When asked last week whether he favored a renovation of Rupp Arena or the construction of a new multimillion dollar playhouse, Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart cited something said by Coach John Calipari a week or so earlier. Whichever course is taken, Calipari said, it should reflect UK's status as "the gold standard" of college basketball.
"Very well said," Barnhart said. "... We have to make sure our facilities have the gold-standard look."
So what does "gold standard" mean?
A check of other elite college basketball programs shows that Rupp Arena, as is, looks pretty golden.
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Let's compare Rupp Arena to home courts for North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Kansas and UCLA. Of the six programs most strongly identified with college basketball success, only North Carolina's Smith Center was built after Rupp Arena. UNC opened the Smith Center in 1986. Rupp opened 10 years earlier.
Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium opened in 1940, Indiana's Assembly Hall in 1971, Kansas's Allen Fieldhouse in 1955 and UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in 1965.
All have undergone renovations in recent years that included new scoreboards, video boards, upgraded locker rooms and modernized concourses. None have luxury boxes, so Kentucky has not fallen behind in that revenue-generating idea.
Seating capacity means a lot to UK fans who want the "big" emphasized in Big Blue. Again, Rupp Arena compares favorably. Only North Carolina's Smith Center (21,750) comes close to Rupp Arena's listed capacity of 23,000.
Of course, the other schools are just as proud of their home courts as Kentucky is of Rupp Arena. North Carolina calls the Smith Center the "premier basketball arena in America." Duke calls Cameron Indoor Stadium, which was the largest indoor arena in the South when it opened, the "crown jewel of college basketball's classic venues."
Kansas is more modest. KU simply refers to Allen Fieldhouse as "one of the best places in America to watch a college basketball game."
Perhaps the gold standard is already in place.
50 years ago ...
Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the more memorable moments in the history of UK and Southeastern Conference basketball. It was on this date in 1961 that Mississippi State students put a dead skunk under the Kentucky bench prior to a game.
Of course, Kentucky officials harrumphed their disapproval. "If our student body ever acts like that, I hope we give up basketball," UK Athletics Director Bernie Shively said.
But Mississippi State Coach Babe McCarthy blamed UK Coach Adolph Rupp.
"I don't condone that sort of thing," McCarthy said, according to newspaper clippings, "but let's face it, There must be a reason. Whenever Adolph gripes about the kind of treatment he receives at Mississippi State, I hasten to point out that these things never happen to Joel Eaves (Auburn coach) or Whack Hyder (Georgia Tech coach) or some other coaches who visit here.
"And I'll tell you why they happen to Adolph. Our fans can't very well pick up papers and read where Adolph has called them uncivilized and ignorant without taking some means of reprisal. Adolph has nobody to blame but himself."
McCarthy said he would not apologize.
With Mississippi State coming to Rupp Arena on Tuesday, it's easy to ponder how much the game has changed. With so much money at stake, the Inter-nut perpetually aflame and coaches on the metaphorical hot seat before they even sit down, the atmosphere is oh so pseudo serious now.
Alas, where is the new Hugh Durham? When asked after a loss at Kentucky whether his team's poor free-throw shooting was a disappointment, Durham noted his real disappointment. "The prettiest girl just left" the post-game news conference, he said.
When asked what advantage his Texas team would have in a game at powerful Arkansas, Longhorns Coach Abe Lemons said, "After the game, we get to leave Fayetteville."
Remembering those moments makes me want to put a dead skunk to good use.
A few leftover questions about the new contract UK President Lee Todd gave Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart last week. That contract called for a three-year extension and an annual salary boost of $125,000. The answers were provided by UK spokesman Jay Blanton.
Question: Barnhart's old contract had a five-year rollover component. In other words, it always had five years remaining. Does the new contract expire on June 30, 2019?
Answer: "Yes, the rollover is gone. The contract terminates at its end in 2019. Whether Mr. Barnhart stayed beyond that period would be the subject of negotiation, of course, between him and the president of the university."
Q: The new contract includes such bonuses as $100,000 should the football team play in a BCS bowl and $30,000 for any other bowl appearance and $15,000 if the women's basketball team wins the SEC regular-season or tournament championships and $25,000 if the men's basketball team plays in the Final Four. But why are there no bonuses tied to specific academic achievements?
A: "... The incentive/bonus provisions have not changed from one contract to the other. However, I think it is inarguable that academic progress and achievement are critically important to both Mr. Barnhart and President Todd as evidenced by improvements in areas such as cumulative GPA, graduation rates and APR progress. They will continue to be a focus for Mr. Barnhart going forward, as he talked about in detail (at the announcement of the new contract)."
Q: What would UK be obligated to pay Barnhart should UK decide to fire him without cause?
A: "... The buyout provision is $475K per year, but it is maxed at 60 months." That maximum payout would be $2,375,000.
Q: The contract calls for a $25,000 bonus should the men's basketball team receive a bid to play in the NCAA Tournament. Since 1980, UK has played in every NCAA Tournament it's been eligible to compete in except two: 2009 and 1989. Shouldn't Barnhart be docked pay if the men's basketball team doesn't make the NCAA Tournament?
A: "... I would submit that making the NCAA tourney each year, given the rigors of college basketball and the number of games, the chance for injury and any number of other factors, is no given. For anyone. Our fans have high standards. They should. UK's basketball program is, as the Coach has said, the 'gold standard' for excellence. Nevertheless, it's an accomplishment. Just ask UNC-Chapel Hill last year."
In announcing a new contract for Mitch Barnhart, UK President Lee Todd spoke glowingly of the athletics director. He noted how Barnhart had changed the culture of UK athletics, paid unusual attention to all athletes and significantly raised achievement levels in competition and in the classroom.
Todd also noted that with the bonus received for UK's bowl appearance in January, Barnhart bought iPads for athletics department staffers.
Couple of pugilists
When UK Coach John Calipari brought boxing gloves and a heavy bag to practice last week, he discovered that he had a couple of pugilists in Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood. Or Calipari was trying to convince Harrellson and Hood that they had the hard-edged stuff of in-your-face tough guys.
You be the judge.
Noting Hood's supposed punching prowess, Calipari said he encouraged the sophomore to talk "junk" on the court.
"If somebody talks back, you knock them out," the UK coach said he told Hood. "Are you crazy?!"
Harrellson, whose punching power caught teammate DeAndre Liggins' eye, puzzled Calipari.
"If you can box like that," Calipari said he told Harrellson, "why do you ever get pushed around?"
Former Georgia assistant Mark Slonaker went down memory lane before last month's game in Rupp Arena. Before joining Hugh Durham's staff, Slonaker got a bit of advice from his predecessor, Larry Gay.
Gay told Slonaker about an unusual duty he'd have to perform before Georgia played Louisiana State. He'd have to keep Durham away from LSU Coach Dale Brown.
Well, Durham was highly analytical and would try to see a pattern or greater purpose in any development. Brown was a free spirit who might drop references to the Kremlin, the Matterhorn or Adolf Hitler into a casual conversation.
Slonaker said he had to keep Durham away from Brown because the Georgia coach would get completely distracted trying to figure out why Brown made some obscure comment.
Guilt by association
When Southern California played at Tennessee on Dec. 21, the game returned former Vols coach Kevin O'Neill to Knoxville.
Ever the mischief maker, O'Neill threatened to bring USC's football coach, Lane Kiffin, with him. Of course, Kiffin formerly coached Tennessee's football team. Kiffin closed on the sale of his home in the Knoxville area the same day as the game.
If that wasn't enough excitement, O'Neill received a technical foul in the game.
O'Neill could be heard yelling to referee Doug Shows, "Hey, Doug, tell that (naughty multisyllabled word) ... "
For which, Shows hit O'Neill with a technical foul.
"Why are you teeing me up?" O'Neill asked. "I didn't call you a (naughty multisyllabled word). I called him a (naughy multisyllabled word)."
It's 1966 again
Joe Lunardi's updated mock NCAA Tournament bracket last week could have Kentucky fans of a certain age recalling a painful moment in their favorite team's history.
Lunardi's first- and second-round pairings for Tucson had fourth-seeded Kentucky playing 13th-seeded UTEP in the first round.
Of course, the beloved Rupp's Runts lost to UTEP (then known as Texas Western) in the 1966 national championship game.
Player of the Year
According to Bodog.com, here are the odds-on favorites — as of last week — to win the 2011 Naismith Trophy for college Player of the Year:
Jimmer Fredette (Brigham Young) 5-4; Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) 7-4; Nolan Smith (Duke) 3-1; Kemba Walker (Connecticut) 10-1; any other player 5-1.
Voters for the Cousy Award, which goes to the nation's top point guard, were asked at the beginning of February to compile a list of the top 10 candidates.
Here's my ballot: Corey Fisher, Villanova; Jimmer Fredette, BYU; Scoop Jardine, Syracuse; Brandon Knight, Kentucky; Demetri McCarney, Illinois; Nolan Smith, Duke; Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin; Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas; Isaiah Thomas, Washington; Kemba Walker, Connecticut.
Before Kentucky's game at Florida last weekend, Dick Vitale was handing out copies of a book he was using to raise money for The V Foundation. Entitled Dickie V's ABCs and 1-2-3s, it's a children's book about basketball.
The A-B-Cs begin with " 'A' is for Awesome," and it proceeds from there.
Vitale is involved in many fund-raising efforts for The V Foundation, which raises money for cancer research. He also wanted to spread the word of his annual charity gala in Sarasota, Fla., which will be May 20 this year.
UK Coach John Calipari, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams and tennis academy founder Nick Bollettieri will be honored at this year's gala. The goal is to raise $1 million for The V Foundation.
Call 1-800-4-Jimmy V or (919) 380-9505 for more information about the gala and book. Or fans can check the Web site Dickvitaleonline.com.
To Josh Harrellson. He turned 22 on Saturday.