With a provocative statement on his radio call-in show last week, Coach John Calipari hit on the ethos of Kentucky basketball.
"They want to be us," he said of opponents in the NCAA Tournament. "Not beat us. Be us."
"Now, that's a bold statement," North Carolina forward John Henson said the day before the Tar Heels beat Marquette in the East Region semifinals. "That's nothing we could say. He's a confident coach and he's got confident players. And that's what you need to win."
But why wouldn't confident North Carolina players or coaches say the same thing?
"We're happy with the people we've got," Henson said before adding, "I don't know if teams want to be us. I do know they want to beat us."
No doubt, Kentucky and North Carolina will be wanting to beat each other when they play Sunday in the NCAA Tournament East Region finals.
But would victory alone not satisfy the Tar Heels? Does UNC aspire to be Kentucky?
The question made North Carolina Coach Roy Williams chuckle when told Thursday of Calipari's comment.
"It's probably true with a lot of people," Williams said. "I don't think the North Carolina coaches, we would say that, or the Duke coaches would say that, the Connecticut coaches or the Indiana coaches or their players."
Williams lumped Kentucky in a small group of elite programs. UNC, Duke, Connecticut, Kansas are among those in this select company. But Kentucky is not first among equals. Kentucky only thinks it's first, if it acknowledges any equals.
"I explain it this way," Williams said. "We're at the top of college basketball. But we're not there by ourselves.
"Kansas people, they didn't realize what North Carolina people had. The North Carolina people don't realize the Kentucky people and what their feelings are, and the Kentucky people don't realize ... "
His voice trailed off.
Columnist Bob Hunter of the Columbus Dispatch wrote about Kentucky basketball's tradition. He recalled an incident when Kentucky played Ohio State in the 1968 Mideast Region finals in Lexington.
Ohio State won 82-81 on Kentucky's home floor, which no doubt displeased Adolph Rupp.
The Buckeyes did not cut down the nets.
"In those days, you climbed on somebody's shoulders to do it, and a cop told us to get down," Ohio State star Bill Hosket told Hunter. "Those are Kentucky nets," he said. "They aren't going anywhere."
Kentucky's self-appointed raison d'être showed itself much more recently when speculation had then-UK Coach Tubby Smith a candidate to become coach at North Carolina. C.M. Newton, a former UK player and athletics director and a respected elder statesman, pooh-poohed such speculation, asking, Why would Smith want to take a step backward in his career?
Newton later attributed the comment to his Kentucky pride.
But do other programs admire Kentucky to the point of wanting to be Kentucky?
"Of all the (345) Division One schools, no doubt, a lot of people would like to be Kentucky," Williams said before adding, "or North Carolina. Or Duke."
When he coached at LSU, Dale Brown made references to climbing the Matterhorn or parachuting into the Kremlin. So it was no secret that his interests extended far beyond the basketball court.
In recent years, Brown has been sending emails noting his alarm at the intolerance of Muslims.
Last week, Brown shared a letter to Osama Bin Laden sent by a self-described "Muslim woman who refuses to be terrorized."
Certainly, the attacks of 9/11 galvanized Brown's thinking. But were there any other factors that moved the former LSU coach to send such emails?
"I have Muslim friends all over the world and they are very nice people and love America," Brown wrote in an email response. "However, radical Islamists are poised to destroy us. And their most powerful allies are our apathy and disbelief. Many Americans and far too many members of Congress are afraid to speak up because they do not want to be classified as Islamophobes.
"I have also been stimulated by my many friends in Europe that see this hatred."
Kentucky made no secret of its unhappiness with a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That Florida got a No. 2 seed increased the sense of unfairness.
"Kentucky could have had a 'two-seed' if the (Selection) committee had not gone out to lunch," said former UK All-American Kevin Grevey, who worked the Southwest Region for Westwood One radio. "It doesn't make sense. Kentucky beat Florida twice in the last two weeks."
True, UK beat Florida in the final week of the regular season and then again in the SEC Tournament finals.
Former UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton, who has served on the Selection Committee, said part of the problem is the SEC holding its tournament finals on Selection Sunday. By the time the SEC crowns its tournament champion around 3 p.m., the NCAA bracket is pretty much set in place.
This gives Newton the chance to renew his long-held argument that the SEC should play its tournament finals on Saturday.
Newton cited two big advantages to playing on Saturday: the Selection Committee has a full day to consider where to seed the SEC Tournament champion, and the SEC finalists have an extra day for rest and/or preparation for the NCAA Tournament.
But Newton is resigned to a Sunday championship game for the SEC Tournament. Why? Because that's what television wants to fill a so-called "window" for programming on Sunday.
"TV dictates when you play," Newton said, "and would love to dictate who you play."
So there's no sense wishing for the more thoughtful seeding that would come with an SEC Tournament championship game on Saturday.
"That isn't going to happen," said Newton, a consultant to the SEC on basketball matters. "We might has well forget it."
Freedom of speech
In a new book, former coach Tom Penders criticizes ESPN analyst Jay Bilas for being too technical in his commentary. Penders also suggested that ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla withheld critcism of coaches because he wanted to get back into the profession.
During a teleconference last weekend, Bilas and Fraschilla were asked for their reaction.
Fraschilla noted how he liked Penders, but also suggested unhappiness with how his coaching career unfolded prompted Penders' comments. "It's easy to be a little bit bitter," Fraschilla said.
Bilas voiced no objection to Penders saying the commentator was too technical.
"That may be a valid point," he said. "We're not mapping out the human genome.
"That's a matter of taste for anyone to say what they want. There's room in the game for all these opinions. I don't think my opinion is more valuable than Fran's or Tom's."
But is there room in basketball — or in this world? — for that kind of open-mindedness and reasonableness?
The first questioner on the teleconference asked Bilas to reflect on his opinion that VCU did not deserve an NCAA Tournament bid now that the Rams had advanced to the Sweet 16 round.
"I don't have any problem with anybody being mad," Bilas said. "I get to say what I want." And others have the same privilege, he added.
Bilas stuck by his "Selection Sunday argument" that VCU did not deserve a bid. A week into the tournament, new arguments and opinions arise, he said.
To err is Truman
For those who don't know, former UK guard Truman Claytor officiates high school basketball in Ohio. He worked the Division III state semifinal game between Portsmouth and Cleveland Central Catholic on Friday.
Claytor, a member of UK's 1978 national championship team, is in his 17th season — and fourth state tournament — calling high school games. He worked college games for a few seasons before settling in on the high school level.
"I decided to enjoy it and be the best high school referee I can be," he said after his game on Friday. "It keeps me involved in the game."
Claytor initially resisted the urge to be a referee because of the second-guessing and abuse that goes with the job. He's learned to roll with the verbal punches.
A timely officiating question arose when the referees called two fouls in the final second of the Pittsburgh-Butler NCAA Tournament game. Should a ref "decide" a game or swallow his or her whistle in the final seconds?
"You've got to call a foul if it's a foul," Claytor said. "You want to swallow the whistle, but you've got to call what you see."
Mike Sutton retires
After nine seasons and 149 victories, former UK assistant Mike Sutton retired as coach at Tennessee Tech last week.
Sutton, a longtime assistant for Tubby Smith, announced his retirement on Wednesday. He will remain at Tennessee Tech as a faculty member in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Steve Payne, who has worked as Sutton's associate head coach all nine years at Tech, was introduced as Tech's new coach.
"It has been a wonderful journey," Sutton said of his 37-year coaching career. "When I started in coaching, I had no idea what direction I would go. Coaching basketball has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people, including my wife, Karen, and my best friends in the coaching fraternity along the way."
Health reasons factored in the decision to retire. In 2005, Sutton was stricken with Guillian-Barre Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that he has worked tirelessly to overcome. During the past season, Sutton missed two of the team's road trips because of health concerns.
Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson considers Mike Anderson more than a protege. He's like a son. So Richardson applauded when Arkansas hired Anderson to replace one of UK's Unforgettables, John Pelphrey, as the new basketball coach.
Richardson did not want to bask in the light of his longtime assistant.
"This is Mike's time," Richardson said Thursday. "I had my time. Mike's the new sheriff in town now."
Anderson became Arkansas' coach Wednesday. He left Missouri after five seasons and an 111-57 record. Missouri played in the last three NCAA Tournaments. Before that, he led UAB to an 89-41 record with three NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons.
Arkansas has had only three NCAA Tournament appearances in the past 10 years, and none since 2008.
Anderson's job at Arkansas is to recapture the glory days when he was Richardson's assistant.
"I think if there's anyone that can get it done, Mike can get it done," said Richardson, who coached Anderson at Tulsa and then had him on his staff at Tulsa and Arkansas. "I know that Mike will give it his all, because as a player he gave it his all, as an assistant coach for me he gave it his all, and as a head coach on his own at UAB and Mizzou he's certainly given it his all and been successful.
"I just don't see how he could not be successful at Arkansas, too."
Former Coach Tubby Smith tried to recruit David Lighty to Kentucky. Lighty, a native of Cleveland, went to Ohio State and became a 1,000-point scorer.
When asked why he did not even make a visit to Kentucky, Lighty said, "First of all, I was a momma's boy. I wanted to stay close to home. That's a little too far for me."
To former UK big man Mike Phillips. Phillips, who teamed with Rick Robey as a big man tandem on UK's 1978 national championship team, turned 55 on Thursday.