Seventeen of the nation's top teenage basketball players will be trying out for the United States' 12-man team entry in the FIBA U19 World Championship tournament scheduled for this summer. None have ties to Kentucky.
Bias against UK? Oversight? A sign that UK's incoming freshmen have been overhyped? The answers are: No. No. And, shout from the rooftops, no!
"They were invited, obviously," said Sean Ford, the Men's National Team director for USA Basketball. "They were at the top of our list. You're not talking about guys who would be invited. You're talking about guys who would start on the team."
Ford was talking about Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis, the trio that heads UK's latest No. 1-rated recruiting class.
USA Basketball wanted Gilchrist, Teague and Davis to be on the team that will play in the World Championship for players 19 years old and younger June 30-July 10 in Latvia.
But the trio were among about 27 players who declined invitations to participate in the tryouts next month. Ford said that UK wanted Gilchrist, Teague and Davis to attend summer school and accelerate the process of becoming college players.
"Obviously, they're going to be a younger team next year," Ford said of Kentucky. "Coach (John Calipari) is looking to say, 'Hey, let's get the younger players in. Let's get them acclimated. Let's get them spending time with the upperclassmen so come September, when the rest of (the country's) freshmen come in, our guys are not true freshmen anymore.'
"It's unfortunate. We wish it were different. But we certainly understand the reality of it."
Ford, who was a graduate assistant on Calipari's UMass staff in 1991-92, has his eye on another player with Kentucky connections. Terrence Jones is eligible to play on the team because he was born in 1992 (Jan. 9). Players born Jan. 1, 1992, or more recently are eligible. Doron Lamb is not eligible because he was born in 1991 (Nov. 6).
Ford planned to call the UK staff this week to see if Jones would like to participate. Among the players who will try out are Florida sophomore-to-be Patric Young, incoming Florida freshman Brad Beal and UConn sophomore-to-be Jeremy Lamb.
Gilchrist and Teague are hardly strangers to Ford or USA Basketball. They were on the U.S. team that won the U17 World Championship in Germany two years ago.
"They've been elite players for a long time," Ford said. "Very special kids and special players."
Davis came onto USA Basketball's radar more recently. A well-chronicled growth spurt transformed him from a nondescript high school guard into a highly coveted big man prospect.
Here's how Ford appraised each of the UK-bound players:
Teague: "Very athletic and quick point guard who has incredible length. ... He has the ability to get anywhere he wants on the court, and he's a very good passer in the lane off his penetration. And he's a very good leader and a competitor."
Gilchrist: "Probably one of the fiercest competitors I've seen. ... He's a real warrior. He wants to win. ... He's OK with getting rebounds and blocking shots and running the floor and making the pass in addition to all the things that a normal superstar does. He does the little things as well. He's in attack mode all the time. That's both on offense and defense. He's going to the rim. He doesn't mind getting his shot blocked. If he does, he's going to come back and do the same thing again. He just loves to compete."
Davis: "His length is incredible. His hands, he has the hands of a guard in a 6-9, 6-10 player. But he almost plays like a 7-footer because of his length. It's one thing how tall you are. It's another thing how far you can reach to block shots. He has great hands in catching in traffic and getting rebounds because 18 months ago, he was a 6-4, 6-5 guard. ... Run, catch and finish. Sometimes you've seen big kids, they can do all three, but can they do all three in one motion. He can do all three in one motion."
'Fight for Your Life'
Former UK basketball standout Winston Bennett has a pair of boxing gloves with him as he goes about his business as coach for Mid-Continent University.
"It's a reminder to me that I'm in a fight," Bennett said of the gloves last week.
That philosophy led Bennett to write a book about winning a fight against life's adversities. The book, titled Fight for Your Life, became available Tuesday. It can be ordered through any bookstore or via Amazon.com, as Bennett noted on a book tour that brought him to Lexington last week.
"Life is a fight," he said when asked about the book's theme, "and my own personal fight was sexual addiction. It's about fighting and handling adversity, and just understanding that anything you face in life, it's going to take a fight to overcome that thing."
The challenge can be low self esteem or bitterness or envy. Whatever the problem, Bennett said it must be confronted and beaten.
It takes diligence.
"It's all right to smell the roses every once in a while," he said. "But you can't stay in the lily garden. You've got to get to work. Put the dukes up."
In the early 1980s, Bennett became something of a trail blazer when he became the first notable Louisville native to sign with UK basketball in memory. He played well, and then showed his grit by overcoming a serious knee injury and a stint in Italy and the CBA to make an NBA team.
After his playing career, Bennett got into coaching. Sexual addiction led the Boston Celtics to dismiss Bennett.
An incident in which he punched a player derailed his return to coaching at Kentucky State. Now at Mid-Continent, an NAIA school affiliated with the Southern Baptist church, Bennett seems settled.
In winning his fight, Bennett credited his Christian faith, the upbringing provided by his parents and his wife, Peggy.
"I had to actually learn how to treat her and love her," he said.
Bennett called writing the book a "daunting" task. He started writing after being fired by the Celtics, then stopped. "I didn't know if I really wanted to explore my wounds," he said. The idea of helping others who face adversity led him to finish the book.
UK and Kentucky will be well represented at an NBA Draft Combine late this week in Chicago. Among the 54 players participating will be Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins.
Also invited are former Butler guard (and Lexington native) Shelvin Mack, ex-Morehead State rebounding machine Kenneth Faried and former University Heights swingman Scotty Hopson of Tennessee.
The combine has four components: an interview process in which NBA teams get a face-to-face first impression of players, physical measurements, a cursory assessment of basic basketball skills and a medical exam.
Of the four, the interview process looms large. After all, a player's skill level and fitness can be judged by watching games on television or from the stands. The interview process brings the human element into the evaluation.
Stu Jackson, executive vice president of basketball operations for the NBA, was asked about do's and don'ts a player should know going into the interviews.
"There's only one 'do,'" he said. "Do treat this as a job interview as you would with any other job in the workplace."
In other words, take it seriously and try to make as good a first impression as you can. Don't chew gum. Keep the attitude tightly sealed.
"Teams have choices," Jackson said.
The NBA personnel doing the interviewing can range from coaches to general managers to occasionally an owner.
The measuring includes height, weight, shuttle run time, wing span, vertical leap and strength in the bench press.
The testing of basketball skills involves shooting, dribbling and passing in two-on-two games and 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 fast-break drills. "Very light competition," Jackson said, meaning the whistle blows before the players compete for rebounds.
"There's no substitution for watching players in a 5-on-5 competitive environment," Jackson said. "In the light skills, it's a stretch to call that portion competition."
Mock drafts abound. They serve a function as a spark for conversation or amusement, not a serious projection.
"At this point," Jackson said on Saturday, "I would not place very much validity on those mock drafts. It's very speculative and they don't always account for truly what teams need."
The combine comes this week, then individual workouts and more intensive interviews. A mock draft much closer to the real thing on June 23 has a chance of approximate accuracy, Jackson said.
It can't hurt to be invited to the combine. Teams vote on which players they want to see in Chicago. The players with the most votes get invitations.
Honesty best policy
As the politicians say, the cover-up can be more damaging than the transgression.
Before former Wake Forest big man Tony Woods began looking for a new college team, he and those close to him decided to speak about the incident with a girlfriend that led to his leaving Wake Forest.
Woods and company divulged much of the nitty-gritty details of the incident that led to the player pleading guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault against girlfriend Courtney Barbour.
Rather than leave the public to wonder what happened in the incident, Woods and his girlfriend spoke to Yahoo Sports about it.
The sheer abundance of detail in the Yahoo Sports story lent credence to the idea that the incident, while regrettable, was not abhorrent.
"It was not an exoneration," said Mike Maynard, the director of player development for the Georgia Stars AAU team that nurtured Woods. "But it at least put a different light on it." Maynard saw full disclosure as an example others should consider.
"Not a bad topic for young players," he said. "On how to handle (adversity). The more you handle it honestly and openly, the more you can move past it."
On his blog, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan addressed the everlasting issue of how referees should call the final minute of a game. Make the same call as you would at any other part of the game or, as the cliché goes, not call anything and let the players decide the game.
"There is one, and only one, question every official, at every level, must ask himself or herself prior to every game," Ryan wrote.
"That question is, 'Why am I here?'
"The answer to that question is NOT 'To demonstrate my thorough knowledge of the rule book.'
"The answer is NOT 'To please my supervisor and thus secure future assignments.'
"The answer is NOT 'To please the coaches.'
"The answer is 'To adjudicate the smooth flow of the game, using the rules, and when applicable, my common sense.'"
This year's NCAA Tournament game between Pitt and Butler gave this age-old question new life.
"Were the officials in question utilizing my philosophy, the Pitt-Butler game would have ended with no fouls being called," Ryan wrote. "Butler would have won, 70-69, courtesy of A.J. Smith's layup with 2.2 seconds to play.
"The foul on Shelvin Mack should have never been called. Was it stupid of him to get so close to Gilbert Brown on that inbounds pass which carried to midcourt? Yes. Was there some contact? Yes. But no one is asking the key question.
"If Gilbert Brown had caught that ball, what would he have done with it?
"The answer, of course, is nothing. He would have sailed (out of bounds), and that would have been that. There would have been nothing for him to do, and the game would have been over.
"Plain common sense should prevail in a matter like this."
To former UK standout Ron Mercer. He turns 35 on Wednesday.