John Calipari is wrong. Coming from anyone other than Ellen Calipari, that's a surprising statement.
But that's what John Adams, the supervisor of college basketball's referees, said last week. Calipari was wrong — or, more correctly, should be wrong — when he suggested earlier this season that players such as DeMarcus Cousins must live with the idea that referees give smaller players more leeway to hack and push and shove and grab big men.
"I hope it's not in any of their thought processes," Adams said of the refs. "It's not fair to think because he's 6-11, it's OK to beat up on him. That's an inconsistency. A foul is a foul."
But reality can vary from theory. Basketball has had plenty of big men who felt the referees gave smaller players a greater freedom to be, shall we say, aggressive. That's just not the standard Adams seeks for referees across the country.
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With the NCAA Tournament beginning Thursday, Adams continues the process of finding the best referees to work the most important games. From a pool of about 1,000 refs working college games across the country, he and his four regional advisors pick 96 to work the NCAA Tournament. "In theory, we have the top 10 percent of officials," he said.
The refs, like the teams, seek to survive and advance. From 96 in the first round to 48 in the second, to 36 at the regionals to nine at the Final Four. Among the topics touched on by Adams were:
■ Calipari was correct that Cousins should expect referees from other parts of the country to bring pre-conceived notions of the UK big man into tournament games.
"Referees are like any fan," Adams said. "They watch games on TV."
Southeastern Conference teams in the tournament might see familiar referees. The idea will be to balance the crew with an official that is familiar with the opposing team.
■ Advantage/disadvantage is no longer the standard guide for a referee. In other words, refs should not judge whether a foul occurred on whether the contact gained the defender an advantage or put the offensive player at a disadvantage.
Adams said the standard should be an absolute that removes judgment from the process. Players should have freedom of movement. So a defender putting two hands on a dribbler should be a foul whether or not it directly impacts the play.
■ Players can dive on the floor and roll over with the ball, and it's not walking if the rollover is caused by the player's momentum. It is walking if the player rolls over to avoid a defender.
■ "I'll tell you what drives refs nuts," Adams said. "The head coach calling a timeout while the ball is in play."
Before 1999, only players could call timeouts.
"I have to turn around to recognize it's the coach calling the timeout," Adams said. "Then I have to turn back around to make sure (the coach's team) has the ball. And I also have to referee the game."
■ Referees working the NCAA Tournament get $1,000 per game in the first and second round. The pay is $1,400 per game in the regional semifinals and finals. The refs receive $2,000 per game in the Final Four. Plus expenses.
One man, one vote
The Associated Press will release its All-Southeastern Conference team Monday. The wire service asked a 12-member media panel to select five players, more or less by position, to form a first team, then five more for a second team. There were also three individual awards.
Here's my ballot:
F: DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
F: Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
C: Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi St.
G: John Wall, Kentucky
G: Devan Downey, South Carolina
F: Trey Thompkins, Georgia
F: Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt
C: Wayne Chism, Tennessee
G: Chris Warren, Mississippi
G: Jermaine Beal, Vanderbilt
Player of the Year: Wall
Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky
Newcomer of the Year: Wall
Kentucky played in five of ESPN's top 11 game telecasts in terms of ratings this season. Here's ESPN's 10 highest-rated game telecasts for 2009-10:
1. North Carolina vs. Texas
2. (tie) Kansas at Kansas State; Kentucky at Vandy
4. Kentucky at South Carolina
5. Kentucky vs. Connecticut
6. Kentucky at Florida
7. Michigan State at North Carolina
8. Duke at Wisconsin
9. Vandy at Kentucky
10. Kentucky at Mississippi State
Cal on ESPN
UK Coach John Calipari is scheduled to be part of ESPN's marathon coverage of Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament.
The sports network plans to televise 89 straight hours of coverage beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday with a panel (essentially the GameDay crew) discussing the bracket. The coverage continues until tip-off of the first games on Thursday.
With Tiger Woods seeking treatment for sex addiction, former UK player Winston Bennett discusses his battle with that condition on ESPN's Outside the Lines Sunday (9 a.m.). His status as an athlete gave him the opportunity to be with literally hundreds of women each year, even while married to his wife of more than 20 years, Bennett says on the program. Bennett and his wife, Peggy, describe the world of a sexual addict. Bennett told ESPN's Kelly Naqi that if Woods is going through what he went through, his friends and family need to prepare for a relapse.
UK President Lee Todd on the SEC coaches' voting on the men's and women's post-season awards:
"I hear that John Calipari wasn't coach of the year," Todd told the Herald-Leader's Ryan Alessi early last week. "He gets my vote. That's about all I'll say about that."
As for freshman of the year DeMarcus Cousins and player of the year John Wall, Todd said, "I think the other two are right. With Cousins and Wall, it's hard to argue."
Todd weighed in on the women's awards, which included UK's sweep of the individual honors.
"I can't tell you how pleased I am that they got it right with Coach (Matthew) Mitchell. And with our freshman and player of the year both on the women's side, it's been a remarkable year for both men and women's basketball teams."
Mississippi State tried to find out what fans threw plastic bottles on the court in protest of the officiating in the Bulldogs' home loss to Kentucky last month.
None of the leads resulted in the identification of the people who threw bottles, Athletics Director Greg Byrne said last week.
Byrne, who formerly worked as a fund-raiser in UK's athletics administration, apologized to Kentucky. And before the Bulldogs' next home game, he went to center court and spoke to the crowd about good sportsmanship.
Two men, two votes
Kentucky received two first-place votes in The AP's top 25 poll last week. Those votes were cast by sportswriters Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star and Joey Johnston of The Tampa Tribune.
Calling the games
CBS announced the crews that will call NCAA Tournament games. No big surprises.
Here's the tandems: Jim Nantz-Clark Kellogg, Dick Enberg-Jay Bilas, Verne Lundquist-Bill Raftery, Gus Johnson-Len Elmore, Kevin Harlan-Dan Bonner, Ian Eagle-Jim Spanarkel, Tim Brando-Mike Gminski and Spero Dedes-Bob Wenzel.
League officials said reporters could pick up credentials for the SEC Tournament beginning at 9:30 a.m. CST on Wednesday. Hoping to get an early start on the day, I got there about 9:15. A moment later, Pat Bradley, the former sharpshooter for Arkansas and now a sports talk radio host in the state, arrived.
A guard stopped us and asked an interesting question. "Are you ESPN or media?"
To be ESPN meant immediate entry into Bridgestone Arena. As merely media, the lowly scribe and radio man had to wait.
Out like a lamb
Former UK player John Pelphrey continues the struggle to bring order to the chaotic Arkansas program.
The first-round loss to Georgia meant the Razorbacks ended the season with six straight defeats, the longest losing streak to end a season in the program's history.
When his Louisiana State team won the regular-season championship in 2008-09, Coach Trent Johnson noticed that the accomplishment generated little buzz. But when Mississippi State won the SEC Tournament by beating LSU in the finals, it created a lot of excitement.
"They make much more of a deal of winning the tournament than of being outright (regular-season champion)," Johnson said last week in Nashville. "Something's wrong with that, to me. Last year, there were caps and confetti. Whoa!"
This year Kentucky, the regular-season champion, faced the possibility of being overshadowed.
"You'd hate to see Kentucky in that situation when they went wire to wire," Johnson said.
However, the LSU coach noted that the tournament serves a purpose. It gives teams one last chance to get an NCAA Tournament bid. And it gives a player such as LSU senior Alex Farrer, who was injured much of the season, a chance to play a few more games.
"So there are pros and cons," Johnson said of the concept of league tournaments. "There should be more emphasis and celebration in going wire to wire than what you did in the tournament. But we all know what's behind the tournament: money."
Ah, yes, money. Nashville's daily newspaper, The Tennessean, reported that the SEC Tournament could add as much as $10 million to the local economy. After expenses, the last seven SEC tournaments produced an average of $3.6 million for the 12 member schools to divide.
Syndicated columnist Norman Chad pondered in last week's column the role money will play in the possible — likely? — expansion of the NCAA Tournament field.
"If you live in America long enough — and I'm getting there — you come to realize that everything expands," Chad wrote. "You also realize that it's always about money and, in sports, the money comes from television. So, frankly, a combination of Darwinian evolution and Draconian economics would lead the NCAA to seek even more billions of dollars from CBS, or another TV partner."
Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News annually brings a touch of literary sophistication to the SEC Tournament. At each timeout during games, he sets down his pen and picks up the book he's brought to the event. If he's done writing his stories that day or is waiting for another game to start, he spends the time with his page turner. Talk about escapism, Hurt's book is never sports- or basketball-related.
This year Hurt brought a novel entitled Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. It's a black comedy about New York City post-9/11.
Selection Sunday means we can set aside the mock brackets and start mocking the actual NCAA Tournament brackets. An invaluable tool in assessing the tournament is the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook's tournament preview edition. The tournament preview has 144 pages of information on the teams. It can be great prep work for those office-pool brackets.
That's two pages on each of the 65 teams, plus a 1,500-word story wrapping up the regular season and providing an overview of the tournament. There's also blank brackets and the staff's predictions.
A copy of the tournament preview can be ordered at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or by calling 1-877-807-4857. The hours to call are between 9 a.m. -5 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.