In preparing for this week's Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville, columnist David Climer of The Tennessean asked me to rate the 14 Kentucky teams that won the event since its revival in 1979. The task was to rate the impression made in winning the SEC Tournament (not necessarily each team's overall season nor subsequent NCAA Tournament run, although that's hard to ignore).
With varying degrees of confidence, I'd rate them like this:
Unshakable confidence about the best three:
1. 1993. Embarrassed Tennessee, outgutted LSU and, especially, Arkansas. Yes, the tournament was played in Rupp Arena, but that UK team was on such a roll, all the way to Final Four. Plus, here's a handy guideline: whenever in doubt, always lean toward Jamal Mashburn.
2. 1997. Another great steamroll. Won three SEC Tournament games by combined 87 points. Got to Final Four.
3. 1998. About the same as 1997. Three victories by a combined 66 points. Won national title.
Fully confident about the least-convincing two:
13. 2010. Refs blew call on John Wall entering lane too early, enabling Kentucky to get to overtime and beat Mississippi State in finals. You'll-have-to-take-one-for-the-UK-team, Part II, within a month for Rick Stansbury.
14. 1992. Shaquille O'Neal's suspension for his involvement in embarrassing Carlos Groves/Dale Brown May-December square-off in the quarterfinals enabled Kentucky to beat neutered LSU in semis. In the finals, Alabama hit the wall in the second half after epic semifinal victory against Arkansas.
The murky middle:
4. 2003. SEC tourney part of steady, model-of-consistency 26-game winning streak.
5. 1995. For pure drama, Rodrick Rhodes's emotional meltdown against Arkansas made it a classic.
6. 1994. Double-digit margins in each game.
7. 1999. Double-digit margins in each game. Slightly smaller margins.
8. 2001. Intriguing Kubrick movie.
9. 2011. Final Four team that seemed to find its footing in SEC Tournament.
10. 2004. Erik Daniels a personal favorite because of his clever, cerebral approach. Beat Georgia in first game after losing twice to Alas-poor-Harrick in regular season.
11. 1984. Kenny Walker buzzer-beater reduces Charles Barkley to tears.
12. 1986. Taking points off because it was played in Rupp.
Top three memorable SEC tournaments not won by Kentucky:
1. 1982 — A teary-eyed Bob Weltlich uses post-game news conference to launch a profanity-laced protest of officiating favoring Kentucky in semifinals. Eddie Phillips' tip-in at the buzzer gives Alabama a victory over UK in finals in Rupp.
2. 1996 — It took a spectacular performance by Dontae Jones (28 points, 11 rebounds) to beat UK in finals. Just as it took a spectacular performance by Marcus Camby (32 points, nine rebounds) to beat UK in the regular season.
3. 2012 — The finals saw Vanderbilt beat Kentucky in the third of their three competitive games. After 120 minutes, a national championship-bound UK had outscored Vandy 216-208.
One man, one vote
The United States Basketball Writers Association asked its members last week to vote for various awards. Here's my ballot:
All-America team: Victor Oladipo, Indiana; Otto Porter, Georgetown; Doug McDermott, Creighton; Shane Larkin, Miami; Trey Burke, Michigan; Mason Plumlee, Duke; Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga; Cody Zeller, Indiana; Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, and Ben McLemore, Kansas.
Comment; Nothingstartling there.
All-District team (covering Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia): Nerlens Noel, Kentucky; Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee; Jordan McRae, Tennessee; Gorgui Dieng, Louisville; Trevor Releford, Alabama; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia; Scottie Wilbekin, Florida; Patric Young, Florida; Erik Murphy, Florida, and Shane Larkin, Miami.
Comment; Apologies to Marshall Henderson of Mississippi (if for no other reason than pure entertainment value) and Mike Rosario of Florida (for the improvement shown from last season to 2012-13).
Oscar Robertson Trophy (national player of year): Victor Oladipo, Indiana.
Comment: No clear-cut obvious choice, but he's made big play after big play on offense and defense.
Henry Iba Award (national coach of year): Jim Larranaga, Miami.
Comment: Apologies to Jim Crews of Saint Louis and Mark Few of Gonzaga.
Wayman Tisdale Award (national freshman of year): Ben McLemore, Kansas.
Comment: McLemore went into this weekend needing to score five points to break Danny Manning's Kansas freshman record of 498 set in 1984-85.
Player of the year
There's no clear-cut choice for SEC Player of the Year. Florida used a collective approach — not star power — to win the regular-season championship.
"Right now, I'd say Jordan McRae," ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said mid-week. "He put up huge number in pressure games (Tennessee) had to have. He kept Tennessee alive with a heartbeat and a pulse when (Trae) Golden and (Jarnell) Stokes" were sidelined.
Last week's note about sports participation being a detriment to character building resonated with some readers. Reader Gary Story sent this email:
"I have become disenchanted with sports in the last 10 years on all levels because of the damage it is causing to our culture," he wrote. "And you should know I was raised in Texas where we were taught to throw a spiral before we were potty trained. I will occasionally watch a pro baseball game now. That is about it."
Story saw validity in the research cited by former Georgetown College athletics director Eric Ward. Ward noted that 25 years of research showed that participants in athletics need to be instructed in sportsmanship. That the playing of sports, in and of itself, does not build character nor even reveal character. It damages character building.
"The teaching of Winning-at-all-costs has perverted our society," Story wrote. " ... Was raised in a small West TX town. Sports consumed my life and the lives of my friends. We tended to think we seldom measured up to the expectations of important males in our lives like coaches and fathers. (My father was a good man but a product of hard times. ...)
"I began to realize that some of the values that drive athletes have their basis in low self-esteem created by those who were paid for winning games. But one coach I came to admire was Bum Phillips. I had a cousin who played for Bum at Amarillo High School. He told me he would run through a brick wall for Bum. Years later, Earl Campbell said the same thing. No coach, that I am aware of, ever extended the same kind of loyalty to those placed in his charge as Bum did."
Story likened Phillips to John Wooden. Each exuded a perspective that diminished, perhaps only to a degree, the importance of winning.
"There was something besides the compulsion to win that made these two so very special," he wrote.
Story, 64, is a retired Chaplain for Hospice.
"The people I visited taught me some very important things about life; things that transcend this life," he wrote.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on something it called "Sports VU."
Reporter Ben Cohen explained. "Sports VU uses the concept behind missile-tracking technology to log the exact location of every player and the ball 25 times per second," he wrote. "Millions of data points."
The Sports VU technology, which is a subsidiary of Stats LLC, is being used in 15 NBA arenas. It will be used at the Big Ten Tournament, which will be played in Chicago's United Center.
How is Sports VU used? Cohen noted that it will be able to track, say, how many miles Ohio State guard Aaron Craft runs in a game or how fast a big man, say Indiana's Cody Zeller, runs in transition or how much slower a team moves in its third game in three days.
This technology is not installed in Rupp Arena. Not yet, anyway. Lexington Center Corp. CEO Bill Owen noted how technological advances occur "almost daily."
Rupp officials want to improve its technology. Owen said the idea is to improve the fans' ability to call, text and otherwise use iPhones and Androids during games.
It seems the idea of going to a game to watch a game is so 20th century. Rupp officials want to increase and improve the capacity for fans to call, text and use the Internet during games.
As of now, Owen said, "It's easier to send texts during free throws because everybody is watching to see if (the player) makes the free throw."
Owen had an epiphany of sorts when he went online to look at high resolution photographs of the crowds at last season's Kentucky-North Carolina game and the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans. The idea was for fans to find themselves and friends in the photos.
"I was stunned by how many people in the stands were holding hand-held devices up to their faces," Owen said.
In its March 1 issue, The Wall Street Journal noted that Adidas was producing new uniforms for several teams: Cincinnati, Kansas, Notre Dame, Baylor, UCLA, Louisville. The uniforms are distinctive by failing to serve a basic need of easily identifying players by number. The numbers are harder to see than in the olden days when marketing did not matter so much.
"They are not the worst college basketball uniforms, not even close," WSJ columnist Jason Gay wrote. "In the mid-1990s, the University of Kentucky Wildcats wore some denim-style uniforms that resembled the kind of thing you would put on a cat on its way to a Garth Brooks concert. ... "
UK fans of a certain age may recall that then-CBS commentator Billy Packer caused a stir when he said the denim uniforms appeared to be North Carolina blue.
Meanwhile, Indiana declined to veer from its traditional uniform. "We wouldn't consider a change," an IU spokesman told The Wall Street Journal via email.
For those of us who continue to pay homage to what tradition we can find, Indiana's red-and-white candy-striped warmup pants represent a triumph over mere commercialism.
Kentucky's absence from Sports Illustrated's issue celebrating the NCAA Tournament's 75-year history caused a mild stir.
For those who suspect an anti-UK bias, it can be noted that Kentucky has been on the magazine's cover 18 times. That compares with 18 for Kansas and 17 for Indiana.
The record for cover appearances is 50, by Michael Jordan. The next most frequent appearances belong to Muhammad Ali (38), Magic Johnson (23), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (22) and Jack Nicklaus (22).
To Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy. He turns 45 on Wednesday. ... To Rashaad Carruth. He turns 31 on Tuesday. ... To Anthony Davis. He turns 20 on Monday.