UK basketball notebook: Delk says anxiety, pressure led to his cramping at UK

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJanuary 4, 2014 

Tony Delk signed a poster for a fan. Delk was a three-time All-SEC selection during his four years as a basketball player at Kentucky.

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Quite reasonably, a physical problem leads to assumptions of physical causes. Muscle cramps sidelined Kentucky freshman Julius Randle for much of the second half against Louisville last weekend. There must be a physical cause: Dehydration, insufficient potassium or sodium, fatigue.

But a former Kentucky star said stress and anxiety caused his cramping.

"I think it was all the added pressure," Tony Delk said last week. "Me being a senior. Graduating. Going to the (NBA) draft. Trying to win a national championship. Being on the No. 1 or No. 2 team. It was a collection of things."

UK sent Delk to a sports psychologist, who suggested the player try breathing techniques before games.

Interestingly, Delk said he did not have any problems with cramping prior to his senior season for Kentucky nor after he went to the NBA.

"I'd practice three, four hours and never cramp," he said of the 1995-96 season. "As soon as the game started, I could feel it coming on. It'd go away in some games. But certain games, it just wouldn't go away."

To be clear, Delk was not saying pressure to perform caused Randle's recurring cramps. Although Randle could check off several of the same boxes: NBA Draft, championship ambitions, rock star status that comes with being a UK player. He seems to wear the crown of superstar lightly and gracefully.

The point may be to ask why more Kentucky players don't face psychosomatic issues.

"There's so much pressure on those guys there," said Delk, who returned to UK in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons as an apprentice coach on John Calipari's staff. "Every player responds and reacts differently to the coach, to the game, to the fans, to the reporters."

As Calipari often notes, UK basketball is not for everyone. Last season's point guard, Ryan Harrow, comes immediately to mind.

The scrutiny and pressure only increase with social media.

"All your peers know who you are and what you're doing," Delk said. "And you don't really have a life. Your life is what they make out of it."

Players also can be counted upon to make it and become a means to wealth for family and friends.

"When you're 18 or 19, it's too much for those guys sometimes," Delk said.

That's where Calipari and his experience as a college and NBA coach can help ease the burden. Or at least put it in perspective.

"For me, it was overwhelming," Delk said.

Delk grew up in Brownsville, Tenn., which had a population of about 10,000. Then he became a basketball celebrity in the Big Blue Nation, which Calipari hypes as a global phenomenon.

"I'm more of a small-town kind of guy," Delk said. "That's the way I see myself. But people see me differently."

UK fans are wonderfully supportive, he said, before adding, "People lose their minds when they meet a Bruce Willis or a Samuel L. Jackson."

A routine blood screening as an NBA player led Delk to discover he had sickle cell trait, which can heighten chances of dehydration. It explained why Delk noticed he often struggled in second-game-in-two-nights situations or at altitude in Denver.

Earlier this season, Willie Cauley-Stein said he also had the sickle cell trait.

While sickle cell trait can affect endurance, Delk offered a reason he believes stress contributed to his cramping. He played fewer minutes as a UK senior (26.3 per game, on average) than as a sophomore (28.1) or junior (29.1).

"So I'm thinking it was anxiety and pressure," he said. "So much going on in my head."

Vinegar, quinine, raisins

UK fans called or emailed suggestions for how Julius Randle could alleviate cramping. All asked that the ideas be passed along to Randle and UK.

Ben Kibler, an orthopedic surgeon with the Lexington Clinic/Sports Medicine Center, added a medical opinion.

■ Fan Jim Carigan suggested "a liberal splashing of white distilled vinegar" on the affected muscle. He noted that white distilled vinegar is better than, say, apple cider vinegar because it does not have a strong odor.

"This application always works on me: finger, hand, arm, foot, calf, thigh, etc." he wrote in an email.

Kibler: As an acidic, vinegar has healing capabilities. It can be used for Achilles' tendon problems. But there's no scientific proof that vinegar alleviates cramping.

■ Fan Terrence Moore, a Louisville native now living in Sedona, Ariz., said he drinks tonic water to ward off cramps. The tonic water includes quinine. He regularly drinks a two-liter bottle of tonic water in a 10-day period. No cramps.

Kibler: Quinine can be "very good" in dealing with middle-of-the-night cramps. But the quinine can lead to a "massive diarrhea effect" which can result in dehydration. For the type of cramping caused by athletic exertion, it's harder to say quinine will be effective.

Jim Brown, 94, is best known for having attended UK football home games from 1945 until 2009. He said that when he anticipates a cramp, he eats a box of raisins. "It's almost instantaneous the way they get rid of those cramps," he said.

Kibler: Eating raisins to ward off cramps was a novel idea. The sugar in raisins can help replace the glucose in muscles. But the process of transferring the sugar from the stomach to the bloodstream to the liver and then to the affected muscle takes time. So raisins would not bring immediate relief.

SECrets

Southeastern Conference play begins this week. Consider:

■ ESPN's lead analyst for SEC games, Jimmy Dykes, sees a bounce-back year for the league after last season's three-NCAA-bid embarrassment. "I honestly think the league is better than the perception," he said.

As evidence, Dykes cited how five SEC teams are in the top 30 of ESPN's Basketball Power Index as of Saturday. That's No. 11 UK, No. 15 Florida, No. 19 Missouri, No. 25 LSU and No. 27 Arkansas.

The only league with more is the Big Ten: No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 13 Iowa, No. 14 Michigan State, No. 26 Michigan and No. 30 Illinois.

■ If you believe that a challenging non-conference schedule best prepares a team for league play, then Kentucky should be ready for the SEC.

According to numbers updated by stats maven Ken Pomeroy on Friday, UK had played the third-toughest schedule of any SEC team. The order, from toughest to weakest, was Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Vandy, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State.

Mississippi State, which opens league play at UK on Wednesday, had played the weakest schedule of any Division I team, Pomeroy said. Texas A&M (which comes to Rupp on Jan. 21) had played the third-weakest of any Division I team.

■ The SEC figures to provide limited help in boosting an NCAA Tournament résumé. The Associated Press Top 25 poll last week included three league teams: No. 12 Florida, No. 15 Kentucky and No. 25 Missouri. The only other SEC team to get a vote — and it was one solitary vote — was LSU.

■ SEC teams had a 4-14 record against ranked opponents in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Florida beat Kansas and Memphis. UK beat U of L. Missouri beat UCLA. UK's victory over U of L is the SEC's only victory over a top-10 team.

No big deal?

For those who think free-throw shooting makes a critical difference, this might give pause: No. 1 Arizona ranked No. 231 nationally. Arizona had made 67.2 percent of its free throws.

Reader Mike Beeghly, a season-ticket holder for 23 seasons, looked at The Associated Press Top 25 last week and noted that Kentucky makes up in quantity what it may lack in quality.

Of the Top 25 teams, Kentucky averages the most free-throw attempts (34.2) and free-throw makes (22.8) per game. No. 22 Iowa is second in both categories: 22 makes and 30.6 attempts per game.

Beeghly concluded that free-throw shooting is not a crippling problem.

Of course, there's always room for improvement. Point guard Andrew Harrison made six of 12 against Louisville, and 19 of 33 (57.6 percent) the last three games. Julius Randle, who's taken the most free throws by any UK player, made 16 of 25 in the last two games (64 percent).

For anyone who thinks shooting is becoming a lost art, statistics for Division I compiled by the NCAA suggest that free-throw accuracy is not in decline. Since 1958, the overall accuracy has held steady between 67.1 percent (1958-59 and 1993-94) and 69.43 percent (2002-03). Last season Division I teams made 69.31 percent of free throws.

Poll results

Public Policy Polling, which National Public Radio called "one of the most prolific polling outfits in the country," released new numbers on Friday.

Among voters in Kentucky, UK fans outnumber U of L fans 3-1.

Plus, Big Blue Nation and Card Nation are happy with the performances of their head coaches in basketball and football. Although fans polled gave UK football coach Mark Stoops more cautious approval.

According to a news release, 63 percent of voters in the state consider themselves to be Kentucky fans, compared to 20 percent for Louisville. That suggests U of L's remarkably successful school year in athletics slightly closed the gap. Polling a year ago showed 66 percent rooting for UK and 17 percent for U of L.

Seventy-six percent of UK fans approved of John Calipari's job performance, and 8 percent disapproved. Rick Pitino had 88 percent approval/5 percent disapproval from U of L fans.

In football, U of L's Charlie Strong had 66 percent approval/8 percent disapproval from U of L fans.

After what PPP called a "rough first season," Stoops had 42 percent approval/13 percent disapproval. That leaves 45 percent reserving judgment.

Public meeting

UK fans can voice their opinions about a new-look Rupp Arena on Wednesday. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and architects on the project will be part of an hourlong public meeting beginning at 6 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt. UK plays Mississippi State next door beginning at 8.

In a news release, Gray said he wanted to hear about changes fans would like to see inside the arena, and presumably what they'd like to see stay the same.

The meeting will be live-streamed at www.ruppdistrict.com.

Fans can also make their feelings known via a survey available at www.ruppdistrict.com.

Happy birthday

To Randolph Morris. He turned 28 on Thursday. ... To Irving Thomas. He turned 48 on Thursday. ... To Larry Stamper. He turns 64 on Monday. ... To Bobby Perry. He turns 29 on Tuesday. ... To Kirk Chiles. He turns 65 on Wednesday. ... To Rod Barnes. The former Ole Miss player and coach turns 48 on Wednesday.

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

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