UK basketball notebook: Through mist-colored glasses

Herald-Leader Staff WriterOctober 26, 2013 

Today we ponder John Calipari: the man, the Mist.

Former Georgia Coach Hugh Durham laughed uncontrollably when told how Calipari mentioned the Blue Mist in his state-of-the-program speech. After several attempts to continue the telephone conversation, it seemed best to wait until the laughter died from natural causes.

"The Big Blue Nation extends far beyond the hallowed halls of college basketball's greatest arena," Calipari said in feeding blue meat to the crowd at Kentucky's Big Blue Madness last weekend. "It's a nation that stretches across 120 counties in Kentucky, all 50 states and to every country in the world.

"We are borderless," the UK coach added. "We are everywhere. No corner is left untouched by the Blue Mist."

Durham, who coined the term Blue Mist more than 20 years ago, reacted by flashing his signature sense of humor.

"There's a lot of people who think Calipari is full of (pause) a lot of stuff," he said. "Now we know it's just Blue Mist."

Rather than oozing into every nook and cranny, Durham said that the Blue Mist is concentrated in Rupp Arena.

"Let's be honest about it," he said. "Kentucky is Kentucky. All 50 states? Give me a break."

Now in retirement and splitting his time in North Carolina and Florida, Durham said the Blue Mist does not exist in those states. Plus, fans in, say, Indiana and Kansas have their own forms of mist, he said.

Even in Kentucky, the Blue Mist disappears for parts of the year.

"It kind of goes into hibernation from April till the middle of October," Durham said. "Then all of a sudden it starts to creep out again.

"You don't hear anybody talk about the Blue Mist in football season. It must be an indoor disease."

Durham, who grew up in Louisville rooting for UK's Fabulous Five, first mentioned the Blue Mist in Rupp Arena during a post-game news conference. It was a tool for him to comment on the officiating in a Georgia-Kentucky game without being directly critical. It was an off-the-cuff remark. Not something he prepared.

"It starts at the top (of Rupp Arena) and starts to come down," he recalled saying of the mist. "Pretty soon it changes the color of the officials' shirts from black and white to blue and white."

Durham recalled two calls within a few minutes of each other, one favoring Georgia and one Kentucky. Both were correct calls, he said, but the striking thing was how the referees made the calls. On the call favoring Georgia, the referee was subdued. "Almost apologetic," Durham said. On the second call, which favored UK, the referee wound up like Adam Wainwright throwing a curve ball and shot out his arm in Kentucky's direction.

So do not believe the crowd cannot affect a referee, Durham said.

The Blue Mist can also affect reporters, Durham said. "They look through mist-colored glasses," he said.

Back to divisions?

The idea of former Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury as a visionary takes some getting used to, but it is gaining traction.

Stansbury's was the lone dissenting voice two years ago when the SEC decided to do away with divisions in men's basketball as part of the expansion to 14 schools. Alabama had just won the Western Division, yet did not receive an NCAA Tournament bid. So what's the point?

Stansbury suggested that divisional play gave more teams something to play for deep into a season. Rivalries got protected since scheduling emphasized home-and-home dates with opponents within a division. Plus, cosmetically, being in fifth place in a division seemed a lot better than 13th place.

Then the SEC voted 13-1 to do away with divisions. Now with time to digest the consequences of a 16-game schedule to decide one 14-team race, Stansbury's argument seems more appealing.

During the SEC Media Days this month, Georgia Coach Mark Fox and Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin lamented how Kentucky will not play in Athens and Knoxville, respectively, this season.

"It is what it is," Martin said. "You can't get consumed by it. ... Because of the format of the league, you can't do much about it."

Fourteen teams makes a double round-robin schedule of 26 games impractical. So the SEC assigns each team a permanent opponent to be played on a home-and-home basis each season. UK's permanent opponent is Florida. Four other teams are played home-and-home on a rotating basis, which leaves eight SEC opponents teams played once each season.

UK, which will not play at Tennessee for the first time since 1944, plays four former Western Division teams home-and-home this season: Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Georgia does not have home games with UK, Florida or Tennessee, arguably the three best teams in the league.

"Those are great draws for us," Fox said, "and that will affect our attendance. We're not happy about that, but we have to live with it. It's one of the quirks of the new model."

Mark Slonaker, the executive director of the Georgia Bulldog Club, said ticket sales are down 3 percent and donations tied to the renewal of season ticket sales are down 10 percent.

"We've had people dropping because the schedule is so bad," he said.

UK has played at Athens (or against Georgia in Atlanta) every year since 1963.

Slonaker suggested a return to two divisions, and a 19-game SEC schedule. That would be home-and-home with six divisional opponents and one game against each team in the other division.

That would be better for a league looking to boost interest in basketball, not to mention attendance, he said.

But Slonaker acknowledged that coaches prefer fewer league games, not a move from 18 to 19. Because coaches worry about job security rather than an entertaining schedule or crowning a "true" champion? "I would think so," Slonaker said.

And for the record, doesn't TV dictate that Florida be Kentucky's permanent home-and-home opponent? The teams have played in the attractive-for-TV final game of the regular season every year but one since 1999.

"Yep," Slonaker said. "I would think there's a big influence there."

400-to-1

In case you missed it, sportswriter Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports wrote last week about the odds of Kentucky achieving a 40-0 record this season. As you might expect, it's a long-shot possibility.

Eisenberg noted how Nick Bogdanovich, a bookmaker at the William Hill Race & Sports Book in Las Vegas, had been asked for the odds on UK going undefeated this season. So Bogdanovich went about the process of determining the odds.

"There was a little math, a little gut, and we studied their schedule pretty closely," Bogdanovich told Eisenberg. "When you're talking about a number that high, it's pretty arbitrary. It probably could be anywhere from 200-1 to 5,000-1. We decided on 400-1, and if those kids jell early, who knows?"

There are much shorter odds on Kentucky winning the national championship. Bogdanovich has made UK a 3-1 favorite. That's ahead of Kansas (5-1), Duke (8-1) and Louisville (8-1).

Pressure?

The talk of a 40-0 record brought back memories for former UK All-American John Wall.

"That's what they said about us, and we lost three," he said. "So you never know till it happens."

Wall dismissed the idea of the weight of expectations bringing pressure.

"You kind of know what you're getting yourself into when you come to Midnight Madness before you commit here," he said. "Just stay humble and trust your teammates. It's like a brotherhood. You've got to have each other's back whatever you're doing."

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy chuckled at the notion of 40-0 bringing undue pressure on UK players.

"I'm not sure you can add any more pressure than what comes with the territory when you play at Kentucky," he said.

'Best team'

Even before facing Kentucky this season, Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy is bracing for an unusually difficult challenge.

"John's team is probably the best team I've ever coached against," he said of John Calipari's UK team. "They have that much talent."

Kennedy is beginning his 16th season as a college head coach.

Loss at Rupp

John Wall noted that the Wizards' loss to the Pelicans in an NBA exhibition game last week marked the first time he'd lost in Rupp Arena.

Not true, UK fan Steven D. Goodrum wrote in an email message.

Goodrum recalled that Wall lost to the John Calipari-coached Dominican Republic National Team in Rupp Arena in 2011.

Goodrum, 52, is an attorney in Lexington. He graduated from the UK College of Law in 1987. He said his first memory of UK basketball is Rupp's Runts losing to Texas Western in the 1966 national championship game.

In Tod we trust

UK reserve Tod Lanter spells his name with one "D" rather than the more common "Todd."

Why?

He noted that his father and grandfather also were named "Tod." So he found it odd that most Todds spell their names with two D's.

"Rod is with one 'D,'" he said. "God is with one 'D.'"

Why not Tod?

Football vs. basketball

When asked at the SEC Media Days about how football dominates the league, the basketball coaches embraced football's preeminence. Presumably, no basketball coach believed football could be dislodged from the top of the SEC hierarchy. So why complain?

Coincidentally, The Wall Street Journal offered this stat: The most times a school's football team scored more than its men's basketball team against a common opponent since 1996-97: Oregon 16, Southern Cal 10, Florida State 9, Kansas State 8, Texas A&M 8.

Contrast that with the most times a basketball opponent scored less than the football opponent in that time frame: Kansas 13, Kentucky 11, Duke 8, Indiana 8 and UCLA 8.

Happy birthday

To Aaron and Andrew Harrison. The twins turn 19 on Monday. ... To Brian Lane. The Transy coach turned 46 on Friday. ... To Stacey Poole. He turned 22 on Thursday. ... To Dan Issel. The UK career scoring leader for male players turned 65 on Friday. ... To Bob Knight. The Hall of Fame coach turned 73 on Friday. ... To Hugh Durham, who has the distinction of leading two programs (Florida State and Georgia) to their only Final Four appearances. He turned 76 on Saturday.

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

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