The Big Blue Nation, college basketball fans everywhere and anyone who needs a reminder that simple decency still exists should turn on the SEC Network at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday. That’s when and where a tribute to C.M. Newton will air.
Titled “Courage Matters – The C.M. Newton Story,” the 50-minute film covers his remarkable contribution to basketball and social justice. “The story of a lucky man,” as Newton calls it, goes from UK player to coach at Transylvania, Alabama and Vanderbilt to Kentucky athletics director to international basketball figure to Hall of Fame.
ESPN sent an email containing a link to the film last week. UK Coach John Calipari summing up Newton’s legacy with four words: “He lifted people up.”
Newton, now 87, narrates the film, which gives it an authenticity. Of his integration of basketball programs at Transy and Alabama, plus the hiring of Tubby Smith as UK basketball’s first black coach, he takes no bows. “I just did what should be done,” he says. “Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Of course, efforts to integrate schools and athletic programs are ripe with storylines. Wendell Hudson, Alabama’s first black basketball player, recalls a history class his freshman year in which the professor extolled the virtues of slavery. “Slaves had everything they wanted to have, like they were taken care of,” Hudson remembers the professor saying.
Hudson says he openly challenged the professor in class. No one wanted to be a slave.
“I flunked that class,” Hudson says with a chuckle.
The film was directed by Jonathan Hock, whose credits include the recent “One and Not Done” 30 for 30 documentary on Calipari. Several moments in the Newton documentary give the viewer pause.
Of UK basketball founding father Adolph Rupp, Newton says, “He once told my mother that I was too nice to play for Kentucky. She took that as a compliment. I did not. … I wanted to please him so much and felt I never did.”
The too-nice label returned when Newton left Transy to become Alabama’s coach. Incidentally, it was a move that included a $3,000 pay cut. The Transy president said Newton was too nice to coach in the SEC.
Of the decision to leave Vandy as coach to become Kentucky’s athletics director, Newton makes a wry comment. “Kentucky needed me, and they didn’t say I was too nice for the job.”
Newton calls handing the 1998 national championship trophy to Smith “the best moment in my college basketball life.”
Smith returns the compliment.
“He was like a father figure,” the former Kentucky coach says. “My dad wasn’t there when we won it in ’98. But I felt like Coach Newton was representing my dad.”
UCLA or Kentucky?
Arguably the most credible threat to Kentucky’s self-appointed status as the greatest program in the history of college basketball is UCLA. Of course, the Bruins have more championships (11) than UK (eight). Kentucky has more victories than any program.
So Bill Walton, who was in Lexington last week to call attention to the eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion surgery, was asked which program was the greatest.
“I’m very proud and I’m very loyal,” he said. “And I’m very grateful to UCLA. I’m most impressed and I have the utmost respect for Kentucky. But I’m very glad I went to UCLA. And I’m very glad Coach (John) Wooden was at UCLA. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
Walton on Wooden
During his appearance at Saint Joseph East, Bill Walton said the XLIF surgery changed his life. A degenerative spine injury had left him immobilized and contemplating suicide. The surgery restored value to his life and made him a spokesman for The Better Way Back program (800-745-7099).
Walton spoke of the pre-game atmosphere UCLA Coach John Wooden created.
In the locker room, Wooden did not try to inspire players with emotional speeches. He did not show film nor fill a blackboard with X-and-O strategies.
“He was unconcerned with the other team,” Walton said. “In four years, he mentioned the other team twice. We lost both games.”
Wooden placed the responsibility of winning onto the players. “Men, I’ve done my job,” Walton remembered Wooden said. “The rest is up to you. When the game starts, don’t look over at me. There’s nothing I can do.’”
Wooden no Wizard
In extolling the benefits of the XLIF surgery, Bill Walton told the audience, “Don’t think of anything in medicine as magic.” The surgery was a product of science, experimentation, study and effort.
This led Walton to say of John Wooden, “He hated the nickname ‘Wizard of Westwood.’ He thought it had the connotation of gimmick.”
Bill Walton seemed to luxuriate in being in Lexington. “I’m in the center of the basketball universe,” he said.
Walton saluted his former broadcast partner Tom Hammond, who sat in the audience. “As fine a man as I’ve ever met,” Walton said. “He carried me for 10 years with NBC, and I ended up with the bad back.”
During a question-and-answer period, someone in the audience asked a seemingly ultra-fit Walton how much he weighed compared to his playing days at UCLA. He said he weighed 205 pounds as a freshman at UCLA, 225 as a senior, 235 as a NBA player. “And I’m 200 and too much today,” he said. “I wish I weighed 20 pounds less.”
The taunts exchanged by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un command the attention of Lexington’s own Tom Hammond. Trump mocked Kim by calling him “rocket man” and said he was a madman. Kim said Trump was deranged. Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea. Kim said Trump would “pay dearly” for the threat.
Hammond, the longtime television voice of SEC basketball, is scheduled to be the NBC announcer calling speed skating at the 2018 Winter Olympics. These Games will be held next Feb. 9-25 at Pyeongchang, South Korea. That’s 40 miles from the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, Hammond said with eyes that widened at the thought. That’s also 183 miles from Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
For perspective, the distance from Lexington to Owensboro is 177 miles.
Hammond has been to South Korea. He called basketball with Al McGuire at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. He has tasted Kimchi (a fermented cabbage dish).
To Todd Jones, a graduate of the UK journalism school. He is leaving the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch to become senior writer for the Ohio State alumni magazine.
Jones starts the new job Oct. 2.
Belated happy birthday
To Marcus Lee. He turned 23 on Sept. 14. … To Todd Svoboda. He turned 46 on Sept. 14. … To Reggie Warford. He turned 63 on Sept. 15. … To Marquis Estill. He turned 36 on Sept. 15. … To former LSU coach John Brady. He turned 63 on Sept. 17. … To Louisville Coach Rick Pitino. He turned 65 on Sept. 18. … To Dickey Beal. He turned 55 on Sept. 18. … To Derrick Hord. He turned 57 on Sept. 19. … To Adam Williams. He turned 32 on Sept. 19. … To Jared Carter. He turned 31 on Sept. 20.
To Jack Givens. He turned 61 on Thursday. … To former Arkansas star Sidney Moncrief. He turned 60 on Thursday. … To Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew. He turned 43 on Thursday. … To Dakari Johnson. He turned 22 on Friday. … To Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin. He turned 46 on Saturday. … To Rodrick Rhodes. He turns 44 on Sunday (today). … To Matt Heissenbuttel. He turns 36 on Sunday (today). … To Cliff Berger. He turns 71 on Monday. … To Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He turns 24 on Tuesday.