It's awards time in college basketball. All-state, all-district, all-conference and all-America teams command our attention for a moment before we resume obsessing about post-season tournaments.
The Associated Press plans to announce its All-Southeastern Conference team on Monday. Here's the ballot I turned in last week (keep in mind that The AP wanted a collection of players who could take the floor as an unit):
F — JaMychal Green, Alabama
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F — Chandler Parsons, Florida
G — John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
G — Chris Warren, Ole Miss
G — Brandon Knight, Kentucky
F — Terrence Jones, Kentucky
F — Trey Thompkins, Georgia
C — Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
G — Erving Walker, Florida
G — Trevor Releford, Alabama
Coach of Year — Billy Donovan, Florida
Player of the Year — Chandler Parsons, Florida
Newcomer of the Year — Brandon Knight, Kentucky
That Donovan had never been SEC Coach of the Year before winning the coaches' vote for 2010-11 is stunning. Then again, Red Auerbach (look him up, kids) seldom won NBA Coach of the Year. It was no runaway. Tony Barbee infused Auburn with can-do spirit, John Calipari got a lot out of Kentucky's freshman-oriented six-man team, and Alabama mirrored Anthony Grant's steely resolve.
But the nod goes to Donovan for winning the regular-season title and as a lifetime achievement award.
Player of the Year came down to Green, Parsons and Jenkins. Parsons' wide array of skills and team-first approach for the champs made him the choice. It had to be either Knight or Jones for Newcomer of the Year. Because Jones won the coaches' vote, a spread-the-wealth sentiment made Knight the pick.
The Associated Press also asked its voters on the weekly top 25 media poll to turn in All-America ballots last week, again with the stipulation that each five-man team could function as an unit. Here's my ballot:
G — Jimmer Fredette, BYU
G — Kemba Walker, UConn
G — Nolan Smith, Duke
F — Jared Sullinger, Ohio St.
F — Kenneth Faried, Morehead St.
G — Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
G — Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame
G — Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
F — Marcus Morris, Kansas
F — JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
G — Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
G — DJ Gay, San Diego State
F — Kyle Singler, Duke
F — Jordan Hamilton, Texas
F — Tristan Thompson, Texas
Player of the Year — Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Coach of the Year — Steve Lavin, St. John's
Fredette, Walker, Smith and Sullinger were obvious. But that fifth spot gave me pause.
Faried broke Tim Duncan's record for career rebounds. And if you think that's simply a product of playing against inferior competition, he scored 20 points and grabbed 18 rebounds when Morehead State played at Florida.
More than once on the weekly SEC teleconference, Florida Coach Billy Donovan gushed about Faried's abilities.
"He's a freak of nature, athletically," Donovan said of Faried's rebounding ability. "... He's athletic at a different level, OK? He has a relentless pursuit of the ball. ... Every time a shot goes up, that's an opportunity for him to score."
When asked if Faried could play in the NBA, Donovan said, "There are not a lot of Kenneth Farieds flashing around out there. He can rebound against anyone. It doesn't make a difference. Strong, physical, quick and he's relentless. He's a definite pro because he has a pro skill. The biggest thing the NBA looks at is rebounds per minute. He does it better than anybody."
With plenty of scoring on that first-team, Faried rounds out the squad nicely.
Of the other picks, one that might raise eyebrows is Marshall. But he seemed to make stunning passes in every game, and North Carolina took off after Coach Roy Williams made Marshall the starting point guard.
As for Player of the Year, it had to be Fredette or Walker. My contrarian side wanted to vote for Walker, but Fredette could not be denied.
As in the SEC, there were plenty of Coach of the Year candidates. Mike Brey at Notre Dame, Steve Fisher at San Diego State and Rick Pitino at Louisville came immediately to mind. But I'd forgotten St. John's still played basketball until Lavin arrived this season.
Former UK basketball and football play-by-play man Ralph Hacker will be the guest of honor at the 2001 Central Kentucky Heart & Stroke Ball on March 26. The event will be in the Bluegrass Ballroom at the Lexington Center.
Hacker, the longtime sidekick of iconic broadcaster Cawood Ledford, had the unenviable task of taking his place beginning in 1992-93. Hacker is a heart disease survivor.
Tickets are $200 each. Corporate tables that seat 10 are available for $3,000. A patron table of 10 can be bought for $2,000.
Tickets can be ordered by going online at www.heart.org/lexingtonkyheartball or by calling (859) 977-4601.
Donations also can be made to the American Heart Association, 210 Malabu Dr. #125, Lexington KY 40502
Play-by-play man Tom Hammond and analyst Larry Conley had worked the afternoon games the night the tornado hit the Georgia Dome in 2008. When the tornado touched down, they were eating dinner in a downtown Atlanta restaurant.
The restaurant lost power. Staffers brought lit candles to the tables.
The only clue Hammond and Conley had that something had happened at the Georgia Dome came when one of their dinner companions, statistician Earl Peterson, took a call from his wife. She wanted to know if their son, Hayden, who was attending the night session, was all right.
"What do you think we ought to do?" Conley asked.
Sensing how powerless they were to help, Hammond quipped, "I think we ought to order another bottle of wine."
In reflecting on last-place Georgia winning the championship of the 2008 SEC Tournament, the so-called Tornado Tournament, guard Zac Swansey noted how the Dawgs had to overcome a lot of doubters.
"For us to be champs, we'd have to weather the storm," he said, figuratively speaking.
Swansey helped propel Georgia to the championship by hitting a turnaround three-pointer against Kentucky in the final seconds.
"I just remember us being down by two and (Sundiata) Gaines having fouled out," he said. "We called the play for Billy Humphrey. Kentucky totally blew the play up."
Then-Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried took his team to safety when the tornado hit the Georgia Dome during the 2008 SEC Tournament. After a wait of more than an hour, the teams returned to the court to play the final two minutes-plus of overtime.
Did the teams return to the court with the same competitive zeal?
"You'd like to say yes," Gottfried said. "But the players and everybody were a little rattled."
Sportswriter Tony Barnhart of CBS.com recalled how close he came to being outside when the tornado hit the Georgia Dome in 2008. He said he left the dome minutes earlier to drive to the airport to pick up his daughter when the tornado touched down.
To say Billy Gillispie could be difficult is to say the Kentucky River is wet. But during the SEC's Tornado Tournament, Gillispie rolled with the punches.
"Billy was great," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "He understood the enormity of it. His attitude was 'Just tell me what to do.' "
One of the players, Mark Krebs, recalled how Gillispie regularly threw curveballs to help the players learn to adjust to surprising developments. "He'd do stuff to keep us on our toes," Krebs said. "He'd put us at disadvantages. He kept us focused. I'll give him credit for that."
Of course, Murphy's law ruled during Gillispie's two seasons. What could go wrong did go wrong. In that context, a tornado wasn't all that surprising.
"There wasn't much that went his way," Krebs said.
Hail, UK fans
The SEC should be eternally grateful for how well UK fans attend the league tournament.
Georgia and Auburn, the two schools closest to Atlanta, played in Thursday's first round. There were more fans wearing Kentucky blue than rooting for Georgia and Auburn combined.
Of course, UK fan attendance can cause resentment from rival fan groups. Mississippi State Athletics Director Scott Stricklin, the former UK basketball publicist, said two of his friends from Lexington came to Atlanta looking to buy tickets.
"They were wearing non-descript, not blue, clothes," Stricklin said. "They felt they had a better chance (to buy tickets) if they weren't wearing blue."
Ole Miss guard Chris Warren made six of six free throws against Kentucky on Friday.
That increased his accuracy this season to 93.3 percent (166-for-178). That's on pace to break the SEC single-season record of 91.2 percent shared by Kyle Macy (1979-80) and Travis Ford (1993-94) of UK, and Scooter McFadgon (2003-04) of Tennessee.
That a Macy record could be erased grabs Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy's attention.
"Breaks my heart a little bit because I grew up grabbing my socks and deep knee bending in the driveway in Louisville, Miss.," he said in reference to Macy's iconic free-throw routine. "To shatter that record really speaks to what the kid's been able to accomplish."
Sportswriter Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News is the renaissance man of the SEC Tournament. Each year he brings a book to read during timeouts and other breaks in the action. The whistle blows, he sets his pen down and picks up a book.
This year's selection is Was This Man a Genius? Talks with Andy Kaufman. The author is Julie Hecht.
Because he was deep into the book before coming to Atlanta, Hurt brought a backup. That book is Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. The author is University of Georgia professor Edward Larson.
Georgia Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton serves as moderator for press conferences each year at the SEC Tournament. One of his more notable moments came in Nashville in 1991 when Felton announced the session would "kick off" with a statement from Georgia Coach Hugh Durham.
"That's 'tip off,' " Durham corrected.
This year Felton recalled a question he once received from LSU Coach Dale Brown as the two walked to a press conference.
Brown asked whether Felton could produce a pair of reading glasses. Brown wanted to read a Bible verse to reporters.
Felton had no reading glasses. The reporters received no Bible verse.
To former UK star Patrick Patterson. He turns 22 on Monday.