ESPN sidekick stands by Knight as analyst at UK

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 26, 2014 

While Hall of Fame Coach Bob Knight has been sharply critical of Kentucky basketball and John Calipari, his unfavorable assessments should not draw attention when he works the UK-Arkansas game, ESPN partner Rece Davis said Wednesday.

"I don't see it being anything more than a manufactured issue," Davis said of Knight's presence in Rupp Arena Thursday night. "... I just think to manufacture something out of comments from several years ago, I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about it. I don't see where it's really that pertinent anymore."

Knight, who will join Davis in calling the Kentucky-Arkansas game for ESPN, has often spoken of Kentucky in less-than-glowing terms. When UK hired his friend C.M. Newton in 1989 as director of athletics, Knight suggested a better title would be "Director of Corrections."

More biting was a reference to Calipari made while speaking at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. "We've got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he's still coaching," Knight said in 2009. "I really don't understand that."

In 2011, Knight apologized after suggesting UK players who were NBA bound did not attend classes in the spring semester. In the apology, Knight said he did not think the so-called one-and-done player was good for college basketball.

Knight has also been a friend of Kentucky. When NCAA penalties in 1989 included a two-year ban on television appearances, Knight insisted Kentucky remain part of the Big Four Classic even though UK's inclusion would mean less TV exposure and revenue.

Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, who writes about coverage of sports in a column titled Media Circus, questioned whether ESPN should assign Knight to Kentucky games.

"No one would be allowed to do what he did regarding Kentucky and then be assigned to do Kentucky," Deitsch said earlier this season. "If it was almost any other analyst besides Bob Knight, that would have never happened."

ESPN issued a statement on Knight working the Kentucky-Arkansas game.

"We expect Bob Knight to provide fans with expert and informative analysis as he has done on other game assignments," it read.

Knight has joined Davis in Southeastern Conference Thursday night games in recent seasons. He worked UK games at Vanderbilt and at Georgia last season.

To know Knight is to like Knight, Davis said.

"There could be a vocal minority of people that might yell and boo and scream," Davis said. "But he has without fail in our SEC travels treated people with tremendous graciousness and has been accommodating for pictures and autographs. ... People are sometimes surprised when they meet him how gracious and how funny he can be."

Bracketology

ESPN's resident "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi scoffed when asked about Calipari recently mentioning Kentucky and a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament in the same sentence.

"In which sport?" Lunardi quipped.

On a teleconference Wednesday, Lunardi said he saw a No. 3 seed as the ceiling for this Kentucky team. UK's won-loss record "doesn't scream two or three seed," he said. "It screams more like five or six.

"Their résumé on paper for a good team is average at best. I can name 10 or 12 teams that if they stopped playing the sport now, Kentucky can't pass."

The perception of a weak SEC hurts Kentucky's upward mobility. "It's going to hurt Kentucky's seed," Lunardi said.

When asked about the SEC's 8-40 record against ranked opponents, Lunardi playfully said, "I didn't think it was that good."

The SEC is not weak in a historic context, said Lunardi, who noted how not one Pac-12 team got an NCAA Tournament bid a few years ago.

Lunardi said it was more likely that only two SEC teams (Florida and Kentucky) receive NCAA bids rather than four or five.

Randle as tutor

Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis on what he learned playing against Julius Randle last month: "He's a physical presence down low. So after that game, I tried to establish myself down low, too, and be a force on my team. Like as he is. He's a good player. He's physical and he's kind of quick off the dribble too. So if we can contain him, then, yeah, I like our chances in the game."

Confidence

Arkansas won only two of its previous 24 SEC road games before winning two of the last three (at Vanderbilt and at Mississippi State).

"We feel real comfortable playing on the road," Anthlon Bell said. "This last stretch, going five out of six, it has given us a lot of confidence. So we feel like we can go anywhere and win right now."

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

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