John Clay: Five things to talk about when you're sipping iced tea by the pool

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 25, 2013 

It is Memorial Day weekend, which means school is either out or about to be out. The weather is warmer. The skies are brighter. The days are longer. Summer is here.

So here are five things to think about while you're relaxing by the pool:

The NBA playoffs: Even we non-NBA devotees find ourselves interested when the play-for-pay guys make their way to the nitty-gritty part of the long campaign.

They say that in professional basketball it's all about the players, but I'm fascinated by the coaches, especially my man Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs with his amazing record, his perpetual frown and his abbreviated and grouchy in-game television interviews. Now those are true summer entertainment.

In the Eastern Conference final, everyone piled on poor Indiana coach Frank Vogel, the former UK manager under Rick Pitino, when he removed 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert from the game and Miami's LeBron James drove uncontested for the winning layup in Game 1.

Ah, but Hubie Brown put the critics in their place, appearing on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike on Friday morning to give a comprehensive and impassioned defense of Vogel's strategic move.

Remember, Hubie has forgotten more basketball than we fans ever hope to know.

The Belmont Stakes: Yes, we know, Kentucky Derby winner Orb ran a disappointing fourth in the Preakness, yet again killing any chance at a Triple Crown. That does not mean, however, that we should ignore horse racing's third jewel of that crown.

After all, trainer Shug McGaughey indicates he wants to run Orb back in the mile-and-a-half classic at his home base, Belmont Park.

You know D. Wayne Lukas will run Preakness winner Oxbow because Lukas never misses a Triple Crown race if he can help it.

And Todd Pletcher has an entire barn full of possible runners to make things interesting in Long Island.

The Cincinnati Reds: If you haven't noticed, up I-75 the Reds have started to get things in gear. Going into Saturday's game against the Cubs, Dusty Baker's club was 30-18, a full three games ahead of last year's pace when the NL Central Division winners won 97 games.

Joey Votto has put it in high gear. The National League's best hitter is hitting .361, second in Major League Baseball to Miguel Cabrera's .388. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) for May is a ridiculous 1.250. Votto has hit four homers in his last seven games.

The current Sports Illustrated cover-boys from St. Louis lead the Reds in the division, but it should be fun watching the two teams battle back and forth all season.

Kentucky football: When was the last time UK grid fans were this fired up coming off a dreadful 2-10 showing?

In the history of Kentucky football, there have been plenty of two-win seasons, but none in my memory has been followed by the sort of excitement and interest leading into this summer.

Thank Mark Stoops for that. Thank Mark Stoops' recruiting for that. A new coach can't do it alone. He needs players.

In Stoops' case, he has made plenty of progress in that regard, sneaking into ESPN's top 25 rankings for the Class of 2014 after convincing Conner quarterback Drew Barker to turn down South Carolina and Tennessee in favor of the Cats.

Kentucky basketball: Coming off a season in which the Cats didn't even make the NCAA Tournament, fell in the first round of the NIT — to Robert Morris — then watched arch-rival Louisville win the national title, you would expect pessimism to pound the basketball addicts that populate the Big Blue Nation.

Not so. Not when John Calipari has secured not just his fifth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class, but perhaps the greatest recruiting class of all time.

OK, so it's at least one of the best recruiting classes of all time, one certainly good enough to make most Kentucky fans forget all about what happened last season.

That is more than enough to make the collective members of the BBN enjoy the summer with a smile.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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