As the June 25th NBA Draft nears, prospects want to put their best foot forward ... literally as well as figuratively. That applies to arms, legs and hands, too.
NBA teams increasingly use a tape measure, scale, thermometer, micrometer, stopwatch and slide rule to help determine if someone can play basketball.
This hit home at the recent NBA Combine, where there was speculation that the size and shape of Karl-Anthony Towns' feet had raised questions. Nike custom made size 20 shoes for Towns to wear as a Kentucky player last season. That's believed to be the largest size ever worn by a UK player (although there's no such "record" kept).
Former Tennessee player Jarnell Stokes also wore size 20 shoes, which had to be form fitted. By the way, Shaquille O'Neal and, going back to the 1970s, Bob Lanier wore size 22 shoes.
That Towns' feet are supposedly narrow caught the attention of NBA scouts. The player's father, Karl Towns, declined comment.
Elan Vinokurov, who runs a private consulting and scouting service, explained a possible concern. A big man with narrow feet might mean a player "more predisposed to foot injury," he said. Bill Walton and Yao Ming had careers cut short because of chronic foot injuries.
Another draft analyst, Ryan Blake, noted how teams cannot be too careful when making decisions involving guaranteed contracts worth millions of dollars. "Everybody's thinking outside the box a little bit," he said.
Former NBA coach Del Harris said he had never heard of narrow feet being an issue. "We've got these analytics guys going overboard on this," he said with a chuckle.
There can be concern about a player's arms being too short, although that didn't stop Larry Krystkowiak from being a productive rebounder.
There can be concern about a player's hands being too big. That's supposedly why O'Neal struggled as a free-throw shooter. (The same was said about Rajon Rondo, which prompted an ever-vigilant UK fan calling in to Tubby Smith's radio show and recommending hand-reduction surgery.)
"That's ridiculous," Harris said of a connection between large hands and poor shooting. "Oscar Robertson had huge hands. That didn't prevent him from making shots."
Ben Kibler, a noted surgeon at the Lexington Clinic Orthopedics-Sports Medicine Center, said there has been no scientific evidence presented linking narrow feet to a susceptibility to injury. He did note that a narrower shoe size would mean more pressure per square inch applied to bones in the feet.
Flat feet are linked to sprains and a condition such as plantar fasciitis, Kibler said. A high arch is linked to stress fractures.
Meanwhile, teams in all sports collect data and try to cipher their way to a conclusion about a player.
"Almost like with horses," Kibler said. "What's called the conformation of a horse. They get the conformation of the player that's best for that sport. There's no real concrete evidence that we have a predictability."
A skeptic would think that judging a player is an art, and not merely a science. As Yogi Berra once noted, you can observe a lot by watching.
"For example, I don't think Larry Bird ever profiled (well)," Kibler said. "He was slow. He couldn't jump much.
"There are some guys who are absolute studs. Bryce Harper, he profiled fantastic. C.C. Sabathia probably wouldn't have."
Cal the realist
John Calipari raised eyebrows this month by saying UK's primary goal this past season was to see eight players selected in the 2015 NBA Draft. He dismissed those who believe winning games and a national championship should be the top priority as "traditionalists."
David Ridpath, an associate professor of sport management at Ohio University, suggested Calipari's comments merely reflected the current state of college athletics.
"I certainly think it is OK to have it as a goal per se, but I thought the primary goal was education, then competitiveness and that the NCAA was not a 'minor league,'" Ridpath wrote in an email. "I am being a bit facetious. But Calipari is telling it like it is I think rather than the way we want it to be no matter how hard we do not want to believe it.
"My thought is if his primary goal is to do that instead of winning, it does seem strange. But then again if you have that many draft picks in any given year, the winning will take care of itself. I think Cal is just recognizing what is reality and what he is dealing with."
The biography, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South, was honored at the Robert F. Kennedy Book Awards held May 21 in Washington, D.C.
Strong Inside received "Special Recognition" honors from judges Michael Beschloss, Jim Wooten, Randall Kennedy and Michele Norris.
Strong Inside became the first sports-related book to receive recognition in the RFK Book Awards, which were founded in 1980.
Perry Wallace became the first black scholarship athlete to play a full season (and career) in the Southeastern Conference in any sport.
Author Andrew Maraniss spent eight years working on the book at night and on weekends outside of his job at a Nashville public relations firm. He previously had written about Wallace for a Black History class term paper while a student at Vanderbilt (1988-92). After working for Vandy as an associate director of media relations (1992-97), Maraniss became the first-ever media relations manager for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1998).
Belated condolences to the family of Davey Whitney, a Kentuckian who led Alcorn State to NCAA Tournament history. He died May 10 at the age of 85.
By beating South Alabama in the first round in 1980, Whitney-coached Alcorn State became the first historically black college or university to win an NCAA Tournament game.
Whitney, nicknamed "The Wiz," grew up in Midway and played for another celebrated coach, S.T. Roach, at Lexington's old Dunbar High School. After graduating from Kentucky State, he played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was the player who replaced Ernie Banks when Banks signed with the Chicago Cubs.
Whitney, who also coached at Texas Southern (1964-69), had a 566-356 career record.
Whitney was survived by his wife of 62 years, Bernice, five children and four grandchildren.
Central Kentucky saluted Whitney when Alcorn State played at Kentucky in the 2002-03 season.
"That's all great," Whitney said of the homecoming. "But I'm a coach first and coming home is secondary. The first thing was preparing to come in and win a ball game."
Kentucky won the game 94-63.
"When I first got into this business, I didn't think about honors or awards," Whitney said. "And I don't think about them now. Any awards or accolades I've earned, they are shared with all the teams that I've coached down through the years and the coaches I have coached with. It's not a singular thing."
Alcorn State also became the first historically black college to play in the NIT (1979).
"I always said I was my own worst enemy," Whitney said. "When I came to Mississippi, nobody thought kids in Mississippi could play basketball."
Whitney's success prompted other schools to look for players in Mississippi. For instance, Louisville recruited Charles Jones (Scooba, Miss.), Lancaster Gordon (Jackson, Miss.) and a future UK assistant, Kenny Payne (Laurel, Miss.) from the Magnolia State.
Evening with Cal
UK's latest Hall of Fame coach, John Calipari, will be the featured attraction at what's being called a "friend-raising event" scheduled for June 8 at Lexington's Marriott Griffin Gate.
Billed as "An Evening with Coach John Calipari, the event has several hosts: The Fayette County UK Alumni Club, the UK Alumni Association and the College of Ag, Food and Environment Alumni Association. Proceeds will benefit the Fayette County UK Alumni Club and the Ag Alumni Association.
Tickets cost $35 for members of the UK Alumni Association or College of Ag, Food and Environment Alumni Association. Tickets for non-members are $45. Attire is business casual.
A reception beginning at 5:30 p.m. precedes dinner at 6 p.m. and Calipari's remarks at 6:30.
Anyone with questions should contact Jill Smith at email@example.com or Kelly Hinkel at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (859) 257-7161.
Former Vanderbilt player Dai-Jon Parker drowned on Thursday. The Indianapolis Star reported that Parker and another man were riding an inner-tube being pulled by a pontoon boat on Indiana's Morse Reservoir. A large wave threw both off the inflated tube and into the water. Parker was not wearing a life jacket.
A 6-foot-3 guard from Baton Rouge, La., he averaged 1.7 points in 2011-12, 7.2 points in 2012-13 and 8.3 points in 2013-14.
Parker transferred to Division II Indianapolis for the 2014-15 season and averaged 9.4 points.
"We are extremely saddened with the news of Dai-Jon's death," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said in a statement. "Everyone who watched him play basketball knew what kind of athlete he was. But, to those of us who knew him and loved him, he was as good and happy of a person as you would ever meet. He always had a smile on his face and I will always remember him for that smile and the positive spirit he had. We send our deepest condolences and prayers to his family, friends, and others who were lucky enough to have met him. The Vanderbilt basketball family will miss him."
Results from an autopsy of former UK player Mike Phillips were filed last week. Phillips' cause of death was "head trauma from accidental fall," Hopkins County coroner Dennis Mayfield said in a text message.
Phillips died after a fall at his Madisonville home on April 26. He was 59.
To Billy Donovan. The former Florida coach/new Oklahoma City Thunder coach turned 50 on Saturday. ... To Ben Howland. The new Mississippi State coach turned 58 on Thursday. ... To David Roselle. The former UK president turned 76 on Saturday.