ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas knows firsthand that playing against grown men makes a telling difference. So he expects professionals from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and France to test Kentucky in the Bahamas.
"They're men," Bilas said of UK's competition this week. "They've all played professional basketball for a number of years. So they're not going to be wowed by a bunch of college players.
"I think it's going to be a challenge to beat those teams. I'd be surprised if Kentucky came out of there 6-0. But it wouldn't shock me."
Bilas, who will be calling UK's six games in the Bahamas for ESPNU (first three games) and the new SEC Network (last three games), knows what it's like for ambitious college players to compete against men. After his freshman year, Bilas was on a Duke team that played professionals in France. He recalled going against Jim Smith, who had finished his college career at Ohio State two years earlier.
"I could run faster than he could," Bilas said. "But he always caught up, and when he did, he was always physical and difficult to play against. You might have been a better athlete than some of those guys or a little more nimble because you were younger. Once they caught up with you, they locked you down and made it difficult. It was really hard."
Professional opponents are generally more physically mature than college players, Bilas said. Greater experience also presents a challenge.
"They don't waste any movement," he said of the pros. "They know how to play. They are bigger, stronger (and) more physical. But they're more efficient, too."
Bilas saw Kentucky as "super talented" and "super deep." He termed the trip to the Bahamas and the previous 10 days of practice as a "big head start" in assessing players and possible strategies.
"So they'll be able to hit the ground running," Bilas said of the mid-October start of official preseason practice.
Of the games in the Bahamas, he said, "It's a springboard."
Autonomy or socialism?
On Thursday, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved a proposal to grant programs in the five major conferences greater autonomy. If enacted, as is expected sometime in the future, teams in the Southeastern Conference, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12 will no longer be as restrained by NCAA efforts to level the playing field with lesser programs.
One result might be paying players, or as it's euphemistically called, making scholarships cover the "full cost of attendance." Of course, schools in lesser conferences would have more difficulty providing this money.
The New York Times reported that autonomy might mean as much as $5 million in new spending on athletics.
Not everyone applauded the Board of Directors' move toward autonomy for programs in the major conferences.
Gerry Gurney, president of the Drake Group, which offers ideas for reforming college athletics, questioned the move.
"It will simply raise the stakes, raise the salaries, raise the expenditures, raise the professionalism and, ultimately, we will have more barbells and dumbbells," he told The New York Times. "This move will take us further away from any semblance of these athletes being students."
The Division I Board of Directors voted 16-2 in favor of autonomy. Voting against the proposal were Dartmouth president Philip J. Hanlon and Delaware president Patrick T. Harker.
Columnist Juliet Macur of The New York Times noted the lengths athletic programs already go in terms of one-upmanship. Oregon's football locker rooms have Nepalese rugs and doors unlocked with biometric thumbprints. Ohio State's $2.5 million recruiting room has a waterfall.
Of course, UK basketball players call the $7 million Wildcat Coal Lodge home. It features flat-screen TVs, a chef and leather recliners. Oklahoma's $75 million Headington Hall has a game room and 75-seat movie theater. Former OU quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Adrian Peterson each donated $500,000 for the project.
Schools outside the five major conferences, and some within, find it impossible to match such facilities. Theoretically, they are at a recruiting disadvantage.
Too bad, Texas A.D. Steve Patterson said.
"We're the ones making the money and carrying the liability," he told The New York Times. "The others don't make any money. Nobody wants to watch them on TV. I don't accept the argument that you have to have total socialism."
Best of both worlds?
In his weekly commentary for National Public Radio, Frank Deford suggested what might be considered the best of both worlds: The NBA and NFL would be free to draft high school seniors. The NBA and NFL teams then would pay tuition and a salary for players to attend college and develop on the school teams.
Deford dismissed the notion of NBA and NFL teams creating full-fledged minor leagues like baseball has. Baseball has a tradition of players developing in minor leagues. Basketball and football do not.
"What hotshot star would opt to play before a few hundred folks out in the bushes when he can be on national TV, starring before packed houses at, say, the University of Kentucky?" Deford said. " ... Let's just acknowledge the truth, that colleges are minor leagues."
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas welcomed the NCAA Division I Board of Directors' vote to grant greater autonomy for programs in the five major conferences. One step forward in a still-unfolding process, he said.
"Glaciers move faster than the NCAA," he said.
An unabashed critic of the NCAA, Bilas noted that the courts (of public opinion, but, more importantly, of the legal system) forced the NCAA to begin acting.
"The disappointing part of this is everything is reactive," he said. "Instead of being proactive and doing what they should do, and getting ahead of things."
The late Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones became synonymous with the No. 27. That was his jersey number with UK's Fabulous Five. His youngest daughter, Ira Dawson, noted that her father died on July 27.
This prompted retired postal worker Janet Ray to call to tell us about another link to No. 27. When Jones was a UK student, he opened up a post office box. He asked for P.O. Box 27.
In updating the files at her Lexington post office branch, Ray came across Jones' original application for a post office box. One of the witnesses for Jones' application was Adolph Rupp.
Wallace "Wah" Jones Jr., said that his father had no particular attachment to the No. 27. The elder Jones wore other numbers earlier in his basketball career.
"Just the luck of the draw," his son said. "That was just his number."
Last week's note about surviving UK players who won Olympic gold medals with a U.S. basketball team had an omission. Billy Evans played on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team.
A native of Berea, he was the only player from east of the Mississippi River on the team (Bill Russell being most prominent among players hailing from west of the Mississippi River).
"There was nobody to compete with Bill Russell," Evans said of the U.S. romp to the gold medal. "Russia had a 6-4 or 6-5 center. He was a joke trying to compete with Russell."
Evans averaged 8.4 points for the only Kentucky team to go undefeated (25-0 in 1953-54). As a senior in 1954-55, he averaged 13.9 points.
UK's signing of Evans bore no resemblance to the modern recruiting world of ratings, all-star showcases, campus visits and incessant media attention. He was working a summer job in the Chicago area when a letter arrived from UK Coach Adolph Rupp. He read that Kentucky was offering a scholarship.
"That surprised me," Evans said.
Evans had not met Rupp nor assistant Harry Lancaster. He'd never even seen a Kentucky game. He came to learn his good performance against Lafayette High the previous season led to a recommendation from Lafayette Coach Ralph Carlisle, a former UK player for Rupp.
"I talked to my father about it," Evans said of UK's offer. "We decided, 'OK, let's say yes.'"
For Berea Foundation School, Evans was a 6-1, 165-pound center. Upon arriving at UK, he noticed that six of the 10 players in the freshman class were 6-6 or taller. He quickly decided he'd have to learn how to play the guard position.
"A super adjustment," he said. Evans said he used hustle and a willingness to defend to become a solid player for UK and, in 1956, the U.S. Olympic team.
"I was not a superstar," he said.
To new Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall, who married Nikki Young last Saturday. The ceremony was at the beach in Destin, Fla. The bride wore white. The groom wore orange.
The better to promote his Vols' basketball program? "Yes, sir," Tyndall said.
The bride's name might sound familiar. She played for UK's women's basketball team in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons. She then completed her playing career at Transylvania.
The couple met at a Lexington restaurant five years ago.
"She stalked me after that," Tyndall said in a deadpan voice. "You know how it is. ... I finally relented."
He then laughed. Feel free to be dubious.
Tyndall, who played for Morehead State and later coached the Eagles to significant success, noted that Kentuckians played a part in the wedding ceremony. Former UK golfer Bart Mahan and former Morehead State coach Wayne Martin were in the wedding party.
To new UK staffer and former Auburn coach Tony Barbee. He turns 43 on Sunday. ... To Jim LeMaster. He turns 68 on Tuesday. ... To Randy Embry. He turned 71 on Saturday. ... To DeMarcus Cousins. He turns 24 on Wednesday. ... To Jason Parker. He turns 34 on Sunday. ... To Gerald Fitch. He turns 32 on Tuesday. ... To former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson. He turned 77 on Friday. ... To James Blackmon. He turned 50 on Thursday. ... To Antoine Walker. He turns 38 on Tuesday. ... To Mark Coury. He turned 28 on Friday. ... To former Boston Celtics great Bob Cousy. He turned 86 on Saturday.