Bob Knight, who last weekend questioned the academic performance of Kentucky basketball players, might like to know the Cats were successful in the classroom as well as on the court this school year.
In the fall semester of 2010, UK's men's basketball team compiled a better grade-point average than six of the other seven Southeastern Conference programs that shared their GPA information. Only Alabama bested Kentucky, and just barely: 2.83 to 2.824.
Kentucky's GPA of 2.824 marked a dramatic improvement from the first two semesters under Coach John Calipari. Those GPAs were 2.018 (fall of 2009) and 2.225 (spring of 2010), each the worst for any of UK's sports teams.
The GPA for the fall semester of 2010 ranked 15th among UK's 20 teams.
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With only 10 players, any individual's academic performance can have a big impact on the team GPA. Jarrod Polson and Brandon Knight are thought to have had 4.0 GPAs, which inflated the team number.
However the numbers can be crunched, the improved team GPA supports the perception inside UK athletics that Calipari cares about how the players do academically. He supposedly cares enough to chew out under-performing players and assistants who fail to keep a close enough eye on classroom work.
Knight and UK
Bob Knight's recent criticism of Kentucky basketball continued a familiar pattern. He has been critical of UK basketball for years.
He cuffed then coach Joe B. Hall on the head during a game in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, he lectured iconic radio play-by-play man Cawood Ledford about UK's rule violations before a game IU star Steve Alford had to sit out as punishment for posing for a charity calendar.
"I know you'd like to be at full strength," Ledford said to Knight in a pre-game interview. "But it still must be kind of a special game. I know it is on the Kentucky side of the river."
To which Knight responded, "This game, because of all that's transpired down here over the years with recruiting, and all the crap that's happened here, isn't nearly so special to me as you might think."
Knight called C.M. Newton the "Director of Corrections" when he became UK's athletics director in 1989.
"He's always had a fascination with Kentucky," said Billy Reed, a former columnist with the Courier-Journal and later the Herald-Leader. " ... When I first got to know him, he used to pick my brain about (Adolph) Rupp. How did Rupp do what he did? What was he like?"
Reed, who developed a friendship with Knight, said the Hall of Fame coach grew to believe Kentucky ran an outlaw basketball program.
Not that Knight could not see good in Kentucky basketball. Reed noted that Knight came to Lexington to personally present Kyle Macy with a gold medal after the UK guard had to leave the Pan Am Games early because of a broken jaw.
And when the NCAA banned Kentucky from playing on television as punishment for rule-breaking in the 1980s, Knight insisted that UK continue to participate in the made-for-TV Big Four Classic.
As Reed saw it, Knight disapproves of John Calipari's glib persona and a so-called dribble-drive offense built on one-on-one play.
"It just adds up," Reed said. "He has this great distaste for both Calipari and Kentucky."
Reed, who led a Georgetown College effort in 2010-11 to explore character development in sports, said Knight intended to express his disapproval of so-called one-and-done players. "But he never should have thrown all those guys under the bus," Reed said.
In a speech last weekend, Knight erroneously said none of UK's five starters in the 2010 NCAA Tournament attended class in that spring semester. This was easily refuted by noting one starter, Patrick Patterson, was en route to graduating in three years. Another, Darius Miller, returned to UK in 2010-11 for his junior season.
Knight called Reed for help in writing an apology, which ESPN released early last week.
"I think he knows he made a mistake," Reed said. "I just hope he learned a lesson."
That lesson was to remember that in a world of Twitter, phone cameras and portable recorders, there are no off-the-record remarks when speaking to an audience.
"He is Bob Knight," Reed said. "Everything he says is going to be examined and dissected and taken apart.
"Unfortunately, the point he was trying to make was a valid point of discussion. It kind of got lost."
Renovate, rebuild or re-think
No doubt, UK's desire for a new arena is rooted in the possibility of increased revenues. It's not about a new arena being a recruiting tool.
Still, the idea that Rupp Arena might be replaced or even renovated surprised at least two players in Friday's Derby Festival Basketball Classic.
Trevor Lacey, a prospect high on UK's wish list in the spring recruiting season, found the notion of renovating Rupp Arena hard to believe.
"I don't know how nicer it can get," he said. "They'd have to put in millions and millions of dollars to make it nicer than what it already is."
Another player, Braeden Anderson, noted that the quality of a home court figures in a prospect's college choice.
"But Rupp Arena is fantastic," he said. "Honestly, I think players will lean toward tradition over a fancy new KFC arena."
Not to belabor the point, but Anderson said prospects would find a traditional arena more alluring than a brand-spanking new facility. As they grow up, prospects see players they "fantasize being like" playing in the traditional arena, he said.
"If Michael Jordan played in that exact arena, players want to be in the same arena," Anderson said. "We want to feel the same emotions."
A person of hope
UK professor Ernie Yanarella has called for less spending by the athletic department and much greater annual donations to the university.
Is he a modern-day Don Quixote tilting at windmills?
"I don't do that because the next step is simply cynicism," Yanarella said. "I always considered myself a person of hope, and that's the difference from being an optimist."
Former UK president Charles Wethington was an optimist, with annual messages to the faculty glowing with possibilities, Yanarella said.
As a person of hope, Yanarella acknowledges the difficulties in persuading others to follow his lead.
"A person of hope can be really pessimistic about things," he said, "but believes there are circumstances and conditions that can congeal and provide what they're trying to do."
Finance professor Joe Peek, the faculty representative on UK's Board of Trustees, entered the basketball arena debate when he distributed his newsletter on Monday.
"Of course, the biggest issue facing UK today is whether we renovate Rupp Arena or build a new basketball arena," he wrote. "It is times like these that we must remember The Golden Rule: Whosoever has the gold makes the rules.
"After much careful thought on the matter, I have concluded that a new basketball arena should be constructed on UK's central campus with as many luxury boxes as can possibly be stuffed into the structure. Each of these luxury boxes should be a dual purpose room that also can be used as a state-of-the-art, high-tech classroom.
"I see no other way for central campus to finally obtain a long overdue and much needed modern classroom building."
Coach for hire
Former Louisville high school star Brandon Bender watched Wednesday's practice for players in the Derby Festival Basketball Classic. He'd recently returned from another season of professional basketball overseas. His teams have been based in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Croatia, France and Puerto Rico.
With his playing career winding down, Bender is looking for a college coaching opportunity on the Division I level.
Fans will understand
Three UK underclassmen entering their names in this year's NBA Draft gave perspective to a news conference held by Derrick Williams of Arizona last week to discuss his decision to turn pro. The transcript included:
Question: Were you worried about receiving a negative reaction from fans about your decision?
Answer: "I think they understand. If you're a real basketball fan, if you actually know the game of basketball, which a lot of U of A fans know, then they know what situation I'm in right now. If you have a chance to make money, and do something that you love, then hopefully one day I won't have to work. This is my job (now). I think they all understand."
Q: Did a potential NBA lockout of players concern you?
A: "At first it did. I heard it all through the season, even before I was supposedly a top-five pick. At the end of the day, a top-five pick is still going to be a top-five pick going on two, three years later. Just all the feedback I'm getting is that there's going to be a season next season. It might just be delayed a little bit."
Q: Why the secrecy about an injury (a broken finger) that you did not disclose while continuing to play this past season?
A: "I think that if you tell people that you're injured, then people on the other team go after your injuries more, like intentionally slapping my hand when I'd go up for a shot, or something like that. I was just trying to keep it under wraps, trying to keep as much padding on it as possible."
This past UK season began last August in Windsor, Canada, with exhibition games against the universities of Windsor and Western Ontario. We know how Kentucky's season unfolded. So how did the season go for those exhibition opponents?
■ Western Ontario.
"The game did raise our profile," Western Ontario Coach Brad Campbell wrote in an email. "I received several calls from American players who saw the game on TV. Our players thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The NCAA game experience is something our players look forward to each year, and to play the most storied program in NCAA history was even more special."
As for the season, Campbell wrote, "We went 11-11 in our league play. Had an injury-plagued season — two front-court starters were out for most of the year (Garrett Olexiuk and Adam Jespersen). Our point guard separated his shoulder in mid-November and wasn't the same when he came back. Had a lack of depth as a result."
Western Ontario won its first playoff game before losing to eventual league champion Lakehead in the second round.
One other achievement of note came when Playboy magazine put Western Ontario at No. 4 on its list of the top-10 party schools.
Coach Chris Oliver wrote in an email that Windsor was ranked in the top 10 all season, then suffered an upset loss in the league semifinals.
"Isaac Kuon was chosen an All-Canadian, Player of the Year in our league, first team all-star in our league," Oliver wrote. Kuon led the league in scoring.
Teammate Lien Phillip made second-team all league and led the league in rebounding (finishing second in Canada in rebounding).
Burying the lead, Oliver saved the big news for last.
"My wife and I are expecting our first child," he wrote early last week.
Kennedy Taylor Madison Oliver arrived at 10:28 a.m. Friday. She weighed seven pounds, 15 ounces.
To Fred Cowan. A forward on the 1978 national championship team, he turned 53 on Saturday.