt Thad Jaracz. He turned 66 on Saturday. ... To Kelenna Azubuike. He turns 29 Sunday. ... To UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell. He turns 42 Sunday. ... To former UK football player Dave Hopewell. His connection to UK basketball? His brother-in-law is Cliff Berger. He turned 56 on Saturday.

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

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