UK basketball notebook: Barnhart predicts happy ending to Rupp Arena debate

Herald-Leader staff writerJune 14, 2014 

Mitch Barnhart spoke as UK unveiled the final plans for the redesign of Commonwealth Stadium. Several athletics programs at UK have seen unprecedented success under Barnhart's leadership.

CHARLES BERTRAM — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Aside from reviving the lost art of letter writing, what's been accomplished lately by an often-discussed Rupp Arena re-invention project that stubbornly remains on the launch pad?

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and Lexington Center Corporation chairman Brent Rice became poison pen pals this spring when they exchanged well-publicized letters. Rice wrote that UK's "lack of public support" compromised the chances of getting state funding for the project. Capilouto countered by noting a "lack of stability" in the city's plan to finance the project led to the legislature's refusal to allocate funds.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who supports a Rupp renovation and (more importantly?) an enhanced downtown Lexington, followed up by meeting with Capilouto. Last week, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray met with the UK president. So far, all sides have been mum.

In this murky whodunit atmosphere, UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart injected a bit of optimism early last week. He suggested that a project of such scale requires careful consideration. But there can be a happy ending.

The ultimate impact will be felt "for the next 25 to 30 years," Barnhart said. "You want to make sure we're working through that at the right pace, and thinking our way through it. So it'll be fine. Everybody will get to a spot where we'll be fine."

When asked if a new on-campus arena might be a viable alternative for UK, Barnhart re-stated the school's preference to continue to play home games in downtown Lexington.

"We want to work to that, if we can," he said. "It's probably best for Lexington at this point in time.

"But it's hard."

Major players include UK, Lexington officials and what Barnhart called "the folks in Frankfort." Each have their own priorities and responsibilities.

The three competing entities "have to figure out what the next steps are," Barnhart said, "and where we go from here. We'll work our way through all that. Those are the conversations that will be ongoing."

UK's existing lease to play in Rupp Arena expires in 2018. The Capilouto-Rice letters suggested that UK and the city have agreed on the terms of a new lease. The name "Rupp" carries significant weight, Barnhart said.

Meanwhile, the UK athletics director seemed philosophical about the obstacles past, present and probably future involved in renovating Rupp Arena.

"There's always bumps and turns," he said. "You try not to get too emotional one way or the other, and just stay steady and figure out what the end prize is and what we're trying to get to.

"And what we're trying to get to is a spot where we can all figure out what's best for Rupp Arena and what's best for the finances and what's best for our team. And these are the conversations that will take place. I'm sure they'll work their way through."

Ridiculous?

In a column last week, Longtime sportswriter Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (and formerly the Akron Beacon Journal) questioned whether the Cavaliers really tried to hire John Calipari as coach/president/guiding light.

"I wonder how much of this was Calipari really interested in the Cavs and how much was helping Calipari secure a new deal from Kentucky," Pluto wrote last week.

On Tuesday, UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart dismissed talk of the Cavs' interest as a factor in the school giving Calipari a new seven-year, $52.5 million deal.

Pluto, an institution in northeast Ohio, noted Calipari's three-year record of 72-112 as coach of the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s.

"I am relieved that Calipari decided to stay at Kentucky rather than take over as coach and president of the Cavaliers," Pluto wrote.

In a follow-up telephone conversation, Pluto said that he did not know with certainty how actively the Cavaliers pursued Calipari. He noted that owner Dan Gilbert liked to hire high-profile coaches. In 2010, Gilbert tried to hire Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo. "He offered Izzo everything," Pluto said. "'Whatever you want to be.'"

Speculation had the Cavs and/or Gilbert being interested in Calipari because of the UK coach's friendship with LeBron James. It was supposed that with Calipari guiding the franchise, James would be more inclined to return to the Cavs.

To which Pluto wrote, "It's ridiculous to hire a coach on the chance that he'd bring James to town."

SEC Network

The SEC Network launches on Aug. 14. It will offer viewers more than 100 men's basketball games, 45 football games, 60 women's basketball games and 75 baseball games in the 2014-15 school year.

One problem: As of last week, Time Warner Cable, which serves Lexington, could not say it would offer the SEC Network. Negotiations were ongoing. The same was true for DirecTV.

At least two UK football games are scheduled to be televised on the SEC Network: Aug. 30 against UT Martin and Sept. 13 against Florida.

So what is a diehard UK fan to do? James Moorhead, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Dish, was happy to note that his company is carrying the SEC Network. Dish can install the necessary hardware within 48 hours to enable customers to get the SEC Network. To order, call 1-800-333-DISH or go to the website www.dish.com.

The cost is $34.99 per month for a package that includes the SEC Network. Moorhead noted that the package includes a recording device known as The Hopper, which would enable customers to watch games or programs on phones, iPads and computers.

SEC spokesman Mark Whitworth said that another company, AT&T U-verse, will also carry the SEC Network.

Fading away?

Is the jump shot going the way of the hook shot and the set shot? A story in The Wall Street Journal last week suggested that there could have been no more than five or 10 square-your-shoulders, jump-straight-up and follow-through shooters in the NBA this past season.

The newspaper identified only five jump shooters in the entire NBA: Klay Thompson (Golden State), Kyle Korver (Atlanta), J.J. Redick (Los Angeles Clippers), Bradley Beal (Washington) and Ray Allen (Miami). Allen is the NBA's career leader in three-point baskets.

"There definitely aren't that many of us left," Allen told the newspaper. "It's become a pretty short list over the last few years. The game has changed."

Why is the pull-up jump shot, which UConn used effectively against UK in the national championship game, disappearing? The Wall Street Journal cited such factors as point guards who look to score reducing opportunities for jump shots, face-the-basket big men lessening the need for jump shooters and a scarcity of back-to-the-basket centers freeing driving lanes. Former NBA coach Bob Hill told the newspaper that NBA basketball had become "positionless."

Michael Jordan, arguably the most celebrated player in basketball history, popularized a drive-drive-drive mentality. The Wall Street Journal also noted how the NBA outlawed hand-checking in 2004. With defenders not allowed to put their hands on opponents, the offensive player gained more freedom to drive to the basket to score and/or get fouled.

The jump shot? Unless the shot clock is winding down, a jump shooter is guilty of settling.

Back in the game

Former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury wanted to return to basketball. He saw two avenues: as a coach or television analyst.

He interviewed for the head coaching job at Auburn. There was a quick follow-up conversation. "I thought it was done," he said last week.

Instead, Auburn hired Bruce Pearl. Stansbury, who predicted that Pearl will rejuvenate Auburn's program, then joined Billy Kennedy's staff at Texas A&M as an assistant.

Stansbury, the winningest coach in Mississippi State history, has known Kennedy for more than 20 years. His family liked College Station. He saw the A&M facilities and the abundance of recruitable talent in Texas as a winning combination.

As for next season, the Aggies are counting on two transfers making an impact: Danuel House from Houston and Jalen Jones from SMU.

Countdown continues

ESPN's countdown of the top 50 college basketball coaches continued last week with No. 20 Thad Matta (Ohio State), No. 19 Jay Wright (Villanova), No. 18 Steve Fisher (San Diego State) and No. 17 Mark Few (Gonzaga).

Many years ago, a sportswriter asked John Wooden to name the best coach in college basketball. The sportswriter expected Wooden to say Dean Smith or Bob Knight or some other luminary.

Instead, Wooden said, "The coach at Butler might have gone 13-13 and done the best coaching job in the country."

That's something to think about as ESPN's countdown continues.

By the numbers

In case you missed Ben Roberts' blog item, UK's incoming freshmen have picked their uniform numbers.

If you're scoring at home, the numbers are:

No. 1 for Devin Booker. He wore No. 2 in high school, but that's taken by Aaron Harrison.

No. 3 for Tyler Ulis. That's his high school number.

No. 12 for Karl Towns. He wore No. 44 in high school, but that's taken by Dakari Johnson.

No. 41 for Trey Lyles. That's his high school number.

Happy birthday

To Tim Stephens. He turns 56 on Monday. ... To Joe Crawford. He turns 28 on Tuesday. ... To Gimel Martinez. He turned 43 on Saturday. ... To Eddie Fogler. The former Vanderbilt and South Carolina coach turned 66 on Thursday.

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

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