Four teams within a three-hour drive of Lexington top The Sporting News' pre-season top 25. That's No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Kentucky. With No. 18 Cincinnati and No. 23 Murray State, this area of the country serves as ground zero (as in not many more than zero defeats?) in college basketball.
To which, UK Coach John Calipari ... shrugged.
"We're a national program," he said last month.
"I guess if you live around here, it's great ... ," the UK coach allowed. "I don't care what those teams do. I really don't. I just want them to lose to us. Other than that, I could care less."
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His vision not clouded by competitive concerns, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas took a more expansive view.
Bilas noted that Indiana, Louisville and Ohio State are like Kentucky: traditional powerhouses. Think Bob Knight, Denny Crum, Fred Taylor. Think Isiah Thomas, Darrell Griffith, Jerry Lucas. Kentucky does not take a back seat with Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall and Rick Pitino. Or Dan Issel, Jamal Mashburn and Anthony Davis.
But it's certainly nothing new to see programs like Indiana, Louisville and Ohio State joining Kentucky atop college basketball.
"I think it's good for the game ... ," Bilas said. "Tradition is the one thing you can't duplicate in college."Bilas wasn't trying to question the notion of Kentucky being exceptional. That's for Calipari to sell as a door-to-door traveling recruiter, and he's amassed plenty of evidence in the past three years to make the case. See Note No. 2 today as further reason to see Kentucky as special.
Yet even if tradition doesn't mean much to NBA-minded prospects, it still makes a difference in college basketball, Bilas said.
"When Kentucky was down for a little while, I don't think the game was as compelling," the ESPN analyst said. "Same thing with UCLA, Indiana.
"When Indiana really struggled a few years ago, that wasn't any good. That wasn't any fun. I don't think anybody in the Big Ten enjoyed it."
Bilas suggested that it makes a difference for players and fans to see Indiana, Louisville, Ohio State and Kentucky as top teams. "You'd rather play those programs when they're really good," he said. "At least as players, you wanted the league to be great, and to play against the best teams every night.
"You don't get anything out of beating those programs when they're down. Maybe fans might enjoy it once. But I wouldn't enjoy it."
One term jumped out of ESPN's announcement of an All-Access Kentucky series to air this month. In its announcement, the sports network described the look into UK basketball as a "Cinéma vérité series."
(Full disclosure: I used Wikipedia and a nearby Webster's dictionary to make sure I knew what that French term meant.)
Jonathan Hock, an independent producer and director shooting the series for ESPN, called Cinéma vérité "a film-schoolish term for fly-on-the-wall life as it happens."
He will have his crew use two or three hand-held digital cameras and one to four wireless microphones in documenting a behind-the-scenes look at UK basketball this month. There will be no artificial lighting nor a narrator.
Films shot in this style include the 1969 music festival Woodstock (Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Crosby, Stills and Nash), the absorbing Hoop Dreams (two Chicago high school players wanting to make it to college and the NBA) and The War Room (the look at the 1992 president campaign of Bill Clinton).
Directors noted for this style include Michael Moore (Roger & Me), Louis Malle and John Cassavetes.
Hock called UK basketball an excellent topic to explore in the style.
"There's nothing really more exciting in documentary film than when you really immerse the viewers in the reality of somebody special," he said. "And the University of Kentucky basketball program — on the players' side and the coaches' side — is as fascinating as a group as there is in America right now."
Hock and the crew got acquainted with UK players and coaches last week. They return this week to begin work on the series' three 30-minute episodes, which are scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT on Oct. 17, 24 and 31.
There's a limit to how real the behind-the-scenes series can be. NCAA rules prohibit any recruiting scenes involving the names of prospects. And ESPN rules do not allow the kind of vulgarity on display in, say, the HBO series on pro football called Hard Knocks.
Otherwise, Hock hopes to shred the hoary sports axiom that says what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.
"What happens in the locker room is going to be on TV," he said. "If someone (with UK) has a problem with that, they're just going to have to edit themselves. ... The idea is not to catch something embarrassing, but to show what's really happening. And that's what we're going to do."
There's a reason UK point guard Ryan Harrow wears his hair in the same high-top fade style as celebrated freshman Nerlens Noel. It dates to Noel's recruiting visit to Kentucky.
"I told him, if you were to come here, I'd go get the haircut," Harrow said. "When he made the announcement, the next day I went and got the haircut. And I told him I'll keep it until Big Blue Madness."
A big smile suggested that Noel appreciated Harrow's gesture.
"Oh, that's spectacular," Noel said. "Ryan's a great kid."
Noel first switched to the high-top fade as a 10th-grader. One of his teammates at The Tilton School, ninth-grader Goodluck Okonoboh, wore his hair that style and suggested Noel do likewise.
"I loved the show Fresh Prince of Bel Air with Will Smith," Noel said of the actor, who then had his hair in a high-top fade. "He's kind of a role model."
At that point, Noel believed he didn't have enough hair on his head to make a high-top fade work. But Okonoboh persuaded Noel that the style would work as his hair grew into it. It's done more than that.
"I feel it's grown into kind of an identity for me in a way," Noel said. "I feel I'm going to keep it for a while."
Good news update
To update the story of how a UK fan saved the life of a North Carolina fan in 2009, the happy ending continues.
Vicki Sageser, who teaches life-saving and cardiopulmonary resuscitation in UK's College of Education, said last week that the school had bought and installed three more defibrillators. That became possible because of a donation from John "Toby" Tyler, the UNC fan whose life Sageser saved three years ago by performing CPR. Dr. Robert and Susan Mossman and UK's Department of Education also contributed to the buying of the defibrillators, which were installed in Dickey Hall and the Taylor Education Building.
Sageser teaches in the department of kinesiology and health promotion. She was on vacation in Cape Fear, N.C., in July, 2009, when she heard screams outside her hotel room. It was Tyler's wife calling for help after her husband suffered an apparent heart attack.
Sageser kept Tyler alive with CPR until an emergency unit arrived. He now calls Sageser every July 26, which he considers a second birthday. Tyler attended the UK-UNC game in Rupp Arena last season.
That the hotel did not have a defibrillator alarmed Sageser and inspired her effort to make the devices more prevalent at UK. At an on-campus ceremony two days after the UK-UNC game, Tyler donated money to the cause.
Sageser has taught two groups of faculty and staff in the use of the use of defibrillators. A third session is scheduled for this coming week.
Unfortunately, the allegations earlier this year of Billy Gillispie mistreating Texas Tech players sounded all too familiar to the mother of a former UK player.
Annette Legion questioned Gillispie's approach five years ago when her son, Alex Legion, decided to transfer from UK after one semester. At the time, she was widely derided as, at best, an interfering mother and, at worst, a nut. The latter impression was fueled, in part, by her unabashed religious fervor.
Gillispie's recent resignation and Texas Tech naming an interim coach last week could serve as validation for Annette Legion. If so, it was a Pyrrhic victory.
"I don't have anything to say about Billy," she said last week. "I thank God the whole country found out what my son and I already were saying. Billy Gillispie needs help. He messed up a lot of kids' lives."
Alex Legion transferred to Illinois, then moved on to Florida International. He's playing for a team based in Budapest, Hungary, this coming season and hopes to someday play in the NBA.
Of her son's abrupt departure from UK, she said, "It took Alex a long time to get over that. He loved Kentucky."
Among Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's winning ways is something that might go unappreciated: Being nice.
"He's smart with people," Hornets Coach Mike Dunlap told sportswriter Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer last week. "That's where his intelligence is the highest. ...
"He's very humble, and that's attractive to our players. When they talk about him, they say they want to take care of him."
As St. John's interim coach last season, Dunlap noticed the same thing when his team played at Kentucky.
"He had an average game to a poor game against St. John's," Dunlap said. MKG made one of seven shots, grabbed two rebounds and committed four fouls in 22 minutes.
"But his teammates always rallied around him," Dunlap said. "He has whatever it is.
"When he got drafted, people would say this or that, that he couldn't shoot or whatever. But across the board, people said this guy will bring a good feel to your locker room and is a tough competitor. Those things aren't so sexy, but they're very attractive to teammates."
Four more reasons to feel old: None of this season's UK freshmen had yet been born when Christian Laettner made the famous shot that enabled Duke to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Region finals.
Willie Cauley-Stein was born on Aug. 18, 1993, Alex Poythress on Sept. 6, 1993, Nerlens Noel on April 10, 1994 and Archie Goodwin on Aug. 17, 1994.
Laettner made the shot on March 28, 1992.
To Mark Krebs. He turns 26 on Wednesday. ... To Sheray Thomas. He turned 28 on Thursday. ... To Preston LeMaster. He turned 29 on Friday. ... To former Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo. He turned 46 on Friday. ... To former South Carolina Coach Dave Odom. He turns 70 on Tuesday. ... To former Tennessee Coach Wade Houston. He turns 68 on Tuesday. ... To Sean Sutton. He turned 44 on Thursday. ... To Rex Chapman. He turned 45 on Friday. ... To Reggie Hanson. He turns 44 on Monday.