UK basketball notebook: Mayor says skepticism natural, useful in Rupp Arena debate

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 17, 2013 

Gov. Steve Beshear, left, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray joked during a news conference July 10 concerning the plans for Rupp Arena. Gray says a renovated Rupp might include a unifying spirit both inside and outside the arena.

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Mayor Jim Gray welcomes the criticism, skepticism and second-guessing associated with his oh-so-deliberately evolving dream of renovating Rupp Arena and re-invigorating downtown Lexington.

"It's been very informing to hear those voices, which illustrate just how much people care and the attachment they have to this shrine," he said of Rupp Arena on Friday.

By that standard, Gray just had another great week.

University of Kentucky trustee Carol Martin "Bill" Gatton again voiced his misgivings. Echoing sentiments he and others have earlier expressed, Gatton questioned:

■ The proposal to add luxury suites, loge boxes and a private lounge to a re-invented Rupp. Such high-end features could help raise revenue needed to pay for the project and, perhaps, give UK additional funds. But they would divide the Big Blue Nation along financial lines. Through no fault of their own, some shallow-pocketed fans would lose their seats. "That's not fair," Gatton said.

■ The idea of selling naming rights to Rupp Arena. "If we had no Adolph Rupp, there'd be no Rupp Arena," he said. Irony alert: Gatton owns nine car dealerships in Tennessee, Alabama and Texas. In other words, he's just the kind of businessperson Lexington hopes is interested in buying the naming rights.

■ Whether millions should be spent on a sweeping renovation of Rupp Arena when UK President Eli Capilouto seeks what seems the same state dollars to pay for classroom and building upgrades on campus.

Gray enhanced his cooperative bona fides last week by speaking at a ceremony marking the public unveiling of two new residence halls at UK.

The idea of luxury suites and the like dividing UK fans seems to touch a nerve. Gray asked that fans not judge until they experience the totality of a new Rupp, which might include a unifying spirit inside and outside the arena.

"The nature of video technology and engagement changes," he said. "How we incorporate all that into this project is a big part of the project."

As for naming rights, Gray saw multiple possibilities: the Lexington Convention Center (Alltech and an undisclosed second firm have made bids), Rupp Arena, the entire entertainment district, an outdoor amphitheatre and who knows what other elements. But he called adding a corporate name to Rupp Arena a "last resort."

While Capilouto stresses the need for on-campus upgrades, Gray suggested a renovated Rupp and enlivened downtown could benefit many varying interests: UK, UK athletics, the city, the state.

Gatton noted that he's not solely interested in UK, where he has donated millions to the business school. He's also given money to help build two YMCAs in Lexington and buy land in the Beaumont area. "So I'm all for helping Lexington, but I'm all for helping the overall Lexington instead of just downtown," he said.

That said, Gatton added that he'd be willing to give "several million dollars" to help fund an on-campus arena. But UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart acknowledged a few years ago that the school could not afford to build an arena, so he yielded the task to the city.

Gatton also said he'd give "a few million" to Gray's project if the city agreed to a scaled-down renovation: Only upgrade the restrooms, plus install a scoreboard over center court and electronic ribbon signage at the bottom of the upper arena.

After noting that a scoreboard over center court would require a "substantial" strengthening of Rupp Arena's roof, Gray showed little interest in a modest renovation.

"To me, it's worth doing only if it's extraordinary and remarkable," he said.

It's the special hold that Rupp Arena has on Kentuckians that fuels criticism of the still-evolving renovation plans. Gray hopes to harness that passion to ultimately make a grander Rupp a reality.

"This is a secular temple," the mayor said.

Attendance

A few leftover notes from last week's announcement that Kentucky led the nation in average home attendance (23,099) for an eighth straight season, and 17 of the last 18:

■ The last time Kentucky did not lead the nation in attendance was 2004-05. UK averaged 22,520 fans in the season that saw the Cats win 14 of 15 home games (the loss was to No. 2 Kansas by six points), be ranked in the top 10 all season, win the SEC and advance to an Elite Eight loss to Michigan State in double overtime.

■ UK, Syracuse and Louisville have ranked 1-2-3 in average home attendance in each of the last four seasons.

■ Seven of the 14 SEC teams finished in the top 36 in attendance. After No. 1 Kentucky came No. 8 Tennessee (16,635), No. 20 Arkansas (13,750), No. 29 Missouri (11,996), No. 31 Alabama (11,159), No. 35 Florida (10,677) and No. 36 Vanderbilt (10,637).

■ Surprisingly, Mississippi ranked last among SEC teams in average home attendance and No. 93 nationally (6,067) despite an usually successful season (the Rebels' first NCAA Tournament bid since 2001) and the chance to watch, arguably, the league's most exciting player in Marshall Henderson.

Tubby Smith's final season as coach saw Minnesota ranked No. 30 in average attendance increase (plus 787). No SEC team made the top 30.

■ UK's average home attendance last season was the smallest in John Calipari's four seasons. It's splitting hairs given UK leading the nation each year. Or does it reflect a weak tea home non-conference schedule?

■ The SEC ranked third in average home attendance (10,571). The Big Ten (13,114) and Big East (10,699) led the way.

■ The average home attendance in the SEC fell by 942. Only the Western Athletic Conference (minus 1,720) had a larger decrease in 2012-13. The Mountain West had the largest increase (plus 919).

■ The SEC Tournament averaged 12,899 per session. The ACC Tournament ranked first at 22,169, the Big Ten second at 20,757, Big East third (20,057), the Big 12 fourth (18,137) and the Missouri Valley fifth (14,206).

■ The NCAA Tournament games in Rupp Arena ranked second in attendance among four sites on those days. The leader each of those days was Auburn Hills, Mich.

■ Further proof that Kentuckians love basketball came in Division II attendance. Kentucky Wesleyan and Bellarmine ranked No. 5 and No. 13, averaging 2,488 and 1,787, respectively.

Rivalries

Tennessee acknowledged the inevitable last week. Kentucky will not play in Knoxville next season, meaning no UK game at UT for the first time since 1952-53. That was the season UK played only intrasquad games as it served a one-season suspension.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future Tennessee will not play at Kentucky.

Dating to 1922, Kentucky played at Tennessee every year except 1952-53 and the World War II season of 1943-44.

Of course, SEC expansion from 12 to 14 schools limited the number of in-league home-and-home series to one for each team. UK's designated — and made-for-TV — home-and-home opponent is Florida. Tennessee's is Vanderbilt.

UK leads the series against Tennessee 149-67, which is 216 games. Kentucky is UT's most frequent opponent of all time. And vice versa.

Here's how 216 games compares to other well-known rivalries:

■ The now defunct Kansas-Missouri series covers 267 games. Kansas leads 172-95.

■ The Duke-North Carolina series covers 236 games. UNC leads 132-104.

By the way, Duke has played 239 games against Wake Forest and 238 against North Carolina State.

Nationally, Kentucky-Tennessee is not among the top 10 rivalries in terms of games played. Not even close.

The top 10 are:

■ 339 games, Oregon vs. Oregon State

■ 295, Oregon vs. Washington

■ 293, Oregon State vs. Washington

■ 288, Oregon State vs. Washington State

■ 285, Oregon vs. Washington State

■ 277, Kansas vs. Kansas State

■ 277, Washington vs. Washington State

■ 267, Kansas vs. Missouri

■ 267, Idaho vs. Washington State

■ 262, California vs. Stanford

Why do the top 10 rivalries in terms of games played all involve teams west of the Mississippi River? Perhaps it has something to do with relative scarcity of opponents.

"From what I've heard, the Oregon and Washington schools drove to play each other quite a bit in the early years," Oregon State spokesman Shawn Schoeffler wrote in an email. "I know the Beavers and Ducks played four times a year several times."

Questionable behavior

Columnist Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal took a fresh look at the controversy surrounding Johnny Manziel allegedly signing autographs for profit. Johnny Football aside, Gay questioned whether adults should ask for autographs.

"A generally bizarre and creepy behavior which has cast a toxic pall over what was once an innocent childhood ritual," he wrote last week. "Asking for someone's autograph is like trick-or-treating on Halloween: a cute and defensible activity that immediately becomes uncute and indefensible the moment one turns, say, 12."

Gay also wondered about Oregon's much-publicized construction of a new 145,000-square-foot football facility. It makes UK basketball's new locker room in Rupp Arena look only a few notches above nails on a wall to hang clothes and a naked light bulb swinging from the ceiling.

"It looked like Lex Luthor's fitness club," Gay wrote of the Oregon building.

"We are told these perks are essential to college sports because they help attract the best athletes, the same athletes we simultaneously expect to be content with a scholarship for their contribution. The dueling comedy of extravagance and hypocrisy is apparent to nearly everyone."

'Red V. Blue'

Director Rory Delaney checked in last week to say he has sufficient funding to complete his documentary on the Kentucky-Louisville series, titled Red V. Blue.

The Kickstarter campaign, as it was called, raised $43,000, which will be used to pay for the rights to use each school's logo ($8,000 for each school) and other costs to complete the project.

Since the fall of 2011, producer Wade Smith and Delaney have worked on what they intend to be a 90-minute documentary on the UK-U of L basketball rivalry. They hope to have the film in theaters shortly before this coming season's UK-U of L game.

Happy birthday

To sophomore big man Willie Cauley-Stein. He turns 20 Sunday. ... To one-and-doner Archie Goodwin. He turned 19 Saturday. ... To incoming freshman James Young. He turned 18 Friday. ... To former All-American Kenny Walker. He turns 49 Sunday. ... To Indiana all-timer Quinn Buckner. He turns 59 on Tuesday. ... To former UK shooter Ryan Hogan. He turned 35 on Thursday. ... To former Florida coach Lon Kruger. He turns 61 on Monday. ... To ex-Cat Terry Mills. He turned 65 on Thursday.

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

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