Earlier this semester, Darius Miller had to write a report on coaching. That he turned to Pikeville College Coach Kelly Wells for help gives Kentucky's exhibition game Monday night a warm, human component.
"He sent an e-mail to me," said Wells, who coached Miller one season at Mason County High. "How did you get started in coaching? What's your philosophy?
"I tried to share some things we did to help him in that class."
Remembering that exchange, Wells quipped, "He's got a good scouting report. He pretty much knows what we will do."
Of course, Wells knows a lot about Miller, too. When Miller was an eighth-grader, Wells promoted him and a teammate to the varsity to help provide depth for a Mason County team that lost in the state finals. As Wells recalled, Miller scored nine points in the state championship game.
"Yes, I know what he likes to do; I know his tendencies," Wells said. "But every single person we play on our schedule, we know those things. And it's still hard to stop them. That's not a dead-set ringer to stop someone because you know what they like to do."
The Wells-Miller connection goes back decades. When Wells transferred from Tulsa to Morehead State, the UK player's father, Brian Miller, was a senior for the Eagles. Wells and the elder Miller became lifelong friends, later playing together in rec leagues in Maysville.
"Brian would probably shoot me for saying this, but Darius is probably more of an all-around player," Wells said. "He can shoot it. He can post. He can handle it. His size and skill set is probably a little more advanced at this stage."
Brian Miller was more a high-flier who looked to dunk.
Wells noted the versatility that allows Darius Miller to handle himself at all five positions. The Pikeville coach noted that Miller's added muscle enhances that gift.
"If he gets that part of his game down of being aggressive, I don't know how you stop him," Wells said.
Wells downplayed the need to be outwardly aggressive by saying another Mason County player, Chris Lofton, faced the same questions.
"I'm from the school of belief that kids with great personalities don't have immense killer instincts," Wells said. "But they're winners. ...
"His play kind of fits his personality. He's kind of a laid-back, fine young man who's going to be successful for years to come."
For instance, Wells said Miller was probably successful on that paper on coaching.
"He better have gotten an 'A,' " the Pikeville coach said. "That was good information I gave him."
She met a man in a bar. He made a suggestion ...
How many stories start with a line like that? But that's the appropriate start to this note.
Mette Dyrskjot, a reporter for a business newspaper in Denmark, was in Lexington last week as part of her five-week tour of the United States. An earlier stop in Missoula, Mont., gave her a newfound interest in Kentucky basketball.
By chance, she met a man from Lexington in a Missoula bar. When he learned Dyrskjot was going to Lexington, he suggested she see a UK game. "He was really expressive about it," she said.
Of course, Dyrskjot's only chance to see UK play last week was the Blue-White Scrimmage. That she went gave us a chance to see the Rupp Arena experience through a fresh set of eyes.
"The picture I had before that was, the team was a university team," Dyrskjot said. "It's college baskets. So I was quite sure it was mainly young people from the university there."
She was surprised to see young and old in Rupp Arena. "I didn't realize it really unites Lexington and the area around here," she said.
The fans provided another surprise.
"I was surprised by how much Americans eat during the game," she said. "Everybody ate at least a hot dog or pizza or ice cream. I didn't see anybody not eating something."
Dyrskjot joined in by eating a hot dog.
Only a casual sports fan, Dyrskjot said the atmosphere for soccer games in her native Copenhagen was different.
"We're more beer drinkers," she said. "People drink a lot of beer when they go to the games."
UK's "family thing" came as a pleasant surprise.
Dyrskjot, 36, writes about politics and business, primarily. Before that chance meeting in a Missoula bar, she associated Kentucky with horses and coal. While in the area, she took in the races at Keeneland one day and also went horseback riding.
Our political season caught her attention.
"We have a ban on political commercials on TV," she said before adding of our political ads, "I'm surprised by how low they go."
Besides the mudslinging, the lack of specifics struck Dyrskjot.
"A lot of politicians really get away with 'We want to cut spending, we want to cut taxes' without saying what they want to cut," she said. "If you cut, someone will suffer."
Dyrskjot left Lexington Thursday to drive to Jackson, Miss., the last stop on her tour. Besides Missoula, earlier stops included Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
Before leaving, she stopped at the UK Bookstore to buy a Kentucky basketball T-shirt.
Bryan Settle, who was about to begin his second season as Kentucky basketball's equipment manager, has resigned. No official word yet on why he abruptly quit.
UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy confirmed Settle's resignation.
Settle was one of many staffers who came to UK from Memphis with John Calipari. He had worked on Calipari's staff the previous six seasons, which included stints as a manager and a video coordinator.
Settle's resignation before his second season stands in stark contrast with his predecessor. The late Bill Keightley set the standard for longevity. He worked in the equipment room from 1962 until his death in 2008.
Before his appearance at the Tip-Off Dinner in Louisville this fall, UK Coach John Calipari made the point that the Turkish pro team Fenerbahce Ulker had "four million reasons" to want Enes Kanter back. That was a reference to the financial gain Fenerbahce Ulker could reap through a transfer fee should Kanter play for another European pro team. Therefore, Fenerbahce Ulker shared documents with the NCAA in order to kill Kanter's chances of playing for Kentucky, which would owe the Turkish team nothing.
But doesn't UK also stand to benefit financially if Kanter gains his eligibility? With Kanter, the Cats figure to advance further in the NCAA Tournament. Each game won means more money sent to the financial kitty that SEC schools split.
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the basketball tournament provides money to conferences based on performance over a six-year period. Each victory in the 2010 NCAA Tournament was worth about $222,000. Christianson said the NCAA expected a slight increase in that unit share in next year's tournament.
UK would also benefit from the added exposure that goes with a long run in the NCAA Tournament.
Rather than an altruistic bystander, UK seems to have a self-interest in the Kanter ruling, too.
Strength of schedule
More than once this fall, John Calipari has said that Kentucky's schedule was rated the second-toughest in the nation. And if UK faced Michigan State in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, it would be the toughest.
Maybe. But that's not how Ken Pomeroy sees it.
Pomeroy, who annually crunches college basketball numbers for his Web site, released his rankings for strength of schedules for the upcoming season last week.
He rated Kentucky's overall schedule as the 18th toughest. UK's non-conference schedule is the 32nd toughest, according to Pomeroy.
Those rankings are based on Kentucky playing Michigan State in Maui.
"Cal isn't exaggerating that badly," Pomeroy wrote via e-mail. "If you don't assume anything for the last two games in Maui, their non-conf SOS is 69th and 3rd in the SEC behind Tennessee (20th) and Florida (38th). If you assume that Washington and Michigan State are their other two opponents, then they would improve to 32nd, with one of the tougher schedules among top 25 teams."
Among SEC teams, Tennessee (20), UK (32), Florida (38), South Carolina (88) and Vanderbilt (90) have the five toughest non-conference schedules. Georgia (100) gives the Eastern Division six of the league's seven toughest non-conference schedules.
Mississippi (96) is the one Western Division exception. The five easiest non-conference schedules are Alabama (170), Mississippi State (201), Louisiana State (213), Arkansas (312) and Auburn (336).
The five toughest overall schedules belong to 1. Georgetown, 2. Penn State, 3. North Carolina, 4. Duke, 5. Michigan State. The five toughest non-conference schedules belong to 1. North Florida, 2. Mississippi Valley State, 3. Alcorn State, 4. North Carolina-Greensboro, 5. South Carolina Upstate.
Fans might recall that former UK point guard Sean Woods coaches Mississippi Valley State. His team plays at Georgia, at Indiana, at St. Mary's, at Brigham Young, at Butler, at Ole Miss, at Arkansas, at UK (Dec. 18) and at Marquette. The Delta Devils don't play at home until Jan. 8.
During the SEC Media Day interviews, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings objected to the Commodores being voted to finish fifth in the Eastern Division. He noted that Vandy lost only two players — center A.J. Ogilvy and point guard Jermaine Beal — from a team that finished with the second-best league record last season and came within Ogilvy's last-second flip-shot miss from tying Kentucky for the regular-season championship.
To explain the fifth-place vote, Stallings said, "Maybe because we lost to Murray State in the first round (of the NCAA Tournament). Maybe we don't deserve any respect."
Stallings rejected the suggestion that Vandy use the vote to play the no-respect card.
"That card is tired," he said. "It happens so much we can't use it anymore.
"I don't reach for it. It gets thrown at me."
Then came a posting by Andy Glockner on SI.com. Glockner picked the SEC as the fifth-best conference (behind the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and ACC).
He picked Florida, UK and Tennessee as locks for NCAA Tournament bids. He saw Georgia and Mississippi State as likely NCAA Tournament teams. He saw Vandy and Mississippi as contenders for post-season play.
Of Vandy, Glockner wrote, " ... someone has to finish fifth in the rugged East Division, and that team may not have enough league wins to get in. They're a good team, though, led by sharpshooter John Jenkins. It wouldn't be a shock to see Vandy earn a bid, possibly at Georgia's expense."
When asked whether his team might use the fifth-place votes as motivation, Stallings said, "I've been literally blown away with how hard our guys have worked."
Kansas awaits ruling
Enes Kanter is not the only college basketball player hoping to be "freed" by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Kansas guard Josh Selby also awaits a ruling on questions about his amateur status.
During a radio interview on WHB in Kansas City last week, Kansas Coach Bill Self gave an update.
"There's no new news, but that's not bad," he said, according to a transcript. "We've been in communication with the NCAA, and they've been good to work with. We're not ecstatic about the time frame, but I'm not sure that time frame can be adjusted based on some things that they need, they want, and I still feel good about it. I do."
Unlike Kanter, Selby is practicing with the Kansas team. That's because the permitted 45 days for practice began for Kanter in early August and at Madness for Selby.
"Josh is working out every day; he's really starting to get comfortable," Self said. "Labored a little bit early but, the last couple of days, he's been really good. I certainly believe that there is going to be a positive outcome, and it may not be exactly what I want, and I don't know this for a fact, but I do believe in my heart that he will be playing college basketball this year. I hope it's immediately, and it may not be, but we will just wait and see.
"Our fans should not get too hung up on this. Our fans should take a deep breath like we have taken deep breaths."
Self seemed to brace Kansas fans for bad news, or at least news that won't be as good as possible.
"Everything is going to be OK," he said. "Somehow, we'll spin a negative into a positive if it is a negative."
To Dale Brown. The "other" Dale Brown, the one who formerly coached LSU and not the ex-UK guard, turns 75 Sunday.