UK basketball notebook: Kentuckian Jake Bell plans to shoot straight as SEC supervisor of officials

Herald-Leader Staff WriterSeptember 14, 2013 

Kentuckian Jake Bell achieved a long-held goal last September when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Now, he faces new daunting challenges: (1) Fostering a cooperative and productive relationship between college basketball coaches and referees; (2) Seeing that officiating works to reduce physical play, thus enhancing the sport's more pleasing finesse component.

Bell, whom the Southeastern Conference named as its supervisor of officials for men's basketball this off-season, is in the midst of meeting with each of the league's head coaches this off-season. It's what he's done as supervisor of Sun Belt Conference officials. He hopes to get better acquainted with the SEC coaches, hear their concerns and build a base of credibility.

"I really believe in looking people in the eye and talking about things," he said during an appearance at the Nicholasville Rotary Club early last week.

Later in the week, Bell traveled to Indianapolis for a meeting with supervisors of officials for 30 other leagues. Their aims: (1) Bring about more uniformity in how the sport is officiated around the country; (2) Give the supervisors a preview of how the NCAA will present to referees how it wants games to be called.

In addition, all head coaches will receive a CD explaining the instructions to referees.

Bell, a longtime successful high school football coach at Henry Clay High, said that in the 2013-14 season:

■ Referees are supposed to change how they view the block/charge call. In the past, the defender had to be in guarding position when the offensive player left the floor on a drive. Now, that defender must be set as the offensive player gathers himself before leaving the floor.

"So it will create more blocks because we want the offense to score," Bell said.

■ Referees should be mindful that physical play is a contributing factor to the trend toward decreased scoring.

"One of the themes I hear is the games are too rough," Bell said. So referees will be encouraged to call fouls when defenders on the perimeter put two hands on the offensive player or belly-up to the ball handler to blunt drives to the basket. "Re-routes," Bell called it.

Then, of course, there's the perennial call to reduce physical play in the low post and around the basket.

That all sounds good. But, as Bell acknowledged, the annual lamenting about physical play gets forgotten by the time teams enter the meat of conference play.

An effort is made "till February, then we have to re-up," Bell said. "With post play, we're going to try to take the wrestling out."

■ Referees may start calling traveling. That sounds at cross purposes with the aim to increase scoring. If referees will continue to look the other way when players travel, there can be more scoring opportunities.

But players get away with shuffling their feet when beginning a move. A mention of the so-called "Euro step" which sportswriter Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times said "goes right to the edge" of walking caused Bell to wince.

"It's not enforced," he said of the traveling violation. "They walk, walk, walk, and we don't call it. We talk about it, but we're not making much progress."

The climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet above sea level in Tanzania) required patience and perseverance. Bell and company started at a base camp at 6,000 feet. The seven-day ascent finished with a nine-hour trek over the final 4,000 feet.

Grounded

Before making a cameo appearance in the UK Alumni Charity Game, former UK All-American Kenny "Sky" Walker acknowledged that at age 49 he's grounded.

"They're going to want to see me sky again," he said of fans. "I've seen too many guys on bloops and blunders make bad decisions."

Men for hire

All SEC officials worked the John Calipari Fantasy Experience. This was to enhance the campers' Walter Mitty fantasy experience.

Kentuckian John Hampton declined to say how much the referees got paid. But he did not object to a guess of five figures.

Hampton called Monday's game between camp all-stars and a group of former UK players. The other two officials were SEC rookie Todd Austin and Glenn Tuitt.

Tuitt, who will call SEC games for a fourth season, is the uncle of Notre Dame defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt (who scored a touchdown in the game at Michigan last weekend).

Austin and Tuitt pooh-poohed the notion that receiving pay from the Calipari Fantasy Experience might impinge their ability to objectively call Kentucky games next season.

Less than 10

A note last week chronicled how infrequently a team wins a Final Four game in which none of its players takes 10 or more shots. In a testament to its unselfish approach, Kentucky's 2011-12 team did that in beating Louisville in the national semifinals.

It hadn't happened since Florida beat UCLA in the 2007 national semifinals. It also happened in championship games of 1960 (Ohio State over Cal), 1985 (Villanova over Georgetown) and 1991 (Duke over Kansas).

Here's a follow-up note: As unselfish as the 2011-12 UK team was, a victory in which no player took more than nine shots only happened once prior to the Final Four. A 69-44 home victory over Tennessee saw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lead the way with nine shot attempts. In 10 other victories that season, only one UK player took 10 or more shots. Four different players held that distinction: Anthony Davis (one time), Terrence Jones (four), Darius Miller (one) and Kidd-Gilchrist (four).

Attendance figures

UK announced an attendance of 19,255 for its Alumni Charity Game on Monday. To put that figure into perspective:

■ Last season only four college teams had a higher average home attendance: UK (23,099), Syracuse (22,439), Louisville (21,571) and North Carolina (19,350).

■ The Big Ten led the nation in home attendance last season with an average of 13,114 per game.

Banning books

In a note last week, former UK faculty representative Alan D. DeSantis recalled his concern about athletic participation stunting academic pursuits. This concern rang true for Dick Bass, who was on UK teams in the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons.

At that time, SEC teams played league basketball games on Saturdays and Mondays.

"The ability to study and stay on top of classes was still a problem 40 years ago," Bass wrote in an email. "We would leave Friday morning and get back early on Tuesday morning. Missing several Friday/Monday classes. My sophomore year I missed the first three weekends due to basketball, only able to attend Wednesday of (Monday-Wednesday-Friday) classes for three weeks. My grades suffered. I remember I got low grades on my first two Economics tests, then the highest grade on the next two. The professor accused me of cheating and stationed three proctors around me for the final (which I aced!)."

Then, Bass added, "By the way, (Adolph) Rupp did not allow you to bring books on road trips. The only time we were alone in our rooms was to sleep. He wanted our full attention on basketball!"

The email from Bass jogged memories of Kevin Stallings being hired as Vanderbilt basketball coach in 1999. At his first SEC Media Day, Stallings noted a heads-up he received from former Vandy coach Eddie Fogler.

In essence, Fogler wanted Stallings to understand that coaching the Vandy players was a different experience.

Different?

Stallings explained. After a disheartening road loss, the Vandy coach should know that when he boarded the team bus outside the arena to begin the trip home, he might not find a gloomy bunch of players. The Vandy players might have opened up books and begun homework assignments.

Change of plans

UK fan Helen Cooksey took a vacation day from her job so she could watch a telecast of the Charity Alumni Game Monday night. One problem: NCAA rules prohibited a telecast of an off-season game.

"I was devastated," Cooksey said.

Cooksey lost a vacation day. She also had the chore of calling her 90-year-old mother, Katie Keyes, with the bad news.

If they had known the game would not be televised, Cooksey would have driven from Nashville to Ashland to pick up her mother. The two would have driven to Lexington for the game. After returning her mother to Ashland, daughter would have then driven home to Nashville.

"Yes, I would have," Cooksey said.

One question: All that for a display of cautious, don't-get-hurt pickup basketball?

"It's not about whether it was good basketball," Cooksey said. "It was about seeing the kids."

When told that the decision not to televise the game rested not with UK, Cooksey said, "That didn't make the call to my mother any easier."

Ewing on MKG

As an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats, former NBA star Patrick Ewing gets an up-close look at Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Ewing was in Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday to watch his daughter, Randi, play volleyball for Louisville. When asked about MKG, he called the former UK player a "hard worker." Added Ewing, "We expect big things."

Schedule for departure

Charles Edwin Cook Sr., of Corbin passed away on Sept. 3 at age 72. His family requested that the Hart Funeral Home place a 2013-14 UK basketball schedule in his casket. "Because he never missed a UK game," Ty Hart wrote in an email.

More than half of the families want something UK in the casket or a floral arrangement with a "Big Blue" theme. Cook's family had his casket piece arrayed in a UK theme and a sticker placed on the lid of his casket which read, "UK Dad."

His widow, Vickie Ore Cook, said she and her husband never discussed specific plans for the funeral. "But everybody knew how he was," he said. "We just knew that was something he would like."

Happy birthday

To Marcus Lee. He turned 19 on Saturday. ... To Todd Svoboda. He turned 42 on Saturday. ... To Marquis Estill. He turns 32 Sunday. ... To Reggie Warford. He turns 59 Sunday. ... To John Brady. The former LSU coach turns 59 on Tuesday. ... To Dicky Beal. He turns 51 on Wednesday. ... To Rick Pitino. The U of L coach turns 61 on Wednesday.

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

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