Working our way around college basketball in Kentucky:
I confess I've come to look forward to anytime Nike gets the University of Kentucky to outfit one of its major sports teams in a uniform that deviates from the norm.
Whether it is all-black unis in football or the mostly gray "platinum" number the Wildcats men's basketball team is slated to unveil Tuesday night in Rupp Arena against Tennessee, the indignant reaction from some UK fans that follows is inevitable.
It's also a hoot.
I hate these uniforms! Hate them, hate them, hate them!
We're the Big Blue, not the Big Gray!
Look, it's a free country, and everyone is free to like or not like anything as they choose.
If your objection to the uniform changes is that universities such as UK have basically sold their (insert throat-clearing noise) student-athletes to apparel companies such as Nike to use as living billboards, that's a philosophical argument with merit.
But for me, here's what makes the whole exercise in crass commercialism palatable. When I've been around the UK players who actually wear Nike's unconventional uniforms, they seem by and large to be stoked about getting to wear different styles and varied colors.
Bottom line: If it makes the games more fun for the young people playing college sports, that justifies the exercise in uniform changing.
Meanwhile, the angry fan reactions to deviant UK sports uniforms — It's not 'we'll fight, fight, fight for the Gray and White' — rank among the best free entertainment going.
Harper in Croatia
Ex-Morehead State standout Demonte Harper, whose late-game three-pointer in last season's NCAA Tournament sent Louisville packing, is playing professionally this season in Croatia.
"He's been a little up-and-down," Morehead Coach Donnie Tyndall said of his former shooting guard. "He played real well early, then they had a coaching change, and he hasn't played quite as much. But he is making good money and doing well."
Tyndall said he expects the 6-foot-4 Harper, the MVP of the 2011 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, to return to the states to play next season, possibly in the NBA Development League.
"Next year, I'll be surprised if he doesn't go the D-League route and see what comes from that," Tyndall said.
Fraternity of buzzer beaters
Our state has supplied more than its share of late-game NCAA Tournament drama in recent times, with players from Kentucky schools hitting five game-winning shots in the Big Dance since 2008.
Catching up with the players besides Harper who have done so:
Former UK standout Brandon Knight, who beat Princeton and Ohio State in the 2011 tourney, is averaging 13.6 points and 3.6 assists (through games of Friday night) in his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons.
Danero Thomas, whose last-gasp jump shot allowed Murray State to knock Vanderbilt out of the 2010 tourney, is serving as a student manager for new Racers Coach Steve Prohm with an eye on eventually launching a career as a college coach.
Ex-Western Kentucky guard Ty Rogers, whose three-point bomb bounced Drake from the 2008 NCAAs, is in Bowling Green working as a pharmaceutical salesman.
Pressure of a title defense
After his Pikeville team made a Cinderella run to the 2011 NAIA Division I national tournament championship, Bears Coach Kelly Wells said he conferred with a colleague who had also won a national title.
"He told me, the season after you win a championship is the hardest coaching year you'll ever have," Wells said Friday. "Now, I've seen what he means. We've had an uphill climb."
After starting the season ranked No. 1 in the NAIA polls, Pikeville stood at 13-7 overall and was ranked No. 23 going into Saturday's game with Lindsey Wilson, which they beat 71-70.
"Other than Trevor Setty (MVP of last season's NAIA tourney), we've got a brand new team," Wells said. "We were happy for the honor of being (pre-season) No. 1, but it really wasn't realistic.
"We come out this year, we're taking everybody's best shot because of what we did last year, and I've got 10 guys wondering, 'Hey, what's this all about?' "
Wells, 40, does have prior experience defending a championship. In 2003, he coached Mason County to the boys' state high school title. The next season, the Royals returned to the state finals before losing to Warren Central.
"That experience has helped me," Wells said. "But when you've got so many new players like we do here, it's a different kind of challenge."
When Tennessee Tech made its OVC swing to Eastern Kentucky (Thursday) and Morehead State (Saturday) last week, it meant that Happy Osborne was back working in his old stomping grounds.
The former, longtime Georgetown College head man is in his first season working as an assistant to Tech Coach Steve Payne (who was once an assistant to Osborne at Georgetown).
"It's awesome to be back," Osborne said Friday. "I've been back a lot recruiting because we think Kentucky is a place where we can recruit from, but there's nothing better than coaching college basketball (games) in Kentucky."
One would think it's a pretty big adjustment going from making decisions, which Osborne, 54, did while compiling 456 wins in 15 years as head coach at Georgetown, to making suggestions as an assistant.
"I'm in a different role, and all I'm trying to do is help Steve make this the best program it can be," Osborne said. "Basketball is basketball. That part, the coaching and working with the players, has been fun."
Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or firstname.lastname@example.org.