Earlier this month, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto not only said he would put a higher priority on upgrading classrooms and dormitories than on a future basketball home court. He also said UK would not support any state funding for the proposed renovation of Rupp Arena. What's more, he would interpret any state dollars for an arena project as a drain on "finite" governmental funding the school needs for much-needed on-campus improvements.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who has spent months setting the tone for a thorough and sober examination of all arena options, continued to be accommodating to varying opinion. When asked last week about Capilouto's stance of non-support, Gray welcomed it. Actually, he all but applauded it as part of a healthy examination of what's possible in the future.
"I really believe in the president's priorities," Gray said. "I really believe in what he is talking about, about the infrastructure there being long in the tooth."
If Capilouto does not promote better classrooms and dorms for UK, then who?
Never miss a local story.
"It's essential that the university president speak for the values and priorities of the university, as he sees them today," Gray said. "The campus and its needs are significant, and he needs to be able to express that and advocate for them."
Gray suggested that he fulfills a similar role for Lexington. The city has under-used assets and long-in-the-tooth structures, too. He promotes the idea of an Arena, Arts and Entertainment District as a means to revitalize downtown Lexington, and by extension, enhance the UK community.
"In a sense, we are chasing the same themes, the same goals," Gray said.
The next big step for Lexington comes late next month when Gray's Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force receives a report that addresses the question which has always hovered over the project: how to pay for it.
There may not be any single answer, but perhaps a combination of choices can make it happen.
A higher hotel tax? A fee for the naming rights to the district? Luxury suites in the arena? A TIFD (Tax Increment Financing District, in which property, sales and other tax revenue in a prescribed area goes to the city to service debt)?
To raise funds for a $143 million renovation of Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers began selling stock to fans on Dec. 6. Each share costs $250. The sale is scheduled to expire on Feb. 29, but it's subject to extension.
What if Lexington sold stock in partial ownership of the district? As an incentive, "stockholders" could be eligible for a drawing each game: the winners receiving a seat in a luxury suite and private parking.
Is the nine-figure price tag for such a district financially feasible?
"We know there will have to be several revenue components," said Lexington attorney Brent Rice, the Task Force chairman. "But I am convinced, as several members are, that it is achievable."
Although Capilouto expressed misgivings about state funds allotted to the district, Speaker of the Kentucky House Greg Stumbo apparently is not opposed to the idea. Stumbo has met with Gray to discuss the proposed district and Rupp Arena's future.
Stumbo is sympathetic to the idea of a district and reinvented Rupp, while also aware of the constraints on any State budget, spokesman Brian Wilkerson said.
Meanwhile, the report due by the end of January will include more details about a possible reinvention of Rupp Arena. Chair-back seats in the upper arena. A Rupp Arena that's 20 feet wider and longer. An additional 800 seats in the lower arena.
Most striking is the proposed revamping of Rupp Arena's exterior. As depicted in preliminary plans, Rupp goes from a ho-hum beige box to eye-catching landmark befitting its iconic status.
For Gray, such a sweeping transformation makes talk of a new arena redundant. And a reinvention comes at less than half the cost of a new arena, according to official estimates. Plus, the mayor added, the present location puts Rupp at the nerve center of Lexington. A new arena would have to be built farther from the corner of Main and Broadway.
"Once everybody has a chance to dig into the merits of the case and see the strengths of the facility and how it can be made as new, it's really better than new," Gray said of the proposed reinvention.
Gray emphasized that planning for the 46-acre district remains at the toddler stage. Lexington is at Step Three in a 10-step process that could take more than a decade to fully unfold, he said. By contrast, a reinvention of Rupp Arena could be done in three to five years, the mayor said.
As for any problem created by Capilouto's opposition to state funding, Gray said, "I don't see it as insurmountable."
Former Kentucky big man Nazr Mohammed flew to New York to attend Manhattan's opening game this season. Why? Because ex-UK teammate Steve Masiello was making his debut as a college head coach.
"That showed the sign of a bond," Masiello said in a telephone interview last week. "Not so much that Steve Masiello had with Nazr Mohammed."
It was more about the ties that bind former UK players.
"We appreciate and respect where we all come from," Masiello said. "One of my brothers was proud of me."
Manhattan has already surpassed last season's victory total of six. The Jaspers are 8-5.
After a blowout victory over Towson on Tuesday, Masiello said he had changed his players' mind set. Games were now "opportunities."
"Opportunities to show people what Manhattan basketball is all about," he said according to the New York Daily News.
Masiello played at UK in the 1990s. He played for Rick Pitino, then Tubby Smith.
Manhattan had won five straight games (three on the road) before losing at George Mason 81-61 on Friday night. The average margin of victory in the streak was 20.8 points.
The Jaspers had won 11 and six games the past two seasons. The program's Ratings Percentage Index was more than 200 in four of the past five seasons.
"We're really changing the culture," Masiello said. "... It starts with the staff. You surround yourself with guys that have been there, and done it, and done it well. Then you let this rub off."
Former UK teammate Scott Padgett, one of the heroes of the 1998 national championship team, is one of Masiello's assistants.
The mind set Masiello wanted to develop would consider 6:30 a.m. workouts as opportunities to get better.
Having decided on coaching as a career while in high school, Masiello came to UK as a walk-on because he wanted to learn from Pitino. "What Kentucky did was put me on the stage to learn," he said.
Manhattan will play at Louisville next season. As for a return to UK, Masiello said, "I'm waiting for Coach Cal to invite us. I hope so."
Besides UK Coach John Calipari, it's not easy finding supporters of his idea to end one of the traditional non-conference rivals: either Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina.
The smart money would be on Kentucky ending its series with North Carolina. That would mark the third time UK has walked away. The patience-and-forebearance award in this series must go to UNC.
If UK again refuses to play, the current agreement will end after each team won six regular-season meetings. How even was the competition? In that span, each won twice on the other team's home court. In 12 regular-season games combined, UK scored three more points.
Calipari has told fans not to fret. He will substitute a quality opponent. Perhaps a rotation of "name" opponents such as UCLA and Duke. Home-and-home? Maybe, but more likely neutral-court sites.
Speaking of neutral courts, UK fans should not be surprised if the series with Indiana returns to Indianapolis and Louisville. Perhaps, Calipari had enough of Bloomington this season.
'Assist to ...'
Patrick Whitmer, the public address announcer at UK home games, has been noting standout assists this season. That's a departure from the norm.
An assist can be such a nebulous concept (one person's assist is another person's pass along the perimeter), that the NCAA did not always officially recognize it as a statistic.
For example, scoring stats go back to 1936 (Stanford's Hank Luisetti, who gets credit for first shooting the jump shot, led the nation with an average of 14.3 points). The current statistic of assist average dates back to 1983-84.
Whitmer makes an instant judgment on when to announce an assist. He doesn't have time to get confirmation from the stats crew. So it's possible, though unlikely, that he'd call an assist that officially did not count.
Spokesman DeWayne Peevy said UK asked Whitmer to announce assists in response to a request by a caller to John Calipari's weekly radio show.
"On big plays, we agreed that the assist is also a big part of the play," Peevy said in a text message. "He will only announce an obvious assist when he can. Not all assists will be announced."
While on a recruiting trip in Florida, UK Coach John Calipari learned that walk-on Sam Malone had torn an anterior cruciate ligament during last weekend's game against Chattanooga.
"In his typical fashion, he was thoughtful enough to call when he heard," the player's father, Joe Malone, said. "He said, 'No. 1, Joe, he'll be as much a part of the team today as he was yesterday.'"
The elder Malone's voice choked with emotion as he recalled Calipari's call.
Joe Malone noted the importance of such comfort, especially given that his son will need a fourth major knee surgery in the past five years.
"Sam can feel the support from the whole staff and players and fans," the player's father said. "He knows he's going to be in an environment that's going to be conducive to rehabbing and bouncing back."
The torn ACL was not immediately apparent because Sam Malone did not scream in pain nor crumple to the floor. After awkwardly twisting his left leg as he drove into the lane, he simply drifted to the bench.
Later, Malone said he experienced less pain, he figured, because he tore an ACL implanted from a cadaver during an earlier surgery. Still, his father asked his son about the absence of drama.
"Well, 20,000 people were there," Malone told his father. "I didn't want to pull a scene."
Said his father, "That's a pretty interesting response."
To native Kentuckian Steve Smith. His Oak Hill Academy team won the 10th annual Click-fil-A Classic recently.
That event included teams from South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, California, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Those teams included five state champions and 15 players on one of the recruiting service's list of prospects.
Five Oak Hill players recently signed with Division I schools: Georgetown, Memphis, North Carolina State, Purdue and UCLA.
Smith, an Asbury graduate, will guide Oak Hill in the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, Ore., this week. Oak Hill will take a record of 21-0 into the game.
To former UK players Cliff Hawkins, who turned 30 Saturday and Rodney Dent, who turns 41 today. ... To Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury. He turned 52 on Friday. ... To Kansas Coach Bill Self, who turns 49 on Tuesday. ... To former Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson, who turns 70 on Tuesday.