Doug Collins, the first player chosen in the 1973 draft and a four-time NBA All-Star, started only one season for his high school team. What does that say about the rapt attention paid to recruiting? The lists of top juniors? Sophomores? Freshmen? Middle schoolers?
"I've always felt there was way, way too much attention paid to younger kids," Collins said last week.
A growth spurt that perhaps only Anthony Davis could dismiss created a rags-to-riches story starring Collins, who will be in Central Kentucky next weekend for the 1972 Olympic team reunion. As a high school sophomore, he was a scrawny 5-foot-10. Although an all-state player in Benton, Ill., as a senior, he was by then only an unremarkable 6-2, 155-pound guard.
But Collins stood 6-61/2 as a freshman player for Illinois State.
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"Changed my life," he said of the added four and one-half inches. "I always had a love for the game. I didn't have the body to play it."
Upon being blessed with size, Collins became an All-American for Illinois State, a would-be Olympic hero (his two free throws with three seconds left created the lead erased by 1972's enduringly controversial finish), solid NBA player and respected pro coach.
"The beauty of my life is I never missed any steps," Collins said. "In high school, I was thinking of playing for my high school team. I didn't think of college or (player) ratings. At Illinois State, I wasn't thinking of one-and-done or getting to the NBA. I was thinking of making my mark in college."
The contrast with today's players is obvious. Kentucky is synonymous with so-called one-and-done players. Other programs covet the same status. If a player's ranking isn't deemed suitable, parents confront self-styled analysts. Camps where college recruiters or pro scouts can observe players sprout like weeds.
"Everybody is in such a hurry to get ahead of themselves," Collins said. "I don't blame young kids. It's not their fault. It's just the system.
"It's tough for young guys to just be kids. So many become meal tickets. There's so much pressure. I feel for some of them. I wonder if they have the love of the game, the joy of playing that we had."
Next weekend marks the first time in 40 years that every player on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team will reunite. Central Kentucky plays host to this bit of history.
Doug Collins, a guard on the team and now the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, will give the keynote address at a banquet Saturday at Lexington's Marriott Griffin Gate hotel. He'll also be on one of the panels convened on Friday at Georgetown College to discuss topics surrounding the '72 team and its place in Olympic basketball history.
That team played in perhaps the ultimate we-wuz-robbed game. The Soviet Union beat the U.S., but the winning basket came on a third chance to inbound the ball in the final three seconds.
The U.S. players refused to accept the silver medals, and still do.
"We're just looking forward to getting all together," Collins said. " ... I sure don't sense any regret or bitterness. The feeling is more of joy."
Collins noted the Peter Pan component in athletics.
"We never really grow up in a lot of ways," he said. "Stories get rolling (and) embellished."
While Olympic teammate Kenny Davis said recently that any visit to a gym can evoke memories of the bitter defeat to the Soviets, Collins said he only thinks of it when he works the Olympics as a television commentator. He's worked basketball in the last four Summer Olympics.
"When I feel it is during the medal ceremony," he said. "Listening to the national anthem. The players bow their necks to get the medals. That moment was taken away from you."
The public is invited to attend seminars in Georgetown College's T & K Conference Center (100 Crawford Drive). From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, panels that include 1972 team members will discuss such topics as how the Soviet victory affected international basketball and the ethical implications of the U.S. players' refusal to accept silver medals.
A limited number of tickets are available for Saturday's banquet. They can be bought through Miranda Harvey at (859) 231-7711 Ext. 241 or email@example.com.
Proceeds benefit Georgetown College.
As she arrived at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary for her wedding rehearsal in late June, Emily Downing grew suspicious. Her mother, Betty Downing, stayed at the parking lot while the bride-to-be walked toward the wedding site.
"I wondered why my mom was hanging back," Emily said. "Then I heard my mom yelling."
Emily turned and grew puzzled.
"Who is that tall guy with her?" she asked herself. Then Emily realized who he was.
"Oh my goodness," she said. "That's Tony Delk."
To which the groom, Will Stafford, quipped, "Well, I just lost my wife."
Emily has long considered Delk one of her favorite UK players. This went beyond his prolific scoring (top average on the 1996 national championship team).
"Besides being an amazing basketball player, I always thought he was the nicest guy," she said. "He always had a smile on his face when he was playing."
Emily jokingly referred to Delk as her future husband, which became a running joke in the Downing family.
When Emily turned 18 and was about to enter UK, her mother sent Delk a letter asking if he could call Emily or write her a letter of encouragement. He called and spoke to Emily for more than 30 minutes.
"That meant a lot," Emily said. "To have your role model calling and wishing you well."
By coincidence, Delk, now an assistant coach at New Mexico State, happened to be in Lexington the same weekend as Emily's wedding. Though staying across town, Delk drove to Raven Run to make an appearance at the rehearsal and wish Emily well.
"He definitely went over and beyond," she said. "A little letter would have been great. He stayed 15 or 20 minutes. Pretty awesome."
One woman has signed up for the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience. She is Marie Dzuris, 54, a teacher and debate coach at Centerville (Ohio) High School.
"I've been a Kentucky fan since I was about 12," she said. That's when her family moved from southern New Jersey to Morganfield. Living in the hometown of Dwane Casey and Fred Cowan made becoming a Kentucky fan seemingly inevitable.
Dzuris, a UK graduate (Class of 1982), acknowledged that the entry fee for the Fantasy Camp ($7,495) tested the limits of her rooting interest in the Cats.
"It's a little expensive," she said, "and I know some of the money goes to Coach Cal's foundation."
Of course, that would be UK Coach John Calipari.
"It's sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "I decided the cost would not prevent me from doing it. ... I mulled it over. I decided I'd really be upset with myself if I didn't take the opportunity."
Dzuris, who credited Title IX with enabling her to play sports in high school, coached a girls' middle school team for 12 years. She signed up for the Fantasy Camp as a coach, not a player.
"I wanted to play," she said, "but I could envision (campers) not being very coordinated. And because I'm not very tall, my nose would be at elbow height. That might not be good."
The camp will be held Sept. 13-15.
Matt Chacksfield of Pro Camps Worldwide, the company running the camp, said there were 15 spots still available as of the middle of last week. Sixteen former UK players are expected to participate in the camp as coaches/counselors. Seven former players have confirmed their participation: Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Rajon Rondo, Darius Miller and Terrence Jones.
Participants who have signed up for the camp come from New York, Ontario, Canada, Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Missouri and, of course, Kentucky, Chacksfield wrote in an email.
The entry fee is $7,495. A $1,500 discount is available if you are a member of the K Fund or if you register using a Citi Card. To register, fans should contact Chacksfield at (513) 745-5850 or at MChacksfield@procamps.com.
Ratings Percentage Index and strength of schedule calculation are tools of the trade for Ken Pomeroy and Jerry Palm. Those respected observers of college basketball crunch numbers in the process of rating teams and schedules.
So, how do Pomeroy (kenpom.com) and Palm (collegerpi.com) judge Kentucky's schedule for 2012-13?
"I think the overall strength is pretty good compared to other top-10 teams," Pomeroy wrote in an email. "The true road games and the neutral site against Duke are impressive and really boost the SOS. The home schedule is not very tough, obviously, with the exception of Baylor."
It's that home schedule that potentially could be a pain in the backside (to be exact, in the wallet in the back pocket given the, uh, unfortunate timing of a ticket price increase the same season UK Coach John Calipari refused to continue the traditional series with Indiana on a home-and-home basis).
Here are UK's home non-conference opponents in Calipari's four seasons as coach.
2009-10: Morehead State, Miami, Sam Houston State, Rider, North Carolina, Austin Peay, Drexel, Long Beach State, Hartford, Louisville.
2010-11: East Tennessee State, Boston, Indiana, Mississippi Valley State, Winthrop, Coppin State, Penn.
2011-12: Marist, Radford, Portland, St. John's, North Carolina, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Samford, Loyola-Md, Lamar, Louisville.
2012-13: Lafayette, Morehead State, Long Island, Baylor, Samford, Portland, Lipscomb, Marshall, Eastern Michigan.
"I would rank them from toughest to easiest: 11-12, 09-10, 12-13, 10-11," Pomeroy wrote. "But it's nearly a dead heat between the middle two."
Palm saw nothing exceptionally good or bad about UK's schedule.
"This year's schedule is typical of a high-major program," he wrote in an email. "A few challenges and a lot of cupcakes at home. Looks like the only home test this year will be Baylor. Last year's was tougher, but some of that is based on home-and-home rivalries and on which year they fall."
Then, Palm added, "Still can't believe they're not playing Indiana."
One of Calipari's many feints in rationalizing the dropping of Indiana was how the SEC grew stronger with the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M. Thus, the non-conference schedule needed to be weakened.
Palm and Pomeroy seemed underwhelmed by the argument that a stronger SEC required UK to lighten its non-conference load.
"Those are decent-or-better programs, so it helps," Palm wrote of Missouri and A&M. "Keep in mind, though, that not everybody can be good."
Added Pomeroy: "On balance, it's about a wash this season. Mizzou will be one of the four or five best teams in the conference, and A&M will be in the bottom four or five."
To UK freshman Archie Goodwin. He turned 18 on Friday. ... To former UK players Ryan Hogan (he turned 34 on Wednesday), Todd Tackett (he turns 33 on Wednesday), Kenny Walker (he turned 48 on Saturday), Jodie Meeks (he turns 25 on Tuesday), Terry Mills (he turned 64 on Wednesday) and DeMarcus Cousins (he turned 22 on Monday). ... To former Florida coach Lon Kruger. He turns 60 today. ... To former Mississippi State coach Richard Williams. He turns 67 on Wednesday. ... To former Indiana guard Quinn Buckner. He turns 58 on Monday.