You'll have to forgive former Kentucky point guard Sean Woods if he feels little sympathy for his alma mater's early-season basketball schedule. More than once, UK Coach John Calipari lamented the rigors of a trip to Maui and just two home games in the first six for his freshman-oriented team.
Boo hoo, Woods might say. His Mississippi Valley State team plays its first 14 games on the road. The first home game is still more than three weeks away.
This week is especially hellish for the Delta Devils with games at Mississippi on Monday, at Arkansas on Wednesday and at Kentucky on Saturday.
"We have the toughest schedule in the country," Woods said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
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He sounded almost proud.
"No, I'm not proud of it," he corrected. "But it is what it is."
It is a fund-raising tour. By playing so-called "guarantee" games in which one school receives a sizable appearance fee along with a blindfold and last cigarette, Woods funds the entire Mississippi Valley State athletic budget. His program gets 40 percent of the guarantee, he said, and the school's other athletic programs get 60 percent.
"I need all 40 just to survive this year," said Woods, who noted that he must pay for scholarships, a travel budget and recruiting expenses for a year with the 40-percent cut.
"I've got to raise over $600,000 just to get me through," he said. "It's not fair. What do you do? You've got to do it just to survive."
With four returning starters and the addition of a top-100 recruiting class, Mississippi Valley State is expected to be a contender in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. That is if the schedule doesn't grind down the Delta Devils.
"We're at a crossroads right now," Woods said before his team took its 1-7 record into a game against Arkansas. "We're doing our best to keep (the players' spirits) up."
Woods, the point guard and floor leader for UK's Unforgettables, said he recently "broke reality" to his players. He told them to not dwell on winning and losing these games.
"You've got to be goal-oriented instead of looking at the scoreboard," he said. "Because we think we have a chance to be good in the league."
In the season opener, Mississippi Valley State came within a basket of beating a Georgia team without star forward Trey Thompkins.
Since then, the Delta Devils lost at Indiana, at St. Mary's, at BYU, at Butler, at Ole Miss, and on a neutral floor to Liberty. The lone victory came on a neutral floor against Georgia Southern.
The nadir came at BYU when Mississippi Valley State lost by 50 points, committed 25 turnovers and got credit for only five assists.
Turnovers have been a big problem. Going into the Arkansas game, the Delta Devils had 67 assists and 148 turnovers in eight games. The six players averaging the most minutes had 45 assists and 124 turnovers. Woods linked the turnovers to the absence of two of the team's tallest players, which led to guards feeling pressure to make plays.
Help is on the way.
Paul Crosby, a 6-foot-8 transfer from Binghamton, became eligible for the Arkansas game.
"He's one of the best mid-major post players in the country," Woods said. "If his grades out of high school had been good, he'd definitely be a Big Ten player."
The Delta Devils also hope the NCAA declares wing and league Player of the Year candidate Shannon Behling eligible at some point.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Valley State soldiers on.
"You don't see other mid-major teams playing this schedule," Woods said. "If we played a regular mid-major schedule, I'd have lost, maybe, two games, at the most."
Even by Southwestern Athletic Conference standards, Mississippi Valley State's schedule is unusually demanding. The next-toughest schedule belongs to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which plays its first 12 games on the road.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff finally plays a home game on Jan. 4 ... against Mississippi Valley State.
UK signee Davis on TV
University of Kentucky basketball fans can catch a glimpse of their team's future when Wildcats signee Anthony Davis plays in a nationally televised high school game on Thursday.
Davis, a 6-foot-10 senior forward who is widely regarded as one of the top-five prospects in the class of 2011, signed with Kentucky last month.
On Thursday, Davis' Chicago Perspectives team takes on Chicago's Whitney Young at Chicago State University in the tip-off to the ESPN Rise series of 14 high school games to be televised nationally this winter. Game time is 5 p.m. EST on ESPNU.
Davis joined 6-6 forward Michael Gilchrist of Elizabeth, N.J., 6-2 point guard Marquis Teague of Indianapolis and 6-9 forward Kyle Wiltjer of Portland, Ore., to create the nation's top-ranked recruiting class for UK.