Kenny Payne’s introduction to the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry came when he was a high school prospect from Laurel, Miss. UK and U of L were two of the college programs he was considering. But it was on an official visit to the third school on his final list — Mississippi State? — that he started to appreciate the clear line of demarcation dividing Blue and Red, city and state, love and hate.
“I’m at the coach’s home,” Payne recalled. “All the players are there. They turn the TV on, and there’s a Louisville-Kentucky game on.”
Payne couldn’t remember if the game was at Rupp Arena or Freedom Hall. (He was a high school senior in 1984-85, so it was at Louisville.) But the atmosphere made a lasting impression.
“They showed the people,” Payne said of the telecast. “The fire that the fans had for the game. The rivalry. The great players playing against each other.”
Payne was enthralled. Too much so from the point of view of the school Payne was visiting.
“The coach comes in the room,” Payne said. “He turns off the TV like, What are you doing?
“That was probably my first inclination of just how big this game is.”
Of course, Kentucky and Louisville renew the rivalry on Wednesday. Payne has something like dual citizenship: of both the Big Blue Nation and Card Nation.
Payne played for Louisville, and was part of the Cardinals’ 1986 national championship team. Now, he’s associate coach for Kentucky’s team.
This foot in both camps gives Payne perspective. He can follow the advice about UK-U of L that he received from a former teammate, the late Derek Smith.
“Respect them,” Payne said he was told. “As players, you have to respect because they’re really good. You’ve got the best athletes in the country, the best at what they do. Don’t get caught up as players in the hatred of it. Look at it like two gladiators going against each other.
“And that was probably the best advice I ever got about the rivalry.”
Amid all the heat, there is mutual respect, Payne said. “I think Rick Pitino really respects Cal (John Calipari) and I think Cal really respects Rick Pitino,” he said.
Payne wants Louisville to win games. It’s his alma mater. U of L was home during “the most pivotal time of my life, from 18 to 22,” he said. When his pro career ended, Payne returned to U of L to complete work on his degree.
But that’s not to say Payne will have a professional detachment on Wednesday night.
“I want Bam (Adebayo) to dominate the game,” he said. “I want Malik Monk to dominate the game. I want De’Aaron (Fox) and Isaiah (Briscoe) and Wenyen (Gabriel) and Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins to play great. Not good. I want them to play great.”
UK-U of L is one of those handful of games each season that gives players a chance to make a statement, Payne said. That’s especially true for Kentucky this season. Intense rivalry. National television. High-level competition. Hostile environment.
“I was always taught: you want to be a great road player,” Payne said. “And in big games, you want to be the man.”
Oh say can you hear?
Kentucky’s home game against UT Martin had a memorable rendition of the national anthem. The microphone did not work as Michael Pandolfo of the UK School of Music began singing.
Somehow, the microphone, which typically locks in the “on” position, malfunctioned.
In its own way, the rendition was moving. No doubt straining to hear Pandolfo, the crowd was silent, almost reverential.
Nathan Schwake, UK’s associate athletic director for marketing and promotions, came to the rescue. He borrowed a microphone from on-court hosts Ravi Moss and Maria Montgomery and delivered it to Pandolfo.
UK will invite Pandolfo back to sing the national anthem before another home game this season, Schwake said.
We know the Lord giveth and taketh away, but Asbury University’s basketball team is taking that scripture to an extreme this season.
Going into Saturday’s home game against Indiana University Southeast, Asbury led NAIA Division II with an average of 113 points per game. Asbury also ranked last among the division’s 132 teams in points allowed: 110.3 per game.
“It gets kind of chaotic to coach at times,” Coach Will Shouse said.
Asbury, a Christian liberal arts school in Wilmore, gave Kentucky fans a glimpse of the chaos in a preseason exhibition game on Nov. 6. UK won 156-63. But Shouse went away relatively happy.
“I stayed with our style,” he said. “I wanted our guys to know if I was going to do it against Kentucky, I wasn’t going to pull out of it for anybody.”
Tired of fair-to-middling seasons, Shouse decided to be unconventional. His inspiration was Asbury grad and former UK staffer George Barber, whose Greenville College team set an NCAA Division III record with 37 three-point baskets in a 178-125 victory over Lincoln Christian on Nov. 22.
Readers of a certain age may recall Loyola Marymount teams of the late 1980s featuring Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. That’s what Shouse had in mind.
Attendance has increased and griping about playing time has decreased. “Instead of eight or nine guys thinking they’ll get in a game, we’ll play 13 or 14 guys,” Shouse said. “Our chemistry has been really good.”
Purists might frown on what Asbury is doing. The won-lost record was 7-5 going into this weekend.
“My high school coach, I am sure, and my college coach cringe at us giving up so many points,” Shouse said.
And Shouse will resort to “normal” basketball under certain circumstances. “A close game in the last three minutes,” he said. “You’ll kind of coach it up.”
Asbury, which averaged 76.4 points last season, has broken the school record for scoring more than once this season. As of now, the record is 140 points. Asbury beat Brescia 140-124 on Dec. 8.
“I hope there’s some more scoring records to break,” Shouse said. “It’s fun.”
Five days before being routed by Kentucky last month, Arizona State beat The Citadel 127-110. For perspective, the Rupp Arena record for combined points for two teams is 229 (Louisiana-Lafayette beat Kentucky 116-113 in overtime in the 1989 UKIT).
Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley had mixed feelings while coaching against The Citadel in a game that had 237 points scored.
“It was exhilarating in some ways when you’re seeing your players make shots and play great offense at times,” he said. Arizona State made 53.8 percent of its shots and had four players score 20 or more points.
“At the same time,” Hurley added, “you’re pulling your hair out with some of the defensive possessions and some of the transition defense.”
The Citadel made half its shots (42 of 84).
The 127 points were the second most ever scored by an Arizona State team. But, of course, coaches are never satisfied.
“I think we could have scored 150 points in that game,” Hurley said, “if we did some things better, particularly in the first half.”
Attn: Walter Mittys
Registration is now open for the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience, which will be next Aug. 25-27. Even if touching the net is out of the question, a Walter Mitty of basketball can live the life of a Kentucky player for one weekend.
Participants get access to UK’s facilities, practice gear and the chance to mingle socially with John Calipari.
The camp has raised more than $1.5 million for charity in each of the last two years, organizers said.
More information is available at http://www.johncaliparibasketballexperience.com/.
To Thad Jaracz. He turned 70 on Thursday. … To Kelenna Azubuike. He turned 33 on Friday. … To Deron Feldhaus. He turned 48 on Friday. … To UK women’s coach Matthew Mitchell. He turned 46 on Friday. … To Adam Chiles. He turned 34 on Friday. … To former Vanderbilt coach Jan Van Breda Kolff. He turned 65 on Friday. … To Allen Edwards, who now coaches at Wyoming. He turned 41 on Friday. … To Wendell Lyons. He turned 64 on Saturday. … To former Arkansas coach Stan Heath. He turned 52 on Saturday. … To Myron Anthony. He turns 39 on Sunday (today). … To Roger Harden. He turns 53 on Monday. … To De’Aaron Fox. He turns 19 on Tuesday. … To Jeff Brassow. He turns 46 on Tuesday. … To “Wildcat” Wally Clark. The UK fan synonymous with Big Blue Madness campouts turns 66 on Tuesday. … To Eric Manuel. He turns 48 on Wednesday. … To former Georgia coach Ron Jirsa. He turns 57 on Wednesday.