Ignoring opposing fans' taunts safest bet for players, Calipari says

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 10, 2014 

Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart drew a three-game suspension because he shoved a fan at Texas Tech last weekend. He also reminded players and coaches to keep their emotions in check.

That was easy advice in the sterile atmosphere of the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference on Monday.

"But sometimes, when you're the focal point of a lot of attention, that's easier said than done," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said.

And it's getting harder all the time, the coaches said.

"Fans more and more are of the opinion that they can say whatever they want without regard and without ramification," Stallings said. "Probably because at times you can say anonymously ... on the Internet-type things or talk radio.

"Then all of a sudden, you get into a public setting and maybe there is some carryover. I get the feeling fans feel they can say whatever they want to. That comes with the price of admission. And sometimes things are said that are inappropriate."

Television cameras caught Smart shovinge a fan after he fell into the stands. The two appeared to exchange words before the shove. Smart and the fan subsequently issued apologies.

UK Coach John Calipari spoke of a simple rule by which players should view fans' taunts or gestures.

"Just ignore them," he said. "You know, just ignore them."

Calipari expressed sympathy for Smart because of the condemnation that resulted from the shove. "Because I know he's a good kid," the UK coach said.

UK players are well aware that they should not interact with hostile fans, Calipari said. He said that UK players, whose mere appearance in other arenas generally incites home fans, are accustomed to turning the other cheek. "We are in a hostile environment everywhere we go," he said.

A series of photographs taken immediately after Kentucky lost at Arkansas last month showed a fan trying to engage Aaron Harrison. In the background, UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua had a look of concern on his face as he approached player and fan. Antigua escorted Harrison off the court.

"Aaron didn't respond (to the fan), which was good," Calipari said. "I like that."

Like Stallings, Florida Coach Billy Donovan said his home-court fans could get consumed with heckling opponents. Or worse.

"There are going to be fans that spend more time dealing with opponents rather than cheering for their team," he said. "That's when a problem can (occur)."

LSU Coach Johnny Jones, who recalled a student group called "The Front Row Lunatics" trying to distract opponents when he played for the Tigers, explained the wisdom of ignoring fans.

"If you don't show any emotion, they have a tendency of going away when you don't look back," he said.

Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray suggested that good can come of Smart's shove of the fan and subsequent suspension.

"It's really going to be a great teaching point," he said. "Obviously, I'm probably not the best person to give advice on this."

As Mississippi State lost at rival Ole Miss on Jan. 25, television microphones caught Ray reprimanding the Rebels' demonstrative star, Marshall Henderson. Ray ultimately apologized to Henderson and Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy.

"All of us have made mistakes," Ray said. "My incident, in this day and age of technology, you're not going to get away with anything. Nor was I trying to get away with anything."

Ray said he apologized to Kennedy before learning that television viewers knew what he said to Henderson.

"It's good for our guys to see me make a mistake," Ray said. "Now it's personal. You don't have to use an outside venue or outside incident to show them this is not how you should act. I was a teaching point ... for our guys."

Stallings offered a quaint notion of what everyone, including fans, should keep in mind.

"We need to remember good sportsmanship is supposed to be about this collegiate athletic experience," he said. "I get passion. I get all that. And I appreciate it very much.

"But there's a difference between cheering hard for your team and yelling obscenities at opposing players."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.

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