Like everyone else, former Kentucky All-Americans Jamal Mashburn and Sam Bowie are impressed by John Wall. But it's not just the freshman point guard's points, assists, flair and ability to make plays in the clutch.
Wall's intangibles make these basketball insiders sit up and take notice.
"A lot of great players aren't winners," Bowie said last week. "Wall is a leader, but he's also a winner, too. As much media and limelight as he receives, he wants to win."
Mashburn, who worked the historic game against Drexel on Monday for ESPN, voiced similar thoughts. Noting how he'd heard from UK coaches about Wall's desire to improve, Mashburn said, "That spells superstar.
"That's the stuff Kobe Bryant has. That's what separates the Most Valuable Players from great players. They want to get better. They don't settle."
Later in the courtside conversation before the Drexel game, Mashburn returned to the Kobe Bryant analogy.
"Kobe has a certain calmness and maturity," the former UK star said. "Even as a rookie, he had a presence."
Wall came to Kentucky heralded as the top high school prospect in the country. Even with that 76 Trombones billing, he's exceeded expectations.
"He surprised me with his maturity," Mashburn said. "He's a mature point guard. The thing that jumps out at me is, enjoy him while you have him."
The not-so-subtle suggestion that Wall will be in the 2010 NBA Draft prompted a question: Where might he be selected?
"The No. 1 pick," Mashburn said without hesitation. "I see a guy well beyond his years as a point guard. I see a leader and extraordinary athletic ability that translates very well on the pro level."
John Calipari's defenders are quick to note that the NCAA did not put his Massachusetts program on probation when the Minutemen were stripped of their 1996 Final Four appearance.
But what does that mean? How important is being put on probation? A serious stain on a program? Or like being cited for jaywalking on the way to committing a murder?
Sheri Lipman, a counsel for the University of Memphis, dismissed the importance of probation. Of course, actions speak louder than words. Memphis is not even appealing the three-year probation it was given by the NCAA earlier this year.
Memphis is appealing the NCAA ruling ordering it to vacate the 2008 Final Four appearance and the record 38 victories Calipari's team won in the 2007-08 season because Derrick Rose was found to have cheated on his entrance exam.
"The three-year probation just kind of comes with the territory," Lipman said. "It requires us to file regular reports about our rules-education effort, which we do anyway."
For three years, Memphis will also file a copy with the NCAA.
"It's a little increased scrutinization, I guess," Lipman said. "Well, not even that, really."
Memphis will formally make its appeal Jan. 29. No one knows when the judgment will be rendered. The NCAA customarily says it takes six to eight weeks after the hearing.
Cousin Cal/Cousin Bob
New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden weighed in on the Bob Knight-John Calipari exchange. In a column published Monday, Rhoden suggested that Calipari and Knight are more alike than different. Each got away with transgressions that might have had more severe consequences for other coaches. Why? Because Calipari and Knight were established winning coaches.
Authorities looked the other way when Knight was involved in an altercation with a Puerto Rican policeman in 1979, dumped a Louisiana State fan in a garbage can in 1981, threw a chair in a game and got caught putting a hand on the throat of player Neil Reed.
Two of Calipari's programs — Massachusetts and Memphis — had to vacate Final Four appearances because of rule violations.
"Knight wonders why Calipari is still coaching," Rhoden wrote. "He is because Kentucky wants championship banners.
"Why was Knight allowed to keep going? Because Indiana wanted championship banners.
"Let's stop the moralizing. Knight and Calipari: first cousins of the NCAA cloth."
Critics strengthen Cal
In a Dec. 18 radio interview on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said that he feeds off criticism.
Here's one question-and-answer, with the question being whether Calipari will try to call Bob Knight and ask about the Hall of Fame coach's criticism earlier in the week:
"I don't know," Calipari said. "I haven't thought about it. I might. I have his cell number 'cause, like I said, we have stayed in touch some. I do have it, and I may call him, but, like I said, I'm worried about coaching my team, getting this team better, and I've been pretty good over my career about the distractions.
"When I get on point of what I'm doing and what I'm coaching, you can try to throw stuff at me to see if you can get me off point to affect this or affect that but, in most cases, it makes me a little sharper. Makes me more on point of what I've gotta do and how I've gotta be."
Bob Knight's criticism of John Calipari inspired Bruce Boyens, the Colorado-based poet laureate of UK basketball.
Here's how Boyens viewed Knight's criticism of Calipari:
Coach Cal sure does have some wit
When Bobby Knight gets in a snit
I respect him Cal does declare
If Bobby would put down that chair
If you didn't like that one, how about:
Off with their heads is Bobby's cry
Coach Cal does cheat he can't deny
The NCAA should give Cal a poke
If not I'll gladly give him a choke.
Physician, heal thyself
Bob Knight questioning John Calipari's integrity led reader Gene Zaparanick-Brown to recall Knight hiring a coach found guilty of rule violations.
"Why hasn't anyone brought up Norm Ellenberger?" he wrote via e-mail. "As I'm sure you recall, some years after a major recruiting scandal at New Mexico, which cost Ellenberger his job, Bob Knight hired him as an assistant coach! If Knight has such strong convictions about integrity, shouldn't he live by the ideals he now espouses?"
Knight also hired another coach who headed a scandal-ridden program, Tates Locke.
Of course, the hirings were seen as efforts at rehabilitation and getting coaches Knight respected a second chance.
Zaparanick-Brown said his rooting for UK increased in intensity when the Cats added Patrick Patterson. "He grew up as my parents' next-door neighbor, and he still comes by to say hello to them when he's in town," Zaparanick-Brown wrote. "Haven't seen Patrick since he was 8 or 9 years old, and I had my brush with greatness. Buster (Patrick's dad) gave me a haircut, which didn't turn out so good, but that's a story for another time."
Zaparanick-Brown, 47, is an economist in the Governor's Office for Economic Analysis. He grew up in Huntington, W.Va., graduated from Berea College and got a Master's degree in economics from UK.
Revenge for O'Neill?
Southern California Coach Kevin O'Neill rejected the notion that the Trojans' 77-55 victory over Tennessee gave him extra personal satisfaction. O'Neill coached the Vols from 1993-94 through 1996-97.
"Not one bit; I loved my time at Tennessee,'' O'Neill told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "I acted like an immature baby and left after three great recruiting classes. I had a disagreement with the athletic director (then Doug Dickey).
"I've admired from afar what Bruce Pearl has done there. To me, that was seven jobs ago: I've held five pro (NBA) jobs and another college job since then.''
O'Neill said he still considers the Vols one of the elite teams in the nation.
"Tennessee is certainly in the same league as Texas,'' O'Neill said. "What they do well, they do very well, and Bruce has a proven formula for winning. They'll be a top-10 or top-12 team most of this season.''
Reader Chris Davis saw UK's 2,000th victory coming in an appropriate setting.
"Sure, we could have won 2,000 in the national championship against Louisville," he wrote. "We could have won it in a regional final against Duke, or we could have even won it in that epic classic two weeks ago against North Carolina, 'that other team in blue.'
"But, instead, we won No. 2,000 in the classy, nostalgic way that no artist could make up. We won No. 2,000 in Rupp Arena on Cawood's court with Mr. Wildcat's K right there on the bench. What more could the program with the most tradition ask for?"
Davis suggested comments after the game by Herky Rupp and Joe B. Hall reflected how UK basketball is also the program with the most class.
Davis is a social studies teacher and assistant basketball coach at Fleming County High School.
See you in 2030-31
UK reaching 2,000 victories got columnist Mike Strange of the Knoxville News-Sentinel thinking about when the next SEC program will reach that number.
Here's his report:
"The next SEC team to reach 2,000 wins will be no sooner than 2030. Right now, (the next-highest victory totals are) Arkansas 1,493; Alabama 1,489; and Tennessee at 1,451. I'm terrible at math, but I believe that even at 25 wins a year, it would take 20 years."
The family foundation of Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey presented an early holiday gift to three local organizations. Pel's Pals, founded in 2007 by Pelphrey and his wife, Tracy, made donations this month to UAMS Maternal-Fetal Medicine, EOA Children's House and Arkansas Children's Hospital Foundation.
Pelphrey and his wife created Pel's Pals to honor the memory of their late son, John Patrick, who passed away prematurely in 2003. The foundation aims to benefit children's charities throughout the state with an emphasis on neonatal care.
As UK Coach John Calipari fails to embrace his team's lofty ranking, so Texas Coach Rick Barnes took no bows for the Longhorns' No. 2 ranking going into the Dec. 19 game against North Carolina.
When asked whether Texas merited the ranking, Barnes said, "I don't know. I'm not sure we should have pre-season rankings before the first of the year."
His Texas playing North Carolina last Saturday in the Dallas Cowboys' new $1 billion stadium got Rick Barnes reflecting on a 2002 NCAA Tournament game at the home of the Dallas Mavericks, American Airlines Center.
When a player stepped to the foul line to shoot free throws, he saw his picture on the scoreboard reflected off the glass backboard.
Tournament officials got that fixed after the first day of games, Barnes said.
Reader Rick Willmott volunteered an idea of a celebratory UK T-shirt. It's a take off the TBS show Tyler Perry's House of Payne.
T-shirt front: CALIPARI's HOUSE of PAIN
T-shirt back: RUPP ARENA
Willmott, 54, graduated from UK in 1977. He's worked for the school's information technology department the last 24 years.
To former UK big men Melvin Turpin and Rodney Dent. Turpin turns 49 on Monday. Dent turned 39 on Christmas Day.