The most inspiring member of Kentucky's basketball team next season may be a freshman student manager who stands no more than 4 feet tall. Birth defects caused doctors to give him no better than a 5 percent chance to live.
He survives, but only after undergoing more than 30 surgeries to help him deal with a crooked spine, one leg longer than the other and stunted growth.
If that wasn't enough of a challenge to overcome, Zachery Lipson had a counselor at his high school tell him two years ago to forget about his dream of being a manager for the University of Kentucky basketball team. UK would not admit someone with his academic record, he heard the counselor say, and, besides, he could not get a manager's position.
"I don't want to make the old college counselor a villain; she wasn't," Lipson said last week before saying of the counselor's advice, "That really hurt me. But I didn't let that stop me from reaching my goal. There are always people who are going (to try) to stop you, always trials and tribulations.
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"But great leaders, great men of success, press on."
Lipson, a senior at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, went to work improving his score on the American College Test. He enrolled in two 40-hour tutorial sessions. Two of the "'boring-est' things I've ever done," he said.
With his academic standing improved, Lipson set his sights on UK's basketball team. He worked one of UK Coach John Calipari's camps last summer, coming to Lexington not knowing a soul and working as a manager.
Lipson had two important people in his corner. Because former UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton had coached at Vanderbilt, he knew the family of Drew Maddux. Maddux, a former player at Vandy, is the coach at Christ Presbyterian Academy.
Plus, one of Maddux's best friends, Tim Thompson, had worked with former Nike representative Martin Newton. Calipari hired Newton as his Director of Basketball Operations.
"So there were a lot of relationships going on to make a lot of that kind of thing happen," Maddux said.
When asked why he became a Kentucky fan, Lipson noted his own zest for life and the passionate interest of UK fans. Lipson has indulged his interest in travel by visiting more than 25 countries. He acknowledged that foreigners don't always embrace someone from the United States, but he always feels welcomed.
"I have the aroma of the Lord," he said. "People don't see an American. They don't see Democrat or Republican. They see something different. They see a leader."
Lipson did not sound like a braggart. He sounded upbeat and confident and enthusiastic.
Not that he's immune to sadness.
"We live in a society where you have to have a perfect body to be an athlete or you think about the sex appeal to the ladies, you have to have rock-hard abs," he said. "Because of the way I was born, I'm not able to have abs. That's very discouraging to me."
Yet, throughout the telephone conversation, Lipson sounded eager to live life to the fullest.
"I don't want people to get the idea I'm bitter or angry or depressed," he said. "No. I have a lot of life and a passion for everything I'm interested in."
One of those passions is working with basketball players. An otherwise moving story in the Nashville City Paper last Sunday incorrectly noted that Lipson would take the place of Bill Keightley as UK's equipment manager. That's not true. He'll be a manager.
But Lipson aspires to be like Keightley in the sense of helping players through their own inevitable trials and tribulations.
"I might be small," he said, "but what I bring to a team is more than anybody can imagine. ... I have my own struggles. I want them to see my desire to do good.
"I feel like the Lord is calling me to go there and be of service."
Maddux vouched for Lipson's ability to inspire.
"I've been in a lot of locker rooms as a player and coach," he said. "I've never seen a person who wasn't a player have such a powerful impact like Zachery has had here."
UK 1, UNC 0
As Marquis Teague neared decision-time in his recruiting process, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams tried to get involved. Williams called Teague's father, Shawn Teague, to express interest after Teague had narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati.
"It's hard to turn him down," Teague said of Williams. "He coached the greatest player ever (Michael Jordan). It's hard to tell him no."
When asked if the call from the UNC coach caused him to waver, Teague said, "By the time he started calling, I was deep in my process. He called. That kind of made me want to re-think things."
Ultimately, Teague said thanks, but no thanks to UNC.
When Marquis Teague pulled a blue UK cap from a bag and announced his college choice, one fan in the back of the room blurted out, "Yeah!" Another fan yelled, "Yeow!"
Obviously, Teague's choice met with approval from the 30-some UK fans in attendance for his announcement on Thursday.
"Diehard fans," Teague said. "For them to be here, that made me want to go there even more. They let me know they're going to support us through everything."
The player's father, Shawn, acknowledged that he did not expect UK fans at the announcement. "Not in the afternoon," he said, "and in the middle of the week."
Although prudent people might wonder about Enes Kanter's initial eligibility to play for Kentucky, the path appears clear for him to join the team. No worries.
It's a two-part process in which the NCAA Eligibility Center approves a player's academic credentials and amateur status.
Kanter, a highly-regarded big man, has been judged for academic eligibility, NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne said.
That leaves the amateur question, which was always a matter of debate since Kanter played for a professional team in his native Turkey.
But an NCAA reform expected to be approved later this week will make it easier for the NCAA to approve Kanter's amateur status.
Proposition 2009-22 states that in sports other than men's ice hockey and skiing, a person can play for a professional team prior to entering college provided he does not receive compensation in excess of expenses. Assuming the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approves the proposal in its meeting next week, the proposal will go into effect Aug. 1.
Under existing legislation, a teammate receiving a salary to play professionally could impact a player in Kanter's position. But the proposal will remove any jeopardy to eligibility linked to a teammate's pro status.
Tonya Knight, the mother of Kentucky recruit Brandon Knight, described the preference for signing a financial aid offer rather than a national letter of intent as "just a precautionary measure."
During a telephone conversation Tuesday, the player's mother noted the greater freedom a financial aid offer allows should a prospect change his mind.
"You always want a way out in case the coach leaves," said Tonya Knight, who added that she expected no problems with her son's commitment to Kentucky.
Brandon Knight is one of the most highly-regarded prospects in the high school class of 2010. He and his family let all schools involved in the recruiting process know that Brandon would not want to sign a national letter of intent.
Tonya Knight seemed taken aback when asked how the family learned of the option of a financial aid offer, which is less binding than a national letter of intent.
"Why wouldn't we be aware of it?" she said. " ... My husband and I are very informed. We read everything.
"I don't understand how any parent would not be aware. As a parent, that's your job."
She acknowledged that as a highly-rated prospect, her son might be in a greater position to take advantage of preferring a financial aid offer. With a lesser player, a school might take a take-it-or-leave-it approach.
"We always want to put him in a position to have options," she said.
Duke-bound recruit Kyrie Irving, voted MVP of his team in the Jordan Brand Classic, was asked after the game about appearing in a production of High School Musical staged by students at St. Patrick's in Elizabeth, N.J.
"It's not like playing on the court, I can tell you that," he said. "I'm not a singer.
"I had a solo. (Pause before adding facetiously) I think I rocked it out."
After the basketball season ended, Duke recruit Kyrie Irving turned his attention to another sport.
"I decided to pick up baseball for, like, two weeks," he said.
Explaining why he gave up baseball, Irving said, "Basically, the Duke coaches called me. Well, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) called. I'm not going to tell you what he said. Get in the gym. That's short for what he said."
Chris Johnson, the international editor for The Hoop Scoop, has been touting UK-bound Enes Kanter for years. Here is Johnson's take on Kanter's potential impact on Kentucky's fortunes next season:
"He'll have a greater impact next year than DeMarcus Cousins last year. He's more mentally and physically ready."
UK-bound Doron Lamb and Kansas recruit Josh Selby announced their college choices at the Jordan Brand Classic last weekend. Then each noted the relief that comes with making an important decision.
"I'm so happy I'm done with the recruiting stuff," Lamb said.
Selby spoke of the end of coaches, fans, media and recruiting gurus wanting his attention.
"Commenting on my Facebook and Twitter pages all day long," he said. "I'm happy to get that over with."
Musing intentional misses
After Eric Bledsoe intentionally missed a free throw against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, he said the UK coaches objected to his technique of shooting a high-arching shot. The coaches wanted a more direct at-the-rim attempt at a miss.
Coincidentally, columnist Bob Ryan recently wrote about the proper technique of missing a free throw after Duke's Brian Zoubek banged a straight-line free throw off the front of the rim in the final seconds against Butler in the national championship game.
"If coaches are going to employ the deliberate miss strategy at any level, perhaps they should have all their players practice the proper method of missing a shot," Ryan wrote. "They all seem to be banging their shots off the glass or rim. That's stupid. You saw how easily (Gordon) Hayward rebounded, cleared some space and launched that last shot.
"The better way is to loop the shot high in the air so that it hits the back rim and bounces straight upward. The clock will start when the ball hits the rim, and more time will elapse, no matter what happens."
Comment: Bledsoe, who missed with less than two seconds left and UK trailing by two points, would not have wanted a rebound to bounce high over the rim, wasting precious milliseconds. The more direct free throw would have been best, thus validating the UK coaches' view.
In Zoubek's case, Duke led by two and wanted time to elapse as the ball bounced high over the rim, thus requiring the high-arching shot.
When Doron Lamb committed to Kentucky during the Jordan Brand Classic, one onlooker lived up to the stereotype of the never-satisfied UK fan.
Lamb had just finished announcing his commitment when a fan wearing a No. 11 UK jersey said, "If we get Terrence Jones too, that would be really cool."
To former UK forward Fred Cowan. He turned 52 on Friday.