Here’s a storyline that practically writes itself: Former Kentucky player Allen Edwards returns to Rupp Arena as a successful college coach.
But not so fast, newshounds.
When asked last week about a Kentucky-Wyoming game, Edwards said, “Not really interested in it unless they’d want to do a two-for-one and come back to Laramie.”
Edwards made sure to say he meant no disrespect toward former UK teammate Mark Pope, who will inspire the happy-homecoming theme when he leads Utah Valley against Kentucky next season. Rest assured, UK will not play a “return game” at Utah Valley.
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Edwards’ first season as Wyoming’s coach saw the team set program records for points (2,961) and three-pointers (369) in 2016-17. Plus, he became only the second Cowboys coach to win 20 or more games in his first season (23-15). The season culminated in a win against Coastal Carolina in the CBI tournament’s championship game.
So, he thinks Wyoming is in a position to get one home game should it agree to a three-game contract with a higher profile team.
“I tried to sell it to Tubby,” Edwards said.
And how did Tubby Smith, one of Edwards’ former UK coaches, react to the idea of Memphis playing at Wyoming?
“Uh, I’m still working on him,” Edwards said.
Frank Martin has agreed to take South Carolina to Wyoming. It should be noted that Martin twice coached Edwards: on a Miami-based 13-and-under team and on a high school junior varsity team.
One of relatively few Kentucky players to play for two national championship teams (1996 and 1998), Edwards remembers his UK days fondly. Interestingly, despite playing in three Final Fours (the Cats were national runners-up in 1997), Edwards made it seem that not all his most vivid UK memories involved basketball.
“I remember more about us just being kids and hanging out with each other …,” he said. “Specific games, specific things that happened in a game, I’d have to watch the game.
“But the things we did, maybe on the road, in the summertime, in the lodge, in town, going to fraternities, sororities, parties, things like that, those were fun.”
Edwards said these memories of “bonding” marked a recent trip to Lexington to visit former UK teammates Cameron Mills and Jeff Sheppard.
“Us talking about basketball, that can be a five-minute conversation,” Edwards said. “But the other stuff, we can sit there and laugh and joke all day about it.”
Edwards made news this spring when it was reported Wyoming lost money while winning the College Basketball Invitational tournament. The Cowboys incurred a net loss of $74,425. Part of Wyoming’s deficit involved a requirement that teams pay the CBI $40,000 per game to be host in return for keeping all ticket and concession revenues.
“My focus was more on getting experience playing in postseason play,” Edwards said.
Wyoming had not won a postseason championship since the 1943 NCAA Tournament. So the CBI was worth it.
Edwards said he’s wanted to be a coach since he was 12 or 13 years old. This aspiration to coach played a part in his decision to sign with Kentucky over Florida, Florida State, Miami, Missouri, Oklahoma and Duke.
“Because I thought Coach (Rick) Pitino did a very good job moving guys along in the profession …,” Edwards said. “It was always something I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
20 SEC games?
Here’s a radical thought: Maybe there’s a limit to how much TV can dictate in college basketball.
Tip-off times? Of course, TV decides. Four “media” timeouts per half? TV must sell commercial time. By definition, made-for-TV matchups and sites are driven by television.
Here’s another radical thought: Although its TV network might want it, the SEC might balk at expanding its league schedule from 18 to 20 games.
Last week, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said TV was a prime reason the ACC is expanding its league schedule from 18 to 20 games in 2019-20. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said he expected the Big Ten to begin playing 20 conference games in some near-future season.
Those leagues need more games — more “inventory” — for their TV networks, Calipari said.
The UK coach also said he would not support a move to 20 league games by the SEC. And he’s not alone.
“First of all, understand that the only reason the ACC is doing it is ... based on some television contract negotiations,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. “It was strongly suggested that they go to it to provide more quality content. We don’t have that requirement in the SEC. Eighteen games are a lot of games in conference play. You see the same people night-in and night-out, plus the SEC Tournament. I think we play each other enough.”
Pearl also agreed with Calipari’s point that adding league games reduces flexibility in non-conference scheduling. Non-league games can impact chances for an NCAA Tournament bid. Fewer non-league games equals less chance to impress the selection committee.
More league games in the ACC and Big Ten could further inhibit scheduling opportunities for the SEC.
“How many tough games are you going to play out of conference?” Pearl said. “You already have all these tough conference games.”
Maybe classic rivalries will be eliminated (Kentucky-Louisville) or left on the wayside (Kansas-Missouri), Pearl said.
“My knee-jerk reaction is I am not necessarily in favor of it,” Pearl said, “and I wouldn’t do it in the SEC just because others are forced to.”
A check with league sports information directors found a lack of support among coaches for moving to 20 games.
A move to 20 league games was not discussed at the annual spring meeting in Destin, Fla.
When asked about moving to 20 games, SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton wrote in an email, “We are comfortable with playing an 18-game schedule.”
Last week’s note about fairness led to a follow-up conversation via text messaging with ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas.
During the ESPN telecast of the first UK Combine, Bilas dismissed critics who said the TV show gave Kentucky an unfair advantage. A recent column in The New York Times cited a study that suggested fairness is a deep-seeded desire of humans and other primates.
Herald-Leader: Why are critics wrong to think telecasts of combines give Kentucky an unfair advantage?
Jay Bilas: “I don’t see how restricting UK from having a combine would result in fairness or level a playing field. All schools can have one. UK’s is just higher profile. If we want ‘fairness’ in that regard, should no games be televised? Or UK only in prime time a certain amount to be ‘fair?’
“All are in the same market and have the same opportunities. Just because jealousy exists doesn’t mean differences are unfair in competition. The combine was a phony issue. NYC has an advantage over Lexington. So what? Texas has more money. So what? The advantage is the same, whether there is a Combine or not.”
H-L: John Calipari seemed to see unfairness in Mike Krzyzewski being the U.S. Olympic coach.
JB: “The Olympic coach position was open to all. Totally fair. So is a combine. The combine was TV exposure, as with the Bahamas trip (in August 2014). The complaints were petty jealousy. ‘I can’t do it, so you shouldn’t be allowed to.’ That’s not fairness, in my view.”
H-L: Aren’t limits of 13 scholarships for each team an example of seeking fairness? UK and, say, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas could stockpile many more players.
JB: “Roster limits and TV exposure are different things. One could argue that NBA scouts at practices are a recruiting advantage, therefore all practices should be closed. That would be silly.”
H-L: But didn’t Kentucky fans care about fairness with the officiating in the UK-North Carolina Elite Eight game?
JB: “Complaints about officiating aren’t about fairness. They’re about performance. A missed call is different from claims of bias. The complaints of bias after the UK-UNC game were baseless and without merit, in my judgment. Every game is officiated, and that is expected. Officials are not a fairness issue in the same regard as the Combine, or coaching USA Basketball or coaches appearing in commercials. All of that is fair game. Fairness and total equality are different. All have equality of opportunity. …
“In theory, Cleveland is at a perpetual disadvantage as to Los Angeles and New York. Coaches are at a ‘disadvantage’ recruiting against Calipari and Coach K. So what? That is the nature of competition.”
Where are they?
In case you missed it, former LSU coach Johnny Jones landed on his basketball feet. He’s associate coach at Nevada under Eric Musselman.
And Pittsburg State, a Division II school in Pittsburg, Kan., hired former Missouri coach Kim Anderson as coach.
Belated happy birthday
To incoming freshman Jemarl Baker. He turned 19 on Monday.
To Tim Stephens. He turned 59 on Friday. … To Joe Crawford. He turned 31 on Saturday. … To Derek Willis. He turns 22 on Wednesday. … To Ravi Moss. The former UK player-turned-halftime host turns 33 on Wednesday. … To former Georgia coach Dennis Felton. Having been hired by Cleveland State this spring, he turns 54 on Wednesday.